Catskills 2018

IMG_4551

This weekend Andrew and I headed “upstate” with our friends Tori and Gabe for a weekend in the Catskills.

Being from Rochester, I am very passionate about differentiating between “true” Upstate (also known as Western New York) and the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. I know it’s all technically upstate from Manhattan, but anything before Albany just cannot be considered Upstate, I’m sorry.

We booked our trip pretty last minute, but the house we ended up in way perfect 100 times over. The Little Blue House on Airbnb looked sweet in the pictures, and the price was right, but we truly didn’t know what to expect until we got there. It was ADORABLE. The owner’s style was truly perfect. A little mid-century modern, plus she kept most of the original colonial charm of the house. I took so many photos because I want to replicate it in my own place.

IMG_4550IMG_4523IMG_4520

The house has 3 bedrooms, one downstairs and two upstairs, although the second room upstairs was quite small. We called it “the baby room.” But would have been perfect for a single person. There is one full bathroom in the downstairs, a kitchen, dining room, and living room, and the living room has a fireplace. There is also a grill and fire pit outside. We didn’t get around to grilling, but we did have a wonderful fire outside. I’d love to come back in the winter too and build a fire in the fireplace.

The game of the trip was hands down Quiplash. Andrew purchased it for his Xbox, and we played CONSTANTLY. Basically, the TV is the central control for the game, and then everyone logs into the specific game group from their phones. Then, on your phone you get two questions to answer, like, “What is the official medical term for belly button lint?” or “A better name for France.”

After everyone has answered, the TV goes through the questions, and the 2 answers compete against each other. Then the remaining players vote on the funniest answer to win. It is hilarious and addicting. Here’s a video of the game in action, so you get a better sense of how it’s played. I’d describe it as Cards Against Humanity, but you get to make up your own answers and the group votes on the winner.

On Saturday, we drove to Kaaterskill Falls for a hike. I have been on very few hikes in my life, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, although there are very few things I won’t do for a good view. This hike was perfect. It’s 3 miles round trip, but didn’t feel like too much. There’s definitely a lot of steep steps, but there’s a few areas where it plateaus and you can rest and enjoy the waterfalls. Plus, there were SO MANY GOOD DOGS out enjoying the hike as well, which helped.

IMG_4531IMG_4529

The first place where the hike plateaus is the mid-falls. There’s a swimming hole there, as well as plenty of rocks to hang out on. We didn’t swim, but if it had been hotter, I definitely would have.

The second “resting” place is at the top of the falls. There’s a platform for taking in the views, which are absolutely spectacular. Not only is the waterfall amazing, but the rolling mountains in the distance are awesome.

IMG_4539IMG_4537IMG_4534

After the hike, we were sufficiently starving. Every blog post or Catskills guide RAVES about the Phoenecia Diner, so we headed that way to refuel.

IMG_4540IMG_4545

I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best meal of my life. I might have just been starving, but the turkey club was the best sandwich I have eaten. It was also ENORMOUS. We also split a side of mac and cheese between the four of us, and it was so good. The Diner truly lived up to the hype.

So much so, that we returned for brunch on Sunday. While we rolled in for a late lunch on Saturday around 4 and there was no wait, on Sunday at noon, we had about a 30 minute wait. The good news is that there’s a ton of outdoor seating (they call this area The Lot) and we played a game of Sorry! While we waited for a table.

IMG_4555

Not only was the food at the Diner amazing, but the decor and style of the place was perfect as well. It looked like something straight out of the 1950’s, complete with green leather booths and tiled floors. We were obsessed.

After lunch on Saturday, we drove down the road about 2 minutes to Woodstock Brewing, which recently opened this summer. They had a decent selection of different beers, but what really shined was their outdoor space. There was cornhole, a fire pit, string lights, and stunning views of the mountains. We only stayed for one beer, but could have spent the whole day there.

