TBT: Italy

I was reminded, thanks to TimeHop, that I was in Italy four years ago this week. Sigh. What I’d give to be right back there right now.

I remember hearing that it “wasn’t the best time to go to Italy.” Well, I’ve also been there in March, and I’d say December, in fact, is the best time to go to Italy. So there. Italy goes BIG on Christmastime, and being there to see the beautiful lights and Christmas decorations was AMAZING to me.

tree

My mom made the entire itinerary, and what an amazing trip she came up with. We visited Florence and Rome.

We started off in Florence and visited the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the museum where David is nakie. I remember being excited to try Florence’s hot chocolate, which is much thicker than ours. One of the days, we ventured into Tuscany, about an hour away up a mountain, to a wine tour and tasting in Chianti. The region is beautiful, with rows of grapes for miles and miles. I thought it was so neat to think that those grapes would soon be made into wine and sent all around the world.

chianit1

wine

On the way back to Florence, we stopped by this tiny little town in the Chianti region, called Greve (pronounced ‘Gravy’). The day was just winding down, and the sun was beginning to set. We made it there just as they were starting the town’s Christmas tree lighting in the center of town. We got to see families celebrating with their children, and it was such a nice moment. There were little shops throughout the town and a cafe that we explored before heading back into Florence.

mi

We visited a restaurant in Florence, La cucina del Garga, which was delicious and for some reason, they kept all the liquor bottles we were drinking on OUR table. Someone else would ask for a drink, they’d take it from our table to pour them a drink, then give it back to us. Fine with us. I think we finished the whole bottle of grappa.

candle

Another memorable thing we did was a cooking class, by Florence Cooking Classes. We started off going to a local marketplace, where we got to sample many different foods, and picked out all of the food we would need. We made pasta (of course), ravioli, and tiramisu. The pasta we made was one of the best meals I had in all of Italy. SO good. They even sent us home with the recipe, which I tried to replicate last year.

cooking

cookngclass

cooking2

cooking1

The next stop was Rome. I have heard people say that Rome isn’t their favorite, and that it’s a dirty city. I object. I love Rome for all that it is – and it’s a lot. Between the old, narrow cobblestone streets – the FOOD and shopping – the history – the people, I love it all. While in Rome, we did all of the usual – the Spanish Steps (where I got my first pair of Jimmy Choos), the Colosseum, made a wish in the Trevi Fountain, and even got a private tour of the Vatican!

trevi

Sometimes when I’m having a REALLY GOOD moment, I’ll mentally store it in a special place. I’ll tell myself that whenever I’m unhappy, go back to that moment. I’ve only done it for a few special times, but I’m good to my word in going back to my happy moments when I’m feeling distressed. I had one of these moments in Rome, and I believe it is my favorite moment of all my happy moments. Here it is:

Surrounded by the people I love most, my Mom, Dad, and my brother, Matt, we were in Rome, sitting in a room filled with people having their own conversations. We had wine and dark chocolate, which we learned pairs well. A man was playing the piano. And in that moment, life was absolutely perfect.

moment

Cheers!

Will travel for coffee

I feel that I could spend most of my lifetime in a coffee shop and be completely OK with that. Cozy. Modern. Bright. Dark. Filled with books. Filled with music. I don’t care. All cafes radiate an E N E R G Y that comes from more than just the espresso.

Confession: My first Starbucks was in London. This is SO sad. IF I COULD go back to my 17-year-old self, I’d trip myself crossing the street to get that stupid caramel macchiato. GET CULTURED, you’re in London. Regrets.

Just about ten years later, I lust over the opportunity to find unique and independent cafes when I’m in a new area. I think I would travel to a new city solely to visit a cute cafe.

Like this one, Granja Petitbo in Barcelona. Take me awaayyyyyy…….

cafe1

cafe2

barcelona

Cheers!

Rhode Island in the summer

I know, I know — I left Rhode Island over three years ago, and have always looked back. I don’t even think it’s just my love for the State anymore though. Seriously — Rhode Island has a LOT to offer, especially in the beautiful weather.

