Travel

California

Weekenders…are ya with me?! Or did you forget about me…

Happy 2019! Welcome back to the blog and…my life. Granted the start of the new year has been off to a busy one for me, with lots of new goals and changes, late nights at the gym, visits with family/friends and of course, work. I wanted to take a few minutes of downtime to catch up with everyone and step back a couple of months (eek!) to share a with you a wonderful trip I had gone on in December.

Have any ideas? (If you follow me on Instagram, you’re not included in his so-called guessing game..)

**drum roll, please**

If you guessed CALIFORNIA, then you win! No, I don’t actually have a prize for you but once you get to the end of this post, you will hopefully have gained some extra knowledge and be ready to take on your own West Coast adventure.

A visit to the Cali has always been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Growing up in New York and having taken tons of family vacations to spots all along the East Coast, I had often wondered what life was like on the other side of this big old country. I was always intrigued by what I’d seen on TV (reality TV is my guilty pleasure) and knew that at some point I NEEDED to experience California in all its glory.

A couple of months ago, I did just that. Only a 6 hour red-eye, deflated airplane neck pillow and a very rowdy family seated behind me separated me from my newest travel destination.

And in usual Amanda fashion, I am sparing no detail of my experience in the hopes that these tips may come in handy for your own travels! From restaurants and attractions, to some of my favorite highlights…right down to some highly overrated points and eateries (yeah, I said it!)…I’m giving you the play by play. Without further adieu, let’s dive into it..

(I stayed for 4 nights but would totally extend my next trip to a week to catch some other cities/attractions.)

Click on each attraction to be taken to its website!

Hotel:

Grafton on Sunset, West Hollywood

This little boutique hotel is absolutely perfect (and affordable) for your first trip to the Los Angeles area. The Grafton meshes California glitz with California charm, especially if you’re not going for that uppity Silicone Valley vibe. With a full-service bar/lounge, live music and courtyard pool overlooking LA, it’s a beautiful place to watch the cotton candy sunset and simply relax. Not to mention its proximity to absolutely everything on Sunset Blvd. and  surrounding attractions. Restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, you name it! This is the area you want to be in. I was definitely pleased with this choice.

Restaurant Recap: 

For me, Cali had A LOT to live up to coming from NY. Our food is some of the best (aside from Italy’s), so I was curious to see what the restaurants would bring to the table. Aside from the usual spots the general public will tell you to try, I did some research on popular restaurants that I felt would really gel the whole experience together. And I’m glad I did!

In-N-Out Burger

Guys, I’m putting this first simply because I want it out of the way first. In my humblest of opinions, McDonald’s blows In-N-Out away in every aspect. Try if you must, especially if it’s your first time in Cali. I get it because I felt the same way. But don’t expect the hamburger angels to rain down on you while your taste buds dance. I honestly didn’t derive much satisfaction from the burger or fries (they were pretty bland to be honest) but gained more from the experience of waiting on line and scratching my head when I only saw a few basic items on the menu, which I thought was odd. (apparently there’s a secret menu but I was NOT about to be that person. Come on, Cali!). Sure, the burgers looked DELICIOUS enough for a quick Instagram boomerang but on a scale of 1-10, I’m going to give it a 6 at best. Sorry, Californians! Don’t sue me.

Il Pastaio, Beverly Hills

Mama freakin’ Mia! Okay, redemption achieved. Now this place was more my speed. Authentic Italian cuisine, outdoor dining and pleasant ambiance. What more could you ask for? Il Pastaio was one of the restaurants I had researched prior to my trip simply because it was one of the first names to pop up over and over again whenever I was looking. Apparently, it’s a breeding ground for all types of celebs (Andrea Bocelli was seen waiting for some fresh parmigiano-reggiano to be grated on his pasta) while the lesser celebrities (like myself) enjoyed a gigantic antipasto board and bolognese. Surf their location on social media and you’ll see what I mean. Reservations are a must at this place but they’re pretty lenient with rearranging if you need to! Get the tiramisu!! 

The Griddle Cafè, Los Angeles

If you like specialty breakfasts (specifically pancakes that are bigger than your face) you MUST come to the Griddle when you’re in the Hollywood area. From the outside, it’s a typical store front cafè that attracts a line of people down Sunset Blvd. every morning. I suggest getting there no later than 8:30AM (especially on a weekend), as you will most likely have to wait outside since they only let a few patrons in at a time. HOWEVER, the wait is worth it! From omelettes to sandwiches to decadent pancake and french toast flavors,  there is something that appeals to everyone. Keep in mind that the portions are huge! A short stack equals 3 gigantic pancakes that practically spill over the plate…and an omelette could feed an army! I loved the vibe of this cafè…right down to their campsite-like coffee pot that’s put on each table. Talk a walk, Starbucks… because this coffee was strong! Check out the link above to see some of their dishes..

