Paris: My 2.5 Day Struggle

The last time I was in Paris I was 21. I had gone to the city of love for my birthday with my long distance “boyfriend” at the time. Unfortunately for him, I broke up with him there. We had even done the whole love locks bridge thing beforehand. Super cringeworthy.

Anyway, despite these uncomfortable memories, I still love Paris and was excited to go back.  Little did I know, Paris still had a bone to pick with me.

Paris day 1

The flight to Paris was great. Leon and I arrived 15 minutes before boarding, the plane was on time and I slept for the majority of it. After landing we hopped on the train. Unfortunately the ticket lady failed to mention that the railway station was on strike. We ended up having to get off at a very sketchy train station and either A) walk for 40 minutes in 30 degree weather to our destination or B) Uber. We chose to walk and poor Leon had to carry both our luggages; neither of which had wheels.

After a very sweaty walk we finally got to our Airbnb (Click here for our Airbnb). Luckily our shoebox of an Airbnb (which was expected) was in an amazing area between the 1st and 2nd district. It was all things Parisian. Trendy, clean and adorned with people watchers sipping their afternoon beverages with a cigarette in hand. I swear you could even smell freshly baked bread wafting through the air.

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We figured we would clean ourselves up and start exploring right away. I reached into my pocket for the 50 euro I had slid in there after purchasing our train tickets and low and behold, my pocket was empty.

After searching the Airbnb and every pocket in sight, we bid farewell to the money and headed out the door for some much needed food.

We walked to Miznon which is located between the 4th and 3rd district. The area itself is very cute with busy little shops lining the small cobble stone windy streets.  When we got to Minzon, there was a pretty big line but we decided to stick it out. It was well worth it. The pita wraps were warm and fresh and we got seated on a cute little couch in the back. Funny story, we also ordered a big artichoke (ugh this is so embarrassing) and were gnawing on the extremely tough and chewy leaves. It wasn’t until we were half way through (and a couple stares later) that we realized that the leaves weren’t actually edible, we were just supposed to eat the artichoke heart. I think I’m still waiting to digest those leaves.

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After walking around a bit, we decided to try and drink away our jet lag with a bottle of rose (I know, worst idea ever). We lasted all 1 hour before we zombie walked back to our Airbnb.

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After a 5 hour “nap” on our pull out couch (there was no actual bed), we dressed ourselves and headed out to hunt for some dinner. Our first destination was a small Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended via the web. However, once we arrived, we were disappointed to see a small run down restaurant with inappropriately bright florescent lighting. Still curious, we knew there was a hidden bar at the back so we walked through an unmarked door which essentially opened up to the dance floor. While it looked like a good time, we weren’t up for a liquid dinner.  A couple of Google searches later we decided to go to the extremely popular Chez Janou.  Fortunately for us, we were able to get get a table quite quickly. We had an amazing meal and a delishious bottle of French wine in the cozy old-school authentic Parisian restaurant.

Around 12am we took our full bellies and went back to the district we were staying at for a night-cap. We actually picked a restaurant almost directly adjacent from where we were staying and had two FANTASTIC Parisian beers. After this, we happily hopped across the street to our pull-out couch.

Paris day 2

Our couch/bed sunk in the centre so it was impossible for Leon and I to not be awkwardly mashed in the middle. This was actually fine because we needed to wake up early to grab seat at a breakfast spot called Holybelly that I desperately wanted to eat at. I wanted to get there at 9 when they opened so Leon and I started our morning extra early. When we got to Holybelly and walked up to the little white piece of paper tacked on the door I literally wanted to cry. It was closed for 3 weeks. Our second pick wasn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so we had some time to kill. We grabbed a coffee to go and slowly made our way to our second pick, Buvette. But not before stopping at three bakeries on the way. When in Paris ammirighhtt.

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From the fresh squeezed orange juice, to the classy rustic Parisian décor, Buvette was amazing! And because we got there so early we basically had the place to ourselves.

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The clouds started to look angry so we popped into La Compagnie du Café with our laptops in tow.  Leon had a little work to catch up on and I can always tinker around with my blog so we perched up for 2 hours at this spacious cafe while the weather did it’s thing.

