Zermatt

There seems to be a common theme to this trip, which is that of each city we visit we have one beautiful day and one horrible weather day. Zermatt was no exception. We arrived on Monday afternoon to rain and began our short walk to our hotel. We quickly realized that what sounded like a bunch of tourists with rolling luggage was actually thunder. Nonstop thunder. It was black and thick clouds hung low all around us. The rain picked up. We had maybe 4 minutes left to the hotel when the sky opened up and started to not only soak us, but pelt us with hail. We were absolutely drenched when we got to reception.

Our room was not yet ready, which meant dropping off our stuff and heading back out into the rain. We found a delicious Italian restaurant called Molino that took us in and served us pizza. In a funny twist, the family had been in the same train car with us on the ride up ended up sitting down at our table 20 minutes later. They seemed far less wet. In the bathroom, I took off my shoes and wrung off my socks in the sink, and then returned them to my sloshing shoes.

We stopped at the local grocery store and stocked up on the essentials: wine, beer, chocolate, chips, and candy. A few hours later when the rain was less downpour and more mist, we took a stroll along some streets near our hotel. But with the steep hills and me still having this stupid cold, we didn’t last long.

Dan and I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening snacking in our room, using the hairdryer to (attempt to) dry every article of clothing we brought with us. All that did was make the room smell like hot feet. The plan for Zermatt was to see that Matterhorn and do some hiking, but that didn’t seem even remotely plausible looking at the weather forecast for the remainder of our time there. Instead of venturing out into the rain again, we skipped dinner and went to bed.

By some Christmas miracle, Dan woke up at 5:30 am and noticed it wasn’t raining and that it was only partly cloudy. Part of the Matterhorn was actually visible! We rushed outside to snap photos (in what turned out to be the best view of the Matterhorn all day).

We figured this good weather wouldn’t last, so we took one of the earliest cog trains to the top of Gornergrat mountain. It was one of the most stunning views I had ever seen. 10,000 feet in the air and surrounded by 29 fourteen thousand foot mountains.

Dan and I seemed to the only ones dressed appropriately and saw more than one tourist wipe out on the snow and ice, wearing flats or heels.

Instead of taking the train all the way back down, we got off at Riffelap and decided to hike the rest of the way down. The weather was still cooperating so we took advantage.

On our way down, we encountered Switzerland’s cows and their famous bells!

 

We stopped for lunch at Donner Take Away. The food in Zermatt, and all over Switzerland we hear, is very expensive. Raclette is upwards of $40 per person, vegetarian pad thai was $38. But we got takeaway wraps for $12 each–a steal. By this time it was mid-afternoon and it hadn’t rained all day. We were so happy to get a break and be able to see more of this beautiful town. We walked around town, visited the museum, and went in search of the sheep we could see from the hills (no luck).

Around 5:00 pm, it began to lightly rain. We picked up sushi and Ramen noodles from the coop and more snacks ($16 total), and ate dinner in our room–after an extremely satisfying day!

Before heading out of town, we took one final stroll to the hill to see the sheep. There were so many of them and they were so cute!!

Of course, it’s beautiful and sunny here as I type this from the train and we travel to our next destination. But what I think is so great about travel is that it forces you to make the best out of every situation and seize the day–whether that’s walking in the rain, or eating Toblerone in your room, or hiking down a mountain.

Onto Lauterbrunnen for the next three days!

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Annecy, France

Saturday morning, we took a train from Lyon, France to Annecy and arrived around 10:00 AM. Annecy was a town I’d never heard of and learned about through one of those 5 minute travel videos that pop up on Facebook. I think the theme was “lesser known travel destinations.” As soon as I saw Annecy on it, I sent the link to Dan with a comment along the lines of, “Oh my god, we need to go here” and 10 exclamation points. It looked so gorgeous. I wanted to visit Annecy, and after doing some guided iFit workouts in Interlaken, Dan really wanted to visit Switzerland. Thus how our France/Switzerland itinerary was born.

[Just as an quick aside – folks keep asking us if this trip was another one of our amazing deals. It was and it wasn’t. It was in the sense that we got amazingly cheap plane tickets through TAP Air Portugal: $630 for two people from NYC > Paris and back from Zurich > NYC, with short layovers in Portugal on each end. But it wasn’t one of those all-inclusive, everything-is-planned-for-you trips. Dan did most of our planning once we knew where we wanted to go. He’s sort of the best like that.]

