From the gargantuan Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, to the monumental Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, the Eternal City of Rome, Italy offers an incredible adventure for men and women of all ages. Art aficionados, history buffs, and foodies alike will be overwhelmed with the options available to satisfy their cravings to be immersed in the Italian lifestyle and culture. I can tell you from experience that a visit to Rome is unlike any other and will definitely exceed your expectations! Whether you want a low-key vacation, blending in with the locals, or if you want a fast-paced adventure seeing all the city has to offer, you will definitely be able to give your friends a full report of the picturesque architecture, succulent cuisine, and historic appeal. Just think of it as your own little moment of fame, telling them what you did “When in Rome!”
The moment you set foot on Roman soil, you will know that you are walking through a city with a rich history. Not only that, but some of the people who graced this city with their presence are, shall we say, not your average Joes. Take, for example, Michelangelo. Yes, THE Michelangelo. He painted the current version of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel that you can still tour today. Although he did not use a paintbrush, Julius Caesar also made his mark on Roman territory. More recently, Rome has birthed celebrities like Food Network’s Giada De Laurentis, known for her sumptuous Italian cuisine and endearing personality. Needless to say, Rome has definitely given us countless household names, influencing what we see, what we believe, and even what we eat.
If you only have a short period of time in which to see the city, be sure to invest in the double decker bus tour. By doing so, you will be able to snag a lot of incredible photographs and get off at key locations to get a more up close and personal view. It goes without saying that a visit to the Colosseum is a must. It’s not enough to just take a photo from the outside. Explore the many levels of this architectural wonder, marveling at the amazing workmanship that went into this colossal construction project, in spite of the primitive tools that were available in 70 A.D. This structure could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. Find a spot inside the Colosseum, sit down, and imagine what it was like to sit there many years ago, watching the gladiators or a mock sea trial. I guarantee that it will be a moment you will always remember!
Some might say that Rome has it all. Whether or not it has it all, there is certainly a vast array of possibilities when it comes to choosing how to spend your day. For instance, why not walk down the street and visit another country? Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world, is right in the middle of it all. There is no border, so tourists can walk right through the gates. Allow extra time to tour St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and Vatican Museums, as there are typically long lines, especially during peak travel months. Even so, it is definitely worth the wait! The Vatican is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is home to some of the most famous art in the world. Send a postcard to someone back home and tell them you spent the day in a country within a country!
When it comes to accommodations in Rome, there is literally something for every budget. From budget-minded hostels to luxurious 5-star hotels, you will be sure to find what you are looking for. During my last stay in Rome, my dad and I booked a room at the NH Leonardo da Vinci hotel. Having stayed at another NH hotel in Amsterdam on a previous vacation, they gave us an outstanding rate. It was more modern than some hotels you find in Europe, having all of the amenities of the average 3 or 4-star hotel in the United States. While it was a more upscale hotel, they also provided a complimentary breakfast buffet, which was a nice way to start the day. Still, our favorite place to stay in Rome is the Hotel Sonya. Recommended by the experienced traveler, Rick Steves, this hotel is quaint, off the beaten path, and will give you a true Roman experience. They include a free breakfast as well, with a vast array of Italian delights, including delicate pastries, quiche, fruits, vegetables, and so much more. This is more than your ordinary continental breakfast. It is a culinary adventure for your taste buds!
If you are looking to immerse yourself in the culture even further, walk a few blocks away from the Hotel Sonya and enjoy a vibrant street market, complete with clothing, fresh produce, and many other items. If all of this shopping has made you hungry, head to the Café Washington for a succulent Italian meal. Having eaten there several times, I can tell you firsthand that their lasagna, tortellini, spaghetti and meatballs, and pizzas are very good. Be sure to step around the corner and cap off your meal with a scoop of gelato or ice cream, as this restaurant also serves up a wide array of frozen treats! Looking for something different to satisfy your appetite? Head over to Amalfi Pizzeria for their signature pizza/calzone combo, where one half of the pizza is a traditional pizza and the other half is a calzone. So delicious! Needless to say, Rome has a huge culinary scene that will keep you hungry, wanting to try as many different foods as possible.
