Tag Archives: vacation

Travelogue: Assisi in Photos {Assisi, Umbria, Italy}

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Updates on here haven’t been as frequent as I have been wanting them to be. I guess this is what happens when we take on more work stuff and hobbies, right? In any case,here are a few photos from my visit to Assisi. We were driving around the Umbrian countryside and decided to make the pilgrimage to where St. Francis of Assisi is from. Don’t ask me what compelled me to go there– while I was raised Catholic, I’m not the least bit religious. Somehow, I was still drawn to this hill-top town and I am very glad that we took the couple of hours to explore. Note the photo of the specialty food shop in this slideshow. The people who run it are darling and really go in for the hard sell. It worked though. We left with two bottles of Umbrian wine, two jars of white truffle & artichoke paste, one jar of black truffle salsa, and some really terrific 12 year old balsamic vinegar. If you’ve got the time to add Assisi to your sight-seeing, it’s worth the trip. A lovely, quiet town (despite having a sort of religious theme-park-feeling parking structure and gift shop) with stunning views, beautiful churches, and killer sunsets.

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Travelogue: Firenze in Photos {Florence, Italy}

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Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance and its balance of old and new can attract any culture-hound. Whereas Venice captivated us with its magic, Florence won our hearts by hitting close to home. Among the stunning old churches and cobblestone streets, there was an air of urban familiarity that lingered; shiny new stores and chic designers in harmony alongside family-owned trattorie.

Staying in a grand old world (but renovated) hotel overlooking the Arno River, we were able to experience a touch of Florentine glamour. A short walk took us to Santa Croce, the Duomo, and the famous Piazza della Signora. A few minutes in one direction landed us back by the river and onto the Ponte Vecchio where we admired vintage jewelry and fine Italian gold. Since shopping for precious gems wasn’t much our taste, we made our way over to San Lorenzo where we bargained hard for Italian leather goods like boots and belts; even a pair of black rubber rain boots when the rain really started to come down; my feet soaking in my black ballet flats.

The historic core was incredibly easy to navigate on foot sans a map and filled with a sense of adventure. Wander around, be mindful of where you’ve been, and it’s impossible to get lost. Just don’t forget to stop every few feet for some gelato– in Florence, gelato is just another form of art. Transcribed from notes on the backside of an Italian take-out menu, October 2012. 

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Travelogue: Venezia in Photos {Venice, Italy}

It cannot be denied that there is something magical about Venice; a city surrounded by water, covered in cobblestone, and rich in history and culture. From the many churches to the famous opera houses, there is something so romantic about Venice that has historically drawn people to its charm. Famous authors and artists have used Venice as their muse; their playground. Even the famous Hemingway has left imprints from San Marco all the way into the outer  lagoon. And while the city has become more an attraction for visitors off cruise ships than world-renowned painters, you can always rely on Venice’s beauty. The sun setting over the lagoon, gondoliers serenading lovers off quiet back-way canals, the musicians that keep San Marco lively well into the evening in front of the legendary Cafe Florian. The slight smell of salt in the air in the early morning as the Rialto Market prepares to sell the freshest catch of the day. Venice, in all its glory, is really quite intoxicating. -Transcribed from notes off a napkin; Italy, October 2012. Here are some photos I snapped while soaking in the magic that is Venice.

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Dining: An Impromptu Dinner at Vino Vino | Venice, Italy

I’m going to contradict myself a little here. While I know I emphasized the importance of booking tables in advance when traveling in Italy, our first day in Venice was an exhausting one and we broke the cardinal rule of jet-lag by taking a two-hour long nap late in the afternoon. The original plan was to wander around in search of ciccheti near the Rialto, but having woken up a little later than planned (damn snooze button), we were limited to some impromptu dinner plans.

It had rained quite a bit during our nap and having left our hotel after dark, many of the restaurants and bacari were packed with people trying to stay out of the cold. Following winding streets for a while, I noticed a small sign that read “Aperto | Open” and decided to follow it. The destination: Vino Vino, the intimate wine bar owned by neighboring Antico Martini which has been around since 1720.

