Big City Living | NYC tips & favorite things

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetSo, I used to post a lot of recipes. Currently, however, our master bedroom is serving as our kitchen  while most of our first floor is under construction. Though it is complete with mini fridge, microwave, toaster, panini press and espresso maker, even with all of these fabulous amenities, my cooking repertoire is limited, to say the least. So, the recipes will be coming…. but I’m gonna give it a few more weeks… (unless you want to know how to grill a sandwich without catching your bedroom curtains on fire. I’m pretty good at that. ).

In the meantime, as I eat cheese, crackers and apples for lunch again (totally under-rated, by the way. Like an adult lunchable, and who didn’t love those?!), I thought I’d share a few of our favorite things about our brief Big City life!


2015-02-08_1423417429We moved to Jersey City, NJ in freezing early February for a short-term assignment for the Husband’s job. In a small apartment in a tall building along Hudson river, there were a lot of adjustments to make.   Of course, having all of NYC literally at our feet for three months was pretty spectacular. But, there was a bit of a learning curve involved…

 

At first, I was frustrated. The sparkle of those famous lights was so near, but it was roughly -24 degrees, and I had a 9mo old and the trains were crazy, the Husband worked and had a long commute during the week, and I was sure I would only get to admire the sights from afar. Humph. But, after careful observation of the city-savvy parents that surrounded us (and watching every episode of Friends), we realized that the cold + baby + subway was not an impossibility. And, though the weeks were long, we filled every weekend to the brim. A challenge, yes, but a zillion people traversed the snow and crowds every day, little ones in tow, and we found that we could, too!

BedroomView2

Some of Our (more obscure) Favorite Spots

We visited Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Gardens, Grand Central Station, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, made lots of trips in and around Times Square, the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial, MoMA, Museum of Natural History, The New York Public Library, Bloomingdales, Macy’s  and dozens of other shops  and attractions that you already
know are gorgeous. But, here are a few less common stops that should be on your list!


IMG_0389
Hoboken | On the Jersey side, this spot is hopping! Yes, you can visit Carlo’s Bakery, but there are a ton of fun restaurants in this up-and-coming community on the banks of the Husdon. We loved this stroller-friendly biergarten! Tip: Jersey is a super quick ferry or train ride away from the city, and it can be far less expensive to stay on this side of the river if you’re planning a visit. You also get one-of-a-kind views of the city, and easy access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Quick Facts: Also Frank Sinatra’s birthplace, and the filming location for the classic movie, “On the Waterfront” starring Marlon Brando.

Jason BatemanTriBeCa | Short for the “Triangle below Canal street” we visited this area for the first time during the Tribeca Film Festival, and I fell in love! Perfect for celebrity sightings (like Jason Bateman –>) and ahhhhmazing brunch, strolling these streets make you just FEEL like you belong here and could totally make this city home, and have a “squad”, and walk to the gym in heels and stuff like that. Or, you could just go to Starbucks and people watch.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetUnder the PlazaThe Plaza itself is the kind of place that childhood dreams are made of… perched at the edge of central park, it’s everything that our Eloise books and Home Alone 2 told us it was. The Husband and I enjoyed drinks at the Palm Court on a date night, but the real hidden gem of the place is what’s under it! Perfect with kids, get a casual plaza experience with the dining options, and even pack a picnic to take to the park (like we did for T’s first birthday  – complete with cupcakes!).

2015-04-13_1428889454Momofoku Milk Bar | I had a LONG list of places we HAD to visit when in the city, and Milk Bar was near the top. And it deserved it. The cereal milk ice cream with cornflake topping is as good as they say, and the cookies and bars are even better. You just HAVE to go!Uniqlo | This shop is spreading like crazy, and is well-established on the East Coast and here in CT where we live now. But, for us midwesterners, it was awesome! Like a funky-industrial mix of the good parts of Gap, JCrew and H&M, their clothes are fun, functional, and perfectly priced. They have things for littles, too!

IMG_1186The Gansevoort Market | It’s a good idea to cruise instragram for fun locations to visit when you’re in a new spot. That’s how I discovered this gem! Etheral, historic and packed with good things to eat, this was a fun destination for casual lunch in a beautiful atmosphere!

 

 

 

2015-05-02_1430577185Bemelmans Bar | If you want to feel like you walked onto the set of Mad Men, this spot is a date night MUST. Nestled on the Upper East Side, and named for the artist that created it’s fabulous murals (the illustrator of the beloved Madeline books!), it’s just to die for. Tip: The King Cole Bar is another NYC classic with vintage vibes, and a secret hidden in its mural.

 

Honorable mentionsCheeky Sandwiches – Chicken and biscuits and ginger ale, thanks to the New York Gebert kids for introducing us :) | Eileen’s Special Cheesecake – The Husband doesn’t like cheesecake, so I bought him one and ate both. duh. | The Boathouse restaurant – A very popular spot in Central Park, but they have a less-busy causal outdoor area perfect for sitting with a glass of wine and a toddler!

