Kitchen Carts Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Friday was my birthday. Jeremy really made it a birthday week. The Saturday before, we spent the day in the country and had some really relaxing quality time and ate some amazing farm fresh food. The Monday after, we had a double date with some dear friends. Then on my actual birthday, I got pedicures with a best friend in the afternoon and then came home in the evening to a clean house, a sweet husband, and the coolest birthday gift I’ve ever received. I present…my new kitchen cart.
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When Jeremy and I were in Chattanooga, TN in June, we popped into a couple of antique stores (one of our favorite pastimes), and we stumbled across this adorable antique desk, and I said it would be the perfect size for a kitchen cart. Little did I know, Jeremy went back later without me and bought it and brought it home and hid it somewhere for nearly two months. Then he built a base for it and put it on wheels and created the coolest kitchen cart I’ve ever seen!
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I came home from work on my birthday to find it in my kitchen, and I gasped. My love language is gifts, and the fact that he put so much thought, creativity, and work into something for me was so special. Four years ago, my birthday present was a diamond ring on my finger, so that’s hard to beat, but this gift was definitely a favorite!
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Also, it’s gonna look so good in our newly painted white kitchen (that update to come soon!) The kitchen looks nothing like these photos right now…it’s a lot brighter, whiter, and messier at the moment.

 

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Basement Updates

It has been a long time since I updated you on the renovations in our basement. When I last left you, we had just finished our master bedroom–our biggest project yet. After we finished that room, we were sitting in our basement den and realized the room would become much more functional with the addition of a half wall, and armed with the skills Jeremy had recently acquired in electric wiring and wall building, we decided to build a mud room. We finished it to the point where it currently stands a couple of months ago. Then i painted the whole basement. Then I hated the color and painted it all again.
Here is a look head on before…
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And after…
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Here is what the room used to look like from the studio room.
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And what it looks like now.
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And here is what it looked like from the back wall when we bought it.
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And now.
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And a few more photos.
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This room is hard to take photos of because the natural light is minimal. But I think this gives you an idea. It is still very much a decorative work in progress. I have a lot of work to do to get it to the cozy space that I envision in my head.

Eventually this mudroom area will look something like this.
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Imagine a stained built-in bench and some antique hooks I got at the flea market. I think it’s going to make this basement so much more functional!

Up next…more details on the shiplap process. Stay tuned!
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The places you go…

“You will be the exact same person you are right now in five years except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books you read.” I scribbled those words studiously while sitting at a student leadership conference in high school. I was already completely entrenched in thoughts of the places I would go, the people I would meet, and the books I would read, and I wondered what life might look like in those five years. Little did I know, in those next five years, I would move to a new city, meet my future husband, and read countless mind-shaping books through my personal studies and college education.

I still believe that statement to be true, which is one of the reasons I love to travel (and read and meet people). Whether it is to a new part of Nashville, a quick and easy roadtrip, or halfway across the globe, traveling enhances our perspective and enriches our understanding of the world. There is a depth to people who are willing to experience new cultures and places.

I started this blog post a few months ago on a day when I woke up in Portland. I was there for 24 total hours and then off to another city for some meetings for my job. Lately, I have found myself in a new place every few weeks, and I want to let these tiny snapshots shape my view of life. I tend to record those snapshots in my head like little paragraphs in an essay. Welcome to my world.
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Have you ever felt the way a city breathes? It inhales and exhales like a human being. Every neighborhood, small business, industry, and landscape adds to the ambience. In most cities, it doesn’t take long to start to feel it. Like a first handshake reveals so much about a new acquaintance, a single day in a city is like a wide panoramic snapshot.

After a day on the outskirts of Portland for a lunch and a dinner meeting, I drove into the city and took a drive around. As per usual, I started writing sentences about it in my head. Even with no one reading, I tend to think in essays and songs.

The waxing street lights begin to illuminate the well worn sidewalks and cast shadows on every corner; they make the show posters and neon signs appear eerie in the moonlight. 

In Powell’s City of Books, millions of pages line the aisles with voices telling a million stories. Books do not discriminate; they speak to anyone who will unfold the spine and listen. A petite millennial with a purple pixie cut, worn acid washed overalls and tie dye Converse browses the classics section next to an unassuming middle aged man with a salt and pepper mustache and receding hairline; they are simultaneously engrossed in words written decades if not centuries ago. Worlds apart and yet caught in the same trap set by the written word. 
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There is something about traveling to new places that awakens childlike wonder and deep, philosophical thoughts in me. Sometimes all it takes is a step outside the norm to get us thinking deeper, dreaming bigger, and loving a little bit better.

