Rome, Italy

It’s been a while since I completed my last Italy entry, and, 15 months after the actual trip, I am finally ready to close the loop and write my last blog post related to our Italian adventure. This is bittersweet, but it gives me a great reason to look back through my photos and relive all the amazing experiences from the trip.

I’ve already covered Florence, Orvieto, and Praiano, so this last post is dedicated to the Eternal City, Roma. Ah, just typing that elicits wonderful memories of strolling through piazzas, enjoying plates full of freshly made pasta, and sharing bottles of wine at dinner. It also summons visions of amazing architecture and the rich history of one of the most magnificent places I’ve ever been to. As Lizzie McGuire/ Isabella so aptly crooned back in 2003, Rome truly is, “what dreams are made of.” Rome is also like any major metropolitan area in the world, and overall felt less touristy than some of the other places we visited. It is a beautiful juxtaposition of ancient history overlaid with a decidedly modern culture that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Rome was our first stop on our two week tour-de-Italy back in October, 2019. We flew out of Toronto (highly recommend if you’re in the CLE) and arrived in Rome around 11AM. We rented an AirBNB a block away from the Tiber River, just across from the Trastevere neighborhood. This was a perfect location for exploring and I would definitely stay in this area again.

After we got to our AirBNB and put our things away, our first stop was obviously food! We had no plans and walked down our street and found a little restaurant called Pianostrada. I had pasta and Ryan had an amazing panini. Both menu items were incredible and the perfect first taste of Rome!

I honestly still remember how good this pasta was.

After our meal, we just walked around a little bit (pretty aimlessly). We walked to the Piazza Navona which is incredible (although filled with tourists).

The beautiful buildings surrounding the Piazza.

Rome (as in many Italian cities) tends to have a warm color palette which is absolutely stunning in the afternoon light.

Some of my favorite scenes from our first walk!

After we got our bearings, Ryan and I headed out to a free walking tour of the city. I think I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but walking tours are one of my favorite things to do when exploring any new area. It’s a great way to get a lay of the land and note places you may want to return to for further exploration on your own! Funnily enough, my mom and I actually did the same free walking tour of Rome on our trip here back in 2016. It was so wonderful Ryan and I decided to it too! The tour took us all around the ancient part of the city and ended with us at the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge at dusk.

Detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers Sculpture in the Piazza Navona
First gelato on our walking tour. One of the best of our trip!
The aforementioned Pont Sant’Angelo bridge. You can see St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

The bridge is absolutely a must see if you’re in Rome. Completed by Hadrian in 134 AD, it features incredibly beautiful statues by Bernini (although the originals are now safe in a museum, the replicas are a sight to behold) amongst others. It is a work of art and interesting to read it’s storied past. The bridge was widened in the 1400’s to allow for more pilgrims to pass through on their journey to the Vatican.

After our three hour walking tour (+jet lag), we were exhausted and headed back to our apartment. We stopped at a random restaurant for carbonara pasta and shared some red wine. Seriously drooling at how good it was and how amazing this sounds right now!

On our second day in Rome, we took time to just walk around and explore. The weather alternated between bright sunshine and some wayward sprinkles! We saw the Trevi Fountain (beautifully restored back in 2015), the Pantheon, and many cute little alleyways. We also made our way over to Trastevere and walked around the neighborhood, enjoying another gelato :). One of our favorite meals of the entire trip came after visiting the Pantheon. Ryan found a restaurant in the area called Osteria del Sostegno, and after a morning of walking, it was just the sustenance we needed! This was one of our favorite meals on our whole trip (I don’t think we actually ate one thing that was even close to disappointing) and I definitely recommend it. I also recommend making a reservation as it was getting quite full once we started eating. This little osteria is tucked away on a cobblestone alley, providing a respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

