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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Since we have all been under quarantine measures the last month or so, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and finally write about one of my all time favorite trips. And no, it’s not Italy but don’t worry, I will be posting more in that series soon!
Back in May of 2017 I went to one of the most visually stunning locations in the world: Marrakech, Morocco. It was a *very* last minute trip and one of my absolute favorites to date. If you are thinking of heading to Morocco I can’t recommend it enough and I hope to return one day. This post is fairly detailed, so feel free to skip to the bottom for the ~lite~ version.
I normally plan bigger trips like this well in advance. However, my jet-setting friend Dana had a trip planned and when I jokingly suggested (three weeks out) I should tag along on her upcoming adventure, she invited me. The next thing I knew, a far fetched dream had become a reality and I bought a plane ticket to AFRICA!
Marrakech is an ancient city, in the foothills of the stunning Atlas Mountains. We stayed in the ‘medina’ area of Marrakech. This is the older, central section within the original city walls. Outside of the walls, there are modern looking buildings, boulevards, a McDonald’s 🤣, etc. like any larger city. Within the medina, you will find a maze of brick and straw houses, narrow unpaved alleyways, and motor bikes speeding around every corner. Most of the buildings here are crafted from red sandstone, giving the city a warm earthy appearance. Stalls line the roads, filled with fresh fruit, herbs, and pastries. It is bustling with people, day and night.
Because I didn’t do a lot of planning (zero tbh) for this trip, I didn’t really have any expectations. When I thought of Morocco before this journey, certain words came to mind: sandy, isolated, antiquated, and mirages in the desert (lol). Many of these words are very much applicable, but I left knowing that there is also so much more to Marrakech and the surrounding area! It is completely inspirational from an architectural and design perspective, and while there are European influences, it was entirely different than anywhere I’ve gone before.
I am going to go through some of my favorite experiences and hope that this will serve as a guide if you are looking to explore the area. Or, if you’re a daydreamer like me, maybe it will offer a little inspiration. Luckily, I made a huge note on my iPhone during this trip which served as a great reminder of everything I saw. Let’s get to it!
Some of my favorite things:
Take a few hours to walk around the medina and accept that you will probably get lost. The streets are like a maze and can be difficult to figure out at first. There are dozens of ‘riads,’ or guest houses (similar to bed and breakfasts in the US), throughout the medina, that serve tea, food or drinks. Go explore and see what you find! I saw some of the most incredible scenes all within the riads of the old city.
Make your way to the central square known as Jemaa el-Fnaa. The square is full of vendors selling their wares. It is very lively (a tad hectic) and full of locals and tourists alike. You don’t need to stay long but I definitely recommend visiting for the experience (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t love crowds).
After you’ve had your fill wandering through Jemaa el-Fnaa, head next door to the neighboring souk. I bought some exquisite traditional pottery here that I was able to pack and take home with me. I also picked up a lovely Jacques Majorelle print and had it framed back home. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs ☺️.
The stalls are filled with everything you could imagine. If you have been looking to redecorate your home in the very #ontrend Moroccan style – make sure you spend time exploring this area. Berber carpets and pillows, woven baskets, lanterns, leather poufs, stools, furniture, etc. at a fraction of the cost of items for sale in the US. They will ship items for you as well!
Once you’re done shopping, leave the souk and wander the nearby narrow streets, stopping for traditional Moroccan mint tea. There are a ton of cafes with rooftops in this area. Head upstairs and away from the crowds. The views over the city are beautiful and Moroccan mint tea is a daily ritual for many citizens. Served hot (or iced) with handfuls of fresh mint and home baked pastries, it is a celebrated activity, and not to be missed.
If you are up for a more *adventurous* activity, visit a traditional hamman. A hamman is similar to a turkish bath – a public type of steam room – and they are very popular in Morocco. My friend and I went to the hammam located within the exquisite La Sultana Hotel and it was incredible. Before you visit, I would definitely recommend researching what the experience entails as it may not be for everyone (hint: you get naked and your entire body gets exfoliated beyond belief.) There are separate areas for men and women, and at La Sultana, they offered private spa services as well. At the end of the “experience” I felt utterly relaxed. We were served mint tea and enjoyed their pool for several hours. I loved it and would do it again!
If you stay at or visit La Sultana, make sure to head next door to ‘Saadien’s Tombs,’ a beautiful necropolis dating back from the 1500s. Sultans, sheiks, and other royals have been buried here for centuries. The architecture and buildings within this space are breathtaking. Detailed tile, carved stone, and beautifully colored arches adorn the buildings. The Chamber of Twelve Columns is the stunning centerpiece of the tombs.