IMG_0777

Tips & Tricks for Parents

Especially if you visit during the colder months, here are a few ideas for parents planning to visit NYC or any big city with a little one!

IMG_0396Rain cover + Bundle Me | Your stroller rain cover isn’t just for rain, and you have to buy one of these. No blankets falling off every five seconds, no howling wind, and all of the sudden our brunch date with friends when it was 12 degrees was on the table again… Titus and hundreds of other kids we saw each day were cozy for all-day city outings for months with this combo! This has been great for our new adventure here in CT, too. No need to stop enjoying long walks because of the weather!

IMG_0220Stairs + Strollers DO Mix | You’ve just gotta be ok with hauling your stroller up and down stairs for the subway. We were pretty appalled at the lack of accessible subway stations, and figured out quickly that to be efficient, you’ve just got to use the stairs. Though, you could call a cab and hold your child on your lap, and stow your stroller, it’s a lot of effort! We didn’t use a cab once when out with the baby, and never had any real issues. Baby wearing also helps, particularly if you’re trying to train solo!

IMG_1262Pack Small | I didn’t understand the concept of an “urban jungle” until we had this
experience. Dressing for the weather and the tired feet, plus packing the snacks and toys and diapers necessary for 6 hour day in the elements makes you look more prepared for an arctic expedition than a chic day in the city. BUT, everything in the city is tight – small restaurants, small sidewalks, crowded subway cars. We brought our big jogger stroller with us and didn’t touch it! We also opted for a backpack style
diaper bag, and a back carrier for museums. Anything that can be efficient and compact is a game changer (another reason the bundle me was so great)! It can be hard to do with littles, but economize any way you can.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetBabies are babies, even in NYC | It’s ok to feed, change and tend to your baby virtually anywhere. We nursed and changed in museums, at sporting events, in restaurants, on busy streets and subway stations. There are WAY weirder things going on in the city. Trust me. Just go and see what you wanted, go and eat great food, and bring the baby along to (almost) everywhere with you.

At the end of our time in the city, we were ready for some of the more familiar comforts of home – a yard for the baby, peace and quiet, no crowds… but, we’ll always treasure our New York adventures! And fortunately, our new home is just about an hour away! So, if you’re making a trip to NYC, give us a call. We’d love to have a reason to visit some of these amazing spots again, or try something new :)

The Trip: {Sicily, Ephesus, Athens & Crete}

After a week of having no power at home, I can say that I am extremely thankful for deodorant, fresh foods, blogging, air conditioning, and not having to fold laundry by candlelight while sitting on a towel because you are sticking to your leather furniture.

True story. Winds 85+ mph aren’t good for power lines, fences and trees, apparently. And, when it’s 90* inside your house, it makes you very hard to live with.

So now, on to the FINAL chapter of this trip thing… I promise!

(Missed part I, II & III? Read ’em!)

After our first 10 days of travel, we needed a break.

As in: If I didn’t get to just sit for several hours at some point (and maybe get a drink with an umbrella in it), I might die. Also, not sweating all day long and walking more than 10 miles in a day would be great, too.

{Read more about the particulars of the cruise below – it was wonderful!}

Enter, The Navigator of the Seas. This beauty was a floating resort, and included multiple pools, restaurants, bars, a theater, a rock climbing wall, putt-putt, sport courts, free frozen yogurt machines and an ice skating rink: H.E.A.V.E.N.

It was also going to carry us – in our well-appointed state room with a balcony view of the Mediterranean – to Sicily, Ephesus, Athens and Crete.

{Mt. Etna’s black lava, landscape, lunch, the terrifically blue sea}

Our first destination was Sicily. We hired a private tour with Sicily Life, and totally enjoyed having our local guide walk us through the sights we had arranged. We saw Mt. Etna, an active volcano; an oil & honey shop; and the pristine village of Taormnia. But – our favorite spot of the day, and arguably the best meal of the trip – was at a little mountain side restaurant. We enjoyed three types of pasta (one with wild mushrooms and a light cream sauce; one with pine nuts, fennel, and raisins; and one with a fresh vegetable primavera) and two fabulous desserts (a sponge cake with icy cream drizzled with chocolate, and small fried pockets of crispy dough filled with mascarpone and chocolate chips. I. die.) with our guide as we spoke in depth about politics, education, marriage & courtship, cooking, the mafia, economics and everything else we could think of! The views were spectacular, and we purchased luscious olive oils, pesto, flavored honey, a painted bowl, and a vintage embroidered handkerchief.

{Fresh pom juice, ancient ruins, rug making, Mary’s House, and a view of our ship}

After a peaceful day at sea spent lounging in the sun by the pool, we arrived in Turkey. Another private guide, booked with Celsus Travel, and a driver awaited us to whisk us off to Mary’s House, Ancient Ephesus and the Terrace Houses, the mountaintop village of Sirince, a rug maker and bazaar. We walked where Paul preached, drank fresh pomegranate juice and Turkish coffee, and picked up a beautiful scarf, Turkish delight (which always makes me think of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe!) and lovely pottery to take home.

