The One Gift You Can’t Miss

During this busy time of year it is so important that we reach out to older family members who may need a little extra love during the holidays. Read how several people make sure their older family members are included in the celebrations.

Read on at LifeZette.Com.

The One Gift You Can’t Miss

When Adopting Makes Three

I was very lucky to have the opportunity to speak with a family about their incredible journey to Kazakhstan and back to adopt their beautiful little girl. In honor of ‪#‎WorldAdoptionDay‬ and ‪#NationalAdoptionMonth‬ – this is the story of the Coyles and their tireless journey to make a family.

Read on at LifeZette.Com.

When Adopting Makes Three

The Last Supper

After our long day in Florence, the family and I grabbed a very late dinner where we ordered far too much food and stuffed ourselves- I had my new favorite dish that I recently discovered- cacio e pepe, which is pecorino cheese and pepper, it sounds simple but it is fabulous. We finally called it a night and went back to the hotel to go to sleep.

The next day was the last day my family was in Rome so we took full advantage of the beautiful weather and took a nice long stroll down Via del Corso- a main street starting in Piazza Venezia and running all the way to Piazza del Popolo with great stores for shopping and eating. Once again, Nicky and dad were awesome and put up with us girls stopping in literally (yes dad, literally) every store. Renee was awesome enough to treat me to a few things and I think my arm muscles grew just from carrying all of my bags around. We did make a few stops for my dad and Nicky though; dad got an awesome new pair of shoes from Timberland and Nicky stopped in a Footlocker.

Along our travels we ran into some talented street performers dancing and even a perverted clown who made balloons and hugged Renee and me just a little too tight. One store in particular caught all of our eyes- the Perugia chocolate store. Perugia is known for their chocolate and it is where Bacio chocolate has its factory- you can even tour the factory like a real-life Italian Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We were drawn in by the seven-tiered chocolate fountain in the window and we all stocked up to get our chocolate fix- I indulged in my new chocolate obsession- white chocolate.

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After satisfying our sweet tooth we continued on our walk, stopped in a few more stores and finally made it to Piazza del Popolo. I had never been to this Piazza but I discovered that it is definitely the prettiest I have been to in Rome. There were the usual crowds and we somehow ran into two tourists from London and got into a 20 minute conversation with them about New York, New Jersey and England. They asked us what we call sandwiches around where we live (heroes never hoagies and sometimes subs) and ranted about how expensive everything is in England- they were definitely an interesting couple.

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Piazza del Popolo

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We sat on the steps of the fountain in the Piazza in the sun while Nicky and Maddie stared at the street performers who seem to float in mid-air. As their vacation was coming to a close we all just took a moment to take in our surroundings and appreciate how lucky we are and I thought how lucky I am to have such great parents and a great family. Then, of course, it was off to lunch. I feel like most of the time here is spent just killing time between meals; our schedules definitely revolve around eating. The tiny restaurant we decided to eat at was delicious; the pizza I had, the gnocchi Nicky had and the veal my dad had were all so full of flavor and it definitely proved that the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants often have some of the best food.

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Following our lunch we absolutely needed Gelato. So I took the fam to Giolitti, a very well-known gelateria. The gelato there is unbelievable and I always get white chocolate and Oreo or white chocolate and milk chocolate. Everyone got their favorite flavors and it got my dad’s seal of approval when he said it was “stupid” -which is dad talk for something is so good that there are no words to describe it. We waddled our stuffed selves to the hotel to take a breather before we went to my apartment so they could see where I live and then go to dinner.

When we got to my apartment my dad joked that he wanted to go back to the hotel where they have bell boys. My apartment is one of the nicer ones students live in here so I consider myself lucky, but after coming from the hotels we had been staying in, I agree with him. I gave them the tour, which takes all of two minutes, and we hung out for a while to pass the time until we were hungry enough again for dinner. Like clockwork, we were ready pretty soon. I took them to Trastevere, a very cute area in Rome with winding streets that are very easy to get lost on, restaurants, shops and cobblestone streets with wine corks in the cracks, my personal favorite characteristic of the area. For dinner we had a little bit of everything- suppli (rice balls), artichokes, bruschetta and prosciutto. My dad once again had ox tail and I once again had cacio e pepe. For dessert I took them to an unbelievable crepe place where we enjoyed a crepe with Nutella, white chocolate, caramel and bananas- and yes it is as good as it sounds and yes my mouth is currently watering. 

