Travel Diary: 1 Day in San Francisco

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A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the west coast for a family wedding. You may remember reading about the gorgeous fall dress I wore to the event. To make the most of this trip, we decided to add on 1 day to visit San Francisco and 2 days to visit Portland. That’s not a lot of time in either city, but we’re always up for an adventure. Today I’m sharing all of the highlights from 24 hours in San Francisco. Portland travel diary to come!

Continue reading “Travel Diary: 1 Day in San Francisco”

Annapolis Travel Guide

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Annapolis, Maryland has always been one of our favorite cities to visit. Nestled on the Chesapeake Bay, it offers gorgeous waterfront views and plenty of fresh seafood. First settled in 1649, it also has a lot of history and charm with its beautiful 18th-century brick houses and roads. Now it’s home to preppy boutiques, inventive restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, and amazing boat (or yacht) watching. Here are a few of my favorite places to visit while I’m there. Continue reading “Annapolis Travel Guide”

Where to Eat in Rome

Welcome to the third post in my series about our trip to Rome. I’ve already talked about how to save when traveling to Rome, what to do while there, and now I’m going to share one of my favorite parts, where to eat! Although it is often imitated, Italian food straight from the source is like no other. The pasta melts in your mouth like only homemade pasta (I assume) can do. The restaurants use seasonal ingredients in all of their recipes, making everything taste fresh and unique to that moment in time. Everything we had seemed simply prepared yet offered a feast for the senses. Each ingredient is designed to stand out, whether it is a subtle squeeze of lemon juice and salt or a spicy bite of arugula to complement something sweet.

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We were so jetlagged when we arrived that we tried the first restaurant we spotted near our Airbnb, Ristorante Target. I wish I had taken photos because it was one of the best meals of the whole trip.  I had the maltagliati pasta with tomatoes, shrimp, and arugula. When we finally had a night’s worth of sleep, we were up early most days and needed coffee. To optimize our time and save money, we didn’t focus too much on breakfast. We started most days with “due espresso” and a croissant at the café and bar near our Airbnb. There is a place to get coffee and pastries around every corner, so don’t worry about options.

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We enjoyed a nice lunch one day at Cucina Del Teatro, not far from Piazzo Navona. It’s tucked down a cute little flower- and table-lined alleyway. I still dream about the pumpkin soup. And the pizza with fresh seasonal ingredients is one I’ll never forget.

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For a fancier dinner one night, we tried Da Fortunata. It offers a great view of the Pantheon if you get the chance to sit outside, and has some of the best spaghetti and clams I’ve ever had. I highly recommend starting with the burrata and tomato salad.

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We spent one afternoon in Trastevere where we tried a truly authentic restaurant Tratorria da Lucia. Everything was simply prepared but delicious, especially the cacio e pepe. The restaurant was packed on a Sunday afternoon with what seemed like students and families, a telling sign about its popularity among locals.

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Like I said in one of my earlier posts, we spent a lot of time near and around Pizza Navona. I can’t vouch for the restaurants right on the square, but Rick Steeves recommends many that are off the beaten path but close by. Bar Del Fico is one such place and featured one of my favorite newly discovered delicacies: octopus carpaccio. It’s pressed and thinly sliced octopus served with olive oil, lemon juice, and fennel. Show stopper! I had the linguine and lobster for my main course. Need I say more?

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The very last night, we tried my favorite restaurant of the entire trip. Another one near Piazza Navona: Enoteca Cul de Sac. It’s a tiny restaurant with barely enough space for all of the wine let alone people, but this also felt like a place where the locals might frequent. We started with the escargot. It was served in a mind-blowing parsley butter sauce. I had the lasagna for my main. Each noodle was evenly cooked and every bite was a perfect melt-in-your-mouth mix of sauce, noodle, meat, and cheese. It felt good to end the trip on such a high note!

Rome is an affordable city to visit, so food is definitely one the aspects you can really enjoy. I found the prices at most restaurants comparable to going out to eat in a city like Pittsburgh. There were options at every price point. When in doubt, have the wine. It’s all good!

What to Do in Rome

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Now that I’ve told you how we saved money while traveling to Rome, I’m excited to share what we did. Rome is a small city that is easy to conquer in a few days, or even less if you’re really pressed for time. If you’ve never been, make sure you visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum if only to look out over the crumbling structures and imagine what was nearly 2,000 years ago. Use the Roma Pass for these two attractions to get free admission and cut the lines. Sights like Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon are ones you’ll see often if you walk everywhere like we did. I would recommend visiting them all during the day and at night to get different views. Don’t forget to throw a coin over your shoulder into Trevi Fountain to ensure you’ll return one day. Duck into the Pantheon and download Rick Steve’s free podcast about it. He also has ones for the Colosseum and Roman Forum if you’d like to skip the tour guide.

