Bella Napoli, local Italian cuisine!

So, I have to say, that Bella Napoli has turned into my favorite local Italian restaurant. Located in Del Ray, a neighborhood of Alexandria Virginia, it’s a small restaurant, very relaxed atmosphere and excellent home-made pasta. It’s a place where the family and staff who own and run the place remember your face and always greet people with a smile. You will feel like a local on your first visit.

Just like Irish pubs, I am not sure I have been anywhere in the world that doesn’t have an Italian restaurant. Nothing compare’s to eating Italian in Italy, but the cuisine varies just as much from North to South, East to West as it does from restaurant to restaurant here in the states.

I was first introduced to this local restaurant by a good friend. We started meeting at Bella Napoli’s on sunday’s to discuss his website or upcoming book (he’s a client of mine, I maintain his websites and publish his short stories). Or more or less these days we discuss life in general while we both separately work. The restaurant has maybe 10 tables inside and about 6 outside. I have yet to stop by for a beer or a meal and not seen a steady stream of people in and out.

If you live in the area or passing through, I highly recommend stopping by for dinner. They also just installed wi-fi, which likely means you can find me working from here a lot more often! (Sitting at Bella Napoli’s while I am writing this blog.)

Bella Napoli Del Rey Alexandria

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Small Concert Venues and Jo Dee Messina!

Annapolis, from what I can tell has a beautiful downtown area with shops and restaurants. Although, I have only ever been to Annapolis to see performances at Ram’s Head Tavern, I should really get back one of these weekends and write-up a blog on the area. Ram’s Head Tavern is a great place for a night out, they have great food, good beer and an awesome outdoor seating area. They also offer live music. But what makes this place stand out is that they have a concert hall attached. It seats maybe 400 people, give or take 100 in either direction. It’s a “dinner theatre” style, so you buy seats at a table and order food and drinks during the performance. Small settings are a great way to see any musical act, everyone has a great seat!

Last week I had the opportunity to travel up to Annapolis with a group of friends to see Jo Dee Messina perform. She started with two of my favorite songs of hers, Heads Carolina, Tails California and I’m Alright. Already the night was off to a great start in my opinion. Then she announced, in small settings, she likes to interact with her fans, so she ask us to start offering up questions. Some one even got up on stage and sang with her.

Ila & Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee & “The Dream Lady” Ila

It made the concert personal, which was really awesome. The show I attended was her 4th performance in 3 days, and the second of that day, plus she is a mom of a 3-year-old and a 3 month old, so she expressed her exhaustion to us, but that didn’t stop the show from ending 40 min’s late! My friend Ila asked her a thought-provoking question about dreams, which then got Ila termed as the Dream Lady! Fair play, she had plenty more questions. One of her later questions was when did Jo Dee feel closest to god, and Jo Dee sang us her song that she wrote specifically about that. What an awesome way for a singer to respond to a question!

Heather Markman & Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee & Me

Jo Dee also gave us the honor of sharing a bit of herself outside of the question world and sang for us two new song’s she has recently written and the background of what was going on in her life/in her head at the time she wrote them. How fun! At the end of the night, although she didn’t officially come out to sign autographs, Ila and I snuck up and got our picture’s taken. I will admit, I was so excited, I was shaking! I also promised to give a shout out to her blog, Fumbling Mom. A funny blog sharing day-to-day stories about life as a mom.

Interesting Links:

Fumbling Mom Blog, Jo Dee Messina’s humorous blog about motherhood & other stuff

Rams Head Tavern

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Living & Eating Like a Local in Rome!

Rome like a local. It’s so refreshing to return to a city i have been to, but be able to absorb a new side of it. Having been to Rome many times before i was looking forward to “living Rome like a local” with House Trip. I was really excited to see Rome from a different angle and it was well worth it!

Woman in Rain, Rome, Italy

To start with, my fantastic host Ryan Levitt with House Trip made me feel right at home as soon as I arrived at my apartment. House Trip currently have 848 properties in Rome to choose from with prices starting from £23/night. They also offer over 92K rentals worldwide. I am totally converted and might never stay in a hotel again! Our group in Rome were spread among three separate apartments in three distinct areas on the city. A very large apartment, with an amazing view of the Colosseum, a simple one bedroom apartment with a bit of class located in the Trastevere neighborhood, and the final apartment near Campi di Firoe with low ceilings with wooden beans. All three were well maintained and very comfy. I stayed in an apartment in Trastevere, the area is full of life. There are several universities in the area and the streets are lined with cafe’s and restaurants and full of locals. Upon arrival and after settling in Kirsten Alana, my roommate for the duration of my time in Rome, and I took to wandering the area, eating gelato and enjoying the crowds of locals in the neighborhood.