{View from the Acropolis, olive tree, Mars rock, Greek yogurt, new watch}

A quick overnight journey brought us to the shores of Greece, and a short taxi ride brought us to the foot of the Acropolis. We were awed. The ruins were positively majestic, and the clear sunny day allowed us to see the rest of the ancient city sprawled out below us. We visited the Agora, Acropolis museum, walked the streets, browsed the shops, and ate spanakopita, Greek Salad, Baklava, and my favorite (and a MUST on my trip to-do list) authentic Greek ewes milk yogurt… cold, creamy and tangy with a spoon of rose and strawberry preserves. I can taste it now… totally delightful. We took home a lovely gold anchor charm (a Christian symbol used in the catacombs we saw in Rome), and cool watch for the Husband.

{Blue, blue, blue…}

Finally, we reach our final destination: The crystal blue waters of the Greek isle of Crete. We simply hopped on the city bus at Chania to the center of the city, and took an amazing walk to the beach. A shorter excursion day, we lounged in the sun for a few hours, and then wandered back to port, stopping for gyros and an olive wood serving set. This spot was gorgeous – each house was dripping with flowers (no matter how small or dilapidated), and the port (which was designed by Venetians!) looked like something from a painting.

We arrived back in Rome after another delightful day at sea, and took the train to the airport to fly back to our cozy home… We were tired and happy, with minds and hearts and souls expanded to capacity with the joy of discovery, and the richness of fresh knowledge and life lessons.

It had all bee totally worth it… and we were better for it.

{Happy to be home at last!}

Special thanks to all that helped us dream, plan and explore: {Our awesome parents, our “Friends up North”, Hannah & Federico and many, many others…} Missed part I, II & III? Read ’em!

A few notes about the cruise – Just in case you’re planning a trip soon!:

Booking – We booked the trip ourselves over the phone after checking the Royal Caribbean website, and monitoring deals and special offers. A travel agent wasn’t necessary at any point during our trip!

Food & Drinks: Even the somewhat critical foodie that I am, I was surprised at the freshness and variety of the meals offered on board. Partially because the passengers were made up of people from a wide variety of nations, you could find brioche, baked beans, pancakes, curry or muesli for breakfast, and always had a variety of pretty well-prepared dinners in the dining room at night. We purchased a wine package, which was also a great value for us. Bottles were expensive on board, and you (technically) weren’t allowed to bring any on with you. We enjoyed a few drinks around the pool, but mostly stuck to enjoying a bottle at dinner. We also got a water package, but two bottles were provided in the room, and it wasn’t really necessary. Personally, I would steer clear of soft drink packages – pricy and too easy to fill up! Regular coffee was free, specialty drinks from Starbucks had a regular charge.

Room: We were advised to pick a room away from elevators, and close to the upper decks – great advice for a quiet, smooth trip with easy access to amenities. Also, the balcony was a must, as we ate quick room-service breakfasts there at each port before we disembarked (and opening our anniversary champagne would have been difficult without it ;).

Excursions: Don’t. Use. The. Ship’s. Tours. We zoomed passed groups of 50+ that followed rather lame guides through the sights of each stop. They might be a little cheaper than booking private tours like we did in Sicily and Ephesus, but you really miss out! And, if you have a group, or just need a taxi or city bus, you can SAVE by going it alone, like we did in Crete and Athens! Don’t be fooled – it’s easy to find great companies and deals at your port cities. Check Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor to see what other passengers recommend!

The Trip: {Rome}

On to the next adventure:

We said goodbye (for now!) to Hannah, took the tram down the mountain to the train station, and set off for Rome…

…we were tired at this point. Very tired.

So exhausted, in fact, that once we found our seats, we popped in our ear phones and each listened to a book on tape the entire hour-plus ride. Apparently, we didn’t say a word, because an older Australian gentleman next to me almost jumped out of his seat when we arrived at the station and started to converse about how to reach our apartment. “I thought you were deaf mutes!”, he laughed..

No, it was just all of those dang stairs.

Arrival in Rome was a bit hot and hurried. The Husband’s phone was acting up, and we couldn’t get a hold of our apartment manager to let them know we had arrived! In the end, we waited by the door until an American staying in the same building happened to walk by! A quick text, a few more minutes of sitting on suit cases in the middle of the street, and we were in our cozy, cool, lovely room… what a relief!

{More stairs, a terrace, cozy bed, cool doors, amazing views}

We booked this spot using Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VBRO.com (I would highly recommend for the U.S. or European travel). It was perfect! At the top of a historic building, it had a queen sized bed, a lovely balcony, a kitchen, table, bathroom and pull-out couch. The neighborhood was fantastic and lovely, and we were about a 5-10 minute walk from the Colosseum and Forum!