On our third and final full day in Rome, Ryan and I left *bright and early* (literally 7AM) for an 8 AM tour of the Vatican Museums. This was one of the most remarkable museums I have ever been in, and I have to say it is well worth the visit, despite the horrible crowds outside (the worst of our entire trip, and just a clusterf*ck). I would love to go back one day and spend more time inside. Once you get inside, it is much more manageable and they do a great job of spacing out groups so you never feel overly crowded (except maybe a teeny bit at the Sistine Chapel as people tend to stop and stay for a while). The museums are right next to St. Peter’s Basilica, so you can combine seeing them with a visit to St. Peter’s as well, which I also recommend. Ryan and I booked a guided tour of the museums and I highly recommend this option. They only sell a limited number of tickets and due to the vast size of the museums themselves, it would be hard to navigate alone unless you want to spend all day here and do a good amount of planning (which you definitely could). Instead of going into detail about the museum itself (yawn), I will just share a few photos. I can’t recommend visiting enough! You’ll see works by Raphael, Giotto, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci and many more. There is also an amazing modern art gallery (which was unexpected!) featuring Chagall, Picasso, Gaugin, and many other recognizable artists.

Walking to our Vatican Museum tour- amazing view of St. Peter’s!

After our tour ended (under the amazing Sistine Chapel!), we headed over to St. Peter’s. It is a breathtaking feat of engineering and opulence and left me speechless.

Don’t forget to look up! Pretty sure my neck hurt after this day.

Following the morning of museums, we had a very long, relaxing lunch in Trastevere. Then, we headed back to our apartment and relaxed for our last night in Rome – a cooking class that Ryan found. This was one of the highlights of our trip and the pasta we made was, you guessed it, molta buona!

The next morning, we had our daily cappuccinos and pastries at a cute little cafe on our street. Then we walked over to the Coliseum and Forum to explore on foot. In 2016, I did an amazing tour of the Coliseum and forum but we didn’t have the time to fit that in so we decided to walk around everything on our own. It was a great last morning and we were able to walk around without any crowds! Afterwards, we headed back to our AirBNB and before we knew it we were on the way to the Amalfi Coast!

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this Italian series of posts! Thank you for reading and following along. Who knows where we will travel to next, but I am happy to share these memories with everyone. Arrivederci!

A few more of my favorite photos:

The Pantheon.
Spectacular morning light.

Getting in the Christmas spirit!

Tis the season. Ryan and I put up our Christmas decorations this weekend (still hoping to get some fresh greenery for the mantle) and I just wanted to share a couple of photos I snapped recently.

I think I will be going “all out” for Christmas as far as decorations, baking, Christmas movies, etc., because, why not? I highly recommend the movie “Klaus,” on Netflix if you haven’t seen it yet. Ryan and I have also been watching the Great British Bake Off and I am going to attempt a recipe from a previous season.

Be still my heart ❤️
Adorable vase from antique store with some Trader Joe’s flowers.

I hope everyone is having a good start to the holiday season and is staying safe and sane through these weird times.

A few days in Hocking Hills – in pictures

Instead of trying to capture a recent trip to the beautiful Hocking Hills in words, I am letting the photos speak for themselves! Plus I just don’t feel like writing much ☺️. If you are in the Ohio/ PA/ NY/ WV area, I cannot recommend this park enough for a quick weekend getaway. Also to note, all these pics were taken on my iPhone, but I wish I had brought my camera.

Pin this image for later!
A painting? Or just one of many stunning views.
Unbelievable! Walking into the gorge.
Inside the gorge!
Ash Cave
Here you can see the waterfall.
Beautiful fall foliage at Conkle’s Hollow
The top pic is edited with a grainy filter.
Here’s the full size edit ☺️
Beautiful scene.
A different image – turned the exposure down.
Cliffs and sandstone formations were everywhere throughout the park.
Lovely setting for a picnic!
Wagons…. East!
Me and my mom- great light in a cave, who knew!

Done and Dusted Product Review – YSL Touche Éclat All Over Brightening Pen

The empty product.

