Category Archives: My Favorite Places to Stay

Making My Way Around Naples

Let me start out by saying that I visited Naples on my own a few years’ back.  It was just a quick
stroll from the station and around the city for about two hours before heading back to Rome.  It was interesting but I really didn’t get a sense of the city.  Now we have a client that I know that would like to go to Naples but the rap on the city is that it has a lot of petty crime.  So off I went with my man bag in hand for a virgin overnight in Naples.

First of all, it’s only a 63-minute journey on the high-speed Frecciarossa from Rome to Naples.  The train is super fast. The Italians love their high-speed train links.  They’re really good at this stuff!  After a particularly dreadful on-train coffee served by a particularly disinterested on-train steward (the Italians are really good at this stuff too), we had arrived in Naples.  My mate had organized a taxi (booked) from the station and so far, so good.  We safely got to our hotel on a nice stretch of the promenade that sits opposite the island of Capri.  In between, there were the usual underground excavations for a project that would never be finished, but no matter, we were here.  The trip had been entirely uneventful, no muggings, no hassles and now with the light of the early evening, we decided to go for a walking tour.

Here’s the thing about Naples – it’s handy to know your way around, there are lots of hills, it’s a chaotic, and there are lots of different areas with very different characteristics.  The first stop was the Palazzo Mannajuolo which holds an incredible staircase; probably the most breathtaking internal staircase in all the world, la scala ellittica.   We strolled around the hilly Chiaia and stopped at an old-world candy store in San Ferdinando.  We came across a beautiful piazza with the pantheon-like structure of the church of San Ferdinando.  The piazza here is open and full of light with Vesuvius in the background.  The opera house, Teatro di San Carlo, was showing La Traviata.  There is a spectacular galleria, the Galleria Umberto I, close by as well.  It houses thousands of panes of glass sitting in a cross formation with a whole series of panels of Jewish stars that form part of the glass decoration.  The history of Naples is more or less the entire history of the our ancient civilization.  One thing’s for sure, it makes Rome look like a young lad.

The light was dropping so we wandered back to the harbor to prepare for dinner near the Castle Nuovo (not very nuovo actually).  That is where I had the most incredible spaghetti alle vongole I had ever eaten.  So, this was Naples and we had only been there a few hours.  More to come.  Wow.

Rome

I love Rome.

From the moment I jump in the cab, there is a sense of gradual transition as you journey into this incredibly beautiful city filled with dust, cracks, and occasional garbage bags. It’s all here.

For me it begins as we pass the Sheraton Hotel.  Out in the distance is Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR), a 1930’s modernist vision community of how Rome should be in the new world.  It didn’t really work out that well but it left us some interesting buildings and now a trendy neighborhood with parks and metro access to both the beach and the center of town.  That’s the other thing about Rome – it’s a beach city.  The Roman port of Ostia is connectible by metro from the beach resort through Acilia and trendy living areas of Rome to the Colosseum.

Then for me the real transition begins.  The first sight of any significance is the white marble Pyramid of Cestius outside Porta San Paolo gate. Then you make that turn up the Aventine Hill with the Palatine Hill facing you.  Residential palaces in pink Roman stone look down on the vast field of grass that is the Circus Maximus, one of the largest arenas in the world during roman times.

It becomes frenetic and exhausting at this point with ancient fragments popping up every second it seems.  The right turn at the bottom of the hill takes you by the Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth).  Opposite from that there is a Greek temple then a Roman temple and as the roads start to move around, you start to see what looks like the Colosseum but in fact is Marcello’s amphitheater, the Teatro di Marcello. Behind that is Octavia’s portal and the Jewish ghetto.  On the right side lies the most glorious juxtaposition of stairways anywhere.  There is the very subtle Capitoline Hill Stairs, the Cordonata, right next to the severe and steep medieval stairway that leads to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  On the right hand side beyond the stairways is the slightly incongruous, but ever faithful tourist site for lost travelers, the 19th century wedding cake built to commemorate the unification of Italy in 1870 named the Vittorio Emanuele monument.

We are now in the Renaissance period with the Piazza Venezia with Trajan’s Forum on the right and I have disappeared into Rome before even my first cappuccino.

Rome Pietro Place Peter Jones Rome Steps Pietro Place Peter Jones

Zurich Pietro Place Peter Jones

Zurich

I had never been to Zurich before and probably will never go back.

Last year I was in Lausanne and promised myself never to return! I added it to my list of boring places – Deauville, Trouville, Biarritz. Places that I was curious about but couldn’t muster up enough energy or desire to return. Cross them off the list and add them to Cyprus and a few other places that I have been inquisitive about and will not go back to. But Zurich…I am torn.

