Blogging Day for Rossella Urru

UPDATE: We are glad to announce that Rossella Urru was freed on July 18, 2012 after a 9-month nightmare.

Today many bloggers in Italy are dedicating a post in their blogs to Rossella Urru.
from the website: www.rossellaurru.it

Rossella Urru is a 29-year-old Italian woman working for the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP).
She was kidnapped while providing aid to the Saharawi community on October 23, 2011 in Raguni, Algeria. Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons from Spain were also kidnapped with her.

Thanks to personal contacts of an Italian counselor with the Saharawi community we know that she is alive and that the kidnappers are asking for a ransom to buy weapons for their independence war. The government of Algeria knows the territory in which she is supposedly being held captive but they are not helping in the mediation.
117 days have passed since she was taken and the blogging community is asking everyone to stand for her freedom.

Her family's website: www.rossellaurru.it.
The plea for the blogging day: http://www.articolo21.org/4828/notizia/appello-per-la-liberazione-di-rossella.html
Hashtags: #freerossella and #freeRossellaUrru


Pinterest-ED or Pinspire-D?

Who hasn't heard of Pinterest or Pinspire these days??? They're like the new social networks that are actually not social networks, it's like your good old desk board, you know, the one behind the desk in which you used to pin the important papers, photos or images together with post-its, etc. Well, Pinterest and Pinspire are like an image database in which you find that, images, which you categorize in Boards and share with the world. For example, take mine:

As you can see, I divided my boards in 7 interests: the clothes, accessories and hairstyles I like are in "Style", the words of wisdom I often refer to are in "Quotes", the delicious recipes I will one day try are in "Food", the places I've been to or wish I could are in "Places", my favorite books or the ones I want to read are in "Books" and I have also added some images to the database, they're in "My Polyvore Sets".
The board "Ideas" is where I keep some ideas for my drawings (yes, another of my hobbies), right now I'm drawing a mexican-inspired Tree of Life and I've found many bits of different images that I'd like to add to my drawing so, what better way to keep 'em all in one place without printing or filling up the Bookmarks?

You can search for people with your same interests or whose images you like and start "following" them, you can re-pin their images or just "like" them (that's the social approach). Oh, don't forget to follow me!

On Pinterest

Or Pinspire


Viva Mexico!

I've just started getting my first spring items but, according to the latest fashion trends, Mexican prints are gonna be hot this summer... can't wait!
Viva Mexico!


Lovers' Risotto

Valentine's day is a nightmare for the foodie couple: restaurants are full, prices are super-high and the quality of the food is not the best. So we celebrate at home. This year's menu included my Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and a new entry, the Lovers' Risotto (how cheesy am I?) which is pretty simple to prepare and quick, plus I love risotto, it's quickly becoming my specialty.
Here is the recipe:

Lovers' risotto

Lovers' risotto
(serves 2)
10 tablespoons of rice (you should use a special type of rice to prepare risotto, I use Arborio)
300 gr. of shrimps (cooked and peeled)
1 cup of tomato sauce
1/2 cup of cream (panna da cucina)
1/2 cup of vodka
1/2 cup of white wine
200 gr. of butter
2 dl. of fish stock (I use 2 Knorr stock cubes)
5 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion
paprika powder
fresh diced parsley to garnish

Prepare the sauce:
In a pan, fry half of the onion, diced, in two spoons of olive oil. Add the shrimps and after a couple of minutes add the vodka. Let it evaporate and then add the tomato sauce and the cream. Turn off and keep it aside.
Prepare the risotto:
In another pan, fry the remaining onion, diced, in the remaining olive oil and add the rice. Let it toast for 1 minute and then add the wine. Let it evaporate and then start pouring the fish stock: scoop by scoop while it cooks (do not let the rice dry or stick to the bottom of the pan) for 15 mins. approx. a couple of minutes before the rice is fully cooked, add the sauce and a teaspoon of paprika.
Serve in plates (if you have a heart-shaped cookie form, use it) and garnish with diced parsley.

