2016 Travel Recap

Honestly, I can’t say I’m sad to see 2016 go. I don’t remember ever hearing so many people talk about how awful an entire year was. For numerous reasons, I think it’s safe to say the world is looking forward to starting anew in 2017.

This year’s travels have been extra special to me. In the spring, I decided to make videos after each trip and take my loves on monthly digital vacations. The response has been overwhelming and as cliche as it sounds, I’m so thankful to be able to share my journeys with them.

Below is a recap of my 2016 weekend getaways. 2017 is already filling up, and I’m ecstatic for all that is to come. ❤

January: Philippines for LIG Marian Rose Mission Trip

February: Weekend in Rome

April: Weekend on Lake Como

June: Weekend in Peru to visit Machu Picchu

July: 24 short hours on the Amalfi Coast

August: Weekend in Norway and VV for my 2 year anniversary

September (trip 1 of 2): Weekend on the island of Ischia

September (trip 2 of 2): Weekend in Portugal

October: Weekend in Rome and Stockholm

November: Weekend in South Africa for a Kruger National Park safari

December: Weekend in Sweden and Poland for Christmas Markets

Young, Wild, and Free


South Africa Video

What a cliché title for a post. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t even say it’s accurate – I may be free, but after this last birthday I’m not that young and I certainly wouldn’t describe my-9PM-bedtime-self as wild. This latest trip to South Africa, however, proved otherwise – the five of us were YW&F to the max.

A South African safari has been on my list for a while, but it was a trip I figured I’d have to wait until my thirties to take; from what I’ve heard and read, it’s super expensive and, one would assume, requires at least a week or two to really do right. So much for that. 😉 South African Airways had a crazy sale if you booked on Expedia’s New Zealand website, so we paid ~$500 direct round trip for flights to Johannesburg from JFK. I arranged it so we’d only have to miss three days of work, departing on a Thursday morning and getting back to New York at 7AM on Tuesday… just in time for morning meeting. Three days off naturally shot my anxiety and FOMO through the roof, but I got over it – we were going to South f’ing Africa.

Three of my four girlfriends were extremely nervous about the trip – not only were we traveling really far, but we’d also be amongst some serious wildlife. Oh, and there’d be no wifi or cell service. I had to talk two of them off the ledge – one two months out, the other two days before departure. Because of everyone’s nerves, I knew our usual DIY cross-country road trips and AirBnB apartments were out of the question. I opted to stick with Kruger National Park and searched for the most secluded, comfortable, safe place to stay that we’d be able to afford. I pushed the girls to start saving early, as we’d spare no expense. It was worth every penny.

At $1,000 each, we rented the old ranger’s quarters in northern Kruger’s Pafuri Camp. We had a four bedroom fenced in house to ourselves, equipped with a pool and our very own pride rock. You know how Bravo’s Real Housewives go on vacation in their luxury rentals with people catering to them like queens? That was us, minus the hair and makeup and plus a few unexpected visitors at night (spoiler alert: they weren’t boys). We literally didn’t need to leave that house for anything – the package I booked included private chefs and two open-jeep safaris a day. Pafuri also arranged for our airport transport, which ended up being over six hours each way. The ride paled in comparison to our 16-hour flight, so no one could complain.

From the moment we arrived at Baobab Hill Bush House, we were in love. Our safari guide Sarah, on the other hand, did not share our excitement; she was expecting to greet a nice, experienced, well-informed American family, so I’m pretty sure she was instantly disappointed – not only were we not a mature family of five, it was immediately apparent that we were wine drinking, bug killing, painfully ignorant (at least when it came to animal trivia) twenty-somethings who absurdly traveled to South Africa from the United States for two full days. Her disgust was neither concealed nor apologetic, especially after we doused our sheets with Deet. God, I miss that girl. ❤

Contrary to popular belief, a real safari is not comparable to, say, Six Flags Great Adventure’s Animal Kingdom. It can be f’ing terrifying. Imagine driving through a pitch-black jungle in an open jeep with no other humans in sight, the only lights to guide you being the moon and a spotlight you’re using to search for shiny eyes. Have you ever heard a lion’s roar IRL? Better yet, have you attempted to follow its sound and track down the king himself? My poor friend Chrissy spent one ride sobbing. Somehow, though, our girl Sarah made us feel at ease; I can honestly say I never felt unsafe, even when she shared some horror stories.

Incredible safaris aside, some of the greatest experiences in SA took place right at our cozy Real Housewives home. It was literally 100 degrees outside, so to say it was hot would be an understatement. Our pool was a Godsend for both us and our nightly visitors: the elephants! We’d tiptoe onto our patio before bed and gawk at their grace, shocked that something so huge could sneak so quietly into our yard for a drink. The next afternoon, we’d jump – without hesitation – into our lele spit oasis, leaving bathing suits behind as it was even too hot for them. Talk about wild, especially for the girl who’s too chicken to go topless in Italy (soon io).

Despite ever-present adrenaline, we’d all agree that South Africa was oddly the most calming, surreal experience to date. By our fourth and final safari, we’d grown on Sarah and become a bit braver. Surprisingly, we’d embraced (and enjoyed) a break from cell service, soaking up every moment of just being with each other. We pushed our limits to the max and leapt from our comfort zones. If only for two short days, the five of us were the epitome of young, wild, and free.

