20 Years of Travel #10: Milan

The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a visit to Milan, Italy. Even though our trip to Milan in 2015 was brief, it was very memorable, including checking two things off my lifetime bucket list.

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Duomo di Milano

We did not waste any time going to see the Duomo in Milan. We got up early and had a coffee at a cafe off of the Piazza del Duomo, while waiting for the cathedral to open. We bought tickets to not just tour the inside but also to do the rooftop tour, which I highly recommend. I’m not going to lie, I am absolutely terrified of heights (major vertigo) and found the rooftop adventure a bit difficult, but it is still worth it. I’ve been to a lot of cathedrals and this is one of my favorites. Expect to spend many hours exploring the Duomo di Milano.

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Da Vinci’s The Last Supper

No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to Santa Maria delle Grazie to view one of Da Vinci’s most famous pieces of art – The Last SupperI would definitely plan on purchasing tickets to see The Last Supper well in advance. I don’t know if everyone has had this experience, but we were given a certain amount of viewing time, which I wish had been a bit longer. Other than that, I enjoyed every moment of learning about this piece of artwork and spending as much time as I could looking at every part of it.

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Teatro alla Scala

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper on the opera singer, Maria Callas. Through this report I learned a lot about the La Scala Opera House and have wanted to visit it ever since. Knowing this, my husband bought us tickets, as an early birthday surprise, to see one of the best Puccini operas – La Boheme – at La Scala. We had great seats; the onstage sets were really impressive; the acoustics were perfect; and for those who don’t appreciate operas because you don’t understand the language, every seat had individual TV screens that have subtitles translated into your language of choice.

World’s Fair Exposition – and my brush with death

The first movie I ever owned when I was young was Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland. This movie is about a family living in St. Louis during the time when St. Louis is about to hold the World’s Fair (The Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in 1904. Naturally, attending a World’s Fair has been on my travel bucket list for a long long time. As if finally seeing an opera at La Scala was not enough, our trip coincided with the 2015 World’s Fair Expo in Milan, so we also spent a day at the World’s Fair. The theme of this fair was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Attendees were provided with food from all over the world. As we were currently living in Tuscany, Italy at the time, we were unable to get many foods that were not strictly Tuscan, so we were super excited about trying food from all over the world.

However, I think I got too excited. I unfortunately had an allergic reaction to something I ate, which could have been at some point while I was indulging in Belgian fries, Dutch pancakes, Food truck BBQ, Mexican tacos and Chinese noodles. The attack was bad and luckily we found a health clinic on site that I could go to. I didn’t have to wait at all before they had me lying on a clinic bed, hooked up to a few machines, with an IV in my arm. I had at least three doctors looking at me.  At one point they asked me what I had had to eat, so I started giving them the list, and they just shook their heads at me. They gave me some medicine, which they thought would work, but the lady doctor noticed that I was still having trouble breathing and the rashes on my chest and legs were getting worse. They actually kicked my husband out of the room at this point, so he was actually a bit nervous about my condition. The doctors opted to give me a big booster shot of adrenaline, and in 10 minutes I was doing fantastic. I cannot remember ever feeling as great as I did at that time. The doctors released me with the advice that maybe I should just stick to eating chocolate gelato from now on. For those that have not experience health care outside of the United States, I did not have to fill out any paperwork before being treated or after I was treated. I just signed a document at the end, saying that I was treated, and that was all I had to do. A big thanks to those doctors who treated me. They were awesome.

Since I was feeling amazing, we did wander around the expo a little more. I did not eat any more food though and was a bit sad that I missed out on Ethiopian food and trying the crocodile at the Zimbabwe tent. However, I was not about to risk ending up in that clinic again. While that was a scary situation, I guess it made the day even more memorable, beyond seeing all the amazing exhibits and architecture.

