VENICE

Venice, Italy

For the 3rd leg of our Euro vacay we went to Venice for a few days.  Venice was so perfect at this point in the trip.  It felt, casual.

I felt like I was in some fantasy world in another time.  We would get lost in a maze of Italian architecture and there were canals and gondolas everywhere.  We had the best Italian food, at a local spot, run by an Asian couple, and went to a jazz club where Latin Jazz was the theme of the night.  This is also when my affair with prosecco began (and lasted throughout the rest of the trip).  Venice was amazing.

Venice CollageFirst Day:

I broke my sunglasses on the train, so I was on the hunt for a nice cheap pair for the next leg of the trip.  There were all these ‘street sellers’ on the first canal bridge and I started trying on a few pairs.  Next thing I know,  all of the people that were selling purses and sunglasses, grab all of their supplies in their blankets and start booking it!  The guy we were shopping from grabbed everything out of our hands and we were like, we’ll take that pair for €5,00.  Done deal, for about €10 cheaper than he wanted.  Hah!

We settled into our next B&B.  We had our own personal bathroom this time…score!  This place was more like a mini hotel.  Norman Bates ran this place and he was great.   But seriously, the hotel owner was named Marco and he was the oddest person, but also, super nice.  But definitely odd.  If I go back to Venice I will 100% find Marco and say hi.  I wish I had video of him, the jokes between me and J were nonstop the rest of trip.   Ohhh Marco…

Dinner in Venice

(View from our table.  To the right was the river/canal intersection.  No idea why we didn’t get a picture of that)

But anyway,  after we settled in a bit, we started scoping out trip advisor for restaurants.  We usually tried to find places where the locals go.  We like to avoid the “too touristy” spots.  This restaurant was at a river/canal intersection.  It was one of the best meals we had while in Italy and was owned by a really cute Asian couple.

Cafe Noir

After dinner, it was around 8 or 9 and the streets were pretty quiet.   We took tons of pictures and ended up finding this little lounge bar called Cafe Noir and grabbed a prosecco and well, lounged.   This was my first prosecco of many for the  rest of the trip.

Second Day:

Today was full on time to explore.

Venice Canal

Our main goal (in every place we visited) is always to just roam around and get lost in the city.  Our sub goals were to see the Grand Canal and San Marco Square.  We always have a rough idea of what we’re doing, but don’t get stuck on the details.

So we made our way to both spots and window shopped and explored other little areas on the way.  Did you know it costs €1.50 to use a restroom?  Like, WHAT?!  So usually when it was time to hit the bathroom, we would grab a drink or a bite so we could use the bathroom in the bar/restaurant…1 prosecco please.

Steampunk Masks in Venice

(Steampunk Masks)

Piazza San Marco

(Piazza San Marco)

Then we ended our night at this jazz club that everybody said would be amazing…and it was!  The band was so great.  The theme of the night was Latin, which just cracked me up.  Of course we would be in Italy and listening to Latin Jazz.

After that, we headed back to our place to relax and get ready for our next city.

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Have you been to Venice?  What was your favorite memory there?

♦ Stephanie

FLORENCE + CINQUE TERRE

Florence & Cinque Terre

Hey guys!

In this post, I’m heading back to a couple of months ago to talk about another stop on me and J’s Euro trip.

For the 2nd stop of our trip, we were headed to Florence for 3 days with an excursion to Cinque Terre on one of the days.  Our first train experience was pretty badass.  We got the Eurail pass (we’re still not sure if we saved money getting that or not, but I’m pretty sure we did), and when you use your pass you always get first class, which includes champagne (hell yes) and usually some food.  I decided that high speed trains are where it’s at and the U.S. needs to get on board with a sick high speed train system.  Why does it take 7 hours by train to get to Chicago from St. Louis when I can drive it in 5?

Florence

(Piazzale Michelangelo)

Anyway, we headed to Florence and walked from the train station to our B&B.

I’ve never stayed at a B&B before, and this place had 3 rooms and 1 bathroom.  I was a little concerned because I think I’m a little weird about bathroom privacy.  Like, I want one accessible to me at all times.  Is that too much to ask?  hah!  I managed :)

Florence Basilica

(Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)

After we checked in, we pulled out the map our B&B lady gave us and started to explore the city.  She said you could walk across the entire city in 30 minutes.  I was pretty stoked about that after our infamous 7 mile walking day in Rome  (I don’t think I’ve ever been that sweaty in my entire life).