Favorite Spots in Italy by Season: SUMMER

To say I’m partial to Italy in the summertime would be an understatement. The very first time I traveled to the motherland was in August of 2002, and I returned to study abroad in Rome five summers later. My initial experiences with the country I’d been relentlessly trying to visit were in the summer months, and as cliché as it sounds, they changed my life forever. As much as I love going back at this time of year, there are huge deterrents: June thru August is unbearably crowded, hot, and expensive in Italy, a country that’s still on the fence about deodorant BTW. There are a few spots, however, that simply must be visited in the summertime, with Sicily being numero uno.


Of the 21 times I’ve traveled to Italy, I’ve only been to Sicily once and it was just in 2014. One time is all it took, though, and I honestly had no idea what I was in for. I tend to liken the island to Greece, as it has a much more Greek feel to me and is loaded with breathtaking beaches and well-preserved ruins. The food and gelato are the best I’ve had thus far in my life, no exaggeration, and prices are unbeatable. Those things pale in comparison, however, to the culture, hospitality, and pure enjoyment you’ll experience. Ferragosto and feasts of patron saints bring late-night beach parties and parades. Entire towns come out to celebrate from dusk until dawn – I’m talking babies in strollers to 90 year old couples parading the streets and hanging at outdoor bars until 3:00 in the morning. Oh, and everyone knows each other.

Two must-see spots from my stay include Agrigento, home of awe-inspiring Greek ruins, and Scala dei Turchi. There are countless more for sure, but I can’t speak for what I haven’t personally experienced; I just did a little bit of the southern coast over a long weekend in August. Scala dei Turchi is essentially a white, rocky cliff overlooking the insanely beautiful Mediterranean Sea. It’s a little scary to climb as there are no railings, but it’s totally worth it. Agrigento is one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and apparently a class-trip staple in Sicilian schools. It’s home to spectacular Greek temple ruins and actually isn’t far from Scala if you want to hit both in the same day. Be warned, however, that you will sweat profusely: there’s no shade and it’s insanely hot here in the summertime.

To sum Sicily up in one word, I’d have to say it’s surreal. I fell in love with the island for so many reasons, and I definitely hope to return to explore some more. While my photos don’t do it justice, this video is an awesome representation of the region and its attractions.

  • How to arrive: I traveled to Sicily from Rome, so I flew into Catania on a cheap Ryanair flight. You can literally get there nonstop for $19, it’s amazing. I actually see deals pop up frequently from NYC to CTA, as well, but there are always connections. From there, renting a car is your best bet to maximize your stay.

Vittorio Veneto

My beloved VV! Vittorio Veneto is the tiny town that I lived in during my 2014 volunteer trip. I’m hesitant to even broadcast it here, as it’s truly the epitome of a “hidden gem” and I want it to stay that way forever! VV is so unassuming that my coworkers would jokingly ask if I closed my eyes and pointed on a map to find it, and that’s basically what I did: when searching for an apartment on Airbnb, my criteria included price range and the keywords “tiny, historic village.” Mission accomplished

As it’s nestled in the Dolomites of Northern Italy, VV doesn’t get unbearably hot in the summertime (in my opinion, at least, though I’m chilly when it’s a brisk 80o). It’s a popular spot for cyclists but otherwise doesn’t house many tourists. Because of that, you won’t find many Americans or crowded attractions. The landscapes and architecture more than make up for the extra effort you’ll need to communicate, though. The town itself has two sections: Serravalle and the more modern Ceneda. Serravalle is right out of a movie.. in fact, In Love and War with Sandra Bullock was filmed there in the ‘90s. 🙂

There are a few incredible hikes with starting points throughout VV, my favorite being that which leads to the Santuario di Sant’Augusta; the views from the top are breathtaking! The Sant’Augusta steps at the bottom are a great spot to relax and read, as I spent a lot of time doing (for research) while in VV. The park is also a perfect spot for this, though nothing tops sitting along the River Meschio with your feet in the water. Every Monday morning, there’s a big market along Viale Camillo Cavour/Viale della Vittoria where they sell basically anything you can f’ing think of, from home décor and clothes to even fresh flowers and foods. Prices are beyond reasonable and it’s all so unique! One of my favorite things about living in VV, amongst countless others, was my Monday morning market routine.

  • How to arrive: You’d be happy to finally read that VV is one place you don’t need a car. The closest airports are the northeast group (VCE, TSF, TRS), but the only one with direct flights from NYC is Venice and it’s never cheap. Milan’s Malpensa (MXP) is a less expensive alternative, though it’s not exactly convenient; the train from the airport will require four changes and take over four hours start to finish. That from Venice, however, is less complicated and less than two hours door to door.

San Gimignano

Choosing a specific season for San Gimignano was difficult to say the least – it is absolutely breathtaking every month of the year. It’s so spectacular, in fact, that it’s brought me (and my friends!) to tears on more than one occasion. I am especially blown away by Guardastelle, an incredibly charming family-owned agriturismo outside the city walls.

San Gimignano itself is a tiny medieval town atop the hills of Italy’s Tuscan region. Surrounded by three walls, it overlooks endless vineyards packed with grapes and lined with olive trees. It is saturated with history, culture, and towers; it’s not called “The Town of Fine Towers” for nothing! While certainly touristy, it’s much less crowded than the ever popular nearby Siena, even in the summertime.

Agriturismo Guardastelle is one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited, and one I will return to for as long as I possibly can. Fausto, Barbara, and the rest of the staff are beyond welcoming and accommodating; you truly feel at home when in their presence. Though I can’t speak for the homemade wine, the meals prepared on-site are out of this world. I’ll never get sick of their 25 euro wine tours, equipped not only with fascinating winemaking info but also some of the best local dishes in the region (doused in homemade olive oil, of course!). The experience and stay as a whole are unmatched.

