One Month in Europe: Part 4, Florence

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Our first stop in Italy was Florence. We only had two days built into our itinerary so we wanted to make the most of our time. Since we were sort of winging the middle part of our trip, we booked a very last minute Airbnb and it worked out perfectly. We were close to the Statue of David at the Accademia Gallery and about a 10 minutes walk into central Florence. 

I'd visited Italy about ten years ago, but only traveled to Rome and Venice. I'd heard so many mixed reviews about Florence vs. Rome, so I thought it was time to see for myself. Florence to me is smaller, cleaner and has more of a boutique feel to it than larger and grittier Rome. They are just different, both extraordinary in their own regard. 

We made a point to see the statue of David, and eventually caved and bought the group tour tickets while waiting in line. The line was a 3 hour wait, and we just didn't have time for that, not with only 2 days on the itinerary. If you have luxury of planning ahead, I'd look into the best times to jump in line for David, or purchase a ticket ahead. One of the most memorable experiences of our trip, I was blown away by the scale of this marble work of art. And the fact that Michelangelo was only 27 years old when David was created. 27?! I was watching Netflix and going to bars. Ugh. And the fact that I'd read about him in Art History but seeing the statue in person was truly the only education I ever needed.

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The other majesty of Florence is the Duomo. It truly took my breath away. It's one of those landmarks you have to experience in person - the magnitude of it all can't be captured in a photograph. We didn't go inside, buy tourist tickets, or climb to the top. We simply admired it's greatness as we passed by, snapping a few pics along the way.

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I also highly recommend strolling through the Boboli gardens. I think Chris and I walked 30k steps this day. The grounds are massive and absolutely beautiful, statues and treasures at every turn. We hiked to the very top where we found a garden maze and extraordinary views of Tuscany. 

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Our food game wasn't really strong in Florence, we popped into random places - some good, some bad. Gusta Trippa was a very authentic joint that served lampredotto, which is a popular Florence meat (the cooked stomach of a cow). I was grossed out, my husband loved it. 

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Right before we left, I was adamant about visiting a different sandwich shop that was listed #1 on Tripadvisor. It was 9 am, I didn't want a sandwich, neither did my husband - but I insisted. I HAD to try the #1 sandwich place before we left! This is where things get really sad. I barely understood the sandwich maker, ordered something terribly disgusting, and sat outside with my poor victimized husband who didn't want a sandwich, forcing him to bite into this undesirable sandwich. That was when I had to really take a good look in the mirror and tell myself to get over FOMO if it's not meant to be.

When I was in Europe in 2006, there was no Tripadvisor. There were no stickers with star ratings in windows. It was perfectly mysterious, adventurous, and story book like. Your expectations weren't let down if the food wasn't great because the place "had 5 stars." You weren't relentlessly chasing hype and other people's opinions. You were just there, enjoying the city in the most authentic way. Those were simpler times, times that I miss because they were so untouched and real. Europe is still magical, but back then it was truly a damn unicorn. 

While we wanted to visit the Uffizi Gallery, there wasn't time, and we were exhausted form cramming in as much as possible – but it's definitely another place to check out while in Florence. Onward to Rome!

One Month in Europe: Part 3, French Riviera

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After our very low key wine tasting in Beaune, we made our way to Nice to explore the French Riviera and get some relaxing beach time. For this stay we used HomeAway and found an adorable place that was just outside the main downtown area. Upon our arrival it was high seventies and sunny, so we made sure to soak it all in and explore as much as we could. After doing some light research on the fly (we didn't plan much ahead for this part of the trip), we decided to hike to the top of Castle Hill to take in the views. Really beautiful scenery and a great day to just stroll. 

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We were also very humbled to walk down the Promenade des Anglais and take in the memorial from loved ones mourning the loss of family and friends from the truck attack in 2016. The Promenade is a beautiful pathway that's right along Nice's waterfront, great for people watching and just taking in the scenery. 

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We climbed down a ladder to the beach and laid out on the rocks (which really weren't that comfortable, but when in Nice!) and Chris spotted a bottle floating in the middle of the water (the Baie des Anges), slowly making it's way to shore. We couldn't help but chase after it and to our utter joy it was a message in a bottle! We immediately opened it up only to find a message written in french that neither of us understood. Either way a very cool experience. I mean who finds a message in a bottle, this is movie stuff guys.

