Italy 2018: Florence, Pisa, Tuscany

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I’m back! Now with the Tuscany-region leg of the trip. As with all of the other cities we visited, I only wish we had more time here, especially in Florence.

We took a Trenitalia from Verona to Florence, checked into our hotel (which was about a 10 minute walk from the train station), and pretty much went right back to the train station to catch a regional train to Pisa, about an hour away.

I had been told ahead of this trip that Pisa was not a must-see. And in the same way that I’m glad I saw Juliet’s balcony in Verona, I’m glad we went to Pisa, if only to confirm that it’s not somewhere I need to go back to. No offense to the people of Pisa, but all there was in the city was the Leaning Tower. It felt like Italy’s version of Times Square. People everywhere taking photos, eating mediocre food, and buying overpriced souvenirs.

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Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day, and it was nice to see such a famous sight. But if you’re pressed for time, Pisa definitely isn’t a must-see in Italy.

As I mentioned earlier, our hotel in Florence was about a 10 minute walk from the train station, and about 2 seconds to the Mercato Centrale. When we returned from Pisa, we stopped for wine and antipasti at Trattoria Za Za. I would be completely content sitting outside in a Piazza, sipping Pinot Grigio and eating fresh bruschetta until the day I die.

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After our snack, we poked around the outdoor portion of the market, shopping for leather goods. I ended up with a brand new brown leather belt, and a bucket bag that I am obsessed with. It definitely gives me major Mansur Gavriel vibes, but it only cost me 35 Euro (they were asking for 55, but I wore him down). I also got Andrew a new leather wallet, since his was old and way too small.

More on the bag, because I’m obsessed with it. I was a little hesitant at first, since I usually like my work bags to be huge so that I can carry everything I might need (laptop, snacks, books) with me. Although this bag appeared small, I’m happy to report that it is able to fit all of my various accouterments. It is chic and functional all at once.

For dinner the first night in Florence, we went to Fuoco Matto, where I had one of my best meals of the trip.

A side note — when we got to the restaurant, the host informed us that their credit card machine was broken, and so for the evening they were cash only. My dad had left the majority of his cash in the hotel room, which sparked his and my struggle to inquire about an ATM. The challenge, of course, was that “ATM” is an American acronym and no matter how many different tones of voice or different inflections (or in my case, ASL) we used in asking, the question was lost in translation. It was only after my dad resigned to walking back to the hotel for his cash that my sister informed us that the word we were looking for was “bancomat” and she had known it all along.

After that debacle, I had an AMAZING pasta dish. It was a kind of long cavatelli-type pasts, with a spicy sauce and a big dollop of burrata. The pasta was fresh, the sauce was just spicy enough without being overwhelming, and the cheese also helped to cool things off. The waiter also recommended an excellent Nebbolio — a mild red wine that I had not tried before. It complimented the spicy dish without overpowering it.

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The following morning, we explored the city of Florence a bit more. We walked through town to see the massive Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, and crossed the Rialto Bridge. Since it was Monday, we weren’t able to see Michelangelo’s David at the Gelleria d’Academia, but we were able to see a replica, which felt close enough.

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After some wandering, we found our way back to the Mercato Centrale, and went inside to explore and have a snack. The downstairs of the Mercato is full of cheese, pasta, and butcher shops. I eventually picked up some pasta and biscotti to bring back. The upstairs is an enormous food court, full of every type of Italian food imaginable. I, of course, had bruschetta and a glass of wine, but there was fresh pasta, pizza, pastries, a 3,000 euro truffle, and a complete culinary school.

After lunching, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to freshen up. Later in the afternoon, we had scheduled a castle tour, wine tasting and cooking class at Castello del Trebbio, outside of Florence. The castle is located on a vineyard in the Tuscan hills, and was absolutely stunning. The panoramic views were like something out of a movie, and constantly took my breath away.

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We started with a tour of the amazing castle, in which the owners of the vineyard actually live. Our tour guide, Noemi, was excellent, and balanced telling stories of the history of the castle with wine-making effortlessly.

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After the tour (which conveniently lasted through a rainstorm) we met up with Jerry, our chef and teacher to cook dinner. The whole meal was four courses: the most amaznig olive tampenade I’ve ever had, pasta with a sauce made from zucchini, carrots and cream, chicken with sage and rosemary, wrapped in bacon with a sweet red wine sauce, and a traditional Tuscan cake.

Through each course, Jerry made sure to let everyone in the group participate and learn the proper techniques, including kneading the pasta dough, rolling it out, and cutting it. I also got to cook my own chicken, since the full dish had pine nuts and mine had to be done separate. Jerry was lively and informative, and an all-around excellent chef and teacher.

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After we cooked, we all received the recipes for everything we made. I had already re-made the tampenade. I don’t even like olives, and I usually had tampenades, but this one, with fresh mint and oregano and orange zest was life altering. My parents made the whole meal at home this weekend, and I plan to at least make the fresh pasta soon, as soon as I get my hands on a rolling pin.

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We took the class with another family, and ate all together, family-style. For each course, we had a different wine. One white, 2 different reds, and a dessert wine. I was so stuffed afterward I could barely move, but we did manage to make it to the gift shop and order a case of wine to be shipped back to Rochester. I recently picked my bottles up when I was home last, and am excited to have one last taste of Italy.

I loved Florence. As I mentioned in my Rome post, I studied art in college, so being in the middle of one of the most historically important art cities was unreal. If I could go back, I think I would have studied abroad in Florence.

I’d love to go back there soon and explore not only the city itself more, but also the surrounding countryside.

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The Met Cloisters & Doing Things Alone

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The weekend before the Fourth of July, Andrew went on a trip with his friends, everyone else seemed to have vacated the city, and I found myself alone, holed up  in my bedroom, the only room in the apartment with air conditioning. I spent the better half of Saturday morning scrolling through Instagram, envying everyone else’s fun weekends and feeling sorry for myself.

To make me feel better about myself, I started looking up cool day trips from New York in order to plan a trip later on. One easy trip that kept popping up was the Cloisters, which are literally 20 blocks from my apartment. The Cloisters are an arm of the Met Museum that specializes in Medieval art, architecture, and sculpture. The building itself literally feels like a medieval castle.

I had been once, albeit very hungover, and I didn’t fully enjoy it. But I had been wanting to go up, since they’re housing some of the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit with the Met Costume Institute, and I wanted to see it. What sealed the deal though, was the promise of a cool, stone, air conditioned castle in the middle of an ungodly heatwave.