Feeling stuffed yet again, it was time for goodbyes as my family went back to the hotel to pack for their flight the next day and I went back to apartment to reenter the real world. It was sad to see them go but it was comforting to know that at that time I would see them in just two and a half weeks and as I am writing this now (very delayed) I only have eight more days in paradise. Time flies.

“Time is free, but it is priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”- Harvey MacKay

Falling in Love with Florence

My family and I woke up early and headed down to the hotel restaurant to grab a quick breakfast. Because it was April 25, Italy’s Liberation Day, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the train station to catch our train to Firenze for the day. Another perk of traveling with the fam- I don’t have to sit in the cheap seats on the train. I got to recline and lay back and fall asleep for our hour and a half train ride- and because I only got four hours of sleep the night before I passed right out and woke up just as we were pulling into the station in Florence.

Our first stop in Florence was Il Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore- the most beautiful church I’ve ever laid eyes on. The facade of the building was so intricately carved and designed I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. We waited on line for a little and then we picked up our audio guides to a take a tour of this masterpiece.

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The tour was very helpful because we weren’t just walking around looking at paintings and such. It gave me a lot of useful information and put everything into context.

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The church was spectacular and truly a work of art. The dome was unbelievable and so detailed and the images and events that I found out that are depicted on it blew my mind. When we were done with the church, which took a little more time than we allotted for because I couldn’t tear myself away, we headed over to the Galleria dell’Academia- AKA where David lives. On our walk there we stopped for gelato and I had a donut almost as good as the ones Tee, Matt and I ate in Naples- which you can read about here. We also ran into just about the cutest little old Italian one-man band. He was walking down the streets with all of these instruments connected to different parts of his body so that when he moved that limb or pulled that string music filled the air.

The cutest little Italian nugget
The cutest little Italian nugget

We got to the Galleria and were met with a very long line so we made a reservation and stopped at a little leather stand to do some shopping to pass the time. I got a very colorful wallet that I would replace two hours later because I really wanted the official Florence stamp on it and this one didn’t have it but the man selling them said that no wallets have it and like a dumb tourist I believed him (the New Yorker in me is very mad at myself). I also got a purple glasses case with the official stamp on it that it sitting in my nightstand right now holding my new sunglasses that I got the following day. Still trying to pass the time until our 2:30 reservation for the museum we grabbed a quick bite in a little deli and then headed to the Galleria.

Renee had been to Florence before and had seen the David and told us all that it was so cool. She said you walk into this long hall and at the end of it surprise! is this massive sculpture. I was in shock when I saw him because I didn’t think he would be that large and grand. But now I know what all of the hype is about and I took a very long look at this figure that I spent so much time studying in high school and was blown away. My favorite part about this had to have been the commentary my little nuggets gave. They were both standing there, looking up at this grandiose sculpture and in all seriousness Maddie turns to Nicky and says “Nicky, we’ve seen his penis now let’s go see his butt.” Needless to say they were a little shocked by all of the nudity they saw during their time in Italy.

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Also in this gallery that is much overlooked are Michelangelo’s unfinished pieces. These offer a glimpse into the mind of a genius as you stare at the half-alive figures as they almost fight to break free of the marble from which they are created. It was very eye-opening. When we were done taking illegal pictures of Michelangelo’s masterpiece we headed over to the Uffizi to enjoy some more beautiful works of art.

Renee and I waited in line for a little over an hour while dad and the kiddies sat in the square by the Uffizi and watched men paint. When we finally entered the museum we made sure we hit all of the famous paintings so we could get to the Ponte Vecchio with enough time before our train. Going through these paintings I realized that I had also studied them in high school. It has been a bit surreal seeing all of the things I admired in a textbook or on a computer screen in person all over the world. We took some more illegal pictures of some famous paintings and roamed the halls of the museum. Renee, dad and I were all talking about the millions of pieces of art work in the world and we just couldn’t believe how many museums have so many pieces from all throughout history.