  • How to arrive: Sorry, having a car is essential here! There’s honestly no better way to see the Tuscan hills. The closest airport is in Florence, but there are unfortunately no cheap, direct flights. I typically include San Gimignano as part of a longer trip to other Italian destinations. For instance, I love exploring nearby Florence via Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can park for free and enjoy incredible views of the city, especially at sunset. Rome is just about an hour away by train, as well!

Favorite Spots in Italy by Season: FALL

It’s no secret that I’m in love with Italy. Come August, I will have visited a total of 21 separate times. Excessive, I know, but one should not deprive themselves of the things they love. 😉 I’m often asked about “the best” place to visit, and my response is always the same: What time of year are you going? Do you like cities or the country? Do you prefer beaches or lakes? Are you a wine connoisseur or more of a foodie? There’s no way I could choose one location to recommend to everyone; Italy is incredibly diverse, and certain spots are best during particular seasons. In my opinion, they are as follows for fall:

Amalfi Coast

The famous Amalfi Coast is, without a doubt, all it’s cracked up to be. However, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone travel there in the summertime. Personally, I’m not a fan of “tourist traps,” and that’s exactly what you’ll find Positano to be from June thru August; it’s insanely expensive, everyone’s speaking English, and food is cooked to foreigners’ tastes (in other words, it stinks). You’re elbow-to-elbow in the streets and traffic is horrific. Full disclosure: I once hit a person on via Cristoforo Colombo with my car. We were crawling and I just bumped him with a side view mirror, but still!

September on the coast is incredible. The weather’s still amazing, prices are more reasonable, and towns are way less crowded. If you’re looking to stay in Positano, Albergo California is hands down the best I’ve come across thus far. Its views and location are unmatched; it’s a short walk down to the beach, shops, and restaurants, with no mountainous hill to scale on your way back up with a belly full of pasta and gelato.

The well-known isle of Capri is a short boat ride away, but I honestly prefer to do something different: right next door in Praiano, you can rent a boat for way cheaper and even be your own captain! As a plus, you’ll spend time on a more secluded beach and jump from tiny cliffs into the Tyhrrenian Sea. Check out La Sabilla for rentals and Il Pirata for the inevitable appetite you’ll build up swimming through grottos.

  • How to arrive: The best way, if you can stomach it, is by car. The airport in Naples (NAP) is super close, and the ride is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Windy, narrow roads scale the cliffs overlooking the sea and even on the cloudiest day will leave you breathless. There are no quick, convenient public transportation routes for most of the hot-spots, and transit in and around Naples is unfortunately shady anyway. 😦 *I can say that because I’m Napolitana*

Piedmont Region

One of the reasons I love autumn so much is that I’m obsessed with its colors. Two of the best places I’ve been for fall foliage are those I’m writing about here: the vineyards in Piedmont and forests in Veneto. Both regions are breathtaking at any time of year, but September and October are particularly stunning in my opinion. Though Piedmont is much further north than its well-known Tuscan counterpart, it is also known for its wine and vineyards. La Morra is one of my personal favorite towns to day-trip to; not only is it beautiful, it’s a mere 20 minutes from the annual October Truffle Festival in Alba.

Wine and truffles aside, Piedmont is also known for its hot chocolate, though it’s likely not what you’re imagining; it’s basically the exact opposite of our powder/water mix. Think melted, thick, mind-blowing hot fudge. :-O

  • How to arrive: I promise I’m not totally biased, but renting a car is often the way to go. Nothing beats driving through Italy, especially amongst vineyards and tiny villages! You can arrive in Torino (TRN), which is also a great city to explore, or Milan (MXP) if you’re strapped for cash – Torino usually requires layovers and is at least a few hundred dollars more expensive than further-away MXP.


Veneto: Dolomites & Lakes

Place #2 I’m most in love with for fall foliage as mentioned above: i Dolomiti. Words cannot express how absolutely breathtaking the Dolomite section of the Alps can be in autumn. The mountains themselves are tinted pink, and the forests and lakes that surround them are spectacular. To get the best views, I recommend either hiking or taking long drives. One of my favorite routes is Passo Giau, which is most easily accessible by, you guessed it, car. Many cyclists often take this route as well, and they’re obviously out of their f;ing minds – it’s insanely steep! :-O There’s a restaurant at the top of the mountain that’s pricey but a nice place to stop. The drive itself is stunning and there are plenty of photo-ops along the way, so take your time if you can.

Of the Venetian lakes, Sorapiss is of the most spectacular: surrounded by now-colorful fall trees, its sky blue tint is striking. The journey there is brutal, though, as discussed in previous posts. The only way to arrive is by trekking and while it’s totally worth it, the experience was so frightening that I would never attempt it again. Sorapiss is not for the faint of heart or out of shape! :-O

Though just outside the Veneto region and into Trentino, Lago di Braies is too incredible to not be included, especially in the fall. This one’s easy and can be reached by car or bus, so it’s safe to leave your trekking stick at home (Grazie a Dio). Unlike sky blue Sorapiss, Braies is the most incredible shade of green. Honestly, it’s indescribable, and the photos don’t even do it justice. It’s an easy walk around the perimeter; I’ve seen plenty of people with dogs and strollers navigate it with no problem. Bring your jacket, though; as this lake is further north and nestled in the mountains, it’s likely much chillier than where you’ve arrived from!