And so, I packed up a bag and headed up to the Cloisters. It’s so easy to get to from the West Side, it’s embarrassing that I don’t go up more often. All I had to do was hop on the M4 on Broadway and it takes you directly up to the museum. It took about 20 minutes door-to-door.

For New York residents, the Met museums are donation-based admission, so I showed my licence and paid $5 for my ticket. I’d like to someday pay more, but I work in publishing and am on a budget.

The exhibit was amazing. I’m a sucker for any museum, but the collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Cloisters was stellar. Since this year’s Costume Institute theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” the Cloisters felt like the natural place to showcase fashion, since the medieval ages were quite possibly when religion was at its most marvelous.

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I found the whole exhibit haunting and a little bit creepy. The different garments were displayed within the existing scenes in the museum. For example, right when you walk in, there’s a small courtyard and there were two habit-inspired dresses elevated about eight feet in the air, giving the illusion of floating, faceless women. Or, in front of a super ornate alter with a crucifix would be a faceless mannequin in a long, gorgeous white dress under a spotlight.

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I was expecting the different dresses to be displayed all together in a separate area of the museum, like how they are in the Met. But the mingling of the garments with the existing exhibition was eerie and breathtaking in a way I haven’t really experienced in a museum before. I was actually listening to my own music (specifically, Florence + The Machine’s new album High as Hope, which was an excellent soundtrack to the museum) but the museum was playing church hymns in the background. I heard Ave Maria at one point, and coupled with the centuries-old art and the faceless mannequins, I felt like I was transported to two different worlds at once — both the Catholic church I grew up going to, and a creepy haunted house based on The Conjuring 2

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The Cloisters itself is on a beautiful property in Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River. There are a few balconies in the museum where you can get gorgeous panoramic views, and it feels like you’ve completely left Manhattan. The last time I visited the Cloisters, it was a cold, gray December day, and visiting on a beautiful summer day was completely different. The blue skies and the lush trees and the river views made me feel like I was in a castle in the Hudson Valley.

One thing I really want to start doing more is spending time in museums. They’re free, they’re always changing, and they’re far more interesting than just a coffee shop. Since I wanted to make a day of it and spend some time out of my apartment, I brought a book along with me and posted up in one of the museums courtyards. Even though it was over 90 degrees outside, the shade of the cool, dark courtyard was comfortable, and I did some decent work on my book. What’s more, the museum has a small cafe with food and drinks, and free wifi.

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After I left the museum, I poked around Fort Tryon Park a bit, before I started sweating too much. I always forget that Washington Heights is super historical and played a huge role in the American Revolution and has a ton of landmarks. Fort Tryon Park is lush and sprawling and I need to spend several days exploring. The only caveat is that it’s SUPER hilly.

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It seems dumb, but I was really proud that I went on this small adventure. I’m a very anxious person, and I’ll usually opt for doing nothing over doing something new on my own. I was in a place where I was wallowing, chastising myself for not making pre-Fourth of July plans and being sad about how lonely I was, and all it took to make me feel better was a 20-block bus ride. And I enjoyed it so much! Probably more than I would have enjoyed it if I had made someone come with me. I could go back through twice, take a reading break, and poke around at my own speed. It was truly relaxing and I’m already planning to go back up soon.

The moral of this story is that it’s easy to do nothing and be miserable, and it’s also super easy to do one thing and have an absolutely wonderful afternoon. And that the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at the Cloisters is 10/10 worth visiting.

Italy 2018: Venice & Verona

IMG_2759My sister had been to Italy in high school about 5 years ago, and the one place she was most eager to return was Venice. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was blown away.

On day three of our trip, we took an early morning train from Rome to Venice. It was the longest ride of our trip, at about 3 hours long. That is to say, the high speed trains in Italy are a dream. Quick, comfy and convenient. We had Eurail Italy passes, which I believe means that we could take virtually any high-speed train anywhere in Italy. My dad made reservations in advance, so when we got to the station, we had seats reserved together. Given how many different cities we visited, I think the passes were definitely worth it. I’d certainly get them again for travel in Europe, mostly because I’m obsessed with the high-speed trains. While the train was 3 hours, a drive would be almost 6.

As soon as you exit the train station in Venice, you’re looking at the Grand Canal. It took my breath away.

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We  had some confusion about riding the ferry to where our hotel was, but eventually it was sorted. I will say that I love boats, and I love water. Getting to Venice and feeling the breeze off the water and seeing the gorgeous blue canals was more beautiful than I ever imagined.

After we found our way to the Rialto stop on the Water Bus, we encountered a bit more trouble navigating to the hotel. Mostly because between the smaller canals in Venice, the streets are incredibly narrow.

One thing we had that made navigating a bit easier was the WiFi hotspot we rented from Tep Wireless (suggested by Erin!). It works by using the local networks to create a hotspot. It’s definitely only as good as the network around it, so in some areas we had better access than others. I hadn’t used a hotspot when travelling internationally in the past, but in Venice especially, it was helpful to be able to use maps to find our hotel, rather than poking around pretty much blindly.

Maps ultimately got us pretty close to our hotel, but one street over. Luckily, a window watcher heard us rumbling down the street with our luggage, and pointed us in the right direction.

Our hotel, Ca’ del Console, was definitely not as modern as the one in Rome, but I loved a lot about it. First, we had two balconies overlooking a canal. When we were in our room, I was almost always out on the balcony, watching the canal, drinking coffee or prosecco. It was also a much more “Italian” looking place, with a gilded headboard on the bed, dark wood and art on the walls. I’m also certain that it was haunted.

The location was also perfect. We were just a short walk from Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. I kept saying that Venice was like Disney’s Epcot, until I finally realized that Disney’s Epcot is actually like Venice. It was incredibly charming. I would be content to go back and just wander, sit in Piazzas and drink wine for a week straight.

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On our first day in Venice, we poked around and made our way to the Piazza San Marco, and the seaside. One thing I wish we had time to do was tour Doges Palace and the Bridge of Sighs. However, we were able to go up in the Bell Tower. We waited no more than 30 minutes in line, and the tickets were 6 euro each. Up top, the views were amazing. Seeing the Piazza, the coastline, and the town from that height was magical.

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We crossed the Rialto bridge to explore the other side of town where it was definitely less populous. We had gelato and bought some Murano glass souvenirs, and headed back to the other side of the bridge to have dinner on the Grand Canal.

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And of course, we took a gondola ride. As I said, I love water and boats, and it was cool to see the city from the water, and not just the bridges. We were lucky that there weren’t any lines, so we hopped on, and took about a 20 minute ride. The gondoliere was perfect, he didn’t talk to us too much, but he pointed out sights along the way, like the house where Marco Polo was born, and my favorite, if only for the name: Tit Bridge (where prostitutes used to hang out back in the day). 