When we arrived in Annecy, it was too early to check into our hotel, so we strolled the streets and looked around. It was picturesque: Old buildings sitting on top of the canal, swans and ducks swimming, restaurants, cafes, and bridges at nearly every intersection. It was definitely a slower pace than the hustle and bustle of Paris and Lyon we had just experienced.

 

We made our way to gorgeous Lake Annecy. Because we had time to kill and because it was a sunny day, we ended up renting a boat. As we cruised the lake, we could see snow-capped mountains and lush green terraces all around us.

 

Annecy’s nickname is Venice of the Alps. I don’t think that’s really a fair comparison because they are so different–and Annecy is much larger and has a giant lake–but I can see what people mean.

Later in the day, we decided to rent bikes and pedal around the lake. We biked 6.5 miles, watching people tan and swim on the shores and stopping to watch some older men play bocce.

Our dinner that night was a baguette, a hunk of sharp, delicious cheese, and vin (for me, Coca Cola for Dan) picnic-style in the park. We people-watched and felt the last of the sun on our backs.

Unfortunately, the second day was a washout and I woke up with a cold. I thought maybe I felt like crap due to the fact that we inadvertently took up smoking here (literally everyone smokes. It’s impossible to avoid it). But no, legit cold. We made the most of the day and visited an old castle and prison, both now museums.

We walked around in the rain window shopping and of course eating. I also took a nap in the middle of day and I think that is the first time in vacation history I can say that. I blame it on the cold.

We finished our time in Annecy strolling through an old cemetery and having dinner at an Italian restaurant. Because of the proximity to the Italy border, Annecy had a surprising number of Italian food spots. I got truffle mushroom linguine and Dan got gnocchi in a cream pistachio sauce. Both were tremendous!

 

Overall, the bar was set high for Annecy and it absolutely lived up to those expectations, and more. I would encourage anyone traveling to southern France to add it to your list!

Onto Zermatt, Switzerland!

Paree!

Oh, Paris, I was so wrong about you.

Out of all of the cities Dan and I planned for this two week trip to France and Switzerland, Paris was the one I was looking forward to the least. I had it in my head that the people would be stuck up, crime would be rampant, and I’d be disappointed with the cuisine. I was thankfully wrong on all accounts. Here are some of my favorite things from Paris:

  1. Our cab driver from the airport.When we told him the name and street our boutique hotel was on, he answered back in French what I can only assume is, “Where the hell is that?” Thus started about a 15 minute conversation in which he didn’t speak a lick of English and we spoke the 20 French words we knew.  It was a pretty one-sided conversation. He must have said “Aye, aye, aye,” sprinkled in with a few “mama mia”s and the “get out of here” hand gesture forty times, as he flipped through a street book on Paris and we watched the pouring rain come down. After an eternity, something clicked and we were finally off. For a guy who drove cars for a living, he really, really hated traffic. We heard another twenty “ayes,” and sighs, as Dan and I chuckled to ourselves. I think my favorite part though, was when he nearly ran into a bicyclist, and instead of either of them screaming at one another, the bicyclist gave the driver a smile and a thumbs up, and the driver sat back to clap and laugh at the near miss.
  2. Drinking coffee and people watching. Parisians seem to have invented people watching and enjoy it as much as they like to smoke (which is a lot). At every cafe, the chairs face the street instead of the person you’re with, so that you can sip your espresso and openly stare at everyone walking by. It’s awesome.
  3. Macarons.

    HOW HAD NEITHER OF US EVER HAD A MACARON?! And why did we both think they would be hard as a rock? They are delicious, magical creatures and might just be my new favorite thing. Like getting gelato in Italy, I think we might need to start a daily macaroon count. I’m up to 10. I must do better.
  4. The architecture.
    Everything is so old and so beautiful. We stopped countless times just to point out some decorative feature of a building to one another.
  5. The Seine.
    From strolling along its bank, to seeing the people who came out at night to wine and dine on it, the Seine was absolutely beautiful. We took a 1 hour cruise at night that brought us by the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and many other beautiful buildings and bridges.
  6. The Eiffel Tower.
    It’s bigger and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I don’t know why it looks so small in photos, but it’s just slightly shorter than the Empire State Building. Dan and I braved it and took a ride all the way up to the very top! I got a little wobbly in the knees (having a touch of Vertigo at the moment and that wasn’t helping), but Dan was a champ and walked the entire perimeter. Pro tip: visit it at night in the pouring rain — no lines, no waiting, no one trying to sell you shit!
  7. The rain.