Elephante, Santa Monica

If you come here strictly for the sunset view, that’d be enough. I’m not saying it was the best food I had eaten on the entire trip but I felt like I had stepped into a tropical resort for the evening and the drinks were delicious! Elephante is a massively open, airy restaurant with an upscale clientele, good music, three bars and a gorgeous terrace view of the Pacific Ocean and palm trees. It is known that most people go there around 4:30-5 in the evening each day not only to catch happy hour…but one of the best sunset views from a restaurant in Santa Monica. Reservations are required, especially on a busy weekend..but if you’re spending an afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier, swing by here afterward! For those who love to document their travels like myself, keep in mind that the back terrace will be swarming with bloggers and influencers alike, aiming for that perfect photo! I didn’t get my perfect picture but hey, I actually took it all in with my own eyes 😉

Carneys, LA

Ugh. Anyone know who I can write to to get one of these built on Long Island?! At first glance, I noticed this massive yellow rail car on the side of the road and my last thought was that it could’ve been a restaurant (at least not one I’d eat at). It wasn’t until I read the sign ‘Carneys Express Limited, Hamburgers and Hot Dogs’ that I realized this was in fact an eatery and people were swarming in! I thought to myself that this could be no better than In-N-Out, therefore, I wasn’t rushing to try it. It wasn’t until the last night that I found myself sitting in a booth inside the rail car with a cheeseburger, train wreck fries (cheese, grilled onions and thousand island dressing drizzled across a pile of french fries) that I realized how amazing Carneys was. It should truly be the new In-N-Out. Known for their hamburgers, specialty hot dogs and fries, it’s the perfect place to go when you want to eat the classic cheat meal. What did I have for dessert you ask? How about a chocolate-covered frozen banana! If you head to the West Coast, do not come back before trying this place!

Attractions:

There’s lots to see and do when in Cali, specifically if you’re staying in the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills area…you’ll most likely run into some touristy hot spots. To be completely honest, tourist traps are not my thing so I made sure to balance them out with more unique attractions and activities. I visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which I had no idea was the Hollywood Walk of Fame until I noticed a series of large red stars at my feet). For such a prestigious walk, I couldn’t believe how tiny, unassuming and garbage-ridden this trail was! Not what I expected. You’ll walk past the Dolby and Chinese Theatres and the occasional Church of Scientology but aside from a quick photo opt and a Michael Jackson impersonator, there’s nothing spectacular here. I felt like I was in Times Square.

If you love shopping, definitely hit Rodeo Drive. It’s beautifully decorated and a little less, (how do I put this nicely)…tacky.

To gain the full experience, rent a car (convertible preferably ;)) and drive through the residential areas of Beverly Hills and Hollywood to see some gorgeous houses and mansions. Mulholland Drive is exquisite..but beware of those narrow, winding roads!

Here are my personal top favorite attractions and activities that made my trip worthwhile:

Disneyland, Anaheim

I know what you’re all thinking. “This girl just said she hates tourist traps..Disney?!” Yes, Disney. If you don’t know this about me already, I grew up frequenting Disney World with my family, it’s just in my blood. I love everything about it, the attractions, the hotels..you name it, I know it. I couldn’t come all the way to California without visiting the park that started it all, Disneyland! I’ll start off by saying that this is a pricey place as most of you know and it has only gotten increasingly more expensive over the years. They will try and get you to roll into a park-hopper pass where you can gain access to California Adventure as well, but I wasn’t interested in anything additional. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about not having enough time to get everything done or staying in an onsite hotel, which is an added expense. Disneyland is about a quarter of the size of Walt Disney World and can be managed in one day…if you’re staying at an offsite hotel like I did, you can get to the park within an hour or less if you rent a car. With driving also comes a massive line of cars waiting to get into the multi-level parking garage (as well as a parking fee). As long as you show up before or close to opening time, you’ll be fine. Although this park is a lot smaller than the Florida location, it is packed with charm! I recommend downloading the Disneyland ap prior to your trip. It enables you to fast-pass any rides you want to go on and keeps a folder of all the professional photos that you may have taken at the park…absolutely free!

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Runyon Canon Park, LA

This was one of my absolute FAVORITES! If you follow any sort of celebrity on social media, you’ve probably seen a picture of them in some trendy work out gear at the top of a large hill overlooking Los Angeles. This my friends, is Runyon Canyon. It’s also where I snapped that glorious cover photo for this post! If you’re someone that likes to mix a little bit of healthy with fun activities on your trips..you have to go for a hike at Runyon. Most people will park on the residential streets just outside of the park’s entrance (I’m not exactly sure how many entrances there are) and make their way through. Keep in mind..this isn’t some baby trail that requires no effort. I quickly realized just how steep and winding it was. *Queue heavy breathing and curse words* Runyon is ELEVATED and can actually be potentially dangerous, as there are no barriers separating you from the trail’s edge which plummets down to god knows where. I did see lots of sand bags though, which I’m assuming were a precautionary measure for the LA rain. This park is dog-friendly..in fact, these dogs could run circles around me! Runyon breaks into little landings and rest stops until you reach the top and are blessed with views overlooking LA and the Hollywood sign.

