June 30, 2017

Five on Friday

I had a great week, but I am so excited it is Friday! TGIF!
Ready for a life update?

one.
5 years ago, this happened. This was during the cutting of the cake. Neither of us remember what we were doing.

Before that, we got married.

I cannot believe that it is already been six years of wedded bliss! It is hard to remember what life was like before we were married. It feels like we have been doing this forever. It has been one heck of a ride so far!

I can honestly say I married my best friend, and I think that's why we work. At the end of the day, we just like being together. I think he is funny, kind, smart, and giving. He makes me proud to be his wife every day. 

To celebrate our five year anniversary, we took an amazing trip to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. I'll be sure and cover all those amazing places soon!

He also of course spoiled me by making (yes...making) the most beautiful wooded box to hold a beautiful David Yurman ring. What can I say? The guy knows the way to my heart!

I kinda sucked at the gift giving for this anniversary, but he is a very practical man. I got him new wooden kitchen utensils and let him get an Amazon Show.

two.
I celebrated my golden birthday! Turning 28 on the 28th was an amazing experience. I was spoiled by my co-workers at work and then ended the day having sushi and wine with my husband. What can I say...I am lucky!

three.
I feel like there is one major thing I am trying to focus on...eating healthy. It has always been my downfall to great wellness. I sleep enough/well, I work out and stay active regularly, but I never seem to keep up healthy eating.

I feel like my birthday did a decent job of derailing me, so my plan is to get back on track soon and hold myself more accountable. And once I get that part of my daily routine back, I feel like eating better will go with it. It has to....

four.
Sometimes I find it hard to have a blog/life balance. I want to be more connected on the blog, but it is hard to put in so much time into it when it doesn't pay the bills and when there is life to live outside of work. I don't often post on Instagram Stories or Snapchat that much because I am trying to live in the moment. The moment isn't on my phone.

I want to be in the present and live and enjoy and build relationships with those around me. Am I still on my phone? Yes, but I am aware of that and always try to put it away when I can. But because of this I feel like I'm falling behind with blogging. Not that there is a measure of success, but in general I am absolutely behind the pack. Does that make sense?

five.
 Tucson in the summer, you have seemed to outdo yourself with the heat this year. Along with the heat, at least there is some beauty (just as long as you look at it from some air conditioned comfort!

Hope everyone has a good weekend! I plan on having fun and escaping the heat!
What are you doing this weekend?

June 23, 2017

Sorrento and Amafi Coast Italy


Back on the rickety Circumvesuviana train from Pompeii, Sorrento was next up and our home base for the next two nights. Sorrento is a lovely coastal town with great food, shops, and is the birthplace of limoncello! Has me thinking I need to experiment with my lime tree at home. Limecello anyone?! Anyway, this was a nice break from the big city life with a smaller bustle of food and views. One of the nicest owners of a shop we visited gave us so many tastes of limoncello that I thought by the end of the night I may be fluent in Italian!

Not only did we find great limoncello in Sorrento, we enjoyed great Italian food and wine. At one restaurant, we declined the €3 water, the waiter laughed and said "Water is for showering!" Wise words! The weather while we were there was perfect, we enjoyed walking, wandering, and eating outside. At another restaurant, there was one point where all the Italians left and we were the only ones left. They took delight in playing Knocking on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan's version, not Guns and Roses) and Freak by Radiohead. Very pretty and random which made it all the more fun!

Sorrento was also a great base to take a day trip to the Amalfi Coast. Staying on the Amalfi Coast is beautiful, but it can be pricey. We saved money and had an amazing time staying in Sorrento. From Sorrento, there is a road. Well, road is a generous description. It is a narrow, windy, and precariously high path on the coastal cliffs. There are large buses (we took the SITA bus) that drive like mad and leave only centimeters between each other when passing!  I would recommend the buses because you must be an thrill seeker if you want to drive yourself on it!

We stopped at the picturesque town of Positano first. This was a beautiful town where the Italian families all know each other and even know some of their annual tourists. So neat to see the owner of the grocery sharing a picture of her grandkids with customers from Texas who, in return, had a gift bag for her with Texas wine. Positano never has properties for sale and building permits for new structures are basically non existent. They say it is even hard to get a permit to fix something on the buildings. Truly handed down through the generations! Furthermore, these buildings are all built entirely on the side of mountains. It is truly amazing.

After Positano we went to the actual town of Amalfi. We both agreed we liked Positano better, but we did enjoy just sitting on the dock watching the water and admiring the beautiful hillsides with the colorful houses precariously perched all the way up.