Wine pairing: Franciacorta (Secolo Novo Brut Vintage - Le Marchesine) already mentioned here

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail


Epic Cruise - Part 5

Day 6 - at sea
Woke up and moved the clock back to Miami time. Gym and breakfast as usual. Oh, by the way, this is what my daily breakfast plate looked like:
yummy breakfast

Pool and slides in the morning, it was hard to find a free lounger, stupid people occupate them the whole day with their towels and never show up, and the staff doesn't actually care, that's one thing that really bothered me. We bought what they call Cruise Rewards, a $250 deposit for the next cruise; it's really convenient since you get $100 off your on-board account for the current cruise and then you have 4 years to use your 250$ deposit booking directly through NCL or though almost any travel agent, we tried it last year and worked perfectly, and since we are waiting for the new ship to come, the Breakaway (decorated by Peter Max), we might be using it next year.
They held the White Hot Party this evening, that's when you dress in white and party in the open areas (like Spice H2O).
Spice H2O

Day 7 - Nassau
Arrival to Nassau was scheduled at noon so we woke up and went to the gym and for breakfast.
Arriving to Nassau
Junkanoo Beach
 Got off ship and walked to the main street (Bay st.) through a covered market with nothing interesting. On Bay St. we visited the cosmetics store marked in our maps and got a great deal on Bobbi Brown products. Shops were the same as in other ports (Diamonds International, Sr. Frogs, etc.). Bay Street is busy and noisy, lots of trucks and traffic. No nice monuments or sights. We walked past the Hilton to a free access beach, not nice. Then we took a taxi for $15 to the Sheraton. Walked in through the front desk to the pool and beach.

Sheraton Beach
The beach was nice but the water was too cold and it was windy. (the Wyndham, where NCL takes guests for the resort break excursion is next door). We took a taxi back to the port (again 15$) and got the rest in Bahamian Dollars (be sure to pay with those before leaving Nassau). We didn't like Nassau, the streets were noisy, perhaps with a better weather we would have used the beaches more. Back in the ship we had a coffee in the balcony and started packing.
We chose the Easy Walk Off debarcation option (you take your bags and get off the ship when you want), so since we were taking our suitcases with us we didn't have to leave them outside the cabin. We had dinner at the Manhattan Room (salmon tartare -my fave- seafood cioppino -a kind of fish soup- with the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand).I must say that after having been on the Epic twice, the food has not lost any of the great quality we found the first time. They really put a lot of effort in giving you excellent food and good service, not only in the specialty retaurants but also in the buffet and other venues.

Last day - Debarcation, Miami
We woke up to the vibrations of the ship docking in Miami. We had breakfast at the buffet and then back to the cabin to get ready. Debarcation took long. Easy walk off was not that easy, we had to make a looong line to get off and there was a bit of a mess but by 9.15 (30 minutes after leaving the cabin) we were off the ship. Since our flight was in the evening, we took a cab to the Dolphin Mall (around $40) and shopped until it was time to go. They let us store our bags at the Mall Security office. Flight back was OK but after leaving Miami with 25°C, arriving to a freezing and snowy city was depressing.


Epic Cruise - Part 4

Day 5 - St. Thomas 
The ship vibrates a bit while docking so on the 5th day of our cruise we woke up early to the view of St. Thomas beaches.
St. Thomas
 Again, some facts first: St Thomas a Caribbean island part of the U.S. Virgin Islands (together with St. John, St. Croix and Water Island). Its largest city is Charlotte Amalie
It was conquered by the Danes in 1666 and it remained under Danish control until 1917, when it was purchased by the US (because of its strategic position to keep control of the Panama Canal) for 25 million dollars in gold. It is a bit particular since the street names are in Danish, the language is English, the government is American and they drive on the left! Oh, and it's also tax free!

the end of the rainbow is in St. Thomas!

  Since we were here 2 years ago we noticed they built a larger dock for our ship and now there's a Señor Frogs (with a not very inviting green-water pool) outside the dock. We docked at Havensight and walked to Havensight Shopping Mall (there was also a free shuttle but we felt brave - we totally used it on the way back!), there are some Diamonds International and other jewelry and souvenirs shops there. There was a rain storm for like 10 minutes and then the rainbow came!

 We walked towards the town and stopped at the shops in the Yacht Club (they have Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, etc. - but prices are not that low). The walk to the town (Charlotte Amalie) takes 10-15 min. In town visited the Little Switzerland shop where we had bought a watch a couple of years ago (we prefer it compared to Diamonds International). At AH Riise we bought some Clinique products (good deals) and then walked around through the shops and waterfront. We went back to the ship early, it was so hot and the sun was really strong so we spent some time at the pool after lunch at the buffet.
pool and waterslides on the Epic

Back in the ship we tried the purple and green waterslides, fun; didn't get to try the orange/yellow one since there's always a line for that.
Le Bistro
We had dinner at the french Le Bistro (escargot and lamb chops, tarte tatin, everything delicious - wine pairing: rioja, ok). I love this restaurant, it's worth every penny of the $20 charge. The service is great, much more accurate than the rest of the ship, and you dine among works of art like Picassos, Miros, etc.