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Malibu Mansion Tour

I have mixed reviews on this tour company particularly but all in all, it was a cool experience. Would I recommend it to you? Probably not. Because I can tell you exactly how to conduct a replica of this tour…for free. When I had seen Starline Tours advertise this, I was intrigued because I was dying to get up close and personal to these celebrity homes. Granted, this was right after the devastating fires so I wasn’t exactly sure if the tour would still be running but to my surprise, it was. The tour office operates and starts on the Santa Monica Pier so it was a great way to see the pier’s attractions before heading over to Malibu which was about 30 minutes away. Make sure to double and triple confirm your reservation if you use Starline because the office mixed my tour time up..thank god I had nothing else planned for the day! A group of about 10 of us filled a small little tour car which was lead by our fearless leader (tour guide)..who did not stop talking, even for a second. For over just shy of two hours, we cruised up Pacific Coast Highway and saw the residences of Leonardo DiCaprio, Barry Manilow, Courtney Cox, Justin Bieber, Mel Brooks, Ozzy Osbourne and more. Although I feel that you could ultimately do this yourself in a rented car, the tour guide gives you great background stories and tidbits that you wouldn’t necessarily know of by just passing through. He pointed out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite diner and a popular surf club restaurant, Moonshadows, where a drunk Mel Gibson was kicked out of. If you’re looking for a fun afternoon learning about celebrities in their natural habitat, I’d say go for it.

Tips…

A lot of people forget that LA can have temperamental weather and it’s not ALWAYS warm and sunny. I went in December and it was actually pretty cold! Pack accordingly.

Traffic. Traffic. More traffic. Are you catching my flow? LA makes New York look like a small town. Factor in that a simple 5 minute trip up the road could actually take 35 minutes or more. To this day, my mind is still blown.

Venice Beach=an absolute no from me. I’m sorry to those who liked it here but I do not recommend visiting the Venice Beach boardwalk (especially with children), unless you want to see vagrants and other things I will not make mention of.

Well friends, that’s all she wrote. I hope you enjoyed my trip recap and these tips come in handy if you ever make it out West!

With love,

Amanda

xo

 

 

 

 

Travel

A Weekend in Stamford, CT

Hello friends 🙂

We’re two days away from the weekend and moving very quickly into the heart of Fall. What do you have planned?!

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting one of my best friends who is currently living in Stamford, CT for her birthday celebration.

If you know me and are an avid reader of my blog (wink, wink), you know how much I love adventures whether big or small. I love to explore new areas and cities. See new places and try new things. So I was super excited to visit Alexa and have her show us around her new home!

Long Island and Stamford are roughly 1.5 hours apart, so it’s a great place for a quick getaway and change of scenery. The city is very quaint during the day and turns into a lively social scene at night!

My Favorite Places/Recommendations when in Stamford, CT:

  • Stamford Downtown Farmers Market (June 23rd-October 28th)
  • Hudson Grille
  • Harbor Point Waterfront area
  • Fortina Restaurant
  • Brother Jimmy’s
  • Curley’s Diner

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Once we arrived on Saturday morning, Alexa took us into town on our first stop, The Stamford Downtown Farmers Market in Latham Park. (she goes on the weekends to get her fresh fruit) This was an unexpected and adorable place to land on in the middle of a busy little city and I was shocked over the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that were available, locally grown right in Connecticut. The scent of the peppers were making our mouths water! The market runs from late June to late October, every Saturday from 9AM-3PM.

After walking around a bit, we all built up a hefty appetite and decided it was time for some lunch. One thing you’ll notice in the downtown Stamford area is the abundance of adorable restaurants with outdoor seating. From Mexican cuisine to all American, you name it…they have it!

Hudson Grille is the perfect spot for a great sandwich or burger. We didn’t get the chance to try, but Alexa also mentioned that they have an awesome brunch with bottomless mimosas. (count us in!) It was such a beautiful day, we sat outside and talked well after our meals were finished. Don’t just limit this place to a daytime thing though, ladies and gents. This spot is bumpin’ at night and draws a lot of locals with its loud music and full service bar! Definitely a must-stop if you’re in the Stamford area.

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Harbor Point Waterfront
Sunset Views from the Harbor Point Waterfront Boardwalk

Perhaps my favorite spot in Stamford was the Harbor Point Waterfront area that we stumbled upon before dinner. Teaming with bars, restaurants, shopping, high-rise apartments and 4 marinas, this up and coming waterfront is a great place to hang out while watching the boats pass by. Situated on the boardwalk are these giant wooden swings that serve as great photo ops (for 4 best friends on a girls’ weekend at least :p). We enjoyed snapping photos and watching the sunset before our Italian dinner at Fortina!