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Milan was such a lovely weekend adventure and very memorable.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

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20 Years of Travel #8: England Road Trip

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip I took with my girlfriend a year ago to England. As any follower of my blog knows, I love reading as much as traveling, so when I have an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, it is heavenly. This road trip through England was inspired by my love of literature, in particular, my love of Jane Austen. 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, so my friend and I decided we wanted to see Austen’s England.

Day One: Brighton

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After a very affordable and comfortable flight on Norwegian Air from Miami to Gatwick airport in London, we took a train to Brighton.DSC_0023

“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed Mrs. Bennet.” ~Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We decided that a little seaside escape, which Austen loved, was the perfect way to begin our adventure. We lounged on the beach, ate cod and explored Brighton Pier.

Day Two: Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House & Chawton House Library

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We rented a tiny car in Brighton (see picture on right), which would be our main means of transportation forDSC_0045 most of the trip. My friend offered to be the driver and I was the somewhat adequate navigator. We left Brighton and headed for Winchester Cathedral (pictured above), which is the burial location for Jane Austen. As this was an anniversary year, her burial site was respectively decorated.

After a nice visit to Winchester, which is such a peaceful place, we picked up another friend of mine in Southampton and headed for a visit to the Jane Austen House in Chawton.

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We were able to look around the house and see where Austen would write and visit her garden in the backyard. This was her last place of residency, and some say her happiest, before her untimely death. Here you can also get your picture taken in period costumes.

Just a short walk down the street is the Chawton estate, now the Chawton House Library, where Jane Austen’s brother once lived. This is worth a visit if for no other reason then to just explore the vast grounds.

Day Three: Stonehenge & Bath

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If you are going to be traveling around the outskirts of London, you might as well stop at Stonehenge. While Stonehenge does not have a Jane Austen connection, it was featured in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, so there is at least that literary connection. My friend and I got up early and made it to Stonehenge just when it was opening, so we were on the first bus to get there, and that is why I was able to get the picture above with no people in it, as it is tends to be heavily packed with tourists on a daily basis. Also, after a bit of clouds and rain, the sun started to beam right down onto Stonehenge, which was glorious timing.

We moved onward to another hometown of Jane Austen – Bath.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place (pictured just below), a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.” ~Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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We were able to find plenty of parking just inside the town and walked to the main cathedral. From there, we decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, to get a bit of anIMG_20170727_151433364_HDR overview of Bath and get our bearings. As we disembarked from the bus, we snuck into the tourist center just in time to avoid getting drenched in a sudden English downpour. This worked out marvelously, because we were able to find a Free Jane Austen Walking Tour at the tourist center that began as soon as the rain lifted (see picture on the right). While Bath has embraced Austen as one of their own, it is clear from her writings that Bath never quite felt like home to her. She often preferred the countryside or seaside to the city. Living in Bath consisted less of peace and quiet and more of social engagements.

“Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, and talk nonsense to each other.” ~ Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra (May 13, 1801).20431214_469196570121574_8993274907938043534_n

After the walking tour, a stop at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath is a must for all Jane Austen fans. Here you learn more about Jane Austen’s Bath and what inspired her to write about this place in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

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After the Jane Austen museum, we relaxed outside the Crescent (pictured above). From there we decided to take a bit of a Jane Austen break and explore the Roman Baths of Bath in the Abbey Church Yard. This was my friend’s idea, and I thought the Roman Bath museum, that displayed what life was like during Roman times, was fascinating.

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Day Four: Bath & Drive to Matlock

20376083_469654430075788_20054859827624028_nSince we enjoyed learning about the Roman Baths so much, we decided to go back into Bath the next morning and have a bit of a soak in a Roman Bath (see photo on left). It was just the kind of relaxation we needed before our 4-hour+ drive to Matlock. They limit the people allowed in the bath at one time, so there was never more than six people in there and for some of the time, it was just my friend and I. 20180702_115024We decided to eat a quick bite before leaving bath and found out about Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum. When I think back on this trip to England, I don’t often think of the food, but Sally Lunn’s buns and coffee (pictured on the left) was so delicious that I still dream about them.