I would 100% recommend not only this trip, but the Little Blue House as well. I will say, having a car was necessary (Tori and Gabe own one) but I could have also been content to just sit on the patio and read all day, versus spending time in town. Although, it would be hard to pass up the Diner.

Here’s to many more adventurous and refreshing weekends!

Advertisements

Books: Summer 2018 Edition

2039EFBF-5EFA-4950-A1B8-7CB043676B20.JPG

Side note: None of the pictures are really of all the books I read, since some were library books, and I loaned several out! So my apologies in advance for lackluster images. I will try to do better.


I have been reading a ton this summer. One reason is that it’s summer and I’ve been trying to slow down and enjoy myself. The other reason is that I’ve rediscovered the New York Public Library. I already had a library card from when I was in college, but at that time I had only used it for ebooks. There’s a branch of the NYPL right by my office, and this summer I’ve learned the magic of placing holds on books and picking them up at my branch. And because it’s free and I have no self-control, I’m taking out many books at a time and trying to devour them before they’re due.

I’ve also been borrowing audiobooks from the library with the Overdrive app. I listen to the books while I run, primarily thrillers. They hold my attention and typically aren’t very literary, so I don’t miss reading from the physical book.

The only caveat is that more popular books have longer hold times. For instance, I’m somewhere around 500 on the list to get a copy of Crazy Rich Asians. The good news is that there are plenty of books I need to read in the meantime.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

In my last book post, I wrote about how disappointed I was with Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Eagan. I loved the beginning and the setting in World War II New York, but the end of the plot didn’t work for me. Immediately after, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that my mother has been trying to get me to read since high school.

This book is, essentially, what I wanted Manhattan Beach to be. It might not have had the same mob-esque mystery, but it was such a beautiful story of coming of age, as well as a perfect portrait of New York. It’s obvious why this book is such a classic.

In Cold Blood 

I had this book in my Amazon cart for years, and finally pulled the trigger this spring. This book was truly chilling. I thought it was a complete work of fiction until recently when I found out it was actually all true.

The story begins with a family slaughtered in their house. We immediately know who did it, but the book aims to determine why. The killers truly were cold-blooded, and it’s eerie to get such a clear look into their sick and twisted minds.

I also feared that the prose of this book would be trying, since it was written a while ago, but it read just like a modern novel, if not better.

The Year of Magical Thinking 

I have tried really hard over the years to like Joan Didion. I really have. But I just cannot get into her work. I appreciate her writing style, but it always just feels like it goes nowhere.

The Year of Magical Thinking is brilliant in its depiction of loss, but the whole time I was just waiting for something to spring out and capture me, but nothing did. Perhaps it didn’t speak to me because I haven’t lost someone as close as a spouse like Joan did, but the whole thing just felt meandering.

I finished this book while in Italy, but I left it in the hotel room in Amalfi. It just didn’t do it for me. I’m sorry.

C2DA52F1-7C8D-48DB-951F-3A252ECECB3E.JPG

Beautiful Boy 

Soon to be a movie starring Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell, this is one of my favorite books of the year.

I am infinitely fascinated by addiction and mental illness. Perhaps because I suffer from mental illness, and I’m always conscious of how thin the line is between those who suffer from addiction and myself.

Beautiful Boy is a father’s memoir of his son’s meth addiction, countless rehabs and recoveries, and relapses. The book illuminates how much of a sickness addiction really is, and how it consumes a family. The author, David Sheff, does a brilliant job sharing his and his family’s story, as well as his quest for more information on addiction. This aspect not only illustrates all the information we don’t have on how drugs impact the minds and bodies of addicts, but also how little information there is about recovery. There is little consensus on how best to treat addiction, and even little on how long a stay in rehab should be.

I found the book moving, breathtaking, as well as illuminating. I cannot wait to see this movie this fall.