If you find yourself in Rome, wishing you could come again one day, be sure to make a wish at the Trevi Fountain. The largest Baroque fountain in the world, the fountain as we know it today was officially completed in 1762. It stands at 85.28 feet high and uses 2,824,800 cubic feet of water every day. It is one of the most popular fountains in the world and is a must-see for anyone traveling to Rome. There is also a legend that if visitors toss a coin into the fountain, they are ensured to return to Rome one day. While this is simply a legend, I can tell you from experience that one trip to Rome could never be enough! Like they say, even Rome wasn’t built in a day! So grab your passport and pack your bags! It’s time to go on the ultimate Roman adventure!
What are some of your favorite things to see or do on the island of Santorini? Please comment below and share your recommendations! May you always have joyful journeys!
Rise to the top of the Space Needle. Catch a flying fish. Be a mountain climber. These are just a small number of the amazing experiences you can have on a trip to Seattle, Washington. Whether you are at the site of the World’s Fair in downtown Seattle or watching the fish fly at Pike Place Market, Seattle has something for everyone. Looking to get away from the city for a day? From excursions on the historic Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad to visits to multiple National Parks, you’ll find that the geographic landscape surrounding Seattle is just as unique as the people who live here. For those who embrace the culinary scene, you’ll find everything from fine seafood dining on the wharf at Ivar’s to the best Mac ‘n Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop near Pike Place Market. Seattle, Washington is not your run-of-the-mill city. It’s an eclectic mix of old and new, always offering something for everyone. So grab your bags and hop on a flight to SEA-TAC. There’s a world of adventure awaiting you!
The first time I set foot on Washington state soil, I was awestruck by the beauty of the surroundings, and especially the refreshing scent of evergreen trees. No, it wasn’t Christmas time. These trees grow wild here, sending off a pleasant scent that virtually masks every other smell. Needless to say, it is a welcome break from the ever-present smell of exhaust fumes, garbage, and the like. We rented a car at the airport, drove to our hotel, the Best Western in Federal Way, a suburb of Seattle. This was the perfect place to stay, as it is less expensive than downtown hotels, yet a great location for driving into the city or taking side trips away from the city. Plus, this hotel provided a nice complimentary hot breakfast prepared by the staff from their on-site restaurant. It really depends on your budget and what you plan to do during your stay in the Seattle area.
A visit to Seattle would not be complete without a visit to Pike Place Market. Home of the world-famous flying fish, this market boasts multiple levels of vendors, selling everything from fresh fish and produce to crafts, jewelry, and antiques. One of my favorite things to purchase is the bouquets of fresh flowers sold here in the summer months. Very inexpensive, yet beautifully arranged bouquets, filled with traditional flowers such as carnations, daises, and roses, as well as more exotic ones. The only problem is deciding which one to choose, as there are literally hundreds to choose from! The smoked salmon is tasty enough to snack on by itself standing right in the middle of the aisle. Take a jaunt across the street to pick up some fresh baked cookies at Three Girls Bakery. Or visit Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for their famous Macaroni and Cheese. For coffee lovers, it is a short jaunt to the first-ever Starbucks Coffee Shop. One word of advice, don’t eat before you come to Pike Place. Once you finish grazing through the many delectable offerings, you’ll have had your fill!
While in the downtown area, you’ll definitely want to visit the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, complete with a few midway rides, a children’s science museum, and the iconic Space Needle. While there is an admission fee and a long line to match, the Space Needle is a must-do on your first visit. Let’s face it. When you go home, the first question you will hear is, did you see the Space Needle? It is the icon of Seattle, memorialized in photographs of the city skyline, standing 605 feet tall as the tallest observation tower in Washington State. After all of that standing and waiting, rest your feet and take a ride on the monorail, another historic piece that remains from the World’s Fair.
