Buda Buda Buda rockin everywhere

Andy here again (could probably tell by the title of this blog, but just in case). Sam’s would have been something like “We Go Together like Buda and Pest”. Well, Sam, you may be the Buda to my Pest, but we’re throwin’ it back to 2006 Bubba Sparxx with this title.tgVbZYzEROmfeoIT8AFxPw

Budapest had long been on my bucket list, and I told Sam at the beginning of this trip that this city was an absolute non-negotiable for me. I had heard so many amazing things from so many people about Budapest, that I absolutely did not want to miss it. Sam agreed – and I’m so glad she did but it lived up to all the hype.

One of the great things about Budapest is there’s stuff to see, but not so much where you feel like you have to spend every waking hour sightseeing. Instead, you can see what you want while taking plenty of time to eat and drink your way through the city.

And what a city it is for eating and drinking.

We stayed in Pest, which seems to be wear most visitors stay, and it was great. We loved our Air BnB. We had an incredible host who gave us plenty of suggestions and also decorated her apartment in the perfect blend of funk and rock n’ roll.

If (when?) we go back, we’ll make a point to stay across the river in Buda, because we fell in love with that side of the city, too.shWK4gcQTGae+QPTkG0Ejw

I keep saying that I’d love to go back to Budapest on a boy’s trip (no disrespect to Sam), because the plethora of inexpensive bars make it a great place for bar hopping.

So let’s dive into my love affair. We’ll start with the list of “things to see”, so we can make sure we get that part covered for you.

Hands down our favorite site/view point in Budapest was Fisherman’s Bastion. We walked up right around sunset and found some amazing architecture, but even more jaw-dropping than that was the view it provided. Fisherman’s Bastion is located in Buda and gives you a panoramic view of Pest, including the beautiful Parliament building. We could have stayed up here for hours, and it actually made us wish we stayed in Buda, instead of Pest.

After checking out the view, we went over and ate at a cozy little restaurant with a great outdoor area called Pest-Buda bistro. We ate some Toros Csusza (think: Kugel) and paprika chicken (famous in these parts) and both were delicious.

There’s also a sweet looking Hilton hotel right up in that area which gives you the panoramic views as well. So if you have the budget, we’d definitely recommend looking there for a night or two, because the views and location were incredible.IMG_8912

We also checked out the Chain Bridge, another classic spectacle that connects Buda to Pest. It looks really cool at night, so we’d recommend checking it out after the sun goes down.

If you’re looking for more views, ride the funicular up to Buda Castle where you can walk around the old castle grounds and take in more sweeping views of the city. There’s also a little restaurant up there so you can grab a bite to eat or a drink if you’re so inclined.

I already mentioned the views of the Parliament building, but definitely take the time to go see it up close. It’s an incredible work for architecture with people bustling outside of it snapping photos and enjoying the grounds. I’m pretty sure you could also go inside if you wanted to be, but we chose to enjoy the building from the outside.

One of the more powerful sites in Budapest are the Shoes on the Danube Bank. The 60 true-to-life pairs of iron shoes are a chilling tribute to the 20,000 Jews who were forced to remove their footwear and then executed on the bank of the Danube. Cast-iron signs along the memorial state in English, Hebrew, and Hungarian, “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.” If you’re visiting Budapest, we urge you to visit this memorial, reflect, and pay respects to those lost in this horrific time in history.gfXBWxVVQma9GoYgGSQ

On a brighter note…bars, restaurants, and cafes!

As always, we checked off a bunch of rooftops that Sam had researched.

We checked out 360 rooftop, Highnote Sky Bar, and Intermezzo. 360 and Highnote were far and away our favorites.

360 rooftop is appropriately named for its 360 views of Budapest. If you go up here at sunset, you surely won’t be disappointed. The cocktail list is solid, and as everywhere else in Budapest… affordable.

Highnote had an indoor and outdoor portion, which provides nice options depending on the weather you get. While not offering the same sweeping views that 360 does, it offers great views of the city and particular buildings. It provides a great experience and you get to see some of the great architecture up high and personal (see what I did there?)

CV91My8UTVeCp4k9Fn11fgThe first place we went to grab some food was called TolTo. It’s a tiny little place off one of the main streets that serves up incredible sausages. Sam doesn’t even like sausages, but she liked hers. They come served on buns with different options including sauces, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and more. Ding!

Our favorite breakfast spot was Szimply, conveniently right across the street from a favorite coffee shop Kontak. The move is to get your coffee at Kontak and bring it across the way to Szimply – it makes for a great combo.

Kontak was a little intimidating because it’s definitely one of these hoity toity coffee shops that looks down on you if you ruin your coffee with milk and sugar. But, once you get over that, you quickly realize these guys know what they’re doing and serve up a great cup.ykpw2JBYSUawwm+uzS5CAg

Put your name in at Szimply first, because there is going to be a wait. So, we put our name in, sat with our coffee until they called us, and then brought our cups over to enjoy some delicious avocado toast. They have other items on the menu, and all looked good, but we were quickly sold on the avo toast (basic!) that did not disappoint.

By far one of my favorite bars that I went to on the entire trip around the sun was Szimpla Kert. It’s the oldest Ruin Pub in Budapest and I wish I was sitting there right now writing this article. Beers are dirt cheap and the decor is an eclectic arrangement of tables, chairs, signs, fans, misters, and anything else that were thrown together to create this magical aesthetic. If I could go back, and one day I will, I will spend an entire day jumping from ruin bar to ruin bar. Sam knew she was in trouble as soon as we walked in because she could tell I was in love. But the good news is, she was too.o%0Xk169SS+pOgObQqA7aA

Another famous hot spot in Budapest is of course, the Szechenyi Thermal baths. These baths were definitely impressive, there were 18 different baths to choose from, talk about options! Before I make this next comment I want to paint a quick picture for you. We were in Europe in the high season. That means there are SO many people everywhere, all the time. So with the thermal baths being the #1 thing to do in Budapest- of course there were going to be tons of people, rocking their speedos. It was HOT and humid outside when were in Budapest. I’m talking 88 degrees and sticky kinda hot. So to go in the baths that were about 100 degrees wasn’t exactly the most refreshing feeling in the world. We both agreed that we MUST come back to Budapest in the winter to experience these baths again. We think it’ll be a magical experience, a bit different than the one we had. Nonetheless, these baths are highly recommended to check out and approved by the Bests!

It’s hard to pick a favorite place from this amazing journey. But Budapest has to be somewhere near the top. At the very least, it’s certainly one of the places I would go back to over and over again.IMG_8306

 

Entering Pierogi-land, also known as, Poland

Whenever I tell people we decided to spend almost 2 weeks traveling through the country of Poland I can immediately see the persons head start to tilt a little bit to the side before blurting out “hmmmph, Poland huh? Why’d you guys decide to go there?”IMG_5270

Let’s be real- Poland doesn’t have the romantic charm that Paris radiates or the breathtaking island vibes that Greece is known for right? Right.