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One of my favorite parts of Nice is Old Town, an area with loads of charm, colorful facades and adorable shops. It felt truly European and an easy way to spend the day popping into shops and getting (lots of) gelato along the way. 

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Before I move on to a few day trips we took, I must mention one of my favorite little cafes in all of our travels throughout Europe: Le Bistroy. Such delicious french toast with lime zest and scrambled eggs! A must try if you are in Nice, seriously. We went twice.

After spending a few days in Nice we decided to venture out to Eze, a mountaintop village, for a day trip. I'd heard amazing things and all of them proved to be true. Charming, ecclectic, artful, lush - an absolute love! I wish we'd had more time here.

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Since we had limited time, we started to traverse to the Jardin Exotique d’Èze , the main reason I wanted to visit Eze. a garden at the top of the mountain that overlooks the entire village. The journey to the top was filled with narrow pathways, adorable shops, and charming nooks everywhere we looked.

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As we reached the top, we walked through a fantastic restaurant, the deli, which was small, cozy and everything you'd want to enjoy after a short hike up a mountain. We had to bypass it to begin with in order to make it to the garden, only to find out the garden closed at 4pm. It was 4:01pm when we arrived, and the rules were strict. We weren't getting in. Dreams. Crushed. All I have is this desperate photo looking through the gates to what would've been a glorious experience.

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However, let's talk about the good news. We got to spend the rest of the day sipping wine at the Deli, hanging out with the owner (who is an amazing human being) and eating delicious sandwiches. We were also graced with the presence of two early twenty-something back packers of whom we bestowed our thirty-something wisdom upon. It's one of my favorite memories of our entire trip, the simple experience of spending the day in this little oasis on top of a mountain in Eze, wine in hand, good conversations, and complete peace. We walked away with a few bottles of their olive oil, which we still have till this day. 

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The mountainous paths of Eze are filled with garden statues and a quiet serenity that evokes reflection. Nietzsche Path is another popular attraction that many venture on, if we only had the time!

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We also made it to Monaco for a day, but the weather was miserable and we didn't really plan much. I just remember a ton of yachts and checking out Prince's Palace. Nothing overly memorable, but I'm sure with some planning and better weather it's a lovely place to spend your time. 

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We loved the French Riviera but after 4 full days we were ready to head to our next country, Italy! In my next posts I'll explore our time in Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi coast. Thanks for reading!

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One Month in Europe: Part 2, Beaune

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From Paris, we made our way to Beaune, about a 2 hour train ride from Paris. We wanted to explore the Burgundy wine region and get a different taste of France that was a bit more out of the city, and this was the perfect place to do it. 

One of my favorite parts of Beaune was the Bourgogne Evasion half day bike tour we did through the region. We were lucky to get last minute tickets the day before.

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We were given lots of wine and lots of knowledge. On our final stop during the tour, we walked through a winery in the Pommard region and got an in depth education on how the winery works from a French winemaker at Domaine Lejeune. Chris said he saw other wives in the group snap chatting photos of this man with heart emojis + "Sexy French Winemaker". How childish! And no I did not send pictures of him to my friends. At all...

Before we left, Chris (to the jealously of the other men around us) asked if they had any vintage wines in the cellar to purchase. They did, and we were fortunate enough to take it back to our Airbnb with us. (Also, just an FYI, riding a bike somewhat tipsy is fun but also semi-dangerous). We stopped at a local store, bought some paté, bread and meat and paired it with our wine. One of the best meals!

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Our Airbnb was on a really beautiful street, and the most adorable man lived across from us. He would pop out now and again to smoke a cigar, and I couldn't help but think he was the cutest. Had to grab a capture of him.

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The streets and surroundings of Beaune were very white and rustic, filled with locals and very quaint moments to take in, like this dear lady trimming flowers outside of her home.

