2016 Travel Wishlist

I’ve been working on this post for awhile now, mainly because the list changes pretty much everyday. I have the worst attention span when trying to plan travel because I end up wanting to go everywhere and cannot decide how to prioritize! Just today, I’ve decided on like three more trips I want to try and squeeze in. However, here are seven trips I’m currently dreaming of – trying to see when I can squeeze them all in!

A weekend in…San Sebastian, Spain

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First off, it’s a foodie destination. And I love food. I first heard about San Sebastian in Conde Nast Traveler two years ago and have been trying to go ever since. It looks completely different from other places I have been and has it’s own unique culture – just the type of place I’d like to explore for a few days!

Exploring Castles in…Killarney, Ireland

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My obsession with Ireland grows each time I think about it. After spending a summer in Dublin and visiting countless times since, I feel the need to return every single weekend. I haven’t ventured beyond Dublin very much (just a day trip to Cork and a weekend in Galway), so the idea of staying in quaint Killarney and driving around the castles and exploring the Ring of Kerry seems like the perfect romantic weekend away from it all.

A Eurostar trip to…Ghent, Belgium

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After I fell in love with Bruges in May 2014, I’ve been dying to go back to Belgium. I heard amazing things about Ghent, but never actually looked into visiting. Once I finally did, though, I couldn’t stop! This city screams culture, culture, culture. I envision myself wandering around the small streets, exploring along the river, and maybe going for a kayak ride to explore. This is the trip I am most interested in planning at the moment!

A tour around…Japan

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Sean and I are in the process of planning a big trip to Japan in 2017 or 2018 (to be determined). We’re talking two full weeks, exploring as much of the country as we can – a mix  between luxury traveling and budget traveling. One of my friends recommended we go because she thought Kyoto was the most romantic place she had ever been. I started doing some research and fell in love…with all of it. Japan offers beauty, romance, adventure, history, incredible culture, and amazing food. It seems like the perfect place to explore with someone you love – and someone who loves traveling just as much as you.

Relaxation in…The Maldives

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This one’s a dream. But a beautiful one. The Maldives is something I would book with a Christmas bonus or a winning scratch card. I would love to head to there for a week and stay in a little bungalow on the water and just forget about the world.

Adventure in…Croatia

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A couple of my girlfriends and I are planning a week in Croatia for this summer. I never realized how much the country has to offer – hiking, waterfalls, beaches, sailing cruises, history, food, local culture. I’m currently looking into doing a trip which would take us to Split – Hvar – Dubrovnik.

A return trip to…Tuscany, Italy

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Sean and I talk about returning to Tuscany pretty much all the time. Last time we went, we stayed in Florence and went on a wine tasting tour one day which allowed us to experience the magic of the hills and vineyards. When we go back, I would like to rent a car and just stay in little Tuscan villages for a wine tasting trip. After spending a day driving through the vineyard towns in Alsace, I imagine that doing the same in Tuscany would be the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever done.

Do you have recommendations for any of the places I mentioned – or any other places I should consider?

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Our Tuscan Wine Adventure

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It is so weird to think that a month ago, Sean and I were celebrating our anniversary in Florence on a day long wine tour, sipping nice local wines in the Tuscan Hills and enjoying the heat that had yet to reach London. It’s also so weird to think that life has been on fast forward since then – house moves, career moves, and summer speeding by in general (all will be explained in the next couple of weeks)!

When Sean and I were in Munich, we went on a castle day trip and absolutely loved it. I used to be against organized tours because I just pictured annoying tourists in fanny packs getting laughed at by the other people visiting the sites. However, given that we weren’t going to make it to the castles without someone to take us there, I did some research and picked a tour. And I loved every second of it. It was so nice to make absolutely no effort for a full day and still feel like I got so much out of it – the sights were incredible, the history was fascinating, and I got to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise!

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[We pretty much had this as our permanent view throughout the entire day!]

Going into the Florence trip, I wanted to do another day tour and knew it had to be wine related (when in Tuscany…), so we searched around and ended up choosing a Chianti Region Wine and Cheese Tour from Viator. I mean – wine and cheese – how could I have said no? We had such an amazing day – our guide, Alessandro, was fantastic, the food and wine were both amazing, and we met some lovely couples! Note: Be warned that this tour is also called a “safari” because it gets a bit roller coaster-like at times when driving through the winding Tuscan roads. I loved it, but maybe not ideal for those who are easily car sick!