20374269_469654833409081_2748795384544147043_nOur drive to Matlock in Derbyshire felt long, because there was a bit of traffic, and it rained the whole time, but we finally made it to the place that would be our accommodations for the next two nights, and it was even more adorable than I imagined. It was a family owned B&B called Pig of Lead (see photo on the right). We arrived pretty late, but the hosts were nice enough to provide us with some hot beverages by the fire before we retired for the night.

Day Five: Chatsworth House & Matlock

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This was by far my favorite day of the trip. The weather was just perfect with a lot of sun and comfortable temperatures. After having a quick homemade breakfast at the Pig of Lead, we drove into the Peak District to the Chatsworth House first thing in the morning. We parked outside St. Peter’s church and took a walk on a trail through the countryside. As the path curved around the hillside, the trees parted, and you could clearly see the Chatsworth House (pictured just above and at the very top of the post). For Jane Austen fans, the estate served as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie. In reality, this estate belongs to the Cavendish family. Some Americans might be familiar with the Cavendish name, because John F. Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy married William Cavendish. Just weeks after their marriage, William Cavendish was killed on the battlefield in Belgium during World War II. Not long after that, Kathleen Kennedy was killed in a plane crash. Her grave is near the Cavendish estate in St. Peter’s churchyard, which we visited once the we were done touring the Chatsworth House. We spent a couple hours wandering through the many rooms inside the Chatsworth House and learned a good deal about the Cavendish family, saw exhibits from a member of the Cavendish family who was a famous clothing designer, and marveled at the intricate statues, which were shown in the Pride and Prejudice movie. Then we spent even more time wandering around the grounds, which are extensive.

After our long trek around the Chatsworth House, we headed back to Matlock famished. However, as nice a town as Matlock was, we found it difficult to get a substantial meal and ended walking even more than we desired too, but at least we had pretty views.

Day 6: Oxford

We drove to Oxford and completed our driving portion of our trip. After getting settled at our Hotel, we headed toward Oxford University. No literary adventure would be complete without a stop Blackwell’s bookshop, a Harry Potter walking tour that included a stop at the Bodleian Library, and a beer at The Eagle and Child pub, where the informal literary group called The Inklings would meet on a weekly basis. This group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Day 7-9: London

As no trip to England is complete without a little stop in London, we took a train from Oxford to London, where we spent the last remaining days of our trip. As it was the end of our trip, we were pretty exhausted but continued our walking and exploring with some literary stops like the British Library, 221b Baker Street, Westminster Abbey (which memorializes many famous British authors, poets, and playwrights) and Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.

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This was an amazing Austen-inspired adventure with some other literary stops. The English countryside is stunning, and I hope to visit it again soon. Many thanks to the friends that housed us, fed us, drank with us, and gave us a London literary pub tour. You are all awesome and we really appreciate it!

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #7: Dubai

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with my trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This trip made my list simply because it was such a unique adventure for me that really took me out of my normal travel comfort zone. I decided to go visit a friend from grad school that lives and works in Dubai. I had never been to the UAE or anywhere in the Middle East, so I had a lot to learn about the culture. While I did travel there on my own, I was fortunate to have my friend with me for much of my time in Dubai.

Since Dubai has become a major trading and business hub between Europe and Asia, it has become an appealing travel destination for tourists because of its skyscrapers, theme parks and resorts. However, in reality Dubai is a location where women are treated as 12764762_185284661846101_4258686595052618337_oinferior to men and should always be accompanied by men. Luckily my friend informed me of this and gave me some tips for traveling by myself in Dubai, starting with my arrival at the airport. My friend was working, so I was on my own for the day and was going to be meeting her at the largest mall in the world: The Dubai Mall. I thought about taking a taxi, but my friend informed me that for my safety, to look for pink taxis. Pink taxis are for women with women drivers. I waited for a while for one to show, but didn’t see any so I decided to take their Metro train, which has a stop at the Mall. It was very convenient. At the Dubai Mall, I was able to find a baggage check on a lower level for my bag, so I could wander the mall without carrying any heavy luggage. I had a lovely meal too that afforded me the amazing view of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), which is pictured above.