Tucked away from plain sight mere meters away from Antico Martini and just steps away from the famous Teatro La Fenice, this intimate little wine bar features a lengthy wine list and a simple menu featuring fresh pasta dishes and a few entrees at a very reasonable price. We chose to sit in the covered heated patio and were the only English speakers around us during our visit. It was dimly lit and romantic. Our waiter was prompt and friendly, and while the meal was simple, after a long day, it really hit the spot. I found comfort in my incredibly tender braised beef cheeks in a red wine sauce, served with fluffy potato puree and my glass of Barbaresco. A decent meal to cap off a say of sight-seeing and time adjusting. Vino Vino, Ponte delle Veste, 2007/A, Venice, Italy. 

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Filed under Dinner, Italian, Italy, local food, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Back to Reality: Returning from Italy

Burano, Venezia, Italy; 2012

Months of planning, saving, and anticipation culminated in a whirlwind Italian getaway that rekindled my love of the Boot, its people, and of course, their impeccable cuisine. While this was not my first love affair with Italia, it is with fresh “grown up” eyes that I was able to experience it all in a new light.

What made this trip all the more significant than any other visit was that it was the boyfriend’s first time– and after all our exploring, it’s been firmly decided that it would be far from out last. Our roughly 12-day agenda took us on a criss-cross journey to some of the country’s “greatest hits including:Venice-Florence-Perugia-Rome with interludes in the Tuscan countryside and the hill-top towns of Umbria. My love for Piemonte and our dreams of the Amalfi Coast would just have to wait until next time…

When planning this trip, I enlisted the help of friends I have made over the years in order to create an itinerary that would suit both of our travel needs; major sites a first-timer should see and local culture and hip (and delicious) neighborhoods to counter-balance the touristy-ness. It comes as no surprise that asking a local where to go is the best travel resource you can get, but bloggers and expats are also great, reliable sources. Many find comfort in guidebooks, but there is no better guide than a local.

Naturally, there is bound to be overlap between local recs and popular guidebooks. Rick Steves’ actually does know a thing or two about where great cicchetti in Venice is, and virtually every guidebook has recommended the coffee powerhouses of Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio in Rome. And with the rise of Travel Channel shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, even the hilltop towns like Orvieto and Panzano in Chianti are no longer safe from the hordes of tourist that flock to every tv-documented locale. But it’s a balance between all of these options that should be carefully considered when planning a vacation. My best piece of advice? Take the time for some research, pace yourself, and don’t be afraid to throw all those plans out the window. If you will it, the possibilities of the perfect trip are endless.

In the coming posts, I will be recounting our journey; from pointers on restaurants we particularly enjoyed to ways to get more bang for your buck and keep your sanity among the crowds. I hope to inspire you to go on a trip of your very own, and please, if there is a place you think I *must* try next time around, feel free to let me know!

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Straight Trippin’: The first of many more visits to the Island of Enchantment

As we entered the taxi van in front of our hotel, the Caribbean skies wept for us; a sort of baptismal for newly devout believers in the island of enchantment. Vacation was over. Over the course of a few days we travelled to quite a few places on the island, and in the process, I learned an important thing: You cannot appreciate the wonders of Puerto Rico from a cruise ship.

San Juan, the island’s capitol, is the most popular city. It is a major dock for many cruise lines and with that comes a hodge podge of tourist traps and long-standing local favorites desperately trying to catch your eye. If you look beyond the souveneir shops and kitschy chaos however, you will find an incredibly charming place. Much of this charm is contained within the seven-square blocks considered to be Old San Juan. Just a stone’s throw from the many piers, the glitzy high-rise resorts of Condado, and the airport sprawl near Isla Verde, Old San Juan is the perfect starting point to begin your Puerto Rican journey.

