Ravishing Ravello

On one of our many trips to Italy, a few years back, we discovered Ravello.  What makes Ravello so remarkable is its height, Ravello sits very high above sea level and therefore benefits from the most phenomenal Mediterranean views.  It has beautiful gardens, elegant villas, and hosts the famous Wagner Arts Music Festival every year.  There are so many restaurants to enjoy, luscious gardens to explore, and walks or hikes that take you to discover Ravello’s pathways and trails.  In 1996, Ravello was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ravello's Main Square

Ravello’s Main Square

This amazing, little gem can be seen in one day, but I recommend to take several days to really enjoy it.  As with most of these gorgeous seaside Italian towns, there is so much to see and do, but here are my top 5 favorite attractions and activities if you’re spending a day in Ravello:

A visit to the Villa Cimbrone Gardens
Villa Cimbrone occupies the most breathtaking position on the entire Amalfi Coast, perched high above the sea.  The gardens are what most people visit for, with its many statues, temples, fountains, natural grottos and of course, the spectacular Belvedere of Infinity from which the view sweeps wide to take in a panorama of the coast.  The villa was actually converted into a hotel and is considered by many one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.  But even if you’re not a hotel guest, the grounds are open to the public for a small fee.

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Strolling the Villa Rufolo Gardens
A 14th century tower marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. The historic villa located right in the center of Ravello, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Campania. The gardens are truly magnificent, commanding panoramic views packed with exotic colors.   It is said that the German composer Richard Wagner was so struck by the beauty of the Villa Rufolo gardens during his visit in 1880 that he used them as the inspiration for the magical garden of Klingsor in his opera Parsifal. Following the pretty pathways through the gardens leads you to the famous Belvedere overlooking the coast. Enjoy the colorful flowers and stunning views looking down the coastline toward the seaside towns of Minori and Maiori. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll find a large stage constructed on the Belvedere where the main concerts of the Ravello Festival take place.  Definitely something to experience!

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Ravello Music Festival

Ravello Music Festival Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Limoncello
This part of Italy is famous for its lemons, which are very juicy and smell fabulous.  Although lemons are used to make the sweet but tangy liquor all over the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is known for some of the best in the area.  I always enjoy a glass of  limoncello, because I really love the taste, traditionally served as a cold after dinner drink.  I even like the creamy version a bit more.  I’ve never had a chance to visit the factory, but f you have the time, you can experience how it’s made and enjoy a nice tasting at the Limoncello Factory (Via Trinità, 37).

Walk the center of town
This town is very charming, but can get quite hot in the summer months.  Make sure you stop for a quick snack or a delicious cool gelato while you’re strolling around and taking in the scenery. There are many good restaurants and gelato places throughout the center of town.  You’ll also love admiring the beautiful rustic architecture of Ravello by following its quiet streets of colored stucco houses, lemon groves and wrought iron gates.

Ceramics, ceramics and more ceramics
While beautiful ceramics can be found all along the Amalfi Coast towns, what initially brought us to Ravello, was a recommendation of a ceramics shop by a dear friend. Knowing that I love ceramics, and that I pick up new pieces on every trip, he suggested we visit Ceramiche Cosmolena di Margherita Di Palma (Via della Marra 15/19).  Of course, hubby was a bit afraid of this visit, with good reason.  Margherita can sell ice to an Eskimo.  After my first visit there in 1999,  she somehow convinced me that I needed to make some purchases and I left with an entire 8 place setting of gorgeous ceramic dinnerware (shipped to our home of course).  Did I need it…no, but boy is it beautiful and we use it to this day!  As if that weren’t enough, we returned for one additional piece on our 2009 visit, and of course, I left with quite a few more pieces to my set.  She is charming, but beware, she is a great salesperson and will convince you of buying her entire shop. But in her defense, her ceramics and linens are breathtaking!  The store displays autographed photos of various Hollywood celebrities with Margherita up on the wall, also prior customers.  Ceramiche offers an unbeatable stunning selection of pottery and ceramics that can be shipped to any place throughout the world.  Stop in a take a peek!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

More beautiful ceramics

Ceramiche Cosmolena

The one thing I would love to experience on my next visit to Ravello is a cooking class with Mamma Agata. She has cooked all her life and now runs a cooking school out of her home in Ravello, which is quite well-known. She has even cooked for a number of celebrities and has a fantastic cookbook for sale. I found Mama Agata’s recipe for limoncello on a wonderful blog called The Italian Dish, which is loaded with wonderful Italian recipes.  Click here for Mamma Agata’s limoncello recipe.