Getting hungry? Head to The Old Spaghetti Factory for a delicious meal that is sure to alleviate your hunger pains. Their Italian cuisine is just like “Mama used to make.” The well-seasoned dishes and al dente pasta will make you think you have been transported to an Italian grandmother’s home, enjoying a comforting meal that could only be had in the heart of Italy. You’ll delight as each meal ends with a sweet note, a scoop of their homemade spumoni, a special Italian ice cream that is sure to make your sweet tooth happy.
Looking to escape the concrete jungle for a day and enjoy the beauty and sounds of nature? Head to Mount Rainier National Park. Established in 1899, this National Park encompasses more than 235,000 acres of natural beauty. Situated in the midst of the Cascade Range, the tallest peak is the gargantuan volcanic mountain known as Mount Rainier, rising 14,410 feet above sea level. Drive up to Sunrise for a breathtaking view, the highest point accessible by car. Be sure to have your camera in hand for the many mountain vistas and glaciers you will see along the way. Go cross-country skiing in the colder months or take a walk on one of the many trails, enjoying the wildflowers in the spring. Whatever you do, you’ll be surrounded by the serene beauty of the wilderness, a welcome retreat from city life.
Finally, head over to Paradise. This location not only bears the name Paradise, but it truly feels like a mountain paradise. Enjoy a visit to the visitor center with informative displays and a movie about the history of the Park. Then, venture over to Paradise Inn, a historic landmark built in 1916. Enjoy a delicious meal at their dining hall. All of their menu items are delicious, but my personal favorite is their venison stew paired with garlic mashed potatoes. The venison is cooked to perfection, smothered in caramelized gravy that is bursting with flavor. In the evenings, a gentleman plays familiar tunes on the antique piano in the lobby. Before you leave, grab a brochure listing their room rates. You’ll need that to book a stay here for your return trip! It is an experience that you will always remember!
If you’re still looking for adventures in nature, plan an excursion on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, perfect for rail enthusiasts and those seeking adventure. Marvel at their vast array of steam and diesel-electric locomotives and enjoy the ride through the beautiful countryside. Or you can take a day and go volcano watching in Mount Helens National Park, a National Monument. Of course, you may have the desire to get away from it all for more than a day. Embark a cruise ship bound for the inside passage of Alaska, where you can fly over a glacier in a floatplane, partake in a bountiful buffet of freshly caught salmon, or travel into the Yukon territory aboard the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, why not go whale watching, explore a genuine gold mine, or venture into Anchorage for a visit to the Anchorage Museum.
Whatever you choose to do during your stay in this Pacific Northwest paradise, it is certain that you will quickly make plans to return. From the rugged outdoors to the intriguing cityscape, Seattle is the perfect vacation destination for those who want it all. And don’t worry, after all of the adventures you’ll have in this amazing locale, you will not find yourself sleepless in Seattle!
May you always have joyful journeys!
If classic literature is your cup of tea, be sure to tour Ernest Hemingway’s house. Marvel at the beautiful gardens. Stroke the back of one of the ancestors to Hemingway’s infamous polydactyl felines. Visit the house where many of his beloved literary works were written. Looking for more historic sights? Key West has several top-notch museums documenting everything from treasure hunters to the artwork of James Audubon. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, the only fully accredited museum in the Keys, is a must-see, filled to the brim with gold bars and countless artifacts from their 1622 Fleet exhibit of Spanish galleons. Pick up a few replica coins as a souvenir; perfect for tricking your coworkers into thinking you discovered sunken treasure!
While a visit to the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. is the ultimate choice for dessert, there are other culinary delights on this island as well. Swing by Sloppy Joe’s Bar & Grill for one of the best Sloppy Joes you will ever sink your teeth into. Imagine a soft sesame seed bun topped with an overflowing amount of spicy Sloppy Joe filling that has a kick to it, paired with well-seasoned fries and a slice of pickle. It’s enough to make your mouth water just thinking about it! Of course, Key West is the perfect place to get your conch fritter fix, one of their most popular culinary offerings. Let’s face it, with all of the fresh seafood found in the waters of the Keys, there will nary be a seafood dish that is not succulently prepared on this island oasis.
