This September, Miles and I traveled to Barcelona, Provence, the French Riviera and Milan to itch our travel bug. We entertained our senses and our pocket book. I am excited to share with you my favorite activities that are well worth the splurge. After all, the point of travel is the experience gained, not the money saved.
Rooftop Concert at Casa Mila
Barcelona is peppered with Gaudí’s unique architecture. You can spend all day touring Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, Castillo and checking out the mosaic (Gaudí’s trademark) of people soaking up the sun at Barceloneta beach. In the Spanish heat, you will find a siesta mandatory which rewards you with a renewed energy to play at night.
My recommendation is Summer Night Concerts at Gaudí’s Casa Mila (La Pedrera). Enjoy the roof top with creative chimneys and a breathtaking skyline in an intimate setting while enjoying a glass of Cava (sparking wine mostly grown in the Catalan region) and listening to a live jazz band.
Cost: €55 per person
When to go: August, September
One last picture to capture the night
Loved all the whimsical chimneys
Bull Games in Arles
While there are many charming towns to pass through in Provence, I suggest spending time in Arles, a town known for it’s Roman past. In the very center of town is the Roman arena. Built in 90 AD, this perfectly preserved engineering marvel is still used to this day for bull games. Unlike Spanish bull fights, the French do not kill the bull in the ring.
Don’t worry about planning your trip around the fight schedules because the arena is open to the public on off days. Explore the tunnels, dark caves and sit in the announcer’s chair for the best seat in the house. Climb the stairs to the very top and explore the last of 4 fortresses still standing. The arena was used for housing after the fall of the Empire in the 5th Century. From the top, the sun gleams upon the town’s sun splashed pastel shutters, narrow streets and shaded cafes while Provence’s mistral winds haunt your senses and awakens your soul.
Cost: €20 per person
When to go: April, July, September, October
Roman Arena with last remaining fortress that was used to provide shelter for the town in the 5th Century
In the fortress peeking at the magnificent view of Arles
Miles’ “GQ “shot inside the tower
View from the cafe where we ordered a couple bottles of orange juice to get our morning started
View from the Announcer seat. We watched a kitty cat walk from one end to the other like he owned the place
View from the nose bleed section
Fancy meal in Nice
The French Riviera has a reputation for luxury and opulence, but I was pleasantly surprised with how sweet, humble and genuine the locals treated us. Although there are many towns along the coast that are worth visiting, I suggest making Nice your home base. Hotel Suisse is my choice for the best view that won’t break the bank. Take the money that you saved and splurge on a fancy meal at the 2 star Michelin restaurant, Chantecler located inside the grand Hotel Negresco, a beach front hotel dating back to 1913. Before the entrance to the restaurant, the royal lounge commands your attention to take in the extravagant 16,309-crystal chandelier. Time slows down for you to enjoy each course. Take your time observing the detail and the flavors that entertain your taste buds. Say “oui!” to the cheese course after dessert, which is an important part of French food culture. I dare you to try the stinkiest cheese. Just when you think dinner is over, your server will roll over a cart of what looks like a giant sized jewelry box of glimmering chocolates, macarons and petite sweets. In this moment you are truly living “la dolce vita.”
Cost: Plan on spending about €250 per person
When to go: Open all year
Entrance to the hotel
At the Royal Lounge, the chandelier was commission by Czar Nicholas II
After our meal. The silver gadget in the back was use to crank out the drippings of poultry
My appetizer of crab and mango cannelloni with caviar
The cheese cart rolled over with the stinkiest cheese I have ever tasted.
Tomato salad with burrata foam and tomato basil sorbet
After dessert, they roll out a treasure troll of petite pastries, chocolates and cookies. Now this is my kind of place.
Gamble in Monaco
Casino Monte Carlo is Monaco’s icon and is a must see along the Rivera. It is worth peeping inside where you are allowed access to the lobby. Next door, across the roundabout from the Hotel De Paris, is a small American style casino. There are many updated slot machines that you are welcome to play with a 5 euro minimum bet. Miles and I played the Game of Thrones slots for 20 minutes with 10 euros each and took home 30 (big spenders **wink**). Now we can say that we gambled in Monaco and WON!
Cost: How much are you willing to gamble?
When to go: Year round
American casino is on the left side of Monte Carlo
This is my His and Hers portion of entertainment in Milan.
Futbol Game at San Siro Stadium in Milan
To satisfy “his” entertainment thrill, I recommend getting tickets to an Italian Futbol match. Observing the Italian sports culture was exciting. Here, security will ask if you have a lighter or matches so you don’t smoke (or riot by burning things down); however, you soon realize that many people get away with lighting up a cigarette. Also, don’t even think about straying from your section. Security is there to guard each section off to avoid…you guessed it, riots.
I enjoyed people watching and observing the fans’ behavior like when the cute little boy next to us was praying to Saint Christopher for his team to score on a penalty kick. You can image how exciting it is to see the Italian’s passion evident in hand gestures and a lot of yelling. Passion for the game has at times led to violence. As a way to mitigate any potential violence, you will be required to sit in your designated sections and only utilize your designated facilities. When purchasing your tickets, be sure to double check that you aren’t too close to the Ultra’s designated section. Ultras are a type of football fan renowned for ultra-fanatical support, occasionally to the point of violence and hateful chants and slogans. The behavioral tendency of ultras groups includes the use of flares, vocal support in large groups and the displaying of banners at football stadiums, all of which are designed to create an atmosphere which encourages their own team and intimidates opposing players and supporters. The food and drink consist of hot dogs, pizza, beer and espresso. Nothing special on the refreshments front, but they do get the job done. The bathrooms are even more basic in that they have zero mirrors, seats or toilet paper. We hypothesized that this is to limit the contraband that could be used for setting fires and rioting.
Contrary to all of the above, the match was surprisingly family friendly. There is a noticeable lack of American style entertainment at these games. There are very few announcements, no halftime show, no scantily clad cheerleaders, mascots or music (aside from their national anthem). Everyone is keenly focused on the game, and this passion is so intense that the lack of any other civilized creature comforts are just not a concern…especially if your team wins.
Cost: Around €100 per person
When to go: End of August through May
On the right side, the ultra fans are chanting throughout the entire game.
Quick picture during half time
Watch a Performance at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan
For my “hers” entertainment splurge in Milan, I highly recommend reserving a box seat to the most respected opera house in the world, Teatro La Scala. Arrive about 1 hour before the show so you can enjoy the Milanese aperitivo experience. Next to the opera house, there is a small bar where guests, who are dressed to the nines, sip champagne and nosh on snacks of olives, focaccia, pretzels and chips displayed in bowls on the bar. Throw hygiene to the wind and dig in as if you were at a friend’s house party.
Getting to your seat is a spectacle. The ushers walk around with a heavy medieval key around their neck. After you show the attendant your ticket, she unlocks the door to your special box with a clang and a creak and escorts you to your red velvet, cushy seat just like they have been doing for the past 238 years. The railings where you rest your elbows are plush and dreamy. Our experience watching and listening to a Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra performance was the crescendo to a remarkable trip with the love of my life.
Cost: Starting at €80 cper person
When to go: Beginning of September through July
This might have been my only selfie from the trip
In the lobby before we headed to our seats
Box seats for days
Look at how plush and comfortable the banisters are!
Don’t stop exploring!