Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ireland & Italy: The Hotels

Over the course of our 14 day, 13 night trip to Europe last summer, we stayed in six different hotels and one villa. That's a lot of hotels!

I spent a lot of time on TripAdvisor prior to booking to research where we would stay as much as possible, and 6/7 of the places we stayed were great.

Since we were trying to keep to a pretty low budget, and our flights went about $500 over what we were expecting, we decided that we wanted to keep our total hotel budget under $1,000 per person, or around $150/room/night. With the exchange rate, this meant compromising on location or amenities in a few places.

Here's a run down of our hotels.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Florence, Italy

As I've mentioned before, Florence holds a special place in my heart. So you can imagine that I was a little bit disappointed that our time there didn't quite go as planned.

Our first challenge: We were exhausted. We had been rush rush rushing for 10 days by the time we got to Florence, and we just hit the wall when we got there.

Our second challenge: The weather was still ridiculously hot and humid!

We still managed to see what we wanted to in Florence, and I wouldn't have skipped it for the world. But I didn't get to show off the city in the way I had wanted to.

Florence's Duomo - the photos never really do it justice!

Monday, November 14, 2011

San Gimignano, Pisa & Cinque Terre, Italy

After the stunning Tuscan wedding, there were only a few short days left of our trip, but boy were we determined to make the best of them!

The first stop was San Gimignano, which I was SO excited to share with SAY, M and Shorty. See, I'd been talking about this town since I'd first been in 2003 (on the trip where I met BF), and we were all really looking forward to it, and to having a night in a small little town where SAY and Dr G could decompress after the craziness that is planning and executing a destination wedding in Italy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Big Fat Tuscan Wedding

I've been to quite a few weddings in the last few years. And while all of them had special, beautiful, memorable moments, none were quite as magical as SAY & Dr G's wedding at Tenuta di Corsano in Tuscany.

It could have been the build up: a stunning evening of delicious food in Siena, fireworks and fireflies...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Siena & Corsano, Italy

After a hot and crowded Rome, the breezy Tuscan countryside was just perfect. The weather was still HOT but there was much less humidity, making it a pleasant change!

We arrived in Siena in the early evening, and took a cab from the train station to our hotel. The train station in Siena is at the bottom of the hill the city is situated on, so cabs are a good way to get to the main areas.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rome, Italy


Rome was the exact opposite of Ireland. Where Ireland was cool, clean and refreshing, Rome was hot, dirty, and humid. But even though we wilted the moment we left an air conditioned environment, Rome was beautiful. Crowded and expensive, but beautiful.

Our time in Rome was split - a full day and a half at the beginning of the trip, and another almost full day at the end of it.

St. Peter's Basilica is one of the most gorgeous spots in Rome. You can go into the basilica without touring the Vatican, but of course, there's a line to get in.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Derry, Northern Ireland & Dublin, Ireland

While the girls were having a blast exploring Dublin, BF and I decided to drive up to Derry, Northern Ireland for a day trip. BF had wanted to go to Belfast when we were in Ireland in 2009, but it didn't work out because we had such limited time, so this time, Northern Ireland was on the top of his list. I was not quite as eager. Not because I didn't want to go, but because of all of the unrest and "The Troubles," which, though "officially" over are still somewhat ongoing. There were riots going on in Belfast (not uncommon, but still), and we had no idea what Derry was going to be like.

But we went anyway, and I am SO glad that we did.

Derry is one of the only remaining European cities with fully intact city walls. Our tour had us walking the walls!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel Photo Tuesday: Central CA

I took this photo on a road trip to San Francisco. It reminds me of what Central CA drives can mean: lots of open space and greenery, and me feeling happy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why you should never, ever book with Spirit Airlines

Otherwise known as "Why Spirit Airline sucks balls," or "Why I hope Spirit Airlines goes out of business."

Amazing photo borrowed from Awesomely Luvvie, yet another blogger who had a terrible experience. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Counties Donegal, Sligo & Leitrim, Ireland

On this trip, we only had four nights in Ireland. This was a fact that BF found incredibly unbalanced, given that we then went to Italy for nine nights. But that's how it worked out this trip, so we made the absolute best of our short time in Ireland!