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[The first of ten wines for the day]

Stop #1: Castello de Poppiano

We hopped on a minibus in Florence bright and early on our anniversary not knowing what to expect, or how much money we were going to spend on wine! The tour took us on a nice drive through Florence and toward Tuscany. We started at a large winery and toured the wine cellar, the olive oil factory (apparently everyone makes both wine and olive oil), and the port tower (which led us to incredible views) before sitting down for the wine tasting. This winery was in a castle, and people actually live in the castle…hello dream come true!

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[I still cannot believe a family actually lives in this castle…and makes wine and olive oil #goals]

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[At the top of the dessert wine tower, we had a view that went on for miles]

We tried three wines and a dessert wine on the tour, and some olive oil (which was fantastic). Sean and I ended up purchasing a bottle of wine and a bottle of dessert wine and I left a very happy camper.

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[Happy as a clam with my souvenirs]

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[A little window into the world of Tuscan country living]

Stop #2: Lunch at La Cantinetta Di Rignana

After the first tour, we headed to a local restaurant (apparently no tourist would ever stumble upon it) which had a vineyard for their house wines, gorgeous views, and phenomenal food. We had a proper Italian three course meal – crostini to start (the chicken liver pate was my favorite!), followed by a spaghetti first course, and grilled meats for the second course. They cook the meats on a wood-burning grill and they were amazing. We also had three glasses of wine during this meal.

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[Probably one of my favorite pictures from our trip – lunch and wine with this view!]

I meant to take more pictures of the restaurant but was so distracted by the food that I completely forgot. Admittedly, I even had to google the name because I didn’t take the time to write it down!

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[The amazing crostini selection – I ate so much I have no idea how I had room for the rest of the meal!]

Stop 3: Dessert stop in Greve-in-Chianti

We stopped in Greve-In-Chianti, a little tourist town, for gelato and cappuccinos and some souvenir shopping. To be honest, we did not get very far beyond the main square so I do not have a ton of thoughts on the town, but it was an incredibly cute town square and the coffee was lovely!

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[This logo – spotted in Greve – represents wines of the Chianti Classico region]

Stop 4: Cinciano

By the time we left Greve-In-Chianti, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep for a solid hour on the way to the next stop, our final winery visit. This one was much smaller than the first, but I absolutely loved it! It is based in a luxury inn (which was surprisingly completely empty) and seemed like the perfect place for a romantic getaway! The wine cellar was actually above ground, in converted stables, and seemed like a place I could spend my entire day.

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[Cinciano was such a lovely little place – down below was a pool overlooking the region for summer guests.]

We wandered around a bit before the final wine tasting (three more wines), which was paired with some classic Italian meats and cheeses from the butcher shop in  Greve-In-Chianti. We left with yet another bottle of wine. I definitely want to go back here on our Italy road trip (currently planning…) for a nice night in the country!

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[I was so obsessed with this room with the entirely brick interior, candles, and barrels on barrels of the good stuff!]

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[Alessandro setting up our snacks and wine]

I love wine. And cheese. And I now love guided tours. So this was a pretty perfect day and honestly the best way I could think to spend an anniversary with someone you love and who loves to travel as much as you do. It was incredible romantic despite the group setting and left us with over a hundred pictures to remember it by (and three bottles of wine we are ready to open once we move into our new house!).

Calcio Storico: Rugby, Wrestling, or None of the Above?

I’m going to start by saying that this Wikipedia page will explain this game much better than I can. What I can say, though, is that the actual experience is not what you would expect after reading the Wikipedia page.  [The pre-match festivities resulted in what felt like thousands of people on the playing field marching, dancing, and throwing flags]

Match start time

Expectation: The tickets we bought said 5pm, so Sean and I showed up at 4:45 like any tourist would do.

Reality: The stadium was empty. Around 5:30, a couple of people in funny costumes walked out and we were sure that marked the start. It did mark the start…of the parade…which lasted an hour. At 6:30, the match finally began.

[One punch about to be thrown, two guys who appear to be hugging, and no sight of the ball…pretty normal at this game]

“Kick game”

Expectation: Calcio Storico translates to historic kick game, so we were expecting a soccer-like event. Granted, we were told there were no rules so even expected a hand ball every so often.