When my friend and I met up, she had gotten us At the Top tickets to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. This was high on my bucket list, as I would truly be on top of the world. It was fantastic experience. When you get to the observation deck there is a lounge and waiters passing out juices, which was a good idea, since the altitude could definitely affect people and eventually started to make me a little sick. We went outside and realized quickly that that may not be a great idea, as there was a lightning storm and we were right below the spire. It was an amazing view though. At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain, which is worth a stop. It is similar to the fountain outside of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where at certain times there is a water and light show that follows along to a song. The show was magnificent.

DSC3932If you are looking for an interesting meal to try while you are in Dubai, I would suggest having a camel burger. As a stereotypical American, I will try anything that might look like a hamburger. It was not bad at all. I would, however, not try the camel milkshake. That was pretty disgusting.

If you are looking for a good educational and cultural experience, I would check out Sheikh Mohammed Centre for DSC3947Cultural Centre for Cultural Understanding. It is a collection of museums that contain a wide variety of historical artifacts. There is a coin museum and a pottery museum. Here you can learn a lot about the history of Dubai. It was always a huge trading port. Abu Dhabi was the big oil city, but in the 1960s a smaller amount of oil was discovered in the waters near Dubai. Prior to the discovery of oil, one of Dubai’s biggest exports were pearls. Divers would comb the floor of the waters around Dubai for mollusks that would produce these pearls. Besides history and economics, you may also find some art galleries that are worth a stop.

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When you think of animals in Dubai, you may think only of camels, but there is a huge wildlife sanctuary near the downtown area called Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. In this peaceful setting, you can view thousands of birds, including flamingos.

Another fun thing to do, which you will most likely experience if you are staying at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm is to ride the _DSC3995Palm Jumeirah Monorail. The views are stunning as you head directly for the Atlantis Hotel. Even though we were not patrons of the Atlantis Hotel, we decided to stop there to have a look around, and so I could see my very first Gold ATM (pictured on the left). I really never believed that those existed, and stood there trying to figure out if I could get a gold bar home with me – I did not attempt this.

If you are looking for additional fun family things to do in Dubai, you should check out the waterparks and Ski Dubai. Ski Dubai is located in the Mall of the Emirates and is an indoor ski resort. Even if you do not ski, it is worth checking out.DSC3906

Nighttime is stunning in Dubai. Besides checking out the Dubai Fountain at night, you can view the unique, five-star hotel: Burj Al Arab (pictured on the right). Even if you are not staying at the Burj Al Arab, you can still try to get restaurant reservations there, but you should think of doing that well in advance of your visit to Dubai. Another good evening stop is the Global Village (pictured below). It is a large outdoor world market that is lit up at night. There are places to eat and of course….camels. At the end of the evening there is a lovely firework display.

I loved Dubai and can fully understand why my friend continues to call this her home. This is also an exciting time as the city prepares to host World Expo in 2020-2021. A few side notes to new travelers to the area:

  • Be careful what you take pictures of. You can get arrested for taking pictures of planes, accidents, and other people without their consent.
  • In some local eateries, men eat on the ground floor or a special area, where women and families eat in a different designated area.
  • The division in restaurants also is applied in other areas. For example, if you are taking a bus to Abu Dhabi, women and families stand in a different line from the men.
  • Wear respectful clothing.
  • Solo female travelers, heed my friend’s warning about taking taxis with male drivers. If you are assaulted in the vehicle, the courts would say that it is your fault for getting into a male-driven taxi without a male escort. This has been such a prevalent problem in the area that taxis in Abu Dhabi now have cameras installed in them.

Find more tips before you travel to Dubai here. Dubai was not like traveling around Europe or the US, and that is part of the reason I liked it. I think it is a special and unique place in the world.