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The Birth of Venus- Sandro Botticelli
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Primavera- Sandro Botticelli

After we walked the museum we went to its rooftop cafe to enjoy a quick bite to eat overlooking Il Duomo. We also had an uninvited guest arrive at the table when a little pesky bird wouldn’t go away and actually got so close to us he flew onto my plate and started picking at my pizza.

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Officially freaked out by the birds, we finished our food and then headed to do some shopping on the Ponte Vecchio. We were almost at the bridge when we stopped at another leather stand and bought some more stuff. Here, I replaced my wallet with a beautiful soft-as-butter red wallet with colorful inside details. My little sister got a bright blue pocket book and Renee bought a really pretty patterned pocket book for Tee. Nicky opted out of something leather and instead got Italian-flagged themed sunglasses, which he totally rocks. Finally we made it to the bridge. It was so weird, once again, seeing something I had read and heard about in person. We popped in and out of many jewelry stores on the bridge until we came to a leather jacket store. Immediately upon entering, Renee found the perfect coat for herself. It practically screamed Renee and she looks amazing in it! I then found my baby- a beautiful chocolate brown leather coat. It is the softest thing I’ve ever felt and if it hadn’t been so warm here lately I would never take it off. My dad, who was the best sport ever all vacation as we stopped in virtually every store to shop, finally felt the need to hurry us along so we didn’t have a repeat of Naples and miss our train. Our cab driver was great and took us down a bunch of teeny tiny little alley ways as we fell in love with how Italian Florence is- and we didn’t even miss our train. DSC03815 DSC03819 DSC03820

 

“Wake up in the morning with a smile on your face for no reason other than the sheer fact that you are so in love with where you are in that moment.”

La Famiglia

After a wonderful stay in Sorrento, Positano and Capri the fam and I woke up to catch a train from the station in Naples to Rome, where they were staying until Sunday. We left two hours before our train and thought that would give us plenty of time to make it to the train station, which was only about an hour away. Unfortunately, there was a crazy amount of traffic and it took us a little over two hours to get to the train station and we missed our train. Flustered and running around we bought new tickets and finally got on the train with all of our luggage, which was another adventure in itself. A short train ride later we fought through people with our luggage and eventually made it off the train.

We thankfully were able to be picked up by a car sent by the hotel my family was staying in because the other car that was supposed to pick us up fell through because we missed our train and were late. We arrived at the hotel, which was beautiful and once again the staff was so attentive. It was very close to the Spanish Steps so the location was perfect. After we checked in and got settled we walked a little bit to go to dinner. We found a cute place on the corner and sat down to eat. It was here that my family discovered how annoying Rome can be sometimes- or how annoying the men selling roses on the street can be. Everywhere you turn there are men selling roses and other knick knacks and they come right up to you while you are eating and bother you to try and get you to buy something. Usually I just ignore them or say no grazie but Nicky and Maddie couldn’t help but look at the toys they were selling so we attracted a little bit of attention. My dad finally got so frustrated and yelled at him to go away. We enjoyed a meal of seafood and pastas and listened to two men play the accordion while we ate.

When we finished dinner we decided to walk over to the Spanish Steps and climb to the top. I had never been to the Steps at night but they are really pretty. The lights from the streets lit up the stairs and we were able to capture some great photos. After that we walked over to the Trevi fountain, which is my favorite place in Rome, especially at night when it is less crowded and lit up. My favorite part about the Trevi fountain is going there late at night, after we go out, around 2 or 3 a.m. when there is no one there and it is quiet and the only sound you hear is the rushing water. We took some pictures there and my family got a kick out of how many people there were and how no one here understands personal space as they all crowded around us. We decided it was time for bed after our hectic day- tomorrow we had a three hour tour of the Colosseum and ancient Rome so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning we feasted on another impressive breakfast spread then hopped in a cab and headed over to the Colosseum to meet our tour group. We started outside of the Colosseum and got a crash course in ancient Roman history. Our guide was informative and presented all of the information in a way that more interesting than the way I learned about it in a class room. Next she took us into the Colosseum. I had been inside it with a class at the beginning of the semester and learned about the architecture side of it but on this tour I learned about the political, social and historical facts about the Colosseum. It was all too interesting and made me want to watch all of the movies about gladiators and ancient Rome.