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IMG_5058-1.jpgWhen the sun started to peak out, we headed to the nearest market to get a bottle of wine, some cheese and a baguette for a relaxing Eiffel tower picnic. I ended up buying some nasty artichoke brie by accident. Worst. Weirdly enough, it was SWELTERING hot outside by the time we exited the market. We had our picnic on the grassy area underneath the Eiffel tower then headed to Laduree for some macaroons for the road (if you didn’t eat macaroons in Paris, did you even go to Paris?).

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IMG_5008-1.jpgAfter an entire morning and afternoon of walking I had developed two massive blisters on the bottoms of my feet. We came up with the amazing idea of renting public bikes. After paying 10 euro for the bike sign-up fee and standing at a bike kiosk puzzling over the machines for a good half an hour, we realized none of the bikes actually worked.  We decided to try our luck at a second station which I limped to.  We plunked in our sign-up code into all 4 of the bikes stationed there and NOPE, NOTHING WORKED.

We asked a teenage boy who looked like he worked for the company why none of the bikes worked. He looked at us and shrugged his shoulders and said that the bikes haven’t been working for at least 5 months. So we left, 2 hours of our life wasted and me, practically bleeding at this point.

Feeling pretty defeated, we walked to park to drink our warming cherry beers and rest my feet. After relaxing at the park, we decided to head home as a nap was in order.

After another 5 hour nap (jetlag was kicking our butts) we woke up around 10pm and debated on sleeping until our early morning flight the next day.  After a small pep talk, we got ready and headed out for some late night dinner. We ended up at a place close by called Comptoir de la Gastronomie.  We sat outside, shared a bottle of wine, a French onion soup and the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted in my life. Our moods had completely done a 180 and we were feeling much more optimistic about the end of our Paris stint.

After dinner we weren’t quite ready to call it a night so after exploring a bit, we sat down at a speakeasy which we promptly left after being jammed between two couples making out. We then made our way back to sit outside of the same restaurant we drank at the night before.  The people watching was much more fun at this time of night and before we knew it, the bottle of wine we ordered was empty.

The next morning we almost didn’t make it on our bus to the airport because one of our ticket barcodes wouldn’t scan. The man wouldn’t let us on because HIS scanning machine wasn’t working. I swear I made him scan it 50 times before it finally worked.  I was so thankful to finally get on the plane to Portugal.

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New York City/Brooklyn: A Drinkers Guide

I would NEVER live in New York City.

If I ever lived in New York City I would probably get morbidly obese and risk developing a drinking problem.  There are way too many fantastic spots to eat and drink, and I’m the kind of person that needs to try them all.

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WHERE TO STAY:

You have many great spots to choose from if you Stay in New York City, but If you’re also going to stay in Brooklyn, stay in the area of Dumbo or Williamsburg.  These are the nicest, trendiest neighborhoods.

In terms of getting around, we used Uber the entire time.

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EAT:

Okay so I didn’t write down all the places that I went to eat in NYC and Brooklyn and now I can’t find them for the life of me.  I went to one really cool spot in Brooklyn that was a grocery store during the day that turned into a restaurant at night with a funky backroom. Apparently there are a whole slew of hidden restaurants littered around the City. So cool. Here are my top three (no particular order):

$$ Dos Caminos – After exploring the Meatpacking district for a couple of hours we happened upon Dos Caminos.  Their lively outdoor patio and aroma of fresh tacos drew us in. We hungrily devoured delicious tacos and a couple margaritas.

$$Rucola– This little corner restaurant is located in the cute neighborhood of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and was the perfect spot to grab lunch.  The old-fashioned ironwork exterior is beautiful, and the rustic interior makes the space feel extremely cozy.  We ate AMAZING sandwiches and thirst quenching pressed juices.  I would have loved to also pop by for dinner if we had enough time. I highly recommend this spot.

$$$L’Artusi– Their wine menu was insanely long, however the sommelier was able to guide us to a fantastic (reasonably priced) bottle of Italian wine.  We shared a starter and two phenomenal pasta dishes, and were stuffed by the end of it (apparently you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu).  L’Artusi’s sleek, yet cozy interior and up-scale service draws an interesting and wealthy crowd; it’s a great people watching spot.