As you probably know from reading my blog or falling victim to my excited storytelling in person, I just came back a little over a week ago from a trip to Italy with my husband. I feel fortunate to have taken several handfuls of trips to other countries in my life, and each one reminds me that the world is so much bigger than I give it credit.

Our nation is less than 300 years old, and yet we sometimes believe we know everything as a society. There is so much we can learn by stepping outside of the life we know as Americans. I even get so wrapped up in an even smaller world–my life in South Nashville–that I begin to believe that everyone experiences the norms that I do.

As I walked through Italy, I once again took snapshots by writing descriptions in my mind.

In the midst of the Roman Forum ruins. Small and large cobblestones grouped together form the pathway through the Ancient epicenter of Roman life. I squint at the sun and try to imagine the grandiosity that once existed where now only columns stand. Temples to the Roman gods were clustered together to make worship easy amidst the chaos that would have been the market, political buildings, and important residences beneath the shadow of the mighty colosseum. I stand in the place where Julius Caesar drew his final breath. I climb up to Palatine Hill and pretend I live in one of the palaces of the nobles with the perfect view to watch the world below with an upturned nose. I walk back toward the Colosseum, and I am struck by the incredible similarities between this ancient, decaying culture and the one in which I live. We flock to stadiums not dissimilar to the Colosseum. They brought their tickets on fragments of clay pots. We bring ours to be scanned on our iPhones. They cheered at what we now consider barbaric fights to the death while we cheer for men dressed in helmets and body pads to score goals. Perhaps life has not changed as much as we think. 
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In small town Vernazza: Tourism has a different rhythm in the small Mediterranean town of Vernazza. Intermingled with daytrippers in swimsuits and adventurers on the trails is the essence of real Italian life. I can feel it on a morning walk by myself. An elderly woman waters her plants on the stone patio in a narrow back alley away from the main drag. Locals pass by and share jovial greetings in Italian. Even without understanding the language, I can sense the camaraderie that implies they have known each other for their entire lives. Local fishermen drag their boats into the harbor, and I think about the fish that will be freshly fried, grilled, and baked in local restaurants today. Scrawny wild cats wait patiently in hopes that a single sardine will drop to the ground for breakfast. I savor a cappuccino and listen the music of water against rocks, boisterous Italian laughter, and instrumental music coming from storefronts as shopkeepers prepare their stores for the day. 

It’s these little snapshots that I’ve taken in my mind in the rolling hills of Tennessee, the outstretched highways of Texas, the stone villages of England, cramped townships of South Africa, concrete markets of Bolivia, picturesque piazzas in Italy, and everywhere in between that have begun to expand my view of this world God made and the people in it. I never want to stop exploring. The world is so much richer and deeper and more vivid than I even know.

It’s true. You will be just about the same person five years from now except for those places you go, people you meet, and books you read. So, go places. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Try a new ethnic restaurant. Take a walk in a different neighborhood. Spend your Saturday at a new coffee shop. Volunteer at a non-profit. Take a drive an hour in the same direction even if you don’t know where you’re going. Take your own snapshots. They may not be as wordy as mine. Take pictures, collect leaves, write down the names of the people you meet.

You won’t be the same.
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A Rookie’s Tips on Italy Travel

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I don’t claim to be a travel expert. While I have visited quite a few countries over the years, most of the trips have been with organized groups in which I had very little control over the planning portion of the trip. Other than a mission trip to England last fall (which requires a very different planning skill set), this trip to Italy was my first time planning an overseas trip by myself. I absolutely love planning, and I love travel, so it made for a fun combination. Also, Jeremy is pretty go-with-the-flow, so most of the planning was happily done by me. I dove into learning about the tips and tricks for Italy travel, and I also loved learning about the culture and history of every place we went before we got there. We also took our budget pretty seriously, and I feel like we were able to do things economically without sacrificing an amazing time. So, while there are many people with more experience in the field of travel planning, I thought I would share a few of the tips that we picked up before hand that made our trip smooth and amazing, and a few things we learned along the way.