Once you’ve satisfied your taste buds, you’ll likely want to take a stroll on the beach or just lie in a hammock, enjoying the cool breeze coming off of the water. Once you’re ready for some more island action, strap on some diving gear and head to the open waters for some diving, deep sea fishing, or snorkeling. Rent a yacht, ride a banana boat, paddle a kayak, or just sunbathe on the deck of a catamaran. No matter what you choose to do, it is certain that the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico will take your breath away!
Are you ready to shop ‘till you drop? Key West has a myriad of boutiques and shops for every budget. From island fashion and fine jewelry to traditional souvenir t-shirts and postcards, Key West has it all. Look for unique items made with conch shells and sponges and of course, key lime taffy and key lime soda! You may even want to pick up a Conch Republic souvenir, commemorating the time when Key West briefly declared its independence from the U.S. in 1982. Even if you don’t want to purchase anything, perusing through the interesting shops is definitely worth the time. You’ll be bewildered and entertained by the wide array of items on display, so why not take a look? You’ll be glad you did!
As the sun goes down, head down to the Sunset Party, held every night in this island getaway. It is the perfect way to reflect on your stay in Key West. Filled with street performers, food vendors, and other unexpected surprises, this nightcap will solidify the fact that you need to return. Whatever you choose to do in Key West, it is certain that your stay will leave you wanting to stay forever or at least wanting to come back for more. From the bottom of the sea to the sunshine in the sky, Key West provides a picturesque setting that seems like it was built by Hollywood. But every palm tree and every grain of sand is real, which makes Key West the ultimate island paradise. Close to home for Americans, yet a location that seems so far, far away. What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head to Key West. The Keys are calling!
May you always have joyful journeys!
I have traveled to more than 40 countries and dined at a vast array of restaurants around the world. In all of my travels, I enjoyed one of the best restaurant meals I have ever eaten at Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse in New York City. From superb service to the most tender, succulently prepared steaks, this restaurant goes above and beyond the typical steakhouse experience. In fact, this restaurant sets itself apart from all other restaurants. Considered by many as the best steakhouse in New York City, Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse operates under the philosophy that the customer is king. And I believe that Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse should be crowned the “King of Steaks.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the owner and founder of Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, William Jack Degel. During our conversation, it was evident that Mr. Degel is extraordinarily passionate about his restaurants. When I sat down to enjoy a 10 ounce filet mignon, with the classic pairing of garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, I could taste his passion on the plate. Every single aspect of the restaurant, from the freshest ingredients to the ornate décor, is a direct product of this passion. That’s why Mr. Degel is an expert in his field. He knows that success can be found by putting your heart and soul into everything you do, whether you are cooking a steak or performing a stakeout!
Whether he is tweaking a recipe for a dry aged steak at Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse or assembling a Kobe Beef burger at Jack’s Shack, Mr. Degel knows good food. So I had to ask, are there any foods that he does not like to eat?
“I’m a foodie,” said Mr. Degel. “I love food. Certain foods just don’t work with me. I have a tough time with a lot of red sauces and I have a tough time with cream and dairy. But I like all foods. I like to try things. I’m not into frog legs, and exotic, crazy stuff like that, but I like all simple, comfort foods, Japanese food, and homemade foods from different cultures anywhere. The best thing I have ever eaten is hands down my mother’s German Style Pot Roast. She used to roast it long and slow.”
It seems like people are continuously searching for the perfect steak. Juicy, tender, full of flavor... So what does this steak expert consider to be the very best cut of steak?