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While my parents took a nap and cleaned up for dinner on the second afternoon, Bridget and I went out exploring around our hotel. We found the Libreria Acqua Alta, the bookstore of my dreams. It was an old bookshop, naturally, and was filled top to bottom with books. There was a gondola inside also filled with books. And there were two outside areas — one with a wall and staircase made from books looking out at the canal, and one little seating area looking directly at the water. Bookshops are my happy place, and this one was magical. All the books were in Italian, so I didn’t end up buying anything, but if you love books as much as I do, it’s an amazing place.

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Also, a few days after we left, SNL cast member Aidy Bryant took an almost identical photo to mine. 8-).  

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Our final night in Venice, we wandered away from San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, and found a quiet piazza for dinner. I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, or even where it was, but we just wandered around until we felt like eating. The best way to find somewhere, I think. I had an AMAZING salmon, and we had a relaxing evening watching a bunch of kids play in the piazza as the sun set. It was like being in an old Italian movie.

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Verona

After two nights in Venice, we made our way to Verona, a place I knew almost nothing about, except that it’s where Romeo and Juliet is set, and “Juliet’s balcony” is there.

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I’ll come right out and say it, Juliet’s balcony is the worst part. It is small and very smelly (?) with absolutely no crowd control. Also, totally something made up for tourists.

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That being said, Verona was a sweet little city. It’s full of Linden trees that were blossoming when we were there, and the whole city had the sweetest floral scent. Definitely a little “hoity-toity,” in the way any “romantic getaway” city might be. It wasn’t my favorite city, but we did have the most amazing meal there.

After visiting the disappointing balcony, we went back to our hotel, Hotel Verona, to regroup. I did some research and found a restaurant that came highly recommended by Rick Steves, called Enoteca Cangrande. We managed to get a seat without a reservation, but I’m not sure how well-advised that is. This was a spot where most of my family says they had their best meal of the trip.

We started out with Rossini, of course. The waiter then brought us parmigiano cheese, which was aged for 36 months. I am not usually a fan of hard cheeses, especially parmesan, unless it’s on my pasta. But oh my god this was so good I could have eaten a pound. I’ve since learned that this is called parmigiano stravecchio. I am taking recommendations on where to buy in New York, please and thanks.

We also had a stellar olive oil here, made by the owner from seven different olives. We brought a bottle home, and I am so looking forward to go back to Rochester just to have a taste.

I was most jealous of my sister’s meal, ravioli with butternut squash and sage, but because it had almonds I couldn’t get it. I had a potato gnocchi with speck and radicchio, which ended up being excellent.

After the pasta, I tried to order tiramisu for dinner, but like many places in Italy, theirs had nuts in it, so I opted for some lemon ice with candied ginger in a pool of grappa. I did not know what grappa was prior to this meal, and when I first got my sorbet, I got a heaping spoon of it and was jarred awake. For those of you who don’t know, grappa is like a limoncello made from grapes, so I essentially had a mouthful of liquor unexpectedly.

My mom had a lemon tart for dessert, that my father claims is the best thing he’s ever eaten. He spent the rest of the trip chasing down a similar pastry.

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After dinner, our waiter Mauro, (it’s important to know him, he was amazing) not only recommended a delicious dessert wine, but gave us a crash course in what it takes to make a dessert wine, complete with a diagram (pictured above). As it turns out, the grapes on the outside of the bunches get more sunlight, and are therefore sweeter.

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We only spent one night in Verona, which was definitely enough. They have an arena that looks very much like the Colosseum where there are opera performances. I think if I was there for another night I’d definitely see a show there for an authentic taste of Italian opera.

Italy 2018: Rome

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I’ve been sitting on these photos now for upwards of three weeks, and wanted to start getting them out sooner rather than later. So, without further adieu: Italy!

I was lucky enough to take a twelve-day trip all over Italy with my family. To say it was the best vacation ever would be an understatement. Not only am I so thankful to have the opportunity to go on this trip, but also to have the literal best family in the world. There are very few people I would spend every single day and night with for twelve days straight, sharing rooms and in some cases with my sister, beds. But I had a truly magical time and would spend another 1200 days with my parents and sister if given the chance. But next time I’d bring along our puppies.

We went to nine different cities, so I’m going to break them up a bit into different posts and try to share as much detail as possible, both for my own memories, and maybe to help others plan another trip.

We flew to Rome overnight, arriving around 8:00am Italy time on Tuesday morning. We did our best to sleep on the plane on the way, but between the screaming child and its parents kicking our seats the entire time, there was much to be desired. Regardless, we hit the ground running.

Our cab ride from the airport to our hotel, which was near the train station in center city, was about 30 minutes. After showers, coffee and pastries, we started towards the major sights — the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. It was at most, a 20 minute walk to our first stop, the Trevi Fountain.

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Two things surprised me about the Fountain. First, it was much larger than I imagined. It takes up about an entire block. It was magnificent. The other thing that was surprising is how many people were there. We definitely had to squish through layers of people taking photos to get to the fountain, but I’d liken it to Times Square in NYC. Definitely not my favorite thing, but worth seeing. And tossing in a coin to ensure you’ll return to Italy one day. (Hint hint, Andrew). 

Nearby are the Spanish Steps. These were much less crowded, maybe because it was 85 degrees and fewer people wanted to hike up a few flights. We walked all the way to the top for some gorgeous views.

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Afterward, we stopped for a snack at a cafe on Via dei Condotti. Eventually, we wandered towards the Pantheon. As a student of design (I minored in Visual Arts) I suffered through an Art History course in college. I was very excited to see the Pantheon, since I had studied it at great length. Not to mention that I am endlessly obsessed with old things. This building is 2000 years old and I could touch almost anything inside? I couldn’t wait. It was also wild to me that there was this ancient temple, and the city of Rome just built up around it.

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We made our way to Piazza Navona, and somewhere along the way I found a leather shop and bought a pair of new sandals. I had been looking for something this style (Hermes, Everlane, Steve Madden, etc.) for months and was psyched to find a pair for 55 Euro.

We were almost ready to start heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner when we came across a little shop that made custom sandals. My sister, and my mom — who has especially wide feet — decided to get their own pairs made, which took about 2 hours. We continued to poke around, taking a little bit of time to sit — and in my dad’s case, to snooze — on some church steps. Eventually, we went back to the Piazza in front of the Pantheon for drinks.