{Yes, that’s “it”!…}

After a quick bus tour our first night, and a good night’s rest, our first full day was packed to the brim with tours and stops at the Colosseum, Palentine Hill, Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the “Mouth of Truth”, the Pantheon and numerous other fountains, squares, shops and sights!

{Our first day of sights – beyond lovely! Trevi was our favorite: Bottom, second from left, but each spot was just as we imagined. I don’t think anything here could disappoint…}

The next day, we woke up bright and early and visited the Catacombs of S. Callisto and the Vatican city, including St. Peter’s, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We almost skipped seeing the catacombs, but they ended up being one of my favorite stops in Rome – if you visit, it is worth the extra distance! We used our hop-on-hop-off bus pass to drop us off and pick us up, and it worked out perfectly (Only one company has a route that travels along the Appian Way, so double-check before you purchase).

{Catacombs along the Appian Way were so moving. It was fascinating to learn about the incredible faith of the early church in Rome. Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s was incredible to see, and the Vatican at night was totally beautiful – glowing with golden light}

As we checked sights off our list, and did our best to absorb every bit of what we were seeing, we couldn’t help but just sit there in silence at times – nursing sore feet,  with brains that were overwhelmed with facts, and hearts full of the emotion of this place – his how could we comprehend all that we’d witnessed? By the end of the second day, the Husband put it nicely: “Rome won.”

Yes. At certain points during the trip – including an unexpected extra hour-long walk back from the Vatican late at night – we were conquered just as the other thousands of souls this empire has defeated through the ages. Somehow, it almost seemed appropriate… in a small way, we could wrap our minds around this place a little better than when we arrived.

Fortunately for us, we had a breath of refreshing air awaiting us for our final full day in Rome. Hannah and Federico came to visit! Hannah stayed with us, and Federico stayed with relatives in the city. Ahhh… at last, we were blessed with two guides that spoke the language, knew their way around, and made us the best lunch we tasted in Italy the next day. JUST what we needed! That, and a week-long cruise, of course :)

{Walking into each church was like opening a treasure chest. Each one was different, and completely astounding. The care taken to adorn each building amazed us – many took hundreds of years. It was obvious that these perfect works of art were an act of worship in and of themselves}

We spent our last day in this blessed, dangerous, beautiful and brutal city following Hannah and Federico as they took us through some of the most lovely and interesting churches in the city; had an amazing meal; found a cool, sweet park with lots of fresh breezes and glorious views; and then, said goodbye…

{Groceries were purchased, and the most amazing lunch on the planet was created: Pecorino Romano, ripe tomatoes, Pizza Bianco, Salami, strawberries, fresh mozzarella, and garden greens… bliss!}

We were more cultured, awed, and humbled than when we arrived, and we were sad to go…

But, crystal clear blue water, free frozen yogurt cones, and four more fascinating destinations awaited us as we boarded the train once again.

Next: We’re off to sea!

The Trip: {Venice & Orvieto}

This post should have read, Venice, PISA and Orvieto…

…but that was before the rail workers went on strike, we skyped with friends in two nations to change plans, I almost died of thirst on a train, I gave a lady from South Africa two granola bars, and we walked over ancient cobblestones with our suitcases a mile out of our way after we got lost (for the first time) on our way to the station.

Oh, Europe. We love you.

{Cancellato, Cancellato, Cancellato… and lots of tourists in line for refunds}

During our stay in Florence, we planned a day trip to Venice, and to Pisa. One of those, as you now know, was cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the other, along with a gondola ride straight out of a book, or a dream, or a Disney theme park (whatever speaks to you) more than made up for it.

Who needs to see an ‘ol lopsided building anyhow.? That’s what I told myself, anyway… It sort of worked.

Venice:

{Made-on-the-spot espresso on the train, the Tuscan countryside, water taxi ride…}

The train ride to Venice was our first rail experience,  and we navigated it wonderfully. Mind you, this was the day before they were on strike, so we were blissfully unaware of the problems we could have faced… thank goodness! The city itself was packed with crowds. There was a boat race that day, so there were several thousand EXTRA tourists and spectators packed on to the narrow bridges and streets – quite a contrast to the relatively easy to navigate (and breath/have elbow room) Florence.

But, Oh…

…it’s so beautiful.

We purchased the Venice Pass (to bring us to the front of the long lines!) and took the vaporetto (water taxi) to St. Mark’s Square from the train station to see the Doge’s Palace and Basilica of St. Mark. The square was full of people, but the sights were beautiful. The “bridge of sighs” that passed between the palace and its prison (where prisoners would sigh as they took one last look at Venice as they crossed) was one of our favorite spots (top right, above!)…

{Narrow water-streets, our gondola, the Grand Canal… and that blue door}

After touring both the palace and the church, we wanted to get into the city to see the lovely little waterways and more of the Grand Canal – too picturesque for words! We ended a rather warm, crowded day with a cool, peaceful, romantic gondola ride (so, so worth it!), and some local cicchetti at al Pesador – a bar nestled right along the Grand Canal and the Rialto bridge… octopus, yum!

