Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Florence

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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Well friends, this is it! My last post from this amazing trip! It took a little longer to share everything than I wanted it to, but regardless, I am so happy that I’ve created this platform that continues to serve as my own creative outlet and a way to stay connected with my family and friends. Thank you for tuning in!

The last stop on our trip was Florence, which we got to on a quick train ride to Venice. I will say that our train experience was pretty good. They are comfy enough (more than a plane in my opinion) and each time we needed to buy tickets we were able to find someone to help us make sure we were getting the right ones.

Now when people ask me how I enjoyed Florence, the first thing I tell them is that Florence didn’t get a fair chance to impress us. As the last stop on our 15 day trip, we were all just a little worn out, probably a little tired of each other and I was definitely so ready to be done walking around on a sprained ankle. But other than our own circumstances, Florence was beautiful and I want chance to visit it with fresh eyes again someday.

We covered a lot of the country and it was so interesting to see what made each city and region unique. Florence is home to some of the world’s most recognizable Renaissance art and architecture, and moves at a different pace than Rome or even Venice. I probably enjoyed the architecture most here and all of the warm Tuscan colors.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.

The first day we arrived in the late morning and after making a beeline for some food, we spent the rest of the day mostly just wandering around the city. My two cousins were taking off the next morning a day earlier than the rest of us so we wanted to make sure that they got a quick taste of the city. I mentioned way back in one of my first posts that we ate gelato every day and I think we all agreed that the best gelato we found was in Florence.

On our one full day, after my cousins left, we decided to listen to our feet and got tickets for the Hop Off/Hop On bus. I’m so glad we did this. There was two different loops around the city that you could choose from, or even jump back and forth from at the few places where they intersected. If you chose to hop off, another bus would come about every 30 minutes. While you were on the bus there were headphones and a recorded tour guide to tune in to. I thought this service was a great option for us and other than one time when we got cut in line and then kicked off the bus because it was full, it was a positive experience.

One leg of the bus ride took us out of Florence and to a small hillside town Fiesole, where we decided to hop off and explore for a while and grab lunch.

This bridge is named the Ponte Vecchio. Until 1218, it was the only bridge in Florence that crossed the Arno River. It is known for having shops built along it, which traditionally was much more common than it is now. Originally this shops were occupied by butchers, but now it houses mostly jewelry and art.

One last piece of Italian pizza!

The Piazzale Michelangelo, is a 19th-century piazza with a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David and a beautiful panoramic views over the city. We considered going into the museum that houses the real statue of David but decided that we were done with lines so we thought the replica with a view of the city was a good alternative.

After Florence, we headed back to Rome where I hopped on a flight back to the United States. The remaining members of my family actually had one more day in Rome where they took a tour of the Catacombs!

Well that’s it friends! This was such an amazing trip and one that I’ll always be so thankful that I got to share with my family. I have loved sharing it here with you on my blog, so thanks to everyone who stopped by! If you are planning a trip to Italy or even just considering one I would be happy to answer any questions and share more recommendations.

Until next time, arrivederci!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Venice

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

After our stay in Rome, our next stop was Venice!

Our original plan was to take the train but that kind of all changed on the fly. Since there was 7 of us, we were having trouble arranging transportation to from where we were staying to the train station. We still had the business card from the car service that had taken us from the airport to Rieti when we first arrived, so we finally called them up to take us the train station and along the way, jokingly said it would be nice if they could just drive us the whole way. Well apparently the joke was on us, but the driver responded quickly that another man could actually do that and after quick deliberation we were on our way via car!

Overall Venice was my favorite city! I knew within a few short hours that it was definitely a place that I want to visit again and take more time to just relax and explore there. It’s old, romantic, earthy and in a strange way, kind of homey and familiar. I felt like I was walking through a book — a story that was just so fascinating to me.

Once again, we used VRBO to book a small apartment to stay in, which we had to go on quite the excursion to find, including a map, picture ques and trying to navigate the water taxi routes in the dark. Thanks to the young Italian women Sabrina for taking pity on us and helping out!