Tweak 

On the flip side, Tweak is the memoir from David’s meth-addicted son’s perspective. While Nic is definitely not a writer of the same caliber of his dad, Tweak was an interesting read in other ways.

To begin, while Nic’s father had some idea of what exactly Nic was up to when he disappeared or went to rehab, Tweak shed a new light. It also revealed how tormented Nic was all his life. While his dad always called him a well-adjusted, talented, beautiful boy, Nic told a darker story.

Tweak is a good read in companion to Beautiful Boy. It’s a rare look inside the mind of someone who has been battling addiction for the better part of their life, but if you’re going to read one versus the other, I’d read David Sheff’s book. His talent for storytelling is unmatched by Nic’s book.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Simultaneously one of the best and most disturbing books I’ve read. Definitely the best true crime book I’ve ever read.

In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara — wife of comedian Patton Oswalt — weaves the unbelievably creepy, true story of the Golden State Killer, and how he managed to evade police for decades. This faceless terror raped countless women in the Bay Area in the 1970’s, and killed at least 13 people. He wasn’t caught until APRIL 2018, after the book was published.

Two things stood out to me about this book. One, it was written like a thriller. Many true-crime books get bogged down in details and facts and references, losing some of the horror of the events. Michelle McNamara managed to do both. I couldn’t put the book down. She portrayed the GSK so well, in fact, that I am still terrorized by the thought of him watching victims silently in their windows for months, or hiding in their closets, wordlessly watching them for hours until the victims fell asleep and he could pounce. I couldn’t be alone in my apartment for months.

The second thing is that, although Michelle died tragically before she could finish the book (and before she could see the GSK arrested), her editor, husband, and collaborators did an amazing job piecing together her remaining research, noting where they were unsure about facts or leads, and completing the story of this twisted man.

I highly recommend this book. After I found out the GSK was arrested, I became obsessed with poring over details about his life, trying to determine just how close Michelle’s search was.

8E8FBA90-036D-4020-A607-A881A1835C02.JPG

Motherless Brooklyn 

I bought this book when I found out they were filming a movie based on it near my apartment. Days later, a fire in one of the townhouses they were using killed FDNY fireman Michael Davidson, and halting production.

Motherless Brooklyn tells the story of something of a mobster’s crony who suffers from tourettes. The narrator recalls his past, where a maybe mobster picked him out from the yard at the orphanage he was living at in Brooklyn, and put him to work, doing odd tasks like quickly unloading one truck full of music supplies into another, or simply watching people for hours on end.

The book itself is an excellent mystery. It is smart and witty, and produces a fascinating portrait of New York’s underworld, its misfits, and the endless desire to belong.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This book has been on my list for years, and was the first one I took out from the library. I loved it. I mentioned above that true crime sometimes gets bogged down in details or is a bit dry. This one is a bit drier than I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, but was riveting nonetheless, and had twists and turns that couldn’t be better if they were from the author’s imagination.

This book recounts a series of murders on the Osage Native American Reservation. While the tribe had been driven off of their original lands by the Westward Expansion, their relocation landed them on land fertile with oil. Because of this, the Osage Indians were some of the wealthiest people in America at the turn of the century. This also made them a target for people looking to increase their own wealth.

The story also follows J. Edgar Hoover and the creation of a centrally run investigation unit: the FBI. This part wasn’t as fascinating as the murders themselves, but was central to the story of how the murders were solved. It was honestly mindblowing that there wasn’t such a standardized way of solving crimes prior to this.

This story and its telling actually reminded me of a book I read last winter, Devil in the White City. Another meaty mystery, almost too wild to be true, but true nonetheless.

The Female Persuasion 

I loved Meg Wolitzer’s previous book, The InterestingsWhile her writing isn’t anything stellar, her ability to depict relationships — both romantic relationships and deep friendships — spoke to me, especially when I read it, a time of both deterioration and solidification of many of my own relationships.