{Flavors, guide book review, the husband trying new things, fresh-water fountains}

We really enjoyed walking the streets, browsing the lovely Murano glass and traditional lace – both made on one of the hundreds of islands that make up this amazing, historic city. As we often felt during the trip, we had to leave too soon… but, more adventures awaited us!

Orvieto:

Because Pisa was a no-go, our next day was spent getting a refund at the train station, then spending some extra time in Florence before departing earlier-than-planned to Orvieto. It turns out, this was a blessing in disguise! We adored every moment we had in this tiny city-on-a-hill in the Umbria region with Hannah!

{Views, our suite of rooms and breakfast… oh, to be sitting there again!}

We stayed at B&B La Magnolia, and it was more perfect than I could have imagined. Serene, the owner, also owns the fun cafe & bar downstairs (where our breakfast was served the first day – above middle), and was wonderful to work with. Our suite was at the tippy-top of the historic building in the center of town, and had a fabulous view of of the city and countryside below. It was also just steps from Orvieto’s fabulous duomo, which was one of our favorite churches we visited on the trip… and that’s saying a lot!

The highlight of this portion of the trip, however, was getting the chance to see Hannah “in her element”! Now fluent in Italian (though she would deny it), seeing the place I’ve heard so much about from her over the last few years was amazing. She works with a college program that she attended while in school, and is getting ready to start her Masters in Fine Arts this summer. Orvieto has inspired her work in so many ways – it was easy to see how she fell in love with the views, the culture, the language and the people…

Speaking of the people, we also had the delightful pleasure of meeting Hannah’s talented, amazing friend – Federico. He is a shoemaker and leather craftsman that learned his art in Rome, and lives in Orvieto where he has a shop. We had a blast getting to know him, seeing his beyond-beautiful work, and taking advantage of his tour guide and pizza ordering skills :)

{The evening streets were dream-like, and the sunsets were not to be missed}

While here, we toured the duomo, visited ancient pre-Roman Etruscan ruins, walked down the St. Patrick’s well, climbed the clock tower and ate the most fabulous pasta alla carbonara and affogato known to man at Mezza Luna Trattoria (the restaurant with the amazing flowers hanging over the door, above). The pizza with spicy sausage and Gorgonzola wasn’t too shabby either… or the wine…

…let’s just say it was a good thing we climbed 10,000 stairs while on this trip.

All to quickly, we said goodbye… and were off to Rome!

…more coming soon!

P.S. On another note – Happy third Anniversary to my brave, strong, smart, Godly, devastatingly handsome husband… We always said we would go on adventures together… I’d say we’re off to a good start ;)

The Trip: {Florence}

We’re home!

Actually, we’ve been home for a week, but today is the first day that my brain is functioning normally enough that it doesn’t feel like work should be over at 11:00a.m. (“it’s 5 o clock somewhere” has never been so true), we don’t flinch every time we hear a motor running behind us (pretty sure we were going to be roadkill on those narrow streets… and those mopeds were vicious!), and our laundry situation is mostly under control.

Also, I’m not violently ill like I was most of our first night home… at least it wasn’t on the cruise ship, but let’s say it didn’t help speed up my post-trip recovery.

Darn circulated airplane air…

Enough about the usual after vacation blues – We are still completely basking in the glow of an amazing, amazing journey. The Trip was everything we had hoped for, and so much more. As anticipated, there were lots of surprises…both the good and bad kind. But, nothing that came close to marring our experience as a whole.

{We were so happy to be there! The view was out of this world…}

There are 1,700 beautiful pictures; dozens of stories; hundreds of suggestions, lessons learned and recommendations that I could share with you, so bear with me as I try to whittle them down to the “best of the best” (and know that you can send me a note for more details any time :)

I’m going to break things up a bit over the next few days, and give you just a taste of our experiences (and try my best not to bore you). I hope you enjoy!

Getting There:

We flew out of Toronto, where we were put up for the night by our WONDERFUL “Friends up North”! We were treated to wonderful wine and snacks upon arrival, a delicious asparagus and brie breakfast bake in the morning, and lettuce wraps after a morning run before we left for the airport. It was the perfect kickoff to our vacation, and a great way to wind down a bit after weeks of packing, planning and list-making, and they had some great parting advice for us that helped make our trip the best it could be… (Thanks, guys!).

We saved a lot of money flying out of Canada, and were on an Indian airline for our 10 hr ride to Brussels, where we changed planes for Florence! The curry we had for dinner was the best plane food I’d ever had, and the chocolate we got during the layover was a great “breakfast”… delish!

Florence:

Landing in Florence was so, so exciting. Though we were exhausted, the adrenaline kept us moving… and the beyond lovely sights. It was about 1:30p.m. local time when we arrived, and the first thing we did was check into our Bed & Breakfast: Casa Dei Tintori. It. Was. Perfect. Just like the photos, and in an amazing location, we settled in right away, and then were off in just a few minutes to spend the rest of our day exploring!