Another favorite stop on the trip was The Jardin Majorelle. French painter Jacques Majorelle planned and created this enchanting urban garden over several decades. Filled with the most striking colors and lucious plants from the world over, it was definitely one of the most visually stunning locations in all of Marrakech. I loved wandering around surrounded by fronds and palms. Most of the garden is well shaded and a welcome respite from the high temperatures.
From the official website: “We amble along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants of dreamy origin; we walk past refreshing, burbling streams and pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers; we hear wafting through the air, laden with sugared fragrance, the rustling of leaves and the chirping of numerous birds who come here to take refuge; we stop, and the path turns unexpectedly, revealing a building with Moorish charm, with a hint of Art Deco, painted in astonishingly vibrant primary colours, glowing with an intense blue the artist perceived in the Atlas Mountains.” I mean….. don’t think I can top that description.
It is a very popular spot with tourists and fairly #instafamous, so I would recommend arriving early to beat the crowds. We came here as part of a bike tour in the afternoon and as such, it was a little bit crowded. Make sure to check out the adjoining exhibits and gift shops.
Once you’ve had your share of exploring the medina, venture out of the city to the Atlas Mountains. There are tons of day trips or guided tours to choose from – hiking, camping, caravan-ing, etc.
We did an overnight trip to the Sahara Desert and it was truly one of the most magical and memorable experiences of my life. We rode camels into the sunset with Berber guides and arrived at a well setup camp on the outskirts of the Sahara.
The sky was a beautiful clear blue and the moon and stars twinkled above us. Our host, Youssef, poured the group tea while we learned about his life and experiences. The only downside in all of this were the giant scarab beetles scurrying through the sand. Gave me flashbacks to “The Mummy,” but hey, if I can get through it (and love it), I guarantee you can too.
Another day trip that is a must in my opinion is Ait Ben Haddou. This ancient ksar, or grouping of buildings, is a UNESCO world heritage site and “illustrates the traditional earthen habitat, representing the culture of southern Morocco.” Ait Ben Haddou is a well preserved former trading post that sits in the shadow of the Atlas mountains. It has recently become a more popular tourist destination, appearing in several films, including a personal favorite, “Gladiator.” I recommend getting a tour of this site if possible.
Throughout your stay, make sure to sample copious amounts of local foods. Moroccan food is a unique and mouthwatering blend of Middle Eastern, European and African cuisines filled with spices and flavor. A a typical dinner might include a tajine, which is a cone shaped pottery dish, used to cook herbed meats and vegetables, along with delicious fresh couscous. We also loved the homemade breakfast at our riad. Fresh squeezed orange juice (the best I’ve ever had, don’t skip it!), yogurt, and delicious pastries each morning.
Lastly, take time to relax! Many riads and hotels offer beautiful pools for a small fee. The temperatures are HOT (90s) so taking a dip in a pool is a welcome activity. Pick out a few places you’d like to visit and plan out a few hours of relaxation throughout your stay. Most of the hotels who have pools also have wonderful spas with a variety of affordable treatments.
Wrapping it up:
I hope you enjoyed this post about Marrakech. Going through these photos was such a joy, especially with our current state of affairs. Taking time to reflect and appreciate past trips is so important and often forgotten in this fast paced world. I loved this city and wished I had more time to see it all – and in the surrounding areas as well. The people, culture, food, etc. were all amazing. Marrakech is city of contrasts- both new and old, bold and subdued, coexisting in a beautifully symbiotic way. Have you been to Morocco? What was your favorite part? Where else would you recommend exploring? Check out my “quick hits,” section below for even more suggestions! Thanks for reading and following along.
Where to Stay: We stayed at a the cutest boutique hotel called Riad BE Marrakech. It was honestly perfect with some of the best service I have ever experienced anywhere. The co-owners were younger (one Swiss, one Moroccan) and very helpful and welcoming. I would stay here again in a heartbeat. Here are some other options for a variety of price ranges:
Riad Yasmine – couldn’t find pricing but I remember researching this place and it looked amazing – great reviews and location!
Riad Karmela (Budget & great reviews – $48 USD/night)
Riad Saba (Budget – $60 USD/night)
Riad Palais des Princesses (Budget -$70 USD/night)
Riad & Spa Spirit of Morocco (Budget/Moderate – $94 USD/night) – we actually came in here and had drinks by their lovely pool!
Riad Les Yeux Bleus (Moderate – $150 USD/night)
72 Riad Living (Moderate/higher end – $170 USD/night)
La Sultana (Luxury – $380+/night)
El Fenn (Luxury -$420+ USD/night)
Royal Mansour Marrakech (Luxury – $500+ USD/night)
La Mamounia (Luxury – didn’t look and don’t want to 🤣!)