Our time here was pretty laid back. We explored, did a little bit of shopping (hello gorgeous leather purse!) continued to eat amazing food and eventually became master’s of the water taxi, including one long ride along most of the main route.

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)

The one thing from my Pinterest research for this trip that I was determined to do was visit the Libreria Acqua Alta.

This self-proclaimed “most beautiful bookstore in the world” routinely floods, so most of its contents are in bathtubs, waterproof bins and even a gondola that can float when necessary. I have a deep love for bookstores and libraries, especially ones that are a bit quirky, so the more research I did on it, the more I knew we had to go. My Grammy and I are one in the same, and luckily the rest of my family obliged.

After a few mistakes and studying the maps, I figured that navigating the water taxi system is very similar to the DC Metro or New York Subway.

Venice, you are magical, and I will definitely be back someday. Thanks for having us!

Thanks for stopping by again! I’ll be back in the next day or two with my last travel post for this trip!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Pompeii and Naples

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

My portion of the trip was fifteen days and I’ve been asked quite a few times whether that was a good length or not. There is always more that you could fit in with more days, but at the pace we were going, 15 days was good. I’m not sure I would have wanted a longer trip unless we scattered a few lazy days in the schedule. When we were planning the trip and my Grammy suggested we plan this day excursion, our thought was, “we’ll enjoy an easier day of riding in the car after so many days of walking all day long.” And yes, it was a bit of a shorter day distance wise but I’d still say that we were pretty exhausted by the end of it!

On this day we used a service named Viator to book a day excursion. (We used this same service for our island hopping day in Thailand!) We were picked up in our own private passenger van at the front door of where we were staying and they drove us to each of our destinations where our tours and meals were already booked and paid for. We had a driver and an English speaking tour guide that stayed with us throughout the day and we also made pit stops in the morning and again in the afternoon before they dropped us back off at our front door. The tour guide, Anna, was around my age, fun and very good at her job. The price was fair considering what was all included, we always felt safe and overall I couldn’t recommend this service enough! They operate around the world, including in the United States, so I might have to look into what they offer next time I’m visiting a new city.

Pompeii

Our first stop was to Pompeii, which was around a 2 hour trip south of Rome. I was so excited for this tour, but honestly, it was even better than I had anticipated! Once we arrived we were joined by another group of 4 that were doing the same day excursion. Together we had our own tour guide, an older, quirky man, for a 3 hour tour of the site, and though it rained on us a little bit and the uneven footing was not the relief I was hoping for for my ankle, it was such a great experience.

The history of Pompeii is something I remember pretty well from when we studied it in school growing up. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. It was covered so quickly in ash (19 to 23 feet!) that it was preserved for centuries before it was discovered in the 16th century, marking the start of modern archaeology and becoming an unique source of history about that time. Here’s a link for more history.

The city was quickly covered in an estimated 19 to 23 feet of ash and debris. Kind of crazy to think about!

Pompeii was home to an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people. The unique, but saddest part of the eruption was how quickly it took those lives, either from falling debris or asphyxiation, and preserved the bodies.

Doesn’t look much different from today’s wood burning stone ovens!

Ancient stone mills.

A few times the tour guide had pictures was what they think different areas around the city might have looked like back in that time.

Public bath house.

I think the most amazing thing to me was how the art was preserved.

The site is still an ongoing archaeological site. These people were literally piecing the floors back together! I hate puzzles so this is crazy to me!

I would highly recommend making this tour part of any travel plans to Italy, especially for families! I know I first learned about Pompeii in elementary school and how cool would it be to visit at that age!

Bosco de’ Medici Winery

After Pompeii, we met back up with our driver and guide for lunch. Now all my Grammy had told me was that our lunch was included for the day, but she didn’t tell that it was going to be at a winery!!

I obviously love wine, but back in college I took a wine tasting class as an elective and ever since I’ve also been really interested in wine culture, food pairing and production. Going to a winery was the one main things that I thought was missing from our travel plans so this was a pleasant surprise.