After the first, incredibly long day of traveling, driving across the country, getting lost in sheep covered countryside, hiking the Slieve League cliffs, and beers and fish & chips, a day of driving around the counties in the north west of Ireland was perfect.

View of the beach from the passenger side of the car!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Travel Photo Tuesday: Roman Accordion Player

Resurrecting an old favorite of mine: travel photo Tuesdays! I'll be honest here and say I probably won't do this every week, but I love sharing my passion of photography on here, so I'll give it a shot.

We stumbled upon this guy while we were wandering around the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. I have a special spot in my heart for accordion players, and this guy was such a gem!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slieve League Cliffs and Donegal, Ireland

Well, we've been back for over three months. Three months! And for almost each day of those three months, I've spent at least a few minutes a day daydreaming that I was back in Europe on our trip. So I decided it's high time to get around to detailing what we did on our great big fabulous trip!

First up: our flights over, and our first days in Ireland, which included the Slieve League cliffs and the town of Donegal!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have seriously neglected this blog since I returned from my big trip to Europe!

What can I say - life has gotten in the way of blogging. And by that, I mean I've been absolutely swamped at work, and have not had the energy to get on the computer once I'm home. But! I just might have found my blogging mojo again, and am currently drafting some posts about our amazing trip to Europe.

So be patient, anyone out there reading who hasn't disappeared in the weeks and weeks since I've last posted!

Recaps of our trip are coming soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Atlanta Part Deux Redux: The Food!

We're back from Atlanta, and it was a great trip. And while I still didn't fully explore the city, I got a good taste of it! We did almost nothing but work and EAT the whole time we were there. I'll get to the stuff we actually did do later, but here's a breakdown of our culinary tour.

- Fried pickles, fried okra, a BBQ plate with beef brisket, ribs, "Fritos" pie (a bag of Fritos with chili and cheese on them), spicy green beans, sweet tea, and banana pudding at Fox Bros BBQ. I'd never had fried pickles or fried okra, and both were tasty! And the BBQ - well, I guess there's a reason they're ranked #1 BBQ in Atlanta - it was so good! We definitely ordered too much, though, we all had leftovers, which is a bummer when you're traveling.

- Two awesome breakfasts (Thursday, then Saturday) of eggs & turkey bacon, then a "Southern scramble" of eggs, turkey bacon, cheese, and greens, both along with "creamy dreamy grits" and an amazing biscuit from The Flying Biscuit Cafe. The grits and biscuit were out of this world. I would have eaten there every morning if it had been possible. And the "southern scramble" was one of the better egg plates I've had in a while. I also love the use of turkey bacon!

They had all kinds of cute "The Flying Biscuit" stuff!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pack light?

Fun article about packing light for summer vacations... check it out!

How to Pack Light This Summer

I? Did not exactly pack light. I didn't go too overboard, but I definitely could've gotten away with less.

House sitters in place, we're almost ready for our vacation!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why the TSA sometimes rocks the house.

I have a story to share with you that renewed my faith in the TSA as a security agency.

A friend of mine recently took a weekend trip and had a really unfortunate experience with the TSA at her local airport that was later rectified in a great way. (I won't say which airport because that wouldn't be nice, would it?)

Here's the gist of her experience.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ireland & Italy Trip "to get" list!

Things I need to get for my trip:

- A new point & shoot camera. I'm a camera gal. I have a Nikon dSLR, and I'll be borrowing a friend's Kodak Playsport video camera. But I need a new point & shoot camera. I always stress having a point & shoot camera for the times you don't want to carry around the bulkier dSLR - and my Canon Powershot has served me well for the last 5 years. But the time has come to get a new one, and I believe I've found the one I want: the Canon Powershot Elph 300 HS.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Airfare - check
Hotels - check

Ok, two things checked off, a million to go!

Still on the list?