    I know, I know. Paris in the rain, can we get a little more cliche. But I’m telling you, we found it beautiful and didn’t mind being soaking wet.
  8. Arc de Triomphe.

    I had no idea you could go up the top of it! (Can you tell I did a lot of research in preparation for this trip? TGFD – Thank God For Dan). Yeah, you can definitely go to the top – you just have to walk up 284 stairs. To quote our cab driver, Aye! Our quads were burning and my head was spinning, but we made it. The top gave us spectacular views.  Also, I found my family name carved into it!
  9. Paul and his sandwichesWe discovered some chain called Paul which allowed us to get $4 baguettes with cheese and veggies, as we strolled the streets. We love how passionately people love their bread here and feel right at home.
  10. Escargot.
    As delicious as they are fun to get out of their shell. I had never had them before, but really enjoyed. I couldn’t help but feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman where she sends one flying across the room and says, “Slippery little suckers.”

We’re off to Lyon, France now!

How to Travel to ANY Destination!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
– St. Augustine

We have a dry erase board at work that we use to ask each other different questions every month. A few months ago the question was, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” It’s an innocent enough question, but it actually really bothered me. And it bothered me because of one word: if.

As I literally found myself writing a public service announcement response about how attainable travel really is, I thought better of it and decided to write here instead. So let me just state the obvious: Traveling to your favorite destination IS possible! 

The problem with the word “if” is that it qualifies travel as this mysterious thing that only happens to really rich/lucky people and is something that is never going to happen to you. Don’t accept that. You get one fucking life. ONE. You CAN be a person who travels to a place they read about in a magazine, or saw in a movie, or heard about through a friend. Like anything in life, you have to make travel a priority and you have to come up with a plan. Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Pick the destination in your mind. That’s all you have to do for step one. Just know where you want to go.

Step 2: Do some research. Figure out the cost of flights, hotels, rental car, and any activities you might do there. You’re just ball-parking at this point—no need to get exact.

Step 3: Get real about your money.  Now that you know how much the trip could potentially cost, look at your finances. Do you have that much money in your bank account? If yes, awesome! If not, time to analyze. Excluding bills, what are you spending your money on? Look for items that you could curtail, like that $5 Frapp you buy each morning. Expenses that don’t seem like very much in the moment add up over time. A $5 coffee each morning = $35 a week, $150 a month, or $1825 a year! That’s like an entire trip right there! Maybe you have an online shopping habit, or maybe you go to the movies each weekend. Whatever it is, ask yourself, “Is this more important than traveling?” If it is, I have no time for you — goodbye. If it’s not, read on!

Step 4: Setup a savings account JUST FOR TRAVEL.  Did you gasp at this idea? I know, me too when I thought of it originally (note: I did not invent this idea). When my partner Dan and I were first getting into travel and doing these same steps, we knew we had to do something different than saving money in our bank accounts. If we saw money in there, we were going to spend it. So I had the idea of us physically withdrawing money every paycheck and putting it in a “travel jar.” Beside this being a really dumb idea if we had been robbed, it was also foolish because it meant the money we were saving was not gaining any interest. So instead we looked for a savings account with a high interest rate. We landed with an online bank and a 1% interest rate. I highly suggest using a different bank than the one you keep the rest of your money in so that you are not easily tempted to use it. What you want to do is pretend this account doesn’t exist or that you don’t have permission to access it. I love my bank for this reason because I don’t have an ATM card…BUT if shit hits the fan, I can do an online transfer to my other bank in a couple days.

Another tip is to open a credit card that earns travel points. There are lots out there that help you earn miles, or will even forgive travel related expenses.

Step 5: Start saving money. Some people will interpret this sentence as, “DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF EVERYTHING.” But that’s not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is little improvements here and there. Think back to step 3 and how much you’re spending on non-essentials and decide on a number that is doable for you. I don’t care if you can only afford to save $9 a paycheck–do it. Go to your HR department, give them that magical number and setup a direct deposit. You will be shocked at how quickly this money adds up!