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After the Colosseum we went to the Ancient Roman Forums where we learned even more information about the ancient civilization. I had been there once before with my art history class but had once again concentrated more on the architecture of it and not on the history so all of the information that our guide was feeding us was very interesting and gave context to all of the ruins we were looking at.

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After walking for over three hours our feet were extremely sore so we walked to the nearest restaurant to eat. Our restaurant was in a great location and overlooked some of the Forum ruins so we admired them as we ate our pasta and chatted. We caught a cab back to the hotel after lunch and walked around to find some gelato and a macaroon shop we passed the previous day. The macaroons were amazing and full of so many interesting flavors- I have definitely become a macaroon lover during my abroad months. It was back to reality after that because I had to go to my last class that day and I would meet my family the next day for another tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.

I met my family the next afternoon and we headed over the Vatican to meet our tour guide, who was awesome! She gave us so many facts and hours of information. I picked her brain about art and the history of the Vatican and St. Peter’s. She was so knowledgable on the subjects and I really enjoyed her tour. I loved the way she presented the facts, with stories and context instead of just boring numbers and names. She also engaged my little siblings, which made them tolerate the four-hour tour. It was nice seeing the Vatican and everything in it, especially Raphael’s room and the Sistine Chapel. I’m a huge art and history nerd so I loved analyzing the art with her and asked about a hundred questions. She was definitely the best guide I have had on a tour.

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Four hours later and much more informed, we ended our tour at St. Peter’s and got on line to climb to the top of the dome. Renee, Maddie and myself decided to take the elevator to the first level and meet my dad and Nicky who were climbing all of the steps. We arrived at the first stop and looked down into the beautiful Basilica below. There was a mass going on and we could hear the choir singing, which added to the beauty of being suspended above such a masterpiece. Being inside the dome was a very cool experience and we were able to get a closer look at the intricate details and designs and really marveled at how massive and intense the dome actually is up close.

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We continued on our way up about 300 stairs, in addition to about the 200 other steps my dad and Nicky already climbed. It was hot, small and tiring. I am very claustrophobic and the higher we climbed the smaller and smaller the hallways got and the smaller the steps got until eventually we were almost turned sideways and were tip toeing up the steps. The walls and the steps were slanted because of the shape of the dome, which also made climbing difficult. Eventually the steps were so small and the hallway was so curved that there was a rope provided for us to hold onto as we climbed. After a few minor panics and a lot of sweating we finally arrived at the top and the fresh air on my face felt amazing. We pushed our way to the edge and pressed ourselves up against the fence to get the most breathtaking view in all of Rome.

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Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

We took a lot of photos and then made the trek back down more tiny steps.

Little Maddy going back downstairs
Little Maddy going back downstairs

We climbed the first level of steps and then Renee, Maddy and myself took the elevator the rest of way down. We stepped off of the elevator and into the Basilica where we walked around and admired it. My dad was especially impressed with the massive structure that is so ornately decorated and constructed and he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around how people did something so miraculous so long ago.

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After our long day of touring we hopped in a cab and went off to a restaurant that my uncle went to when he was in Rome and had highly recommended it to us . It was a very cute restaurant and was decorated with sports, fishing and hunting memorabilia. It was run by several bad-ass looking, burly Italian men who suggested dishes like ox tail and cow intestines- I decided on some salad and pasta but my dad and Renee got the aforementioned dishes and couldn’t stop raving about how tasty they were. We stuffed ourselves silly and were then presented with some cookies and dessert wine. After trying to bite into a cookie one of the men came over and showed me that the proper way to do it was to dip the cookie into the dessert wine, which was absolutely delicious. Then we headed back to the hotel to hang out and get to bed because the next morning we were off to Florence- but first I had a paper to write because contrary to what my family may think, sometimes I actually have school work.

“Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”- Brad Henry

Family reunion in Sorrento, Positano and Capri!

