Travel

A Perfect Easter Weekend on Lake Como

 

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Our first Lake Como sunset

Lake Como. A place that even my friends that have a fierce “been there, done that” attitude have proclaimed that they would gladly revisit someday. It’s a destination that couldn’t be more photogenic and succeeded at taking my breath away at every angle. I see why George Clooney likes it.

Even the train ride into the tiny town of Lierna, our Airbnb location, offered up incredible views, serving as both a means to get us excited for the upcoming weekend while also distracting us from the sweltering hot train cabin we were all crammed into.

The weekend wasn’t perfect because we saw all the sites the guide books insisted we must visit; the weekend was perfect because besides a short hike and eating a ton of great lake food, we didn’t really do much.

My favorite day was Easter Sunday where we spent much of the morning and afternoon soaking up the sun on Lierna’s pebble beach, taking a dip in the icy cold lake water whenever the heat became too much. We then had a great Easter dinner at a local restaurant, followed by a game night with friends.

Unlike a lot of places we’ve visited over the past eight months where we try to cram in as many sites as possible, we really just forgot about planning and enjoyed our surroundings in Lake Como. Perhaps it’s because we knew that we would return someday.

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The view from our hike certainly paid off

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On top of Castello di Vezio
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I was only slightly obsessed with all the wisteria
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Probably the most epic pool location
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The view from our ferry as we cruised up to Varenna

 

Travel

In Pictures: A Communist Tour of Bucharest

A three-hour walking tour of the communist history of Bucharest was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Admittedly, I was pretty ignorant of Romanian history before visiting it’s capital city but I was completely enthralled throughout our tour.

We visited some spectacular sights but our guide also wasn’t afraid to show us some of the rougher parts of Bucharest, underscoring how much communism affects the country almost 30 years after its fall. I can’t recommend our tour guide, Marius, enough and you can check out his blog here.

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Our tour began at the Romanian Patriarchial Cathedral. Everyone seemed to be busy cleaning and setting up for a Palm Sunday service the following day.
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Bucharest architecture is quite the mix of medieval structures, historic buildings that look like they belong in upscale Parisian neighborhoods, traditional communist-style apartment buildings, and much more. This building was one of the largest apartments in the city and you can see where the construction abruptly stopped when communism fell.
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Here’s yet another building that was never completed. It was meant to house the National Council for Science and Technology where Elena, Nicolae Ceausescu’s wife, would approve or deny research projects. The communist party didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity to boast about Elena’s Ph.D in Chemistry (the Illinois Academy of Science even gave her an honorary membership), but it turns out she just barely completed elementary school.
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There are countless overgrown lots like this one and from a distance, they look fairly ordinary. Yet upon closer inspection, you can spot remnants of bulldozed houses that made way for oversized communist-style apartment buildings. Apparently, these actions sum up to the single most destructive period during a time of peace.
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Part of our tour included sampling a few food items that were popular during communist times. Ceausescu was determined to pay back all of Romania’s national debt, which meant exporting the majority of the country’s goods. While he was ultimately successful, it resulted in extreme food shortages throughout the country. These puffs were pretty gross – think Cheetos without any flavor.

 

 

Food · Travel

My First Impressions of Bucharest, Romania

 

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The decor in Origo Cafe was so pleasing to the eye

Bucharest (not to be confused with Budapest!) took me by surprise. With it’s various coffee shops filled with the scent of single origin coffee beans, restaurants serving up dishes using organic and locally-sourced ingredients, and a young population of the most fashionably scruffy individuals, Bucharest screams hipster. I loved it.

Despite it’s capital city’s up-and-coming vibe, Romania still has deep scars from years of repressive and brutal leadership under Nicolae Ceaușescu, which was evident by the countless crumbling and abandoned buildings we saw scattered throughout the city. Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying plenty of Romanian beer, a fantastic conversion rate, and a delightful abundance of blooming springtime flowers.

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Our first night in Bucharest was a comical affair, to say the least
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Carturesti Carusel is one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever visited
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The components of a great meal at Lacrimi si Sfinti
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Moody skies from the Pura Vida Sky Bar
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I was a little too excited over all the tulips and daffodils throughout the city
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The dining room of The Artist was a work of art in itself
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Why choose one dessert when you can have bites of all three?

 

Travel

Our Next Trip

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two whole months since Evan and I last traveled outside of Italy (when we took a train to Vienna), and I’m excited to announce that we will be headed to yet another new country tomorrow. This country has kind of gone under my radar but after reading up on it a bit, I’m really looking forward to exploring this hipster paradise (I mean, check out that bookstore).