  • How to arrive: As you probably got by now, Milan is the cheapest, most convenient airport to fly into when visiting Northern Italy. Its convenience is due to the fact that there are tons of direct flights, but MXP is not necessarily super close to where you want to end up, especially if traveling to Veneto. Venice (VCE), Treviso (TSF), and Trieste (TRS) are much nearer, but VCE is the only airport with direct flights and all three are consistently way more expensive than Milan. If you’d rather not drive so far from MXP, you can hop on a fast train to Venice and jump in a Fiat500 there. B-)

Where It All Began <3

Since I sent out my infamous “Rome Tips” document for the ~25th time last week, i figured I should post it here so that others can hopefully use it as well. 🙂 Rome is where my love for Italy began. Growing up, I’d drive my parents crazy about going on a trip to Italy. I joke that my ancestors have always pulled me there, and I’m believing more and more that this truly is the case. I took one step off our Alitalia flight in 2003 and was home.

I’ve since been back to Italy a total of 15 times, most of which have included Rome (if even for a day!). Below are some general notes and tips I’ve recorded over the years.

Getting to the City

  • Upon arrival at FCO Airport, follow signs for the Train Station (Stazione, Treno, etc.), and take the train to Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome
    • Should cost ~€14 per person and take about a half hour
    • It’s called the Leonardo Express train and has no other stops, so it’s very easy
    • Purchase your tickets at an electronic ticket booth before boarding the train and be sure to validate them before you hop on (you’ll just insert them into a validating machine that will stamp them)

Top Sights

  • Villa Borghese, the Central Park of Rome
    • VB is beautiful to walk around and inside is a museum, a great zoo, lots of fountains, etc. It’s easy to get lost in, though!
  • You can exit the park at Piazza del Popolo if you’d like, which is a big, beautiful piazza that gives way to three streets that are known as “il Tridente” – Via del Babuino on your left, Via del Corso down the middle, and Via di Ripetta on your right (when the Piazza is behind you and you’re facing the three streets)
    • Il-tridente-di-Piazza-del-Popolo
    • Via del Babuino will take you to Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps are
    • Via del Corso is excellent for shopping!
      • All the way at the opposite end of Via del Corso is Vittoriano/Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele (aka Wedding Cake Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome IMO!)
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      • Take the elevator to the top for incredible views of the entire city, especially the nearby ruins and Coliseum (€7 per person, totally worth it!)
      • The Coliseum and ruins/Roman Forum are right behind this building, and the Capitol buildings are also nearby (to the right when you’re looking directly at it)
    • Via di Ripetta will lead you toward the Pantheon, although it’s off on a side street (there will be signs)
      • Breathtaking structure, especially from the outside
    • La Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain) is between Via del Corso and Via del Babuino on a side street, and there will be signs for that as well
      • The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are most stunning at night, when all lit up and less crowded, so try to also stop by as late as you can (while walking home from dinner, etc.)
      • IMG_6450 IMG_0818
  • The Vatican and its museums are stunning and well worth however long it may take you to get in
    • Best time to arrive is at the end of the afternoon, around 3PM, as it closes at 5:00 and is insanely busy earlier in the day (especially in the morning!)
      • Lines will be much shorter at this time, and you’ll be able to move through quicker
      • Can get there via metro on the red line (the stop is Ottaviano)
      • IMG_0841
    • If possible, visit the Papal Gardens and the Catacombs (underground, older Vatican with the tombs of past popes)
      • Note: if you get claustrophobic, the Catacombs will be difficult to walk through
    • Be sure to rub St. Peter’s foot for good luck!
    • Your knees and shoulders must be covered to enter – no tank tops, short shorts, etc.
    • The Pope hosts a Papal Audience almost every Wednesday. It’s not a full blown mass, but rather a chance to see and pray with Pope Francis
    • The Vatican is across the river, and as you’re walking back towards it you approach the Castel Sant’Angelo (it’s huge! & can’t be missed!)

Getting Around

  • The metro system is extremely easy to use! There are only two lines, the red A line and the blue B line, but they’re in the process of building a third
  • Almost all stops you’ll need are on the red line, except for the Coliseum which is on the blue line
    • Most stops of your interest are named according to the attraction that’s nearby (ex: Spagna for Piazza di Spagna, Colosseo for the Coliseum)
    • There is also a tram, but it shouldn’t be necessary to use to see anything popular (unless of course you’d just like to try it!)
    • HOWEVER, everything you want to see in Rome is in walking distance! You can literally walk around the entire city to cover everything, and although it wasn’t built in a day, it can be seen on foot in just two! 😉
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  • The main station, Termini, is where you’ll arrive from the airport. It is probably THE shadiest spot in the city. Be mindful of your belongings and try to avoid staying in a hotel that’s close to the station, as its surroundings are ugly & unsafe as well