Step 6: Get obsessed with savings. You’ve got your travel savings account, you’re making regular deposits, and now it’s time to get obsessed with saving money. How exactly do you do this? Challenge yourself to make deposits whenever possible and then be really proud of yourself when you do!

Let’s pretend you were thinking of going out to dinner. After booze and food, your meal might have cost you $25-$50. Let’s also pretend your plans fell through and now you’re making dinner at home. Take the $25-50 you would have spent on that meal and deposit it!  Here’s another scenario:  you just got a raise at work. Guess what? You survived on the amount you were making before. Time to invest the difference. Calculate your increase per paycheck, go back to HR, and change the amount you are depositing into your travel account. Again, I don’t care if you’re only make .38c more per paycheck — deposit it!

Step 7: Get prepared to actually use some of your time off. I can’t tell you how many people I know who lose PTO by the end of the year because they didn’t take enough days off. What the actual fuck is wrong with these people!? They’re PAID vacation days. They are one of the perks of your employment! If you are one of these people, first of all, I feel sorry for you. Secondly, what are you worried about? That the office is going to fall apart without you? That your boss will deny your request? If you have a good boss, they will understand the importance of taking time off. It’s not just some cush benefit; we receive time off to RESET so that we can come back and continue to do our jobs well. We are not doing ourselves or our organization any favors by being overworked, super grumps. So use it!

Step 8: Be flexible on the timing of your trip. Did you know timing can greatly affect how much your trip costs? A recent study said that the best time to book domestic flights is 54 days out; the booking window for international flights varies greatly.  Even the day of week you fly on matters. I highly recommend using Google Flights to try different days and months.

Another factor is that every destination has a peak tourist season.You can save yourself a lot of money and avoid big crowds by booking off-season. For example, Italy’s peak season is May-August. Dan and I have visited twice: once in April and once in late May/early June. The trip we took off season saved us upwards of $500 per person!

But let’s be honest — sometimes you are choosing a location because of the season. For example, you might be booking a trip to a Caribbean island to escape winter. In that case, understand there’s not much you can do and get used to the idea of paying a premium.

Step 9. Keep your eyes peeled for deals. There are tons of travel websites out there that offer vacation packages. They often come up suddenly and disappear just as quickly. But if you can find one, bundling your airfare and lodging will save you so much money! I personally swear by Travelzoo. They release a weekly email called The Top 20, which features the best deals they’ve come across from each week. I’ve booked at least three vacations through them. Remember how I said we found an off-season deal to Italy? That was through Travelzoo: 7 nights, airfare, hotels, and rental car for a total of $699 per person. Literally less than the price of one airplane ticket to Italy. You can also try the vacation bundle options at Priceline, Kayak, and Travelocity (or a million other sites).

Step 10. Make a more concrete budget. In step 2, you researched ballpark prices of airfare, lodging, car rental and activities. Now it’s time to get exact prices. You should have an idea of when you want to travel, so start plugging in some dates and times to get costs. Try different websites, different days of the week, and different months. Think about the activities you want to do while you’re there and get some prices. When you’ve collected all the pieces, make a budget that includes:

  • Anything you need to buy for your trip. For example, do you need a passport?
  • Transportation to/from the airport
  • Airfare
  • Lodging
  • Car rental or public transportation at the destination
  • Activities (entrance fees, tickets, etc)
  • Food and drink

After making this budget, you might find you still don’t have enough money. And that can discouraging, but it’s part of the process. Keep saving! When you finally do have enough to take this trip, you will appreciate it so much more.

Step 11. Pull the trigger! When you’ve finally saved enough money to get to the destination of your dreams, pat yourself on the back! You set a goal for yourself and you did it! Tell work you’re finally going to take a freakin’ vacation. Then book that trip and have an amazing time!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

2016: My Year in Review

Sometimes I can be hard on myself. I tend to get to the end of a year and think, “I didn’t do this” or “I never got around to that.” This year, as I sifted through the 1,300 photos on my iPhone, I realized I actually had a really phenomenal year and that’s worth celebrating!

1. I met Hillary fucking Clinton. Sorry, Dan, that had to be number 1.

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2. I read 20 books.

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3. We spent my birthday at a relaxing Spa.

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4. We went “across” with my Mom. CAPPA.

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5. We flew over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

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6. We visited Europe…twice…!

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7. I learned some Italian.

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8. I ran 2 miles, two days a week, for most weeks.