Reality: I’m not sure if there was any foot-ball contact in the entire game. It was much more like rugby, mixed with street fighting. The first thirteen minutes consisted of absolutely no movement toward scoring – instead, there was punching, tackling, pinning people down, and even the need for a stretcher.

27 people on each side:

Expectation: Wow, crowded. It must be insane with 54 people all running around on the same field.

Reality: Once someone is injured or expelled from the game, they cannot be replaced, so this number decreases drastically throughout the game. Also, I would say only about ten people on either side are actively playing. The rest are either a) standing in a line in the center that sort of serves as a border, ready to fight if need be, or b) pinning someone down or being pinned down themselves. Sean and I still haven’t figured out the purpose of this, but I suppose it does clear the playing field.

[The number of players on the field dwindled down from 54 to no more than 40 throughout the match]

Goals:

Expectation: There are meant to be three goalies on each side, which makes sense since the goal takes up the entirety of each end. There must be a ton of shots on goal, hence the need for three goalies.

Reality: The goal is an odd thing. It looks like a narrow soccer goal, but you can’t just hit the net or the wall to score; instead, the ball needs to go behind the wall and there is only a small slit to get it in there. Almost everyone who got a “shot” was close enough to actually score, and there weren’t many shots. I also don’t think any of the goalies were actually guarding the goal.

Despite my confusion on all of the above, this was actually one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to. Once it picked up, about twenty minutes in, it was non-stop action. These were my favorite parts:

[A festive celebration for Team Rossi after scoring a goal]

Half points:

If a team attempts to score but sends to ball over the goal instead of into the goal, the other team is awarded half a point. So basically, not only do you score when you score, but you score when the other team fails to do so. This should definitely be used in more sports.

Violence:

Sports are so regulated these days, which makes perfect sense given the health issues involved with athletic injuries. However, it was a crazy change to watch people just go at it with a team sport. It was quite comedic and provided for great entertainment, but I do feel a bit of strain on my moral compass for admitting this. Still conflicted on this one.

Breakaways:

Given the line of defenders in the center of the field, and the lack of active players (those not pinned down or in a fight), there was not much scoring in this game – not even many attempts. This meant that when a breakaway actually happened and someone was heading to the goal it was the most exciting thing ever. It also meant a huge gamble as to the outcome – they would either get absolutely decked at some point, would score for their own team, or would half score for theirs. Great entertainment all around.

[Sean being an eager supporter – purple represents Florence so our side had purple and red flags]

This experience sparked my interest in attending cultural events all over the world. It’ll take some strategic planning, but I think it would be an amazing thing to write about. This is going to take much research though considering the only event I can think of off the top of my head is the running of the bulls!

Anniversary Weekend in Florence

10-14 June, 2015

I don’t even know where to begin with Florence because it was probably one of the best (and most beautiful) weekends of my life! We stayed in an airbnb (our new favorite thing) that was right on the River Arno and Ponte Vecchio – honestly the greatest location for exploring the city. We walked absolutely EVERYWHERE and with the warm weather I wasn’t even complaining (except during the spontaneous downpour)!

[The view from the airbnb]

After an outdoor breakfast at Café Rivoire, we spent most of our first day inside, visiting both the Uffizi and Academia Galleries. I hate people who take pictures in museums but I became one of those people because everything was so incredible and I want to remember it all forever. And the statue of David just doesn’t seem real, even up close.

   [Our spread at Cafe Rivoire – OJ, croissants, and cappuccinos]  [David, in the “flesh”, was so magnificent]

To make up for the time we spent indoors, we opted for a long walk in the evening – perhaps too long, and too uphill, but lovely nonetheless. We explored an old fort and watched the sunset at Piazzale de Michelangelo before heading back towards our flat for dinner. I remember going home after dinner, taking a cold shower to try to get some of the sweat off me, and then just passing out from such an exhausting day. Not before enjoying our river view, though!

  [The sunset over Florence, from Piazzale de Michelangelo]   [We explored an old fort that led us to an odd art exhibition and an incredible view of Florence]   [Our little window onto the river all lit up at night]

Our second day (our actual anniversary) was the most perfect out of all of them. We spent it with gorgeous surroundings, excellent wine, and some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. Seriously, I’m starting to turn into the biggest fan of organized tours because of my two most recent experiences (Munich’s castle tour and now Florence’s wine tour). A full post will follow on the wine tour because I can’t fit it all in here!