“My personal favorite cut is a bone in, dry aged New York Strip, 2 inch to 3 inch thick cut,” Mr. Degel explained. “I love the flavor of the bone and you can dry age it because it has the bone and fat count. I love the texture of it. It has more texture. You have to chew it a little bit and while you’re chewing it, each bite is unique and different. It’s just a different piece of meat. It’s not the most tender piece, but I feel it has the most flavor, yet it’s tender as well.”
Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of dining in one of Mr. Degel’s restaurants, you have probably seen him help struggling restaurants on the hit Food Network television show, Restaurant Stakeout. But is it truly as easy as it looks? Mr. Degel said that it’s virtually impossible to turn around a failing restaurant in such a short span of time.
“A lot of them, the minute I’m gone, they go back to their ways. It’s like a diet,” said Mr. Degel. “They’re cheating, they’re cutting corners, they’re distracted, they’re not involved, they’re lazy, and they’re not committed. After a week or two, they’re going back to their old ways.”
Of course, for many restaurant owners, Mr. Degel holds the key to their success, imparting wisdom and advice that makes a lasting difference in their businesses and even in their lives. Having completed over 55 episodes, I asked Mr. Degel to tell me if he had a special memory relating to the show and the people he has helped along the way.
“Every one of them is special,” said Mr. Degel. “Some of the restaurants I did, you can tell during a show I didn’t get along with the owners. I wasn’t on the same page, I didn’t like their philosophy, I didn’t like how they treated their workers, I didn’t like their excuses, but I gave them everything I had. And then there are those few owners that embraced me so much that they connected to me and are doing everything they can to revive their business. They look at everything I said, they took it, and they challenged themselves. I can’t point out one because I wouldn’t want to do that because everybody’s different and unique in their own sense. Each season, I have 13 episodes, so there’s about 3-4 every season that are my favorites.”
Many people first learn about Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse as a result of viewing Restaurant Stakeout. I asked Mr. Degel to tell me how the show has impacted the number of customers he sees at his restaurants.
“We’ve definitely seen some increase,” replied Mr. Degel. “We have people come in and they’re positive and they love it. Then we have people just trying to come in and see if Willie is really that good, if he lives up to his name. No matter what, we’re there, doing everything we can. The employees have a lot of pressure, and they do a great job. If we’re not right, and somebody doesn’t have the great experience they expect, we make it right.”
“The way we cook fresh every day,” Mr. Degel said as he described his commitment to quality. “We run a lunch show and a dinner show. We make everything from scratch. I’m picky, I’m a Virgo, I’m a control person; we go over everything. Our recipes, our guidelines, how we dry age the beef, how we treat the staff, how we hand pick the marble. Everyone’s so committed, they’re giving you proper service, and they’re giving you their heart and soul. I don’t hire people based on what is on their resume. I hire them based on their God-given talent. I look for a cast of characters. Building that team and keeping people motivated and holding them accountable. Making sure they love what they do, day in and day out, so we can perform the show and make sure the customer has the best experience of their life. I love a cast of characters, so interacting with my customers and my team is what I love about being in my restaurants.”
In speaking with Mr. Degel, it is evident that he enjoys his job. He is not afraid of hard work and he knows that everything he does is worth the effort.
“I love people,” Mr. Degel said. “So many people go into business, thinking it’s glorious, it’s easy, and just open up to provide jobs. It’s not that easy. I can say it’s one of the toughest businesses. You have to have a lot of people work for you to make minimal money. Today it’s under more pressure than ever. You’re being attacked by big corporations. If you’re not ready for this business and you’re not committed, then you don’t understand that you’re going to have to dig in and live there. It’s not just a job; it’s a lifestyle. Don’t waste your money and time and stay working for somebody else.”
The motto of Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse is “The Customer Is King.” So what does this signify? Mr. Degel said it was to let the customer know what their commitment was and that the staff must meet his high expectations to give the customer the best experience possible. “We’ll strive for perfection, we’ll learn, we’ll get better every day, and we’ll never stop,” Mr. Degel elaborated. “The customers will sense that, they’ll appreciate that because we’re all human. We can have all the technology in the world around us, but interacting with humans and feeding and cooking for them in the restaurant is no different than them eating at your table at home.”