Everything about our visit was wonderful. The winery, Bosco de’ Medici, also included a nearby resort, but our location was small and quaint. Our tour guide told us that the high level of ash in the soil created very unique flavors in the food and wine produced in the area, and I’d agree that everything we tried was wonderful. I chose my favorite wine from the tasting and bought a bottle to bring home with me and save for a special occasion.

Naples

Our last stop of the day was a quick visit to Naples along the Almafi Coast.

The company that we used for our walking tour also had a route along the coastline that we almost chose to do instead. My grandparents have had this area on their bucket list for a while and I’m sure that they will try to make it back for a longer visit.

Mt. Vesuvius

Coffee break.

Castle Nuovo.

Piazza del Plebiscito.

We had so much fun on this day trip!

Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be back soon again with my LAST TWO posts!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

Hey friends, I’ve been busy with a few back-to-back work trips and then the holiday, so I had to take a break from sharing my trip to Italy. But I am back and ready to go with my last couple of posts!

I left off sharing part one of our time in Rome. Other than the afternoon we arrived, we had one full-day in Rome for exploring and an additional morning.

My favorite part of our time in Rome was the Basilica. I am not Catholic, but I love the history, architecture and art! This was probably my hardest group of pictures from the whole trip to sort through because I took SO MANY.

We knew we wanted to go and have enough time to enjoy it so we got there right as it was opening and virtually did not have to wait in line at all! We were so glad that we did because by the time we left about 2 hours later, the line wrapped around the entire square. It is free to go in but there was a small fee if you wanted to take the elevator to the base of the dome instead of the stairs, and with a bum ankle after a days of walking I took that option without a second thought.

The Basilica’s history is a bit complicated so instead of trying to summarize it, I’m just going to include a great link here 🙂

As we were walking up to the entrance I turned to my cousin and asked if he recognized what music was playing over the loud speakers… it was the theme song from the Rocky movies, who of course is also known as the Italian Stallion. We thought that was pretty funny.

The first part of the trek up via elevator or stairs takes you to the base of the dome so you can see the dome’s artwork up close and also see down. I’ve always loved history and have a strong appreciation for art so this is the kind of tourist stuff that I love. It all was absolutely beautiful.

The next part of the trek up takes you to the top of the dome and that part was not easy! First, you wind up around the dome so as you get higher you are at a slant, and then the final part is a very tight, winding stair case. Plus there is no ventilation or moving air, so if you are claustrophobic or have asthma, it might not be for you. It made me a little nauseous.

But the views were SO WORTH IT. The top takes you outside and gives you a 360 view of the Vatican City and Rome.

For reference, in this picture above, the highest point you can go to is right below where the columns are near the top!

Once you visit the top, it brings you down to roof before you go the rest of the way down to walk through the inside. These are the back of the statues that you can see in my first couple of pictures from the ground.

Let me just say that the few pictures of the inside here to not do it justice for how vast and beautiful it is. Again, I am not Catholic, but I was in awe of the Basilica and how almost peaceful it was inside, despite the large crowd.

I highly recommend making this a part of your itinerary on a trip to Rome.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is a separate experience from visiting the Basilica and one that does have a cost. I can’t remember what we paid, but this was another case where we decided to pay a little more to “skip the line,” mostly because that was the only way we were going to get in. We didn’t know that on Sundays, which was our main full day for exploring Rome, the museum is only open on the last Sunday of the month. We already had other set plans for Monday, so before leaving Rome on Tuesday, we made a quick stop there in the morning.

This was because the Vatican Museum is home to the Sistine Chapel – most famous for its ceiling, painted by Michelangelo – and was near the top of my bucket list to see. I just couldn’t bear being so close and not making it happen. Thankfully my family agreed and we made it work. We did have a little time to enjoy a few other exhibits, but I didn’t take that many pictures because either the lighting wasn’t great or it was too crowded.

There isn’t any photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel and I actually appreciate that. Mostly of course because it forces people to actually just take it all in, and also because photography flashes and the wrong kind of light can actually affect the paint.

The Sistine Chapel was absolutely incredible, and even more amazing to think that Michelangelo didn’t even consider painting to be his top trade. It was super crowded but I tried to work through it as slowly as I could and just enjoy it. It was interesting to see what parts of the bible I could identify easily. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying a history book on it for my coffee table!