The Female Persuasion was not that. There were aspects that I truly connected with — the sense of feeling alone in a new place, a burning drive to be better and succeed, the highs and lows of a long-distance relationship in college — but the story just left a lot to desire for me.

That being said, the plot felt forced, trying too hard to be relevant, especially in the #MeToo era. I think the story would have been far better if that part was absent. I don’t need a novel to help me understand feminism and be current. Additionally, the end of the story was way too buttoned up with everyone living too happily ever after. I’m the first to say I love when loose ends of a book are tied up, but they can be done so messily. Endings are rarely happy, and I appreciate ones that aren’t.

Only Girl in the World 

This is an English translation of a French book, so I was expecting some of the storytelling to be lost on me, but this was excellent.

It is the memoir of Maude Julien, a woman whose father sought to develop her into a “superior being” through shutting her off from the outside world, with rigorous coursework taught by her mother, and special lessons taught by himself. A veteran (maybe?) of World War II, Maude’s father wanted to teach her the skills she would need to survive another Holocaust.

These lessons included locking a 6-year-old Maude in the basement at night with rats at her feet to “contemplate death,” to learn handfuls of various musical instruments, and to wake herself up before dawn each day without an alarm.

The book was riveting, Maude’s fight for survival reminding me of that from The Glass CastleThe one thing I wished for more of was on Maude’s escape and eventual recovery. The book ends with a short chapter on her life after her father, but the mental struggles she must have overcome in order to recover must be just as horrific as the ones she initially endured.

The Nightingale 

This book has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I always considered it, then decided on something else. I never really considered myself a WWII romantic. When I posted a picture on my Instagram last week, I received more replies than on probably any other post, with people raving about it.

loved this book. It enveloped me, weaving the tale of two sisters, struggling in Nazi France during WWII. I was captivated as their separate journeys unfolded, and blown away by how absolutely beautiful the story was.

The book also illustrated how awful war is on everyone. We have heard a lot about how traumatic wars have been on soldiers, but until recently, few narratives highlighted how everyone suffered, especially women back home, and what heroes they were. The Nightingale is based on the true story of two sisters who actually did help downed Allied soldiers out of Nazi territory during the War, making it all that much more impressive.

I read this book in a few days, sneaking in a few pages here and there as often as I could.. Highly, highly recommend.

B40ED70C-3CB3-4876-8AED-62B0F893512D.JPG


Audiobooks

As I mentioned above, I’ve been listening to audiobooks more now. While I listen primarily when I run, I’ve also listened while commuting, or while doing other things, like folding laundry or cleaning. Anything I’d do while listening to a podcast is perfect for books.

Black Chalk

When I was searching for books similar to one of my all-time favorites, A Secret History by Donna Tartt, Black Chalk showed up continually.

This book was pretty much a knockoff of A Secret History. While the plot of the story kept me interested, it also seemed way to sensational and didn’t blow me away. Also, several of the characters were so underdeveloped, it was disappointed. Ultimately, I found myself underwhelmed with this one.

Ill Will

This book was something else. A ton of interesting stories from different viewpoints — a family murdered, a series of missing college boys, drug addiction — and yet, none of them led anywhere. It seemed like they were all veering on the edge of coming together in one tumultuous end, but instead, almost every question remained unanswered.

It was a wild ride, and definitely held my interest, but it ended in a half-thought out mess.

Give Me Your Hand

Give Me Your Hand follows Kit Owens, a PhD vying for a prestigious spot on a team researching PMDD, who feels her hopes dashed when Diane Fleming is recruited to the lab. Not only does Kit feel like Diane threatened her spot on the two-person team, but Kit knows Diane. They had been best friends in high school until Diane unloaded a shocking confession to Kit.

I really enjoyed this thriller. It unfolded slowly, twisted and turned with mysteries within mysteries. Every time I thought the mysteries were on the cusp of being solved, the book turned another corner. I will say, though, that the ending was satisfying and the loose ends tied up in a good way.