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9. I wrote more here on my blog.

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10. I danced on stage with Morris Day and the Time.

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11. We saw Pearl Jam, The Dixie Chicks, Brandi Carlile, and Rev Run in concert.

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12. We spent a week on Martha’s Vineyard and celebrated Dan’s 37th birthday.

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13. We went to the Warren Fourth of July Parade for the first time and Dan won $75 worth of cheese.

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14. We hiked, walked and ran with Sadie more this year.

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15. We kayaked and fished.

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16. We saw 4 Lake Monsters games.

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17. I won 99 $1.00 bills at Breakwaters.

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18. I also won a year of flea prevention medicine for Sade, ha.

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19. I spent a lot of time with family.

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20. I baked countless breads, cookies and pastries.

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21. We gave our greenhouse a makeover.

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22. We installed new basement windows.

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23. I cuddled (a lot) with Brody and Sadie.sadie-brody-cuddling
24. We spent some QT with friends.

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25. We played on a softball team and donned jeggings.softball
26. We ran a 5K and had to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the middle of it (and yes I realize how counter productive this was to #8)

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27. I became very close to the cat next door, Lily.

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28. I got to see one of my best friends have a baby (note: not *literally* see) and become an honorary Auntie.

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29. We visited Portland, ME.

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30. We went to Hampton Beach.

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31. We had awesome foliage and went on a leaf-peeing adventure to the NEK.

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32. I got *really* into nail art.

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33. I developed a new-found appreciation for both my dad and Sherlock Holmes.

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34. We made teacup bird feeders and became bird watchers.

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35. We got lots of snow in December and I continued trying to learn how to snowboard.

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36. I got to honor a close friend and coworker with a goofy video.

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37. I became a Nasty Woman – ok, let’s be honest: I always was one, but finally got the t-shirt to prove it.img_9507

38. I organized a drive for period products for a domestic violence organization.period-products-drive
39. I rekindled an important friendship.

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40. And…I finally hit that mother f-ing jackpot on Candy Crush.

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What a year!

8 Things America Could Learn From Italy

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Venice, Italy, romance capital of the world ❤

We just spent 10 amazing, romantic and unforgettable days in northern Italy. It was the first of many new experiences for the two of us – first time traveling across the Atlantic
ocean, first time in Europe, first time driving in another country, etc. We drove a total of 1400 kilometers, visited 14 towns/cities, walked an average of 9 miles per day, and consumed enough gelato to fill a Baskin Robbins.

When we weren’t stuffing our faces with ice cream, biscotti, wine, spaghetti, pesto, bread, cheese and cured meats, we were observing the culture and the world around us. Turns out there’s a lot we could learn from Italy.

  1. Affordable food and wine—ok, so the wine prices were actually more like highway robbery and I was the bad guy. Restaurants had house wine for $1-2 Euro/glass! At one restaurant, the half bottle of wine I ordered cost the same amount as a liter of bottled water – a whopping $3.50 Euros, not that I would ever drink a half bottle of wine by myself…
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    Drinkin’ at lunch

    Breakfast was our cheapest meal of the day. We would get two cappuccinos and two cornetti (croissants), and consume them at the counter. Stuffed with chocolate, nutella, or fruit, the cornetti were just out of the oven and were buttery and delicious. We’d hardly talk to each other as we savored each bite and washed them down with delicious, foamy cappuccinos. Then we’d laugh uncontrollably when we’d get the bill: $5 Euro total. We’d be lucky if we got change from a twenty if this was what we ordered back home.

    Cappuccini & Cornetti

    Cappuccini & Cornetti

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    One of the many storefronts that lured is in! Florence, Italy

    Dan was excited to be surrounded by meats.

    Dan was excited to be surrounded by meats.

    Lunch usually meant we were out exploring (read: walking) and our  meal would be on the go. Sometimes we’d sit down for lunch, but often we’d be draw to whatever tantalizing creation was in a storefront window: Freshly baked panini with slices of mozzarella and pancetta…pizza or focaccia topped with olives and prosciutto…cured meats and cheeses hanging from the ceiling…It all came to less than $10 Euro per person and included a drink.

    Dinner was the one time of the day where we spent more money on food…but mostly because Italians believe in eating 72 courses. See #2 & 3 for more deets on that!