Things to do in Rhode Island this summer:

Providence:

WaterFire

wf_hero

Roger Williams University

If you have never been, this is a must-do. From sunset to midnight most Saturday nights throughout the summer, the river that goes through the middle of Providence is lit up. It is very romantic, with music playing as the gondolas float down the river lighting the fire. My favorite part of WaterFire is the smell of blazing cedar and pine. There are also many street performers and food trucks around. A perfect plan: get into Providence and grab dinner somewhere downtown, once the sun sets, head on over and enjoy the scenery. WaterFire is free to attend.

Rooftop at G

This is somewhat new, and very cool. Begin your night lounging by a fire pit up on the rooftop, watch the sun set, and enjoy a pizza and cocktail. It sounds perfect. They have a “chowdah” pizza, that I have been dying to try: topped with smoked bacon, native clams, potatoes and oyster crackers ($19). MMMMM. And, they have a DJ every night. Well, aren’t you trying to be perfect, G.

Drinks at The Dorrance

Want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time? Stop by The Dorrance, right in the heart of Providence for a drink. The interior is stunning, and the bar specializes in cleverly named cocktails.

Sit outside in Federal Hill

hotel-dolce-villa

TripAdvisor

Some of my favorite memories in Providence were just sitting outside in DePasquale Square. Right at the top of Federal Hill, is an outdoor area that looks like it came right out of a picture of Italy. On summer nights, they have live performers playing music in the square, and some couples will get up and dance, right there in the middle of the City. Grab some Italian food at a restaurant on Federal Hill (some favorites: Costantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante, Old Canteen, Siena). But, save some room for dessert and stop by Pastiche on your way out. You will not be sorry.

Southern RI:

Block Island

rocks

Ever been to a tropical island? Well, you don’t need to. Just take a 1 hour ferry and welcome to PARADISE. Block Island is mind-blowing for how fun it is, and stunningly gorgeous at the same time. Seriously, save your $$$$ flying somewhere, and make a weekend stop here. Must do: rent a moped to get you around the island, get a drink on the beach at Ballard’s, build a rock stack at Mohegan Bluffs. Dying to go ASAP.

The Coast Guard House

Whether you’re looking to have lunch outside, or just a drink on the deck overlooking the ocean, The Coast Guard House is always a go-to.

Check out Jim’s Dock

Stop by Jim’s Dock for dinner and enjoy the sunset right on the water. The restaurant is BYOB, so be sure to bring your favorite wine or beer to accompany a great seafood dish. It is also dog friendly if you want to bring your favorite little buddy.

Newport:

You cannot go wrong being in Newport in the summer. The upside: there is SO much to do. The downside: this is the most well-known area in RI, so there will be lots of tourists/congestion. But, again, there is so much to do for couples, friends, and/or families.

Some popular festivals in Newport:

Newport Folk Festival July 22-24

Newport Jazz Festival July 29-31

Bowen’s Wharf 26th Annual Seafood Festival October 15-16

Get lunch at The Chanler’s restaurant, The Spiced Pear

I already told you about this one. Have you really not done it yet?

Sunset at Ocean Drive

newport sunset

Grab a blanket, a bottle of wine, and some cheese and crackers and head to Ocean Drive just before sunset. It will be one of the most beautiful sights you have ever seen.

Cheers!

Proud to be an American

How appropriate that I am writing this post just before Memorial Day, a day for remembrance of those who died in active military service.

The drive from Reims to Normandy was a long one – about 5 and a half hours. We only had ONE day in Normandy, so we needed to make it worthwhile. We got up at 5am and got on the road.

