Report Cards for August

This item appears on page 71 of the August 2009 issue.

From VERNAZZA, Italy, May 19, 2009…

My travel companion, Cindy, and I traveled to Italy, May 5-19, and discovered II Pirata delle Cinque Terre (Via G Guidoni, 36, Vernazza, Italy; phone 0187 812047). It’s located near the bus stop and parking area at the top of Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre villages.

Sicilians Gianluca and Massimo (twins) run this unique Italian restaurant. In the off-season, they live on an island near Sicily and teach culinary classes, but from March to September they bring a touch of Sicily to this region.

Gianluca is a pastry chef artist and, along with his brother, brings an array of homemade, hot-out-of-the-oven treats each morning, like panzerotto (made from ricotta, cinnamon and vanilla) and a variety of bruschette made from meat and cheese. These go for €2-€3 each, and the place is packed each morning.

During the day, the fresh fruit granitas (slushees) are a big hit with the crowds. Lunch is served all day, and it’s a good idea to have reservations for dinner. The atmosphere is special, as the duo creates fun with their playful service.

Some of our favorite recommendations are, for starters, bruschette with pesto sauce, tomato, Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella (€7-€8) and, for pasta, lasagna with pesto sauce; lasagne Bolognese (with meat sauce), and cannelloni with ricotta cheese and spinach (€9). Open daily 6:30-24:00.

— Tom Ellerbe, Aliso Viejo, CA

From LONDON, England, May 8, 2009…

• My wife and I stayed at the Best Western Shaftesbury Paddington Court Hotel (27 Devonshire Terrace, Paddington, London, W2 3DP, U.K.; phone 44 20 7745 1200,, May 7-8.

We booked on their webpage and were attracted by the hotel’s stated proximity to Paddington Station, a key transportation point for trains, the Tube and buses. However, we felt it was not conveniently close to the station; four or five blocks is an easy walk unless you’re dragging suitcases, then it gets tough. When we left, we used a taxi.

The cost for two nights with an English breakfast buffet included was just over $300. At check-in we noticed they were charging about $17 each for breakfast, more than we wanted to pay. They refused to drop the breakfast charge when asked, even after talking to the manager. They said we had ordered it online and it could not be changed.

The rooms were adequate, if not a bit larger than what one often encounters in London; however, the breakfasts were not very good, for the expense. Next time we will try someplace else.

• Rose and I enjoyed dinner one night at a pleasant Italian restaurant near busy Paddington Station: Il Gusto Bar & Cafe (11 Craven Rd., London, W2 3BP, U.K.; phone 020 7402 2111,

Il Gusto seemed like a family-run business and a good place to work or eat. The owner’s role in things seemed limited to personally serving each entrée with a smile. One waitress was on the sidewalk looking for customers.

Two orders of salad, two plates of pasta and a bottle of wine came to $36. Whoever was working in the kitchen knew what he or she was doing.

— Joe Phelan, Lincoln, CA

From SINTRA, Portugal, May 10, 2009…

• Our cruise ship, Sea Dream II, docked in Lisbon on May 8 and we took a taxi to Sintra (€50). The main reason for the cab was convenience, as they were at the dock and we didn’t want to take time going to the train station. We did take the train (runs every 20 minutes) back to Lisbon; it was easy and fast and cost €1.70 for two seniors.

• We stayed two nights at the Lawrence Hotel (Rua Consiglieri Pedroso, 38-40, Vila de Sintra, 2710 Sintra, Portugal), which claims to be the oldest-known hotel on the Iberian Peninsula.

Within walking distance of town, it was charming and friendly, with a great restaurant. The rate for our deluxe room with two beds was €172 ($241) per night, including a very good hot breakfast.

Dinner the first night cost €82 ($115), including cocktails and wine. That meal we found to be too much food, so we cut back on night two and the cost was €45, also with cocktails. The meal portions were large and tasty.

• The restaurant Tulhas (Gil Vicente 4, Sintra), located off the square, was great fun, filled with locals. Our lunch came to $17, with beer.

• One last item — we stopped in São Miguel for a few hours, and since we read in the May ’09 issue (page 77) about Especial, the local beer, we set out to find and consume same. Took a couple of bottles back to the ship’s captain.

— Ann Litten, Savannah, GA

On ITALY, May ’09…

• We stayed near Sorrento at Hotel Torre Barbara (Corso Caulino, 77, 80069 Vico Equense, Sorrento Coast, Italy; phone +39 081 802 9209, fax 9220, www.torre

It’s a lovely, family-run hotel with free Internet, a great view, an excellent breakfast and a free shuttle to the Circumvesuviana train.

You can book directly online (for best price) or through Expedia. $150 for a single room.

• Nearby Ristorante Frate Cosimo (Via Raffaele Bosco 782 - 80069 Vico Equense, Napoli, Italy; phone/fax +39 0818024781, was fabulous and worth the $45 per person. We shared most courses, including a fresh local fish. Restaurant staff picked us up and took us back to the Torre Barbara.

• In Sorrento we had an excellent meal at Ristorante Sorrento Inn (Via Fuoro, 19/21 - 80067 Sorrento, Italy; phone/fax +39 081 8773123,

Again, we shared most of the courses, which allowed us to sample several without wasting food. Italy has taken up the American habit of serving portions large enough for two or three people. Main courses cost around $18; $67 covered dinner for three.

If anyone has questions, send me an e-mail at

— Harriet S. Hughes, Alexandria, VA