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20 Years of Travel #6: Lucca, Italy

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an obvious location, as it was our home for 3 years: Lucca, Italy (in the Tuscany region). This is actually a difficult post to write, because how can I put down into words how much Lucca has meant to us.

I’m going to start with the obvious….
Food/Wine

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My husband and I loved starting every day by going to our local cafes for our cappuccini

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and pastries…normally a cornetto or sfloglia. We would frequent Piccola Soave during the week and Da Sara on the weekends. It is worth mentioning that food shopping can be a bit different there. If you want the best vegetables, you go to the vegetable stands; for the best meat, you go to your local butcher (pictured on the right – preparing our turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration); and for the best “unsalted” bread, you go to your local bakery. The food there is so flavorful and fresh.

You can’t visit or especially live in Tuscany without having some wine! It is really hard to

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find bad wine there. Plus, for €3 you can get a great local wine that would cost 5x that in the USA. The nearby hill-town of Montecarlo has its own wine festival and is home to the well-known Fattoria di Fubbiano winery. However, the hills around Lucca provide some of the best wineries. We enjoyed our trip to Fattoria Sardi, but our ultimate favorite place for wine is the Fabbrica di San Martino. We’ve been there many times and never leave without cases of wine. Even my friend, who is not a wine drinker, found a wine she loves there.13055839_10153604589492986_7423048710852422585_o (1)

Favorite eatery options:

  • Risto-Bar il Caffe on Corso Garibaldi – was a favorite spot for lunch. I BIG hello to the owners: Roberto and Sabrina. I miss your food and company so much!!!
  • Trattoria da Ubaldo – it is possible that you may find a local comic book series that features the owner of this restaurant. He is an interesting character and a favorite with the locals.
  • Ammodonostro – provides a great sharing meal that includes bistecca alla fiorentina.
  • Osteria Miranda – located in Piazza Santa Maria is one of the few restaurants around that serves our favorite San Martino wine.
  • Trattoria da Leo – a favorite restaurant of the locals. Make sure to have the table wine and the after dinner refreshment of limoncello and grappa that is offered to you before you leave.
  • L’isola Che Non C’era – a great place to take a lunch break while your shopping on Via Fillungo.
  • Le Bonta – everyone in Lucca has their favorite gelateria (gelato stand) and this is ours. It is located right outside the Lucchesi walls.

Our second favorite thing about Lucca are the festivals, holidays and celebrations…

Festivals

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During the summer and fall, it feels like Lucca has a festival or celebration almost every day. Drums and flag throwing are included in many holiday festivities. These are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • Luminaria di Santa Croce – a candlelit procession takes place from the Church San Frediano to the Cathedral of San Martino (Duomo – pictured above). This processional represents the miracle of the Volto Santo (holy face crucifix) relocating 17011_10153061958712986_8573529136269828547_nfrom San Frediano to the Duomo.
  • Lucca Summer Festival – a large summer music festival that has brought many bands and musicians. During my time in Lucca, I got to see Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Eagles, Backstreet Boys, the Script, Gary Clark, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz (pictured on the right).
  • Effetto Cinema Notte – a celebration of cinema with musical performances all around the town from movies like Grease, Labyrinth, Chicago etc.
  • Verdemura Lucca – a portion of the Lucchesi wall is set up to sell plants and flowers and other organic products. It always made me wish I had more of a green thumb.
  • Lucca Film Festival – where directors are honored for their work and cinematic features. David Lynch and George Romero were previous honorees.
  • Il Desco – a market to sell local foods and wines.