Hi all – back with a very quick “done and dusted” product review. This is on the *eponymous* YSL touche éclat brightening pen. This pen is a “cult favorite” per Sephora’s website and I’ve purchased this a few times over the past 15 years. I have to say, this will be my last time and I don’t recommend it for others in my age group. While the packaging is beautiful and functional (and it should be for the price) the product no longer suits my skincare needs.

This is somewhat of a hybrid product, crossing between a concealer and highlighter stick. I mainly use it under my eyes for brightening and concealing purposes. It is very lightweight and goes on very nicely and blends beautifully, and it has a nice consistency. While it has some good elements, I think that if YSL would formulate this product as one or the other (concealer or highlighter) it would make for a better product overall. While the consistency is great, it doesn’t provide enough coverage concealer wise or enough highlight to make it worthwhile. I may have liked it more when I was younger because my skin was different and doesn’t require the, ahem, ~upkeep~ it now requires. However, I have always felt that this product leaves something to be desired, and I am finally putting my foot down. This will be my final purchase of this product!

Bottom line: This $38.00 hybrid product just isn’t worth it for me. I have a bigger need for concealer under my eyes than highlighter at this point. If you don’t have dark circles/ bags, then this may work for you! An added bonus- this pen will last a very long time (I purchased this one in November of 2018 !). I still think there are probably better products for way less. I do think that YSL makes a more concealer heavy version, but at this point, I’m ready to move on, and keep using my Covergirl concealer until it runs out.

Price: $38.00

Repurchase: No

Why: Cost, product effectiveness , skincare needs

The Easiest Way to Save BIG On Rugs

Hi all-

A few days ago I posted a few stories about how to find expensive rugs (and other products) for way less. I got a ton of messages so, today, I am going to write about how you can do this. It could not be any easier, and you would be crazy NOT to do this before purchasing decor for your home.

I came about this method as I was researching rugs to buy for our home. I read that Pottery Barn rugs aren’t the best quality, and that is somewhat surprising given the price point of their items (although not surprising to me personally because I think most of their stuff is cheaply made). Further, I also read that Pottery Barn resells rugs that you can find elsewhere for a fraction of the price. Pottery Barn is not the only offender in this scheme!

So, how do you find a rug for less?

It’s simple. It’s called “Reverse Image Search” and it basically just means you search the image itself vs. searching by a title or the name of a product. Brands will rename items to differentiate them, so it can be difficult to find the “dupes.”

How do you Reverse Image Search? It’s all of three steps. 1. Open Google Images search bar on one tab of your browser. 2. Drag the selected image of the item you are searching into the Google Images Tab and 3. Hit Search! It couldn’t be easier. An even easier way? If you have a Mac, you can right click on the image and hit, “Search Google Image.” You will get a lot of random results sometimes because Google is literally searching the image. You may have to do a little bit of digging, but wow is it worth it!

I am going to share some of my best finds below. Happy shopping!

If you’re interested in the above rug, it’s linked here.

I think it’s pretty nice for a printed rug. $674 at Pottery Barn vs. $209 at Overstock.

McGee & Co does this too with their rugs. Maybe not quite as bad as an of offender as Pottery Barn but you can find almost all of their rugs on other sites.

This is another pretty rug – feminine with warm colors. If you’re interested in getting on the waitlist, Wayfair is excellent about notifications for in stock items. Check out the Wayfair option here.

This next item a hand-knotted rug by Erin Gates. I actually really love it, but with having a dog I honestly doubt we will ever buy a hand-knotted rug. Just look at the price difference. At McGee & Co it’s $4,025. At Wayfair, it’s $1,399.99. Click here for the Wayfair version and add yourself to the waitlist! As a side note, we do have a rug in this Erin Gates brand (indoor/outdoor), and we love it.

Back to Pottery Barn. Here’s another one I had saved and found for much cheaper. $359.00 vs $109.00. Add to your wishlist/ in stock reminder here.