Accessible by foot to major landmarks, entertainment, and some of the best restaurants and nightlife on the island, this part of town has a strong Spanish colonial nostlagia to it complete with centuries-old churches, gigantic stone fortresses, and tiny cobble-stone streets where you can retrace Hunter S. Thompson’s drunken steps from The Rum Diary.

After doing much research, the boy and I decided that there is only one place that we would ever consider staying at in Old San Juan. The world famous Hotel El Convento, which is not only centrally located to practically everything in town, but is also one of the most beautiful boutique luxury hotels you can find. A former Carmelite convent built in the 17th century, El Convento takes what travellers love about big new luxury hotels and gives it the charm and romance of a small independent hotel. While the building may be hundreds of years old, this hotel is fantastically renovated, offering top of the line ammenities and service while maintaining the location’s integrity. Guestrooms are cozy, impeccably clean, and are decorated in warm inviting colors with tasteful local art and everything you would expect and want from a hotel room. We were fortunate enough to get a bay-view room on the fourth floor, but every room here is worth every penny. The added bonuses of three great restaurants, 24 hour access to their rooftop plunge pool and jacuzzi, and a free nightly Manager’s wine and cheese reception in addition to unlimited bottled water easily puts them in one of my favorite hotels I have ever stayed in.

While driving in San Juan is not necessary (in fact it is discouraged since there are very small streets, very little parking, and way too much traffic), I would definitely recommend renting a car for exploring the rest of the island. We opted for a two-day rental so that we could make trips to near-by attractions such as the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo, the El Yunque rain forest in Rio Grande, and the famed Ruta de Lechon in Guavate.

There were many more places we would have loved to drive to, but we were only on vacation for five days and we just couldn’t fit everything in. For car rentals, I recommend Charlie Car Rental; a Puerto Rican rental company that is just as good as any of the bigger names. They offer the cheapest prices, good insurance policies, easy booking (online), and even a free shuttle service to get you back to your hotel. Their cars were all newer models in great condition, which is something to really look for when driving small streets, winding roads, and going up and down lush mountains.

As I begin sorting through hundreds of vacation photos, digging up notes on memorable meals, and writing up freelance articles, I leave you with just a few photos of our trip. I’ll be updating about our favorite spots on the island including where to get the best espresso and what could quite possibly be the best breakfast sandwich. It’s been decided that several return trips to Puerto Rico definitely lie in our future. Easy to get to without being too expensive,the versatility of being near posh resorts or hunkering down in small villages and the great outdoors, and you don’t even need your passport.

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Straight Trippin’: Reno 411- A Guide to Local Gems

I always hated going to Reno when I was a child. We had a family friend who used to live there and we could make the trecherous drive in the winters to visit them and day-trip to some ski resort near the beautiful Lake Tahoe areas. My memories of Reno were confined to cheesy outdated casinos, creepy motels, and little old ladies blowing cigarette smoke into my face as we made a B-line to the casino’s arcade. However, this month we made the trip over to Reno on a business trip. I was sent there to cover the Third Annual CANFEST (which was a totally awesome event). Before heading to the Silver State, I made it a point to do some research online to see where the younger locals go, and luckily (with the help of Yelp), I was able to find some awesome places just within walking distance to casino-land that really made me like Reno.

The first place on our Reno 411 adventure is an awesome coffee shop called The Hub Coffee Company. This relatively young coffee shop and roaster is the perfect way to start your day with locally roasted beans and artfully made espresso drinks. We liked this place so much, we came here each morning we were in town. Small, cozy, and hip with a very strong local vibe. The baristas were knowledgable and friendly. On our first visit we had cappucinos courtesy of Ashlyn; perfect, well-rounded, and delightful while sitting out in the morning cold. The next day we met Ian and Mark (the owner), who were a dream team if we ever did see one. You can’t go wrong with anything on their menu, nor can you help but love the sense of community here. Laptops, dogs (on the patio), and lingering is welcome. www.thehubcoffeeco.blogspot.com 

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Filed under Brunch, coffee, local eateries, microbrew, Travel, Vacation