Florence, Italy

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:

A look across the Arno.
The spectacular view from our AirBNB.
This was taken on our last night.

Views of the city:

One of my favorite shots ever ☺️
Golden hour, my favorite time of day!
The most dramatic lighting I have ever seen. A storm had just passed through and the sun illuminated the Duomo in brilliant light.
The narrow streets of Florence.

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.

Pictures can’t do it justice.
😩😩😩
The Last Judgement – Vasari + Zuccari (sponsored by Cosimo I de’ Medici)
Don’t look down!
Giotto’s Bell Tower and terra cotta rooftops.

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.

The exterior.
Wow.
Again, pictures don’t come close.
Incredible frescos and stained glass throughout.
Ryan in the Sacristy of Sante Croce. The frescos behind him were so beautiful! (Gaddi, Gerini and Arentino). Opposite Ryan (and out of the frame) is the crucifix of Cimabue, which was unfortunately irreparably damaged during flooding in the 1960s. Still beautiful!
A beautiful courtyard within a museum housed in a former Medici villa.
Detail of fresco.

Some other favorite shots from Florence:

Detail at the top of the Duomo.
Interior of San Miniato al Monte
Interior of San Miniato al Monte. One of my favorites.
Winding streets and Cyprus trees 🌳.
Just couldn’t get over this view!
Amazing pizza. I came to this same pizza place with my Mom three years prior! Still just as good.
Enjoying some rosé on our balcony.
Quintessential Italian trattoria.

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.

Highlights:

  • 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
  • The Bargello
  • 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?

Tulum Trip

Howdy! If you are in need of a vacation (or just some inspiration) then this post is for you. Ryan and I recently got back from an incredible week long trip to Tulum, Mexico. We have been having a very gray winter here in Cleveland (as per usual) and a dose of sun and sea was just what we needed!

A Little History: Tulum, (if you haven’t heard of it) is a town about an hour and a half south of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula and sits on some of (if not the) most beautiful beaches in the world. Tulum got its start many centuries ago as a port for the ancient Mayan city of Coba (a little bit further inland). It was one of the last cities to be occupied by the Mayans, and remained so even after the Spanish arrived. Unfortunately, it was quickly decimated by disease and soon thereafter abandoned.

What remains of the ancient city is now protected in a national park. The *very* well-preserved ruins are perched on a cliff overlooking the turquoise ocean below. We visited this site on our last trip and it was truly spectacular.

^ Here I am at the ruins on our first trip to Tulum.

Pro tip: Get there right when the park opens to avoid the barrage of tour buses from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

The Mayans had the right idea.

^ Some of the buildings are in near perfect condition.

Nowadays, Tulum is more of a beach-y, tourist town that I highly recommend visiting!

Why we love Tulum: Ryan and I have visited this area twice now, and we are already planning a third trip. Tulum really has the best of all things. It has amazing food and culture, beautiful weather, and of course, it’s located on one of the most stunning stretches of land I have ever seen.

^ just looking at this picture makes me feel *zen*. Also, the sky just looks unreal.

We’ve stayed in Tulum town now on both trips (vs. staying directly on the beach). The town is about 2 miles away (by bicycle) from the beach. For our third trip we are contemplating staying directly on the beach, but you really can’t go wrong with either location. Most AirBNBs have bikes so you can easily ride to the public beach or beach clubs, and there is amazing food/drink to be had in both locations.

Pool at our AirBNB:

IMHO, Tulum town is a little bit more authentic than the beach area. There are many Mexican/Mayan people visiting and working in town. In the beach area, we noticed it was less diverse (in some ways) and more touristy, probably due to the higher price points. You likely won’t find a lot of authentic Mexican/Mayan food close to the beach, but, that being said, there are some truly amazing restaurants in this area as well, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for and the experience you want to have. Given the proximity of town to the beach and vice versa, you really don’t have to choose since you can easily go to both areas!

Below: One of hundreds of vibrant murals throughout town.

No matter where you stay, we found people to be friendly and welcoming. The landscape is otherworldly. Lush jungle pushes right up to the ocean along the coastline. Going to the beach is an experience in and of itself. Thick green foliage lines either side of the dirt road as sunlight filters through. You can feel and smell a little bit of the salt spray from the ocean, and as you park your bike under the palm trees on the white sand beach, it feels like you’ve just arrived in heaven (at least my version!).

The color of the water is somewhere between crystal clear and light turquoise. Everyday we arrived to the beach it truly took my breath away and I had to pinch myself.

A true vacation: The best part of this trip for me was how utterly relaxing it was. I recently started a new position (same employer) and the transition has been particularly tough. There is a huge learning curve for this role and a lot of work to be done. This vacation (which was planned well before I took this new job) was much needed by the time it actually rolled around.