1. Rick Steves 

For European travel lovers, Rick Steves is no secret. He is the American travel guru for all things Europe, and we felt like we were in a club because everywhere we went, we saw Rick Steves’ travel books in the hands of tourists. We even bonded with other tourists over our Rick Steves recommendations. But, if you’re planning a trip to Europe, get a Rick Steves book. He has them for every country in Europe. His Italy travel book is the best selling travel book in the US, and I understand why. This book was invaluable, and he has done 30 years of research in finding the best places to stay and eat, and the best way to travel with the least amount of stress . We almost always chose Rick Steves recommended restaurants, and not one disappointed. We found hole in the wall sandwich places, incredible wood-fired pizza joints, and high class restaurants that we would have NEVER stumbled across on our own and that weren’t flooded with clueless tourists ordering pepperoni pizza and spaghetti with meatballs. Because of his tips, we figured out how to skip lines, how to get around on public transit, and were able to sift through the best things to do in each city. I’ve used other travel books for other trips, but I will never buy another brand again. He also has a TV show on PBS, and I watched episodes on YouTube of the places we were going. I consulted Rick Steves on everything from packing to pricing, and I know it helped our trip run more smoothly.
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2. Get Off the Beaten Path 

“80% of Venice is not touristy, and 80% of tourists will never know it.” – Rick Steves.

This is true everywhere we went. Tourists stick together in crowded masses with the street vendors, average food, and long lines. If you’re a smart tourist, you will get away from all of that. There are times we couldn’t avoid the masses, and those were my least favorite times. We absolutely loved exploring the paths less traveled on our own. There is so much more to Rome than just the Colosseum and Vatican City, and although those places are worth braving the crowds, we found such respite in the quietness of places like the Appian Way, quiet cafes, and evening strolls down moonlit streets.
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3. Get out early, stay out late, and take a nap in between. 

In the spirit of getting off the beaten path, we found that the crowds are the worst between about noon and 5pm almost everywhere. Day trippers and people coming off cruise ships have to concentrate their time in these hours, but if you’re staying in the city you have the advantage of enjoying things earlier and later. We had the best sight seeing experiences early in the morning and in the evenings, and we took naps almost every day. We stayed in very convenient locations everywhere we went which allowed us to come back in the heat of the day to take a nap. The locals do it, the businesses do it, and we did it. It gave us the energy to stay out late at night when the lights of the cities and towns create the most romantic moments imaginable.

A couple places that this served us well…we visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome at around 7:45am (it opens at 7), and we only waited about 10 minutes in line at the most and enjoyed a nearly crowd-free visit. By the time we left at around 9:30, the line was about 7 times longer than when we got there, and we heard it gets even worse after 10am.

Also, we bought a night time Vatican Museum ticket. In between April and October, the Vatican Museum opens on Friday nights…but you have to have a reservation. We have heard the Vatican Museum can be brutally packed, but on a Friday night, we were able to leisurely enjoy it, and there was an evening Jazz concert in the courtyard. Winning!
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4. Check your exchange rates and your check cards. 

It’s important on a European trip to have both a credit/bank card that works internationally and to have access to cash. Most sit down restaurants, train ticket terminals, and larger tourist sights will take card, but many mom and pop stores and smaller tourist sights are cash only. A couple of our hotels were even cash only! I learned a couple things this time that I will do differently next time. First, our cash withdrawal exchange rate was worse than our credit card exchange rate. We didn’t realize this until about halfway through the trip. But, when we withdrew cash from our debit card, we were getting an exchange rate of 1.19 dollars per Euro (as set by the bank we were withdrawing from), and when we paid with our credit card, we were getting an exchange rate of 1.11 dollars per Euro. That 8 percent can make a difference on larger purchases. We paid for every hotel room in cash, even though we could have paid with card a couple times. Had I found out about the exchange rates in advance, I would have paid with card every chance we got and only used cash for smaller purchases and for the room in Vernazza that required cash. I assumed the exchange rates would be the same, but they weren’t. Good to know!

Also, we encountered a problem withdrawing money when my debit card chip stopped working, and Jeremy’s debit card had an 8 digit pin number. Most european banks won’t accept anything more than a 6 digit pin number to withdraw cash at their ATMs, and you can’t change a pin number over the phone! We desperately called our credit card and were able to work out a cash advance to pay for food and our hotel in small town Vernazza until we could get to a larger bank or international ATM in Rome. Next time, we will make sure we have a shorter pin number!