There are also tons of places listed on AirBNB. A lot of boutique hotels list their rooms on this platform so I would be sure to check their inventory as well. The bottom line is you could easily stay in a nice, safe hotel for well under $100USD/ night. With breakfast included, I think its one of the more affordable trips I’ve been on!
Where to Eat:
Ugh. I didn’t do the best job of keeping track of where we ate when we visited, but I do remember everything being very good. I love Middle Eastern food in general so it wasn’t hard for me to find things I liked.
My two most memorable meals were very different. The first was the meal we had on our desert excursion trip. Fresh baked bread, and tajines full of savory chicken, lamb, onions, and vegetables. We ate communal style inside the yurts of our Berber hosts. It was so simple but so fresh and delicious. The other meal I still remember to this day is the lunch we had at El Fenn. The hotel itself is next-level beautiful. I *highly* recommend dining here as the food and service were both incredible. Fresh everything. We ate on their rooftop terrace and it was just perfection! If you visit El Fenn, make sure to check out the shop within the hotel. It is full of remarkable and unique handmade goods.
As I mentioned before, the breakfasts included in our stay were a delight. I suggest booking a hotel or AirBNB that includes breakfast. Fresh cappuccino, orange juice (not to be missed, even if you are not an OJ fan), tea, flatbread, yogurt and fruit each morning.
What to Do:
Shop in the souks and look for spices, pottery, leather items, or home goods. Make sure you barter to get the best price!
Explore the various riads throughout the city. We wandered around and walked into ones that caught our eyes for tea, coffee, a snack, or meal.
Enjoy a refreshing mint tea and don’t forget a fresh squeezed orange juice as well
Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa and let it all soak in!
The Saadien Tombs – significant necropolis for Moroccan royalth
Ben Youssef Madrasa – A historic Islamic college with beautiful Andalusian architecture
Palacio da Bahia – A beautiful 19th Century Palace
Jardin Majorelle – Stunning garden oasis
Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech – didn’t get a chance to make it here but this museum is entirely devoted to the iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent
Ait Ben Haddou – UNESCO heritage site outside of Marrakech
Book a bike tour – We did a bike tour that was amazing! We had a guide for a few hours that took us to several amazing sites. The roads can be a little bit scary as there are people on motor bikes, cars, and even goats, but our guide was very patient with us.
Book a spa or hamman experience – We loved La Sultana however there are a plethora of options to choose from in different price ranges. This was considered a luxury spa and the hammam which was at least an hour was $38USD. You could go to the public hammam or a much less expensive one as well, but this option felt like a treat.
Ryan and I went to Italy 🇮🇹 in October of last year, and I am finally getting ready to post some pictures six months later! First up, Florence!
I won’t be doing a traditional post with extensive recommendations, etc., because we barely scratched the surface with what we saw in our few days there. I do have one recommendation if you are planning a trip to Italy – it helps to do some reading and research prior to going. Various websites, travel forums online, and podcasts all proved helpful. I also read a couple of books about the Duomo di Firenze and Florentine art. I ended up purchasing ‘Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes’ which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in art, history, or if you are planning to visit several museums or churches throughout Italy. It provided great context for Italian Renaissance art and beyond. It’s also a gorgeous book. You can purchase it here.
Florence has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. It is truly breathtaking and of another time. Around every corner lies a piece of history on full display. The cobblestone alleys, marble facades, worn wooden doors and ochre stucco buildings form an enchanting maze of streets that are a joy to explore. There is an overwhelming amount of museums, churches, palaces and places to visit. Incredible food and wine are just the icing on the cake! Florence is also very walkable and easy to navigate, especially with the Arno river serving as a beautiful landmark. It’s almost indescribable and I can’t recommend visiting enough.
Shots from around the Arno River:
Views of the city:
One of the “must sees” in Florence is the Florence Cathedral, aka, ‘the Duomo.’ It is located in the center of the city and cannot be missed due to its sheer size. It’s truly an architectural marvel and a wonder to behold. On this trip, Ryan and I did a guided tour to the top which was amazing and so informative. I definitely think it’s worth it to make the climb up, and the views are stunning. The inside of the cathedral itself is fairly simple vs. the outside, however, the dome has an amazing fresco by Vasari which is an incredible sight as you make your way up.
A caveat: Yes, it is extremely touristy. The wait was four hours to get into the cathedral (if you hadn’t purchased a ticket ahead of time). The square where the cathedral is located is also swarming with tourists. However, that said, it is completely worth it to at least walk around it and observe from the outside. The exterior is much more detailed than the interior, other than the dome. Also, only a tiny percentage of tourists climb to the top, so when we got up there, it was hardly crowded at all! Another option is to walk around at night. We did this multiple times and it was very enjoyable.