One of the questions I asked Mr. Degel was to describe the most unique place he has ever enjoyed a meal. He described a delightful trip he took with his wife to Central America: “I went on vacation with my wife to Belize and we went on a fishing excursion. I went down snorkeling and had little spear guns. I speared a couple of fish and we got some conchs and then we pulled up on the beach and we set up a little fire in the sand. We had conch with just a little bit of vinegar and seasonings and then we grilled the fish on the beach. Belize was really cool. It was a real romantic trip for me and my wife.”
As a family man, Mr. Degel also enjoys taking vacations with his entire family. They have traveled to the Four Seasons in Mexico, Aruba, Jamaica, and other exotic locations. He added, “We go to Vermont skiing and just enjoy being with other families, other kids, everybody cooking in the kitchen, a collaborated effort.”
Even with his busy schedule, Mr. Degel realizes the importance of family. “My family is my foundation,” he stated. “They know what I do. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a businessman, and I’m a visionary. I’m very driven, so they understand that and they’re committed to it and they make it pretty much easy for me but I divide my time very well. I’m sure my wife wants more of me all of the time, but she understands the commitment and the responsibility that I have. Even though I’m constantly thinking of the next big thing, you have to learn to turn it off and just slow down. I’m only human, even Willie has his kryptonite.”
Mr. Degel’s drive and determination are what make him a successful entrepreneur, restaurateur, husband, and father. But he is certainly up to the task. In fact, he is even looking to take the Uncle Jack’s concept beyond the Big Apple.
“We’re looking to open more Uncle Jack’s Steakhouses in every big city in the United States,” said Mr. Degel, “but I want to collaborate an effort with other restaurants that might be in these cities. We do joint ventures like a franchise and they’ll open with me and we’ll collaborate together.”
With all of his accomplishments, Mr. Degel continues to strive to better himself and his business. He said, “I come from a lower mid-class family in Queens and I never had anything handed to me. I had to believe in myself. It doesn’t matter if everyone else believes in you; you need to believe in yourself. I’ve established myself and built my empire up, but the pressure is on. What am I going to do next? It’s all about working smarter, not harder.”
Mr. Degel also feels that everyone should be working and making whatever contribution they can to society. “I'm a Republican. I’m really not happy the way the country’s being run today,” said Mr. Degel. “I’m not happy with our leadership, and I’m not happy with the frame of mind of people. I believe everybody should be working. I don’t believe everybody should just get everything for free and get it handed to them. I believe our government is controlled by just giving things out. I believe everybody in some aspect can have some type of responsibility. If they can’t walk, they can think. There are so many challenging people that aspire to great things and I see so many people whining and crying and milking our system. It makes me sick and I just feel that everybody, no matter what happens in their life, has to take this switch of negativity and look within themselves and say, what can I do today? What can I do to feel better about myself by accomplishing something that I’m good at?”
Mr. Degel is a great role model for other restaurateurs to follow. He knows what he has been blessed with and he is more than willing to share his knowledge with others. And it is evident that he loves what he does every day. Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Degel said, “I help everybody I know, every way I can, in any business, and even in their way of life. I feel the philosophy I have can affect anybody’s business and personal life. I’m no different. I’m not better than anybody. God gave me talent. I’ve been able to cultivate it to see what I’m good at, challenge myself, and I love being positive, believing in people, and showing what it takes, the commitment, the dedication, the passion, making sure anything you start you finish, and having fortitude. Never quit, never stop, and love what you do every day.”
Visit unclejacks.com for more information on Mr. Degel, Uncle Jack's Steakhouse, Jack's Shack, or to make reservations at one of his restaurants. Go to foodnetwork.com for more information concerning the television show Restaurant Stakeout. And be sure to read my review of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse at www.jennifersjourneys.net.
Do you have recommendations for our next Guest Spotlight? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
May you always have joyful journeys!