Travel

My Italian Travel Wish List

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-51-24-pmI’ve been living in Italy for about six months now and while we’ve been able to explore a TON of Italian cities, there are quite a few destinations that are still on my wish list. I’ll only be in Italy for three more months so I don’t think I’ll be able to visit all ten of the places listed below (but that’s not going to stop me from trying).

  1. Naples
  2. Modena (the home of balsamic vinegar and only a 20-minute train ride from Bologna – can’t believe I haven’t been yet!)
  3. Capri
  4. Lake Como
  5. Palermo (and the rest of Sicily)
  6. Bagni San Filippo (gorgeous outdoor hot springs in Tuscany)
  7. Amalfi Coast
  8.  Siena
  9. Bari
  10. Lucca

Image via discover.planet

Travel

A Viennese Ball

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I think this room needs a few more chandeliers…

We were lucky enough to attend the 2017 IAEA Staff Association Ball at the Hofburg Palace, which was without a doubt the most amazing event I’ve ever been to. There were eight floors, over 3,500 guests, and 30+ different ballrooms and lounge areas.

To give you an idea of just how massive this event was: Evan and I got separated shortly after entering the palace and despite being in contact through text message, it took us nearly an hour to find each other again. Turns out there was more than one coat-check and grand staircase to meet at!

Throughout the night we explored various ballrooms, witnessed a Viennese acrobatic show, checked out some seriously expensive cars, and even tested our Viennese waltz skills (unfortunately, we’re still not very good).

We weren’t able to make it to every ballroom but they all had different themes like the traditional Viennese waltz room with an orchestra, the Latin room with a full band, the pop room with a DJ, and the silent disco room where it was relatively silent but everyone was dancing to music coming from their headphones.

It was one of those nights where we had no concept of time until it was suddenly 4:00 am and we had to make our way through this giant maze of a palace to the correct coat-check and then finally to our Airbnb. To put it simply, it was a night I’ll always remember.

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All dressed up with my date
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The main ballroom
Culture · Photography · Travel

Long Weekend in Vienna

 

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In front of the Austrian Parliament Building. We went on a great 2-hour tour of the city led by one of Evan’s Austrian classmates.

We headed to Vienna with Evan’s classmates in early February to attend our first ever ball (more on that in the next post)! It was a weekend of firsts since I also took my first night train in order to get there. We purchased two seats but since the train was fairly empty, we were upgraded to a sleeper cabin.

I was a little taken aback when we opened our cabin door and there were two strangers already asleep in there so we tried to locate the bar car to try and kill a couple hours. We were intercepted by a ticket inspector, who took our tickets and informed us that while there wasn’t a bar cart, we could hang out in the next car over until 3am.

On our way to the next car (not even a full minute later) we cross a different ticket inspector, angrily asking for our tickets and telling us to go back to our cabin. After a tiny freak-out thinking we were about to get kicked off the train, we were able to explain the situation and he let us through. (Not sure what the big deal was since the entire next car was completely desolate.)

After snacking and getting properly sleepy, we headed back to our cabin and I actually had no problem falling asleep. The gentle rocking of the train was incredibly calming and the only times I did wake up was when we stopped to pick up more passengers.

When morning came, the first ticket inspector we ran into gave us back our tickets, along with a traditional Austrian breakfast – bread rolls with butter and jam (and coffee, of course). Over breakfast, we chatted with our cabin mates and found out that they are both students in Austria, coming back from a little vacation in Rome.

They were so kind and one of them, George, even made sure that we made it onto the right metro once we arrived in the city. It was a whirlwind of a trip but here are a few snapshots of stunning Vienna.

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The detail on the majority of buildings in Vienna was impressive
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Hofburg Palace – where the ball was held
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The iconic roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Food · Restaurants · Travel

My Maltese Food Diary

Saturday

Breakfast:

No visit to Valletta is complete without a trip to the famous Caffe Cordina, which first opened its doors over 175 years ago. We went with two traditional Maltese sweets: a kannol  rikotta (basically their less sweet version of an Italian cannoli) and a honey ring (made with treacle, marmalade, orange peel, spices, and honey). Both were delicious and combined with the fact that it was warm enough to eat outside in the sunshine, made this a great start to our day.