Usually when we travel (particularly internationally) I have a lot of places saved, a list of things to do, etc. On this trip, we had nothing planned. It was amazing. We just woke up and decided what to do as the day progressed. Most days we ended up eating a large breakfast and heading to the beach afterwards. On some trips, this lack of structure might not work out so quite so well. For example, when I am visiting a big city like Paris or Rome, I find myself trying to see all the places I grew up reading about in history books, in less than a week’s time. There is often a subconscious sense of urgency for me to see it all on these types of trips (as much as I try to fight it!).

I think generally we do a pretty good job of balancing the “must-sees” with just letting the experience unfold, but I loved this trip because it was a true vacation in every sense of the word. No pressure to see anything, be anywhere at any specific time, or do much of anything at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

What we did (Other than eat, beach, repeat): On this past trip, we cooked with a Mayan family in a very small village called Muchucuxcah (located in the Yucatan state). The family was incredibly welcoming and friendly. Since we did not share a common language, I thought there might be a barrier but it was amazing how much we could communicate through facial expressions and gesturing. We made tortillas, traditional bean wraps using banana leaves, and an amazing dish called ‘pollo pibil’ – chicken in red chile spices, cooked underground.

Finished chicken product:

Our host, Alberto, was really wonderful. He grew up in Mexico and ended up going to graduate school in Belgium on a scholarship for engineering. He began teaching Mexican cooking classes as a means to stay close to his roots while being halfway around the world. Eventually, he took his love of cooking and brought it back to Mexico (full circle!). He met the Mayan family he works with through his brother, and he has been cooking with them for five years. This partnership with the family has helped support them and their community.

Our host family’s casa. ^

Alberto was very informative during the trip to Muchucuxcah and Ryan and I both learned a lot about Mayan civilization, Mexico, and cooking as well. We always try to do some sort of food related activity when we visit different areas. This was by far one of the best we have ever done, and one of the best guides we have ever had.

Aside from this phenomenal culinary excursion, we also enjoyed several other amazing meals. We ate a lot of seafood, tacos, and Oaxaca cheese 😁. We also had our fair share of tropical fruits and vegetables. The produce is so fresh in this part of the world. Having delicious coconut, mango, papaya, avocado, and pineapple on hand truly made me yearn to live in such an ecologically blessed area!

^ Why does my arm/ hand look massively large here? Anyways, cheers to this view ☺️.

We also visited an amazing cenote about an hour from Tulum. Cenotes are naturally formed fresh water pools that are below ground level. There are thousands of them in the Yucatan peninsula, and are all connected via an underground river. It was about 70 feet below ground and spectacular. Long vines hung from the opening at ground level and tumbled down into the blue water below. The water was a deep cerulean blue and completely clear. Ryan and I both swung off a rope (!!) and swam around with the fish for a while.

Tulum thoughts: We have absolutely loved visiting Tulum both times and can’t wait to go back. Have you ever been to Tulum? Do you recommend any other places in Mexico?

*Check out my quick (soon to be published) Tulum guide for more details on what we did, things to do, and other tips.*

Thank you for reading, please leave comments below!

 

Weekend Guide to Charleston

Hey y’all and Happy Friday! (I can say y’all since we’re talking about Charleston right?)

Today I’m sharing some amazing places to visit and fun things to do in the beautiful Holy City, in the format of a weekend guide! This guide assumes you have 36 hours, but there’s plenty to do if you have more time 😀.

Day One:

Start your trip off right with brunch at Husk. Ryan and I have gone here multiple times and it is quite simply fantastic cooking. The dishes are unmistakably “southern,” but with a fresh and modern take. We loved the shrimp and grits, fried chicken, cornbread, and pimento cheese starters. The (mayo-free) potato salad is different and to-die-for. Order a delicious drink from their cocktail list to get your weekend off to a kickin’ start! Make sure to book a reservation a couple weeks out.

After you are thoroughly stuffed with some low country cookin’, take a leisurely stroll around historic Charleston. The preservation of architecture and buildings is unparalleled. Check out my previous post here which is totally dedicated to the beauty and architecture of Charleston for some inspiration.

If you want to learn some history along the way, try joining a walking tour! We used this tour group and loved it. Our tour guide went through the entire history of Charleston (well, abbreviated history, we only had 2 hours) pointing out meaningful sites and details we would have never noticed along the way. If you’d rather sit back and relax while learning about Charleston, a carriage tour is for you! Both are wonderful options.

Details from a building on Meeting Street^.

