I’m so overdue for painting

I love my little condo, but 7 years of living has done a number on the walls.

The paint was never great, but it has not stood up to normal wear and tear. The entire house was painted in flat-texture white paint. The entire house, including the kitchen and high-traffic areas. And not the fancy modern washable flat paint… The kind that comes off on the sponge like chalk if you even think about washing the walls. The paint even feels almost powdery when you touch it.

So we have decided to undertake painting all the walls in the house. It’s long overdue, and it will go a long way toward refreshing the feel of the house. And we decided to start with the kitchen. Because who doesn’t love a bright new kitchen?

Before

The sad before picture.

You can see in the picture the ugly black marks on the lower part of the wall. You can also see the orangey oak veneer cabinets, beige switchplate covers, and the utterly uninspired vibe in the kitchen.

I’m not going to show a big picture of the kitchen yet, because we haven’t painted the cabinets, and the wood looks pretty awful with the walls. Right now the room feels dark and small, but we’re painting the cabinets lighter, so that should open things up a lot.

So here’s the little chef who hangs out on my back kitchen wall. We didn’t go in planning to match the walls to the picture, but it worked out that way. And with my sand-colored countertops, he’s really going to match the decor!

Kitchen Chef

All work in the kitchen is chef-supervised

Montreal, day 3

We checked the weather when we got up this morning, and it looked like it wasn’t supposed to rain. It turns out that Canadian weather people aren’t any more accurate than American ones.

After breakfast, we did a little more window shopping in one of the underground shopping plazas. This kept us out of the rain, and was a fun way to make our way down toward the food fair we had seen setting up yesterday called, “Les Cultures Gourmandes” – it was set up in a square with food and drink tastings, activities, and entertainment. We really liked an ice wine and a maple cream liqueur, both made in Quebec. We both ended up buying a bottle of each, which means we will have to check our luggage. (Which Delta charges $23/bag, even for the first bag!)

When we went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases, we also had to cool off and change into lighter clothes. It’s not too hot this weekend, but it’s extremely humid.

By the time we struck back out, the weather had finally cleared and we finally got to see some of that good weather that was promised. We decided it was perfect weather to go antiquing. The Rue Notre-Dame is the main antique store neighborhood in town. We had a nice walk there, but we didn’t end up finding anything be liked and would have been able to easily transport home.

We found a nice little cafe for a late lunch, and enjoyed a little people watching in a less touristy part of town.

Our concert tickets for tonight were for 6:00, so we found a little bar to enjoy some local beer before the show.

Tonight was the last night of the Chamber Music Festival. The last concert was a 4 hour “marathon” of Russian chamber music. We opted to go see the first half, including two pieces for string octet by Shostakovich, a string quintet piece by Alexandre Glazounov, and a piano trio by Anton Arensky. The last one was a particular treat since it featured Rachel Barton Pine on violin. The whole show was fantastic. We both really enjoyed it.

We have checked in for our flight, packed our suitcases, and are planning a laid back half day tomorrow before we go home.

Montreal, day 2

We started our second day in Montreal by sleeping in. After all, we are aiming for a relaxing vacation this time!

We started with a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and started off for a day of museums and shopping.

We began at the Contemporary Art Museum, which was interesting, but we ran across a lot of stuff neither of us liked or “got”. We opted to avoid the installation piece that drops confetti on the viewers. All of the gallery descriptions were so hyperbolic about the pieces, they were hard to take seriously.

Montreal has a lot of shopping in these underground plazas underneath the downtown area. From the museum, we wandered down into one of these plazas, and got to see what underground Montreal is like. While down there, we bought some postcards, but we haven’t written them yet. As an added bonus, we covered a lot of distance inside away from the wind and rain. The weather today was grim.

Once we surfaced, we headed south toward Old Montreal and the river. On the way there, we walked through Chinatown. While we were there, we saw a pretty little kite shop (see the picture attached below) While in Chinatown, we passed a nice looking bakery with what looked like chocolate or cinnamon croissants in the window. Unfortunately, when we got inside, we realized they were filled with bean paste, so no croissants for us.

The old part of Montreal is full of art galleries and boutiques, and we wandered around window shopping, looking around, and taking pictures of statues in squares. We won’t have nearly as many pictures from this vacation as we have in the past, but we still had to get some.

We walked down to the quays and walked along the waterfront. From there we saw the Bonsecour Market, and went in to look at the shops specializing in local art, jewelry and clothing.

On our way back in the direction of our hotel, we came across the set-up for a big food fair in one of the city squares coming up this weekend. There were booths being decorated in all kinds of international themes. We are going to walk back down and investigate tomorrow.