Lunch:

Located in the same palazzo as Caffe Cordina is Eddie’s Cafe. I ordered the Maltese dips, which included galletti (traditional Maltese crackers), gbejniet (Maltese cheese), bigilla (mashed beans), fazola, capunata tomatoes, Maltese sausage, olives, tuna, gardiniera (pickled vegetables), and capers. It was fun to taste a bunch of Maltese specialties all at once, especially while listening to the peculiar sound of Maltese as a group of older women chatted a few tables over from us.

Dinner:

Unfortunately, the restaurant I was planning to take us to for dinner was closed for the entire month of January. We ran into this issue quite a few times since Malta is such a seasonal destination. Despite this tiny hiccup, we were seated at Tico Tico, where I enjoyed some fresh, salmon-stuffed tortelloni.

Sunday

Breakfast:

Sunday was the day we went on our (very long) journey to Gozo so we grabbed a quick bite at the cafe right around the corner from our Airbnb. Still very full from the night before, we split a Maltese pastizzi, a pastry filled with ricotta. The cafe was definitely a local spot, with almost everyone speaking Maltese.

Lunch:

Ta’Rikardu, located in Victoria on the island of Gozo, was the perfect spot to get a little afternoon pick-me-up. Rikardu makes his own wine and goat cheese from his farm so everything was super fresh. There is also a little shop downstairs filled with handmade crafts and food items that was fun to check out.

Dinner:

For dinner, we took the bus to the sea-side town of Xlendi and like the previous night, the restaurant I was planning on taking us to was closed for the entire month. Literally the only restaurant open was Mobydick , which was right on the water and offered peaceful sounds of the breaking waves throughout our meal. I also spent much of our meal pointing out the many cats that were hovering around our table looking for scraps. I wasn’t too hungry so I opted for a simple vegetable soup but Evan got the traditional rabbit stew, which was super flavorful and tasty.

Monday

Breakfast:

We took a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb to “downtown” Nadur, which consisted of an atm, coffee shop, and giant church. Another Maltese pastizzi for breakfast, along with a chocolate donut (naturally). For two cappucinos and two pastries, our breakfast bill was €3. Basically, I love Maltese prices.

Lunch:

Back in Valletta for the rest of the afternoon, we popped into Da Pippo Trattoria on a whim. Best. Meal. In. Malta. By. Far. The small restaurant was very busy but we were able to grab the last open table. As soon as we were seated, our waiter placed a plateful of fresh goatcheese, tomatoes, and capers in front of us. After a couple minutes, he came back to our table and asked us what we were in the mood for – meat, seafood, pasta. No menus, he said, they only cook what they could get from the market that morning. Afterwards, he brought us a clam linguine and lobster ravioli, which were two of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had (and I live in Italy). That was followed by chocolate canolis, limoncello, and espresso. After all that food, I basically had to be rolled out of the restaurant but it was one of those meals that we’ll remember for years to come.

Photography · Travel

Our Trip to the Maltese Island of Gozo

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The stunning Azure Window at sunset

Gozo is a small island just north of mainland Malta and we spent one night there during our trip. I found Valletta to be a relatively calm city but Gozo offers the ultimate peace and quiet, while still having lots of sites to explore.

Getting to Gozo isn’t the most straightforward process. We ended up taking a one-hour bus ride from Valletta to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal, then a 25-minute ferry ride to the city of Mgarr in Gozo, then we caught another bus from Mgarr to our Airbnb in Nadur.

Including wait time, our entire journey took about three hours. That’s not to say that it wasn’t absolutely beautiful – much of the bus route followed the coastline and the ferry ride was fantastic (and only €4.65 round trip!).

We spent our afternoon in Gozo exploring Victoria and watching the sunset at the Azure Window. The historic citadel in Victoria was incredible, offering views of the Meditterean from all directions and every church steeple on the entire island. We learned that the residents of Gozo were required by law to sleep within the citadel walls for protection against pirates up until 1637!

The views from Victoria were breathtaking but the Azure Window at sunset didn’t even seem real. We spent an hour there watching the sunset, taking pictures, and taking in our surroundings. There is something about the ocean that I will always be drawn to – I think it will always be my happy place (whether it be the Pacific Ocean, Meditterean Sea, or some other big body of water).