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By the time we got back to our hotel around 7:00pm, we were all exhausted and laid down for a quick “pre-dinner nap.” Of course, this turned into a much longer snooze. Our hotel actually had a gorgeous rooftop, so Bridget and I went upstairs for drinks and to split some pasta. We had some AMAZING spaghetti carbonara and Pinot Grigio.

A note on the hotel we stayed at — they were wonderful. We had one room with a double bed and two singles, and a huge bathroom. The concierge was excellent at calling various cabs for us and giving us directions, and when I thought I had left a prescription there, they replied to my email right away to help me out.

The Independent is located literally 5 minutes away from the Rome Train station, and was about a 30 minute walk to the Pantheon, the furthest landmark from the hotel. As I mentioned above, they had a gorgeous rooftop bar and restaurant where we had breakfast each morning (a real, American breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, etc., actually). They also gave us a bottle of prosecco as soon as we arrived. I would highly recommend!

The next day was our last day in Rome, and it was packed. We had a 9:00am Vatican tour and then a 1:30pm Colosseum tour. We had a big breakfast at the hotel and then took a cab to the Vatican. I might be ignorant, but I didn’t expect the tour to be more than just a big church. The Vatican Museum is exactly that — a collection of paintings, sculptures, Pope’s apartments and courtyards, and of course, the Sistine Chapel. It was absolutely stunning. Again, my inner art history nerd totally loved seeing all of the famous Renaissance art.

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Since it was Wednesday, we weren’t able to go to St. Peter’s Cathedral. Regardless, the tour of the Vatican Museum was stunning, and the Sistine Chapel especially was worth seeing. One thing to note is that you’re supposed to wear clothing that covers the knees/shoulders there. My whole family did, but I did end up taking my jacket off because it was so warm. No one had a real problem, although I imagine they are stricter at the Cathedral.

Additionally, you’re not allowed to talk in the Sistine Chapel. Also not supposed to take photos but that was easier to sneak. It was actually much smaller than I imagined, although still impressive.

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After our tour and the gift shops (where I picked up some rosary beads for Andrew’s family), we took another short cab ride to the Colosseum. Admittedly, I was most looking forward to this. I LOVE old stuff, mostly because nothing in America is really much older than 200 years. Seeing these ruins, where you could touch just about everything, was a dream come true.

The most important thing we did next was have lunch. There’s a few little cafe’s across from the Colosseum, and grabbing some antipasti and water ahead of a four-hour tour was key. We were definitely pressed for time, but it was worth rushing to avoid a meltdown later on.

We did the Gladiator’s Arena and Colosseum Underground Tour, because my mom was DYING to do a tour where you get to go beneath the stadium. The tour took us through all of the Roman Ruins, and our guide did an awesome job reconstructing history to let us know exactly what we were seeing. It also highlighted the fact that I know very little about Ancient Rome, probably to the dismay of my AP European History teacher in high school.

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It was a great tour, although I will say it was a touch too long. It might have been because we were out on a cloudless, 80-degree day for four hours, but by the end, we were hot, tired, and dusty. That being said, I’m glad we did it, and I would definitely recommend.

Afterward, we went back to our hotel, showered and headed up to the rooftop bar for drinks. The views were stunning, and here, my sister discovered a new favorite cocktail: the Rossini. Similar to a Bellini, the Rossini is prosecco plus strawberry puree. She continued on to have one in every city we visited.

Phew! I am exhausted just recapping. We packed the two days in Rome full of just about every site we wanted to see. My only regret is that we were so tired every night that we didn’t venture far for dinner. Next time I’d definitely venture out to eat more. Although, our last night in the Trastavere neighborhood, we had an AMAZING meal at Trattoria da Teo.

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Since we flew in and out of Rome, at the end of the trip we stayed one night in an Airbnb in Trastavere, an adorable neighborhood across the river from the Historic Center of Rome. I absolutely loved this neighborhood. It was definitely more residential and more hip than the very touristy area we stayed at the start of the trip. I would definitely like to come back and explore the little cafe’s and bars that we passed.

Our Airbnb was excellent as well. Our host Francesco was there to greet us and get us settled, as well as to give us restaurant recommendations nearby. As I mentioned above, we went to Trattoria da Teo, which Francesco told us was “the best restaurant in the area.” He did warn us that the owner was a little, uh, brusque.

The restaurant opens right at 7:30pm for dinner, so I’d recommend either making a reservation in advance, or getting there right when it opens. As we didn’t make a reservation, we showed up a little before 7:30pm, and asked if there was a table available. They asked if we wanted inside or outside, and when I asked if we could sit outside, the host simply said “no.” Inside it was.

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Right at 7:30, I swear people started coming out of the woodwork. And the host started pointing at couples and groups and directing them to their tables. He was very efficient.

Our waiter was far more personable. He spoke lovingly about all the food, and made great recommendations. I had an awesome rigatoni all’Amatriciana, a red sauce with chunks of guanciale. My dad got a shrimp dish, and I think he had an out of body experience, as the shrimp was so incredibly fresh. About halfway through our pasta, the waiter came by and dropped off a plate of grilled fish and veggies and directed my dad to “test this.” At dessert, my mom and sister were trying to order a small dessert to share, and the waiter pointed at them and declared “No. Too small. You need a medium.” He was right, of course.

I definitely wish we had more time in Trastavere, but the little taste (literally) that we got was enough to hold me over until next time.

 

Music I Love: Frightened Rabbit

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I’ve been meaning to write about some of my favorite musicians that I’ve seen over the past year or so, but now feels like the best time, as one of my favorite bands, hands down, is Frightened Rabbit.

After a long battle with depression and other mental health issues, the lead singer of the band, Scott Hutchinson, was found dead Thursday night. To say I’m upset is an understatement. FR’s words have carried me though some of the most stressful and difficult parts of my life the past few years. Andrew and I have seen them in concert three times, including once the day after returning from Scotland. I listen to their songs when I run, when I commute, while I work. I want to dance to Old Old Fashioned at my wedding.

The thing that drew me to FR in the beginning was Scott’s raw lyrics and vocals, aptly depicting the pain and anxiety of love and life. It’s now apparent that his pleading voice was a reflection of his own internal battles, as he tried to work them out over and over again onstage. Paired with the sometimes almost upbeat instrumentals, the songs, although sad, felt hopeful to me. We’re all a little broken and life is hard sometimes, but when you realize we’re all alone, you’re not really alone at all.