Have you been to Ravello, and if you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?

The Island Cow

Whenever we’re visiting a new place, we like to try unusual or local restaurants. Every time we visit Sanibel Island, we make it a point to eat at The Island Cow. We like everything about this casual, beachy, cow-themed (hence the name) eatery. My husband always says this place makes him feel happy!

Fun for kids outside!

Fun for kids outside!

This quirky family restaurant has a fun vibe, with its cow decorations, funny signs, and claims that the food is “udderly great”. I especially LOVE this sign:

The menu here can only be described as extensive with items such as Seafood Fajitas, Steak and Cake (NY strip steak and their famous crab cakes), Moolicious Meatloaf, and Po’ boys. Let’s not forget the extensive breakfast menu, and the appetizers, soups, salads and desserts! We love to start with the basket of muffins they put on your table. They are really yummy, but don’t overdo it, you want to make sure you have room for the main dish.

Yummy muffins!

Yummy muffins!

For my main meal, I had the Islander’s Crab Cakes (I always order this), and hubby chose the “Fish’in Rules”, pick a fish from one of three groups:

Then choose how you want it prepared, however you want from broiled to barbequed, and then pick sides like cheese grits, island yellow rice or hush puppies. Whatever you eat, make sure you leave room for their famous Key Lime Pie, one of the best I’ve eaten in Florida!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

Delicious Key Lime Pie!

The Island Cow is right in the middle of Sanibel on Periwinkle Way. Be prepared to wait a bit for a table, the place is usually quite busy, especially during the high season. However, the service is pretty good and fast, and if you get tired of waiting, there are plenty of games, activities and photo-taking opportunities available while you pass the time.

Here are a few more photos of this cute little place:

The Island Cow

The Island Cow

Colorful Adirondack Chairs outside

Restaurant Interior

Restaurant Interior Photo Courtesy of The Island Cow

More colorful chairs…

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The Island Cow
2163 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel Island, FL 33957

http://www.SanibelIslandCow.com

Have you ever been to The Island Cow…and if you have, what has been your favorite dish?

PC vs. iMac?

Well, it’s that time again, time to upgrade my computer.  My current one is almost 7 years old…yes, you read correctly, 7 years old!  It’s so old, I couldn’t even download the free trial version of Photoshop! I know that nowadays, everyone seems to update their toys (phones, tablets, computers), almost on a yearly basis, but I sometimes tend to follow the train of thought “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” (well not really, I just hate learning how to operate new electronic gadgets).  And when it comes to leaning how to operate these new gadgets, hubby is not much help. He hates it even more than I do.  Every time I need to upgrade my computer, I always come across the same question…is it finally time to make the switch?  Of course, by the “switch”, I mean from a PC to a Mac.  Let me start by saying that I love all things Apple.  I can’t live without my iPhone, everyone in my house owns one.  We also love our iPads and we listen to all our music through iTunes. As my husband says I love Apple, because all of their products are “pretty”.  As usual, he’s right.  I just love how beautiful the iMac is. But, beauty is not everything.  Every time I sit and use an iMac, after 5 minutes, I feel like I need a drink!  I don’t like the mouse, I don’t like Safari, and the “windows” all look weird to me…everything is in the wrong place!  Then hubby says  he “needs” to have a PC at home and he doesn’t like the iMac at all.  Now, I know many of you will disagree with me because you love the Macs, and that’s OK.  I think there are plenty of computers out there to fit everyone’s needs.

My new Dell...

My new Dell…

So…PC wins again.  We decided on a Dell All-in-One with a 27″ touch screen.  Well, at least it looks a bit like the iMac, but it’s still a Windows platform, which is what we’re used to.  Although of course, I think Windows 8.1 will drive me to drink too! All of those colorful boxes look very “pretty”, but it takes time getting used to.  Thank goodness there is still the desktop option.

Which do you prefer…PC or iMac???