Where to Eat & Hang

  • Piazza Navona is a popular tourist spot for restaurants, but it is expensive and not super authentic
    • Beautiful to walk through, though! Definitely check it out
  • Via Veneto is huge for restaurants, but is even worse than Piazza Navona (they will rip you off in a heartbeat and the food isn’t spectacular)
  • Note: remember that there is no tax on food in Rome, nor are you required to tip anywhere in Italy. In fact, you are expected NOT to tip, as it is not customary. If taxes or tips are added to your bill, you can ask that they be removed, as there is no basis for them
  • The less Americans there are around, the better and more authentic the restaurants will be
    • Don’t bother going into a place that has a waiter outside trying to lure you in – tourist trap!
    • I’ve found that there are great authentic restaurants near the river (although not directly ON it, as they can be touristy and expensive as well)
  • Campo dei Fiori is a popular night-time spot, especially for tourists
    • It’s a piazza with tons of bars and people from all over the world
    • Always a lot of fun!
    • Wine Bar Camponeschi is right outside the piazza and is one of my favorite restaurants in Rome
      • I’ve never seen a tourist there, only Romans
      • Their carbonara sauce is the BEST!
      • The address is Piazza Farnese, 50/50a
      • Phone #: +39066874927
    • Casa & Bottega is my favorite lunch spot
      • Right across the river on your way back from the Vatican/Castel Sant’Angelo
      • The address is Via dei Coronari, 183
      • Phone #: +39066864358
  • There’s a pub crawl that leaves from the Spanish Steps every night that I personally think is amazing. It’s cheap (it at least was around €25, not sure if it’s gone up) and includes unlimited PIZZA, shots at the door of every bar, unlimited beer & wine, a T-shirt, & free entry at each stop, including the club at the end. I don’t even drink and I love it. We did this crawl almost every weekend when I studied abroad in Rome!

Side Notes and Tips

  • Italian country code (for telephone calls) is 39, so if you’re calling an Italian number, you’d dial +39 and then the number
    • You can add an international plan to your phone for $30 (Verizon), but it’s limited and automatically charges you if you go over your tiny amount of data
    • It’s cheaper to get a Vodafone SIM card once you arrive and switch your SIM out
      • Usually €30 for the card and your plan, and you’ll be able to make calls, text, & use data, and it should last your whole trip!
      • You’ll have an Italian phone number but all of your stuff will be the same (pictures, contacts, etc.)
      • They sell them at airports and in big train stations
  • US country code is 1, so you’d dial +1 and then the number of anyone you’re calling back home
  • The maps they give out at hotels are cartoon-like with photos of monuments but are very helpful! The city itself can be confusing to navigate around, but everyone speaks English and can help!
  • ATMs are called Bancomats and they are all over the city
    • It is cheaper and easier to take money directly out of your checking account this way, as exchanging cash will cost you more and you don’t want to have much cash on you unless necessary anyway
  • It is not customary to sit down for coffee in Italy
    • Instead, stand at the “bar” and drink it/have a small breakfast like a croissant
    • Bars in Italy refer to coffee shops, although many also serve alcohol as well
    • “Un caffe`” is not a regular American coffee, but rather an espresso
      • “Caffe` Americano” is American coffee (the closest thing to it, at least!)
  • As in any city, always be mindful of your belongings
    • I keep my phone and wallet tucked into my pants and under my shirt to be safe
    • Don’t accept help from anyone who approaches you at the train stations, etc.
    • Rome is not dangerous by any means, but we Americans can be easy targets!! 😉
  • Building #s come after street names in Italian addresses, and street names are found on the sides of buildings as opposed to on actual street signs like here in the US
  • There is no tipping in Italy! Though it feels so uncomfortable for us as Americans, it is NOT customary to leave tips at restaurants, in cabs, etc.
    • If you really enjoyed interacting with your server and found them to have gone above and beyond, you can certainly leave them something, but don’t feel like it has to be 20%! A couple euro coins would be plenty (honestly!)
  • Driving is on the same side of the road as us
    • Most cars are stick-shift, not automatic, so if you’re renting, be sure to specify that you want automatic and not manual!
    • Tolls can be paid in cash or credit card if your rental doesn’t have “Telepass” (their version of our EZ-Pass)
      • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket. Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another toll booth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but the Italians are definitely watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m there
    • Their signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to determine what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. See my previous post for details
  • You can drink/fill your water bottles from any fountain in Rome. The water is clean and SO GOOD!
  • The fountain at Piazza di Spagna was just restored, and it looks amazing! They’re still working on the actual building at Spagna but it’s worth the trip regardless
  • The Trevi Fountain, unfortunately, is still undergoing restorations 😦

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

My Grandmother Was My Age

Despite last Thursday’s snow, ice, and horrifying plane-skidding incident at LaGuardia, we made it to Poland (almost) on schedule! We were a little delayed, but the four of us were happy to have dinner at our favorite EWR restaurant: terminal B’s McGinley’s Pub <3. We all slept most of the 8½ hour flight before arriving in Munich, where we’d missed our earlier connection but hopped on another a little while later.

Krakow, our final destination, blew me away. We landed and made it to our apartment by around 5PM on Friday, just in time to galavant around the city before sunset. Its center is spotless and incredibly charming; to me, it felt like a mix of Verona and Vienna, though inevitably laced with a more Eastern European don’t-bother-asking-anyone-for-help feel. We fell in love instantly.

The main purpose of the trip was to tour nearby concentration camps and ghettos. Chrissy and Briana are WWII buffs, and Les and I took a Holocaust class as juniors at the Mount. We’ve kept an eye on flights to Krakow for years but have never been able to find anything for under $950 or so. Warsaw is occasionally cheaper, but it’s much farther from Auschwitz and therefore wouldn’t make sense for our short weekend trips. By some act of God, however – and by “act of God” I mean a miracle called “Cyber Monday” – I unexpectedly came across flights for ~$600! I called Briana immediately (which is obviously indicative of some sort of crisis or emergency since I hate the phone), and we booked it on the spot, no hesitation. Les and Chrissy quickly followed suit. Is this what addiction feels like?! The rush of clicking “confirm booking” is undoubtedly like no other. 😉

I will spare you of a history lesson and let the photos below speak for themselves. I do want to include, however, a few facets of our trip that stuck with me most:

  • When prompted, our incredible tour guide and film director Paulina shared with us the survivor story that’s had the greatest impact on her. Specifically, she talked about the neighbor of a Polish man who’d been intellectually disabled (formerly “mentally retarded”) and picked on most of his life. One day, while the two were both in front of their homes, they saw an alarming amount of black crows screaming overhead. The boy remarked, “Oh no, how sad… the birds just told me that the soldiers are coming to kill all the children of Israel.” Over a month before there was even a slight indication of what was to come, his neighbor was more confused than disturbed: “What are you talking about?” He persisted: “Yes, how horribly sad. The birds just told me, they’re coming to murder the descendants of Abraham.” Che cazzo ?
  • In Krakow alone, there were over 70,000 Jews before the Holocaust. Now, there are maybe a few thousand. The actual amount is difficult to confirm because many Jewish people celebrate their faith in private, for they are afraid history will repeat itself. Truthfully, I don’t blame them.
  • 2015 marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, which means that all this occurred not that f’ing long ago AT ALL. This isn’t some distant, horrific event that dates back to before Christ. The accounts haven’t been translated and interpreted by ancient scholars over the course of centuries. There were no carrier pigeons or slaves. There were televisions, cars, technology, and airplanes. This was Europe, not some barbaric, uninhabitable third-world country. The Holocaust happened in our grandparents’ lifetime; my grandmother was my age when Auschwitz was liberated.

Płaszów Camp Memorial:

Creepy Amon Goeth’s House (the man who’d shoot people from his balcony in Schindler’s List):

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Auschwitz 1 Grounds & Crematorium:

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Belongings of Auschwitz 1 Victims (shoes, prosthetics, suitcases):

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Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau):

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PS: The trip wasn’t completely somber and educational. We also tried Krakow’s top fun activityLost Souls Alley. It was so terrifying that Les had to use the code word to exit mid-way. One missing Ugg, three panic attacks, and eight bruised shins later, we made it to safety. Be on the lookout for night-vision footage. B)

PPS: I did extend my trip (of course), but since I gave up sweets for Lent, I opted for some sun instead of tempting myself in the gelato capital of the world. Italy, I’ll see you exactly one month from today – after Easter. ❤


To Stay or Not to Stay…

I’m currently in the midst of a too-familiar dilemma. Set to take off for Poland and Germany in 8 hours, I’m feverishly adding up miles and calling airlines to possibly extend my stay in Europe. I’ve been notorious for doing this in the past, but have since stuck with weekend trips to avoid missing work or school (as I’ve written about before, I absolutely hate taking off). However… as it turns out, I’m already off next week. Truthfully, I haven’t worked since the day I left for Vienna.

This last-minute predicament pales in comparison to the one I faced in February. I’ve been meaning to post for days about Austria and my 24 short hours on the ground, but my thoughts have been preoccupied to say the least. After attending a networking event for work, I was approached and recruited by a nearby assisted living facility. Just four miles from my apartment, this new place – I’ll call it il Sogno for now – features an Alzheimer’s unit and offers considerably more patient/family interaction, tremendous room to grow, and a 401k. Davvero?! Are they reaching out to the right person?!!

No brainer, right? I wish.. I wish I hated Senior Helpers even a little bit. I wish my bosses were jerks or the girls I worked with were obnoxious. I wish I’d count down the minutes until Friday and dread waking up on Monday. This, however, was not nearly the case. I loved Senior Helpers. In the two short months I was there, I not only learned a tremendous amount, but also met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I was sick over the decision to be made, and even took a week to think about it after receiving my former offer letter (the nerve! I couldn’t help it!!).

Thankfully, despite the horrifying scenarios I had imagined I’d face, my decision was met with support and understanding. Il Sogno is not a competitor but rather a potential referral source, and I was adamant about SH being their primary referral. Not because I feel guilty, but because I truly believe they’re the best of the best. I’m beyond grateful for the knowledge, insight, and experience my bosses and colleagues were able to provide me with in such a short amount of time. You truly can’t predict the paths your journey will present to you, but you do decide which ones to take. I hope this weekend’s leads to Italy

Is It Worth It?

A week or so ago, I had a painful and reluctant discussion with my new boss that literally gives me anxiety to think about: for the first time, I had to ask him for a day off. :-O Anyone who knows me at all knows that I absolutely hate to miss work under any circumstances. I was once carried out of the kennel with a kidney stone and my biggest concern was being able to return before we closed. I’m getting upset just thinking about it.

Luckily, I only requested that I miss one Friday in March and he of course was fine with it. He even jokingly responded with, “Why, are you going to Italy for the weekend?” to which I replied, “Germany and Poland.” :/ He knows me too well already! Though the idea of traveling to Europe for a weekend seems insane and is laughable to some (ok, ok… laughable to most), I could not stress enough that, to me, it’s totally worth it.

As I mentioned, it pains me to miss even one day of work, especially now that I’ve just started a new job. I was even worse with school before graduating this past May; I’d have to be given a day or two left to live to even consider skipping class. In addition to my irrational FOMO, I don’t have a ton of free time; I have two jobs, I’m doing research, I have a 140lb puppy who needs my kisses, and I have a life. As I’ve been told repeatedly, though, my responsibilities will not dissipate as I get older. On the contrary, this is the easy time. Stai scherzando?! It gets busier than this?!?!?!