In most of our heads when we think of Poland we think of terribly sad, dark and horrific times of the Holocaust. So why on earth would we choose a destination that triggers these harrowing times? Well, we chose this country for a few reasons;

1) Because it’s a country that’s not on everyone’s “must travel to” list, making it extremely affordable and less touristy

2) I have Polish heritage and my late grandfather was very proud to have this ancestry so I’ve always wanted to learn more about it

3) To learn more about the Jewish history

IMG_5221Looking back on our 9 months of travel, it probably rained 18 days total and about 14 of those days were all in Poland. But honestly, we kind of really enjoyed having the shitty weather. The nice thing about traveling full time is that when it rains it’s not like it’s ruining one of your precious vacation days that you took time off of work for, every day was our “vacation day” so we never even gave the weather much thought.

We decided to start up north in a town called Gdansk (pronounced guh-dansk). We were looking for a smaller type of city that would throw us right into the thick of the Polish culture. Can you guess what our first agenda item was?Q+i9eIlsQpywPNQeSqo7Qg-2

Pierogies. Find tasty pierogies. Over the next few weeks we ate SO many of those heavenly dumplings. From blueberry to potato & onion to spinach & cheese, these babies were stuffed with the perfect amount of filling that by the 11th pierogi later you cleaned your plate. Just to give you perspective, every time you order pierogies they come with 11. We ordered at least one plate of pierogies at lunch and dinner so that’s about 22 pierogies a day. We tried not to be wasteful so similar to Italy, we were loosening up our pants as we worked our way through Poland.

Okay so back to Gdansk.

We popped in to Pierogarnia Mandu for some lunch and it was great, highly recommend it. The atmosphere was intimate and adorable all wrapped into one.

Next, we explored the Old Town which was filled with shops, restaurants and bursting with charisma. If you find yourself in Gdansk, take Piwna street and walk towards St. Mary’s Basilica. Our favorite street though is behind St. Mary’s called Mariacka. It’s lined with local vendors that set up tables with their amber jewelry & goods.

26dmOXL+T0O3ZQ86VhlESABaltic amber is big business in Gdansk. It comes from the region and has been sourced there for thousands of years so make sure to bring some home with you for a little treasure from Poland.

A few streets past Mariacka you’ll run into Dlugi Targ. It’s a huge, historic square filled with colorful houses, violinists and restaurants with terraces lined with heaters since it was still kind of chilly in June.

So our next stop was Warsaw which was about a 4 hour train ride south of Gdansk.

We normally love traveling by train while in Europe. It’s usually comfortable, easy and timely. Unfortunately, the train system in Poland needs quite a bit of work because we were not comfortable, it wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t on time. We booked our seats ahead of time and wound up in a 8 person compartment that felt as though it should be only fit for 4. All of the luggage was piled up above our heads on a not-so sturdy rack. Elbow to elbow and knee to knee we started our adventure to Poland’s largest city.

I’ve wanted to visit Warsaw since reading the Zookeeper’s Wife in the last couple of years. The true story was based in the Warsaw Zoo where the zookeeper’s family secretly housed hundreds of Jews over the years during the Holocaust. It was so surreal to see it in person.IMG_5504

We started our visit off in Warsaw with a free walking tour of the Old Town, where we decided to stay. Similar to Gdansk, the Old Town of Warsaw was beautiful, but about 85% of the buildings were destroyed during WWII so they were rebuilt to resemble the original structures. The city of Warsaw has a very tumultuous history, but today you can tell the people of Warsaw are very proud of where they come from regardless of their sad past. Another fact we learned was that today, 97% of Poland is Roman Catholic and our tour guide said it’s one of the least diverse countries in the world. A little over 90% of Polish Jews were murdered during WWII. 90%. So terribly sad.

After the walking tour we decided to try and get happy again by stuffing our faces with pierogies and grabbing some famous hot chocolate at E. Wedel’s. Mission accomplished.

A few days later we started our next train journey to Krakow.1+yLiJ7zQ3CKHJOmM+rPSw-2

We absolutely fell in love with the neighborhood, our Airbnb and Krakow pretty immediately. The World Cup finals were happening on the day of our arrival so step 1 was to find a bar that was showing the game.

We found a hole in the wall spot that had a dungeon like basement with a huge projector to stream the game. We became best friends with the 2 guys sitting next to us who were from Ukraine. They didn’t speak a lick of English and I tried to humor them with the 6 Ukranian words that I knew but that didn’t get us very far. Instead we spent the night using Google Translate, thank God for that app.IMG_5637

Now we have friends from Ukraine called Petrov and Andriy who Whatsapp me frequently asking if I have single girlfriends for them. Sometimes I send them pictures of my friends Jackie and Akers. Maybe I’ll be attending a Ukrainian wedding in my future after all! #InternationalMatchmaker

Transitioning now to a somber time in our trip to Poland.

We visited Auschwitz which was by far the most moving and impactful experiences we had on our trip and arguably on any trip we’ve ever been on. During my travels I started reading a ton of historical fiction books and a lot of them centered around WWII.

Nothing you will ever read will prepare you for actually stepping foot on these grounds. It was eerie, bone-chillingly sad and just downright utterly heartbreaking. The fact that humans carried out such heinous acts of torture to other humans AND that it was only 73 years ago is absolutely mind blowing. We paid our respects to the lives lost in that awful camp as well as Auschwitz II-Birkenau. If you are in Krakow and need help planning a visit, feel free to reach out.IMG_5710

When we arrived back in Krakow we just wanted to be cozy and watch something happy on our laptops. I opted for Love Actually. Because Love Actually in the month of June, that’s just, happy.

The next day we went to Pryzystanek Pierogarnia for some cheeseburgers.

Kidding.

Just making sure you’re paying attention- I know this is a long post, we just saw so much and want to share it all with you. 

So we went to that restaurant that I have no idea how to try and pronounce for some early lunch pierogies. Andy had a real insert your foot in mouth comment about 10 minutes in. We were sitting next to this couple, the woman was from NY and her husband was from Poland. The husband asks us what we thought of Poland so far and Andy responds with “we were thinking it was just going to be gloomy and sad but overall it’s been great”. The guy just awkwardly looked at Andy- I mean he did kind of insult this country. I died a little bit inside but we burst into laughter about it as soon as the couple left, which was approximately 2.5 minutes later. #NoNewFriends

IMG_5731Our last stop on the Polish adventure was Zakopane. It’s basically the Aspen of Poland. Very rich, quaint, mountain town on the border of Slovakia. This place just screamed COZY. We had terrible weather but didn’t let that stop us and found every warm bar and restaurant this place had to offer. There was one 5 minute walk from our cabin-hotel and we ordered almost everything on the menu. Borscht, pierogies, kielbasa, homemade hot chocolate, packzi, you name it.

Looking back at all of the countries we went to, Poland was definitely one of our most underrated destinations that crept its way to the top of our list. It was such a moving place to be and I can’t recommend it enough.

Also, in case you’re wondering, I go through waves of withdrawals of pierogies, including right now. I had to get up in the middle of the blog post and go boil some pierogies. Yes, I have a bag of pierogies in my freezer…for times like this.

Side note: I’m also wondering how many times I wrote the word pierogi in this post and it came to a total of 12.

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Some polish food you MUST try:

Pierogi Ruskie (pierogi, duh)

Wściekły Pie (sweet syrup vodka and Tabasco)

Barszcz (red beet soup)

Kiełbasa (Polish sausage)

Bigos (cabbage and meat stew..)