COFFEE:

$$ Ace Hotel– As a lover of all things coffee, Leon insisted that we go to The Ace hotel. The coffee shop itself looks like something you would expect to see in NYC, but once you continue through the coffee shop to the Ace hotel you’ll be floored.  This place is simply stunning. Grab a coffee, stay a while and enjoy the artsy ambiance.

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$$ – Brooklyn Roasting Company – Located in the Brooklyn Dumbo area, this big coffee shop is the whole package; beautiful, spacious and delicious.  We sat on a huge velvet couch and sipped on a Cold brew coffee while we planned our day.

DRINKS:

So I have to say, the NYC day-drinking and nightlife scene are fantastic.  Leon and I were in New York for 5 nights and went out every night to multiple unique places.

$$ –BierGarten – Located right off the Highline, this outdoor German beer garden (miraculously called BierGarten) is a great way to enjoy a mid-afternoon beer.  We found a spot on one of the many long wooden picnic benches and sipped German beer while watching a ping-pong match that was conveniently located in the center of the seating.  Watch out for flying balls.

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$$ –Brass Monkey   Located in the Meat Packing District and way more casual than many of the spots we had previously gone to.  Brass Monkey had a really cool rooftop where people can mingle. Inside you can find quite a variety of people ages from 21 to mid 30’s.

$$ – Pizza Beach– located on the corner of Orchard and Stanton, the 90’s Malibu themed pizzeria is adorned with vibrant turquoise blue walls and bright red chairs. Here I enjoyed a couple (very strong) afternoon 151 cocktails in a shark head.  Gotta say, I was feeling pretty good when we headed to our next destination.

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$$$ –Mr. Purple– A block away from Pizza Beach you can find Mr. purple. We would have walked right by the entrance hadn’t there been a massive line filled with well-dressed New Yorkers.  Once we made it to the front of the line we were escorted to an elevator which took us to the rooftop bar. Once you are at the top, you get jaw-dropping unrestricted views of the city.  We were lucky enough to have mistakenly timed it so we watched the sunset from this rooftop. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

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$$$ –The Jane Hotel–  This spot is elegant as hell and packed to the brim on weekends. don’t come here if you want a quiet or cheap night out. Once inside, the dimly lit candles and heavy velvety curtains set an old-fashioned and classy ambiance.  Side note –  the bouncers pick and choose who they want to go in (or so it seems), so dress to impress.  We watched one girl get escorted out because she gave the bouncer attitude. It made for good entertainment.  Check out the Rose Bar next door also (if you can get in).

$$$ – Le Bain at the Standard– If you want to go clubbing, search no more.  You’ll find loud music, strobe lights, disco balls and lots of people at this chic spot.  Check out their rooftop patio and the stunning 360 view of New York City.

$$$ – Employees only– I loved this place mainly because I was in search for NYC’s “elite” and I found them here! The people and the posh decor basically match each other. Beware, this place is intimate and tiny.  Leon and I sipped our expensive cocktails while standing because it was so packed.

$$$ – Bathtub Gin– A hidden Speakeasy that literally transports you to the 1920’s.  You  can choose to sit in an old-school bathtub if you wish. Obviously get the gin.

$$$ – The Ides bar at The Wythe Hotel – Located in the trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, Ides Bar offers the best view of the infamous New York city skyline.  This place is bustling with young professionals.  I can’t even count how many times I got the “what do you do” line before I got the “what is your name” question. Typical New York?

$$$ – Grand Banks– A boat/bar/restaurant docked at pier 25 and only up and running between April and October.  This place is PERFECT for some afternoon bevies.  We waited for about 20 minutes in line, but it was well worth it.  You’re royally missing out if you visit New York in the Summer and don’t stop here for a drink

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WHAT WE DID:

(other than drinking a lot)

Walk the High Line – a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail. There is plenty of art and beautiful views to keep you entertained.

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Walk along the Brooklyn Bridge –  Its pretty crowded but it’s a must, so just do it.

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Visit the Twin Tower Memorial

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Explore Central Park – But don’t take the horse-drawn carriages, that’s cruel.

Visit Grand Central Terminal – Buzzing with energy, this beautiful train terminal is a must see.

