Monday, April 30, 2012

Memorial Day Travel Deals - Daytime TV Show

Looking for fantastic Memorial Day Travel Deals this year? From island enchantment to family fun, The Getaway Girl shares her top picks for great holiday travel deals.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Girls Getaway to Como - Bellagio & George Clooney

Yellow villa in center of photo belongs to George Clooney.

The next day we boarded the boat taxi for a tour of Lake Como and a stop at the town of Bellagio, which known as the Pearl of Como.  This little jewel of a town lies on the narrow strip of land that divides Lake Como into two branches.  The town is famous for its traditional, narrow streets, its steep steps, its hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as for its Neo-Classical villas that are surrounded by magnificent gardens.  During our boat ride we met Angelo who is from Bellagio and now splits his time between Bellagio and Florida (how ironic).  He and his wife have a travel agency specializing in Italian vacations.  He was nice enough to invite us to join him for a cup of cappuccino and gave us recommendations for exploring Bellagio.  Although the weather that day was dreary and rainy, we were determined to shop and sight see in Bellagio.  From town we walked to Villa Melzi to see the beautiful gardens and flowers.  We didn’t pay admission to enter but enjoyed our stroll and the quick glimpse of one of the region’s most popular attractions.  
For our lunch in Bellagio, we stopped at Angelo’s recommendation of Ristorante Bilacus that has been operating since 1963.  It was a relaxing and enjoyable lunch in a lovely dining room.  After lunch we boarded the boat to return to Como for our last night.

We packed our things and enjoyed a fairly low key night back at Touring Cafe that turns into a hip and trendy bar for the locals. Before we turned in for the night, we thought we would have one more glass of vino at our hotel’s restaurant.  As soon as we walked in, my mom and I almost fell over.  Our server looked exactly like George Clooney!!!  We found out his name is Mauricio and he has been featured in several magazines as George Clooney’s Italian Double.  We had a great time with Mauricio as he showed us his Clooney look-a-like materials and brought us the final treat from the Tiramisu Trail...he said it was The Best!
This 12-day trip through Italy was a reminder for me of how important it is for us to see other parts of the world, see history and to have the time to break free from our daily lives to think about things that are most important to us.  Thank you Donna, Katie, Mom and Italy for a fabulous trip that re-energized and re-focused me!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Girls Getaway to Como - Shopping

As Donna and Katie left us the next morning, my mom and I boarded a train to Como to experience the beautiful Lake Como area (George Clooney has a villa here).  Once we arrived by train, we hopped in a taxi that took us to our home for our last two nights in Italy, the Hotel Terminus, that was born from the complete renovation of the first 900 buildings in Como.  It has retained the style and comfortable taste typical of the Lombard aristocracy.  Today, the Terminus serves as the benchmark of the more refined clientele who can enjoy the lovely location on the shores of Lake Como, in the heart of the city.

After checking into our hotel, we walked to the Piazza Cavour and found the perfect place to eat and sip vino, Touring Cafe.  From there, we walked through the historic streets of Como to the Duomo and shopped the markets, boutiques, stores and galleries.  Here you will find everything from leather goods to Italian silk to dried fruits and meats.  It was a lovely afternoon!
For dinner, our hotel recommended Trattoria del Gesumin that was within walking distance of our hotel.  This family-operated restaurant provided traditional and seasonal cuisine and was just what we were looking for.  Plus, the wine was awesome!  I loved my Wild Boar Bruschetta. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Girls Getaway to Milan - Shopping & Farewell Dinner

