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.

Orvieto, Italy

Today, I am sharing some photos and snippets from our short visit to Orvieto, Italy. If you didn’t read my blog posts on Florence or Praiano, Ryan and I went on a two week trip to Italy last fall. It was the kind of trip that you spend months dreaming about before, and years dreaming about afterwards. I still think of this trip regularly, and cannot recommend a stop in Orvieto enough. I know that traveling to Italy and much of the world is impossible right now, but it has been amazing to revisit these trips through photos and memories. There will come a time when it is safe to explore, and when that time comes, I know Italy will again be at the top of our list.

Orvieto is a small town in the Umbria region in central(ish) Italy. We wanted to visit this town for a number of reasons. First of all, it was in a convenient location for us, having not rented a car. It is right off the train in between Florence and Rome, so logistically, it was a no brainer. Secondly, Orvieto is a very unique town with so much history. Founded by the Etruscans (or perhaps even an earlier civilization), it sits on top of a cliff in the middle of one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It is truly stunning to behold.

The town is very small and easily walkable. To enter the city, you can either take the funicular up to the top or walk up from a number of roads, however, I do not recommend this. It is an extremely steep and challenging walk and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians until you reach the very top, at which point, you may be covered in sweat, blood and tears (just me?). If you are renting a car, there is ample parking once you make your way up the winding roads to the top. Although the town is small, there is plenty to do. We visited the Orvieto Cathedral which was incredible, saw ancient underground caves, ate delicious food, and walked all around town. We also did an incredible sunset bike tour, where we learned all about the history of Orvieto and enjoyed spectacular views along the way.

We had two full days in Orvieto which was amazing. I think three would be even better, but you probably don’t need too much more time if you are just hoping to get a sense of what a small Umbrian town is like. If you have more time, I encourage you to stay even longer and see everything it has to offer.

Things to do in Orvieto:

Visit the Duomo. The Cathedral in Orvieto is breathtaking, especially when you consider it was built in the Middle Ages (starting in the 1300s) on top of a giant cliff. The church has a striped basalt facade with beautiful frescos inside. It is reminiscent of other churches in Italy, including the cathedral in Siena. The exterior, especially the sculpture and marble work, is exquisite.

The stunning exterior. It had just drizzled, hence the water droplets on my camera.
Detail of the interior. The beautiful carvings, the interior gate, and frescoes. Swoon!
Detail of tile work. I love this pattern and the colors so much.
The magnificent organ. How?!

Because of the town’s strategic location (and topography) between Rome and Florence, it became popular with Popes during the 13th and 14th Century. Several papal palaces were built and various Popes sought refuge in the town during wartime. It became a Papal State until 1860 – when Italy as we know it was formally created.

A look at the Cathedral from atop a Bell Tower. The beautiful surrounding countryside beckons.

Climb the bell tower for the most beautiful views! The bell tower is in the center of town and is a fairly easy climb. Enjoy beautiful vistas with rolling countryside and farms as far as eye can see.

The view from the bell tower. This is what dreams are made of!
While it was upper 70s and low 80s in Praiano, it was mid 60s in Orvieto!
The Bell Tower we climbed.

Visit the underground caves: This sounds pretty mundane, but hear me out. Orvieto has a massive system of over 1200 underground caves, passages, labyrinths, etc. Back in ancient times, the caves served as means for rich folks to escape siege or conflicts. In fact, most homes/ buildings in Orvieto have their own personal wine cellars built under ground. On our second night, we enjoyed a feast at a local restaurant and the owner took us underground to check out his cellar, stocked with his family’s own wine! Sidebar: Orvieto also has it’s own distinct white wine, which we found delicious.

Holes that used to keep pigeons. Pigeons were used for messaging hundreds of years ago.

Walk around town! This should be a given, but walk around and take in the ancient and rustic alleyways of Orvieto without any plans. When we visited it was not crowded at all. We had some gelato as we strolled, admiring the sites and beautiful buildings at our own pace.

The beautiful streets of Orvieto.
Beautiful carved door.