We walked right to the heart of the historic city in just a few minutes, and gazed in awe at the Duomo… soaking it all in was impossible! The massive building, with its bast dome, dominates the landscape. We went inside, and were lucky enough to be one of the last tours of the day to climb to its peak!

We couldn’t wrap up our day without some gelato… it was literally on every corner calling my name! This was our first (of many, many, many) amazing Italian food experiences. You can SEE the bliss on our faces :)

We woke up the next morning to a day full of plans for visits to the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, but first things first: Breakfast! The owners of Casa dei Tintori,, Valeria and Alfredo, lived in the back portion of the historic (800 years old!) building, and Valeria presented us with this wonderful spread. Her coffee was some of the best I tasted while on the trip – espresso served in a tiny pitcher with a cup of frothed milk and a shaker of chocolate. There was yogurt, granola, fruit, cereal and delightful (nutella – which was in EVERYTHING the entire trip…no complaints here! And fruit-filled) pastries. Heaven.

We saw so much over the next three days: Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and many, many sculptures, paintings and architecture from the most famous men of the Renaissance. Its was overwhelming… and wonderful.

Also, as expected, we ate some of the best food I’ve ever taste, and some of our favorite flavors of the trip! The sandwiches from All’antico Vinaio were astounding: Fresh bread and meats were being carted from the bakery and butcher across the street while we waited, and wine was available for two euros a person… just pick a bottle, fill one of the small glasses and sit outside with your (huge!) sandwich!

Funny/not-so-funny story about this place: The first time The Husband ordered here, there was an American girl behind him in line (she’s wearing green in the picture of at the bottom left, above). Well, she ended up passing out while he was ordering, and throwing up on the back of his leg – gross! Apparently she had been drinking the night before (way to represent, U.S.A.), and hadn’t eaten anything yet that day. I, however, was waiting outside and didn’t see this whole drama unfold. So, when the hubby cam out with only ONE sandwich, I was mad! Needless to say, I wasn’t as compassionate to my dear husband as I could have been… but it was a good sandwich ;) We ended up going back (without incident) just a few days later.

We were fortunate enough to be there during the Firenze Gelato Festival. The best gelato makers from around the country were there with special flavors – my favorite was passion fruit dark chocolate… intense and with amazing depth of flavor. We also sampled specialties like meatballs, ravioli, bruschetta, pizza, salads and lasagna (eaten on church steps!) during our stay. Perfection.

In a nutshell:

I adored Florence – probably my favorite leg of our journey because it was busy and bustling with life, but didn’t have the vastness of Rome and the crowds of Venice (pictures and stories from both will be coming soon!).

Note: You will see The Husband’s red shorts very frequently in these shots… because we accidentally only packed him one pair. Oops! He’ll never take clean clothes for granted again ;)

And we’re off…

Little did I know, watching “Mission Impossible” right before I started packing was totally appropriate…

I had to channel my inner Tom Cruise to not only pick what I was going to wear (may or may not have spent 3.75 hours in the closet trying things on), but also get everything into our suitcases.

I tried printing out Rick Steves’ packing list. It included one pair of zip of pants, a polyester shirt and instructions on how to wash socks in a sink. {photo source}.

ZIP. OFF. PANTS.

With all due respect: Stick your ol’ list in your ear, Mr. Steves.

Anyway, mission accomplished.

We will be gone for over two weeks, so there won’t be any regular posts during that time. HOWEVER, please feel free to follow me on twitter for some pictures and little updates as we move through Italy and the Mediterranean… internet access might be spotty at times, but I assure you that you will get lots of photos and details when we return :)

{Testing the merchandise for comfort is important}

Thank you for your sweet comments and lots of love as we have gone through the planning and dreaming process of “The Trip”. Keep us and our journeys in your prayers, if you don’t mind. I don’t want the Husband to wander around and get lost trying to buy “Statue of David” boxers, or to wind up paddling a lifeboat or anything…

THAT would be a bummer.

:)

I will leave you with this:

{An amazing original work by Hannah – who I get to see in less than a week!}

Ciao!

{bite sized} Chicago

Well, the girls are back from their exciting, non-stop Chicago adventure…

…a total blast for ALL of us, and a much-needed 10th Birthday/Mother’s Day celebration break ;)

We enjoyed yummy snacks (doll and girl sized!), watched fun movies (Little House on the Prairie, Snow White and Lady and the Tramp), opened presents, swam, ate a breakfast that made us swoon, had hair done, hiked in the rain, felt like real ladies at a fancy lunch, skipped in the sun, saw the bean, slurped coffee, munched cupcakes, zoomed up in the sky, giggled, sniffled, waited an hour for real deep dish pizza, and made lovely, lovely memories…

Here’s a little recap and some advice for your next trip to the Windy City!