I would love to go back and spend more time in a swimsuit at the beach and on some hikes. Also maybe take a boat ride to Capri. The vibrant blue water, amazing cliffs, and lemon groves are etched in my memory begging for more.


Sorrento Accommodations, Restaurants, and Sights:
Pizzeria Da Franco: I really enjoyed sitting outside this restaurant and grabbing a pizza and bottle of wine. Speaking of the wine, it was their own label. Very good and a fun little wine shop. Good pricing, good taste, good location. The service was also good. Casual, fun, and absolutely worth trying!

La Taverna di Lucullo: The restaurant with the great entertainment I mentioned above? Yep, right here. I preferred the pasta to the pizza here at this restaurant.

Hotel Gardenia: This was a lovely place to stay.

Positano Restaurants and Sights:
Shop: They are well known for their custom sandals and they are beautiful.

Beach: I mean, see above, all of the colorful umbrellas and beautiful water equal a great place to lounge and relax.

Hike the Sentiero Degli Dei: This translates to the Path of the Gods. I would love to do this and am bummed I didn't have time to do so. The scenery looks like it would have been spectacular.

Eat: There are a lot of great restaurants. I got a €3 sandwich from a shop that was just so authentic and amazing.

Amalfi Restaurants and Sights: 
The Amalfi Cathedral: It is a beautiful cathedral sitting right in the middle of the village. Very pretty to take pictures of (as you can see above).

Wander to the Paper Museum: We didn't go in, but they have some examples outside and seeing a landscape made of paper and it not looking at all like paper was some talent.


A must visit!
What is your favorite part about the Sorrento/Amalfi Coast area?

June 19, 2017

Visiting Pompeii

Leaving Rome, we took the high speed train to Naples and transferred to an old rickety train (called Circumvesuviana) that let us off at Pompeii. We spent a few hours marveling at the ancient ruins, imagining what it was like to live here 2000 years ago!
Here is what you need to know, admission is €11 for the day pass. We spent about three hours touring. I think that is all you need. We had previously downloaded Rick Steves guide through Pompeii and listened to his tour as we walked through. I felt like using the Rick Steves guide we got all the information we needed and hit the most important elements. Oh and grab a map. This is a no skip option because it is rather easy to get turned around here. 

Also good to note is that there is a storage room for bags or whatever you don't want to lug around Pompeii. We were travelling through so we had all our suitcases and they fit in the bulk storage! Heck yeah! Use the ones right at the entrance before the ticket office. People are hawking right off of the train to store your bags, for tours, for tickets, just keep walking! Trust me on this!

Last bit of major advice is to bring water. There is a good amount of sun and we spent a good chunk of time here. We each had water on our backs. I highly recommend lots of water and good shoes (a lot of uneven footing areas!).

Although we did not visit Vesuvius, we enjoyed the views of it from Pompeii.
Alright, photo dump time!

The streets were amazing. There were stepping stones to cross the road and they also told you how big or small the street was. This was a huge street. Also good to point out is that when you enter Pompeii, there are tons of people. Explore further in and the people seem to become less and less.
Ancient home building sites.

Vesuvius hanging out!

From here we took our rickety Circumvesuviana to Sorrento Italy!
Stay tuned for a guide on that!

June 16, 2017

24 Hours in Zurich

Zurich, Switzerland. This may be one of the world's cleanliest and greatest walking cities. Yep. In spending less than 24 hours there, I have come to that conclusion. Also people seem to take pride in their appearance and everyone was very well dressed. I loved being able to people watch while I was there. What I thought would be a modest layover in Zurich turned into an amazing exploration.

The Zurich airport is easily accessible from the city. The train is the best and most economical way to travel there. Oh and the trains...if it says it is departing at 0902, then it is departing at 0902. They are never late...

I just completed my own self guided walking tour of Zurich and would love to share it with you. It is truly a beautiful city bustling with character with a mixture of new and old architecture.

First off, we were hungry and holy price points we were shocked! So we were pleasantly happy to find Burgermeister which was so delicious and so on price point.

As for where we stayed, we started my tour at my hub. My husband treated me to a fancy night at the Park Hyatt. It was beautiful!

We strolled down Bhanhofstasse. It is known as one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Fun just to say you did it.

We headed to Zurich Altstadt. It is a historic part of town that has a beautifully older architectural feel. Here are a couple of churches that we enjoyed visiting.