Unfortunately, this will be our last big trip together before I move back to the U.S. in May, which makes it even more special. We’re headed to one of the most affordable capitals in Europe, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Any guesses?

Image via poppylovesbookclub

Restaurants · Travel

Under the Capri Sun

 

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Enjoying the sun while waiting for our boat to arrive

The first word that came to my mind as our ferry inched towards the Capri dock? Wow. Aqua water, majestic cliffs, and cheerfully bright buildings make this place truly stunning. Don’t get me wrong, I really did love our time in Napoli but compared to the hustle and bustle of Italy’s third largest city, the island paradise that greeted us in Capri was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively).

No trip to Capri is complete without a boat tour and while we were hoping to check out the famous Blue Grotto, our guide was adamant that he wouldn’t take us there at that time in the afternoon. Turns out that our hour tour of the White Grotto, Green Grotto, Coral Grotto, and the Faraglioni (three huge rock formations along the coast) was spectacular, causing our desires to see the Blue Grotto to quickly fade away.

Capri is not a cheap destination but it’s still possible to find affordable restaurants and accommodations if you really look for them. We shared an Airbnb with our friend, Aleks, and I don’t think we could have asked for a better view from our patio. Also, thanks to recommendations from friends and my own research, we enjoyed some fantastically affordable meals.

My only regret regarding our trip to Capri is that we didn’t have enough time. Plenty of people treat the island as a day trip destination from Napoli or Sorrento but I could easily see myself enjoying an entire weekend relaxing under the Capri sun.

P.S. Sign up for Airbnb and get $37 in travel credit by clicking here.

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One of the dramatic Faraglioni
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The view from our spacious Airbnb patio
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A final glimpse of Capri before taking off on the ferry back to Napoli

 

Travel

Exploring Underground Napoli

Albertini-rid-1-2Almost 40 meters below Napoli lies the historic underground, which was first excavated by the Greeks for water storage in the fourth century BC. These cisterns have provided water first for the Greeks, then for the Romans for an estimated 23 centuries.

For a mere €10, we were guided through these winding tunnels, an area that I admittedly had no idea existed before our trip. Most of the tour was relatively well-lit (except for the section where Evan accidentally stepped into an ankle-deep puddle), but my favorite part was when we were led by candlelight through a pitch-dark passageway, so narrow in places that I had to turn to the side just to squeeze through.

These ancient tunnels were used as bomb shelters during World War II and now serve as a greenhouse for a nearby restaurant, providing an environment that is much purer than the city above. Clearly, the value of this space didn’t end with the Roman times and it should be interesting to see how its use evolves in the future.

*Image via Naples Underground, the company that provided our tour. 

Travel

Napoli: A Misunderstood Beauty

 

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Piazza Dante

Most people know Napoli as the gateway to Capri and the Amalfi Coast, a trash-filled and overcrowded city, a place where you should closely guard your wallet. While these stereotypes are true to some degree, Italy’s third largest city also has so much more to offer.

When I first learned that we’d be moving to Italy, I knew that a trip to Napoli had to happen at some point during our nine months here. My grandpa’s family on my mom’s side is originally from Napoli (the details are a little fuzzy but we know they were leather glove makers) so I was determined to explore this city of my ancestors.

I’ve heard from several people that Napoli is dangerous, dirty, loud, and simply not worth the visit. Napoli is known by most people as “that place where they stole my friend’s wallet”. Although I would still encourage you to keep a close watch on your belongings while in Napoli (as you should in large cities throughout the world), there’s really no reason to avoid this culturally-rich and historical place. Here are my top three reasons to visit the city:

  1. The food: Seafood, pasta, sweets (sfogliatella is incredible), cheese, and… oh yeah, Napoli is the birthplace of pizza – that’s reason alone to visit in my book.
  2. The people-watching: We witnessed aggressive car honking, multiple children on a single Vespa speeding down the sidewalk, and a massive crowd taking part in a taxi strike. And that was just within the first hour of being in Napoli. One of my favorite moments was sitting at an outdoor cafe table and watching the city’s colorful people pass by.
  3. The history: It is believed that the Greeks founded Napoli somewhere around the 7th century BC. I was overwhelmed by the amount of history thrown at me during our tour of underground Napoli, in which we saw the Greek-Roman aqueduct that is 40 meters below ground and the remains of an ancient Roman theater, plus so much more.
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The first of many pizzas of the weekend – at Pizzeria di Matteo
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Loved the modern art at Museo Madre
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The first sfogliatella I’ve ever had – I was instantly hooked