5. Find out what the locals eat. 

Please please don’t go to Italy and only order American versions of Italian food. Even though Olive Garden serves lasagna and breadsticks, and you might think Papa Johns makes a mean stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, that does NOT mean that is what real Italians eat. It would be like going to Mexico and ordering a Taco Bell stuffed gordita (I haven’t eaten at Taco Bell in years…do they still serve that?). When in Venice or a coastal region, order regional seafood specialties. Our favorite pasta was squid ink pasta in the Cinque Terre. Sounds gross…tastes incredible. That’s the local and restaurant specialty, so that is what we tried. When in Rome, enjoy the rustic thin crust pizza with very simple seasonal ingredients or a fried zucchini flower or creamy risotto. We ate so many meals and still didn’t even scratch the surface of everything we wanted to try, but the best thing was going to a locally owned restaurant and trying what they recommended. Learn about the regions you’re visiting, and eat what the locals love.
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6. Do what you want…not what everyone says you have to do. 

Florence is a top destination in Italy, and we planned on spending an afternoon there in between locations. We were limited on time, but we were going to rush in and have lunch and explore. In our travels, we discovered the most stressful part is finding your bearings in a new city, so we decided last minute to skip Florence altogether. With more time, we would have gone, but we were letting the pressure to do Florence because it’s what you should do get to us, and we decided a more relaxed pace would serve us well.

We also planned on riding a gondola in Venice, but we realized gondolas only run in the busy tourist parts of Venice, and they cost about a hundred bucks, so we decided we would enjoy our time better by exploring the quiet streets for free than paying to ride on a crowded river in an expensive gondola, and we didn’t regret it.

If everyone says to tour the Colosseum, but you don’t care about it (It is pretty amazing, by the way), don’t tour the Colosseum! But if it’s something you’ve always dreamed of, do it no matter what! This is your trip, and you will know the best way to spend your own time. This may seem intuitive to most people, but I have a fear of missing out, so this was a good lesson to learn. I decided I would rather miss out on a tourist sight than on enjoying our time.

7. Download the right apps.

In our modern age of technology, there are some pretty great apps for your smart phone to make travel easier. Besides a handy translator app for reading menus and basic phrases, here are a couple we found useful.

Ulmon Citymaps2go. 

I can’t tell you the number of times we said how grateful we were for this app! It has maps of cities all over the world, and you can pre-download them to your phone and use them without data! We didn’t have unlimited data in Europe, so without wi-fi, google maps would have been difficult. But this app has all the major cities, and it uses location services to track you. It kept us from getting lost many times!
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Rick Steves Audio Europe 

I already mentioned Rick Steves, but this app has audio tour guides to many of the major sights all over Europe. Rather than paying 7 euro for an audio guide to St. Mark’s Basilica or the Pantheon, just download the Rick Steves guide for free and bring your phone and headphones.
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8. Backpack if you can. 

Backpacking isn’t just for college students staying in hostels. We borrowed backpacking packs from friends, and we fell in love with this way of travel. We packed light, but after 10 days we still felt like we could have packed even lighter because there are things we didn’t even wear. We saw people struggling to bring massive suitcases onto trains and carting them up cobblestone staircases, and we would just look at each other and high five as we walked by with our hands free and all of our belongings strapped to our backs. With the waist belts on larger packs, they honestly don’t weight heavily on your back, but if you feel like you can’t carry a pack, at least narrow down to a carry-on sized suitcase. You honestly don’t need more than that. You can wash clothes, and you will be so glad you packed light.
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9. Enjoy a quick bite…sometimes it’s better than a sit down meal. 

Food in Italy doesn’t have to be expensive. We allowed ourselves a couple of splurge meals, and that was worth it for a fancy sit down dinner with waiters in black tie, but some of our best food experiences were cheap and fast. In the Cinque Terre, split a cone of fresh caught fried fish and vegetables for 7 euro or a sandwich on local Focaccia bread for 4 or 5 euro. We had some of the best pizza in Rome for around 7 euro for a whole pie. Local markets have incredible fresh fruit for a quick snack or breakfast. In Venice, the Cicchetti (like Tapas or finger foods) make for a quick and fun meal.
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10. Buy train tickets as you go. 

Part of the fun of travel is being flexible. We didn’t buy any train tickets before we left. We either purchased them online the night before we left a location or bought them at the kiosk at the station. Prices are consistent either way, and it allows for more freedom if you decide to leave a place earlier than expected or stay around longer!