Gołąbki (cabbage stuffed with rice and pork/beef)

Kotlet Schabowy (like schnitzel)

Placki Ziemniaczane (potato pancakes)

Zapiekanki (toasted baguette with cheese/mushrooms/toppings)

Pączki (Polish donuts)

Beer, Waffles & Chocolate…oh my! A glimpse into our week in Belgium.

Back by popular demand because Sam asked me to help out with another blog.

We checked out Belgium for about a week – splitting our time between Brussels and Bruges.%pNH6+UgTuufx5iQ0ZvPMA

I went to Brussels when I backpacked through Europe with my college roommate Jared and it was one of my favorite places.  (Speaking of… Jared, do you even read these? Probably not…Some friend you are. Unless you do, of course, then thanks for the support man, love you!)

So needless to say, I was excited to go back and show Sam why I loved it so much.

We stayed in an Airbnb right near the Grand Place, so we had a great location to take on the city by foot.

There were really only a few things on our agenda for Belgium as a whole… and those were beer, waffles and chocolate.

And boy were we successful.

Our first waffle experience came at the hands of Maison Dandoy and they were outstanding. They were about twice the price of any of the other waffles you can get in Brussels, so I’m telling myself they were also twice as good. You can get a few toppings of your choice (note: maple syrup is not one of them) and they’re traditionally thought of as “street food”. We opted for chocolate sauce, strawberries, and powdered sugared… ‘cause duh.Rud+vhS1TEywaeJ78I4CLQ

After our waffle appetizer, we ventured to Delirium Cafe thats famous for having over 2,000 beers on tap. Yes, you heard it right, 2,000. We snagged a spot outside in the alley happily sipping our Delirium Tremens and watching the very interesting clientele that this bar attracted.

Next on our non-existent agenda was to find some dinner. We settled into a French restaurant called Chez Jacques right before the kitchen closed to take down some mussels.

After dinner, we hunted for some Belgian fries to top off our day.

FUN FACT: French fries actually originated in Belgium. After WWI, US soldiers were in Belgium and experienced these fries for the first time. As it turns out, people in this part of Belgium happened to speak French. And in true American Ignorance, they were dubbed “French Fries” (kinda makes the whole “freedom fry” campaign sound even dumber, huh?).

AmOHLNBHRmuAgjEERPYm1QNow, I could go on and on about how many fries and waffles we ate, but I’ll spare you all the details because the bottom line is they’re all delicious. Instead, here is a list of some of our other favorite spots in Brussels:

1. View of the Grand Palace from Mont des Arts

2. Hanging out at the Grand Place- it’s a huge square surrounded by opulent buildings that make it feel very regal.

3. Wandering through Brussels Park

Also on our agenda in Brussels was to visit the must-see yet rather underwhelming “Mannekin Pis”. It’s a statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain. And that’s all I have to say about that.

On that same day, Beligum was playing in the World Cup. And the scene was incredible. The bar scene in Brussels is always cool, as people file inside and outside of bars and restaurants – creating a fun buzz throughout the city.zX%oCaEHSDaeOSq3WZwDkg

But with the World Cup, it was especially cool. I sat at bar waiting for Sam and there were flags flying, drummers drumming, and crowds chanting. Every miss, slide tackle, or goal the crowd went wild. If you ever have a chance to visit Europe during the World Cup – go. Even the most passionate Pats fan can’t rival Europeans and their futbol.Xz2pguutReaWzJYd41bqRw-2

I’d say one of the reasons why I like Brussels so much is because it’s one of those cities where it’s not bursting with tons of tourists since there aren’t many iconic sites to see. Instead it has a very livable feel. I could totally live here. Sam, thoughts?

So, I’m not sure Brussels earned it’s spot into one of Sam’s favorite cities like it has mine – but our next stop sure did. Onto Bruges!

Bruges.

Bruges actually looks like a fairy tail come to life. All the buildings are colorful and have the triangle rooftops that make them all look like real life gingerbread houses.

There are rivers and canals and bridges that put Venice to shame.

And of course, there is more beer, waffles and chocolate.

%DwZhMfGRISuz16yMqkmnw-2.jpgOne of my favorite meals of the entire trip occurred in Bruges – and it didn’t have anything to do with Belgian delicacies. We went to this tiny 5 table restaurant that looked like it could be somebody’s home called Cafe t’Stokershuis. The owner spoke to us in Flemish (similar to Dutch), which we understood not one word. We were told to order the homemade lasagna, and so we did.

And it was bomb. You could tell it was homemade because it actually took like 45 minutes to make – but it was worth every minute. SO GOOD.

Hi, it’s Sam. Andy requested that I finish the blog since I LOVED Bruges so much, so here I am.

Quick side story. Andy and I played a little game before we got to Europe in May and each picked 3 cities that we thought would end up being our favorite. Bruges was on my top 3 list and now that we’re done traveling full time, I can reveal that it is still at the top for me.

It was better than I even imagined it to be.UFU%kTSWTeizA5qV2YhREA

Cobblestone streets, canals zig zagging through them, quaint neighborhoods with the best parks tucked away within them. Our Airbnb was a loft that was at the top of an old “gingerbread style” home. It had a great view of the park and we were lucky enough to have the best seat in the house for 2 live concerts. There was one local Belgian artist, bless her heart, but she had the worst voice we have ever heard. She went on stage at about 10PM and finished her last song at 12AM. If only our cute loft had soundproof windows. ORIYzxBhQxGQ+MmuQSfHww

We spent our days in Bruges gallivanting around, in and out of shops, sampling different foods and lounging in the gorgeous parks. I’m pretty sure Bruges was the destination where we both realized we preferred small cities in Europe. Not hating on the big cities like Paris, Rome, London, etc but damn, those small cities have a magical charm that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Question. Did you know that Godiva is headquartered in Belgium and the chocolate is manufactured there? I had no idea. Because there are Godiva’s located in malls across America I’ve always associated the brand with food courts. Little did I know that this brand is highly coveted in Europe and we were indulging in some of the best chocolate in the world, with a side of strawberries of course.SRl5gg5zTzujqXaAtutjEw

If you find yourself in Belgium, make sure to stop in Bruges for a few days. That little kid inside you, no matter how old you are, will feel like you’re stepping into a land filled with princes & princesses, and you will thank me. I’m sure of it.

I can confidently say it was in Bruges where we realized that fairytale lands really do exist.

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Italy, you were worth the extra LBs.

When we were mapping out our travels we planned to only hit new countries and cities that we haven’t been to together.

But then we spent 6 weeks in Asia, eating fried noodles & rice everyday.

Picture this: we’re in Vietnam, sweating about 95% of the day, eating Pho in the muggy heat, changing our clothes approximately every 4 hours. The majority of our conversations started to be about what food we’d die to eat, how we can’t wait to move to Chicago and be cold, and where we should go in Europe from May through September.

What food were we dying to have, you ask? Mostly pasta, duh. For anyone that knows me they know that my weakness is pasta. All kinds really. Penne a la vodka, linguine with clams, spaghetti bolognese, you name it!bDmfpoNZRly5a2twk8KThw

So, it was over one of those steaming hot bowls of soup in central Vietnam, sitting on a tiny stool, that we decided that we HAD to spend some time in Italy. We both have been separately as well as together, but that didn’t matter.