Gelato in Rome, Italy

Apartments in Rome:

The beautifully and spaciousness apartment with an amazing view of the Colosseum. (From £297 GBP / USD $454 / €358 per night)

Trastevere apartment, a true living like a local feeling, away from the crowded tourist attractions! (From £117 GBP / USD $186 / €141 per night)

Beautiful low beamed ceiling apartment near Campo di Fiori with a traditional rustic feel. (From £185 GBP / USD $295 / €223 per night)

Kirsten Alana & Angie Orth, Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Kirsten Alana & Angie Orth sitting in the Colosseum Apartment window!

Food, Food, and more Food!

Starting off at a coffee shop with an espresso and pastry early in the morning, we grouped for our market tour. I am a huge market fan, I love the colors, the smells, watching people go about their normal daily shopping routines. Our guide Eleonora walked us though the market sharing all types of details with us while we picked up items that were needed for our lunch that afternoon. The smells and the tastes were heavenly. It is so easily to get lost in a place like this! We eventually made our way back to the apartment near the Colosseum where we enjoyed a cooking lesson taught by Eleonora our guide, followed by my favorite, our big group lunch!

Lunch at Pierluigi, Rome, Italy

After an afternoon full of busy work and relaxing, we headed out for a guided dinner. We regrouped at a small family restaurant near the Pantheon called, Armando al Pantheon. The food was fanatic! Our guide Gina, as well as the chef, spoke to us about the dishes served to us. We had something like 7 or 8 courses, pastas, meats, buffalo mozzarella, vegetables, and a fantastic desert they called tiramisu, however it was nothing like any tiramisu I have ever had before. Gina was full of information to share with us about the history of food in Rome and the amazing food we were eating.

Cooking Lesson lunch with Eleonora, Rome, Italy

Both of these tours brought out a side of Rome I had never experienced before. Food. I have always travelled on such a small budget, normally sharing a pizza and never having more than a single course at any given meal. I will admit that my favorite of the three meals was the lunch we ate near Campo di Fiori at Pierluigi, this was not a guided lunch, but we had some fantastic dishes. It was a perfect end, filled with amazing food, fantastic people and great conversation!

Guided dinner with Gina, Armando al Pantheon, Rome, Italy

A big thanks to Context Travel for arranging our guided market tour and our guided dinner! They arrange tours in cities around the world. And of course I want to thank House Trip for inviting me on this adventure. All opinions in this post are my own.

Interesting Links:

House Trip, Apartments in Rome and worldwide

Context Travel, Tours in Rome and worldwide

Eleonora Baldwin, Italian Culinary Adventures

Gina Tringali, Food & Travel Writer

Armando al Pantheon Restaurant

Pierluigi Restaurant

Kirsten Alana, Aviators and a Camera

Angie Orth, Angie Away

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A day on the town…NYC!

I have visited New York city more then I can count over the years. In recent years most of my trips into the city was for dinner and a show or for a few beers thanks to my friends who live on the Hudson river with a great view of mid-town Manhattan. However, a good friend of mine who currently lives in Bath, England was going to be in town. So I took a very early train ride up to the city for the day. We had a fantastic time with our day out on the town. Not only was it nice to catch up, but to have a friend to wander the streets and see something new with.

nyc, New York

We started our morning at Penn station, although we didn’t plan a meeting point well, it only took about 20 minutes of us both wandering in circles for those circles to intersect! We immediately headed out to the High Line. This was new to me, as I was unaware that this had even existed until the night before when someone mentioned I should consider walking it while I was there. It just so happened that this was also the top of Zoe’s todo list.

nyc, New York

For those of you also unfamiliar, the high line is a pedestrian walkway along a former elevated rail track in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan (Opened in 2009). It is a fantastic walk through the city, above the street level sounds and dirt. There is tall grass growing on the edges, some cherry and dog wood trees to name a few, several sculptures, several spots to relax in the sun and even an area to watch movies! There was also several sitting/viering area’s set up that encouraged viewers to stop and take a seat while overlooking the busy city streets.

nyc, New York

We walked the full length, and this left us right where we wanted to be, around the corner from the Chelsea Market. We stopped and had a light lunch while enjoying the marketplace. The marketplace was formerly owned by the National Biscket Company and is the location where the Oreo cookie was invented! Tis is a fun and artistic place to stop and eat with a wide variety of eating establishments and a few stores along the way.

nyc, New York

nyc, New York

Following our lunch we had every intention of heading for Central Park, as I was a child last time I had been to the park and was hoping to spend the brisk afternoon observing locals and tourists alike enjoying their afternoon out. However, on our subway ride the Bryant Park station appeal highly to us, so we stopped. We ordered ourselves large hot chocolates (delicious!) and wandered over to the Southwest Porch bar to spike our drinks and sit under a heating lap for an hour catching up. We enjoyed ourselves so much, the only reason we decided to leave was that we finished our hot chocolate!