Visit and Have Dinner at La Badia di Orvieto: We actually stayed in this hotel during our time in Orvieto. I would NOT recommend staying here as it is removed from town (amongst other reasons) and it ended up being difficult to get back and forth during our few days here. Learn from us, stay in town, save money, and spend more time exploring! Now, all that being said, the hotel and surrounding area itself was breathtaking and I think it is completely worth it to go visit during your stay. We also enjoyed an amazing dinner here, so I would definitely add it to your to do to list if you are in the area.

On our first day we arrived, it was drizzling a little bit and we walked into town. As noted above, I do NOT recommend doing this, but, it ended up being an amazing day. We had a glass of wine on the main square and saw the Cathedral. After a few hours, we went back to the hotel, via one of two town taxis, and were greeted by one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen.

The town is in the distance under the arch.
The sky changed dramatically from one moment to the next.
This is kind of how I pictured Umbria. Cyprus trees, olive groves, hills and mist rising from the green valleys

Have lunch at Antica Bottega del Duomo. We had lunch here and it was one of my favorite meals on our whole trip. It is a small deli type of place and we enjoyed some of the most delectable sandwiches ever. Friendly service and family owned with very reasonable price points. I highly recommend.

Bike Tour: If I could recommend doing one activity in Orvieto, it would be this night time bike tour. We found this last minute on AirBNB and it was one of the most memorable nights we had (on any trip we have been on). I cannot recommend this tour enough. Paolo took us all over the city where we were able to take in incredible views and learn about Oriveto’s storied past. We stopped at churches, cycled through residential neighborhoods, and ended the night with a fantastic dinner at a small restaurant. Paolo had invited some Italian friends to join us for dinner, so it ended up being a fun group. We had course after course of amazing local cuisine, homemade in the restaurant (our server’s grandma cooked for us). Each course came paired with wine and our server explained the significance of each dish. We had pasta, truffles, rabbit, roasted duck, cured meats, cheeses of every variety, and more. I loved everything, especially the chocolate torte. Our stomachs and hearts were completely full by the end of the night and we are so thankful we were able to experience the magic of Orvieto at night.

We rode around the perimeter of Orvieto, and were able to see our hotel from afar!
At the end of our bike tour, Paolo offered to take a pic. A rare photo op with us both!

Even though Ryan and I only stayed in Orvieto for two nights, it has a special place in our heart. We would definitely go back and loved every minute of our stay. There are soooo many amazing small towns in Italy, I would love to see many more some day.

I am slowly but surely working on my fourth and final Italy post- Rome. Until then, stay safe everyone!

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!

 

Book Review: “The Great Alone”

Hi all-

On a recent trip to Mexico (blog post coming soon!) I was able to get in some serious reading – 3 books in a week 😊. One of the books I read was called “The Great Alone,” by Kristin Hannah. Hannah wrote another book I really enjoyed called “The Nightingale,” so I figured I would give this a read!

Here is my candid review: I loved this book for an exhilarating, fast paced read. It was such a page turner I could barely put it down and I think I finished it within one full day. That said, this book is not necessarily a philosophical study of morality but instead a dramatic page turner.

“The Great Alone,” is largely set in rural Alaska over the span of several decades and focuses on a young woman, Leonora, and her relationships with her mother and father. Her father is a Vietnam vet and the family struggles to put down roots anywhere until they land in a town of approximately thirty full time residents closer to the North Pole than anywhere else. Life is tough in Alaska, there is no running water or electricity, and the looming threat of the impending winter season is constantly present throughout the book.

The book also focuses on the relationship Leonora (Leni) has with herself. I thought that this was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Leni constantly struggles internally with the battle between her head and heart, and I think this struggle is something most people can resonate with. She also struggles with feeling like an outsider, or an imposter for most of her life. The exploration of these feelings is sad, beautiful and familiar.

Without giving too much a way, I highly recommend this book. Hannah weaves a network of relationships and characters in such a beautiful and realistic way you can almost picture each person as your flip through the pages. At times it is difficult to read, but it is beautifully written and thought provoking. It made me take an introspective look at my own life and surroundings. It created such a vivid depiction of Alaska, I felt as though I could look out my window and see the glacially carved mountain peaks, hear the bays of the seals in the harbor and feel the snow falling softly around me. This book made me want to visit Alaska immediately (even though I’d only ever be a tourist.)