{Where we ate:}

First things first.

Of course, fun meals were a BIG part of our trip :) You know I LOVE food, and the three of us are related, after all…

Our first stop was to Gino’s East for real, deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We had a salad and a small half three-cheese and half veggie pie… delightful. Bekah got her name on the wall, and I found where The Husband and I penned ours a year ago! It was our first night in town, so we were a little wiped out, but it was sooo worth it :)

Our next culinary stop was at Orange for a funky, fun, fresh breakfast. Two words: Pancake. Flight. {Perfection}. We enjoyed fresh orange, carrot, ginger juice; delicious orange roasted coffee, a chicken apple sausage omelet, and pancakes that should be illegal…

We enjoyed an amazing, organic meal at the Fox & Obel Cafe at their gorgeous European-style market after a damp, chilly walk to Navy Pier, that included sweet potato fries, fish & chips, mango-chicken quesadillas and hummus.

In slight contrast, we ventured to Beef & Brandy, a 60’s-style diner, for open-faced roast beef sandwiches and classic vinyl booths for lunch after a hike on the Loop. We also enjoyed a quick bite at the Corner Bakery Cafe across from our hotel on Sunday morning – nothing too fancy, as there are several scattered across the city – but an easy place to grab breakfast or lunch!

When you’ve been walking around all day, there is definitely need for some treats (gotta keep up that energy, you know…). So, we stopped by the famous Intelligentsia Coffee at Millennium Park for two rich, creamy lattes and a green tea (and a souvenir mug for me!). This place is amazing – totally a must for anyone visiting the windy city! To complement our drinks, we went around the corner to the Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique for their specialty cupcakes (hint: get the ‘minis’ so you can try several flavors!). We had chocolate milk chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, blackberry and chocolate peanut butter..

So. good. Talk about a sugar high!

{What we saw:}

The American Girl Place was the highlight of our stay. Mostly for Bekah’s benefit, though mom and I were pretty enthralled as well :) We browsed the books, historic & look-alike dolls and their displays, looked at fun outfits & accessories, watched as dolls were transformed at the salon and doll hospital, and ate a fun girly lunch with our dolls at the cafe!

Lunch started with tiny cinnamon buns and a fruit, veggie and cheese plate. We picked our entrees, and loved the mini picnic lunch, salmon salad with cucumber dressing and Caresse sandwich. For dessert, we each enjoyed a cookie, tiny frosted cake and ‘flower pot’ chocolate mousse. Very worth it for the chic atmosphere and fun environment – just be sure to make reservations! We did leave with another addition to our party… Rebecca and Felicity made a new friend they just couldn’t leave without ;)

Besides all of our fun with the dolls, we spent a lot of time hiking around the rest of the city, too! We braved wind and rain to see the skyline from Navy Pier, walked along the Magnificent Mile and looked at shops and lovely buildings, zoomed 103 floors to the Skydeck for the best view in Chicago, saw our reflection in the ‘Bean’ and splashed in the fountain at Millennium Park and even visited the hotel where mom stayed when she visited Chicago in the 1975 when she was in high school- The Palmer House Hilton (so, so beautiful).

{Where we slept:}

We stayed at the Wyndham at the Magnificent Mile. It was the perfect location – close to the American Girl Place and Navy Pier, but still within a comfortable walking distance of Millennium Park (1 mi.) and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (2 mi.). We did end up having to call the front desk about noisy neighbors, but security took care of things quickly (screaming and running down the halls from 10:30p.m. – 2a.m. is. not. cool.). We got a great rate, though parking is always a killer at around $40-60 per night wherever you choose to stay in the city. Check deals sights, and put that AAA membership to use!

Overall, this trip was everything we could have asked for. Precious memories made, lots of laughter, and something else checked off the bucket list… Love you mama & Bekah!

Have you ever taken a parent-child trip? Where did you go, what did you see and what do you remember? Please share!

A milestone…

Well, my goofy redheaded “little” brother has officially graduated from college…

…oh, my.

I’m old.

My only consolation is that I still get asked for my ID at the movie theater, and somewhere in my head I fully believe that I am about to enter the 8th grade.

Hanson, gel pens and Bonne Bell lip gloss are still all the rage, right?

Anyhow, Joe’s graduation celebration was wonderful. The ceremony was honestly the most well-run and lovely program I’ve ever attended. It felt wonderful to see my little bro walk across the stage, and to watch him hug, grin and chat with family and friends.

This shindig also gave me a reason to:

  1. Buy a new dress
  2. Go to the nearby outlet mall
  3. Stay in a hotel
  4. Eat at Cheesecake Factory
  5. See the Avengers

Sooooo, as you can see, it was good time.

In other news, The Trip is pretty much all I have on my mind at this point.

Two Weeks.