After you’ve strolled down King and Queen Street, relax with a cocktail at the The Vendue. They have a large and spacious rooftop bar with gorgeous views of the city and harbor! Make sure to stroll through the Charleston City Market afterwards. It’s an old market where you can buy anything from sweet grass baskets to local grits/ hand-mixed spice blends, etc.

Dinner time! There are too many good options to name, but I’ll try my best! Try Magnolias or High Cotton for a classy meal with impeccable service (hey you’re on vacation, right?). If you’re looking for seafood, check out 167 Raw. But ~diner~ beware, the wait times at 167 Raw can be very long as they do not take reservations and only have five small tables.

(Ryan and I at Magnolia’s in 2016)

After dinner, it’s time to hit the hay and gear up for another great day!

Day 2:

Venture a little bit outside the city limits to Mount Pleasant and Shem Creek. Mount Pleasant is the neighborhood bordering Charleston and is such an adorable little community.

Grab a bite to eat and an iced latte at Vintage Coffee Café. The avocado toast and egg sandwiches are not to be missed. Then head over to Nature’s Adventures on Shem Creek for a wonderful kayaking tour!

This was one of our favorite things that we did, and again, so educational. Our guide, Matt, knew anything and everything about the wildlife in the surrounding areas. He pointed out blue crabs, oysters, horseshoe crabs, dolphins, different species of plants, and even explained the difference between a swamp and a marsh. (Swamps have trees, and marshes don’t. Who knew!?) We kayaked peacefully through the saltwater marshes that surround Charleston, and then out into the harbor for a fabulous waterfront view of the city. If you love being outside or kayaking, don’t miss this!

Head back to Charleston for some relaxation or shopping before dinner. King Street has all the big box stores, but also amazing local boutiques and wonderful antique stores as well. I mainly window shopped but it was such a fun experience.

It’s suppah time! Head to Home Team BBQ for a meal that does not disappoint.

(C/o Home Team BBQ, my picture inevitably did NOT turn out like this 🤣)

Once you’ve enjoyed all the brisket, why not wash it down with a cocktail at Proof. We happened upon this little bar and I loved the vibe. Ryan loved the Pappy Van Winkle 🤣 so we were both happy.

It’s late and time to head to bed. Unless you’re still up for more fun! Check out a Charleston ghost tour or just walk along the cobblestone streets and take in the smell of fresh magnolia blooms under the soft light of the gas lamps that line the city.

Day 3

Grab a quick bite to eat at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits. These delectable biscuits will start your day off right. All of the flavors are delicious but I loved the cinnamon, blueberry jam, and bacon cheddar.

Next, head to Charleston waterfront park to check out the pineapple fountain and gorgeous harbor views. If you haven’t walked along East Bay Street, now is the perfect time to do so. East Bay Street is right along the harbor, eventually turning into the Battery. Some of Charleston’s oldest and most beautiful homes line this promenade.

Time to get out of the city again! Head to Magnolia Plantation for stunning gardens and scenery. The grounds are breathtaking and you could easily spend a whole day here. We saw so many gorgeous gardens and beautiful wildlife when we visited. The plantation is a bird sanctuary and very peaceful.

You could also visit Boone Hall plantation to see a more traditional looking house. This plantation was the setting for Allie’s summer home in “The Notebook.”

For your final night in Charleston, dine in one of the city’s most renowned restaurants, the Peninsula Grill. The coconut cake is 15 layers deep and worth every penny.

Looking for something more casual? If you’re up for an adventure, bop over to Folly Beach and grab a table at Chico Feo, a laid back taco joint with live jam sessions and amazing food. This was a random stop for us and ended up being one of our favorite meals our whole trip.

That wraps up 36 hours in Charleston! I’m no expert having only been a handful of times, and there is so much more to explore and see!

Some other options are below:

  • Charleston harbor sunset sail
  • Anyone of the various museums
  • Fort Sumpter and Fort Moultrie
  • Drayton Hall
  • Old Exchange Building
  • Pitt Street Bridge (great for catching a sunset or sunrise)
  • Walk or run the Arthur Ravenel Bridge
  • Free tour of the Unitarian Church
  • Visit Angel Oak tree
  • Stop by the Preservation Society of Charleston
  • Rent bikes and ride to the Morris Island Lighthouse
  • Historic homes guided tour
  • Try SUP (stand up paddle boarding) in the Charleston Harbor
  • Visit Sullivan’s Island Beach or Folly Island for a beach day

Some more pics from our trip:

Sullivan’s Island:

Pitt Street Bridge:

Shem Creek:

Morris Island Lighthouse:

Unitarian Church:

Hope this guide was helpful and enjoyable! Have a great weekend everyone 😄.