nyc, New York

We did finally make it to Central Park were we stopped for a hot dog, just because it’s iconic, and wandered the lower end of the park for a bit before making our way down to the Flatiron District. It is likely that we would have not bothered to make it down to this end of town if it wasn’t for meeting another friend of mine who lives in the city for a quick drink. The Flatiron district gets it’s name from a building that literally is shaped like a flatiron. By this time we were hungry again and had just under two hours before we both had to catch trains back to where we started our mornings.

nyc, New York

nyc, New York

It just so happened we were standing outside of Eataly, an Italian Marketplace in NYC and had been recommended to go there. Although we were both unfamiliar, this is evidently a very popular place for eating, drinking and doing a bit of shopping! We shared a gorgeous Capricciosa pizza. We would have also shared a bottle of wine if we had enough time, but instead ordered a glass each. What a great day out, and I highly suggest Eataly if you are in the area.

nyc, New York

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Dinner and a Show

What better way to spend an evening then enjoying dinner and a show. This weeks show was the gallery opening for “Love, People & Scrabble” held at/by Del Ray Artisans. The show was preceded by dinner at a locally owned restaurant, Fireflies. Another reason why I love Alexandria, our local restaurants and fun art shows!

Fireflies

This local gem boasts great food and a friendly atmosphere. They also offer live music Thursday through Sundays and a trivia night every Tuesday. However, my adventures on Friday took me for an early dinner. One of the features I love about this restaurant is the way I get to pick my sides. I am not talking choosing a steak and having the option of 7 types of potatoes and 4 vegetables. I am talking about do I want my Tilapia over fettuccine or roasted potatoes or on a bed of sauteed spinach. And finally, someone who serves a decent fruit salad. Out with the melon/citric mix and occasional strawberries if they are in season. My fruit salad was thinly sliced apples mixed with a light cranberry sauce, excellent choice. My date for the evening chose the beef and shrimp kabobs over grilled vegetables and sweet potato fries. Both dinners were very much enjoyed!

Links: Fireflies Del Ray’s Website

Fireflies Dinner

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Love, Politics & Scrabble: The Games People Play

The Del Ray Artisans is a local art group founded in 1992. It is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote art for the benefit of artists and the community. They offer a full calendar including workshops and art shows. Many of their shows are open to all artists in the DC-area, some are open just to those who are members. However all people are welcome to the art shows and exhibits displayed at their gallery located in Del Ray area of Alexandria Virginia.

This particular exhibit is an all media exhibit of artwork inspired by the various games people play throughout life…including the game of life! The opening night reception was held on February 3rd and runs though February 26th. The gallery is generally open during the day, noon to 6pm. Friday’s the gallery is open until 9pm and Saturdays 10am-9pm. Admission is always free. This particular show also offers a Valentine Card Shop, an Art Games event and an ATC Artist Trading Card Swap as well as a Games Talk with and challenge with the famous Capital Pool Checkers Club.

The exhibit encompassed all types of works from 3D sculptures created from actual games to pastels and jewelry pieces made from dominoes. A few of my favorites was a recreation of Candy Land; a word code game using dominoes; and as photography of fast food trash found on a street curb called “Consumerism”.

The recreation of the all time favorite children’s game Candy Land gives us an adult version! Created by B Boatman this adventure to the sweet end titled “DC CAND LAND” focuses on matching scandals with the elected officials or political operatives who either caused the scandal or who were caught up in it by their association. The game even includes a double sided print out for viewers to play along!

The word code game by local author and artist Amy Thomas uses dominoes to spell out a code. The answer lies in the key and spells “You Win”, each letter represented by a dot on the domino. What a fun idea!

The photograph that I liked so much at the exhibit wasn’t just fast food containers found on a street curb. It happened to be a photography of a McDonald’s monopoly game food container, among others. What a great find in and appropriately titled “Consumerism”. Consumerism is defined as the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods. The popular game of Monopoly fits this category, after all who doesn’t own one of the hundreds of version of the all time favorite board game. McDonald’s Monopoly game offers consumers encouragement to purchase their food as well as the entertainment of playing their unique version of Monopoly in the chance to win prizes. I felt this image really encompassed the concept of “the games people play”!

This art exhibit was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area this month. The exhibit also offers a Marketplace filled with art to be purchased. The gallery is located at the Nicholas A. Colasanto Center in Alexandria. It is a small building that contains a huge amount of talent.

Interesting Links

Del Ray Artisans Website

Alexandria Times Article on “Love, Politics & Scrabble”

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