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Visit a Museum
– We chose the Museum of Modern Art – Allow at least an hour and a half of your time. The MOMA is three floors of artistic greatness.

Weekend Guide to Victoria BC

Victoria is a spectacular small ocean-front city that has a little something to offer everyone. Whether it be hiking, eating, sight-seeing or just relaxing, you are bound to have a great time.

Victoria is a spectacular small ocean-front city that has a little something to offer everyone. Whether it be hiking, eating, sight-seeing or just relaxing, you are bound to have a great time.

Taking a car over from Vancouver B.C. will cost you $85.00 each way for two people (not including the reservation fee, if you choose to make one).  It isn’t necessary to have a car, but it can certainty be useful. This blog post is a compilation of two trips I took in 2017.

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What we ate

$ SuperbabaIf you are looking for a delicious yet quick bite to eat, head over to Superbaba. They serve healthy middle eastern-inspired food made with fresh seasonal ingredients. We tried a bit of everything (falafel, chicken bowl and the pita) and were extremely impressed.

$$ Jam We ate at Jam on the Friday afternoon after our ferry docked.  If you save Jam for Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you’ll be standing in a massive line. Jam originated in Victoria (there is a 2nd location in Vancouver) and is VERY popular . I had the eggs Benedict with fried chicken and Gorgonzola cheese and Leon had the pulled pork tacos. We savored every bite.  Don’t go here expecting a light brunch, this is comfort food at its finest.

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$$ Nourish Kitchen and Cafe This eclectic little café and restaurant puts a big emphasis on locally sourced and organic products. I had the delicious and delicate Chorizo Benny while Leon tried the Morning Scramble.  This place is absolutely adorable!! They turned an old 1889 heritage house into a bright and breezy café and restaurant. I give this one 5 stars for sure!

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$$$ IL Terrazzo –  Centrally located in the cozy Waddington Alley, this is candle lit Italian dining done right. I kid you not, I will visit this restaurant EVERY time I go to Victoria.  They offer wood-oven roasted pizza, home-made pasta and fresh seafood. You absolutely must make a reservation if you plan on dining here on a weekend.  We shared the Seafood Risotto and the Beef Cannelloni with Gorgonzola cheese and almost ordered another entrée because it was so good.

$$$$ High Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel – You don’t have to go to England for incredible High Tea, just head to Victoria, B.C.  At $75.00 per person ,this luxurious experience doesn’t come cheap. However, it’s worth every penny.  We selected the Chi and Mascarpone teas and frankly, have never tasted better tea to date.  Bring your appetite! The afternoon tea offerings where quite generous. Among other things, the pastry tier included fresh fluffy scones complimented with a sweat cream and a lovely jam, yummy smoked salmon and a plate full of delicate desserts. My mother and I sipped on hot tea and nibbled on delicious pastries for almost two hours! A live piano beautifully set the ambiance and the grand room was tastefully decorated for Christmas.  Very circa 1980 London, England.

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Bars, Pubs and Cocktail Lounges

Swan’s BrewPub –  During the early evenings you can enjoy a live band, but after the live music is done the party really starts.  I was bopping to some Biggie Smalls as I was enjoying my beer on the heated patio.  Swans has a large variety of their hand crafted (very delicious) beer – I particularly enjoyed the Wit and the Raspberry Ale.

$$ Bard and Banker– Located on the corner of Fort and Government Street, this stunning Scottish-style pub has a great band and a hoppin’ dancefloor. Try to get there for happy hour to enjoy a cocktail or 4.

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$$ Brickyard Pizza – The only really, really late night pizza you can enjoy with a beer (I forewent the beer because a night-cap beer screams hangover) but the option is there.

$$$ Little Jumbo – This cute little underground lounge feels like a 1950’s speakeasy due to the cozy, dark atmosphere and the intricate cocktails they offer.  Victoria is generally a little more casual, so if you’re looking for a classy, romantic night out, I suggest you dine at Il Terrazzo then have a night-cap at Little Elephant, like we did. This place is my favorite cocktail lounge in Vic.