Before turning in for the night we chatted with our Airbnb host, Maxine, for a bit. This was the first time I’ve stayed in a room in someone’s home (and not have an apartment to myself) but I have to say, we had such a great experience. Maxine is an artist and art teacher – her beautiful, modern paintings and sketches were on display all over her immaculate home.

One of the coolest parts of the evening was when she led us to her rooftop and pointed to a light in the distance, which she informed us was Sicily. She said on very clear nights she is actually able to see the headlights of moving cars over there!

I loved our time in Gozo and I think that everyone that visits Malta should definitely plan a trip to Gozo as well. Plus, I hear that summertime in Gozo offers some of the best diving and rock climbing spots around.

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The Azure Window is where Game of Thrones shot the Dothraki Wedding. Naturally, we were geeking out quite a bit during our visit.
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More cats because I truly am a cat lady
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From the top of the citadel in Victoria
Photography · Travel

Malta’s Tiny Capital City – Valletta

 

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Our first glimpse of Valletta in daylight

Covering only 0.5 square miles, Valletta is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities (only Vaduz in Liechtenstein is smaller). We flew to Valletta for a long weekend and decided to take the bus into the city center to save some money.

The buses in Valletta and all of Malta are wonderfully cheap and it is fairly easy to reach most points of interest by bus. Our ride into the city reminded me of the knight bus from Harry Potter, weaving and turning through narrow city streets at an incredibily fast pace (and hitting the breaks equally as fast).

We made it to our Airbnb in Floriana, a neighborhood of Valletta, in record time and were greeted by our wonderful host, Marco. He showed us around our quaint apartment, which included showing us how to use the space heater.

Most places in Malta do not have heat since it enjoys mild winter temperatures. It’s only during a couple months out of the year (like January, when we visited) that space heaters may be necessary.

Our space heater used propane, which spread a distinct bbq/ camping smell throughout the apartment. Definitely not the safest but it sure was memorable! Marco was also one of the sweetest hosts we’ve had and made sure to point out the nearest convenience store, bakery, and bar before leaving us with the keys.

The next day we set out to see some of the major sites of the city, which included seeing the Saluting Battery at noon from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. For over 400 years guns from this point have been used to calibrate chronographs on ships, signal the opening and closing of the city gates, and (of course) defend the city.

We witnessed the noonday battery, which was so great that we went back to see it again at 4pm. That also sums up my general feelings towards Valletta – a beautiful city that I would love to return to someday (hopefully when it’s warmer and a propane space heater isn’t needed).

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View of the Saluting Battery from the Upper Barrakka Gardens
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Siege Bell War Memorial immediately before a mini storm came through
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Malta is filled with tons of very-well-cared-for cats
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View of the city center from Sliema

 

Italian Culture · Photography · Travel

Final Stop of Our European Road Trip: The Weaving Streets of Cinque Terre

 

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Vernazza is the only town of the Cinque Terre that has a natural port

Stunning snapshots of Cinque Terre (which means Five Lands in Italian) have been peppering my Instagram and Facebook newsfeeds since I moved to Italy. It’s less than a two hours train ride from Bologna so several of Evan’s classmates have been, which made it a necessary last stop on our road trip. Well, we made a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong – the one village of Cinque Terre that we were able to see (Vernazza) was beautiful and quaint. Our mistake was made when we tried to drive there. Our initial plan was to stop in the northernmost town, Monterosso al Mare, but we ran into a hiccup when (after driving almost an hour out of our way, down winding roads and tiny mountain towns) we discovered that the limited parking spots in the town were full.

No problem! We’ll just head to the next town, Vernazza, and grab some lunch there. Well, while the two towns are technically right next to each other on the coast, if you have a car that means you have to drive all the way up the mountain then all the way back down.

The journey was filled with sharp turns, crumbling roads, and breathtaking views. After almost 40 additional minutes in the car, we finally arrived in Vernazza, parked our car, and walked another 20 minutes into the tiny town.

While I’m thrilled that we were able to view just a handful of the areas picturesque landscapes, I will definitely be taking the train next time I visit. Perhaps for a weekend spent backpacking between the five towns, which seems to be the thing to do in Cinque Terre.

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I loved the vibrant colors of the buildings
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The Belforte Tower – built in the 11th century and offers great views of the entire coast
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The tiny town of Vernazza has just 1,250 inhabitants