I love the above rug and was *this* close to buying it from Pottery Barn (we are looking for a new rug for our bedroom). Just look at the price difference (not to mention the fact that Overstock offers free shipping)! If you are interested in checking out this rug (I think ALL the colors are beautiful) click here.

Moving on to every blogger’s favorite home decor store- Serena & Lily. I will say that the hand knotted rugs on Serena & Lily appear to not be mass produced, as I could not find many dupes there. I am also not looking to spend $6,000 on an area rug from Serena & Lily tbh, so it all works out. I did find a dupe pretty easily though, and it’s a style I actually love – jute. Unfortunately, jute/ sisal/ other natural fibers do not work great with pets, because the weave is much looser and the natural fiber absorbs dirt/ stains/ etc.

If you love this rug, you can check it out on Rugs.com here. Personally, I love everything about this – can go in any room, with most types of furniture and adds nice texture and warmth. If we didn’t have a dog, this would be at the top of my list. Also, I actually have ordered from rugs.com before and had no issues, even though the website itself leaves something to be desired.

So there you have it – a few finds and favorites from my rug search. I believe this also happens with furniture from various retailers, so be sure to use the image search function as you are looking at home decor!

Kayaking the Upper Cuyahoga River

If anyone is looking for a fun socially distant summer activity, I highly recommend kayaking! There are lots of places to kayak in the northeast Ohio area, including the Upper Cuyahoga River. I’ve been kayaking in this area half a dozen times or so, during different seasons, and it’s always lovely. My mom started taking my sister and I to this area when we were young and I’ve been going ever since!

If you don’t own a kayak, there are a variety of places you can rent kayaks from along the Cuyahoga. Ryan and I actually have an inflatable kayak which worked great on our recent trip to North Carolina. However, because the Cuyahoga is very rocky/shallow in certain areas, we ended up renting some from Burning River Adventures. We’ve rented kayaks from this company before, and we felt safe with the social distancing precautions they had in place. Burning River Adventures also provides shuttling and drop offs if you do own your own kayak.

Ryan organized our excursion as a birthday gift for his Dad, and it was so fun. We had perfect weather and it was beautiful out. Birds were chirping, dragonflies humming, and the cicadas whirred as we floated down the river. You do not need kayaking experience to head out and paddle the Cuyahoga. It is slow paced with a few “rough” spots of water, but you mostly just glide with the (2 mph) current the entire time. As I mentioned before, the water is shallow in some parts, so you can get stuck! Just push with your paddles and scoot your way out if this happens.

We rented kayaks and did the 4.5 mile trip. I would love to do the longer 10 mile trip next time.

Some beautiful flowers near the river.
A serene setting.
👋🏻

We rented sit on top kayaks which I love. They’re much more comfortable than traditional sea kayaks in my opinion, and much more open. This leaves you exposed to the elements so they wouldn’t be ideal in open water or inclement weather, but for a slow paced trip down the river, they were perfect.

Debbie and Gregg paddling along.
📸 by Ryan

There are also some other great areas to kayak in the greater CLE area.

  • 41 Degrees North Kayak Adventures – kayaking rentals and tours out of Rocky River. My mom and I did the Lake Erie sunset tour years ago and it was amazing!
  • Hinckley Lake – another great spot for any skill level. You can rent kayaks through the Metroparks here.
  • LaDue Reservoir – a big reservoir with lots of nooks and crannies to paddle around. I love that this company gives you a sizable discount on rentals if you help keep the area tidy while out paddling- check out Breakaway Excursions, here.
  • The Metroparks has additional rental options on their website. They usually have special outings but unfortunately have scaled back this year.
  • River Cruiser Kayaks offers a couple of unique routes – one of which ends up downtown.
  • More Upper Cuyahoga River rentals through Camp Hi. Camp Hi also offers canoe rentals as well as pavilions and campgrounds.
Camp Hi started as a camp back in the 1930s – photo c/o Camp Hi website

Kayaking is a beautiful way to spend a few hours and it felt so peaceful. I think getting out in nature is always so good for the mind, body and soul, especially in the craziness that is 2020! What other activities do you think would be fun? Leave some ideas in the comments below!