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Favorite Highlights of Lucca

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So many wonderful things to see and do in Lucca. If you like churches, there are more than a hundred of those in this tiny walled-city. Here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lucca:

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  • The Lucchesi Walls – Lucca is a walled-city. These walls are more than 500 years old.13407250_10153717328072986_8324403784892229909_n The top of the walls have been converted into a park for pedestrians, runners and bikers to wander around the city. My husband and I use to walk the walls almost every night. My friends and I would also take a walk around the wall after enjoying a hearty lunch.
  • Cattedrale di San Martino (Duomo) – the main catthedral of Lucca. This is also where you can view the Volto Santo (mentioned above).10516688_10152228726137986_4388737566867241416_n
  • Home of Giacomo Puccini – Lucca is the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. Puccini created operas such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. I highly recommend seeing one of the daily Puccini performances. The singers are just amazing!
  • Museo di Arte Contemporanea Lu.C.C.A. – This is the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art. I got to see a display of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, who was a famous French photographer. The museum did a good job displaying such a large collection.
  • Villas & Palaces – Within the city center, you can visit Palazzo Pfanner and Palazzo13466250_10153717336682986_5258876858347279934_n Orsetti. Outside of the city center, you can visit popular villas, such as Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani.
  • Torre Guinigi (pictured on the right) – This is a tower in the center of Lucca that has a botanical garden on the top. It is a bit of a climb but worth it.
  • Lucca Italian School – When I first moved to Lucca, I decided to take a two-week Italian course at the Lucca Italian School. While I was nervous at how intense the classes were, because I didn’t know any Italian at all, I was blessed with a great class filled with wonderful people that I still communicate with on occasion. This course includes classroom work in the morning and then an afternoon excursion (field trip to nearby location) or event (cooking class, movies, etc.). It was a great experience, 1932335_10151990359127986_922716397_nand one I would recommend even if you are just coming to visit for a few weeks. This is the best way to immerse yourself in the town and Italian culture.
  • The Anfiteatro (pictured on the right)- a piazza completely surrounded by apartments and restaurants.
  • Shopping on Via Fillungo – there are many popular and also boutique shops on Fillungo. However, my favorite place to shop is a leather store called Officina della Pella, located right off of Piazzo San Francesco.
  • Chiesa San Michele (see picture below) – This ornate church is located on what used to be the town square. It is nice to just sit in one of the nearby cafes that overlook this church, but on a side note: you will pay for the view.

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If you are looking to explore Tuscany a bit, I highly recommend using Lucca as your main hub, as much of Tuscany is accessible via train from Lucca. It is hard to really describe how much our time in Lucca meant to us, and I hope this post does it justice.

For more information about things to do and places to see around Lucca (mostly day excursions we took), see the following posts:

20 Years of Travel #2: Austin, Texas in 12 Hours

29790786_10155580257592986_4937089739783844434_nI am continuing with my 20 Years of Travel series with one of my most recent travel adventures.

Do I recommend spending only 12 hours in Austin, Texas? NOOOOOO! However, when you just started a new job and only have a weekend for a mini-vacation, you take whatever time you have to enjoy yourself. Since moving to Texas a year and a half ago, Austin has been on my list of places I could not wait to see, and yet it has taken me this long to get there. Thanks to my bestie’s visit, I got to finally go.

We hit the road on Friday morning. As we headed outside of Houston, I had to stop and show my friend (who has never really been to Texas) what a Buckees is. If you have never been to a Buckees either, it is a gas station as well as a great place to buy Texas souvenirs, fudge, brisket and basically anything you might need. It is a must do when you are hitting the long empty roads of Texas.

A couple hours later, we came to the town of Lockhart, Texas, which was our stopping point for lunch. If you are a fan of barbecue, you will find the best Texas 29684155_10155580256852986_6996878003957027781_nbarbecue in Lockhart (at least that is what I’ve been told and have not personally had any BBQ in Texas that has contradicted this statement). Lockhart is the home of Black’s BBQ, a cafeteria style restaurant with the best brisket I’ve ever had (see picture on the right). If the line to Black’s is too long, I was told by a gentleman at another table to also try Smitty’s Market just down the main street (on my bucket list for the next time I road trip to Austin). We were so stuffed on barbecue that when we got to Austin, we decided to just relax by the pool. Most of the country was still under feet of snow, so I felt that if we could get some sun by the hotel pool, why not?! On a side note, anyone that knows what real Culver’s frozen custard tastes like, do NOT go to the Culver’s on William Cannon Drive. You will be sad and disappointed. I don’t know what that was, but it was not frozen custard.