A few of my favorite lines:

Get together now/ find hope/ there’s life beyond the one you already know” — “Lump Street”

You are not ill, and I’m not dead/ doesn’t that make us a perfect pair?” — “Modern Leper”

There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through/ There is love but its misery loves you/ There’s still hope so I think we’ll be fine/ In these disastrous times, disastrous times” — “Oil Slick”

Though the corners are lit/ The dark can return with the flick of a switch/ It hasn’t turned on me yet” — “Not Miserable”

And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth” — “Heads Roll Off”

Scott was incredibly open about his struggle with mental illness, and I think that openness helped so many others who were suffering. I hope he rests easy knowing he made a lot more than tiny changes.

And of course, if you are feeling like you are all alone, or that suicide is the only escape, please know that it’s not, and please reach out to 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. There are plenty of people who love and care for you.

Listen to some of my favorite Frightened Rabbit songs here.

More books I read

I’ve been trying to write this since December. I guess I’ve been busy (reading) because every time I sat down to write, I ended up having to add more books. I’ve finally forced myself to sit down and bang this out, since I absolutely love recommending books, and I’ve read a TON lately.

I need to start writing these more often, and to definitely write down my thoughts on each book sooner, since I tend to remember only how books made me feel, rather than what they were about.

books spines

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

I first heard of Alyssa Mastromonaco on Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss Podcast. Immediately after hearing her, I looked to see if she had a book out. She did not, but she had one coming out in a few weeks. For the first time ever, I pre-ordered a book.

Alyssa changed my year. For all you Pod Save America listeners out there, Alyssa is a “best friend of the pod,” as in, she was in the White House with Obama at the same time as Jon, Jon, Dan and Tommy. There’s a blurb from Favs and Dan on the back! There’s pictures of Dan and Jon in the photo insert! But Alyssa is the real star.

The book is a collection of stories from Alyssa’s time as Obama’s chief of Scheduling and Advance, and was not only a beautiful, nostalgic retelling of a better time, but it empowered me and made me understand that politics can be for anyone, and that, even at 25, I can get into politics and do something amazing.

The stories are wonderful, and Alyssa is hilarious, but what really struck me was reading about how she got into politics (interning for Bernie Sanders in Vermont), and how she made it to the White House. It wasn’t a direct path like many others in Politics. She didn’t go to Georgetown and intern in DC and claw her way in. Instead, she kind of stumbled there, even dabbling in (conservative) lobbying. Sitting at my position at a conservative publisher and reeling from the 2016 election, I felt comforted hearing Alyssa talk about how she got to work with Obama by, at first, taking small steps to get her closer to where she wanted to be.

Eventually, Alyssa worked on the Kerry campaign in 2004, which ended in a tough loss . Afterward, she said she never wanted to work on another presidential campaign again, and was pleased when someone called her about working on Obama’s senate campaign, because he was just a junior senator from Chicago, and would “definitely not be running for president.”

Not only was her story great, but her voice (both written and spoken) is so comforting to me, and I see a bit of myself in her. I repeatedly say that I need Alyssa to both give me a hug and tell me I’m doing great and also tell me to get my shit together. I want her to be my life coach.

She inspired me to start volunteering for causes important to me. She inspired me to make a pivot into a job that more closely aligned with my values. She inspired me to get more involved in politics, and most importantly showed me that politics could be for me, a communications major, visual arts minor, who now works in publishing.

And I think the most important thing to take away from Alyssa and her book (in addition to reaffirming the fact that Obama really is the greatest guy ever) is that politics is for everyone, and it SHOULD be for everyone. Her book was the first thing that made me feel like I could get into them, take action and make my voice heard.

My only regret is that this book didn’t exist when I was in college, because it might have inspired me to change my tune earlier.

Station Eleven

This book came out a few years ago, but I read it this year and I think about it a lot.

Essentially, there’s a major plague that infects the entire world in a matter of days. In a matter of weeks, civilization has ended. The book follows a handful of characters around 20 years after the plague, some of which are in a travelling Shakespeare group, some of which are tangentially related to the group members.

To be honest, I don’t remember many of the characters’ names, but the author, Emily St. John, weaves their stories together quite beautifully, slowly revealing the way their lives before are tied to their lives after.

It’s somewhat dystopian, but very realistic. I think about it whenever there’s another flu outbreak. Also – some people I’ve told about the group are turned off by the “theater” aspect, but it really didn’t bother me, as it didn’t bash me over the head.

Little Fires Everywhere

In my last book post, I talked about how much I enjoyed Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You. Ng came out with a new book this year, which I was eager to read. Like her first book, Little Fires Everywhere explores the complicated relationships within families, communities, and cultures, my favorite genre.

That some characters were incredibly frustrating to me is a testament to Ng’s writing, not the story itself. The main mother figure, born and raised in picturesque Shaker Heights, Ohio, wore at my last nerve, her inability to understand why anyone would want to live any way different from her astounding me, page after page.

However, Mrs. Richardson (she has a first name in the book – Elena – but Mrs. Richardson suits her much better) served her role perfectly, acting as a foil to Mia, a single mother and artist with a secretive past and no husband to speak of. And then there’s the relationships between their children, which – to be honest – I could have done without. Their stories were interesting, but it was far more interesting to watch parents and mothers grapple with their own ideas about how people should live, and whether or not it was their own business.

Despite some insufferable characters and unnecessary plot points, I enjoyed this book too, and loved the things it made me think about, like my relationship with my own mother, and how it could definitely be much worse.

Another important note: Reese Witherspoon is making this one into a TV series, like Big Little Lies, and I trust her to keep the parts that say important things, and make the changes needed to make a stellar show.

Devil in the White City

I read this book on my couch at Christmas time, with a candle burning and the tree lit. It was such a slow, relaxing and lavish read, and that was the perfect environment for it.

The book is a work of nonfiction, depicting both H.H. Holmes’ murder spree and the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. I have had this book on my shelf for years and couldn’t bring myself to read it. On one hand, I was very intrigued by the murder story. On the other, I was very uninterested in the story of the design and building of the Chicago World’s Fair. Eventually, I picked it up, designating it my “bedside book,” (that is, not the one I read on the subway…). However, the story of Daniel H. Burnham and the World’s Fair is almost as intriguing as the murder.

What I enjoyed most was how somehow, two seemingly unrelated stories wove together, and how well the stories were told, despite also being historically accurate. If you told me it was a novel, I would have believed it.

I also, surprisingly, liked hearing the World’s Fair story. I never knew that the Ferris Wheel was invented specifically for it, in an effort to outdo the Eiffel Tower of World’s Fair past. I also liked seeing the complexities and politics that went into it. It was fascinating. I was also devastated to find out that the buildings from the fair no longer exist. Larson described them as so stunning and beautiful, I wanted to visit them and see their grandeur for myself.