You Will Know Me

I actually have a hard copy of this one on my desk at work, but downloaded the audiobook when I needed something to accompany me on a 7 hour Amtrak up to Rochester.

Give Me Your Hand is by the same author as You Will Know Me, Megan Abbot. In some ways, they are very similar, but wildly different in others.

You Will Know Me, told from the perspective of a promising young gymnast’s mother, centers around an apparent hit-and-run that resulted in the death of a local man, intertwined with the gymnast’s quest to qualify as an elite athlete, and ultimately make it to the Olympics. The story of this one felt like it had maybe one too many twists, but I still enjoyed it, although I also think that it could have benefited from more of the gymnast’s perspective, maybe because I’m just interested in gymnastics on the whole.

I will say that I did not love the audio recording of this one. The woman made a weird voice for any female other than the narrator, and made the narrator’s son have the most irritating lisp. However, it did not keep me from finishing this in a matter of days.


I’m currently diving into Lolita, with All the Ugly and Wonderful Things waiting for me at home, and The Woman in Cabin 10 queued up in my Overdrive app for this week’s runs.

For more on what I’m reading, check out my “I’m reading” highlight on Instagram, and my Goodreads account.

Marathon Training Update

marathon

As of today, I’m about 2 months out from running the Chicago Marathon. In a cloud of ill-advised confidence, I entered the lottery last fall, and got picked. And now here I am, less than 24 hours after running 15 miles for the first time in my life, the farthest I’ve ever ran. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last time, and it won’t be the most miles I’ll ever run.

On the bright side, completing a 15 mile run feels amazing. Getting this far into my training, albeit daunting and exhausting, feels amazing. After my first half marathon in 2015, I declared that 13.1 miles was the exact maximum my body could handle. Since then, I’ve ran 5 more half marathons, and watched a few friends conquer the full 26.2 miles.

I looked at my stumpy little legs and thought to myself, I could never do that, right? A half marathon is just as impressive, and far less excruciating. I thought, I’d never do that to myself.

But here we are. Like so many things in my life, like getting a tattoo and travelling as much as I can, I’ve decided that I don’t want to die without trying. So here we are, mid-August, and I’m doing better than I thought I would be.

I’ve written before about why I run and what I enjoy about it, but training for a marathon demands a lot more than “being competitive” and “enjoying the feeling.” Because to be honest, the feeling of anything over 10 miles isn’t great, and it’s myself that I’m competing with. Not only do I challenge myself to run farther nearly every weekend, but I also have to be dedicated, getting long runs in before I meet up with friends on the weekends, waking up early to beat the heat. I have to actually fuel myself properly, and actually rest before and after the runs.

One thing training has helped me with is becoming more mentally tough. Yes, I love to compete and be the best I can, but running for over two hours straight is a tough mentally as it is physically. One book that has been incredibly helpful for this aspect of training is The Non-Runner’s Marathon TrainerIt’s not a very glamorous book, but it helped me train for my first half, and is getting me through the slog now as well.

running 2

The book includes case studies from a course taught by the authors’, where every one of the class members completes a marathon at the end. The runners include ex-athletes, parents, and people who have never been athletic in their lives. One of the most helpful aspects of the book talks about changing the way you talk to yourself when you run, and about running. The authors encourage you to refer to yourself as a marathoner early on. Being in that mindset, as dumb as it sounds, truly helps. When I need to get myself through a rough stretch of a run, I repeat a mantra in my head, something like “I am a marathon runner. I am good at this and I love it. I am strong. I can do it.” Just saying the words over and over helps.

Another thing they recommend, especially when a run is not going well, is to tack “but it doesn’t matter” onto the end of your mental complaints. So “it’s too hot,” becomes “it’s too hot, but it doesn’t matter.” Or, “I’m so hungover I want to puke and die,” becomes “I am so hungover and I want to die, but it doesn’t matter.” Because it doesn’t. As long as my little legs keep going, I’ll get through it.