    Eating and drinking like this makes you realize how unnecessarily expensive stuff is in America! We visited a local grocery store and purchased giant jugs of sparkling water (frizzanti) only to learn they were .25c. Twenty five cents. But then again, why should water cost more than that?

  1. Paying restaurant workers a livable wage instead of tips. When I was a server ten years ago, I earned $3.65 per hour. Everyone in the industry told me it was normal because I’d make it up in tips. They failed to mention and I was too naïve to think about what would happen on those days I didn’t make it up in tips…the days when the restaurant was dead, when you got cut early, when after you paid out the bussers and dishwashers you were walking home with $20 in your pocket. Those were scary days and I was just a single person—I couldn’t imagine living off from that and having a family to support. But Italy gets it. Their tips are rolled into the price of your dining experience and in fact, it’s considered taboo to leave more than a 5% tip. We learned about tipping the hard way during our first dinner in Montecatini Terme, our home base city for the first half of our trip. We went took the funicular, this old, red railcar, up to the top of Montecatini Alto and stumbled upon the most adorable B&B that served dinner.
    Funicular In Montecatini Terme to Alto

    Funicular In Montecatini Terme to Alto

    We were overcome by the charm of the restaurant, the glass jars of biscotti that decorated the tables and the smells and sights of everyone eating around us. So we did the full on “Italian meal” – antipasti, primi and secondi courses, complete with wine. Our bill came to $84 Euros (again, think of us laughing uncontrollably over the ridiculously low price). We read that if you had exceptional service, you could leave a Euro or two. So we left $90 Euro and walked out. A moment later, the owner of the restaurant came running outside, our six euros in hand, telling us, “You forgot your change!” We couldn’t believe it. “Welp, I guess the guidebook was right!” we thought. From then on, we didn’t try to tip again.

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    Dinner night one at restaurant Casa Di Gala Di Simona Barsonti

  1. Taking your sweet-ass time to eat a meal with someone you love. If you picture sitting down for a quick bite to eat in Florence or Venice, and being on your merry way, you better go to another country. Italians consider dining an experience, an experience you better have adequate time for. They want you to relax, enjoy delicious food and wine, digest, enjoy more delicious food and wine, talk to your sweetheart, look around, enjoy even more delicious food and wine, do even more talking. It was common for dinner for last 2-3 hours.
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    Antipasti.

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    Mussels, prawn and scallops and pasta. Can still taste it.

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    “Seafood salad” is a little different in Italy, ha! Cinque, Terre, Italy.

    Often when we were eating dinner, we’d notice empty tables around us reserved for a few hours later.  We’d witness the restaurant turn away patron after patron, saying they were fully booked.  The go-go-go, make-as-much-money-as-you-can Americans in us couldn’t believe they weren’t seating people at those tables. Surely they could sneak a table in before the reservation? But that was the point – they don’t want to sneak people it, they don’t want to rush and they don’t want their customers to feel rushed.  This concept took some getting used to. We found ourselves wanting the service to be faster and to just get our bill already so we could move on to the next thing. But by the end of the trip, I think we both realized how nice it was to slow down, actually taste your food and really enjoy the company of the person you were with. I wish we could this more back here in the states.

  2. Frequent reststops–with real food–on the Highway (Autostrada).

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    Grabbing a cornetti on the highway!


    When we landed in Milan after an 8-hour red-eye flight, our adrenaline was pumping and we were eager to pick up our rental car. It took us about an hour on the Autostrada to realize just how hungry we were. Because we had no idea what types of restaurants were around us, we decided to pull into the next rest stop for some snacks, our expectations low. We were shocked to open the door of The Autogrill and find a full coffee bar, a sandwich counter, pizza, every beverage imaginable, candy, souvenirs, wine, beer, DVDs, CDs, etc.”Oh my god,” we said simultaneously as we migrated toward the sandwich counter. “Look at all of this foooood!”We ordered two prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches and went to a nearby table to consume them. They were so fresh and real that the bread was still warm and our faces were dusted in flour. We said nothing to each other as we devoured our first Italian food, occasionally  getting out an “Mmmm,” or a “Wow.” It was a religious experience. But we still weren’t convinced that all reststops in Italy were like this. Maybe we had just stumbled upon a large one? Maybe this was just a fluke?Not only were all reststops just like the first (some even larger than the first), but they were frequent on the highway, popping up about every 30-50 KM. Each came complete with a restaurant, as well as gas & diesel. I thought back to our pathetic attempts at rest stops here in Vermont. There are maybe 3 the entire length of I-89 and the only food they offer is junk from a vending machine and a few ounces of free coffee. And if you have to pee, you better do it while you have the chance or risk having to hold your urine for another 1-2 hours. Once again, Italy set quite the example to take after.