And of course, the murder. H.H. Holmes was just so crazy it felt made up. I was riveted, reading about the police trying to catch him and Holmes evading them, all while millions of people poured into the city for the Fair.

Home Fire

A modern retelling of Antigone, which, I’m glad no one told me until I was halfway through. I think I read Antigone, the Greek tragedy by Sophocles, in seventh grade, although I remember very little, except the obvious associations with Oedipus. I think that knowing this was a version of that story might have turned me off, since I have no fond memories of that play.

However, after realizing that Home Fire was adapted from Antigone, I was obsessed with re-learning the characters and story line, and comparing them as the novel unfolded.

The novel itself does not feel like a Greek tragedy, not until the end, at least. It tells the story of two sisters of Pakistani descent, struggling with life and love in modern-day London. The story delves into the brutal truths of being a person of color in today’s world. For instance, the story opens with one of the sisters, Isma, being interrogated at an airport.

The sisters also struggle to deal with the loss of their brother, who has gone East, presumably to join ISIS (or an ISIS-like group). One thing that stuck with me from this novel is how well the author illustrates the allure of such a group to someone who has been marginalized, how one gets wrapped up in it, and how impossible it is to change your mind, no thanks to incredibly strict and sometimes insensitive laws.

I was moved by this novel, and think about the interplay of relationships often. It’s not just a romantic love story, rather it explores love for one’s country and one’s family as well.

The People in the Trees

This is Hanya Yanigahara’s first novel, prior to A Little Life. It’s the story of an anthropological researcher Dr. Norton Perina, who, although advised not to, goes to a far-away island to study its people who allegedly live for hundreds of years.

The story details Perina’s journey to, and from the island, and explores what it is to be human, and how exactly culture lives in us. Perina ultimately takes some of the people from the island back to the US to study, an act that obviously backfires and leads to a wealth of misfortunes, culminating in Perina being jailed for sexually abusing one of his adopted children. The book itself is written from the incarcerated Perina’s point of view.

This was no A Little Life, but I saw some pieces of it, especially in Yanigahara’s storytelling, and her ability to absolutely devastate the reader. I was, of course, riveted by the story, as I constantly waited for Perina to redeem himself, and was constantly disappointed when he did not.

Dreamland

Anyone who’s heard me speak in the past year has heard me yammer on about Dreamland by Sam Quinones.

I was acutely aware of the heroin epidemic in America before, but when the big LA Times article about Oxycontin came out, I was obsessed. I wanted to know how something like this had happened, and why medical professionals let it keep happening. I wanted to know how it had happened so I might understand how to stop it. I needed to know more, which led me to Dreamland.

The book is brilliantly told, narrating the heroin epidemic from all angles. Not only does Quinones illustrate how Big Pharma made false promises and got Americans addicted to opiates, but he illustrates how dealers infiltrated the markets, and why they’re impossible to get rid of, as well as different policies and their efficacy in communities that have been ravaged by the addiction.

It’s a really fascinating and does an amazing job covering as much of the epidemic as possible in a readable manner. HIGHLY recommend this one.

Exit West

I don’t have a lot to say about this book, other than that I really enjoyed it. It takes place in an unnamed city in the Middle East, and details a love story between two characters. They try to flee through some kinds of magical and secret doors, but often times the ones they’re looking for aren’t safe anymore, or don’t lead where they want.

I thought this was a beautiful story and that it highlights what it’s like to be in a war-torn area, to feel the need to flee, and to be denied.

Underground Railroad

In some ways, this Pulitzer Prize-winning story is similar to Exit West, although it takes place in a completely different time. As the title suggests, this is the story of a slave, Cora, who decides to escape from her plantation, like her mother did many years before.

Like Exit West, the book is realistic for all but one part – Cora encounters a literal underground railroad, a secret network of subterranean train tracks that transports runaway slaves throughout the South. Cora travels to different locations in search of freedom, while on the run from bounty hunters, and other hostile parties.

The story was absolutely riveting, and I found myself trying to sneak times to read – on the train, on my lunch break, a few more pages before going to bed. I thought the storytelling was spectacular, and it’s homage to the hardships of slaves, and the plight of minorities today was so well done.

In this book and Exit West, I wondered if the bits of magic diminished the experiences of actual slaves or refugees, who endured the real thing rather than passing thru a magic door or riding a primitive subway. But I think it’s these magic elements that help tell the stories better; instead of dwelling on passages that we already know are brutal, the brutality and ugliness comes from other things, like broken relationships or the racism of a child.

books diagonal

The Woman in the Window

I read this book in one day. It is another story of murder – maybe?? – told by an unreliable female narrator, but I devoured it nonetheless.

The main premise of the story is that an agoraphobic woman is stuck inside her Harlem townhouse, since she’s afraid to leave, and she thinks she sees her neighbor get murdered.

There are just so many twists and turns that I was shaken up again and again. So many parts took me by surprise. Some of my friends said that they saw a few of the twists coming (like what happened to her that made her agoraphobic, etc.) but I saw none.

This one was almost on the level of Gone Girl, and definitely better than The Girl on the Train. Like I said, I read it in just one day.

The Power

I was most intrigued by the premise of this novel – set in a future that looks very similar to today, except that all women develop the power to shoot electric currents from their hands, causing a shift in power, as men no longer have the strength to remain in positions of power.

The book also deals with questions of gender in religion, government and war, and ultimately discusses the roles which we assign to genders. At the end of the book, the faux male historian who “wrote” it discusses it with a female mentor, in disbelief that there was a time when women were seen as nurturing and soft, and men were strong leaders. Ultimately, the female mentor advises the historian to publish his book under a female name, to give it more credibility.

While I found this novel a bit too YA for my tastes, I liked how it made me think. If I gained the ability to overpower men, would I? While feminism advocates for the equality of the sexes, this book seems to suggest that an equilibrium isn’t possible, that one will always dominate the other. Am I supposed to be a nurturing person simply because that’s just how women have always been, or is there something about me that gives me a proclivity to mother others?

Definitely a quick read, and definitely worth reading, especially to discuss with other people.

Cork Dork

This book made me into an asshole.

I’ve always enjoyed wine. A few years ago, I went to a wine tasting class with my coworkers and crushed it. I belonged to a monthly wine subscription (Winc) and thought I had a refined palate and good taste. But since I read this book, I’m so much worse.

The book is the detailed experience of a tech reporter, Bianca Bosker, and her attempt to become a Master Sommelier in a year. Passing the Master Sommelier course typically takes the average person over three years and a total submersion into the wine culture. (Spoiler) Bianca does it in one.