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The next morning, we got a Lyft into Austin and spent the entire day (at least 12 hours) in the city. This is what we managed to do in our one day in Austin:

  1. Breakfast @ Voodoo Donuts. (I was so excited to find out that I don’t have to go all the way to Portland anymore to enjoy these delicious donuts–not that I would mind going back to Portland).
  2. Local Farmer’s Market.
  3. Short walk to the State Capitol (see picture above), where we took a free tour inside the Capitol. I’m going to be honest. We went through two or three tour guides before finding one that could speak audibly enough to a large group so we could all hear. However, that guide was fantastic. I learned a lot more about Texas history and what makes this capital building unique.
  4. Lunch @ Scholz Garten – which claims to be the oldest German restaurant in America. I have not been able to confirm that information, but the restaurant has been open since 1866. I could drink beer and eat spätzle all day every day. Plus, there was some live music in the biergarten.
  5. Book People – A trip with me has to include a bookstore. I had been dying to visit this independent bookstore for a while. It was even more amazing than I imagined. It is large with two floors of books and gifts, a coffee shop, and plenty of space for events, which they have all the time (including book signings, readings, etc.).
  6. 29790108_10155580257852986_3592580044067433490_nA walk along Town Lake — it was a beautiful day with lots of people soaking up some sun and listening to the Urban Music Festival that was being held at the Auditorium.
  7. A stop @ Stevie Ray Vaughn’s statue (see picture on right).
  8. Riverboat cruise (see picture below) – A must see in Austin is surprisingly….bats. Lots and lots of bats. Around dusk thousands (@ certain times of the year…millions) of bats that are hanging out underneath Congress Avenue Bridge, take flight together in search of food. You can view this scene from a riverboat like we did or by standing on the Congress Avenue Bridge. While I am not a fan of bats (I do not think they are cute!), I dislike mosquitoes even more, so eat up bats!
  9. Perfect end of the day dinner @ Home Slice Pizza with dessert @ Amy’s Ice Creams.

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Did we see everything? NO! However, we did see a lot and walked more than 35,000 steps. Austin City Limits and brewery tours will be the focus of my next trip to Austin.

No road trip in spring is complete without stopping on the side of a interstate to smell the flowers (see picture below).

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Completed My 2nd 24-Hour Readathon!

HOORAY! I made it to the end of another wonderful 24-Hour Readathon! My husband helped me celebrate by preparing this feast on our gorgeous balcony – complete with a bottle of Prosecco! Salute!

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When I did this Readathon last October for the first time, I realized that I was grossly unprepared. I didn’t really think through book selections or prepare snacks in advance. There is nothing like needing a good snack at 4am, only to realize that there is absolutely no food in the house. This Readathon, I was much more prepared. I had my reading station prepped in advance with lots of books to choose from and plenty of snacks to get me through.

I am grateful for everyone of the readathoners that sent me messages of encouragement. It is always nice to feel like you are not alone during the most difficult hours. The hourly postings were also well done.

While I was more prepared with snacks this year, I noticed some many people with book-related gear and accessories. Some of these items were fantastic! Loved it! I feel I need more items like this for next time.

My favorite moment of the Readathon was when I made a comment on Twitter about my husband stealing one of my snacks that I prepared in advance. A fellow readathoner replied, “what a crime! Tell him to keep his grimy hands off!” Both he and I enjoyed response immensely, and he didn’t steal anymore of my snacks for the remainder of the Readathon.