It also helps when I need to slow down or walk. Walking still keeps me going, and it doesn’t particularly matter to me what speed I’m running, so long as I’m doing it.

What’s more, this mindset of boosting myself up while dismissing negative thoughts has brought healthier thought patterns to other aspects of my life. If something doesn’t go my way at work, I psych myself up with the right self talk: “I am a publicist, I’m great at what I do and I know what I’m doing. If I pitched this book to the best of my ability and this outlet doesn’t want to cover it, it doesn’t matter.” It helps me put it into perspective that my effort and competence isn’t totally subject to things outside my control.

Another way I keep myself sane during long runs is by listening to audiobooks. I’ve never really been an audiobook person, but have become one out of sheer boredom. Unlike podcasts, audiobook readers have a nice cadence in their reading that helps lull me into a rhythm while I run, while occupying my mind. I prefer thrillers, since they keep my attention and often aren’t as literary as other books, so I don’t miss interacting with the physical text. I borrow audiobooks from the NYPL, using the Overdrive app, which I highly recommend.

I am following a version of Hal Hidgeon’s Novice marathon training plan. I consider myself a novice, in that this is my first marathon. However, even though he suggests you run 5 days a week, I find this excessive, and also I would need a hip replacement if I was logging that many miles. Instead, I’ve been doing 2 runs a week, usually a shorter one on Tuesdays and the long run on the weekends. In between, I do strength training and yoga (more below). This works for me to get enough miles in and build endurance, but I’m not interested in training for speed. Plus, running twice a week takes up enough time already. When I was half marathon training, I was only doing long runs once a week and it worked for me.

I will say that my endurance has improved leaps and bounds since adding in another run. As of now, my “short” run is up to 7 miles, and usually I fly through it. Not to toot my own horn, but I am in great shape now. It turns out training actually improves your abilities. Who knew?!

Along with pushing myself to my mental limits, I’m obviously pushing myself to physical limits, and it has become imperative that I actually take care of myself. One thing I was really lacking was the proper nutrition. Shocking, eating bananas and sunbutter for every meal do not a balanced diet make.

I tracked my intake for a few weeks, since I suspected I was not getting enough of the right nutrients. As it turned out, I was incredibly deficient in protein, even though I live on eggs. So I’ve since added in a shake every evening, and it had noticeably helped my recovery and general endurance. I’m generally pretty wary of protein shakes, but this one has been excellent. On a good day, I’ll blend with soy milk, a banana and — you guessed it — sunbutter.

I’ve learned that I need to eat almost immediately before and after a run. If I don’t eat before, I will be literally running on empty and will spend most of the run feeling weak and thinking about what I will eat when I finish. If I don’t refuel after, my muscles get crampy and my legs are extra restless when I try to go to sleep. I also carry fruit snacks with me while I run, because after about 10 miles I start running out of steam.

On the flip side, I’ve also learned what foods do NOT agree with my running. Aside from the obvious (beer, dairy, high fiber foods) I also learned the hard way that anything my body is naturally sensitive to in general, it is extra sensitive after a run. Never again will I consume chicken wings immediately after running.

running 1

Yoga has re-entered my life and is very important. I always try to tell myself that I can stretch just fine by myself, but weekly yoga classes keep me feeling aligned and loose. If I don’t go, my hamstrings and shins get very tight, and the first 5k of my run will be slow, painful, and full of futile attempts to stretch them out every quarter mile.

Hydrating myself has become a whole thing as well. My clothes are so soaked with sweat after runs that they are heavy. I lose about 2lbs of sweat on these runs, so it has become imperative that I am always full of water and Gatorade. My pee is almost always clear. Yum.