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Vatican Tour

One thing we knew we wanted to pay extra for was a guided tour of the Vatican. This is by far one of the best decisions we made and my very favorite part of the trip. We booked the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica Tour through Dark Rome. We were lead through the Vatican Museums, which are really extensive and featured some of my favorite art, including paintings by Raphael. This part of the tour transitioned right into the Sistine Chapel where we were allowed to take in Michelangelo’s masterpiece for nearly 15 minutes. Amazing. After that we walked through the incredibly massive St. Peter’s Basilica, stopping at major statues like the Pietà. Following the tour, our guide showed us where to buy tickets to go to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked up hundreds of stairs in spaces barely wider than our shoulders, but it offered some of the best views of Rome.

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Angelus

On most Sundays at Noon, you can see the Pope delivering the Angelus or blessing from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Even if you are not religious, this is a really interesting experience. Thousands of people from all over the world come to hear him speak. His image is projected on large screens and people are singing, crying, and holding up signs. It’s a sight to behold.

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Piazza Navona

One of our favorite places to hang out was Piazza Navona. This is a lively square lined with restaurants and tourists. It features gorgeous fountains, amazing people watching, and a gelato stand every few feet. Performers, musicians, and artists reside here, adding to the festival vibe. It’s a great place to take in the beautiful architecture and characters of the city.

 

Trastevere

When I travel, I like to get to know some of the neighborhoods of a city. Trastevere is described as being closer to the “real” Rome and less touristy than some other neighborhoods. It’s also described as having a bohemian feel. I liked walking around the different shops and trying restaurants the locals might actually visit.

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Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

When you go to Rome, you won’t miss the massive white marble monument honoring the first king of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. I’ve never seen such a large tribute to any political figure in the United States. It’s impossible to take a photo of the entire structure unless you’re really far away. It featured some of the most impressive architecture of the trip, and that’s saying something.

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Capitoline Museum

We happened upon the Capitoline Museum as a backup plan when one of the museums we wanted to visit wasn’t open. The building itself is gorgeous and it houses some of the most famous statues from Ancient Rome.

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Steelers Bar

While in Rome, we watched the Steelers game from La Boticella, a Steelers-themed bar. You may not be a Steelers fan, but you have to admit it’s kind of cool to find an American football themed bar while traveling abroad.

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Lastly, I recommend walking into the many churches that line the streets. They’re all older than most historical sites in the U.S. Look around. Take in the architecture you see everywhere. Just walking through Rome is an experience like no other.

Our Rome Trip on a Budget

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I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since my fiancé and I went to Rome. That was such a memorable trip for me because it was my first time traveling to Europe. We fell in love with everything while we were there — the people, the culture, and oh yes — the food! I’ve been wanting to blog about our trip for a while, but I’ve continued to put it off because the task seemed so daunting. How can you sum up Rome? I decided the best way to share all of my thoughts was to break this up into several posts. Today’s post is the first in the series and I’m talking about all of the ways we saved money on our trip. Travel is definitely a passion of ours, and we learned during this trip that it doesn’t have to be out of reach financially. There are many ways to save while going abroad, but here are the three things that made a difference for us.

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Off-Peak Flights

Our flights to Rome were significantly cheaper, I’m talking less than $600, because we were open to traveling during an off-peak month. We went to Rome in November, which was actually a great time to go. The weather was in the 50s and 60s almost every day and it only rained once or twice. Other than that it was sunny every day. There were also fewer tourists. I’ve heard horror stories of waiting in line for hours to see attractions, and we didn’t have that issue at all.

Airbnb

Staying at an Airbnb instead of a hotel will save you a lot of money. And there are many to choose from in most European cities. Just make sure to go with someone who has a high rating and a lot of reviews. We stayed at the most charming Airbnb run by the nicest lady, Tersia. I honestly liked it better than staying at a hotel. It was clean and in a safe neighborhood. At the time, we were lucky enough to get her flat for $53 per night. The more nights you stay, the cheaper it is. The bed was so cozy and comfy and the windows opened up to the busy street below. It was 10 minutes from Termini Station, which has a train that goes to and from the airport, and it was at most a 20 minute walk to most attractions. Rome is a very walkable city, so that wasn’t an issue for us.