Day Drinking

Sea Cider Farm and Cider House  – Cute little Farmhouse with a fabulous views over a landscape littered with big apple trees. Their ciders are all made from their local pressed and fermented apples. Try a tasting flight to sample them all!
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Victoria Spirits – A “Ginnery” housed in an old farm-house on Old West Saanich Road. They make flavourful, herb infused gin

Wineries

We ended up going to a couple wineries around the Victoria region.  These are the ones we visited.

Unsworth Vineyards This was our favorite! Stunning grounds and spectacular wine – try the port!
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Church & State Wines – This winery was the only one I recognized from Liquor stores, however, I wasn’t all that impressed. 

Cherry Point Estate Wines – This small winery only uses locally sourced grapes for their wine. We bought the delicious rosé! 

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De Vine Vineyard – Casual atmosphere with knowledgeable staff. The Fosh was my favorite.  De Vine is also a Distillery so you can give some local Spirits a try.

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Starling Lane Vineyard – This one was closed on the Sunday we tried to visit, but it looked extremely beautiful.

Things to see

Fisherman’s Wharf Grab a drink on one of the many restaurants on the water and enjoy the view.

Take a walking tour of the Parliament Buildings 

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The Parliament Buildings are always extra festive at Christmas time

Take a stroll around the Causeway – a pedestrian walkway which circles the Inner Harbour and offers stunning views of the Parliament Buildings, docks and skyline.

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Lower Johnston StreetLined with small independent shops with a few bigger names here and there, this street is for the shopaholics looking for something a little bit different.

Goldstream Railway Trestle Hike British Columbia is known for its stunning nature and the best way to soak it all in is to go on a hike.  This hike is a 20 minutes drive west of Victoria and will take out about 1.5 – 2 hours to complete round trip.  The Victoria hike website labels this hike as “Difficult”, but really, it is more of a moderate hike.  It gets a little steep in some parts so make sure you are wearing the correct footwear.  While on route you can take a short detour and have a look at Niagra “Waterfall” before continuing to the trestle.  Beware, If you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend this hike.  The trestle is veryyyy high up.
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When In Rome

Sorry for the Cliché blog title

Sorry for the Cliché blog title, I had to…

So I literally almost cried about 5 minutes into arriving in Rome… and when I mean  almost cried, I curled up into a little ball, closed my eyes and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack…Driving in Rome will do that to you (don’t worry, I was in the passenger seat).  Luckily this was where we were dropping the car off.

Other than the insane driving, I loved Rome.  I had those happy feelings you get when you think to yourself, yup I would live here.  How can you not though, Rome is STUNNING!

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Where we stayed:

We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in the Rione Monti area.  It was extremely central so we really burned off all the pasta calories while walking to most of our destinations. However, we did have to take a couple of cabs (and almost got scammed by a taxi driver).  See below for what happened and how you can avoid getting ripped off.

Check out our Airbnb HERE.

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What we did:

  1. We probably did the most touristy thing we could possibly do and bought tickets for the Hop on Hop Off bus. Honestly, this is probably the best way to get a visual of all the popular places in the city.  We filled a water bottle with white wine and enjoyed the views (and the breeze).  The Hop on Hop off bus was around €25,00 per person and so unbelievably worth it.
  2. There are a couple MUST sees in Rome. The Pantheon is one of them.  It is also free to enter, but just make sure you don’t try and bring in a gelato like we did.

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  3. The Trevi Fountain is also must see and is extremely packed.  After seeing everyone’s beautiful photos which miraculously all look like they’re the only ones there, I was pretty shocked at the massive crowds (how naive of me).  If you want to get a great photo I suggest you go at the crack of dawn.Italy 2017-2330
  4. The Coliseum is obviously a must see as it is the biggest well-preserved coliseum in the world, expect there to be huge crowds as well.
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  5. Climb the Spanish steps for views of Rome. We had a heat wave in Italy when we were there and yes, it gets a little sweaty.Italy 2017-2358
  6. We drove, walked and bused by Altare della Patria; a massive marble monument. Each time we passed by we were awestruck.  You can’t miss it, it’s actually massive.  Apparently you can take the elevator to the top of it for 7 Euro, but don’t quote me, I saw this on another blog from 2014.Italy 2017-2374
  7. The Giardino Degli Aranci, or commonly know as the Garden of Oranges was perfection.   There were no oranges on the trees but the premise is so well-groomed and spectacular, it didn’t matter. Someone was getting their wedding photos done here and I was super jealous. We walked to the peak of the garden which overlooks the city and watched the sunset.
  8. If you are looking to see something way less touristy but still quite impressive, head over to the stunning Biblioteca Angelica.  It is an extremely old and beautifully charming library.  In fact, it is one of Rome’s first public libraries.  Biblioteca Angelica is still a locals library so you have to be extremely quiet.  You also wont be able to read any of the books if you aren’t fluent in Italian.  The librarian is quite aggressive and allows only one picture (I’m such a rebel, I took 2).  Go see it though, it is absolutely spectacular.