Book Review(s) – ‘Circe’ and ‘Song of Achilles’

Popping on to quickly talk about two books I read recently, both by the extremely talented writer Madeline Miller. I read these this past month and thought they were both absolutely phenomenal. I truly cannot say anything negative about either of these books, I just wish they had kept going.

They are two individual books but in the interest of time, I’ll write about them as one. Everything about both of these books was incredible. There are a lot of articles and summaries available out there, so I won’t do much recapping but wow- these have to be two of my favorites I’ve read in a long time.

Both of these books are based on Classical Greek mythology and both draw largely from Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey. I think part of the reason I enjoyed them both so much is that it took me back to my Latin and classics classes which were always amongst my favorites.

You don’t have to have read the Odyssey or the Iliad to enjoy either of these novels. Miller breaks down hugely complex epic poems into brand new and inviting tales all her own. Her writing is so beautiful it’s hard to describe.

Anyways, if you have any interest in history, classical mythology, or just a beautifully written book, I highly recommend either of these novels. I don’t think I could pick a favorite between the two as they are both fantastic. I will say I think ‘Song of Achilles’ is a little easier to get into, but ‘Circe’ is more of an epic tale and I really enjoyed that it was written from a female perspective, given that it’s set in Ancient Greece. I recommend both and give them 5/5 stars ⭐️.

Done and Dusted – Product Reviews: Acqua di Parma Rosa Nobile

Starting a new series of posts that I will update periodically called “Done and Dusted.” I am going to review products that I have finished and my thoughts on them!

Acqua Di Parma Rosa Nobile Parfum: Buy it here.

I bought this perfume (in the smallest size, during a VIB sale) after receiving a free sample with a previous Sephora Order. It is a beautiful, light every day scent that I feel can be worn year round. It’s floral and not overly sweet at all. It is also not powdery smelling whatsoever which can be the downfall of many rose scented products. This smells like something you could wear for years, at any age. I definitely recommend this and will likely repurchase at some point after I run out of other perfumes. It stays on fairly well (the scent is still obviously present after 2+ hours). Not as good as some Chanel or Aerin perfumes, but better than many others I have tried. This is the fastest I have ever gone through a bottle of perfume, because it became my everyday scent soon after purchasing. I also received complements on this several times. If you’re looking for a lovely, everyday perfume, I love this product! And yes, I had been using daily even while WFH just because.

Would I repurchase? Yes

Price: $72.00

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Cocktails 101: Spicy Palomas

Hi all! This past Friday I posted a cocktail on my Instagram stories and got several messages, so I thought I may as well let you know how I made it. It could not be any easier and Ryan and I both thought they were refreshing and delicious (and tasted like a fancy cocktail from a restaurant, remember those?).

We will be making these all summer long (once it finally arrives!) . If you don’t like spice, I would recommend omitting the jalapeños. Try adding in some fruit slices instead – oranges, strawberry, mango, etc. Now is the time to get creative!

Ingredients (for one drink):

  • Tequila (one shot glass full)
  • Lime juice (3/4 of a shot glass)
  • Simple syrup (1-2 tsps)
  • Sliced jalapeños- I used 1-2 slices per drink and they were pretty spicy (I have a moderate- high spice tolerance)
  • Grapefruit LaCroix (1/3 can) – feel free to use any flavor or juice you have on hand!
  • Ice – I used ~4 normal sized cubes

Put your ice in a glass. Add tequila, lime juice and simple syrup. Stir to combine. Add jalapeños and stir again, trying to muddle the jalapeños as you stir. The muddling is not super important because the peppers will impart a lot of flavor naturally. Top off your drink with Grapefruit LaCroix (although I think any flavor would be good). That’s it! Enjoy!

Cheers!