Dinner at Fortina Restaurant

Fortina is a delicious Italian restaurant located right on the waterfront at Harbor Point. We had gone back and forth with what we felt like having for dinner and trust me, we didn’t think it would be Italian..but one of us mentioned a bowl of pasta and it was game over! I immediately loved the feel of the restaurant. Rustic meets Italy. Thick wooden chairs and paper menus so thin they reminded me of a CVS receipt! When we got there, there was a slight wait for a table so the hostess suggested we go to the rooftop and grab a drink to kill some time. For a little restaurant in downtown Stamford, I was so in love with the string lights and sunset views!

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If you ever end up here, I recommend the Whole Wheat Cavatelli with sausage and escarole and a delicious pitcher of red sangria!

Nightlife

Stamford is filled with crowded restaurants turned bars at night, especially due to the local colleges in the area. There’s tons of music and fun places to choose from. A few of my favs below:

For after hours dining, shoot over to Curley’s Diner for all the food you know you shouldn’t eat. This place is super adorable (major Pop’s vibes for all my Riverdale watchers!)

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Thank you, Alexa for a quick, but fun-filled visit to your new home! We left with memories and full bellies. We can’t wait to be back..

With love,

Amanda

xo

 

Travel

Italian Adventure

Does anyone remember me?! The girl that started a random blog website about her life’s tales a few months ago..

Okay, okay. After a slight reprieve, I’m back! I’m recharged…and I’m not as uh, busy. My goal was to keep consistency with my postings throughout the summer but as many of you can understand, those 3 months are so sweet but so very short, too. From work to family and friends to bachelorette parties and weddings and VACATIONS, it simply felt like there was no time to sit down with my laptop and document everything going on when I was constantly on the move. I did make to sure to keep a mental tally of every ‘blog moment’ but I wanted to fully enjoy every experience in real time.

But as the temperatures get cooler and I enter hibernation mode, I’m able to reflect back on my summer and am so ready to share it with you all!

Let’s start with the biggest highlight I have to speak on …my two-week trip to Italy, the place of my heritage, my first time in Europe ever….and boy, was it amazing and something I’ll never forget. My best friend and I spent the first two weeks of August exploring the cities of Rome, Florence, Pisa and Calabria…all while eating lots of bread, pasta and Antipasto assortments, drinking enough Vino and Aperol Spritzers (if you don’t know what that is, Google it!) to last us a life time and brushing up on our many years of learned Italian. (I may have said graziè to the gas station attendant once I got back to the U.S.)

It truly didn’t hit me that I was going to Italy until I was, well, on Italian soil.

As a first-time Euro traveler, my senses were heightened as soon as the plane landed. I was tired, yet so awake. So alert and baffled. Grateful. In awe. I paid closer attention to the small things like the scent of the air and the music playing on the radio. I thought back to the origins of my family and couldn’t believe I was in the place where it all started. It was surreal.

The difference in Italian/European mentality and culture became apparent right off the bat, as there was no rush to be anywhere in any hurry and life seemed to slow down A LOT.  There was more emphasis on food and hospitality. Conversations were more deliberate and meaningful.  (even with strangers) And work schedules? Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that…

Sometimes Genna and I would stop and stare at one another as we took in our surroundings..”wait, we’re really just hanging out in Italy right now!?”

1. Rome

Rome was the first stop on our two-week journey and what a magical city it truly was. I’ve never seen a place so lively yet intimate all at once. I think what struck me most about this place was the fact that I could be walking down a side street after dinner and suddenly be met by the monstrous pillars of the Pantheon or the illumination of the Colosseum. Or look over my shoulder to see ancient ruins and monuments that were handcrafted centuries before our time but stood as if they were brand new. It’s a crazy feeling knowing you’re in one of Italy’s bustling modern-day cities, yet so much history took place beneath your feet…long before the Gelato shops and street vendors came along. Old World meets New World. No matter how hot or tired we got, the sites in this beautiful city were like a jolt of caffeine that kept us going.