We returned to the hotel in the mid afternoon, and decided to be virtuous and visit the hotel gym for an hour. When we walked into our hotel room, we found a little creature made out of a washcloth (a snake, maybe?) sitting on the mantle with some chocolate. (See picture below.)

We had concert tickets for tonight so we went looking for a restaurant near the concert venue. We ended up in a restaurant called ” Baton Rouge”, a mildly Louisiana-themed local chain restaurant. Thankfully the food was good and our waiter was cute.

Tonight’s concert was part of the Montreal Chamber music festival that has been going on all month. It was tango music performed by a very talented bandoneon player and varying combinations of guitar, violin, viola, stand up bass, and cello players. The concert was held in a very pretty church with wonderful acoustics and uncomfortable pews. The performance was outstanding. I have to admit a real love for all variations on the concertina, and he was a really fantastic player. The performers got a very well-earned standing ovation.

Overall, even though the weather isn’t the best (though no worse than it is in Lexington or St Louis this weekend) we are having a great time, seeing a lot of music and enjoying the city. Montreal is great fun.

Montreal, Day 1

After a little bit of excitement this morning concerning flights, we successfully met up in Detroit this morning and flew on to Montreal without incident. We got to our hotel too early to check in, so we figured it was time to get sone lunch.

Our first lunch in Montreal was at a local brew-pub, and we had a taste of their March specialty beer, a very flavorful wheat beer (see the picture attached below).

Since we didn’t have any real plans for this trip, we discussed our options over lunch. It is festival season in Montreal, and we have lots of options.

We scoped out the locations of several concert venues, and found the box office to buy tickets for concerts we want to go to tomorrow and Saturday.

We checked into our hotel this afternoon, and it is really lovely. the room is comfortable and beautiful. and the hotel has free wifi if we ever figure out how to connect to it. We are very centrally located in downtown Montreal not far from McGill University and we can almost step out the front door and go shopping.

The Concours Musical International de Montreal piano competition is going on right now, and tonight was the last night of the quarter finals. We went to see the last four contestants. The performances were excellent, though the last pianist was really spectacular. The competition was set up so everyone played the piece that had been commissioned for the competition, then the remainder were selections from lists of approved pieces. it was really interesting to hear different people’s interpretations of some of the same pieces.

Tomorrow’s plan is museums and tango music.

Rome – Day 5

Today we wrapped up our vacation with an expedition to Pompeii. The weather forecast was bad, but we decided to take a chance. Armed with train tickets to Naples and back, and some basic instructions for how to get to Pompeii we set out early this morning.

All goes well at first. We get to Naples, find the circumvesuviana, the commuter train, and start looking for a train to Sorento. After some confusion and a bit of a false start, we find ourselves on the right train and get to Pompeii Scavi (excavation).

When we get there, it has already been raining and the ground is wet, but it is not raining at the moment, so we get to see a great selection of the ruins. We see the forum where they have plaster casts of bodies buried in the ash on display. We visit the House of the Faun that has a replica of a mosaic of Alexander the Great. (The original was moved to the National Archeological Museum in Naples)

Not long after, the weather took a turn for the worse. Soon the rain was coming down extremely hard. We ducked into one of the houses called the House of the Little Fountain which had a roof put on it to protect it’s beautiful frescoes.

It became clear that the afternoon’s weather was hopeless. We had hoped to see the House of the Vettii, but it was closed off. We did decide to make a fast detour to the Lupanare, the Pompeiian brothel with the scandalous frescoes.

After that, we felt we had seen a good selection of ruins and frescoes, and it was time to return to the relative warmth and dryness of the train station. Once we were back in Naples, we had a little time to kill and explored the train station.

We pulled out of Naples to the sound of church bells with the sunset on the horizon.

We did the majority of our suitcase alchemy last night, so tonight we plan to step out for a warm dinner and say our goodbyes to Rome. Our ride to the airport will be picking us up at 6:30 tomorrow morning.

Rome – Day 4

Greetings from Vatican City!

This morning we got up and dressed a little nicer, since we had 9:30 tickets for the Vatican Museums. It was a short walk from our apartment, and as we were walking up to St Peter’s, we saw a group of cardinals walking together away from the church. I’ve attached a picture of the square.

My guidebook warned that the Vatican Museums are confusing to navigate and often poorly labeled, so we bought the museum guide. It was a help, though the museums are still confusing. It’s a little like going to Ikea, there’s a path through the building that the signs try to keep you on.

We started out with a walk through the galleries displaying classical sculptures. All along we were also taking pictures of the floors and ceilings. We skipped the Etruscan Museum in the interest of time, and because we had seen nice Etruscan artifacts in Bologna.