Alright, I’ll be back soon with my posts on the others cities we visited. For those who have been following along with each post, thanks for your patience!

Thanks for stopping by!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “Horsemanship is in the Details”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part five of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE

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We are down to my last post of this series! I had much fun going back through all of these photos and choosing my favorites, which was obviously hard since I had to spread them out over five posts. I’ve always said that photography is just a hobby for me, mostly because I have friends who do this for a living, work so hard to perfect their craft and are SO TALENTED. But it is a creative outlet for me and it makes me so happy that other people enjoy them too.

This last post is all about the “details.” These kind of shots are my favorite to seek out. I am a very detailed oriented person and appreciate how its the small details that make usually add the final touch to a story.

And as you will see, in order to keep everyone, people and horses alike, safe, and for everyone to have fun, horsemanship is ALL about the details.

Thanks to everyone at the wagon train for letting me tag along and making me feel welcome. I loved taking these photos.

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “All in the Family”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part four of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

************

My Dad first learned about the wagon train and this catering opportunity from one of the teachers at his school, Rochelle Meyers. Her family, starting with her husband George and his parents, have been a part of the wagon train for 12 years. Now they bring along their kids and sometimes cousins and other family members too. Rochelle and her family let me tag along in one of their wagons for one morning (and arranged for me to ride in a different wagon on a second morning.)

If you know me well, you know my first love is for a good story (hence my career and this hobby blog), and I loved hearing this family’s story. They were so kind and shared a lot about the history of the wagon train and stories about favorite memories, mishaps and about some of the different characters that participate every year. It was fun to watch and take pictures of the three generations working together doing something they love and taking the time to patiently help the kids learn how to help and contribute themselves.

The Meyers’ have two teams of Belgian Draft horses. There are the geldings (males) Gus and Call who are 20 years old and have been with Rochelle’s father-in-law Bill, since 2001. The team of mares (females), Kayla and Angel, 9 and 11 years old respectively, have been with Rochelle and George since 2016.

Thank you Meyers family, for letting me hang out with you!

Part five (the final one) will be up on Friday!

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “Cookin’ Spoo Style”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part three of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

************

Today’s post veers off from the series of photos of the horses and people on the wagon train, and focuses on the whole reason why I was actually there… my family!

My Dad built his first BBQ with his students when he was teaching high school agriculture maybe 15 years ago or so (?) (now he’s a high school principal). They used that original BBQ for high school football concessions, offering tri-tip and pork loin sandwiches along with your typical hamburgers and hotdogs. But more and more people became interested in it that they started using it for fundraisers and my Dad really started to get into trying new things (he’s always loved cooking). Eventually my Dad built his own BBQ and started doing the meat catering for weddings, company parties, golf tournaments and other events. Now on his third BBQ (because he always has new ideas on ways to improve it), he stays pretty busy with his side business, Cookin’ Spoo Style. He mostly sticks to just catering the meat but sometimes branches out and will do the whole meal.

As I mentioned above, this was his second time as the official caterer for the wagon train event and this year it happened to fall on the same week that I was able to come home for a visit.  As the caterer he was responsible for all three meals Tuesday through Friday, plus a dinner on Monday night and breakfast on Saturday for approximately 150 people… all without running water and electricity. So this event was much bigger than anything else he’s ever done and took a full-time team of 6 (and a second BBQ) to pull off. For lunch, instead of having the wagons come back into camp or sending them out with a cold lunch, my Dad, Mel and Tim would meet them out on the trail with a hot lunch, while my Mom, Jerrie and Dave stayed back at camp to prep for the next meal.

I spent the first 2.5 days there helping out and spending time with my parents, and though they put me to work, I had so much fun. I didn’t have cell phone service the whole time I was there, which was honestly so refreshing. My Dad was meant to be an educator and anyone who has met him can see the passion he has for his profession, but I love that he also has other interests and passions that he pursues and shares with others.

Part four will be up on Wednesday!