At 27, there’s still a ton I’ve yet to become sure about. I am beyond certain, however, that I will happily take what I can get. If a long weekend is my only option and the tickets are cheap enough, I’m there. No hesitation. If it’s too soon to request off, I’ll arrange so that I don’t have to; in February, I’m going to Austria for one night. Una notte. I will have 24 hours on the ground e basta. As I said, I will literally take what I can get.

I’ve decided to compile a list of pros to my insane[ly fun] short trips to support their awesomeness and to hopefully discourage any readers from committing me to Overbrook:

  • YOU SAVE MONEY: When my equally crazy friends and I go to Germany and Poland, we’ll spend about $900 each TOTAL. That includes flights, hotels, a car, excursions, and food. That may seem like a lot for 3 days, but considering they’ll likely be 3 of the best days of our lives, $300 per day is worth it. In addition, had we decided to go for a week, we’d be paying $X more in hotels and food, and we’re not made of money!
  • YOU DON’T DISRUPT YOUR LIFE: I cringe typing these words, but missing one day of work isn’t going to kill me. I won’t come home and have a ton of catching up to do, and the show will certainly go on despite my brief absence.
  • YOU HAVE A LOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: This may not be the popular opinion, but I’d much rather take quick, frequent vacations than spend all year waiting for one long one.
  • YOU’RE SEEING THE WORLD: How much can you get done in one weekend? Well, you can galavant around Lake Como, tour the Piedmont vineyards, attend a food festival in Alba, climb a mountain in Switzerland, and still get over 7 hours of sleep (*note: we did all that on a 24-hours-on-the-ground trip). You can cross glaciers, see geysers, swim in thermal lagoons, go dog-sledding, and scale waterfalls in Iceland. You can ride horses in Ireland and tour its entire southern coast. You have no idea how much you can accomplish in a weekend’s time.

On Friday night, you can either go to sleep in your bed and wake up at home or pass out on a Boeing 747 and wake up in another country. I choose the latter.

VV, I’ll Miss You Forever </3

As my precious time in Italy has ended, I wanted to compile a list of what I will and won’t miss about living in the most incredible country in the world…

What I’ll Miss:

  • SECURITY: I have not sensed one ounce of insecurity on anyone; men cross their legs and hug each other, women dress stylishly yet comfortably, and everyone seems to eat and drink what they want (though in much smaller portions!).
  • SELF-EXPRESSION: Similarly, Italians are edgy! They’re not afraid to express themselves and don’t seem to worry about being judged. They rock crazy hairstyles, outfits, etc. – I give them a lot of credit!
  • PERSONAL SPACE: There is no such thing as personal space in Italy. Not only do people stand extremely close to each other, but it is also socially acceptable to stare. If someone looks at you too long in the US, it’s seen as confrontational (or, at minimum, creepy). I don’t get “skeeved” easily and I’m a fan of strong eye contact, so I’ll honestly miss these!
  • CLASS: Italians and Europeans in general are open, yet classy. Neither sex nor nudity is shameful, and they’re typically presented very tastefully. Exception: male speedos on the beach.. nothing tasteful about them. 😐
  • AFFECTION: Whether you’re an acquaintance, close friend, family member, or lover, you will be greeted with affection in Italy. Even men are affectionate with each other!
  • RELAXING: Italians relax. All stores close for a few hours in the afternoon, as workers are entitled to a real I can’t tell you how many times I walked a mile to the grocery store just to find it closed! That aside, Italians get way more vacation time a year than we do. Actually, European law mandates that every country offer at least four weeks of paid vacation. Italians work hard, but they take time to rest, reflect, and regroup, as well.. usually in the most incredible spots.
    • Note: they even take a break at the movies. IMG_5980
  • PASSION: Italians are passionate in everything the do – in how they talk, how they love, how they fight, and how the feel in general. It’s so inspiring.
  • DRIVING: As I’ve written about before, Italians are psychotic on the road. I love it because I’m crazy, too (sorry Dad!), but most of my friends who visited hated it! They drive fast, tailgate hard, never use blinkers, and will pass you in risky situations – like, while scaling a mountain on the Amalfi coast with oncoming traffic quickly approaching risky. It’s absolutely thrilling B-)
  • CARE: Italians truly take care of each other: the sick, the elderly, the disabled.. and they respect each other. As far as I’ve seen, there’s no stigma on mental health in Italy like there is in the US – not even close!
  • SOCIALIZATION: Italians socialize and enjoy each other’s company, face-to-face and leisurely. They don’t take their coffee to go – they drink it at the bar. They seldom rush – even the trains take their time! They know there is more to life than working and running. The only time I’ve felt a sense of urgency in Italy was in the left lane on A13.
  • MARKETS: Italians shop at markets where you can find nearly anything you need. At least in the north, each town has its own market usually one morning per week. VV’s is on Monday and spans over several blocks, featuring clothes, food, accessories, décor, household appliances, and even smaller furniture.. and it’s all cheap! I will miss those markets like crazy.
    • IMG_7714
  • RECYCLING: It seems as though recycling is HUGE in most of Italy, or at least up north. There are separate bins for paper, plastic, glass, regular garbage, etc. EVERYWHERE. They are hardcore recyclers!
  • POSING: Has anyone ever noticed that Italians don’t smile in pictures? At least not with their teeth. After some inquiring, I learned the consensus is that people look like bunnies when they smile with their teeth. I’ve yet to master the Italian photo pose, but practicing it continues to crack me up.
  • FOOD: I think it goes without saying that I’ll miss the food in Italy, but not only because of how delicious it is. I’ve eaten more here than I ever have at home, but my body is probably in the best shape it’s ever been (even better than when I was in my prime at a youthful 19). All 20 regions of Italy are against the cultivation of GMOs; the country is fiercely concerned with the quality of its products, and it shows. I’m eating a ton, but eating well and healthy. It also helps that Italians walk/cycle everywhere, and elevators are few and far between. Endless stairs, my butt thanks you. :-*