Very Vera

Who hasn’t heard of  Vera Bradley?  I have been a Vera Bradley fan for over 13 years now.  The first item I ever owned was my daughter’s diaper bag, a surprise gift from my husband.  Of course, he had no idea who Vera Bradley was back then, he just thought I would really like it, and I did (I still have it).  Ever since then, I have been a bit obsessed with Vera.  What I’m really addicted to are the travel bags and accessories (smaller pouches, phone cases, beach towels).  I became a real fan when we lived in Raleigh a few years ago, where Veras were sold everywhere and everyone uses them.  Eventually, my daughter became obsessed too.  She loves all the binders, pens, sticky notes, and every year she gets a new backpack and lunch bag with the latest pattern for school.  We now live in Miami, and you don’t see many Veras around this neck of the woods, but we still love our bags!  And lucky for us, there is a Vera Bradley store at the Falls Shopping Center.

The large duffel bag in beautiful prints.

The large duffel bag in beautiful prints. Photo courtesy of VeraBradley.com.

What I like most about these bags is that they’re washable.  We travel a lot as a family, and I’m a bit of a “germaphobe”, so I love the fact that once we’ve returned from our trips, I can just pop these bags in the washer, and they’re ready to go again.  They are also full of great compartments and pockets, which make packing a carry-on bag very easy.

A Vera fan from the start!

A Vera fan from the start!

I also like that they’re quite durable.  My daughter’s backpack is always in pretty good condition by the time schools ends, and I usually wash both the backpack and lunch bag several times during the year.  This makes it very easy for resale on eBay or to give them away to friends.

Now, they are a bit pricey, but they are really well made.  They only drawback that I see, is that in the past few years, they have changed the patterns and styles quite often, making it difficult to complete a collection (not an issue for me).  But if you’re lucky you can still find some of the retired patterns on eBay.

And of course if you live anywhere near Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Vera is headquartered, you can attend their Annual Spring Outlet Sale, always held in April, with discounts of 40-60% off retail prices.  I have never been to one of these sales (probably a good thing), but I have had the pleasure of visiting their outlet store in Orlando, which was quite the adventure.  People were running all over the place grabbing anything they could get their hands on, so I can only imagine the craziness that takes place in Indiana!

The latest in Vera...the baby collection. Photo courtesy of VeraBradley.com

The latest in Vera…the baby collection. Photo courtesy of VeraBradley.com

Vera Bradley Annual Spring Sale

Vera Bradley Annual Spring Outlet Sale in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Do you own any Vera Bradley bags, and if you do, which are your favorites?

Chillin at Chill-N…

As the summer sadly comes to an end (well it’s always summer in Miami), we made our last official summer ice-cream run last night to our new favorite ice-cream shop.  It’s so cool, it’s chillin (the name of the place)!  Not only is Chill-N Nitrogen Ice-Cream absolutely delicious, but the way it is made is what really makes your mouth drop. They make their ice-cream with Nitrogen, yes folks, Nitrogen!  The shop is quite small, but in my opinion, small places are typically the best!  No matter when we’ve visited this place (usually on the weekends), the line is outside the door.

How they make  ice-cream!

How they make ice-cream!

When you first walk in, you will find a cool Periodic Table inspired board of all delicious bases, flavors, and toppings, or as they call them, their mix-N’s…brownie bits, mint, marshmallows, Nutella, cookie bites, white chocolate chips, & much more.  You first choose your size of dessert, then whether you’d like ice-cream or yogurt.  Next, you choose from over 10 base flavors, and lastly, you get to choose all of your add-ins.

Flavors and topping!

Flavors and toppings!

Then the magic begins… While regular ice cream is frozen over night or frozen instantly through commercial freezers, nitrogen flash-freezes the liquid base as it is churned. The nitrogen makes the ice cream really cold, and since it’s all prepared as you watch, you can see the nitrogen fog pour out of the mixers.  It’s all really cool, and even the adults in line are watching the process in amazement!

Ice Cream in the making!

Ice Cream in the making!

The only drawback is that since the ice-creams are made fresh on the spot, you can’t try the different flavors.  But no worries, I’m sure any combination you come up with will be heavenly!  The first time I visited I got the cake batter ice-cream mixed in with the Oreos and cookie dough (now my daughter’s favorite).  Another favorite of mine is strawberry ice-cream mixed in with white chocolate chips. Absolutely delicious, I’ve never tasted creamier ice-cream!

If you’re in Miami and you want a place to chill…go to Chill-N, you must stop by one of their locations:

Pinecrest:  8271 SW 124th Street, Miami, FL 33156

Aventura: 17831 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura, FL 33160

http://www.chillnicecream.com