Rental car for Ireland
Getting all the crap I need for the trip
Signing the dog up for training/boarding

Oh yeah, and the big one: Pay off the credit card. (Sad face to that one!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rough outline: Ireland

It's been difficult to draft our our time in Ireland because we're still so unsure of what we want to do and see. We know we want to rent a car at the airport when we get there, and we know we want to spend the first few days off the beaten path. So I'm sure this rough outline is going to change, but if I was the only one making decisions on this trip, here's what I'd do!

- Arrive in Dublin, rent car
- Drive to West Coast, taking our time and stopping along the way
- Arrive in Donegal around 4pm and spend the rest of the day in town

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rough outline: Siena & San Gimignano (v2)

Of all the days of the trip, the ones we've adjusted the most are the days we're in Siena and Tuscany. I'm really happy with how we've adjusted things, because 1) we now have more time with SAY and Dr G, 2) we're doing a few things that are new, and 3) we have lots of free time to just enjoy Italy and where we are!

- Arrive in Siena in the evening (bus or train from Rome is around 3 hours)
- Meet up with friends, check out Siena, wander around

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rough outline: Florence (v2)

I could spend an entire trip to Italy based out of Florence. It's been my home city away from home since I did a semester there during college, and I'm super excited to be heading back soon! We'll only have two nights there, so we'll be packing in quite a bit, but I think we'll still have time for everything.

- Arrive in Florence by bus late morning, check into hotel
- Uffizi gallery for Shorty - it's on her bucket list of things to do on this trip! I'm not sure I'll go in this time around, since I spend many extensive tours there when I lived in Florence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rough outline: Rome (v2)

It seems like this trip is constantly changing!

But now that we have our itinerary set, at least in terms of airline flights, I'm going to revise the rough outline of a Rome itinerary from a few months ago.

It's actually fairly close to the same itinerary, with the adjustment that we don't get to Rome until late Thursday night, and have an extra night there at the end of the trip. Also, my friends who are getting married let me know that there's a rough plan to celebrate the Bride's birthday and everyone meeting up in town on the Friday night we're there!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A love letter to bella Firenze

View of the city from Piazza Michelangelo.

I've discovered in our recent trip planning that many people who have been to Italy either didn't enjoy Florence immensely, or could take it or leave it. It's rarely people's favorite city. And I can kind of understand - it lacks the romanticism of Venice and the vast history of Rome. It doesn't have a leaning tower or The Last Supper. It can be crowded, gets very hot during the summer, and is fairly industrial and dirty. The public transportation isn't as good in Florence as in other cities, and it's pretty pricey.

But despite all of those things, Florence remains my favorite city in Italy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bus travel around Tuscany

As much as I love the train system in Italy, one of the places I didn't explore as much as I wanted to in 2002 when I lived in Florence was Tuscany. I know, crazy, right? Since it's RIGHT THERE? I didn't see as much of it as I wanted because I was young and new to travel and didn't like to go places I couldn't get to on a train. A train was safer, you see, because it had one place to go, and was pretty difficult to mess up with. Buses, on the other hand, were tougher - there were different timetables and schedules, where to get the tickets was always somewhat of a mystery, and there were rarely the convenient audio reminders of which station you were about to get to.

Bus travel in Italy requires a little more effort than train travel, but the benefits of getting to go to the smaller towns and locations were great.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day Dreaming of San Gimignano, Italy

I've been having a serious case of the day dreams when it comes to trip planning lately. Now that we're officially going, I've been playing around with itineraries and things to do, and talking to the people we're going to be traveling with, and I'm getting really excited.

My newest day dream? Adding a night in San Gimignano into the mix.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Know your airline's luggage restrictions!

Now that we finally have our plane tickets for our Europe trip this summer, I've been changing my focus to other aspects of our trip. Our luggage has been a big one for me - I had been trying to figure out if there was a way I could possibly pack for a two week vacation (including a wedding) in two different countries and just have a carry on. I'm pretty much to the point of admitting that's not going to happen, so now I'm focusing on the logistics of having to check a bag.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Europe 2011? BOOKED!