She dives right in, working in the wine cellar of a NYC restaurant with an acclaimed beverage program (which is essentially what the cocktail/wine selection is referred to in the biz) and interviews everyone she possibly can in the industry, while tasting as much wine as humanly possible.

Bianca does an exquisite job explaining how to mindfully taste wine (and everything else), as well as takes a deep dive into the service industry. For instance, why waiters stand where they do, how to properly serve wine to a table (always bring a coaster for the cork) and how somms size up customers to determine which wines to recommend.

She also meets with the people behind brands like Kendall Jackson to investigate what makes a wine “good” and how companies develop wines to appeal to a wider array of drinkers.

After reading this book, I made a conscious change in how I drink. I try to taste as many elements as possible, and to really enjoy the wines I’m drinking. I replaced my stemless wine glasses with the customary stemmed ones (which preserve the temperature of the wine better). I’ve found that now, the cheaper wines don’t taste as good to me, and I’m actively seeking out different types to taste at the liquor store. It’s more expensive, for sure, but also far more enjoyable.

I really liked Cork Dork, and recommend it to everyone I know who likes drinking, and appreciates the finer things.

The Nix

I read this book most recently. Another that I’ve had on my shelf for a while, I picked it up on a whim, half expecting not to finish it. It’s quite a behemoth – over 700 pages in paperback. But after the first 200 or so pages, I tore through it. It went from being my bedside-only book to my lunchtime and commuting book, as well as my replacement for before-bed Dateline NBC.

The main story in The Nix is of Samuel, at times in the story a boy, at times a grown up, and his longing to figure out why his mother abandoned him as a child, sparked by his rediscovery of her when she throws a handful of rocks at a presidential nominee.

The story is told from multiple perspectives over multiple time periods, with plenty of other characters added in. At times, it felt like too many. But the end result was a satirical portrait of America, and all the people in it. Written in 2011, I was most impressed by the author’s prediction of a presidential candidate like Trump, and a news cycle like the one we have now. I guess in his effort to exaggerate the climate when he wrote the book, he accidentally conceptualized the circus we’re living in now.

At first I didn’t realize the book was a satire, but some of the characters were such a perfect blend of exaggerated traits I caught on quickly. There’s a student who plagiarized a paper and then exerts a ridiculous amount of energy to get out of facing the repercussions. There’s an online gamer who is literally addicted to his online world but in complete denial about it. There’s a book agent who is solely obsessed with finding the next new thing and selling it to the masses. And of course, Samuel, with a tendency to cry and a self-righteous streak who has spent his whole life waiting for things to happen to him.

While there is a lot going on, it’s weaved together wonderfully, and the story was intriguing. I felt a connection to the characters, but hated them all at the same time. Ultimately, I genuinely enjoyed it. It was ironic and human and incredibly entertaining.

Manhattan Beach

Until the last chapter or so, I LOVED this book. I loved the characters – Anna, a smart and inventive woman during WWII, Dexter Styles, a shady mobster, Ed Kerrigan, the dad that disappeared – but at the end, nothing tied together like I wanted, or at all, and I was frankly, disappointed.

The first 90% of the book reminded me of Amour Towles’ first novel, Rules of Civility, which I need to re-read because I enjoyed it so much. It started out as the story of a girl asserting herself while the men were at war, doing the dirty work and proving people wrong. Then, her father disappeared mysteriously and the main character, Anna, was reunited with one of his associates as an adult. The intrigue! I loved reading about the Naval Yards and Coney Island and the Midtown bars in the 1940’s.

Ultimately, though, there were pieces that ended up feeling unnecessary. Anna’s mother and how she obviously favors Anna’s crippled sister Lydia. A bunch of details about Anna’s father, Ed, and his relationship with Dexter. I just wanted more, and I wanted it to be far more inventive than it was.

That being said, the majority of the book was delightful. I think I told my friends twice a day how much I was loving the book.

I’m a sucker for Old New York – so any recommendations in that era are highly welcomed.

—-

PHEW. Perhaps I should write these more often, but that was a lot of books, and not even every one I read. But here are a few more on my to-read list:

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: If you know me, you’ve heard the story of my Henry James scholar uncle who sent me Great Expectations when I was 8. I tried for almost a year to get past the first page, but at 8, I did not have it in me to comprehend Dickens. I am proud to say that I’ve read a few chapters so far and it’s going much better.
  • White Oleander – I bought this at an art installation where you could pay what you want for used books. That’s reason enough to read it, but I feel like I’ve been hearing about it for years and need to just get with it.
  • The New Jim Crow – I’m way behind on this, but given today’s political climate, I want to read this one and arm myself with more information, so I know exactly what I’m fighting for, and against.
  • Old New York by Edith Wharton – My freshman year of college I took a class on Female Writers in the 19th Century, and it was completely lost on me. Now, I’m starting to go back and actually read these writers, so I can actually appreciate them. Also, I said I love old New York. This one’s a given.
  • Lolita – as you can gather from this lengthy post, a lot of classic literature has been lost on me, so it’s become my mission to read (or re-read) these works. When I was looking for an equal read to A Little Life, many people suggested Lolita. Added to my Amazon cart, just waiting for payday.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon – I love murder, I love crime shows, and I love books. This book has also been in my Amazon cart for months, I’ve just been avoiding it, since I have more books than I can currently shelve. But I might pull the trigger soon anyway, because another book never killed anyone, and I think I can find a place for it.

 

How the Internet Helped Save My Skin

Skin

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I learn best by reading. When I was struggling to learn multiplication in second grade, my mom bought me a book that showed me how and finally got math to click. I own almost the entire Gossip Girl book series because my mom would order boxed sets at a time for me to read, because it would calm me down during periods of high stress in high school. And now, I work in publishing, specifically publishing non-fiction books, written specifically for the purpose of informing.

So it’s not surprising that when I’m interested in something new, I read as much as I can about it in hopes of understanding. I have at least three books about running that I bought when I started training for long races, a stack on politics purchased after the 2016 election, and even a book about “how to be a classy lady,” so graciously gifted to me by my very subtle mother. (I will say, that book taught me the single most valuable tip I’ve ever learned about how much wine to purchase for a party: one bottle per three people per hour. You’re welcome).

And so, when I was finally fed up with my mid-twenties skin looking like I was still thirteen, it’s not shocking that I sought out as many articles on skincare as I could.

What initially sparked my interest in beauty and skincare was when I discovered Beauty YouTubers when I was in college. For months on end I binged their backlog of videos, learning about makeup and a little bit about skincare. I perused the “travel” makeup sections at Sephora and Ulta, and tried everything I could. Years later, I’ve settled into a pretty simple, yet solid makeup routine, but still hadn’t addressed the underlying issue of the skin itself.