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    Okay shoot me.  Due to time constraints, we decided to skip the Vatican and put it on our list for next time.

Where We Ate/Drank

Lunch:

$ If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or some great take-away food, head over to Pasta Chef.  It’s located only a short walk from the Colosseum and has a drool worthy menu.  They serve authentic, fresh pasta which is made daily.  The plates and cutlery are biodegradable so your meal is basically guilt free!  We decided on the risotto and the pesto pasta.  It was quick, affordable and delicious!

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Dinner:

$$ We were on the brink of getting very sick of wine so for dinner we decided to get some artisan beer and pizza at one of the hottest spots in Rome, Bir + Fud.  The place itself is buzzing with modern flare and feels very contemporary and hip.  We got there at 7:30 and were able to be seated right away, however, at 8:00 p.m. the place was packed.  If you plan on eating here after 7:30, definitely make a reservation. We shared a pizza and the buffalo mozzarella and ham calzone and ended up having a fork battle over the calzone.  It was cheesy, yummy perfection.  The beer was also spectacular and they have a massive variety to choose from.

$$$  Trattoria Monti is located a little bit away from the center of Rome but VERY worth the small trek.  Clearly this spot is a local gem as every seat was full.  Luckily for us we had made a reservation beforehand.   Trattoria Monti is a little more upper class, so expect a pricier meal.  Despite this, IT IS WORTH IT.  Plus, it has a very welcoming and cozy atmosphere, you may as well be eating at Nonas house.  We settled on an appetizer, the tortello stuffed with ricotta, egg yolk and topped with butter sage sauce and a meaty pasta dish which I forgot the name.  Each meal was incredible and exploding with flavor.  You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Coffee/drinks:

We grabbed a coffee and people watched in big brown chairs at Café Angelina.  We both had an Iced Coffee to cool down and this was the perfect spot to rest the legs.

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$$$$ We headed on over to Jerry Thomas, which is a 1930’s inspired speakeasy bar known for their killer cocktails.  We knocked on huge dark door which was located in a very dark ally and waited outside.  A man came to the door and asked for a password… which we didn’t have.  Luckily when we smiled apologetically he told us it was no problem, we would just have to wait an hour. FYI if you go, you are supposed to find the daily password on their Facebook page.  Soon after, a small family knocked on the door and gave the man the password.  The door man turned them away due to capacity reasons (the bar only holds up to 40 people), then promptly led us into the bar.

The place itself was very charming with it’s old world glamour and dark mystic vibes.  Leon and I sat at the bar and ordered two drinks; I had a Gin concoction and he ordered the Buffalo whiskey sour.  My drink was good, but his literally knocked my socks off.   I made us stay longer so I could have one of my own.  If you can, sit at the bar when you go.  Watching the mixologists is quite fascinating.

I only have one complaint, and please don’t let this deter you from going whatsoever.  The people who were standing behind us (basically touching us it was so packed) decided to light up not only a cigarette, but a cigar too!  There are no windows in this tiny bar and the big door was closed tightly.  So here we are sitting and having the most amazing (and expensive) drinks ever, and these people are smoking on us.  Luckily after about 15 minutes they got seated and left. But still – circulated air.