What I Won’t Miss:

  • LAUNDRY: I will not miss doing laundry in Italy even a little bit. Washing machines have literally 30 different settings on average, and dryers don’t exist. My balcony is covered and gets a limited amount of sun exposure, plus I live in a valley between the Dolomites so there’s always rain and humidity. My clothes, therefore, take days to dry; once the ~3 hour wash cycle is complete, I hang them outside and pray for good weather.
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    • IMG_1129
  • BUGS: Italians don’t put screens on their windows, so there are no bug barriers. This country is a jungle. When I first moved into my apartment, there were flies and spiders everywhere and I even had a lizard roommate. I put so much pesticide in this studio that I should be dead. However, I do admire how carefree Italians are when it comes to bugs; everyone just coexists.. I’ll be having a conversation with my landlord on our balcony and be cringing as gnats are swarming and she won’t even flinch. What are we so worried about, anyway?! (JK bugs, I’m still scared so please don’t follow me home)
    • Roomie: IMG_8419
  • POST OFFICE: I’ve read horror stories about the Italian postal system, and they’re all f’ing true. First of all, as much as I’ve praised the Italians for not rushing, I’m all about tracking my packages online and impatiently awaiting their arrival. Tracking is unreliable and packages are not delivered if you aren’t home when carriers arrive. To pick them up, you have to go to the post office, pick a number (like when you’re at a deli), and wait to be called. Italians apparently take off work when they need to go to the post office because that’s how long the process takes. My first experience ended in being told I had to return the next day after waiting nearly two hours because my package was “special.” It was a book. 😐

Making Out With Mr. Reaper

Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, I have never been familiar with or a fan of strenuous outdoor activities. I love any body of water, am a certified SCUBA diver, and have my boating license, but before traveling abroad I’d never stepped foot on a mountain or spent any considerable amount of time exercising outside. I don’t even like exercising inside, let alone in the woods – give me sand, but keep the grass.

Here in Italy, however, “trekking” is huge. What exactly is trekking, though? I have always naively assumed it to be “hiking,” or walking briskly up a clearly defined, easily navigable trail to a viewpoint. Trekking attire, I’d imagined, consists of leggings, UnderArmour, and colorful sneakers. I often see Italians using sticks (?! canes maybe?! who knows), but figured perhaps those trekkers had equilibrium imbalances to begin with. I’m 26; I can trek without the stick.

This past week, I learned the hard way what this trekking actually entails. After reading the few articles I could find about getting to Lake Sorapiss in the Dolomites, I excitedly told my friend Chrissy to pack sneakers for an easy walk to a beautiful hidden gem. Specifically, I referred to this excerpt on Dolomiti.it:

From Passo Tre Croci, 1,45 hours; sign n. 215: from the Passo go downhill, towards Misurina. Enter the comfortable road on the right that after few ups and downs will lead to the Rifugio Vandelli, and from here to the lake.”

Perfetto, facciamo così! It said it’d take an hour and 45 minutes, but we’re two young, relatively in-shape girls – we’d for sure make it in just over an hour. Should I even put my hair up? It sounds like I won’t even sweat…?

At Passo Tre Croci, we parked our Fiat500 and prepped for our adventure: I tied my neon pink Nike Shox and threw my coat in the back seat (it was sunny!), while Chrissy zipped her leather jacket and put some euros in her Chanel. We didn’t drink, we didn’t stretch, and we certainly did not pack supplies or carry sticks. We were ready! 😀

Long story short, the trek was an f’ing nightmare. We scaled the Dolomite mountains, climbed iron ladders, clutched steel ropes, and kissed death on the lips. None of that compares to the most terrifying part of our journey, though: WE CROSSED AN F’ING GLACIER. A glacier. Un ghiacciaio. A large body of ice moving slowly down a slope or valley or spreading outward on a land surface, according to Merriam Webster.

At first, we had no idea what it was. How beautiful! We’ve stumbled across some large white structure.. Maybe stone? Granite? We’re in the Dolomites, isn’t there lots of granite? Once we approached this gorgeous mass and I was able to touch it, though, I realized it was a snowy, icy, slippery, freezing-cold glacier. How fun, we get to cross a glacier!!!

For those unfamiliar with glacier crossing techniques and equipment, this website serves as an incredibly helpful resource. Apparently, those sticks are useful, and my Shox are a joke when it comes to this kind of terrain. Glacier walks are extremely dangerous and require not only advanced equipment, but a certain degree of experience or, at minimum, an accompanying guide. Nevermind the initial peck on the lips – death’s tongue was down our throats.

Three hours and two panic attacks later, we arrived at Lake Sorapiss, one of the most stunning natural phenomena I have ever seen IRL. We were able to have a quick coffee at Rifugio Vandelli before hurriedly beginning our trek back to Passo Tre Croci to beat the sunset. I will refrain from describing our return trip over il ghiacciaio, as I’m truthfully not ready to revisit it. Let’s just say that if it’s soon announced that either of us is knocked up, we know who the father is: Mr. Grim Reaper himself.

All of that being said, Sorapiss is totally worth it.. as long as you are not a member of my family or a friend who’d like me to join you. In any other case, go for it! Just please, for the love of God our Savior, bring a stick.