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.

Advertisements

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.

Italy 2018: Rome

IMG_2601

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.

Trevi fountain Rome

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.

IMG_2557

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.

IMG_2577

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.

IMG_2606

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.

IMG_2655IMG_2665

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.

IMG_2672

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.

IMG_2706

IMG_2709IMG_2685IMG_2734

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.

IMG_3371

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.

Trastavere

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

FR

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.