Evan is a fantastic European driver. He drove us around in Ireland, where they drive on the other side of the road, so I totally trusted him in France (they drive on our side). We had no GPS, so we were kind of just wingin’ it. We finally made it to Normandy, after a wild search for coffee and only getting on a few wrong highways.

sign

Side note: Let me stop here and talk a bit about my knowledge of DDay, and when I got so into this. Two years ago, I knew the term DDay, I even knew the date (solely because it’s exactly one month before my birthday). I didn’t know nearly what I should have to be able to appreciate the men who gave their lives for our country that day. When we were planning a trip to France, Evan, the WWII buff, HAD to go to Normandy, which I was totally open to. However, I knew it wouldn’t be as meaningful for me to go there having such little knowledge, so I changed that. I bought the book “The Longest Day,” by Cornelius Ryan. I thought it was going to be a difficult book for me to get through, since my typical genre is love/romance/comedy. This book was amazing and I got completely absorbed in it. I learned so much, gained an interest, cried a lot, and could not put it down. This totally got me interesting in all things DDay, and WWII.

We went directly to Omaha Beach. My initial thought was how gorgeous it is. It’s a beach that people still utilize today – and it is beautiful. This made it very hard to imagine what happened here. There are memorials along the wall, explaining that day. On June 6, 1944, very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses (Germans) were unexpectedly strong, and inflicted heavy casualties on landing U.S. troops. Something I’ve never been able to get out of my head: the men who landed on this beach were so young. They were individuals, with lives and personalities, love and families. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear that they had on that boat ride from England to France. They gave their entire life to fight for what was right, to fight for America, and to give us, and our allies our freedom. As President Harry Truman put it:

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” 

omaha

omaha2

omaha3

Next, we went directly to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This took my breath away to see how many gravestones are here – over 9,000 Americans. They keep the grounds in immaculate condition. I was surprised that every stone has the name, and the troops are actually buried there. Previously, I thought it was just a memorial, but it is actually a cemetery and the gravestones have their name, which state they were from, the date that they passed, and which unit they were part of. There were a few we saw that the troop was unidentifiable, and the stone read “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” It was incredibly moving to be here.

soldier

“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”  

General Mark W.Clark

cemetery

 

Our final stop was Pointe du Hoc, where U.S. troops did what was considered the impossible and entered the enemy territory by scaling the cliffs. The U.S. bombed this area five times before DDay, and the massive holes from the explosions are still there today — they are everywhere.

du hoc

It made me incredibly proud to be an American to see all of these sites. Many restaurants and homes in the Normandy area still today fly the American flag. It is amazing to think back to those dark days for the people in France, and how the flag gave them hope, and in the end gave them their freedoms back.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” — General John J. Pershing

Please take a moment this Memorial Day weekend to give thanks and remember the brave men and women who have given their lives for our country and our freedom.

Champagne Region, France

On Tuesday, May 17, we rented a car and left Paris at noon. We drove just about two hours east to the Champagne region of France, where we’d be staying in Reims. Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, parked our car and then went to explore the City. The City of Reims is not very large, but it is very charming. Our hotel was called Hotel Azur, which was in a great location, but I wouldn’t stay at again. The rooms were tiny and very, very basic. I think if I were to ever return to the Champagne region, I’d stay in a chateau, especially seeing we had a car. But luckily, our hotel was in a great location so it made it easy to walk everywhere and explore.

reims

We stopped by a dive bar for a drink on our walk. I learned here that this was not a major touristy area, by the look on the bartenders face we when asked if he spoke English. His face completely dropped, as if two aliens were standing there in his bar. He had no idea what to do. We sat down and pointed at a beer tap and asked for a beer. A man sitting down in the corner said something to the bartender, I guess trying to translate, but poorly since we ended up with tea. It was fine, we drank our tea.

After that weird experience, we walked over to G. H. Mumm, which was just about a five minute walk from our hotel and took a tour of their champagne cellars, with a tasting afterwards of three of their champagnes.

cellar

cellar2

Afterwards, we went and got an amazing charcuterie board and wine and sat outside at Au Bon Manger. This felt like such French perfection and I loved every second (and bite/sip) of it.

board

au bon manger

ev

From there, we walked around the City a bit more, saw their major shopping street, and went to dinner that night at L’Alambic, which is downstairs in an area that is made to resemble a champagne cellar.