We admired the tapestries in the Gallery of Tapestries, and the frescoed maps in the Gallery of Maps, then the beautiful fresco walls and ceilings in the Gallery of St Pius V and Raphael’s Stanze. We took a fast pass through the Borgia Apartment and Collection of Modern Religious Art, the finally the highlight of the Vatican…

The Sistine Chapel is amazing. I hadn’t realized just how much was packed into the chapel – not just the remarkable ceiling, but the walls are frescoed as well, painted by lots of other great artists. It was crowded, but the chapel is really amazing in person.

We walked out through the Vatican Library museums, which contained some interesting collections. By now it was halfway through the afternoon, and we decided we had seen as much of the museums as we could absorb, so we went looking for the Vatican post office.

We wrote a couple of postcards, and sent them out so they would have Vatican stamps and postmarks.

We went back to the square intending to visit the Basilica, but the line curved halfway around the square and must have been at least an hour long!

We decided to have a late lunch as our big meal of the day. When we had come in to Rome, we saw an Irish pub and today we decided to pay it a visit. In a happy accident, it also turned out to have wifi, and we were able to post yesterday’s update.

To fill in the last of the afternoon, we took the bus to the Aventine hill area and followed part of a walking tour of the area that took us to a piazza where you can look through a keyhole to see a view of the dome of St Peter’s.

From there, we made a visit to the Protestant Cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried. Unfortunately, the cemetery was closed, but we did see the giant Pyramid of Caius Cestius.

We had a little time left in the evening, so we fit in a visit to San Luigi del Francesi (Saint Louis of the French, how could we resist?) suggested by Aunt Margaret. It turned out to be one of our favorite churches on the trip. It has 3 Caravaggios which are spectacular, but the rest of the church is beautiful too. We were especially taken with the ostentatious decoration of Saint Louis’s chapel.

We returned to the apartment to rest our tired feet. (We plan to finish this trip like a marathon, limping off the plane having walked as long and as far as we were able) As soon as I’m done writing we will step out to a local cafe for a little desert. :)

As of now, our pedometer total is about 21,700 and after we get back from the cafe, it should be about 1,000 more. (Since we spent most of the day in museums, it depressed our total)

Tomorrow morning, we’re taking the train to Naples and then on to Pompeii. We’ll be back in the evening, and then say our last goodbyes to Rome.

Rome – Day 3

This morning, our first objective was to buy train tickets to Pompeii for Tuesday. We don’t have a bus map, but we succeeded in getting back to the main train station by taking the same bus we took to get to the apartment on Friday, in the opposite direction. This was a great success.

On our way to the bus stop, we came across a display of ruins in the Piazza Argentina, then read the plaque and found out they contained the place Julius Caesar was assasinated. I’ve attached a picture.

At the train station, we got good tickets for Pompeii, and pastries and espresso for breakfast. From there, we took our first excursion on the Rome Metro. We ended up hiking for what felt like a quarter mile underground to pick up the A Line metro, south towards the Via Appia Antica.

Once we got off the metro, we embarked on foot to find the park the Antica runs through. We were walking through a normal, everyday Roman neighborhood, and noticed that while the touristy areas in the city center have “SPQR” on every manhole cover, there is much less of that kind of branding as you get out into the rest of the city.

We stumbled upon a great little park containing some Roman ruins. After looking around, we asked the guy at the park information desk how to get to the Appia Antica, and he explained to me in a mix of Italian and broken English that it was too far to walk, and told us where to catch the correct bus. The bus took us to the middle of the park, where we had two walking tours to chose from: one focusing on tombs going in one direction, and one focusing on crypts in the other. We chose the tombs.

The walk was beautiful. The trees are green, and there are gigantic aloes that look so dramatic, we agreed that if any of them said, ” Feed me, Seymour” we would take off running. :)

We saw the ruins of many imposing tombs, and also enjoyed a nice walk through the peaceful and relaxing park. There were people out biking, walking, and enjoying the sunshine like we were.

Once at the end of our walk, we found a bus stop, but couldn’t figure out whether the bus ran on Sundays. Just as soon as we had decided that the bus definitely didn’t run on Sundays, it turned the corner and proved us wrong.

We returned to the city center for lunch and cold Italian beer at a little caffeteria. From there, we began our second tour for the day, centered around the sculptures and city architecture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Unfortunately, Santa Maria della Vittoria was closed for lunch, so we didn’t get to see The Ecstasy of St Theresa.

We toured the area around the Piazza Barberini, and saw several fountains built by Bernini and others.