Here are my responses to the final survey:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 15 was where I started to fade. That was also 4am my time, so I am normally not awake at that point anyway.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? If you want some enjoyable short books, you could read anything by Roald Dahl. I have enjoyed some more recent bestsellers like The Martian by Andy Weir, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (read during this readathon).
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? I felt that the mini-challenges this time were a bit more time consuming that last year. I don’t want to spend all my time doing the challenges when there is reading to be done.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I felt that I had a lot of support this year – cheerleaders encouraging me during the hardest hours. I also loved all the posts prior to the readathon to help us prepare and get excited for this event.
  5. How many books did you read? I finished 3 books.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, After the Fall by Arthur Miller and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I enjoyed Big Little Lies a lot more than expected. There was a twist at every corner that kept me very interested through the end. When I finished I had that moment of sadness that I would never experience reading that for the first time ever again.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? I enjoyed After the Fall the least, but I still enjoyed it. Arthur Miller plays can be hard to really get into. I normally don’t really start enjoying them until at least halfway through. 
  9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I will definitely participate again. Now that I have improved some of my own failings from the first time (last year), I would like to maybe be a cheerleader the next time. The support I got from fellow readathoners was fantastic!

See you next time!!!

 

Christmas Holiday in Porto, Portugal – December 2015

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Unable to spend the holidays with our family, my husband and I decided to take a little relaxing getaway to Portugal. We decided to spend Christmas in the town of Porto. We just pre-booked our accommodations and that was it. Everything else we were just going to figure it out as we went. We spent five full days in Porto and loved every minute of it. Just going with the flow was not a problem. There were plenty of things to do and see. Porto was far from boring during Christmas. Here are the highlights:

Food

francesinhaTry the Portuguese dish called the francesinha (pictured on the right), which is a sandwich with layers upon layers of different meats, covered in melted cheese and topped with a cooked egg. I do not want to think about how much cholesterol there was in that meal.

Not surprisingly, many restaurants are closed Christmas Eve night and Christmas night. Plan accordingly. We found that kabob stands around the city and hotel restaurants are open.

Drink

The Cafe Majestic is the perfect place for a great cup of coffee (though slightly more expensive than other cafes in the area). It is a stunning cafe but is very popular and well-known so do not be surprised if there is a line out the door.

port tastingAn absolute must in Porto is to take a port wine tour. There are many vineyards and cellars to choose from across the Douro River from Porto’s city center. We chose to visit Taylor’s Port Wine Cellar. For 7 Euros a person, we were given a lesson in the origins and creation of port wine, a fantastic tour of the cellars, and three tastings that we were able to enjoy from a scenic veranda that overlooked the city of Porto. Such an amazing deal for this wonderful experience!

The Christmas Scene

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treeI loved the Christmas decorations found all over Porto, from the Christmas tree in front of City Hall (pictured above and on the right) to the ice skating rink in the park to the markets and finally the street lights (pictured below). On Christmas Day we sat inside Clerigos Church and listened to popular Christmas songs being played on the organ. We were surprised to find after the organ concert that the Clerigos museum and tower were open on Christmas, so we climbed the 240 steps for some breathtaking views of Porto’s city center and the Douro River.

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Sights

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As a book lover, I really enjoyed visiting the Lello & Irmao Bookstore (pictured above). It is said that the ornately decorated inside of the bookstore inspired parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. It is simply stunning!

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Porto has unique architecture. Its buildings are coated with tiles (pictured above). You will find grand tile murals located inside the Sao Bento train station.

If the weather is nice, like it was for us, then take a nice relaxing boat cruise down the Douro River. It is a great opportunity to get a different visual perspective of Porto and take lots of pictures.

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Seaside Excursion from Porto

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Since we were so blessed with sunny and warm weather, we decided to take the 500 bus from Porto’s city center (across from the Sao Bento train station) to Matosinhos, which is a nice beach town on the Atlantic Ocean. We got to Matosinhos in time to have a wonderful seafood lunch at Restaurante Lage do Senhor do Padrao. The seabass is fantastic (pictured on the right). foodMatosinhos has a wonderful walking path along the coast where you can people watch and enjoy the waves crashing on the shore (picture above). It is a great place to view an amazing sunset (picture at bottom).

We loved Porto! If it isn’t on your travel bucket list, it should be!

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