Italy is one of those countries that I plan to go back to over and over...and over again. It will never get old. The food all over Italy is absolutely mouth wateringly (is that even a word?) delicious, the people are so friendly and it feels cozy no matter where you are.

We planned out the places we wanted to hit and agreed on; Florence, Montepulciano, Bologna, Venice & Sicily.

In case you were wondering, the entire 12 days we were in Italy I ate pasta for every single lunch and for every single dinner. I intentionally didn’t write “we” there because on day 6 or so Andy started making comments about he was feeling “loose” from eating pasta every day and he started to occasionally eat salad for lunch. I couldn’t be bothered with that. When in Italy, you eat all the pasta, despite the LB outcome. Come on ANDY- get with it 😉IMG_0637

Florence was our first spot and we settled here for about 5 days. We both had been before but agree that it’s one our favorite cities in Europe. We decided to stay on the other side of the Arno River, which is definitely more of a local feel. It was only a 15-20 minute walk anywhere we wanted to go and we actually prefer living a walk away so we get our steps in everyday. In Colombia and in Asia we had gyms which was a major part of our daily routine but from May-September we were mostly Airbnb hopping and had to get our exercise in some other way. We average walking 9 miles per day in Europe which sounds hard to believe but the Pacer app is spot on and tracks our steps accurately. The Type A in us tested it, just to make sure.

Back to Florence.

Our first order of business when we landed was food, obviously. Our Airbnb host suggested Trattoria La Casalinga and somehow we snagged the last table before all of the bookings strolled in. SCORE. We both opted for the spaghetti bolognese and it was simple, but bursted with flavor, freshness and just the right amount of “al dente”.

IMG_1509Over dinner, I told Andy about the best lasagne of my entire life, bold statement but God’s honest truth, was consumed in Florence. I told him I was on personal mission to find it and inhale that piece of heaven once again. I ate it back in the day when I didn’t write down restaurant names (my amateur travel days) but I remembered I found it in more of a local neighborhood, the menu was handwritten in cursive and it was cash only.

The lasagna Gods, travel Gods or some sort of guardian Angel must have heard my mission from above because we left that restaurant, took about 100 steps, and suddenly I got an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I knew this spot. It was deja vu in its strongest form. I glance at the menu plastered to the wall. Handwritten, cursive. My heart and belly, bursted with excitement when I saw the words spell out, Homemade Lasagne.uyFqR3rLT4WbsZWLhvPf6g

I just finished an entire plate of Bolognese, a shared platter of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto but somehow a crevice of my stomach immediately became painstakingly starving for this slice of lasagne.

Funny how that happens, huh?

Without hesitation, I ask for the Homemade Lasagna for take away and we ate it in the square which was crowded with locals and tourists. Our host said the Santo Spirito area is the only place in Florence where the two crowds mix at the same restaurants.

Well clearly, because they all must know this is the square where they can eat the most amazing thing of their lives.

I open the plastic container and there she is, exactly how I remember. Slightly crispy on the top, layered perfectly with the most proportionate amount of cheese, sauce and meat. There has to be a magic ingredient in here because it melts in your mouth, literally, M E L T S in your mouth. My dad’s famous lasagne, which is the 2nd best I’ve ever had, but can’t compare to this.  You need to come try this for yourself Dad then you’ll believe me, my mouth is watering typing this. Andy agreed with me that it was indeed, the best lasagne he’s ever tasted (he says, “sorry Gare!”), and it did in fact live up to the hype. Mission accomplished. In case you’re wondering, the restaurant name is Gusta Osteria, you must go.

Now that I’ve dedicated a paragraph to describing a slice of lasagne, let’s move on.

Over the course of the next few days we did a lot of walking, eating, wine drinking and finding the best vantage points of this beautiful city. Because we have both been before we didn’t feel stressed to go to the museums, or do the touristy things. We just wanted to feel like we lived in Florence and do like the locals do, hang out.

IMG_0864We stopped at Antico Noe, arguably the best sandwich shop in the city, thanks to Andy, Jared, and Gabrielle’s recommendation, it really was the best. Small shop, a handwritten board with over 25 sandwiches to choose from. We ordered a couple sammies and walked over to Giardino delle Rose to picnic. Found a spot in the shade, next to a bunch of rose bushes and enjoyed the views of Florence in the distance.

Another day in Florence was spent leisurely weaving in and out of the winding streets, headed to Mercado Centrale. On the first floor there’s a stand that has a long queue. For a reason. Stand there. Order the chef’s recommendation, tortellini olio e formaggio. Yet again, simple but perfect. Italy: 1, Andy and Sam’s waist line: 0.

Back in Santo Spirito, our favorite square in Florence, after a few Aperol Spritz’s, enjoying the ambiance and endless people watching, we noticed that hoards of people were lining up on the corner at a pizza spot called Gusta Pizza. 3 doors down from my beloved, Gusta Osteria. For 5 euro you get an oversized personal pizza. There were about 6 different pizza options but we opted for the traditional Margherita. A supposed fan favorite, stated all of the signs in the restaurant. With over 10,000 5 star Trip Advisor reviews, at least 100 people packed in this tiny spot waiting for their pizzas and the square filled with people holding their pizza boxes & wine to go. Gusta Pizza lives up to the reviews, that’s for damn sure.89pmpSgIS5y6rxThPXNLsQ

Piazza Michaelangelo or Giardino delle Rose were our favorite sunset spots in Florence. Grab your bottle of wine and go enjoy golden hour over the most magical city. You will not be disappointed.

Minimum 5 lbs heavier each, our bellies satisfied but still ready for more, we were headed to Tuscany. Montepulciano to be exact.

An easy train ride later, we arrived to the most charming little medieval hilltop town. Filled with character, some of the best wine we’ve ever had and warmest people, this small town certainly left a mark on us.

As soon as we arrived we stumbled upon this winery, Gattavecchi, that was only open for another hour longer. We grabbed a bottle of wine for 4 euro, their house specialty, and headed to their terrace that had sweeping views of Tuscany.

IMG_7230We must have been thirsty because we finished the bottle within 20 minutes and were suddenly drunk in love with Montepulciano. We went inside to pay and became friends with the owner who closed up the shop but offered us to stay and sample their best wines.

4 purchased bottles later, we stumbled upon a cafe that had more gorgeous views, ordered another bottle and devised our plan to purchase a house in Montepulciano.

I’m pretty sure I texted Barb & Dave (my travel loving in-laws) and they agreed to buy a house in Scotland and us in Italy so just like that our future family was going international!IMG_1702 2

Still drunk in love, we strolled through the streets of Montepulciano, stopping every 2 seconds taking pictures of the scenery, cobblestone houses and flowered stoops. I’m normally a little awkward and shy taking photos, if other people are around, but this Tuscan red wine gave me a confidence like none other. I felt like a runway model as Andy went to work, snapping away. Seriously though, here’s proof (see pic below). In this moment, Andy was shouting “oh yeah, one more for the camera, over the shoulder, head tilted, yessss” it made me pee my pants laughing.IMG_1668

We found a restaurant that was on ‘my list’ and literally as they opened the doors for the night (5PM I believe) we were ready to fill our wine bellies with some much needed food pasta and enjoy an early bird special. So much in fact that after our first plate of pasta, each, we ordered a second round of pasta, each. Italy: 2, Andy and Sam’s waist line: 0.