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Another area we explored in Beaune was the Hospices de Beaune. When in Paris, our bartender recommended it to us, so we thought we'd give it a shot. The gothic architecture was stunning, intricate and unique. However, I wish I loved the tour more. To be be honest, going through sort of brought me down. We looked at old hospital beds, an old kitchen with medicine jars, and then I sort of wiped it from my memory. However, if you do more research on it, there are a number of interesting stories to be told if it suits your fancy. I just wasn't there.

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That's it for Beaune! It was a quick stay and a great taste of France from a different perspective. Our next stop: The French Riviera.

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One Month in Europe: Part 1, Paris

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Chris and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend one month in Europe for our honeymoon back in September-October of 2017. We both work corporate 9-5 jobs, so it took a bit of strategizing to be able to get away with it, which I will cover in a separate post. 

Instead of a relaxing beach vacation, we were more interested in exploring as much of Europe as possible without making it seem like too much work. Our itinerary went like this: Paris, Beaune, French Riviera (Nice, Eze, Monaco), Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Athens, Santorini. Did we map out our entire itinerary? We did not. The trip was planned in the beginning and the end - leaving the middle with a little improv work to do (which, in hindsight, I would not do again). We flew Icelandair and due to some intel and smart seat selecting through seatguru, we sat first class but only paid for business class. More on that trick later.

Our first stop was Paris on September 26, which ended up lasting a bit longer than we had planned because we were enjoying it so much. I'd been to Paris in the past, but it was a vague memory and I was so young that the things I enjoyed then are much different than the things I like to do now. We stayed in a few different places while we were there, the first being Hotel Providence located in the Marais district and later on an Airbnb close by. It was a great central location and aside from the room being itty bitty, the hotel was beautifully designed and we had a blast with the bartender, who we lovingly called George Pooney. Well, we told him he looked like George Clooney, he called himself George Pooney (the George Clooney of Paris? It's blurry), and we all laughed. Cocktails are fun.

During our time in Paris we did a quick trip to the Louvre because Chris had never been. This photo of Mona Lisa is one of my most interesting captures from Paris. The reflection of everyone holding up their iPhones in the painting is such an oxymoron it's almost painful to look at. My experiences in Europe in 2006 vs. 2017 were so vastly different due to social media and technology in general. It's painstaking in a lot of ways because the sacredness that I held so dear felt a bit lost on me in 2017. 

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We also strolled through Luxembourg gardens on a beautiful afternoon and took the time to relax from traveling. We quickly grabbed a ham and cheese baguette from a street vendor and sat in the park. Truth be told I've always wanted to eat a ham and cheese sandwich in Luxembourg gardens and live the afternoon Parisian life. I have a vivid memory of this day, sitting in the park behind an older lady and her friend. The way the light hit her and the way they were talking was one of the most peaceful things I've ever witnessed. It was simple and beautiful and made me fall in love with Paris.

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Chris had never seen the Eiffel Tower, so we put our tourist pants on and made our way over. While I wasn't that into climbing to the top, Chris being the explorer that he is had a different idea in mind. So we got to it. Me, a little apprehensive. Chris, very eager.

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One of our favorite places for dinner was L'Avant Comptoir, which is a tiny tapas place with recipe cards hanging from the ceiling. We bellied up to the bar and ordered as much as possible (we couldn't help it, everything was SO good). All you have to do is point to a card hanging from the ceiling and voila! It appears before you. Chris particularly loved the foie gras burger. In fact, we came back a second time to eat it again. That's 4 foie gras burgers in 24 hours, nbd. The environment was fun, easy and casual - highly recommend when in Paris.

We also traveled to see Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, which is North of central Paris. Every single thing about this area is charming. Everywhere I looked someone was playing an accordian, people were falling in love, birds were chirping. The area of Montmartre is filled with little shops and cobblestone streets that feels like a nice escape from central Paris. in fact, I purchased one of my favorite souvenirs from a boutique store - an enormous, gorgeous scarf that was difficult to fit in my suitcase but well worth the hassle. Another store I really loved in that area was Lekker, another concept store with some pretty unique items.