Next to the Duomo, we had to visit the Milanese Galleria (or Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II), which is a shopping area in the center of Milan. The structure is formed by two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala.  Built from 1865-1877, the arching glass and cast iron roof that covers the street was the prototype for larger glazed shopping areas.  The central octagonal space is topped with a glass dome. The Milanese Galleria was larger in scale than its predecessors and was an important step in the evolution of the modern, enclosed shopping mall.  It has inspired the use of the term galleria for many other shopping arcades and malls.  While there, we said hello to Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada. 
After our window shopping at the Galleria, we walked back to our hotel taking in numerous boutiques and galleries along the way.  Our last stop before entering our hotel was Lipstick Vintage that was directly across the street from our hotel.  We all went crazy for the amazing vintage finds from Chanel to Gucci to Versace to Pucci.  This store has incredible things.  Although we tried a few things on, we were exhausted from the day’s activities and went back to the hotel for a quick nap.
After Donna and I served as ‘chiefs’ for the entire trip, my mom and Katie demanded they be chiefs for one night, so Donna and I had to be Indians and follow them around.  The decision on where to eat for our final Italian dinner together (Donna and Katie were leaving the next morning) was an important one.  Fortunately, mom and Katie led us just around the block from our hotel to La Libera.  This quaint restaurant served delicious traditional Italian specialties, seasonal, meat and fish.  Plus we had the most amazing server ever!  She was from Austria and had two young sons.  She said she desperately needed and Girls Getaway and told us to contact her when we head to Australia. During dinner we all stated what our “high” of the trip was and what our “low” was.  For me, the high point was every new memory we created and every time the four of us laughed and loved together.  These moments and absolutely irreplaceable! 
Because the four of us had such an amazing trip together, we had already started talking about where we wanted to travel to together in 2013.  We all started to settle on Istanbul.  To cement our decision, the first book I saw when I walked into La Libera was on Istanbul.  It is fate, and we all had to take our final photo together in Italy with the book.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Girls Getaway to Milan - Food & Duomo

From Venice, we traveled by train for approximately two hours to Milan (pronounced ‘Milano’ in Italian).  It is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy as well as of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area is the fifth largest in the European Union and the largest in Italy with an estimated population of more than 4.3 million. Milan is recognized as a major fashion and design center, and is home to Milan Fashion Week.  It also is home to important museums, theaters (most notably opera), and landmarks that help the city attract its 2 million visitors annually.  
We arrived at the train station and taxi’d to our hotel, Ritter.  With a somewhat rude front desk person and a charge of $3/one hour of Internet, I will not be staying at this hotel again.  From our hotel, we enjoyed a nice walk through Parco Sempione until we found Ristorante Pizzaria Momus on Via Arco.  Momus was the perfect place for us to stop and eat lunch as we felt right at home with the local businessmen who were enjoying their lunchtime break (with some beer or vino). We all had amazing meals, and Katie enjoyed one of the largest calzones we have ever seen!
Like most cities in Italy, Milan and its surrounding area has its own regional cuisine, which, as it is typical for Lombard cuisines, uses more frequently rice than pasta, and features almost no tomato.  So don’t be surprised if the menus look different from Olive Garden :).
After lunch, we continued walk as we strolled through the streets of Milan to the city’s Duomo (or cathedral).  Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan.  The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory.  It was truly a remarkable site.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Best Beach Getaways - Daytime TV Show

What are some of the best beaches to enjoy this year? The Getaway Girl, Casey Wohl, shares some of her favorites on the Daytime TV Show. To watch, click photo.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Girls Getaway to Venice - Guggenheim, Murano Glass & Carnival Masks

The next day Donna and Katie explored the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim. This unfinished 18th century palace was purchased by the wealthy American heiress and art connoisseur Peggy Guggenheim in 1949 to display her huge art collection. They say she invested $30,000 in her collection that is now worth more than $20 million. It is now renowned as one of the world’s foremost modern art collections featuring works by Picasso, Pollack and Dali. Guggenheim herself lived here until her death in 1979. Her grave, as well as those of her many dogs, is in the sculpture gardens.

After the Guggenheim, we enjoyed an afternoon of shopping. Some of the most popular items here are Venice Carnival masks and Murano glass. After being abolished by Napoleon in the early 1800s, Venice Carnival was revived in 1980 and attracts party-goers from throughout Europe. Elaborate costumes are the dominant feature of the festival that lasts 10 days before Shrove Tuesday with a masked procession through the streets and masked balls are held throughout the city. The world-famous Murano glass has been produced on a cluster of islands that make up Murano (just off of Venice) since 1291. Today you can still see craftspeople at work in their factories, blowing and twisting the glass into ornate objects from jewelry to platters. But you don’t have to travel to the islands to purchase is everywhere in Venice.

Another popular item in Venice are the gondolas (pictured above). There’s nothing more romantic in Venice than taking a gondola ride through the small, charming canals. And riding a gondola is like riding a piece of history. The boats have been in existence for at least a thousand years and there are ancient laws ensuring that each gondola is hand-made to specifications - size, shape, materials and color. We were ready to do a gondola ride after shopping, but the weather wasn’t cooperative and we could not partake. There’s always next time!

Known for its seafood, the Venice culinary scene (once thought below average) seems to be improving all of the time. Like the rest of Venice, meals can be quite pricey here, so we asked locals for recommendations and found establishments off the beaten path. One of our favorite places was at our neighborhood corner Quanto Basta....Italy’s version of grab and go food. Katie and I loved the late night fried chicken sandwich so much that we ate it again for lunch the next day.