We HIGHLY suggest also having lunch at Gattavecchi, we went back the next day and were treated like celebrities since we were best friends with the owner at this point. The homemade gnocchi is to die for and the fresh tomato bruschetta is so juicy and set up like some sort of masterpiece that you feel bad biting into it.

We relished in our “future” hometown, took it all in and promised each other we’d be back.IMG_1324 3

Onto our quick stop in Bologna.

Bologna is known for their pasta. LOL. I thought all of Italy was?! I mean it is, but I guess this city specifically is.

We only had 24 hours here so we walked around, stumbled upon a really cool alley way of bar & food stands with edison lights (I’m a sucker for good outdoor lighting) and live music.

My friend Clea dubbed Vicolo Colombina has best lasagne she’s ever had in HER life, so we had to go try it. Got to be honest, not my favorite. Maybe I’m just jaded because Gusta Osteria stole my tastebuds and I’m not giving it a fair shot. It was a White Lasagne, meaning no sauce, now I’m not a professional food critic but a lasagne is MEANT to have sauce, am I right?! At least in my opinion, it should. It was good, it was really good, but Gusta Osteria really fu*cked me up. Thanks for the rec though, Clea, love ya!

UVPPewRGSqi+a6OG4PTcEANext up, Venice.

I may be ruffling some feathers here but I’ve got to be honest. Neither Andy or I like Venice. It’s our 2nd time back, we both went separately before and I can’t remember if I felt the same way the first time or not but this will be our last time to this famous city.

We really only stopped here to make our way to Rovinj, Croatia which is only a 3 our ferry ride from Venice and thought it would be nice to make our own memories here. It’s just SO overrun by tourist traps and the vibe comes across as disingenuous. Don’t get me wrong, you can get lost in the windy canal zig zagging streets and I highly suggest you do. But there’s a reason why only 55,000 locals live in Venice when 30 years ago 120,000 people did.

The restaurants, especially near the squares are SO overpriced it’s insane, and the food just isn’t as tasty like the rest of Italy. To get a boat ride on the canals is a complete rip off, 100 euro for 20 minutes or something absurd like that. I did it before and yes it’s romantic and yes it’s a great way to see the city built on canals, but when there are lines of boats in front and behind you the entire ride, it just doesn’t feel romantic.IMG_2178 2

I’m not trying to be a hater and I’ll stop my rant, but I’m being real and sharing my opinion. A lot of you probably think every destination we go to is perfect with rainbows and butterflies but it’s not.

We did find a couple spots that we really liked. Climb the stairs & go up the elevator to Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, for the best view in Venice, overlooking the famous Rialto Bridge. Get lost in the Jewish Quarter (thanks Amity!) and have espresso at one of the stands over in that area. It definitely feels more authentic over there.

Like I said earlier, we hopped the ferry over to Rovinj, Croatia next, which was so easy and a great scenic way to get over to the neighboring country. More on this destination in a later blog post, I want to keep this one solely for our Italy spots.IMG_2053

After Croatia we went directly to Sicily. We stayed one night in Palermo to break up the travel day and the rest of our time on the northern coast in a small town called Cefalu.

It was love at first sight in Cefalu. For both of us.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts that owned the 3 story old building on a side cobble stone street in the heart of the town. Absolute prime real estate this Italian couple had. We entered the building and were pleasantly surprised, it was completely renovated and air conditioned.

IMG_0135If you’ve ever traveled in Europe in the summer before you know that air conditioning in apartments in a scarcity. When our budget allowed, we scored some apartments that had it and were always in a better mood when that happened. Typically when we stay in coastal beachy towns I always try really hard to make sure AC is in the picture.

The jovial Italian husband and wife walked us up the steep stairs to the “pent-house suite” AKA our 3rd floor walk up apartment that we’d spend the next few days. It was absolutely stunning. The interiors were on point, decorated with teals and blues that were very fitting since we were in a beach town. Those cuties even laid out jams, croissants and local delicacies for us in the kitchen. Our balcony had a great view of the streets of Cefalu with the castle on the hill and the ocean in the distance. I must have said “oh my god, this apartment is so cozy, oh my god, I need to live here, oh my god I don’t want to leave” over and over again. On my last day, I wasn’t drunk in love like I was in Montepulciano, I was dead sober, and enquired about a long term rental to the Italian couple. Let’s just say, it’s in the works. Montepulciano is in the past, Cefalu is now our future.IMG_4447

We were told many times to try the Arancina balls in Sicily. So, like all of our Italy destinations our few days were centered around the food. The couple told us where to find the best arancina and we opted for the original, filled with rice and meat sauce. The ball is the size of your hand and every bite just gets better and better as you find your way to the center with the oozing cheese and juicy meat. My pants were getting tighter and tighter by the minute but I couldn’t care less. Wedding in September?? Who cares!!! These balls are AMAZING!

Cefalu has an old city wall that lines the beach and from the outside, looking back on to the city with the castle on the mountaintop makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to medieval, fortress town.

You can climb the wall on the ocean edge for a great unobstructed sunset view. Bring a bottle of wine and some cheese up there like we did and you got yourself a date night!IMG_7157

Another Sicilian delicacy you have to try is rigatoni alla norma. We got it from Tinchite and it did not disappoint! Comes in a sizzling hot ceramic bowl, straight from the oven, topped with melted cheese, fresh roasted eggplant and ripe tomatoes in a red sauce. Delectable.

Another night we went to Le Chat Noir and now that I think of it I’m almost positive I ordered the rigatoni alla norma again. We had the best timing because as soon as our meals came a local trio band set up in the corner by our table to sing. They were so great and finished their set as soon as we signed our bill. Lucky us!

We’re just about done with our time in Italy, sadly, and as I finish this blog post I’m already planning my return trip in my head.

I’m about 95% certain that Andy and I will retire here and live a happily ever after, pasta filled life. I can see it now!!!

A family affair in the United Kingdom

NOTE: Andy here. We fell a little behind on our posts and Sam needed help catching up, so I’m filling in on this one.

Translation: Sam really just wanted to write about all the pasta we ate in Italy. So I’m doing this one.

IMG_2808 3Now, I’m not quite the visual artist that Sam is, so I won’t be able to paint the pictures of the sights and scenes as well as she does. But I’ll do my best to bring the trip with Donny & Kyle to life for you.

After finishing as much Guinness as we could in Galway, we flew over to Edinburgh, Scotland to round out our UK trip. Best part of this leg was we had company. Donny & Kyle crossed The Pond to spend a few days with us (if you’re having trouble keeping up with all the branches of Sam’s family tree, Kyle is Mary’s son, and Donny is Kyle’s husband).

And we had a f***ing blast.

And this was especially great, because that meant I got a break in being Sam’s personal photographer for a few days.

First thing’s first. Edinburgh is awesome and you should go.

DAY 1:

Sam and I landed in Edinburgh and met up with the boys who were waiting for us at our Airbnb. After hanging out for a bit, we headed out for a few drinks and dinner. We went to Heads and Tales Gin Bar, which had a speakeasy vibe and some great cocktails. We liked it so much we went back 3 times.

Must be some good cocktails, huh?