Florence Basilica

(Crazy angles with the selfie stick)

We started walking down all of the cute little streets, went to check out the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  And continued to explore the city.  We ate some delicious tiramisu > > >  One of our goals was to try all of the foods each country was known for.

Then we went to Pizzale Michelangelo (pictured above).  This was one of the coolest most memorable things we did.  I love a great view and this spot gives you the most breathtaking view of the city.  It was seriously phenomenal and I would recommend it to everyone.

Tiramisu in Florence

(This is about as good as tiramisu gets)

The next morning, we were off to Cinque Terre!  Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

Cinque Terre

On day 2 in Florence we did a 13 hour excursion to Cinque Terre (meaning “5 towns” in English).  OMG this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  When I go back, I would definitely plan a few more days here.  It was a super small and quiet beach town that was so unbelievably picturesque.  It recently became a national park.

Cinque Terre

With our excursion group we hit up 4 of the 5 towns using a boat and train to get between them.  If the water was too choppy we would have missed out on the boat experience, and that was so unbelievably beautiful.  We were so lucky not to miss that.

Cinque Terre

After lunch, we picked up a bottle of wine at one of the stores, walked a little bit, and found a few steps to just sit back and enjoy the view.  You could not find a bad view here if you tried.

Cinque Terre

(You can see our view from lunch (bottom pic), in my sunglasses (top left pic).  And some rocks we picked up from the beach to store in some little dish in our house)

At our last stop, we grabbed a couple of beers and just relaxed & people watched…lots of relaxing going on this day.

Beers in Cinque Terre

Just waiting for the train to pick us up…

Cinque Terre Flowers

Ciao Cinque Terre!

Ciao Cinque Terre

(Rocking my tour group sticker…word up)

So those were another set of fantastic days…up next, Venice!

♦ Stephanie

ADVENTURES IN ROME

Colosseum

Hey guys!

I am going to do a few posts about my trip to Europe.  I wanted to blog while I was there, but since we were traveling light with backpacks, we didn’t have anywhere to carry the laptop.  So I’m going to sprinkle in a few of these posts (with some pics of the different cities we went to) along with the more regular posts.

First off, Roma!

When I went to Loyola of Chicago, I spent a summer studying in Rome.  It lasted about 4-5 weeks and it was such an amazing time and I have the BEST memories from it.  So when me and J were planning on going to Europe I felt like we had to make this stop.  It ended up being our first stop and the longest.  We were there for 5 nights (I judge all lengths of time by nights, since that’s how I had to think when booking all of our rooms).

Rome Apartment

{The tree in our apartment’s courtyard and view from our bedroom window…We had to hand wash our clothes one night and hung them on the drying rack out the window like a little old Italian couple}

We used HomeAway here and stayed at this ladies apartment that was a 5 minute walk from the Colosseum.  It was a great location.  Just a little bit off the beaten path, but still in the middle of the action.

I can’t even believe how much we walked in Rome (…actually the entire trip was full of walking).  It was so fun to walk around and explore the city.  Oh hey, let’s walk to dinner…oh look an ancient ruin.  Oh look over there, that’s where Caesar was murdered.  Oh yea, this building is over 2,000 years old.

Walk some more…cappuccino.  Walk a little more…time for some wine.  How about some gelato?…are you ready for wine again?

Tiber River

Tiber River

And the food was fantastic…probably one of things I was most excited for.

Italian Food

{Caprese salad in Italy…J had the spaghetti and meatballs}

Roman Trees

{I had a slight obsession with the Roman trees  ♥}

Basilica de San Giovanni

{Those candlesticks were gold…and the bottom pic was just a very small section of that church}

And there were extravagant churches everywhere.  There seemed to be a church every corner you turned, and they were all ridiculously decked out with gold.  One of the church’s ceilings was made out of gold that was brought back by Christopher Columbus.  Kind of had my fill in the church department, I think I saw enough for a lifetime.

And a few days into our trip we bought a selfie stick…something we were initially making fun of until we realized the amazingness that is the selfie stick.  I mean, it gets kind of annoying to ask strangers to take pictures of you next to an ancient monument every 5 minutes.  And once we had the stick, we could get pics of us in front of some cool ass building without our heads taking up the entire picture.  That’s a win.

Rome Collage

So that was Rome in a very tiny nutshell…We took over 500 pictures here and many videos.  We were documenting the whole trip via iphone video, which was a blast to look back on because it totally captures the vibe of the moment.  I highly recommend taking videos of yourself : )

Where has your favorite place been to travel?  Any cool destinations on your bucket list?  I think my travel bug just exploded after being on this trip so I would love any suggestions!