I started on YouTube, looking for recommendations from the Vloggers who had inspired my deep dive into makeup. Somehow, I was led to the site Into The Gloss, founded by Emily Weiss, now famous for the cult-classic skincare line, Glossier, which was actually born from the ITG comments section. I read every post I could find, and the comments on those posts. Some of the most important advice came from the comments (like in this open thread) rather than the articles. I caved and bought Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser. I bought a few products from The Ordinary, and a retinol cream, and a salicylic acid toner, all of which promised to smooth my skin’s texture and reduce acne. My skin fried.

For a week straight, my face burned, made worse by the freezing January temperatures in New York City. My routine was too much for me all at once, and I had no idea what I was doing. And then I found natural beauty, starting with this post.

On its face, “natural” or “green” beauty seemed simple and gentle and pure, and like it would rescue my dry, burning skin. I religiously researched the ingredients in my existing routine on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, and found that the majority of my products were not only harsh, but likely toxic. (The Environmental Working Group is also commonly known as the “Environmental Worry Group. They got me). I scoured sites like Credo Beauty, Detox Market, and CAP Beauty for “clean” alternatives to my favorite products. It was expensive, and a lot of work, and it wasn’t really even helping my skin.

During my time researching natural beauty, I frequently used the product recommendations on the subreddit r/NaturalBeauty. This was my first foray into Reddit, a land I previously assumed was inhabited by only racists and nerds. But everyone on this subreddit was nice and helpful and informative, and as my faith in natural beauty waned, my browsing led me to r/SkincareAddiction.

SkincareAddiction is one of the most informative and pleasant little spaces on the internet. They have an infinitely helpful sidebar with product recommendations based on worries about skincare afflictions (acne, hyperpigmentation, dehydration) and a basic starting routine. What’s more, they have a “Daily Help Thread” where newbies can ask questions and someone from the community will answer very helpfully, or point you to a resource on the site that can answer the question in-depth.

I learned that the skin I’ve called oily my whole life was just dehydrated, after I had decimated the moisture barrier that protects the various skin layers. Dehydrated skin is thirsty and overproduces oil, resulting in more acne. When you use a stripping cleanser or acid treatment, you exacerbate the problem, feeding the cycle. So the first step was to restore my moisture barrier at all costs. Of course, there were plenty of resources for doing that.

I stripped my routine down to the bare minimum: gentle, hydrating cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen. After a few months, my skin was noticeably bouncier and less angry, and definitely didn’t burn anymore. It was finally time to address the gross hormonal acne on my cheeks and chin that had been flourishing since I had my Mirena implanted in 2015.

The r/acne subreddit had a simple, informative guide to acne treatment, which wound up just being the simple addition of benzoyl peroxide to my routine at night. After a single week of slathering my face in the product, my skin cleared. My pores were less noticeable, and I was even glowing a little bit. I found this infinitely ironic, because at age 13, I asked my pediatrician for a solution for my acne and he, too, advised me to use BP every night. I did not. And twelve years later, the solution was in front of my face.

Another wonderful resource to me has been the YouTuber, Dr. Dray. She is a no-nonsense dermatologist who shares as much knowledge of skincare as she can, and explains why less is more when caring for your skin. Although I have concerns about the state of her general health and well-being, her advice is sound and well-informed. I watch her videos every day (much to Andrew’s annoyance) but her tips are right in line with what I’ve read on r/SkincareAddiction, further proving that good skin health doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or complicated.

Now, I am gentle with my skin and taking care of it is my favorite part of the day, especially at night when I feel like all the city grime has been removed and I have a fresh, moist face. I’m now incredibly particular about my skincare products, only using the ones I have come to trust and obsessively reading reviews of unfamiliar ingredients or products, but for the first time in over 10 years, I feel confident in my skin, all thanks to the world wide web.

Routine

And now, my routine:

Keep in mind, skincare is incredibly personal, and what works for one person might be a nightmare for you. My skin is prone to dryness, especially in the winter, so I’m extra focused now on hydrating in layers. I am also very anal about sunscreen during the day.

In the mornings I alternate cleansing with Neutrogena Gentle Hydrating Cleanser Creamy Formula OR Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash, and follow-up with CeraVe PM Moisturizer. Once it’s sunk in, I do a layer of CeraVe Cream, and finally CeraVe AM Moisturizer (for the SPF 30). I am very passionate about sun care, because it not only prevents wrinkles, but also prevents signs of aging. I’m trying very hard to force everyone in my life to use some daily.

Right when I come home from work I take off any makeup/grime with Bioderma Sensibio H2O micellar water. Then I rinse my face with water and go to the gym.

After the gym I use a mix of jojoba and castor oils to remove makeup, sweat, general grime, and sunscreen. I wipe it off with a clean washcloth. I have around 24 that I wash every few weeks. I make sure all the rest of the gunk and oil is off my skin and cleanse with the Neutrogena Gentle Hydrating Cleanser. Then I moisturize with CeraVe PM and CreaVe Cream. Once those have dried completely, I use Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment (2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide) all over my face, especially focused on my chin, cheeks and nose. Then I get in bed.

When I was young and used the BP sporadically, I used the full-strength 10% concentration, that increased my irritation. It turns out, lower concentrations of the active ingredient are just as effective and don’t irritate the skin as much. Using the lowest amount, I’ve seen amazing results, and there’s no reason to go back to using something stronger that makes my skin dry.

The last thing that has actually changed my skin is not picking at any acne that does sprout up. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to but it’s SO HARD. But I’ve finally learned (because I read it) that it doesn’t help. Acne actually heals faster when I don’t touch it, and it keeps the bacteria from spreading to other areas of my face (gross), and makes it less likely to scar. It’s really difficult sometimes to keep my fingers off my face, which is why I’m putting it here on the internet, so everyone can hold me accountable.

Anyway, I’m very particular about my skin now, and although it seems obsessive and unnecessary to invest so much time and energy into a routine, it feels like a soothing investment in self-care, not to mention that it helps me decompress after a long day, and calms me before bed.

It’s not selfish, or frivolous, or feminine to take care of your skin – it’s the largest organ in the body, and taking care of the skin is taking care of the self. Acne wreaks havoc on mental health and self-esteem, and indulging in a simple routine that actually helps shouldn’t be looked down on.

Even this piece in the New Yorker advocates for skincare as self-care, and a coping mechanism for this trash can world we live in. If the New Yorker says it, it must be very very cool, and definitely okay.