After going back and forth for days with a countdown with my dad, the day finally arrived- my family was coming to Italy! My dad, stepmom Renee, 10-year-old brother Nicky and seven-year-old sister Maddie were meeting me in the airport and we were flying to Naples where we would take a car to our hotel in beautiful Sorrento! I could hardly contain my excitement on my way to the airport, only to come to the check-in counter of Alitalia and be confronted with an issue. I was beginning to get nervous after the woman at the desk couldn’t find my reservation for 20 minutes. Finally, with a few dozen phone calls later, everything worked out and I ran through security to the gate. I was greeted with kisses and lots of hugs and I was so excited to be with everyone. Immediately my little siblings were asking me how to say various things in Italian and my dad and Renee were asking me details of my life in Italy lately. We chatted and caught up then caught our short flight to Naples!

Upon our arrival in the Naples airport we were greeted with a driver who took our bags and drove us to our hotel. After travelling on a college student budget all semester and being used to fighting with my bags on public transportation in foreign cities, the luxuries of travelling with my family and indulging in the luxuries such as private cars were very welcomed. The other plus side of travelling with my wonderful family- besides them being amazing (I know you are reading this Renee!)- are the amazing hotels we get to stay in and the amazing dinners we get to eat. When they were here I no longer had to look at every price on every menu and stick to one bottle of water and the cheapest entrée available. Now, I indulged in wine, an appetizer, an entrée and even gelato or a crepe after. Safe to say I was in a food coma all eight days they were here.

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We arrived at our gorgeous hotel, Grand Hotel Cocumella, in Sorrento and were greeted by the very friendly staff that worked there. The hotel is family-run and very attentive and you feel as though they are old friends. They knew all of our names and plans and helped us make all of our arrangements. The hotel used to be a monastery and has been around since the 1800s and was decorated in beautiful whites and bright colors. The light colors of the hotel matched the crystal clear blue of the sea visible from the windows. There were also rows of orange and lemon trees and the scent of the purple lilacs was noticeable as soon as you stepped outside onto the grounds and was a soothing element at the end of a long day. We checked in, unpacked a bit and then went to explore the hotel and its grounds. We took in the surroundings and captured many scenic photos.

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After that we walked towards town to a restaurant recommended by both our driver and the concierge. On our way we stopped in a limoncello factory- I Giardini di Cataldo. We were able to taste all of the different flavors- lemon, melon, orange and walnut (which was surprisingly strong) and of course had to buy a bottle- or two. Then we continued on our way to dinner. We all satisfied our hunger with gnocchi, seafood, linguini, panna cotta and cheesecake. Exhausted after our delicious dinner we got in a cab and headed to the hotel. We were greeted with chocolates on our pillow and I took advantage of the huge shower and hot water and took a long-overdue bubble bath.

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The next morning, Easter Sunday, we woke up and when Renee returned from mass, we were met with an impressive breakfast spread complete with cereals, yogurts, fruits, omelets, pastries galore, cheeses and of course Italian meats, which they eat during breakfast. That day we planned to go to Positano so we hopped in a car and took the scenic route to Positano, about a 30-minute drive. On the way we had to stop at a mini truck fruit stand on the side of the road- Nicky and Maddie never stopped being amazed by how small the trucks are here.

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Being in Positano once again reaasured me that Italian weather people drink too much wine on the job because the forecast called for clouds and rain and it was at least 70 degrees and sunny with no clouds in sight. The town was so cute and just what I thought of when I think of tiny Italian seaside towns. You couldn’t even drive down to the town or the beach. It was all small alleys and steps leading you to the beach. The sidewalks were lined with vendors and shops that we had to stop in. Renee treated me to a spectacular blue ring from shells found in the sea to replace a ring I had worn for over five and a half years but no longer wear, resulting in my finger feeling a bit naked. I had been searching all semester for the perfect ring to replace one that had meant so much to me for so long and this one seemed to be the perfect fit. We then continued down the streets covered in lilacs and vines crawling along the walls.