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Our hotel in Rome! Yes, when we got there, the service was a little bit slow and it was different than what we were used to back home, but we LOVED it.
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I know what you’re thinking…how ornate?!? And….what’s with that cheesy Valentine’s Day red?!?! But this REALLY was the full European experience and the look of the room really tied our Roman adventure together!
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The Spanish Steps…
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The Steps offered an excellent view of the city and surrounding monuments..not to mention a great place to hangout!
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The Vatican Museums-Filled with ancient statues and works of art..I mean come on, look at this painted ceiling!!! If you’re going to tour while at The Vatican, make sure to include this in your ticket!
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Don’t forget to cover your knees when entering St. Peter’s Basilica! (or buy a scarf from the vendor like I, and many other women had to) 😛 The tour guides will remind you..otherwise you are critiqued upon entrance.
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The inside of the Basilica is simply breathtaking.
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St. Peter’s Square is a MUST-SEE when in Rome. Granted, Europe was under a massive heatwave this particular two weeks…(pushing 100 degrees in the major cities), we mustered through and it was well-worth it.
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The Colosseum at night gave off major Lizzie McGuire Movie vibes! Also not pictured here but the cover photo of my post, the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi was probably my favorite attraction in Rome mainly because I spent hours wishing I could swim in it due to the heat. More than that, its beauty and detail is unparalleled no matter if it’s viewed during the day or at night.

2. Florence

The second stop on our Italian escapade was the beautiful city of Firenze. From the exquisite shopping and leather district, to the beautiful waterfront views of the Arno River, the feel of this city differed from that of Rome. What made Florence stand out to me rather quickly in comparison to Rome was how much more Americanized it felt. The city is home to many private institutions of higher education, making it a breeding ground for students from the states and beyond. There were even bars, pubs and restaurants geared towards Americans..one specifically pops into my head called ‘The Lion’s Fountain’ which I swear could have been a local spot here in New York. From the chalk on the walls, to the names carved in wood, it was very easy to forget that you were in fact in Italy…until you saw these sites below.

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Piazza Santa Maria Novella..one of the most beautiful squares in Florence. It looks like a postcard!
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The Ponte Vecchio..a gorgeous waterfront shopping area right along the Arno River.
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Picturesque shot of the window fronts of the local jewelers along the Arno.
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It’s breathtaking..especially once the sun starts to set!
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The Love Locks on the Ponte Vecchio…rumor has it that if you and your significant other secure a padlock here and toss the key in the river, you are bounded by an everlasting love! The padlock to tourist ratio seems a little off in this photo…not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
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Florence’s signature attraction, The Duomo or Florence Cathedral. A picture doesn’t do justice when it comes to its grandeur and architecture. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be walking through the square as the church bells toll and totally want to cry…
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Or eat your feelings with a midday specialty Gelato cone.
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Our hotel room in Florence was amazing. (please hold while I remember the name)..
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Sistine Chapel or hotel room?! Perfectly depicts Florence’s class and beauty.

3. Pisa

Okay guys, so as it turns out… Pisa was not originally on our itinerary of stops during our first week in Italy. We were scheduled to leave Pisa Airport en route to Calabria on a night flight, so we had the pleasure of spending an entire day here! A nearby hotel was nice enough to hold our luggage so that we didn’t have to trek across the cobblestones in the blistering sun with backpacks and bags. I remember walking the city that day and Genna kept asking me what my favorite place was so far on our trip.”Pisa, I completely fell in love with Pisa.” Yes, it’s a tiny city but it is filled with so much authenticity. I felt like I was experiencing real, small-town Italy on a different scale. From the restaurants to the horse and carriages, I could not stop smiling.  What you’ll also notice when traveling from city to city in Italy is that the food changes a bit, almost like the dialects of the language. Every area puts their own unique spin on traditional dishes..and most cities are known for a specific dish!

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Of course…the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Up close, it’s truly unreal. It was even more surreal because I wasn’t expecting to see it on my trip! As I was staring at it, I couldn’t help but compare it to a cake topper. Its architecture is so detailed and smooth. It looks fake..actually, the whole time I was here I kept thinking I was really at Universal Studios! I facetimed my mom to show her out of pure excitement.
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Obligatory tower pic…I don’t know what’s better. The lady hiking over the metal fence behind me or the fact that dozens of people were positioned at all different distances with their hands up, aiming for the perfect pic. Some standing on pillars, some on the ground! This was the best I could get…
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Strolling down the streets of Pisa, you’ll find numerous restaurants with outdoor seating..it’s gorgeous.
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Horse and Carriage rides, anyone?
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This was one of the most memorable restaurants. We wanted to escape the afternoon heat so we grabbed a shady table outside. (most Italian dining takes place outdoors.) I couldn’t help but snap a photo of the wooden spoons hanging on the umbrella.. super cute and super Italian mom vibes.
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DELICIOUS refreshing salad on a hot day in Pisa. Mushrooms, shredded carrots, tomatoes, artichokes and mozzarella! Add some crushed pepper and VOILA! Also note that wonderful orange colored can in front of my dish..I LIVED, (I mean, lived) on this iced tea for two weeks in Italy. I am a fan of all things peach and all things tea…so EstaTHE Pesca was my dream. So much so, that I even dropped an order of it on Amazon once I got home!
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Campo Dei Miracoli, Pisa
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This was a wonderful discovery on a 90+ degree day in Pisa. The grand lawn encompassing the leaning tower and Duomo was the best place to catch shade and relax in the afternoon. Tons of people were laying down and enjoying picnics on the grass. It also made for a great photo op, sweat and all!