One thing I’m still fighting with as I continue to train is (gross) blisters. Something about the way I stride makes blood blisters take up residence under my toenails. It is both painful and disgusting. So far, I’ve learned to drain the blisters, but not remove any skin, and they’ve started developing into callouses. My mom would be mortified if she saw my toes, because I’ve not got a pedicure in some time, in favor of developing these callouses.

Overall, I’m thrilled with my training so far. Partly because I’m shocked I’m still on track, and partly because I’ve not hit some of the hardest milestones yet. As August comes to a close, I will inch up to 16, then 18 miles, with the Big Daddy 20 miler coming in September.

Any tips or tricks for marathoning? I cannot wait for the Deep Dish pizza I’m going to inhale on October 7.

Italy 2018: Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi

IMG_3331

The last leg of the trip!

We departed Florence relatively early, and headed to Naples via train. After we checked into the hotel (Marriott Renaissance in Naples) we returned to the train station to attempt to get to Pompeii.

NO ONE could tell us how to get there. Each agent sent us to another and it felt nearly impossible. Eventually, we found the Circumvesuviana, a commuter rail, that would take us directly to the ruins in Pompeii. I did a lot of digging after the ordeal, to figure out why it was so complicated.

For one, Naples is a lot rougher than most of the northern cities we visited previously. All of the historic buildings were defaced with graffiti, and the city is still run by gangs, and they definitely aren’t as welcoming to tourists.

Second, a few years ago, the city made a separate line of the Circumvesuviana especially for tourists going to the Pompeii ruins. However, few employees were brought up to speed, and the line was poorly marketed, so few tourists knew how to access it. Add my family to the list.

image1

Regardless, we found our way onto the train. This was the first spot on our trip where I was also sure there were pickpocketers. It was (what I imagine) it would be like to be on a NYC subway in the 70’s or 80’s. Several times, a guy tried to get between my family and I and separate us.

The trip out to Pompeii was about 30 minutes, and the train drops you off right at the gate. For this one, we opted to all download Rick Steves’ podcast episode of Pompeii, which gave us a good overview of the important areas. I loved Pompeii for a few reasons.

IMG_3254

IMG_3231Obviously, I loved how old it was, and that you could pretty much go inside or climb on top of anything I wanted. To see this town as it was thousands of years ago, as it came to a screeching halt. The area around Pompeii was also stunning. The views of Mount Vesuvius and beyond stretched for miles.

IMG_3185IMG_3199IMG_3203IMG_3211

It was also wild to see this place that I had been reading about in history classes for years, and walk among the ruins and history. I felt really immersed in it.

IMG_3240

This was also one of the few times on the trip I wore actual gym shoes and workout clothes and I’m glad I did. Not only was I kind of sore from all the walking we had already done on the trip, but the ground was rough and uneven, so I was definitely thankful to my Nikes. Also, it was very dusty, so it was nice to not feel like I was ruining some of my street clothes. Plus, it was so hot I was thankful to be wearing some moisture-wicking Lululemon.

After we returned to Naples, we showered off the Pompeii dust and headed out for dinner at Valu’, a few blocks from our hotel. I had this amazing risotto with speck and radicchio, and these amazing fried blossoms stuffed with cheese. As I write this, I’m reminded to find somewhere I can get stuffed squash blossoms here in New York.

IMG_3269

While Naples wasn’t my parents cup of tea (or cup of espresso, rather, since we were in Italy), I do think I would have a lot of fun there with Andrew. In its grittiness, Naples reminded me of Glasglow. And if Glasgow taught me anything, it’s that there’s tons of really great food, drink, and culture in these rough blue-collar cities. Naples is definitely on my list for the eventual Italy trip I’m going to make Andrew take in the future.