11. Bring your own water bottle. 

I don’t know about other European countries, but in Italy, there are fountains everywhere with fresh, clean drinking water. Every fountain looks like a piece of history; I’m not talking gross 1970s water fountains mounted to the wall. The only time we paid for water was at meals; we just brought our water bottles everywhere in refilled them in piazzas and at stone fountains. All that walking and heat will make you thirsty! 
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12. Stay in a central location 

I’m sure not everyone would agree with me on this one, as central locations can be slightly more expensive than something a little further away from the action, but I was able to spend just a few euros more to stay in hotels and rooms that put us close to important sights, and it was worth every penny. We ran into a couple of girls (several times…our itineraries lined up) on a 27 day Europe trip who were (wisely) pinching pennies and stayed on the mainland in Venice (rather than on the island) and a bus ride away from a town in the Cinque Terre, and I know they had a very different experience than we did. We stayed in central locations everywhere we went, and it cut down on stress significantly as we could easily make it back to our hotel for a wardrobe change, a quick rest in the middle of a hot July day, or if we forgot something. I’m all about having a home base. In Rome we stayed in Monti, within walking distance of all the Ancient Rome sights, and after seeing how dismal their public transportation is, I was so glad we didn’t have to rely on it every time we needed to get back to our hotel! 
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Those are my quick tips! Anyone traveled to Europe recently? Any other tips and tricks?

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Bella Roma

Venice was floating opulence, the Cinque Terre was picturesque peacefulness, and Rome was epic history. Every street corner, lamp post, church, and water fountain seem to tell a tale in Rome. There are thousands of years of stories stamped into the cobblestones and carved into the sculptures that line museums and streets. We arrived in Rome via train from the Cinque Terre which took us through Tuscany, and the views were lovely. Next time in Italy, we will add Tuscany to the list. As soon as we left the train station and walked to our hotel in Monti, one of Rome’s old residential neighborhoods, I began to fall in love with Rome. Grandeur, importance, and beauty run down the streets like rainwater.

Our first night there, we walked to the Pantheon, ordered rustic Roman pizza at a quiet restaurant in an old church, and explored the floodlit streets from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum. I think the first night was the best part of our time in Rome. We relaxed and soaked in the splendor.
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In addition to undeniable importance, excitement, and romance, Rome also has the qualities that challenge every big city. Difficult, outdated public transportation, hoards of crowds, and heat that radiates off the stone and concrete. We found a peace and retreat away from the noise of the city along the Appian Way, Rome’s ancient highway and an engineering marvel of its time. The early apostles would have traveled this way, and we visited one of the catacombs where early Christians were buried. The breeze flowed more freely along the Appian Way, and despite some frustration figuring out the bus system, it was worth the trip.
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We soaked in all the major sights of Rome. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel (which surprised us by how much we loved it), the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Palatine Hill. We wandered around hipster Monti and shopped in vintage clothing stores and leather shops where I purchased an Italian leather bag. We listened to an evening jazz concert on a bench in the Vatican Museum courtyard, we celebrated our trip with a fancy dinner at Ristorante Fortunato on the Pantheon square. We walked for miles and tried to appreciate the history that was before us. We waited in line in the rain and waited for what seemed like forever at bus stops. We missed a concert hosted by the Pope because we didn’t understand Italian. Every inconvenience and confusion was worth it for the Roman experience which is unlike any other city or culture. For 1000 years, Rome reigned as a world power, and that power is still palpable.

At the end of our few days in Rome, we reluctantly said goodbye to Italy. Jeremy is always such a good sport about going home; however, I tend to pout about it a bit. I’m so grateful for the adventure and for all that we saw, and I hope someday we can return. Ciao, Italia.

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Dreaming of the Cinque Terre…

In between the hustle and bustle of city life in Venice and Rome, we traveled to the coast for a few days in the beautiful Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre means five lands, and it consists of five small towns built into the mountainside along the Meditteranean coast. Armed with castles originally designed to fend off pirates, the Cinque Terre is pretty much only accessible by train, boat, or hiking path. Until about a hundred years ago (before the train track was built), locals only traveled between towns on rocky mountain paths that are now available for hiking as part of the national park which envelops the region.

The Cinque Terre was our favorite part of the trip. We stayed in beautiful Vernazza, the fourth of the five towns. It only has one main street running from the train station to the town square which is right up against the harbor.
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Hillside terraced vineyards line the mountainscapes surrounding the villages which are all painted in shades of pastels to make it easy for early fishermen to spot their homes upon returning from long days at sea. The advent of tourism in the 1970s hasn’t squelched the small town charm that oozes from every cobblestone pathway, hillside church, and rocky harbor along the coast. The uphill hikes give way to the most beautiful vistas imaginable where brilliant aquamarine waters lap against the rocks. The sun sets every evening over the water; it is the most picturesque setting to enjoy fresh caught seafood, homemade pesto pasta, and a glass of local white wine.