  3. Color coordinated driving signs. If you’re still reading this, you’re likely wondering why I’m now talking about driving signs and asking when I’ll get back to describing the food. Hold tight, partner. One of the most helpful things we discovered as first-time drivers in a country that spoke a different language was that the Autostrada signs were green and routes were blue. If at any point we got turned around, all we’d have to do was look for a green sign to get us back on the highway. This can be helpful when say, you’re approaching your 50th rotary in a 10 KM stretch. To avoid a National Lampoon’s European Vacation moment, Dan just followed the green signs to get us to the Autostrada. We probably went through 100+ rotaries on our trip and only messed up on two. As the Navigator, I was pretty proud of that stat! BTW, another helpful driving tip is to download Google Maps and use their “Offline maps” section. You select the region you want and can then get turn by turn directions without using data on your phone.

    We pretended this was our car. Florence, Italy

    We pretended this was our car. Florence, Italy

  4. Paying $1 for clean bathrooms. I dreaded the first time I had to pee in a public place in Italy, like the train station or a city center, thinking about how dirty and disgusting they would be. I was also pretty annoyed to learn I had to pay $.50 to $1.00 to use what I thought would be a gross “water closet”. IMG_6461IMG_6460But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the places that charged did so because they had staff on hand cleaning the stalls non-stop. As a result, I experienced some of the cleanest public bathrooms ever in Italy. I thought back to all of the nasty Starbucks bathrooms I’d used over the years, or urine soaked stalls at bars and restaurants. After a few days in Italy, I was happy to pay for a clean experience And speaking of bathrooms…many faucets there were operated by a foot lever – um, genius! Why don’t we do that?!
  5. Literally the freshest food you can imagine. Vermont really prides itself on sourcing local food whenever possible and supporting area farmers and their families in the process. Italy on the other hand, fresh and local is all they know and do. The basil in your pesto was picked and ground that day, the bread on your table was baked that morning and the prawn on your plate was caught that afternoon. Everything is fresh and it changes the way your food tastes. Eating simple things like a tomato salad, I’d think, “This is the best tomato I’ve ever had!”And it probably was. Lack of processed foods has to also be a contributing factor to why no one was overweight there. That and walking everywhere. Italy also proved that you don’t need to create elaborate, complicated meals. Meals with a few fresh ingredients were some of our favorites. We’re going to try to bring that concept back home.
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    Fresh off the boat seafood. Venice, Italy

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    The most amazing pesto we ever had/will ever have in our lives. Cinque Terre, Italy.

    8. Displaying love and affection, even for acquaintances. It’s well known that Italy is considered the romance capital of Europe. After spending an evening in a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice, I can vouch for that. But what I didn’t know is just how affectionate Italians are to their friends and even acquaintances. Every meeting I observed came with an embrace, kiss on the cheek and huge smiles. One of my favorite memories of the whole trip didn’t even involve us. We were walking around Venice, stuffing our faces with fill-in-the-blank-snack-cause-it-had-been-two-hours-since-our-last-meal-and-we-were-fucking-starrrving, when I saw a woman with two young children approach an older man with a cane. I watched their interaction, trying to figure out how they knew each other. It felt like they were not family, but maybe neighbors, or someone she knew several years prior. The woman and the man hugged, and made chit chat. Then the woman introduced the man to her children, and this is where the man began to beam. He bent down to each of the young children, cupped their faces in his hands, kissed them, and told their mother what I can only assume was something like ‘they are so beautiful.’ He kept talking to the children, smiling and laughing, hugging their mom in the process. It was all so beautiful and so genuine.

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    Gondola Ride. Venice, Italy

  6. Romance explosion! Tuscany, Italy.

    Romance explosion! Tuscany, Italy.

Italians know what matters in life: It’s not work, it’s not expensive clothes and cars (though Milan could have fooled us), it’s people and the relationships you create that matter the most. And if you can find a few good friends to break bread with, a family to laugh and share memories with, and a partner to love and go on lots of adventures with, well then that’s… bellissimo.