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Just north of Montmartre, we decided to visit Marché Aux Puces - a flea market to die for. This market stands out in my memory of one of my favorite things in all our travels and also one of my biggest regrets. Chris and I found a blanket there that we adored, but knew it would be impossible to travel around with (especially since it was white). In hindsight I wish I would have purchased it and shipped it back to the US! Ah well, can't have everything.

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Another spot we really loved was Merci, a concept store connected to a coffee shop close to our Airbnb. People watching was exceptionally interesting because we happened to be in Paris during fashion week and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the coffee shop guests were famous fashion week artists, models, or designers judging by their style. The store itself has some very cool apparel that we had fun looking at and not buying. 

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A few other interesting tid bits about our travels to Paris: really loved Berthillon ice cream, Pierre Hermé Macarons (seriously, wow) and we experienced real-deal hookers very close to our Airbnb - they were out of the movies hookers, guys. It was actually jaw dropping to see, I didn't know they made them like that in real life. We spied them on our way to get pizza close by our airbnb, at a place called Rossi's pizza. They were on that street, whatever street that is, workin' in. And I'll leave you with that.

That's Paris! We absolutely loved it and definitely extended our time there by 2 days (that's the beauty of having an open schedule). Our next destination was Beaune, wine country in France.

Have you been to Paris? Tell me me about your experience in the comments below!

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4 Days in Palm Springs

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Hello all! It's been a while since I've captured one of our journeys, so I thought I'd report back on our trip to Palm Springs back in February 2018. Living in Chicago is particularly challenging in December, January, and February - so a short escape to warmer climates was in order. Since architecture and design is our jam, we thought we'd go to Palm Springs during Modernism Week to take advantage of some home tours. It also happened to land on Valentines day, so it was a perfect time for a break.

We stayed at the Ace Hotel which was a great place to chill out at the pool and eat really delicious brunches at King's Highway. Also, just something we noticed - the line chefs at King's highway are really something. We sat at the counter during rush time and have to say they are one hell of a team.

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We lucked out and were in the midst of perfect temperature - between 72 and 77 degrees the entire time we were there. It definitely cooled down at night and I had to wear a jacket, but the sun was strong during the day so no complaints from me. On our second day, we decided to do an early hike. One of our Uber driver's recommended Tahquitz Canyon - which was about an hour long and to be honest, almost a little too short and easy. It was near the downtown area, so simple to get to as well. Later on, another Uber driver told us that was a good hike for families with young kids, so we definitely didn't really challenge ourselves. Needless to say it was really nice just to get out in the early sun and get some fresh air in the early morning. The other hike mentioned to us during our stay was Indian Canyons. In hindsight, that probably would have been a better fit for us.

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Prior to arriving, I purchased three tickets for Modernism Week: Two home tours (Moroccan Modern House and Steel & Glass) as well as a bike door tour. We didn't want to overdo it, but definitely wanted to check out some of the mid-century modern architecture. The Moroccan Modern House was first and possibly my favorite of the three. Bright Textures, interesting patterns, and thoughtful design encapsulated this beauty.

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We also visited Steel and Glass, and while it was cool to see, we were definitely a bit underwhelmed. It lacked the character and wow factor of the Moroccan Modern House. Our last tour of the trip was the Palm Springs Bike tour, which was another really fun tour filled with my obsession, DOORS! (Check out my Instagram account for proof, @adorabledoorways). We were given a map of some of the best front doors in the Palm Springs area and sped off on our bikes to see them. 

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During our stay we also checked out Counter Reformation for tapas and wine at The Parker Hotel. This hotel is a must visit when you are in Palm Springs, as the design and grounds are breathtaking. They have 3 different restaurants - Norma's for brunch, Mister Parker's for dinner, and Counter Reformation for small plates and wine. While I loved Counter Reformation, it was pretty small so get there early to secure a seat. We also went at night which was fun, but I do wish I was able to see the hotel and the lush pathways during the light of day! 

Four Saints at the top of the Kimpton hotel in downtown Palm Springs was also fantastic, Farm for brunch was charming as well as El Jefe for a casual taco night. I had The Pantry on my list for brunch (at a new boutique hotel, Holiday House) but we weren't able to squeeze it in. 

Overall absolutely loved Palm Springs and would recommend it to anyone for a low-key, sun drenched weekend.

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