We booked our flights!

It's officially official - we've got our tickets for the trip! And while expensive, we found a deal that included the flight to Ireland, the flight from Dublin to Rome, and the flight home from Italy.

Our trip includes four nights in Ireland!

Monday, February 7, 2011


We've gone and done it again.

We've changed our itinerary.

I realized as we were planning that something was holding us back from our plan - something kept us from getting tickets last year. The themes that kept coming up when we would talk about it were 1) the amount of time we would be gone, and 2) the budget.

So I sat down with BF, and with M and Shorty, who are planning on doing the same itinerary as us, and we came up with a plan that we were all a little more comfortable with.

The old plan was: Italy first for 9 nights, then Ireland for 6 nights, with a proposed budget of close to $4,000.

The new plan is: Ireland first for 5 nights, then Italy for 7 nights, with a proposed budget of around $3,200.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

3 Day Wander in Florence, Italy

I've had a soft spot for Florence since I did my semester abroad there in 2002. At first glance, it's not many people's favorite city in Italy - it's crowded, rather industrial, and, well, kind of dirty. But once you get past all that, it's a place unlike others in Italy - a city, but with a small town feel. We'll only be in Florence for two nights, but there's a lot we're going to pack in!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

4 Day Wander in Siena, Italy

We'll be in Siena for three nights, including for our friends' wedding! I cannot WAIT for this portion of the trip - just to be in Italy with so many friends!

- arrive in Siena late afternoon (bus from Rome is approximately 2.5 hours)
- meet up with friends, check out Siena, wander around

Monday, January 10, 2011

3 Day Wander in Rome, Italy

To keep myself excited about the trip and avoid thinking about the budget, I've been putting together some rough outlines of potential itineraries for each of the cities we're going to visit on our Italy trip! Here is the one for Rome - we'll arrive on a Thursday, and then leave for Siena on Saturday late morning-ish.

- arrive in Rome in the morning to early afternoon, depending on which flight we actually end up getting
- get settled into our hotel, then walk the main touristy area, checking out both the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, which both warrant more than one glimpse (Trevi Fountain is particularly cool to see in the evening/at night)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Travel accessories, LL Bean style.

BF and I both received gift certificates for LL Bean this past Christmas. It was an incredibly nice gesture, but our first thoughts were 1) we've never, ever shopped at an LL Bean before, and 2) where the heck can you find a LL Bean store? Turns out, we'd never shopped there before because there are no stores in California!

Fortunately for us, LL Bean has an extensive, easy to use website, and while checking it out, we discovered several things that could come in quite handy on our impending trip!

Here is my current wish list of travel accessories from LL Bean.

Balanzza Luggage Scale - $25

With all of the charges associated with luggage these days, it seems like this would be super useful! (Especially as a woman who has had to pay "heavy luggage fees!")

Friday, January 7, 2011


A good friend of mine passed along an article as a comment on my last post that got me stressing a little about when to buy our plane tickets for this summer.

This Jaunted article warns about ticket prices going up exponentially because of rising fuel costs.

Now the economy is slowly recovering, and so oil prices are threatening to shoot back up. Oil import costs have skyrocketed roughly 300% over the last few months, and of course those costs get passed on to the companies that use fuel, at which point they get passed on to the rest of us. In the airline industry that means not just higher ticket prices, but also higher luggage fees and—just to make up for lost revenue—higher penalties.

Hmm. I think that we may have to get our plane tickets sooner rather than later at this point!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ticket price puzzle: Part 4

Wow, just like that a whole month has gone by!

After the crazy holidays, I'm back in full planning mode for our trip! I can't believe it's already just 6 months away - time flies when you're trying to save money, no?

I'm changing it up a bit for this round - I'm going to use our actual dates, and I'm going to add in a few options I was thinking about today - going to Ireland before the wedding in Italy, etc.

Prices, as of 8/4/10:
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1332.52

Prices, as of 9/21/10:
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1331.62
- LAX-Rome, Venice-LAX: $1418.51