Am I ready? Of COURSE I’m ready:

His & Hers passport covers? Check. Zebra neck pillow for the airplane? Check. Grandma walking sandals for my still-on-the-mend runner’s feet? Check. Mini bottles of every type of hygiene product known to man? Check. Re-reading my 6th grade “Famous Men of Rome” text book. Half-way check.

Totally prepared. Totally freaking out.

Talk to me in a week and a half and I’ll let you know if I’ve actually started packing or have stocked up on my to-go nut butter supply yet. Then you’ll know It’s getting serious ;)

For now, the next big thing is Chicago with Bekah & my lovely mama for the weekend!

{Can’t wait to be here again (2011). That’s American Girl bliss, folks.}

:) Exciting things ahead!

It’s getting {real}…

We had a fun-filled visit to the old homestead over the weekend… It was about time – We hadn’t been back since Christmas!

Our days were filled with wedding festivities (hooray for Mary Beth & Luke!), a spinning class, mildly successful shopping, hang out time with friends, laughs with family, and THIS dinner.

Yes, that is a homemade grilled pizza buffet. Yes, my mom outdid me with my own recipe. Yes, it was heavenly.

My favorite appetizers, great wine, homemade dough, amazing toppings (including Pear & Gorgonzola) and a cozy fire… sigh. No place like home.

There was also BBQ and funfetti cake at the Husband’s parents’ (partially eaten in the basement due to a slight weather emergency) but that was inhaled with such vigor that there is no photographic evidence. The hail and tornado sirens might have been a little distracting as well…

The other fun development over the weekend was “THE TRIP” coming together! Gordon & Selena, our “Friends up North”, were in town and helped us finalize a few more of our plans. I told you we booked our cruise, but now we’ve purchased our plane tickets and have a few more little details to share… It’s getting real!

We leave May 24 and will return June 10. In between we will be here:

Florence, Italy {source}

and here: Venice, Italy {source}

and here: Pisa, Italy {source}

and here: Orvieto, Terni, Italy {source}

and here: Rome, Italy {source}

and here: Messina, Sicily, Italy {source}

and here: Kusadasi, Ephesus, Turkey {source}

and here: Athens, Greece {source}

and here: Chania, Crete, Greece {source}

I can hardly contain myself. I can hardly concentrate on anything else. I can hardly fall asleep. AND we have two months to go…

Oh, well. I need that time to panic over packing and booking hotel rooms and tours anyhow ;)

Any fun weekend adventures or tips planned in your neck of the woods? Do any of you experienced travelers have any advice for us? We need it!

Get your {Greek} on

BIG news!

No, mom… not THAT big news.

We booked the cruise portion of our summer European adventure!

{<– The Husband at the Greek Garden for his 25th. I embarassed him, but I think the Birthday sash is rather dashing.}

The trip is starting to feel real for the first time, and I am beyond excited. The second leg of our two week excursion, the cruise will take us to Sicily, Italy; Ephesus, Turkey; Athens, Greece; and Crete, Greece…

{source}

I’m ready to leave NOW!

Ok, not really.

…it will take me three months just to decide how to fit eight pairs of shoes, two purses, twelve bottles of nail polish and three jars of almond butter in my suitcase.

And maybe sunscreen.

I like to be prepared…There are a million-and-one things left to plan, but in honor of getting this far, I’m making a Mediterranean dinner for The Husband… it’s one of his favorites (and one of the first “signature” dishes I crafted after we were married : ) It was inspired the “rice bowl” at one of our local date spots, The Greek Garden!

We love this dish because besides being healthy-to-the-max (can you say protein, veggies and healthy fats galore?!) it is super versatile. Eat it hot, eat it cold, make ahead, eat it with chicken as an entree or nix the chix for a veggie dinner or side dish! This is also great to make for a crowd, and is always a hit a potlucks…

“Get Your Greek On” Mediterranean Quinoa

Serves 4 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Quinoa, cooked per directions on package (white or red, you can also substitute other grains – farro is fun – just gotta love quinoa’s protein-punch!)
  • About 1/2 cup diced cucumber (I like to use English cucs, because you don’t have to worry about peeling!)
  • About 1/2 cup diced orange bell pepper (I just like a mix of colors – green, red, yellow, will do.)
  • About 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • About 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • About 1/4 cup seeded, diced tomato
  • 3 T EVOO
  • 1t parsley
  • 1t oregano
  • 1t dill
  • 1t thyme
  • 1/4 t paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives (optional)
  • Sauteed, sliced chicken breast (for a non-veggie option. Use same spice mixture to season!)

Directions:

  • Drizzle cooked quinoa with EVOO, toss (don’t overcook! You want it to have a little texture…)
  • Chop vegetables, crumble cheese, add to quinoa – gotta love that color!
  • Chop fresh herbs, add to quinoa mixture along with spices
  • Ganish with chopped olives or chicken, if desired

I love to serve this with toasted pita and hummus, and (you’ve probably guessed it) a little Greek yogurt.

So Fresh. Like a little bit of summer in your mouth.

Try it, and Enjoy!