During the days, we hiked, swam, and meandered through watercolor streets. In the evenings, we ate amazing cuisine and watched sunsets hand-in-hand before returning to our private terrace with a view of Vernazza and the Meditteranean for late night talks and the sounds of music coming from restaurants below. It feels like an exaggeration, but it really was that wonderful.
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When we first arrived in Vernazza, we had a little issue with our debit card, and we weren’t able to withdraw any money to pay for lunch or for our cash only hotel room, and we had a rough few hours. In a larger city, we could have resolved it more quickly, but our banking options were limited, and we were absolutely so hungry and annoyed from our 6 hour train ride, but once we got past that, things went uphill quickly.

On our anniversary evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the most beautiful sunset dinner view I have ever seen. That anniversary is going to be hard to beat.
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I think our favorite of the five towns was Manarola (below)….followed closely by our home base of Vernazza. Every town had its own charm and style.
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One night, I asked Jeremy what activities make him the happiest, and he said “just being chill and relaxed.” That is so my husband, the chill and relaxed to my busy and active. But, the Cinque Terre taught me something about being chill and relaxed…and I think it’s one of my favorite things now too.
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Snapshots of Venice…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I have quite a few home updates in the queue, but I interrupt our regular programming to tell you a little bit about our trip to Italy! We got back on Sunday from the trip of a lifetime. 

Let’s take a step back and talk about how we got to go on this adventure. Italy has been my dream trip for years, and we have often discussed when we could plan a trip there. In April, as we took a look at our vacation budget, I said, in jest, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could just go to Italy?” We both thought that wasn’t in the cards for us, but we talked about maybe a five year anniversary trip in 2017. 

Two days later, Jeremy got an offer to do a job in Italy the weekend before our three year anniversary. God has been teaching me a lot about trusting him with my dreams, big and small, and this felt like a confirmation that he can surprise us with joys when we least expect it. God is good whether we got to go to Italy or not, but this was such an amazing testament to his goodness. With Jeremy’s flight covered, we could afford the trip this year, and I set about planning the heck out of it. 

After Jeremy finished his job outside Milan (a country music show at the Cowboys Guest Ranch…in Italy. Think bad American food, a wild west style petting zoo and saloon, and Italians line dancing in boots and cowboy hats. It was a bizarre 36 hours, but we were grateful for the opportunity and we met some great people), we left on our own adventures…starting in Venice. 
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“Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.” – Italo Calvano, Invisible Cities 

There is no where else in the world like Venice. It’s a city of romance built upon petrified wooden stakes driven into the lagoon centuries ago. Layers of history add character to the patina of the plaster covered brick buildings. Every canal has a story, and the charm of the city grows with every winding turn, every quaint bridge, and every ivy covered palace. The decadence of the early Venetians informed every architectural choice, and despite the obvious signs of age that time and flooding have worn on every corner of the city, the old grandeur is unmistakeable. The city is a floating engineering marvel and a time capsule.

Some of the charm is masked by the flood of tourists in the center of the city. I understand why thousands of people want to see Venice every day, but when we first arrived in the center of town along the walk from the Rialto bridge to St. Mark’s Square, we were distracted from the romance of Venice by endless souvenir stands, hoards of confused and pushy tourists, and street salesmen around every corner trying desperately to sell us selfie sticks. After a couple hours of getting our bearings, and once the cruise ships pulled away from the docks at the end of the day, we roamed the streets away from the rush of the center of town, and we fell in love with the quiet romance that the Venetians created.

If I close my eyes I can still smell the salt water and hear the lap of the canal against the palaces and the sound of accordion music coming from gondolas just off the main drag. As our first real introduction to Italy, we reveled in the culture that was brimming around us. We tried Gelato for the first time, wandered aimlessly in the parts of the island that were nearly tourist-free, explored St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, ate seafood fresh from the lagoon, savored seasonal fruit from the market outside our hotel, and attended a Baroque concert at the most famous theater in Venice, Gran Teatro la Fenice.

Other than a couple of tourist hot spots on the main square which we finished in a single morning, we did not have much of an agenda. We explored the narrow, winding streets and took comfort in knowing that we couldn’t truly get lost without swimming off the island.

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My favorite memories of Venice happened after the sun set and the lights in the buildings started illuminating the rivers. Venice was such a romantic start to our journey.

 

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