My only criticism (which is maybe a common theme for me!) is I felt the latter quarter of the book was somewhat rushed and less relatable/ almost clichéd. This book developed amazing characters and I think that could have been extended in the second half, especially in the last few chapters. It shifted quickly and to me the writing felt more rushed towards the end.

That said, I think I liked this just as much as the “The Nightingale,” and I definitely recommend it for a quick, exhilarating read. I would give it 3.5/4 out 5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️. Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

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 😄.

Charleston Architecture Appreciation Post

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!

Have a great week everyone.

St. Augustine Fun

Happy Saturday!

I wanted to share a super quick recap of my trip to St. Augustine, Florida a couple of weeks ago.

We went to St. Augustine for my stepsister’s birthday. It was such a fun getaway and it was so nice to be able to spend some quality time with the ladies in my family.

St. Augustine may seem kind of random (and it kind of was 😁) but we wanted to avoid a big spring break crowd (Mid-March in Florida), and still enjoy some warmer temps. This location worked best for the group (we were flying in from three different cities) and it was such a blast.

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the US, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, and it has some amazing architecture and buildings that have survived through the centuries.

The trip was super relaxing. We enjoyed amazing food, drinks, conversation and Publix Key Lime Pie (if ya know, then ya know). I am going to share a few pics below.

These are mainly iPhone photos since my camera died on Day 1 and I forgot the charger 😫.

St. Augustine Light House:

Beautiful old southern live oak trees:

I just love these southern oaks. They look so majestic and the sunlight filters through so beautifully. Plus they just remind me of warmer weather and sunny days 🤗.

Boardwalk on the way to the beach in Anastasia State Park:

^ you can see the lighthouse in the distance here!

It was a perfect beach day. I cannot overstate how welcome even a little bit of sunshine is in the depths of a long winter. After this trip I vowed to do another warm weather trip next year!

Had to get a pic with my sista – we were matching in stripes (not planned).

We walked around and explored the historic area of St. Augustine:

^ Group shot! We also enjoyed a wonderful sunset harbor cruise. The captain was personable and informative and we saw dolphins playing 😁 .

We had brunch at a cute Mexican place that reminded me of Tulum. I had chilaquiles and the food was all phenomenal! Definitely recommend a stop here if you ever visit.

More tree pics 🤣:

^ the view from our lunch spot.

On our last day, we visited a local distillery and did a tour. It was very cool (although that tour guides were somewhat bizarre- think SNL sketch within a Distillery). We learned that they source all of their ingredients, materials, and workforce locally. Their alcohol was pretty tasty too, and we got to sample four different drinks. For more information check out their website here: St. Augustine Distillery

We also visited a cute art gallery. One of my favorite souvenirs to get is a piece of artwork from the city I am visiting. This trip was no different and I purchased a beautiful print. I will share it once I get it framed.

All in all, this trip was amazing and so relaxing. It was nice to spend time with family and reconnect. Hope you enjoyed the pics, and if you’re looking for a cute, easy weekend trip, St. Augustine is a perfect option!

Steamboat Springs

Hi friends and TGIF!

I wanted to share some pictures from our recent trip to Steamboat Springs, CO. Ryan and I went there for a week to go skiing and visit his family and it was amazing, per usual! This was our 3rd trip together, and Ryan has been going with his family for 15 years+ (his aunt and cousins live in CO).

We had beautiful weather for almost our entire trip! It snowed 18 inches on the mountain while we there, so the ski conditions were absolutely amazing. We also got days full of beautiful sunshine 🌞.

Aren’t these views incredible? I couldn’t believe the beautiful lighting and how blue the sky is!

We enjoyed a beer outside on the balcony in the sunshine after a day of skiing.

Steamboat is such a beautiful place and I am so grateful to have been introduced to it by Ryan and his family. It’s off the beaten path and it’s about a 3.5 hour drive from Denver, near the Wyoming border. Given its location it has a slightly more western and casual vibe than some of the other big resort towns in Colorado (and I hope it stays that way 😀).