We also visited Sante Croce on this trip. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, to name a few* (*this sentence came straight out of Wikipedia, but it sums it up quite nicely 🤣). Sante Croce was much less crowded than the area around the Duomo, and I truly think the interior is more aesthetically pleasing. We just waited in a very short line right when it opened and bought our tickets then and there! Timing is everything – if you visit places on the earlier side, they are much less hectic.
Some other favorite shots from Florence:
I have so many incredible photos to share but as you can see, my blog post would be book length at that point. To summarize: if you’re thinking about visiting, do it! My only regret is that we didn’t have more time.
The unbelievable art and architecture throughout the city. It felt like a treat to wander down each and every street. Unparalleled museums and history everywhere you look!
Gelato every night – the one by our apartment happened to be incredible! Il Procopio is another favorite.
Walking tour of the city at night. It wasn’t crowded, the temperature was perfect, and we learned so much history along the way. Pro tip: Try to do any guided (or self guided) tour early on in your stay so you can become familiar with the city.
Climbing up to the top of the Duomo – would also have loved to climb to the top of the bell tower.
The food! There is no shortage of amazing food. Cured meats, cheeses, Florentine steaks, pasta, gelato, croissants, cappuccinos, etc.
Wine. I’ll just leave that here.
Walkability – truly a walkable city which makes it easy to explore. I especially loved walking along the river and up to San Miniato al Monte.
The incredible churches. I am not religious and I would highly recommend adding several into your itinerary.
The Uffizi Gallery – unbelievable to see all of the pieces in here. The building itself rivals the Louvre.
Wandering around. So fun to walk through the streets, peruse shops and stalls, and stop for a glass of wine along the way!
The Giardino di Boboli- acres and acres of manicured gardens overlooking rolling green hills. A perfect escape from the crowds if you need it!
What I’d like to see next time:
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Santa Maria Novella
A few more of the palazzos-turned-museums
More photos of Ryan and I, and more food pics! Not to worry, I more than made up for this on other legs of our trip ☺️.
We had four full days in Florence and it was incredible. We can’t wait to return someday. Next up: Rome, Praiano, and Orvieto. I hope you enjoyed this post! What do you love to do in Florence?
Ryan and I just got back from an amazing trip to Charleston, SC. We had perfect weather the whole time and it was a great mix of beach days and sightseeing. I want to share some pictures from the walking we did around the historic neighborhood. This is definitely not an all inclusive blog post, but a good starting point with a focus on the city itself.
This post is all things beautiful in historic Charleston! Without further ado….
This picture below might be one of my favorites from my trip.
The curved scrolling iron handrail, the trails of ivy on the steps, magnolia leaves dappled with warm sunlight…. and the red brick driveway of course, all come together in such a charming and classic way.
I love the worn facade below:
Pink and green perfection!!
^notice the chimney between the two homes!
The below photo is another favorite. I love the weathered white exterior and gray shutters with the scalloped roofing. This house is on East Bay Street, overlooking the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumpter.
The boxwood 😍. Can you imagine how tall the windows are inside? I often found myself wondering if the interiors matched the outside of the homes. Beautiful, majestic, and ancient (for us Americans!).
^The iconic “Rainbow Row. ” Very hard to photograph because there are many cars in front. The colors of the houses dates back to the prohibition era, while the actual structures themselves are much older.
^ a random private courtyard I spotted. I love the salmon door and half moon window above it. It kind of reminds me of an orange slice 🙂.
I guess I have a thing for brick + ivy. Again, I love the windows here.
^One of my absolute favorite homes I saw. I’ll take it! I love the pink door leading to the carriage house on the far left.
Ryan in front of St. Phillips cemetery.
Church steeples dot the entire city skyline (there are no skyscrapers). Charleston is called The Holy City because back in the early 1700s, in order to attract settlers to the (swampy and very muggy) newly formed settlement, the government allowed people to practice whatever religion they chose (vs. adhering to the Church of England). Many different churches belonging to different denominations sprung up because of this.
^ The way the clouds are passing behind the steeple almost makes it look illuminated or glowing! They are really framing the outline of the building quite well!
^ Beautiful live oaks along the harbor.
Me + flowers = pure happiness! Also already dripping in sweat by 11AM if you couldn’t tell🤣.
Details on a building (below). Not sure what this was! But thought it was neat.
^ We had an amazing meal at Husk, a delicious restaurant set inside an old Victorian home on a quiet cobblestone street. The interior is even more stunning, but I forgot to take any photos… I had food on my mind!
That’s about all for this post. I am hoping to put together a more comprehensive weekend travel guide soon!