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Rick Steves

We used Rick Steves to plan our entire trip. His pocket travel guides are great because they are easy to carry around and he gives a lot of tips for saving money. One of the big tips for Rome is to use the Roma Pass. For €36, you get free admission for your first two attractions and it lets you cut the line. After that, you get discounts to a variety of other attractions. It also comes with an unlimited transit pass, which is good on the Metro, buses, and trams. We used the Roma Pass on the Colosseum and the Roman Forum since those are two attractions that can have long lines. His pocket guide comes with a full list of restaurant recommendations, including price points. This made it easy for us to select affordable, but quality restaurant options throughout the trip. We also saved money by listening to his audio guides for the Roman Forum and the Pantheon instead of paying for a guided tour. You can get all of his audio guides for free on the podcast app on your phone.

Well that’s it for now! I hope this was helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions about traveling to Rome. I’ll try to answer them in the next few posts.

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Cleveland Recap: Lake View Cemetery Self-Guided Tour

As you may have guessed, I was in Cleveland this past weekend visiting family and friends. One of the Cleveland attractions I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to, is a tour of Lake View Cemetery. So with family in tow, I traversed the gravestone-lined, sometimes hilly landscape in search of history, both personal and otherwise. The cemetery boasts a number of gravestones and monuments dedicated to famous people, including our 20th president and Ohio native James Garfield, Eliot Ness, and Rockefeller to name a few. Some of my relatives rest in peace there, so it was nice to go and pay my respects, especially to my great grandparents whose gravestone I had never visited before. It’s also home to Wade Chapel, which features an interior completely designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his studios, and still hosts weddings and services. It amazes me that I am still discovering these hidden gems of Cleveland that are free and open to the public.

My family and I opted for our own self-guided tour, but you can schedule a private walking or bus tour for groups of 12 or more. If you go the self-guided route, I would highly recommend finding a map online to help plan your trip. Most of the major landmarks are easy to find, but we had trouble finding Eliot Ness and some of our relatives. My sister actually used Google maps to find some of the points of interest. 
We started out with Eliot Ness (Section 7, Plot 8), the prohibition agent who brought down Al Capone, because his grave is not near any of the other major landmarks. When looking for his site, we also came across Harvey Pekar, the author of the autobiographical comic book American Splendor. His grave site is fittingly covered in pens and pencils that people have stuck in the ground over the years. Ness’s gravestone has a small toy cop car on top. Kind of charming.
We then moved on to Wade Chapel, the neoclassical building with the Tiffany-designed interior. It is one of the few like it left in the world. The theme is titled “The Voyage of Life.” Beautiful mosaics are featured on both the east and west walls, but the most stunning part is the stained glass window titled “The Flight of Souls.” It features Tiffany’s “Favrile” method, which makes it seem like the window is lit up even on a cloudy day.
Rockefeller is close by so we visited him next. While looking up the different monuments to visit online, I was reminded of the fact that Rockefeller was the first billionaire. It’s crazy to think someone could have amassed so much wealth during that time period.  
Last of the major landmarks is the James Garfield Memorial. It’s quite an impressive sandstone structure with a second-floor balcony that you can access by venturing up 64 steps from the lobby. The statue of Garfield is surrounded by stained glass windows depicting the 13 original colonies plus Ohio. You can find his casket covered with an American flag in the basement. It’s the only presidential casket on full display. 
 
The grounds are beautiful and feature various trees, shrubbery, and ponds. A cool but sunny fall day was the perfect time to walk around this lovely place.

Fainting Goat Island Inn, Nichols, NY

This past weekend we ventured to Nichols, New York for my cousin’s wedding. Nichols is a pretty rural area with a lot of farms, fruit and vegetable stands on the side of the road, antique stores, wineries nearby, and small-town charm. Other than its casino resort and racetrack Tioga Downs it feels miles and miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We got to experience the slower pace of a time gone by when we stayed at the Fainting Goat Island Inn. The Inn, which used to be a railroad hotel, is decorated with thoughtful touches and beautiful antiques that transport you to a different time and place.

You can curl up and read a book on one of the ornate vintage couches, have a drink at their bar, or swing for a while on the front porch. When you venture outside you can take in the beauty of the Susquehanna River and admire wildlife like eagles and deer. You’ll be greeted by friendly animals, including three white fluffy Pyrenees Mountain dogs, a potbelly pig named pork chop, ducks, and of course, fainting goats, who will faint if you are lucky enough to surprise them. Our stay could not have been better thanks to hosts Marnie and Bill, who made sure we had everything we needed and shared their tips for local attractions.

They recommended we visit Antler Ridge Winery in Ulster, PA. We had a great time trying wines and taking in the beautiful view. 

You can book the Nubian room (pictured below) or any of their other four available rooms on Airbnb.

The Nubian Room 

View from Antler Ridge Winery