[A little look into the world of the Tuscan hills]

After the tour, we went back toward the apartment and picked up pizza from Gusta Pizza, which our tour guide recommended. They had house wine for sale so we got a bottle to take back with us, opened up the window, and sat there staring at the view and allowing all of the mosquitos to come in. I know I mention this view and this window a lot, but that’s how great it is!

[I was very excited for the pizza – maybe too excited]

On Saturday, our last full day, had a nice long breakfast (late too – we really slept in), went to the Central market, and browsed the gold shops on Ponte Vecchio. Our most cultural experience was that night, when we went to Calcio Storico, the historical soccer match. This will also get its own post because I’m still trying to understand exactly what was happening. This match exemplifies one of my favorite thing about airbnbs – you get a real person who gives you phenomenal and personally recommended recommendations, allowing you to find out about things you never would have otherwise.

[Pre-Calcio Storico parade, which lasted about an hour before the match finally started]

We let Saturday night be our official date night, with a fancy dinner of three courses, a phenomenal bottle of wine, and tiramisu to top it all off. We went to a restaurant down the street and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Florence – the staff and food were both amazing!

[Date night at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco with a great bottle of wine]

On our final day, we returned to Café Rivoire (Sean for some reason was obsessed with it) and made a few purchases back on Ponte Vecchio before heading to the airport. We made sure to make one final stop for gelato, though, at Gelateria dei Neri, which is apparently the best in Florence. It was definitely the best of our trip, and I ate a lot of gelato, so I don’t doubt it!

  [His & Hers gelato]  [We didn’t leave without a little gold shopping on Ponte Vecchio!]

It was honestly such a great extended weekend, especially for the occasion given the romantic atmosphere of Tuscany. I’m already planning the next trip to Italy – just don’t tell Sean as I’ve been banned from planning more travel…. 😉

Favorites of Milan

Ah, my first Groupon Travel experience. I bought the trip as a Groupon “mystery getaway” where the destination was picked based on my available dates. Except then I had to pay more to actually spend more time there by having a late afternoon flight (surprise!).

Milan was a short trip so I’ll keep the post short as well. Food was fantastic, but our hotel was far out from everywhere we wanted to go. The city was gorgeous, but slightly dirty and much of it was under repair in prep for the Expo. Shopping was underwhelming but probably because I didn’t have any money to spend.

We ate tons of carbs and drank tons of coffee – what else are you to do in Milan?

[The best picture I could get of the Duomo without scaffolding included]

Favorite meal: Our DIY picnic. We picked up all sorts of food from Peck, a fantastic grocer, bought some picnic items at Tiger (best store for a random gadget lover like myself), and sprawled out under the sun in Parco Sempiere. Sun is not something we get much in London so this immediately wore is out and we woke up, still in the park, and hour later to learn that we missed our chance to hit the museums.   [Picnic in Parco Siempre, our new blanket included]

Favorite Restaurant: Thanks to my coworker Anastasia for this one! Da Rita e Antonio was everything I had hoped for in a local, family run Italian restaurant. The food was AMAZING (I wish I wasn’t so full when we went) and the staff were absolutely fantastic. Definitely something I recommend for anyone traveling to Milan.

Favorite Snack: Alright, so the weekend was pretty much constant eating – I’ll admit that much. We braved the queue at Luini (which really didn’t take long at all despite how it looks) to get (name??) and they were SO. GOOD. I got a savory (tomato and mozzarella) and a sweet, but never got around to eating the sweet. Oh my gosh my mouth is watering just thinking of them!

Best Memory: I almost got rejected from the Duomo. Because my dress was to short. Talk about feeling slut shamed. Thankfully Sean stepped in (as always) and told the guard “No, the dress just looks short because she’s short” – it worked, after tugging it down a bit as well, but that didn’t mean l felt any better walking around the place surrounded by a bunch of modestly dressed people.  

[Attempted selfie with the Duomo]

Extras: We were surrounded by models while grabbing cocktails at Serendepico (and they hand out a ton of free food during happy hour!). Our final stop was the restaurant on top of Museo del Novecento which overlooks the Duomo. Lovely way to say goodbye to Milan!

[Our final stop: wine and cold cuts with a view]

Next stop: Graduation in Boston