A note about our hotel in Naples: it was the Mariott Renaissance and it was amazing. My dad is a loyal Mariott customer, and while we stayed in smaller, boutique hotels for most of the trip, I’m glad he decided to book with Mariott there. Since the city was less-welcoming to tourists, I was thankful to have a hotel with a nice bed and that serves a whole breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, the traditional Italian breakfast is mainly coffee and a croissant, or maybe some meats and cheeses. Some places offered an “American breakfast,” consisting of eggs, bacon, etc. If you’ve ever stayed at a Mariott, you can imagine the spread available. I was thrilled to see a waffle-machine, after a week of eating toast with jam and being hungry in an hour.

IMG_3265

Also, this Mariott served breakfast on the rooftop, with sweeping views of the city and nearby port. After I inhaled a waffle, I took my coffee out into the sun to finish. It was at this breakfast by the sea that my dad announced he “finally feels like he’s on vacation.” While we understood, we also wondered — where did he think he was for the preceding week?

IMG_3353

That morning, we took a train for about an hour to Salerno, a really cute vacation town on the coast. From there, we boarded a bus to Amalfi. While the bus tickets were cheap, I would NOT recommend. The roads are incredibly narrow and winding. At some points before coming around a curb, the bus would just beep in case there was a car coming. My whole family got motion sickness, and the precariousness of the whole thing gave me incredible anxiety. We all agreed that we would not be taking the bus back to Salerno. Instead, we took a ferry that was absolutely delightful. It was only 30 minutes, and smooth sailing, literally.

IMG_3300

IMG_3325

IMG_3342

IMG_3346But Amalfi. Amalfi. If I could go back to just one place in Italy, it would be Amalfi. The city is built up into the mountainside, overlooking the Mediterranean. It was absolutely beautiful and relaxing. Everywhere we looked, we saw the ocean. My dad even sprung for ocean-view rooms in the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel La Bussola, walking distance from the center of town. There was also a beautiful solarium, where we spent much of our second day, soaking up the sun after breakfast.

There is also an amazing pastry shop in the center of town, Savoia (which was ironic because there’s a bakery by the same name in my hometown), and they had the most amazing gelato, cookies, tiramisu, everything. We bought up as much as we could in there, so much, that they started just feeding us samples of gelato while we checked out. I’d go back there just for their lemon cookies. But everything was truly amazing.

One of the best restaurants we ate at in Amalfi was Stella Maris, which I was drawn to because it shared a name with the summer camp I grew up going to. The restaurant was right on the water and had it’s own private beach. I had an unreal pizza there, and a lemon spritz that changed my life.

IMG_3314

I spent most of the trip avoiding spritzes, because Aperol tastes like chemicals to me. But the spritz in Amalfi — which is famous for its lemons — was prosecco with limoncello and a scoop of lemon sorbetto. I could have sat there and drank those on the porch all day.

Amalfi was the most beautiful way to end our trip. As I said in my first post, I feel incredibly lucky to have had this trip with my family. I would highly recommend all of these stops to everyone thinking of travelling to Italy. It was hands down the best vacation ever. Ever since, I’ve been trying to find a way to get back to Europe and just experience more.

 

 Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Italy 2018: Florence, Pisa, Tuscany

IMG_3095

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.

IMG_3011

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.

IMG_3822IMG_3825

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.

IMG_3054IMG_3065IMG_3101

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.

IMG_3068

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.

IMG_3119IMG_3131IMG_3133IMG_3141

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.

IMG_3142

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.

IMG_3152

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.

IMG_3149IMG_3150IMG_3154IMG_3156

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.

The Met Cloisters & Doing Things Alone

IMG_3581

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.

IMG_3586

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.

IMG_3588IMG_3609

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

IMG_3599IMG_3598IMG_3616

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.

IMG_3590IMG_3601

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.

IMG_3606

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.

IMG_2898

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.

IMG_2807

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.

IMG_2864IMG_2874

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.

IMG_2836IMG_2842

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). 

IMG_2932IMG_2922

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.

IMG_2937

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

IMG_2944

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.

IMG_2957

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.

IMG_2965

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.

IMG_2982IMG_2975

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.

IMG_2996

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.

image1

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.