 

4. Amantea, Calabria 

Phew! Are you tired yet? Well we’re about to unwind. My final 8 days in Italy were spent roasting under the Mediterranean sun, going to the beach, eating lots of seafood and visiting one of my old coworkers and friends that lives in the small, southern coastal town of Amantea. Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Amantea is split into two sections; ‘old Amantea’ (located in the mountains) and ‘new Amantea’ developed along the coastline. When Azzurra extended me the invitation to visit her in Italy a year back, I couldn’t actually imagine the day it would happen. Let alone to visit Calabria, a piece of my personal history. You see, my father’s grandparents on his mother’s side were from a small town about 30 minutes from Azzurra called Catanzaro. Although I didn’t get the chance to visit that town, being in Calabria was everything I needed to feel super connected to my roots. I could see my own resemblance to strangers walking down the streets and had many ‘ah ha!’ moments while eating some of the traditional dishes out at the restaurants…I’ve eaten the same dishes at home! You could see that a lot of the customs, foods and even decorations had made their way back home to the United States.. I found it incredibly funny and interesting.

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Every morning before heading down to the beach, we stopped for our usual breakfast of a Nutella-filled Cornetto and cappuccino. For both Genna and I, it would cost a total of $4. How’s that for small-town charm? That backdrop isn’t so bad either!
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You’ll find these little prayer parks all over Amantea. We noticed that everyone in town would make the sign of the cross whenever they walked or drove past a church or one of these (it took me a while to comprehend what Azzurra was doing each time we drove through town). Another thing we noticed…they LOVE Padrè Pio!
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Views of Old Amantea up in the mountains.
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Views looking down on New Amantea (from Old Amantea). Fun fact- this photo was taken at around 3AM from a crowded restaurant. Yes, people were still up eating pastries! My eyes were closing…
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Lungomare Amantea-picture Ocean City, MD but Italian style. Restaurants and numerous public and private beaches run down a solitary strip through town. The views are beautiful no matter where you choose to go!
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Views from Il Gabbiano restaurant-one of my favorite restaurants in Amantea. The owner catches all of the seafood fresh and prepares it for dinner at night! (there is no dinner menu, you get whatever they catch) During the day, it’s the best place to pop into for a greek salad or panini when you want a break from the sun! Look at this view from our table..
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Il Sombrero beach and restaurant-we were locals here and enjoyed the BEST linguine and clams for lunch nearly every day. We paid a nominal fee for a beach chair/umbrella rental and got to enjoy the private beach and music from morning to late afternoon. Fun fact– at around 12:30PM each day, the beach would clear out as everyone went home for lunch. We even had the pleasure of enjoying a typical Italian ‘pranzo’ one Friday afternoon at Azzurra’s house. There were around 3 courses of different types of seafood dishes, fruit and dessert….
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La Pecora Nera private beach in Amantea. We spent every single afternoon here and left after sunset. This place will forever have a special spot in my heart. It’s where we swam, relaxed, danced and enjoyed Aperitivo (basically Italian Happy Hour with snacks) nearly every evening. This was my favorite beach in Amantea hands down.
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Typical sunset at Pecora Nera. Beautiful.

I feel blessed that I got to experience two different facets of Italy, both the bustling cities and the calm coastal town. It becomes even more authentic when you get the opportunity to visit someone from the area and live their daily life. If you haven’t traveled abroad before, DO IT.  Please, please do it. To experience culture and life outside of the norm and what you’re used to is beneficial to your growth as a human. This trip made me realize how vast the world is and how much beauty there is to see. I’m already thinking of where to go next.

My takeaways & tips:

  • If you’re traveling to Europe in the summer, prepare for HEAT. I’m talking you walk outside and start sweating type of heat. Italians are not big on air conditioning, either…
  • Comfortable shoes for walking in the cities-I had a pair of sandals break on me!
  • USE the language if you can! I took 5 years of Italian in school and promised myself I’d speak to the best of my ability, as embarrassing as it may be. It turns out, we relied on this in Amantea and I wound up getting better with each passing day. Once people started to respond back to me without hesitation, it meant they could understand me…I felt like a million bucks!
  • Know your hotels and their proximity to local attractions, also understand that sometimes the more boutique-y hotels don’t look like the ones here. We decided early on that we wanted the full Italian experience, so we didn’t want to stay at the generic chain hotels.
  • Try the food. Have the gelato. Don’t count calories. AT ALL. Once you leave, you’ll regret every dish you didn’t taste!
  • Try and pack a separate camera instead of relying on your iPhone, this way you’re not tempted to peruse social media and constantly upload/post. I made it a point to stay off my phone (as much as I could) while touring the cities. BE PRESENT.