Epic Cruise - Part 3

Day 4 - St. Maarten 

We woke up when we were arriving to St. Maarten. Beautiful views of the island, and the water has a very special blue color.
Arriving to St. Maarten

Clear blue water

 Some facts first: Sint Maarten (in Dutch)/Saint Martin (in French) is an island in the Caribbean Sea which is divided in two parts, the Dutch and the French side since the 1600 after the establishment of settlements of French and Dutch families. They have coexisted peacefully after the signing of the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, the oldest international treaty still enforced. The most spoken language is English, even though the official languages are Dutch and French (a Caribbean variation of these languages, that is). The currency accepted in Sint Maarten is the US Dollar, in Saint Martin the Euro, there is a 1$=1€ exchange rate which might not be very convenient if you pay in Euro (at the current 1.3$=1€ rate).
Its duty free status, its beautiful beaches, its food and the cosmopolitan/European atmosphere of its villages make it a popular destination in the Caribbean.

Philipsburg beaches

Streets in Philipsburg
Our ship docked in Philipsburg, the main city of the Dutch side. We got off after breakfast by 9.00 and walked to the center of Philipsburg (10 min walk). Its boardwalk or Front Street is full of sourvenir shops and beach bars, while the main street has lots of boutiques. I got a Ralph Lauren visor for 10% less than the US plus no tax, which made my day.
me in Main Street
 We visited some watches shops and decided to get a cab to Marigot to see the watches of Jewels by Love, a shop I had read about before leaving (nice place, nice owners). The cab to Marigot costed $8 per person one way and took about 30 min. Marigot is more European, better food (they say, we didn't eat there), more lively (lots of yachts). The water and beaches are beautiful all over the island seemed beautiful from the road.
Guavaberry stand

the bay of Philipsburg

 We were back in the ship terminal by 15.30. We were advised on tasting the famous guavaberry liquor before getting back to the ship. It tasted of strawberry rhum and it was delicious on a frozen cocktail as a piña colada.
My veredict: I could live here, the towns are nice, people are friendly, guavaberry colada is good, there's no tax, the beaches are beautiful and the weather is nice all year round... sounds like paradise, doesn't it?


Epic cruise - Part 2

Day 2 - at sea 
After spending the early morning in the gym (it has like 20 threadmills, weights, lots of machines for each muscle, lessons, etc - there's water available and cold mint towels to freshen up) we had breakfast &lunch at buffet. Then we attended the auction with champagne. The art gallery on the Epic has 1500 works on board, making it the largest collection at sea (it's a Park West Gallery). They have works from Picasso, Rembrandt, Romero Britto, Peter Max, Thomas Kincade,  etc.
a Peter Max
We were interested in Peter Max's works but at around $15000 for a small oil on canvas piece, they were so out of our budget...
Moderno Churrascaria - from www.ncl.com

The Epic has  many dinner options, if you want to grab a quick bite, nothing formal, you can try the Garden Cafe buffet which has lots of choices. If you prefer something more like a pub menu there's O'Sheenan's, an english pub open 24 hours! Then if you want to have a nice dinner seated you can choose between the contemporary Taste and the classic Manhattan Room (where there's a band playing). These options are all included in the cruise fare.
Otherwise, for a little extra charge, you can choose among other specialty restaurants: the Steakhouse Cagney's ($25/person), the Brazilian Churrascaria Moderno ($20), the Italian Le Cucina ($10), the French Le Bistro ($20) and the Teppanyaki showcooking grill ($25). There's also a circus tent where you can dine and see a show for $35 (not for us) and sushi and chinese restaurants with interesting menus (extra charge), pizza delivery to your cabin, room service, etc.
For our second day at sea we chose dinner at Moderno Churrascaria; they serve you different cuts of meat from swords, and they keep it coming until you say stop. There's also a great salad bar, my advise is not to  eat lots of salad, starters and sides, because the most delicious meats come by the end (lamb chops, sirloin and the juicy costela), we didn't make it to the dessert. Great choice!

Day 3 - at sea 
Still a bit jetlagged, we woke up and went to the gym (after dinner at Moderno, we needed to burn lots of calories!). The day was cloudy so we did not go to the pool area and stayed in the cabin. Personally I prefer balcony cabins for days like these, you can chill out in your balcony with coffee just watching the horizon.
O'Sheenan's pub - from: www.norwegiancruiselineepic.com
We had lunch at O'Sheenans pub (tuna melt and mozzarella sticks, good), it's a nice place to hang out since there are 2 bowling lanes there, draught beer and you can get a nice view of the atrium big screen and the movies they often show. Dinner at Manhattan Room which was delicious, perhaps the nice atmosphere with the band playing helped. We had to wait like 20 minutes to get a table but it was worth it.
Manhattan Room - from: www.ncl.com

After dinner we had a quick round in the casino. Those damn slot machines are so addicting!