As we said ciao to Venice, we took one last look at the “City of Water” that the New York Times described as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man.” We all agree!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Girls Getaway to Venice - The Ghetto and San Marco

Home to 60,000 Italians, Venice is visited by more than 20 million people a year. Although it is a popular romantic destination for couples and honeymooners, it can be very expensive and crowded at times, so be sure to plan your trip here carefully. The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy

Upon arrival via train, I was amazed to see this city that functions with no vehicles. People only get around by foot or boat here. Therefore, you will see Police Boats, Ambulance Boats, Taxi Boats and Mass Transit Boats, along with private boats and the ever-popular gondolas. Everything in this water-based city is beautiful, from the architecture to the museums to the shops where you can buy handcrafted lace, paper and glass.

From the train station, we walked towards the ghetto (the original ghetto, from which all others take their name) that came into existence in 1516 when the Senate passed a law confining the city’s Jews to this one small area between the hours of sunset and sunrise. The Jews eventually received full citizenship rights in the mid-19th century and the area is still home to a small Jewish population, evidenced by the kosher restaurants. A great place to explore and shop.

After checking into our Hotel Villa Rosa, located in the Ghetto, we purchased our 24-hour mass transit pass and boarded boat #1 that took us through the Grand Canal to our stop at Piazza San Marco (pictured above). This impressive piazza is anchored by the Basilica di San Marco that was built in the 11th century. Although the multi-domed, multi-arched exterior is lovely to gaze at (note the four bronze horses standing on the upper terrace that have become a significant symbol of the city), we were blown away by the opulent interior. The entire ceiling (and other major parts of the inside) are adorned with real gold leaf, as well as marble, glass, and 1.5 square miles of mosaics. It was free to enter the Basilica, and was worth 2 Euro/person to see the awe-inspiring Byzantine gold and gem encrusted altarpiece (located just behind the altar). Words cannot express how magnificent this piece is...we spent a good 20 minutes gazing at it before exiting the building. The Piazza is outlined with the Campanile (Bell Tower) and many divine cafes, trattorias and shops selling everything from glass to jewelry. Definitely a place to hang out, but a tad pricey. We found a charming cafe and enjoyed some vino while we took in the piazza.

After our vino, we explored the rest of the San Marco area that features tons of shops, restaurants and even chain stores like Guess, H&M and Addidas. After some shopping, we stopped for more vino and a few nibbles. We even found a place that sold wine by the bottle, and the store clerk was kind enough to uncork the bottle and give us four plastic glasses to we could enjoy wine during our boat ride home for the night.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Girls Getaway to Florence, Italy - Day 2

The next morning we had a hot date with David. The statue of David, that is. Galleria dell’Accademia is home to Michelangelo’s David that is easily regarded as the most famous sculpture in the world. Once inside the museum (and on the way to see David), visitors also get to see his Slaves, the artist’s unfinished group of sculptures. As a young sculptor in 1501, Michelangelo took on a slab of marble that had already been worked on by another artist (who declared it unworkable after he took a huge chunk out of it). In 1504, at 29 years old, the artist completed the Goliath-sized piece for the city. Upon looking at the original David in person, you will notice how his hands are over-sized, which is due to the fact that he was supposed to be displayed 30 feet in the air. We were mesmerized by the intricate detail (I stared at the veins in his right hand) and how human-like this piece of marble appeared to be.

After David, the shopping began. We walked along Via Dell Oriuolo towards the Central Market. Along the way we found a great little leather store Pelletteria Anna where we bought five pairs of shoes, one wallet and eight purses. All great deals. After a few more blocks, we found an antique flea market. Katie purchased some Italian ribbon and we found ourselves hungry once again. This time the red chairs attracted us to Ristorante Plaz, located along Via Pietrapiana.

After gaining a second wind we were ready for more shopping. We strolled in and out of the luxury stores along Via De Tournabouni (Dior, Tiffany’s, Prada, Cavalli, etc) and then found our favorite store in all of Florence, Michele Negri. Here Katie and I tried on tons of great clothes from dresses to shoes to jackets. Everything was incredible and exquisitely made. I finally decided on a dress and high heels....the perfect Italian outfit. And just as we were leaving Mr. Michele Negri himself made an entrance and posed for a photo opp (pictured above). Ironically, we had admired his own clothes and fashion sense a few blocks before we arrived at his store and before we knew who he was. Another great Italian getaway!