The next morning, we woke up and headed straight down to Épernay, about a 40 minute drive. Here, we went to the Avenue de Champagne, where dozens of champagne houses live, and open their doors to the public for tastings and tours. We went for a tour of Moët et Chandon, followed by a tasting of two of their vintage champagnes. The tour and tasting were both great. They put so much time (years) and effort into making their champagne – each and every bottle. It makes me think that when they see people spraying champagne during a victory, it must break their heart a little bit, like, “I spent ten years making that bottle of champagne, and you’re not even tasting it.” It makes you appreciate each bubbly sip!

avenue

epernay

moet2

moet4

moet3

 

Afterwards, we went to get lunch at a cafe down the road, where I got a croque monsieur (basically a grilled ham & cheese sandwich, but with the cheese on top). Mmmm.

After lunch, we headed back to Reims where we freshened up a bit and then walked around the City a bit more. For dinnertime, we were both craving something “normal,” so we found an Italian restaurant right by our hotel that we ate at. We had to get to bed early this night, since we’d be getting up at 5am for our next (and last of the trip!) French adventure… Coming soon.

Cheers to champagne!

Paris, France

What an incredible trip we had! We returned home just a couple of days ago, and I’m still trying to catch up on sleep and get back into my normal routine. Luckily, we had the whole weekend to do so.

So, Paris. It was everything I had imagined it would be, and more. We were in the City of Light for three full days — so we had a lot to see/eat/do during that time. Here is an overview of our three days in Paris.

Saturday, May 14

We took a flight Friday night, which landed us in Paris on Saturday morning at 8am due to the time difference. I was worried we’d be so exhausted from missing a whole night’s sleep that we wouldn’t be able to keep our eyes open (as I have experienced the misery of when traveling to Europe previously), but was SO impressed with both of us that we kept pushing on. So that first day, we landed at 8am but going through customs was a sh*tshow so we didn’t get out of the airport until almost noon. We took a cab right to our hotel in the Le Marais (3rd arrondissement), which I was totally in LOVE with the area. Our hotel was called  Hôtel du Petit Moulin, and was just perfect. Below is a photo of it, which was a bakery years ago. They kept their original shop frontage, reminding guests of its former past as a Boulangerie.

hpm

After we dropped our bags off, we went for a walk to begin exploring the City. We stopped by a cafe to grab an espresso and some pastries, and then continued on. We walked by the Notre Dame, stopped at Shakespeare and Co., a MUST for me. This is where Ernest Hemingway used to write, so I thought it would make sense to buy A Moveable Feast, by Hemingway. We then walked around the Latin Quarter, found the Pantheon, went to a total dive bar called Le Crocodile, and stopped by the Luxembourg Gardens.

Notre Dame

shakespeare n co

lux gardens

lux gafrdens2

lux gardens3From here, we went to a famous steak frites restaurant that a handful of people had told us to go to called Relais de l’Entrecôte, in the Saint-Germain area. I ate my ENTIRE plate, and then they come give you seconds, which I also ate.

steak frites1

Then, it was finally time to get some sleep. Here is what our hotel room looked like for our sweet dreams:

petit mulin

petit mulin2

Sunday, May 15

We walked a LOT in the three days we were in Paris. Like as in 10-12 miles a day, which was good since we also ate a LOT. We did as the Parisians do and walked along the Seine with a baguette in hand.

We walked and walked and walked. We walked through the Louvre, but did not go in. The lines at these places are crazy, and I’d rather spend my time taking the City in than standing in a line for two hours to see Mona Lisa being judgy. We also walked by the D’Orsay Museum, which is a beautiful building that used to be a train station. I was told that if you do go into only one museum, it should be this one. I did want to go in, but again, the line…. We were on a timeline this day, which I learned is a very American thing: watching the time. You can take the girl out of America but you’ll never take the American outta the girl.

louvre

Next, we grabbed some lunch at a cafe we stumbled upon, where I had my first escargot (which is delicious and can’t believe I haven’t been eating this all my life), and also tried Evan’s foie gras (which I will happily continue to live a foie grasless-free life). Don’t mind the Coca-Cola in the photo, I had asked for a coffee and received this. I guess I said “coffee” wrong, but whatever – I went with it. I hadn’t had a Coca-Cola in years.