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We stopped a few more times, once for an extremely floppy hat that jumped out at me and of course was a necessary purchase. We finally reached the beach and sunk our toes into the sand and dipped them into the cold water. My dad, Nicky and Maddie went on an adventure and walked to some jetties in the water while Renee and I enjoyed some mojitos in the sun by the beach. When my dad and the kiddies rejoined us we rehydrated with a few more mojitos before heading to dinner at Le Tre Sorrelle (The Three Sisters) a restaurant recommended to us by our driver. It was seemingly meant to be seeing as how I am one of three sisters and so is Renee. The restaurant was founded by three sisters many many years ago and was fabulous. We all enjoyed seafood dishes and took a few moments to look out onto the beach and the clear-blue sea to appreciate where we were and to bask in the present moment.

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The nuggets enjoying the cold water
The nuggets enjoying the cold water

We then made the walk all the way back up to where we would meet our driver Reno, who drove us to many places all weekend and became a regular person in our vacation. Reno was awesome and was so helpful, once again proving that the people you meet around the world can definitely enhance your time in a certain place. We grabbed a quick dinner in town and strolled along its quaint streets. We ended the night with gelato where I ran into some friends who were also in Sorrento for the weekend. Then it was back to the hotel for another hot bubble bath and a pleasant sleep on pillows almost as soft as the ones Rachel and I slept on in Amsterdam (read about those here).

The next day we awoke with high hopes- we were going to Capri and were hoping that the weather would hold up so we could go to the world-famous and absolutely breathtaking blue grotto. Once again we filled ourselves with the delicious breakfast and then caught a ride from Reno to the dock where we took a hydrofoil to Capri. I dozed off for the 30-minute ride and was woken up to the bluest waters I’d ever seen, enhanced by the rays of sunshine that sparkled on the surface.

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We immediately checked with the tour group that takes people to the grotto only to be disappointed that at the moment they were closed and we had to check back later. We were a little nervous that they wouldn’t be open and were feeling disappointed, however, we went into the adorable little town to explore. The first thing we noticed were the taxis, which were convertibles and of course super cool. Then we climbed up some hills to get a better view. We walked through a residential area tucked behind hills and a lot of steps to climb. Each house had its own name and we passed an elderly man weeding his garden behind his blue and white door and walls. It gave us a snap shot into these people’s lives and how they live out their daily routines.

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We made the trek back down and stopped for a quick snack to pass the time until we could see if the grotto was open. We had two huge crepes with Nutella and bananas while Nicky and Renee went back to the guides to see if we could get tickets for a tour around the island and a trip inside the grotto. Nicky returned with a frown and ran into my dad’s arms crying that they still weren’t open and his vacation was ruined. We were all about to get very upset when he lifted his head with an evil smile on his face. Turns out that they were open and our boat was leaving in about 30 minutes!

We boarded the boat with about 20 others and we were off for a tour of the island and then the grotto. Our guide took us on about an hour-long boat ride, showing us the white and green grottoes and several other sights around the island including, villas, a mountain where goats go to hang out and the arch of love. We finally arrived at the highly anticipated blue grotto only to find out it was about a two hour wait because it was very crowded. A few of us on the boat voted to stay and wait so we were transferred to another boat so we could wait and the others could return to town.

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The boat swayed in the waves and drifted in the water under the blue sky and warm sun. I laid down at the front of the boat and drifted to sleep as I rocked back and forth and up and down. Usually having to wait over an hour for anything is almost unbearable but I was waiting for the internationally admired blue grotto and I was floating in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, so safe to say I would have waited all day. Renee finally woke me from my nap in the sun and said it was our turn to head in. We drove around to the main entrance of the grotto and were greeted by a dozen boats with dozens of people coming and going. We noticed how small the boats were that we needed to transfer to in order to get into the small opening of the grotto. We also noticed all of the drivers of these very small boats- standing straight up as if they were on solid ground. They were also yelling back and forth and making the typical Italian hand gestures and we all observed and took in this side of their culture. It reminded me of a family gathering- everyone has their opinions, it is very loud and there is always a lot of swinging and gesturing of hands.

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Our turn finally came and we all cautiously climbing into the small row boat. Dad went in the front, Renee and I went in the back and Nicky and Maddie squished in between our legs. We needed to make sure that there was enough room for all of us to duck our bodies, especially our heads, deep down into the row boat so they didn’t hit the top of the opening of the grotto, which was much smaller than I expected.