Saint Peter's Church: This church had the feel of a local church and had the coolest time steeple. Also it had the world's largest holly bush outside of it. Okay....so that may need to be fact checked, but it was really cool! As for the real facts, it was the first protestant religious construction after the reformation in the 1500s.


Fraumunster: Another amazing church. We got to hear a practice session of a performance of orchestra and singers. It was beautiful. This church was known as the "women's church" because it was built in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegarde to have a place to worship.

Grossmunster Church: This church dates back to the 1220. Legend has it that Charlemagne's horse fell to its knees here so that is where he commissioned a church. You can pay to climb the towers, but we found serenity and amazement just touring the church itself.

Lindenhof was next on the walking tour. It is a green space where you find people playing chess (on on life sized boards), lovers sitting on the grass together, people enjoying the beauty around them on benches, and admirers taking pictures over the bank of the Limmat River. It is beautiful.

When not everything is planned and you just go with the flow, that is when you can find some pretty amazing things. We found Zurich University's (Universitat Zurich) Alter Botanical Gardens (Botanischer Garten). You can walk through for free and I highly recommend it. It was beautiful!

Two things we didn't visit while we were there that I wish we could have: Lake Zurich, which I am sure would have been beautiful and Uetilberg which is supposed to be a really great lookout over the city with a lot of great hiking from said point.

Lauren's Zurich Travel Tips:
So I knew Zurich was going to be expensive. All of the taxis were black Mercedes! When I got there, I turned out to be absolutely right. Knowing that I wanted to keep costs down, I used credit card points to book a splurgy night at the Park Hyatt. It was AMAZING. Top customer service, beautiful aesthetic, and great location. I would recommend it if you can splurge for it. I always recommend looking at credit card bonuses to help plan your stays economically.

My favorite restaurant of the trip (reminder I am trying to stay budget friendly) was a place called Burgermeister. Huge, delicious burgers for 12-14 euros. A very lovely place to eat. Not the most authentic of "Swiss food", but if you get the opportunity--you should go.

Walk! It is a beautiful city! Save money by walking and exploring. If you need a ride,the public transit is really easy, cheap, clean, and timely.
beautiful shot coming into Zurich from the train.


Zurich was my first sweet taste of Switzerland. 
I really hope one day to be back!

June 12, 2017

Top Eight Road to Hana Tips

I wrote here about 10 things you cannot miss on your trip to Maui. I would like to elaborate on the Road to Hana as there are some research type things you should probably do before this experience. I'll mention below some of the mistakes I made by not researching fully so that you can learn from me and have the best trip possible.


Know where to stop. A big challenge is deciding which of the countless stops you'll have time for along the route. Some that we stopped at were not worth the stop. I mean this comparatively of course because everything is beautiful. My biggest tip is taking the most time for hiking to the Bamboo Forest. It is something spectacular! Other good stops: Upper Waikani Falls and Wainapanapa Beach. I did not stop at Venus Pools (didn't do my research in time to know about this place) but have heard it is good. May be better than Seven Sacred Pools which I thought were only alright.

Start early. Seriously. And set a whole day aside for this trip. There is more traffic the longer you wait and to fit in all of your stops and take the trip at your pace, you really need to be out early. This is an all day trip.

Know you will not see it all. This goes with the first two. Plan well because seeing it all is not possible, there is so much. No matter how early you get up and how late you stay. Just enjoy what you can!

Pack snacks. You may not get to your intended food stand or truck in time. Some of them have some limited hours. Just pack your own snacks and take the food as you want it, as it comes, as it is available.

Ensure enough room in the car. Yeah I tried packing a car full of people since so many people wanted to see the road. But let me tell you, sitting in a cramped back middle seat for this trip is not fun. Be selfish and think of yourself.

Drive safe. You will here a lot of people say how dangerous it is. Sure there are some scary areas, but most of it is pretty decent. Just drive safe, don't speed, and I recommend driving the road counter clockwise.

Fill up the tank. There are no gas stations between Paia (the town just before the Road to Hana officially begins) and Hana town, so fill up!

Respect Kapu and the honor system. Some guide books will tell you about great spots. Problem is that some are on private land. If anything says private property, do not go there. Respect Kapu, which translates to forbidden/keep out. Also many of the stands along the way are based on the honor system. Honor it.


Enjoy your trip!

June 9, 2017

Spinach Gnocchi

So randomly when we took our trip to Cancun, we had a meal where I experienced Gnocchi for the first time. Not being a big pasta girl I ended up loving it!