foie gross

escarot

Here’s why we were watching the time, we had to be back in Le Marais at 3pm for a two hour World War II walking tour. Le Marais was the area of the City we were staying in, and also the old Jewish quarter of Paris. The WWII tour was very cool and terribly sad at the same time. We learned about the food rationing, deportations, went to the Paris Holocaust Museum, learned about the French resistance, and then ended on a more positive note talking about the liberation of Paris and all of the heroes who tried to help along the way. This tour was run by a company called Localers, and our guide Corey was great.

After this, we went inside the Notre Dame. We both lit a candle there. Then we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit and get ready for dinner.

nd

We took a cab over to the Eiffel Tower just as the sun was about to set. It is so massive.

et

Next we stopped for dinner at a great restaurant, Les Crocs de l’ogre, which was right down the street from the Eiffel Tower. I had to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, so we walked back over there after dinner and made it just in time for the Tower to start twinkling its 11pm light show. It was magical.

et2

Monday, May 16

The next morning we were reaching exhausted. We decided to take it a bit easier on ourselves this day and sleep in a bit, we slept until about 11am. I had noticed that this City does happen to start later than any American City would. Even cafes don’t open until about 9am, which would be unacceptable in the U.S. I guess there’s that American-time thing again. Once we woke up, we went to Les Miserables Cafe, just down the street from our hotel. I got eggs with cheese, and a cafe creme (closest thing to American coffee, if you just order a coffee you’ll get an espresso… or a Coke).

Next stop was the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. On the Champs-Élysées we stopped at three places: Ladurée, where we bought macrons, an eclair, and some other thing I’m not sure what it was; Louis Vuitton, where we bought nothing; and this place called McDonalds, where we each bought something called a Big Mac. Not sorry. And honestly, this McDonalds was crazy. Security checked our bags before we went in, everything was electronic, and it was immaculate. I have read that it is the most profitable McDonalds franchise, but I have not checked that fact.

arcd

laduree

After this, we went back to the hotel again to freshen up and get ready for dinner. Our last Parisian dinner was at a beautiful restaurant Evan found in Le Marais, called Chez Julien. It was delicious. I got steak frites (again) and it was SO. WORTH. IT. These steak frites beat the first ones I had, it was incredible.

julien

julien2

Things to note that I found surprising:

  • Security — people have asked me what their security is like there after the recent terrorist attacks. You do often see soldiers, typically in groups of 4 but maybe more, strolling the streets with machine guns. This was very common in the area where we stayed, Le Marais. It did not make me feel uncomfortable but did actually make me feel more secure. They were not straight-faced soldiers, standing in place. They walked around, were friendly and said hello; which, I think helped ease the fact that they are not a threat, but are there to protect.
  • English — I thought that since Paris is a huge international city, many more people would be fluent in English. I was surprised at the lack of English-speaking Parisians. Which there is nothing wrong with that, just interesting to me, and created a communication barrier between us and some things that I think made me feel insecure at times.
  • Coffee — It is different than in America. It is so amazingly convenient to stop anywhere in the U.S. and grab a coffee. You do not see anyone in Paris walking with a coffee. You cannot take coffee to-go. Coffee is really only available when you’re sitting down at a restaurant/cafe. This was a challenge, especially later on in our driving portion of the trip. It is incredibly hard to take a road trip without a coffee.

So that’s a lot of text, which I apologize for. But — I couldn’t leave any of this out. And surely, there was a lot more that we saw and did besides these things. Every where you look in Paris is beautiful: every bridge, every building. And there is SO much history. Our trip to Paris was amazing and I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience it with Evan. I will surely return one day.

We still had two more destinations after Paris: Reims and Normandy, so I’ll be writing about those this week too.

Cheers! (typically I’d write this in French, but I am DONE trying to speak French for awhile…)