Tips on Taxi’s

Luckily our Airbnb was pretty central which cut down on the amount of cabs we had to take.   Out of 3 cabs I took, 1 tried to rip us off.  Leon and I were taking a cab to a Speakeasy bar one night after 10pm, the surcharge of €5,80 was already added at the beginning. The cab ride came to 13 Euro, Leon handed him a €20  and the man gave us back €2.  I told him he didn’t give us enough change and he said that there was an additional surcharge anytime after 10 p.m.  I told him the surcharge would have been added to the meter at the beginning of the trip and he frantically pointed to various maps in his cab that said nothing about a further surcharge.  After fighting with him for 2 minutes he finally gave us back our correct change.  So if you’re in Rome, watch out for these kinds of things, like being charged for a surcharge on top of a surcharge.

Here are a couple of ways to make sure you’re not spending more money on cabs than you need to:

  1. Know the surcharges:
  2. Watch out for fixed taxi prices
     If someone wants to give you a fixed price within the city – chances are you are getting ripped off.  Make sure they turn the meter on, if they don’t, get out!
  3. Check and say the amount of money you give to the cab driver
    instead of just giving the cab driver a bill, say “here is X amount of Euro”.  I’ve read taxi scams where cab drivers will switch bills and then say you haven’t given them enough money.
  4. Try to give them exact change.
    Cab drivers might pull the “I have no change” card to try and swindle a couple extra dollars from you.
  5. Grab a cab from an official taxi pickup
    This will lessen the chance of you getting picked up by an unregistered (and possibly shady) taxi cab.  Registered cabs are white and have their licence number on the side!!

Anyway, Rome was an amazing surprise.  I expected it to be a dirty city with way too many tourists but it turned out to be my favorite stop this trip.

2 Stops to Make Between Florence and Rome

Leon and I stopped in two places on our way to Rome from Florence and thought they deserved an honorable mention.

Leon and I stopped in two places on our way to Rome from Florence and thought they deserved an honorable mention.

We didn’t want to take the long way to Rome so Leon threw me his phone and told me to find a place to stop for a glass of wine along the A1 Autostrada.  After a 5 minute Google search, I settled on Altarocca Wine resort, located by Umbria, Italy.  Unfortunately, my directional skills are less than par and I missed the turn-off to go up the paved hill to our destination.  The map showed another way around, so I went with that.  Within minutes into this second route we found ourselves creeping up a bumpy dirt path that scaled a rural mountain.  We were both freaking out because the road, err- trail, was awfully narrow and extremely rocky with no places to turn around.  We trudged on with Leon saying “oh shit” the entire way; certainly a rock was going to pop one of our little feeble Fiat tires.  20 minutes into bush whacking, the brush parted ways and we passed the cutest little house perched on the mountain.  After this, the road was much better and we finally got to our destination (our blue car was now light brown). We were pleasantly surprised.  For blindly choosing a spot to stop at, we hit the jackpot.  This winery was a “wine resort” with a beautiful pool deck and bar looking over the Tuscan landscape.  We asked the employees working on the pool deck where we could go for a drink (because surely the pool was just for people who are staying at the resort), but no, they told us to sit at a table and they served us right there as we absorbed the view.  We tried 4 different wines, whites and reds and loved each one of them.  This place is a gem! At around €140 a night, we will surely be staying the next time we visit.

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Not far from Altarocca wine resort we spotted the majestic city of Orvieto, perched atop of a rocky mountain.  This was our second destination.  The drive had us spiraling around the cobblestone city walls of Orvieto.  This was nothing like I had ever seen.  Inside the walls of the town things were very quiet, however little crowds of people gathered to admire the stunning medieval Cathedral which was adorned with beautiful mosaics.  We walked around a bit but had to retreat back to the car as it was SCORCHING hot, but not before snapping a couple pictures.

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Besides all of the casualties stuck to our windshield, the terrain between Florence and Rome was beautiful as it whizzed by my window at 140 kph.

Florence: The City of Careless Exploration

Ahhh Florence, the city of careless exploration. Wandering around Florence, or shall I say Firenze, is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.

Wandering around Florence (or shall I say Firenze) aimlessly is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.  You’ll discover something impressive around every corner; whether it be mouthwatering menus, romantic alleyways, intricate sculptures or carousels smack dab in the center of a plaza.

Where we stayed:

Only stopping once in Verona to stretch our legs, we drove 6 hours from Zadar, Croatia to Florence, Italy.  We arrived at our Airbnb around 8 p.m. and were happily surprised that it was located in the very central Piazza Santa Croce, walking distance from basically everything.  We could see Basilica di Santa Croce from our room! We felt that choosing an Airbnb over a hotel gave us an authentic local experience.