Could be that these pillows of goodness are covered in cheesy, creamy, spinach goodness? Yes...yes, that is absolutely it.

So I ended up recreating this gnocchi recipe and now it is in our easy weeknight meal rotation!


Ingredients:

1 package of gnocchi
2 tablespoons of butter
3 shakes of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of flour
1 and 1/4 cups of milk
2 cups of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook your gnocchi according to package instructions. Drain, set aside. In the same or separate pot, melt butter.

Add garlic and flour and form a roux. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook for 2-3 minutes until it begins to thicken.

Stir in the chopped spinach and continue to cook until the sauce has wilted and the sauce continues to thicken.

Remove pot from heat and add in Parmesan cheese. Return cooked gnocchi to the sauce and stir to combine.

Then eat and enjoy!

June 5, 2017

The Story of The Missing Wallet in Rome Italy

I have fallen off the blogging bandwagon lately. Here I am thinking about all the thoughts on my mind and all the travel I have done, but I just can’t find the time to sit down and blog them. So, here I am at trying to sort through hundreds of pictures on my camera that have not been organized in over 8 months. Yeah, remember I said I was going to go to Italy?! I sure did and it was so fun! I thought since I have waited this long already to share about my trip, I thought I should share my thoughts and info about all the delicious food, drinks, and gorgeous days. Enjoy, but beware, there is a TON. Talk about a photo and word dump.

So why Italy? I believe this would be the perfect country to go to (and it was). Italy is art, it has amazing cuisine, and it is easy to get around. We started our trip in Rome. Anyone who has been to Rome will most likely agree with me that you need 2-3 days. Rome has so much to see. Therefore, Rome will need to be broken up into...who knows how many blog posts!

Our hotel was great. The room was spacious, clean, it was a good location, and the breakfast was AMAZING.

But let me tell you the story of the beginning of our beautiful Italian vacation.

After a 6 hour layover in Chicago that turned into 7 hours because of a bad windshield wiper on the plane, we arrived in Rome. With carry-on baggage only (we condensed, we didn't want to lug bags all over Italy!) we went right past the baggage claim and to the train station (no customs forms in Italy!). We got our tickets and took the quick and easy 30 minute ride to Rome center. We bought our transit passes and hopped on the bus to take us right to our hotel. We could have walked, but it was quicker. We got off the bus and we immediately realized something was wrong. My husband didn't have my wallet. After some expletives I shouldn't write here, we tried to take the process one step at a time. We had read all about protecting money in Italy and even had purchased a money belt. Were we using it yet? Nope. We were going to set that up when we checked into the hotel. Did we split up credit cards, debit cards, and cash? Nope. We were going to do that in the hotel!

Our hotel by the way, was great. The room was spacious, clean, it was a good location, and the continental breakfast was the best I ever had. Put any American breakfast to shame!

To recap, so now we are in Rome on the first day of our vacation with absolutely no money. What do we do? First we visited the friendly neighborhood police station. We filed the paperwork and left with the feeling that the policewomen thought "Stupid Americans, no way you're getting that back." So we then canceled most of our cards and contacted Chase (#notsponsored). They over-nighted us a card and wired us $100 that we could pickup from the Western Union right down the street to tide us over. Whew, now at least we don't have to starve. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card comes through big! (maybe they'll give me a bonus for plugging them here!!)
After all that, we did get some sightseeing in. Stopped by the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Both very neat being Rome must-dos. We stopped for some pizza and wine (I forget where!) before heading back to the hotel. By this time, the lack of sleep and the excitement over the last 48 hours caught up to us and we were exhausted. I slept really well.

We woke up and walked to Villa Borghese (The Central Park of Rome) which was right near our hotel and were wandering through its serenity when we got a phone call from the Rome police! The only thing we understood from the 10 minute conversation was that they found our wallet. We went back to our friendly neighborhood police station and the officer there called the number that had called me. He gave us the address to that police station and we took off. There he was with our wallet in a folder with our documentation! Amazing. Not a credit, debit, or ID card missing. Not even the cash was missing! We were so happy at the honesty people must have had finding it and were just so joyful. Big thanks to the Good Samaritan who turned that in!

So all and all, the most relieved and luckiest I have been. Plus I am pretty sure I lost five pounds just running around Rome that day. Then all our money was separated and we learned our lesson and had an AMAZING trip after that.

Sorry for the longest post ever.
Bottom line, go to Rome, don't drop your wallet!
Ultimate Rome update to come!

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