That’s my recap on an absolute amazing trip, I hope you enjoyed..

As always, thank you for reading and please share with me your experiences abroad/tips/tricks, too! Hit that subscribe button because there’s plenty more coming your way!

With love,

Amanda

 

Travel

Watkins Glen, NY

Happy Thursday and almost weekend!

You’ve landed on my first official ‘travel’ post and I’m pretty excited to get the ball rolling. Let’s get to it!

This past weekend, my best friend and I hopped in the car, plugged in my old iPod and took a five and a half hour trip north of Long Island to Watkins Glen, NY and its surrounding towns.

Destination:  Watkins Glen State Park 

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Ok, so why would we travel this far to go to a park, you ask?! The simple answer is that we both had been talking about wanting to go for a hike as soon as the Spring weather decided to make an appearance. While Long Island has many beautiful trails and nature preserves, we had heard great things about the hiking upstate, specifically in Watkins Glen! Having seen pictures of its bridges, waterfalls and picturesque views, we knew it was a place we wanted to check off our list. If you know myself or my best friend, Genna, you know that we will drive hours upon hours just to change the pace, even if only for a night. We took this as an opportunity to do just that.

Let me preface the rest of this by saying that if you’re a native of the Long Island area/five boroughs, you know that there are two separate versions of New York State. Based on what part you’re from, you will have lived a very different lifestyle than your counterparts and it’s sometimes hard to believe that you all share the same home state.

Let me explain..

Having grown up on Long Island, I have experienced both the bustle of one of the world’s largest cities, as well as the serenity of  one of the island’s many beaches. I have never had to travel longer than 5-10 minutes to reach a store, restaurant, gym, salon or bar. It’s easy to assume that the rest of New York is just like Long Island and the metropolitan area..but, if there’s one thing that was deeply confirmed this weekend, it’s that this is not the case whatsoever.

As we slowly wound our way upstate, the stores turned into farm stands, the buildings turned into barns and the paved roads made way for beautiful rolling hills and pastures. Cattle and horses replaced the usual pedestrians and life suddenly became a lot slower. No coffee shops or department stores. No fancy restaurants or nail salons. Traffic? None. Just a John Deere tractor and some fishermen wading creekside along the road.

While I have briefly passed through the upstate area before en route to other destinations, I never actually experienced this part of New York aside from viewing it all through a car window.

After our lengthy car ride, we arrived in a little town named Horse Heads (yes, laugh if you must). This would be our home for the next 24 hours. We were starving and not at all surprised to find out that our food choices were extremely limited. Toss out whatever you’re in the mood for because Cracker Barrel, Texas RoadhousePanera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts are running rampant! *deep sigh* We wanted something quick before our hike so we, (along with what seemed to be the town’s entire population) agreed that Panera Bread was the place to be!

Our post-lunch journey to Watkins Glen State Park was just as beautiful as the drive up. We counted numerous mom n’ pop ice cream shoppes every few miles and laughed as we tried looking for a potential post-hike bar on Watkins Glen’s tiny main street strip. (to no avail)

The lack of adequate directions or signs leading us to the park itself became an issue for us right away. Guys, let’s be real for a minute. I’ve lived in the same area all my life and still depend on my GPS heavily. If you’re the unlucky person who stops to ask me for directions, you might as well keep driving. Looking for the park, we found ourselves missing turns and retracing our steps more times than we could count. Even the GPS was stumped! My one recommendation for first-time visitors or people who are horrible with directions like myself, is to avoid the headache and head straight to the Watkins Glen Visitor Center in town before finding yourself lost down a winding road like us. The man that worked there was so kind and helped us right away. He provided us with directions to the park and a map of all the park’s accessible trails. We even signed a visitor log and got to see what other people were in town for. (Wineries and hiking! Woo!)

So you finally found the park. How was it?

Absolutely beautiful!

Tucked away high up in the mountain side, Watkins Glen State Park is peaceful and secluded. The air is crisp and clean. You can automatically tell that this is no ordinary park or preserve. It’s an experience between yourself and nature.

There are several trails in the park that are open to the public, with access changing depending on the time of the year. Unfortunately, due to the timing of our visit, the Gorge Trail that included all of the waterfalls was closed for maintenance after the volatile winter we had. If you could push your trip back to mid/late May, I’d highly recommend it for this reason. You want to be able to see the park in its entirety. However, we did get to enjoy the Indian and South Rim Trails and they were equally as spectacular.

Personally, my favorite part of the park appeared almost immediately as we came upon a wooden bridge that stood high over the rushing stream below. Looking straight out through the trees you could see the rolling hills and farms off in the distance. Below your feet were the Gorges and winding steps and trails along the water. I walked to the middle of the bridge and closed my eyes for a moment, acknowledging the fact that the only noises I heard were created by the gentle flow of water and the birds in the trees. I was merely just a spectator.