We skied the entire mountain, went snowshoeing, ate *amazing* food, and enjoyed hours of relaxation spent by the fire.

The meals in Steamboat have always been so good (regardless of the fact that it’s a smallish ski town!). Some of our favorites:

  • Mambo Italiano (Italian, obviously 🤣)- Delicious pasta dishes.
  • Low Country Kitchen (Southern comfort food)- Amazing fried chicken and biscuits. Randomly the deviled eggs are also so good! Great cocktails as well.
  • Bésame (Tapas/ Latin American food- Spanish, Peruvian, Colombian, etc.)- incredible! This is a new place Ryan and I tried this past trip and everything we got was spectacular. Prawns, potatoes, duck confit, smoked peppers, fresh baked bread with adobo sauce, etc. Okay, now I’m drooling.

Interior shot of Bésame- I’m a sucker for café lights or whatever these string lights are called. I love the wide, worn floorboards too.

  • Freshies (casual breakfast and lunch spot with classic and/or healthy options) – I got a roasted butternut squash and quinoa bowl with kale, feta, and scrambled eggs for breakfast one morning- it was so filling and tasty.
  • Truffle Pig (fancy, finer dining at base of mountain)
  • Mahogany Ridge– incredible steaks and beer selection (local too)
  • Lots of little breweries and pubs around town.
  • Lots of good casual Mexican restaurants as well
  • We’ve also heard great things about Mazzola’s and Laundry but haven’t had a chance to check them out. There are a TON of other restaurants we want to try as well. Next time 😁.
  • This year, we went on another snowshoeing adventure at Buffalo Pass (located on a mountain near town). The pictures don’t do it justice but I’m gonna try my darnedest!
  • This trek was nothing short of breathtaking.

    It had snowed three feet or something crazy when we arrived (in addition to existing snowpack).

    ^ This trail sign is about 5 feet high to give you an idea of the height of the snowfall!

    As we got climbed more up the mountain, the views got more and more jaw dropping.

    ^ You can see tiny specks in the center here- those are snowmobiles. The only other humans we saw.

    ^ Our guide Katie leading the way. I love this photograph. She looks like she’s hiking into the clouds. Everything is so pristine and untouched and pure.

    I couldn’t believe my eyes! The scenery was just so beautiful. Needless to say I was lagging behind the group snapping tons of photos.

    ^ The lighting was gorgeous and dramatic. The clouds rolled in, enveloping us and then quickly dissipated, gliding over the ridges and rolling hills, off into the distance.

    It was an experience I’ll never forget. None of these pictures have any filters on them- the lighting and colors were just picture perfect. Our guide said it was one of the most spectacular hikes she had ever done!

    ^ A beautiful Aspen tree.

    It was actually so bright we wore sunglasses almost the whole time.

    I took probably close to 150 pictures! There are so many more beautiful images on my camera but I don’t want to exhaust my readers 😂/ how many pictures of mountains does one need to see (#thelimitdoesnotexist). Also, I only really used my camera one or two days of the trip, but still feel like it was totally worth it to bring it.

    After snowshoeing we walked around town. We bought a cute Christmas ornament and mainly just window shopped.

    ^ View of the mountain from Lincoln Avenue- the Main Street in Steamboat.

    A lovely mural outside of Freshies restaurant. The colors are so bright and cheerful.

    This day was actually very low visibility at first and made for difficult skiing. Luckily Ryan is a great ski partner (and encourager) and the skies cleared up beautifully later on!

    ^ The storm clouds moving across the mountain.

    After the clouds cleared 🙂:The weather can change quickly when you’re 10,000 feet up!

    Well, that about sums up our trip. Ryan and I had the best time and can’t wait to go back! We are planning to go in the summer and fall seasons at some point, and I have a feeling I’ll love Steamboat even more. I would love to explore the western United States more and hope I get a chance to do so!The natural world is so incredible and awe inspiring.

    I hope you enjoyed this post and the pictures- I know I enjoyed taking them.

    Do you you have a favorite vacation spot? Let me know in the comments below.