Actually, we went back because Sam fell in love with their delectable fresh-out-of-the-wood-fired-oven Camembert Cheese. And she needed to have it as an appetizer for every meal. So, we went to that bar and had the Camembert Cheese for an appetizer before every meal. Literally.  IMG_9519

Not that Kyle, Donny, or I was complaining.

After a few cocktails and cheese, Sam proudly proclaimed that she was taking us to “The oldest steakhouse in Edinburgh. AND it has a 3-course special for only $30.” Turns out, it was not the oldest steakhouse in Edinburgh. And the special ended at 6pm. We sat down at 6:01. Turns out, it was the most modern place we went all week and it was also the most expensive.

Sick job, Sam.

After dinner we were on the hunt for some traditional Scottish music. So we found a “locals only” bar that we were sure we’d love. As soon as we walked in the entire bar turn and stared at us. Someone even took an empty chair away so we couldn’t sit!

Message received. We turned and left immediately.

With our confidence rattled, we found a new pub that was much more welcoming. Sure, it was 105 degrees inside, but the music was great and the beer helped our confidence return.

On our way home, we hunted for late night food and finally stumbled upon the only Italian pizza place still open. Despite the chef’s death stares and Kyle’s logical pleas, Donny managed to order 2 whole pizzas and 2 Stromboli for the four of us.

Pizza, good. Stromboli, not good.

DAY 2:

We were so sophisticated today.

First, we strolled through the streets until we found Elephant Café, which is where J.K Rowling apparently sat and got her inspiration for Harry Potter while looking at Edinburgh Castle through the window.

IMG_9548 3Needless to say, we were equally inspired and are now all co-authoring our own fantasy novel series.

Following our breakfast, with the help of Rick Steves, Donny guided us through the Royal Mile, The Royal Palace, and the other notable sites of Edinburgh.

After we got our 20 thousand steps in we settled in for High Tea, because we’re wicked classy like that.

Now I know “wicked” and “classy” don’t usually go together, but you should have seen us up there! We were rubbin’ elbows with the bourgeoisie, sippin’ our tea, eating crumpets & tiny cucumber sandwicheIMG_9526 2

Okay, okay. So we had no idea what we were doing and felt completely out of place. We ate our entire crumpet tower before the two well-dressed ladies next to us even finished their first few nibbles.

But it’s nice to pretend, right?

And trust me, that was a classy as we got for the rest of the night.

First, we went to get more Camembert Cheese (duh) before going to get some delicious rooftop Thai food at Chaophraya. I think we were all surprised how good this Thai food was.

And the view wasn’t so bad either.

We followed up dinner by going to this Speakeasy that might have been our favorite bar of the trip. Donny and I had about 6 whiskey cocktails that they brought out in a birdcage looking thing filled with smoke. Keep ‘em coming.

Sam had her 18th strawberry flavored drink of the weekend and Kyle sampled everything and anything with Gin. For better or for worse.

And then we met our new best friends.

The 3 people next to us were celebrating a 20th birthday. TWENTIETH! We sang along Happy Birthday with them and when they asked us how old we were and replied with “30” all 3 of their jaws dropped. Should we take that as a compliment?

I don’t remember the two fellas names, but the girl was Evie. And we’ll never forget that because Sam was obsessed with Evie.IMG_6006

Evie & co. convinced us to go to a club with them, where we were at least 10 years older than 90% of the people there. And it was awesome.

It was hot as balls and loud as hell. But we danced our asses off while we dodged the glasses that these Scots were inexplicably spiking on the ground as they finished their drinks.

At one point, someone actually offered Kyle to wipe his sweat off using his shirt.

Somehow, we were the only ones clearly dripping in sweat.

Then, we passed out. I think.

DAY 3:

Yikes.

Not the best day go to the Whiskey Experience tour. But we bought tickets so we were locked in.

We showed up and got a Disney-esque tour through holograms explaining the whiskey making process.IMG_5462

It wasn’t great (the smiles are fake).

And then we got to sample 4 different types of scotch/whiskey.

Well, we were supposed to sample them at least.

Sam hated it. Donny couldn’t smell it without nearly vomiting. Kyle maybe powered through one. And I led the team getting through 1 and a half (humble brag).

Then we left.

Needing some fresh air, we took a walk to find my uncle’s apartment that he lived in for 3 years in the 80s. He couldn’t remember the number, but we found the street – Nelson Street – and took a vicarious stroll through memory lane (shout out to the good ole days, Uncle Steve!)

IMG_7881 2We then took a wonderful stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens where Donny and Kyle got all sorts of inspiration for their own Belmont Royal Gardens in their front yard.

Looking for an adventure, we hopped a train to Glasgow. We heard amazing things about Glasgow and how everyone was so friendly and hospitable.

Well, when we went to Glasgow, everyone was mean to us so we turned around and went home.

If you’re looking for recommendations for Glasgow, don’t ask us, we failed miserably.

DAY 4:

Adventure Squad strikes again.

We rented a car to take on the lowlands of Scotland.IMG_7117 2

I drove, Sam controlled the music, and Donny and Kyle provided encouragement to keep my confidence high while I drove on the left side of the road.

Our first stop was Anstruther, a little coastal town outside of St. Andrew’s.

Sam made Kyle and Donny take pictures of her on a stonewall overlooking the water while I relished in not taking pictures of Sam on a stonewall overlooking the water.

We went to Anstruther Fish Bar, which is the 4x winner of the best fish and chips in all of Scotland. And they were delicious.

IMG_5676But what stole our hearts were the meat pies we got from the bakery down the street. Remember those pies, guys? Goddamn. Hashtag memories.

From there we took a quick drive to St. Andrew’s, which is the coolest little town. Again guided by Rick Steves, we checked out parts of the University, the remnants of the Cathedral, and a couple cool bars and restaurants.

And even though none of us are golfers, it was very cool to check out St. Andrew’s golf course, which is the oldest course in the world.

We walked on took the iconic photo on the bridge overlooking the 18th hole.

After St. Andrew’s we drove to Sterling, where the lowlands meet the highlands.IMG_9251 2

We drove past hundreds of cows, which who knows if we would have noticed them if Kyle didn’t point out every single one of them.

We stopped to unsuccessfully check out the Sterling Castle (it was closed) and for Donny and Kyle to take a few more pictures of Sam.

We continued on to Lake Lomond, where we drove through the winding hills of the lowlands and some amazing scenery (and more cows) along the way.

At about 8:00PM, we were starving so we pulled into a cozy little restaurant cottage for dinner. Turns out, the kitchen was closed so we couldn’t order any food.

We then stopped at another small downtown area to get some dinner there. Closed again.

IMG_3982Deciding our best bet was to find food back in Edinburgh, we headed back for the night.

After driving around since 9AM, I was ready to park the car and be done with it. But before we could do that we had to drive through the darkest, most confusing, trafficky-under construction rotary.

Sam screamed in terror. Donny and Kyle calmly shouted directions over Sam’s screams and I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

We made it. And I couldn’t get rid of the car fast enough at the point.

We parked and Donny and Sam went to the apartment while Kyle and I went to grab some food to bring back to the house.

And what a hunt it was.

It wasn’t late, maybe like 9:30, 10:00. And nothing was open.

Nothing.

We must have stopped in 5 or 6 restaurants to ask if they were serving food and all we heard was “no, but try this place”.