♦ Stephanie

TOP 5 TRAVEL NECESSITIES

In the middle of my trip in Europe, I compiled a list of what I thought were the top 5 most important travel necessities to have with you.

5 Travel Necessities

I wrote this list on Day 13 of our 21 day trip.  So I feel like this pretty accurately represents what I found most important at that moment.  Then I checked this list again towards the end of the trip, and not only did these all still apply, I think they became even more important.

So here we go:

1.  Eye Mask + Ear Plugs

This is number 1 for a reason.  Sleep is the MOST important thing, in my book.  We stayed in hotels, HomeAway’s, AirBNB’s, and regular B&B’s during our trip.  And the one thing I can tell you for sure, is that you never know what you’re going to get.  Especially when it comes to early morning light and loud noise.  Since we travelled during a heat wave in Europe, it was ridiculously hot.  And there is hardly any AC.  So a lot of the time, you depend on opening the windows and having the night air cool you off.  The problem with this is, the sun comes up early and the noise levels can be unexpected.  For instance, we had an early morning violinist in the apartment in Rome we stayed in (and he wasn’t even good!).  And there was construction work going on near more than one place we stayed at.  And one night in a B&B in Florence we had a very loud couple staying in the room next to us.  I thought they were fighting but J thought they were just talking passionately (It was all in Italian, so we couldn’t be sure).  Anyway,  the eye mask & ear plugs were used EVERYWHERE.

2.  Osprey Back Packs

This was a tough decision when we were planning this trip.  Back packs or rolling suitcase?  I knew that I wanted to travel light.  I had read about capsule wardrobes and thought this would be a great time to really try something like that out and practice with packing good staple pieces that could easily be mixed and matched.  Let me tell ya, this was a lifesaver.   I had previously spent 1 month in Rome in my college days, doing a summer study abroad program, and I remembered all of the brick and cobblestone roads in Europe. I also remembered Venice (one of our stops) and all of the stairs to go up and down the bridges, along with all of the narrow sidewalks (pretty much everywhere).  I decided that backpacks would be the way to go and I was happy about that decision the entire trip.  It was so easy to move in and out of crowds and use the trains, while I watched all of these people struggling with 2 huge rolling suitcases.  After some research, we found AMAZING reviews for this Osprey brand of backpack and I couldn’t be happier.  There was a smaller backpack attached to the larger one, that could be detached and used for day trips or walking around town. I even saw this brand on other travelers all over Europe.  These were durable, light weight, multi functional, and could hold a lot of stuff.  We were also able carry our bags on the plane because they could easily fit in the overhead compartments.  The bags were very squishable (for lack of a better word).

3.  Trip Advisor

I would give this app 5 stars. We used this app for our entire trip.  When we were in wifi zones (pretty much at all of the places we stayed) we would download the city we were in and check out the map and things to do.  Then, when we were out of a wifi zone, we could still access the map and get walking directions (without having to connect to wifi), while also checking out restaurant recommendations around wherever we wandered off to.  If we were unsure of what to do on certain days, we would check out TripAdvisor for daily tours or tips on what other visitors have done.  It made for a very well rounded, delicious, and fun trip.

4.  Coconut Oil + Brown Sugar

I’ve talked about coconut oil more than once (here & here).  And I knew it would be an important staple in my travels.  I mainly used it as a face wash, make up remover, and moisturizer (hell yes to knocking out 3 things with one product).  I also packed a little jar of brown sugar to use to exfoliate with the coconut oil on my lips, face, and body.  And the whole trip I kept thinking, “Good call Steph.”

5.  Melatonin

There were a few nights in Europe where Melatonin was key.  Melatonin is “a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles.” and once again, sleep is where it’s at when you want to feel your best.  I will talk about melatonin more in a future post.  But I would have to say it kinda saved my ass in a few situations.  Our first stop was Rome and we were doing pretty well with adjusting from the jet lag for the first few nights.  Then, the night before we were going to leave for Florence, we were wired and could not sleep.  I think it was part, excitement for the next city, and part, we were still acclimating to the new time zone.  We took some melatonin and within 20 minutes I was out.  I tried the 10 mg a few months ago and it made me feel incredibly groggy the next day.  I started splitting the pills in half so I was only taking 5 mg, and that has been the perfect amount.

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Whew!  That was a lot.  Do you guys have any “must-have” travel items that you would never go without? Let me know if you have any questions about anything!

♦ Stephanie