This year we descended upon Zurich because I had heard some great things about it. A good nightlife, diverse restaurants, and an overall beautiful city. We stayed in the Stork Hotel. A fabulous location in a great part of town. Café stools outside overlooking the river made it utterly charming and even with cold weather, they provided blankets! I loved this hotel. A pure Swiss scene with beautiful houses over the Limmat River, three towering clock towers, and an extraordinary museum, the Kunsthaus Zürich, packed chock-a-block with masterpieces through the ages. There was a lot of Giacometti, in fact the whole family of Giacometis, a fair amount of Chagall, and a splash of Picasso and other xtraordinary artists. It had the lot. It was slightly overwhelming!

There were the two principal churches in Zurich with their stained glass windows rendered more spectacular by the artists whose paintings I had just seen in the museum. The walks were pleasant, the streets and squares were made with lots of cobblestones, all extraordinarily clean. Everything spilled onto the lovely river, even the Bahnhof with its underbelly filled with shops and eateries was decidedly clean and accesible. And of course there were swans. Lots of them.

This is a city with enough to do if you plan two or three days max.

On the restaurant scene, there are expensive places that have an iconic history in Zurich folklore like the Kronenhalle. The food there is pure Swiss with rösti, lots of meat, and fabulous desserts. The ambiance is extraordinary. Original artwork is all around – a Chagall here, a Miro there. Not far away there is Brasserie Lipp, one of Paris’ most reputable brasserie’s transplanted into the heart of Zurich. There are less expensive options and of course a few pubs where you can grab a beer, a burger, and watch a soccer game. The nightlife was a bit thin and daytime was a little quiet. Everything was very orderly and very Swiss. The tram system was incredibly efficient and very clean. As I walked along the narrow alleyways by the river and crossed one of the smaller bridges to get to the Church of the Grossmünster, I thought of how civilized this place is. Probably a nice place to bring the kids up. It’s a bit like Vancouver. But I really do not think I could live here!

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Vancouver

Vancouver – Hit or Miss?

Having spent several days on the West Coast – a little Seattle earthiness, a bit of the gorgeous climate of San Diego, and a touch of L.A. – I had this absolute desire to go to Vancouver.  I am not really a Canada freak but I do enjoy it.  I quite like Montreal partly because you get to try your French skills out.  Quebec is old world charm and the restaurants are not bad.  Frankly, it’s also not far from Boston.  But Vancouver, I had heard, was a fun, vibrant, and cool city with an incredible ski resort not far away, Whistler.  So off I went.

Canada has an incredibly efficient entry and exit customs clearance facility.  It is orderly, there are people who direct you with a smile, the machines all work and it is relatively quiet and highly civilized.  The journey in from the airport is pretty stunning.  We could make out beautiful waterfront glass skyscrapers that faced the mountains on the other side of the bay.  The mountains were huge and there was snow on the top.  It really was a breathtaking setting.  We came in through the charming Granville district and then headed through a bunch of boutique shop fronts before getting to our hotel, the Rosewood Georgia.  I was liking this place.  The Rosewood was right in the center of the city and I have stayed at Rosewood properties before and I like the chain.  The hotel was, as is always the case at Rosewood properties, excellent on service and detail and I felt sure that this was going to be a fun few days.

We had planned to do sightseeing the following day, visit the Granville Island famous for the marketplace, take a little ferry ride around, head over to the Vancouver Convention Center, and maybe even try a seaplane ride.  So why did I find myself going to a James Bond movie at 7 o’clock the following day?  There was something about Vancouver that was not quite making sense.  It was a bit dull and there were not that many people around.  There was a phenomenal exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery highlighting the Group of Seven and Canadian painters influenced by them.  But after that, it got a bit thin out there.  We did not go for the seaplane but we did discover a great seafood restaurant called Coast.  They had dover sole!

The next day we went to Whistler and it snowed.  The drive up was absolutely spectacular but Whistler was one of those fake villages that had been put up a few years ago and it did not look like there was much of a scene beyond the usual blah blah.  The snow did look great, although I was not skiing, but it was fun to be in the thick of skier talk in the gondola.  So, the scenery is stunning, the snow levels are higher than comparable ski resorts in Colorado but it still was not convincing.

I felt a bit sheepish about it.  Everyone had said that this place was beautiful but I seemed to have missed it.  Maybe it was the seaplane I should have taken or maybe it was just a weekend when everyone was away.  The city had no edge to it.  Maybe I will go back and look for it again next time.

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Vancouver Pietro Place

Image credits: Vancouver Sun and HelloBC.com