We must have been searching for over an hour. We got a little lost, but that’s beside the point.IMG_0447

Coming to the terrifying realization that our options were going to be limited to starvation, one of those kebab/pizza/everything else snack shops, or McDonald’s.

We opted for McDonald’s where we were confronted and harassed by a homeless man. We ordered 20 nuggets and some fries and dodged the homeless man on our way out.

Finally home, we chowed down and went to sleep.

Note to Edinburgh: Serve food past 9pm. That’s like, not that late.

DAY 4:

Today’s a sad day.

Kyle & Donny have to fly back to Rhode Island while Sam and I take the train down to York.

But first, we climbed to Arthur’s seat to check out the view over Edinburgh. It’s a moderate hike and we had the perfect day for it. We went all the way up to the peak, where you guessed it, Donny & Kyle took more pictures of Sam. But this time they got their own pictures, too!

IMG_0383 2But first, we went to a bar where Donny could finally get his Innis & Gunn Original beer that he had been searching for since their first drink 4 days ago. If you’re looking to get Donny a gift anytime soon, get him that. He’ll love you forever.

As we said our goodbyes, we joked about them skipping their flights to come to England with us.

After all, they had been toying with the idea all weekend.

Unfortunately, it was all just a joke and the boys took off for the airport while Sam and I caught the train to York.

UNTIL…

IMG_0287

Their flight actually got canceled!

So they took the next train down to York to hang out with us for one more night.

Ding!

We booked Donny & Kyle the last room in our BnB and geared up for another night together.

We all fell in love with York.

It’s the cutest little English town that somehow makes you feel like it’s always Christmas, even in June.

We all decided we want to go back in December.

York is a walled city, so we strolled around the Old Town and went to this amazing dinner spot called The Botanist.

Guess what we had?

Camembert.IMG_0454

It was grilled this time and unreal, yet again.

We also had scotch eggs, which were delicious.

Kyle and I finally got the potpie we were in search and it did not disappoint.

Our waiter was phenomenal and this was one of our favorite dinners of the trip.

We even we back the next day for, you guessed it, more Camembert.

Donny & Kyle shared the news with us that they booked their flight back to Rhode Island out of London, so that meant they were coming to London with us, too!

Double ding!

London’s not my favorite place. I’ve been a handful of times and always thought of it like a somehow more expensive yet worse version of NYC with people with accents.

Plus Sam dated a dude from there before we got together, so there’s that.

IMG_0503 2But I digress.

Sam & I were only there for a night and Kyle & Donny had two.

We got into the city late, so we went our separate ways to our hotels and met up for breakfast and a stroll around Notting Hill (sup, Julia Roberts).

Sadly, our trip actually had to come to an end this time. Sam and I had to fly out to Italy (bummer) and Donny and Kyle stayed in London for one more night.

They made the most of it, as they used their newfound expertise to enjoy some High Tea.

The 6 days we had with Kyle & Donny will certainly go down as one of the biggest highlights of our trip abroad.

Who wants to visit us next?!

IMG_1324 2

Galway guy & girl at heart <3

In 5th grade I was tasked with creating my own family heritage book. I remember putting the pages together with colored pencils and construction paper, outlining Ireland, Poland and Russia, the 3 countries my ancestors were from. Whenever someone would ask me growing up what my nationality was, I’d say I’m Irish, Polish and Russian.

Until recently I never had a keen interest in digging into my family heritage. But I think it’s important for all of us to retrace our roots and learn more about who are families are, who you are.IMG_8965

Well, don’t let the reddish hair and freckles fool you because according to my DNA test with 23andMe, I’m less than 3% Irish. I’m 97% Eastern European and .01% East Asian & Native American.

Who would have thought?!

Regardless of my Irish heritage, or lack there of, Ireland is a country that I know I will always want to come back to and explore deeper.

I’ve been to Dublin before but for those of you that have traveled the Emerald Isle before know that there is so much more to see than Ireland’s largest city. Andy has been to Ireland a couple times and had traveled around the country with his family a few years back.

One of his favorite cities in Europe is Galway and visiting Cliffs of Moher for him was a huge highlight of his stories about Ireland.

I may have heard the story of the woman getting blown over while visiting the Cliffs and falling down on the ground hurting her ankle and everyone had to make a barrier around her…one thousand times. It might have been his 10th time telling me the story when I finally added the Cliffs of Moher to the very top of my bucket list, I had to see it with my own eyes. So because of Andys passionate storytelling, hint of forgetfulness and major hype- we were heading to Galway and Cliffs of Moher for a few days.IMG_8955

I can’t go any further without letting you know that these places lived up to the hype, they might have even surpassed it. So great job, Andy, you may have a career in Sales after all 😉

From NYC to Dublin it’s a quick 5 hour flight. You go to sleep, take a little snooze and you’re there. Less time to get to Ireland than to California, one of the many perks of living on the East Coast. We hopped the bus to Galway, a short 2 hour bus ride from Dublin. Our b&b was right off the main square, Eyre Square, nestled in a cozy side street, but walkable to everything.

Whenever we come to Europe from the States that first day is SO hard for us to push through and not fall into the dreaded hole of jet lag. The way to beat jet lag, in my opinion, is to never nap that first day, and always go to bed normal times of the country you’re in. Don’t say things like “my body clock is X”. It’s all mental. Just throw yourself in to the day and you’ll defeat the lag. Contrary to my stance, the first thing we did in Galway was fall into the cool, white fluffy bed and slept until dinner. Woops. I broke my own rule.IMG_8953

We had a bunch of recommendations from our friends that live in Ireland and our bestie Sean who’s from this great country and has spent a lot of time in Galway and may be a celebrity at some of the bars there, we aren’t sure but there’s a high likelihood. The list we had was intimidating but we were up to the challenge to check them all off.

First impression: this small city is buzzing. At all times. I’m thinking Jimmy Buffet must have been visiting Galway when he wrote the song “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere”. The streets are vibrant, filled with locals & tourists alike, musicians on the street and bars with tons of outdoor seating. The energy here is infectious and we got sucked right in. I could see the glow in Andy’s eye and knew he was elated.

We ended up at a traditional Irish pub, Tigh Neactain, and snagged a seat right in the corner of the front bar- perfect to people watch. Ah, the first sip of Guinness from Ireland. It may sound cliche but it’s true, Guinness really does taste better in Ireland. The taste is so good it reminded me of the first bite of a juicy American cheeseburger I had after a few months in Asia. As we downed our first pints, our smiles got bigger, bellies fuller and we were ready to keep exploring this gem of a city.IMG_8959

One of our favorite things to do in a new city is create our own little drink & food tour. We know we can’t sit down for an actual meal at all of the restaurants/bars that are recommended to us so by having a drink and snack at each of them instead is the perfect solution.

After bouncing around Shop Street we were feeling that Galway buzz but HAD to get our night cap at O’Connell’s. It’s Sean’s favorite bar in Galway so we had to make him proud. His explicit directions said, go in, walk passed the first bar and go to the back outside area. We did as we were told and as we push the door open from the small front room you’re transported into this massive outdoor, beer garden of all beer gardens. Long tables, music, tons of people. A couple pints later we remember to check the weather for the next few days to reserve a car for Cliffs of Moher on the absolute best forecast day we could get. Turned out, it was the next day. We luckily snagged a car and were all set to head out in the morning.IMG_8967

Let me just say, thank God for Weather.com and the reminder in my phone because we may have scored the most beautiful day Ireland has had in months. When we got to Galway people told us that we brought the sun because it had been raining so much there was a lot of flooding lately. I don’t know what we did to deserve this but the travel Gods have been on Team Best for the majority of our trip this year and this day was like no other.