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We spent the next hour hiking steep, winding trails trying to find traces of sunlight through the tops of the trees. Every so often, we would reach a lookout point intended for waterfall viewing and took the opportunity to take some photos or observe the beauty surrounding us (head to my previous blog post to see the pic of me standing on one of these!). Although there were other hikers, we never once felt crowded or crammed. The spaciousness of the park allows you to feel like you’re on your own path and not following the lead of another group.

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Unfortunately, the weather started playing tricks on us and the blue sky began to split into black rather quickly and briefly. We couldn’t tell if we were in Florida or upstate New York!

With just enough time to spare, we made it back to the car before a downpour ensued and decided that we would continue to make the rest of our day just as great as the first half was. We continued driving, site-seeing, and best of all..belting out our favorite old teenage classics.

Queue Rural Night Life…

Genna and I  had been tossing ideas back and forth regarding what we would do once the sun went down in Horse Heads…was there even anything to do? We weren’t sure, but I was determined and knew I didn’t want to be bound to our hotel room. Out of our element for a night? Sure! Let’s find something and make it work!

A Texas Roadhouse Dinner. This probably wasn’t so surprising, was it? I’m pretty sure we have a couple of these on the island but this was my first dining experience at this restaurant and I have to say it did not disappoint. (the hot cinnamon butter glazed biscuits are still on my mind to be honest)  If you love comfort food and all things country..make it a point to eat here! From the music and crushed peanut shells on the floor to the mounted deer heads on the wall, I felt like this place encapsulated everything we were experiencing in our travels.  At one point, I wondered if a flannel shirt/camo attire was mandatory when stepping foot in the place. SO not used to this type of vibe back home. The staff was extremely friendly and the restaurant manager even gave us a complimentary appetizer platter once he found out we were first-timers. (jalapeño poppers, I adore you)

Whether I’m traveling near or far, I always make a habit of engaging with those that are native to the area. Whether I want to enhance my travel experience or learn something new, locals are always completely candid in telling you where and where not to go/what to do in their area. I knew that if we wanted to make the most of our night in Horse Heads, there was no better person to ask than our very own waitress.

She was even kind enough to scribble down a list of the town’s most popular bars (4 to be exact) and gave us a little run down of each.

  • Thai Asian
  • Simon’s
  • Jake’s 
  • Beef Eater’s Tavern

After perusing social media to do a little research, we had made our decision..any guesses?

If you guessed Beef Eater’s….pat yourself on the back!

Okay, so we had already expected that any place we’d walk into would consist of a tumble weed and a few bar stools, but we didn’t really care. It was more the experience we were looking for.

At around 9:30PM, we rolled into what seemed to be a crowded night at ‘Beef’s’ and we practically couldn’t believe our eyes! More than one person at the bar? Check. Makeshift DJ booth? Check. It exceeded our expectations. I so wish I had taken a picture of the place but I’m sure Google will give you a bit of an idea if you’re really curious.

The best part of this bar was its no fuss, no muss atmosphere. Just a bunch of locals relaxing at the end of a very long work week. Back home on LI, it feels like the pressure is always on to look your best no matter where you’re headed. New outfits, fresh nail polish, perfect location and just the right amount of people…going out on the island requires a business module, really.

This is not to say that the great patrons of Beef’s didn’t look their best but it seemed as though the emphasis was placed more on the company and having a good time. If I could compare the situation to a song which I often love to do, I’d choose Toby Keith’s ‘I love this bar’ one hundred times over. It perfectly described where we were.

Two drinks cost us $8.00. (the price of one beer at home) 

When the bartender said this, we almost fell over!

The remainder of our night consisted of Mets/Yankees debates, outdoor Jenga and lots of dancing. We finally left Beef’s when it was closing time and I think we were actually pretty sad about it.

Just like that, our little weekend getaway ended and we prepared for another long trek home on Sunday.

My takeaway from this weekend..

I’m sure many of you reading this are probably wondering how the heck I even took a 24-hour trip to a nature preserve and turned it into this long-winded story. To you I say, it’s all a matter of perspective and what you take away from each of your experiences. Trips, no matter where to, are character and experience builders. Thinking about this weekend truly makes me smile because I enjoyed every moment and took something of value home with me.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is unplug and recharge. Whatever that means for you. Experience life outside of what you already know. Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily go out of your way to do. Put your phone down. Have fun and be present. Appreciate life’s simplicities without the distractions of today’s world. Connect with people face to face. Make a friend, share a story.

Thank you to the little town of Horse Heads for showing me hospitality and the simplicity of life and to Watkins Glen for your beauty and clarity. I will definitely be back again!

If you’ve ever visited the upstate area or Watkins Glen, comment below and share your story! If you haven’t, I hope I’ve persuaded you to take the trip. 🙂

With Love,

Amanda