Check out our Airbnb here.

Florence 2017-2071.jpgThis was 10 steps from our front door!

What we did:

Speaking of plazas, Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio are both must sees.  Even if you’re not planning on going to these plazas, you’ll eventually end wandering through anyway.  Piazza della Signoria was my favorite because of the stunning open-air sculpture exhibit.

I love a good panoramic view: when I find myself in a new city I’m always in search for the best location to marvel at a city skyline from above.  So if heights don’t make you nauseous and you are in moderately good shape, make your way to the top if Giotto’s Campanile. It will certainty make a memorable experience. But be prepared to sweat a bit though. The 463 steps to the top definitely gets the heart pumping.   There are floors which you can take breaks on along the way, but beware, the walkways are ridiculously small.  Once you get to the top of the tower you get the most beautiful, panoramic view of Florence.

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We decided to go to the Boboli Gardens an hour before closing.  The lady at the front desk was applaud we waited so late in the day to go; she almost convinced us to skip it!  Luckily a local overheard our conversation and assured us that we had enough time. She told us to start from the top of the gardens and make our way down as the gardens at the top are the most beautiful.  So we bought tickets, started from the top and took our time. We even had enough time for glass of wine and a chat with another traveling couple at the restaurant overlooking the gardens.  It was perfect because we were able to admire the views with almost no people around.   The Boboli Gardens are absolutely magical, but you don’t need longer than an two hours to admire the scenery (they kicked us out an hour after closing).  I STRONGLY recommend going here.

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Where we ate:

As you can imagine, driving for 6 hours from Zadar worked us up an appetite.  We stumbled upon a romantic outdoor patio restaurant in the semi-hidden Plazza Della Passera called 4 Leoni.  They serve artisan food, fresh pasta and delicious wine.  We had to wait for a table because the restaurant was jam packed but it was well worth it.  We shared a mouth- watering Ravioli and a bottle of their house wine, which was surprisingly really tasty.  We weren’t expecting much as we didn’t plan this meal but WOW WAS IT GOOD.

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You have to have at least one white tablecloth, candle lit dinner in Florence.   Ristorante Sant’ Ambrogio  is located in a quiet neighbourhood 7 minutes away from the Il Duomo area and was perfect for this kind of romantic meal.  This restaurant was elegant yet unpretentious and had a great ambiance.  We shared a beef tartare, risotto, tagliatelle pasta, and of course, a bottle of red wine.  It was a true Italian dining experience.

As you walk around Florence, you will eventually run into a street with line-ups down two adjacent sidewalks.  Yup, both line-ups are for sandwiches.  I thought this was hilarious until Leon insisted we try one. So, we lined up for the infamous All’antico Vinaio for half an hour.  It was actually a nice break from walking.  The people watching was pretty good too.  We decided on getting two sandwiches, the L’Inferno and the La Schiacciata Del Boss.  The L’Inferno was hands down the best.

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Located inside Piazza della Repubblica (this is the plaza with the carousel) you will find a very posh coffee shop/ bakery called Caffé Gilli.   We stood at the bar to watch the Italians work their magic behind the espresso machine. There is a 5€ price difference if you sit on the patio versus stand at the bar.  In general we found that throughout Croatia and Italy, many places charge you a “cover charge” for sitting and eating at their establishment. Usually it’s 1 – 2€.

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If you’re looking for a trendy coffee shop, head over to Ditta Artigianale.  It’s very modern despite the surrounding rustic and historic landscape.  This coffee shop was bustling the entire time we spent trying to figuring out our route from Florence to Rome.

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OH MY GOSH THE GELATO IN FLORENCE WAS AMAZING.  Yes I had two a day (for only 1 or 2 Euros each, so why the heck not?!).

A very noteworthy gelato spot was La Carraia, which is located by the river.  There was a little lineup but it went quickly. We had a scoop of the dark chocolate and the strawberry gelato.  They were unbelievably flavorful.  They have tons of flavors to choose from so you might have to go back a couple times.

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Careful – they melt quick 😉