Remember when I told you about Andys sweaty palms and armpits when he drove us around on the E-bike in Myanmar? Well those sweat glands were working in over time that first hour in the rental car as Andy started the drive, on the opposite side of the road, to the Cliffs of Moher. There may have been over 25 rotaries on that drive which are extremely confusing because of course in America you always go right in a rotary (unless your my sister AKA one of the scariest drivers out there and go left) but in Ireland & UK you actually do go left.IMG_8981

Anytime we were headed for a turn or rotary I had to lower the music so we could concentrate. Isn’t it funny when you’re in a car and are driving in a stressful situation or parking garage you automatically go to lower the music, like that does anything?

The ride was stunning. Rolling green hills, luscious flowers in full bloom with a crisp breeze on a sunny day. Could anything in life be better than this?

Driving on the narrow roads we felt like we were the only ones in Ireland. It’s one of my favorite feelings when we travel. We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher with no scratches on the car and fully intact, ready to make the visual I had in my head of this majestic place, a reality.IMG_9263-2

The Cliffs are truly breathtaking.

Everyone says they are stunning in any weather and I can definitely see why. I was shocked to see that there was no barrier between you and the edge. You’re free to walk along the narrow paths running inches away from the drop off of the cliff. It was scary at first and I got that wobble in my leg and tickle in my butt when we were navigating along. Come on you know that feeling, don’t even lie.IMG_9024

I probably took over 500 photos that day. You take two steps and see the Cliffs from a different angle and you just have to snap the shot. We walked from one end to the other, fully taking it all in. I will remember that day for the rest of my life.

Andy’s confidence was running high on our drive back to Galway after conquering the first leg and I’ll be the first to say he did very well. His E-bike days are behind him.IMG_9222

The rest of our time in Galway was spent by walking the streets, popping in and out of bars and savoring every sip of those Guinness pints. There’s still so much more to explore in Ireland and I need to see the towns that Andy has more stories about so we can both start to repeat ourselves and tell the same stories over and over until it influences more people to visit, just like it did for me.

IMG_9500

Viva la Mexico!

9 times out of 10 when someone tells you they are going to Mexico you automatically assume it’s to Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, or another beach destination– am I right? Rightfully so, in fact. Mexico boasts hundreds of miles of white sand coastlines that have sweeping views of the crystal blue ocean that naturally leave you wanting to come back again and again, and again.IMG_7772

As for me, I’ve been to Mexico a couple of times and never even contemplated a dedicated trip to the country’s capital of Mexico City. I mean up until our few days in Mexico City the only thing I ever experienced there was the Chili’s at the Benito Juarez International Airport on a long layover to Cabo San Lucas, and may I add, I was completely satisfied with that.

I’m pretty sure that the first time I ever added Mexico City to my “Must See” list was when my sister was working for Travel + Leisure a while back and she told me that it was on the list for the top cities in the world to visit.

So, if Travel + Leisure said I should go, then hell yeah– let’s go.

Not sure if you’ve noticed or not but in order for me to give my readers a true description of the places we go, I like to make up comparisons, so you can start to visualize or get an idea of what a place is like.IMG_7776

For Mexico City, this comparison comes easy to me. Mexico City is the Mom of a big family with tons of kids. She’s the capital, the mothership, the queen bee, the mother hen of Mexico. Her kids are the other cities in Mexico, you’ve got her daughter Cabo that’s the rebel that never came back from a Spring Break trip, Cancun who’s the wild child that appears on MTV’s Spring Break and the more classier kid, Tulum that’s a combination of zen flower child, chic and stylish.

Mom’s got different sides to her of course, which are her neighborhoods.

La Condesa (where we stayed), which is Big Mama’s super stylish, trend-setter side. It’s filled with sceney restaurants, cafes galore and esplanades with greenery that gives your noses a tickle even if you don’t have allergies. Condesa is Mamacita’s fashion forward self with the cutest boutiques and shops that make window shopping really tempting to tiptoe inside and not let your husband see (hehe).IMG_8731

On the border of Condesa and Roma neighborhood, there’s Contramar, a hip restaurant that you should go to for lunch and MUST order the tuna tostadas. It’s a traditional round crispy tostada that has fresh raw tuna on top drizzled with some sort of aioli sauce, crunchy leeks and topped with a perfectly sliced avocado. UGH, the definition of delectable.

Mama’s Condesa neighborhood also has, in my opinion, some of the best food stalls for tacos. After 6 weeks in Asia, we were craving some traditional Mexican tacos and boy did we get our fill in the short 4 days we were here. El Tizconcito, claims to have created the taco al pastor which is slightly sweet and tangy– absolutely delicious. Tacos El Greco is another food stall that can’t be missed. These tacos arabes are made grilled on a spit that taste so juicy and reminded me of a shawarma or doner kebab, but better.IMG_7899

Another can’t miss of Condesa is Hotel DF rooftop for a cocktail or two. It’s in the middle of a residential area that offers some of the best views of CDMX.

Back to Big Mama. She’s got her hipster mood that comes out in the form of Roma. Roma has buildings that are very European-esque. They have cafes everywhere, outside, inside book shops, ones with terraces, ones with balconies, you name it. Tons of cocktail bars, clubs and restaurants featuring any and every cuisine imaginable.

Palanco. This is Ma’s expensive side. It’s her posh, 5th Avenue New York, glitziness side, to be exact. We didn’t spend much time here because we’re living that budget lifestyle BUT we did happen to have the best churros in all of Mexico City here. Churreria El Moro has the most delicious churros, rolled right in front of you fit with any dipping sauce your little heart desires. MMmmmMMmm so good.IMG_7777

The pyramids at Teotihuacan was definitely a major highlight of our trip to CDMX.

Tip for you, go when they first open (8AM) and try to go on a Monday because the site is confusing and Google actually says the site is closed on Monday’s.

But it’s not.

So we got there and for the first half hour or so we were the only ones climbing the pyramids. Teotihuacan, which means City of the God’s, is an archaeological zone that houses the remaining pyramids of what was the capital of Mexico’s largest pre-Hispanic empire.IMG_8131 2

The main drag is the Avenue of the Dead where old ruins and pyramids are in front of you and to the side. Pyramid of the Sun is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world and it’s worth the 248 stair climb up to the top to view the Pyramid of the Moon across the way. To think that people built these pyramids with their bare hands is completely mind-blowing.

We were standing in what once was a fully functioning city, that is said to have housed 125,000 people. When we were sitting on top of the Pyramid of the Sun we both realized what small places we occupy in this world and how much history there is everywhere we go.

IMG_8143That about rounds out Mom’s personalities, AKA the different places to go in the massive CDMX. Of course, there’s so much to see and always so little time so give yourself 4-5 days if you decide to come here.

Maybe now you’ll be inspired to tack on a few extra days to Mexico City when you plan your next beach getaway, trust me, it’s worth it if not for the tacos alone!!!IMG_8035