A couple of nights ago, we thought we found the Piazza Trevi, and in it found no crowd to speak of and a nice but not exceptional fountain. This tour took us to the correct Piazza Trevi and the correct fountain. (In fact, the “wrong Trevi Fountain” was a smaller fountain that was not too dissimilar to the back wall of the real Trevi fountain)

The crowd was insane. Yet again, I was wondering what it could possibly be like in the summer.

We finally made it to the Pantheon next. What we probably should have known, but our guidebooks failed to mention was that the Pantheon had been converted to a Catholic church. It’s spectacular inside, and I took a series of pictures all the way around inside that I’m going to try to stitch together into a panorama when I get home.

After the pantheon, we wandered around for a while, but ultimately we hated the crowds and were getting quite tired, so we decided to adjourn to the apartment for some beer and some time off our feet.

Since we had a late lunch, and some gelato in the afternoon, we decided to skip a formal dinner in favor of some sweets and house wine at a trattoria off of the Piazza Navona. The evening was lovely and it was fun to watch the people go by. I’ve attached a picture of the fountain in the Piazza.

For the statistics-lovers among you, today’s pedometer total is 30,136.

Tomorrow, we have 9:30 AM tickets to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. If we have time in the afternoon, we’ve got a handful of sites nearby we’d like to tack on.

Rome – Day 2

We selected today as the day we tour the major sights of ancient Rome. Again, we selected a walking tour from one of our books as a preliminary itinerary.

We had our breakfast of espresso, tea, and pastry standing at the bar in a tiny caffeteria. I could really get used to the wonderful espresso available at every little corner cafe here.

Our plan started at the Teatro di Marcello, which was a great introduction to Roman ruins.

We took a beautiful walk up the Via di Monte Caprino to the top of Capotiline Hill. Even though it is November, the park was lush and green. At the top of the park is the Capitoline Museum. While there we bought a “Roma Pass” which gets you free admission to your first two museums, and discounts after that. But then we were unable to find the actual entrance to the Capitoline museum. After a some wandering, we decided to move on and come back to the museum later. (This actually turned out to be a good thing)

While looking for the Capitoline, we accidentally wandered into a military museum, and climbed to the top of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuelle II to see the view of the forum. (If anyone can find themselves accidentally climbing a building it’s us.)

We walked past the forum of Augustus, and headed for the Roman Forum. Our Roma Pass tickets allowed us to completely skip the ticket line, which was nice.

We worked our way through the Forum, making our way through all of the major landmarks. A couple of things were closed for cleaning or repair during the off-season, but we still got to see almost everything, and it was so cool.

We walked up from the Forum onto Palentine Hill. Once up to the top we turned to each other and marveled at how we were standing, “Where it all began” The ruins on the hill are interesting, and the view from the top of the hill was gorgeous. I’ve attached a picture of the Colosseum taken from the Palentine. We walked all over the Palentine drinking in the history of the place.

We moved on to the Colosseum, where we discovered our Roma Pass got us into a separate line that bypassed the mobs waiting to get in. (At that point, we decided the passes were a genius purchase) Of course, there were crowds inside the colosseum, but it was fascinating. There were great signs and descriptions detailing things like ancient graffiti carved by audience members, everyday items like hair pins discarded in the stands, etc.

By then it was around 3pm and we found a cafe and bought cute little individual quiches for lunch.

With a little time left in the afternoon, we decided to give the Capitoline Museum another chance. We got there only to discover the entrance was only two doors down from the ticket desk. Elizabeth suggested that Juno and Minerva smiled on us, since it turned out to be much better that we were able to go to the museum after the outdoor sights, since we were able to stay at the museum as long as we wanted without worrying about fading daylight.

The Capitoline is a fantastic museum from top to bottom. I have attached a picture of Constantine’s foot, part of the remains of a colossal statue of Constantine that are displayed in the museum’s courtyard.

The collection includes dozens of busts and Roman statues, including the famous statue of Lupa suckling Romulus and Remus. They also have a small but excellent gallery of Italian paintings, including a couple of Caravaggios (one was unfortunately on loan to a museum in Berlin), Titians, etc. Every room was worth looking at, and we ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon there.

We returned to the apartment to regroup, then set put in search of dinner. We ended up finding yet another of Rome’s innumerable sandwich shops, and taking a couple of great sandwiches and tasty cookies home. We stopped at our local enoteca for an inexpensive and tasty local white table wine, then planted ourselves on the couch to recover from a long day.

On the pedometer front, we broke all our previous records today: 35,483 steps. We’re feeling it tonight, but it was so worth it.

We were going to go to Pompeii tomorrow, but we rescheduled it to Tuesday to take advantage of our museum discounts tomorrow.