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After paying our admission fee we waited to enter and Renee was already getting as low as she could in the boat. When it was our time to go our driver pulled on a chain rope attached from the outside of the grotto to the inside and pulled us very quickly inside. Once over the initial rush we pulled ourselves up and took in the wonder that was in front of us. The water was the most vibrant blue color I had ever seen and the grotto itself was beautiful, with its own little out coves and hidden corners. Our driver started singing to us as he rowed us around and we couldn’t stop marveling at the beauty. Unfortunately it was time to leave and the panic of course started to set in for Renee again- squishing us all and telling my dad to get down further into the boat. Once again our driver quickly pulled on the chain and pulled us out through the tiny hole, almost hitting his head and almost giving us all a heart attack.

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We boarded our bigger boat again and it was time to head back to town because our hydrofoil was leaving in 45 minutes and if we didn’t catch it we’d be stuck in Capri for the night- not the most terrible thing. Once back in town we grabbed a quick pizza and gelato and boarded the boat back to Sorrento. Once there we were greeted by our favorite driver, Reno, and went to the hotel to relax. Our fabulous concierge, Guiseppe, who was amazing the whole time we stayed at the Cocumella and felt more like family than a concierge, had champagne sent to our room that we sipped on before going to one of his recommended restaurants for dinner.

After we ate it was back to the hotel to repack and get ready to leave for Rome the next day-which proved to be quite an adventure. Stay tuned for my next post to read all about it!

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”- Omar Khayyam

Wine Tasting in Tuscany- I’m Living in a Dream

The title says it all. I am in living in a dream; one that I conjured up in years past and am finally living out. Sometimes I stop, take a deep breath, look around and take in where I am  and what I am doing. I think to myself this cannot be real. How did I get this lucky? How did I get this blessed? I can only thank my family for their support and pure love for letting me go out and experience these amazing things. Not only am I living a dream and traveling, I am educating myself and not in the sense of sitting in a classroom and learning how to conjugate Italian verbs. I am learning cultures and traditions that are different from my own and I truly believe that this type of education is far more important than anything that can be taught in a classroom. I am also discovering myself- my love for learning new things, meeting new people and exploring this great world that has so much more to offer us than we can imagine. When I say everyone should study abroad or at least take a month to travel the world- whatever part of the world you choose- I am saying it not only so you can bury your feet in the whitest of sands or stand underneath the Sistine Chapel, I am saying it because traveling erases ignorance and judgment and makes us all better people. And a world filled with better people is a better world.

With all of that being said, this weekend was my fantasy. Ever since watching Under the Tuscan Sun when I was younger (and rewatching 100 times since then) I have always wanted to go to Tuscany. Not only go to Tuscany but pull a full Diane Lane and buy a Tuscan villa on a whim and find pure happiness in the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. So when an opportunity to go wine tasting in Tuscan vineyards came up, I grabbed it with two hands and boarded a bus with my two friends, Rachel and Jasmine, to wine country, which was not far from Cortona, the town that Diane Lane buys her villa in. Coincidence? I don’t think so; I’m a strong believer in fate.

We started the day early and traveled to the first wine tasting. This wine company operated out of what used to be a jail where they tortured inmates. Now it is redone and boasts some amazing wines and cheeses. After seeing the barrels and learning about the wine making process we were lucky enough to sample some amazing wines and cheeses. I fell in love with one of the wines we tasted and obviously bought a bottle to bring home with me as a gift for my grandfather, a man who appreciates the simple things in life- a glass of fine wine and a cigar.

Barrels and barrels of fine wine!
Barrels and barrels of fine wine!

After the tasting we were free to roam around and eat some lunch, which we did in the cutest little restaurant, run by the most adorable old lady. I am always happy to eat in little “mom and pop” shops because I get to speak to the people in Italian, which I love because it really helps me hone my language skills that I have practiced in the classroom for so long.

Our stop for lunch!
Our stop for lunch!

After a fulfilling lunch we explored the surrounding area, which just so happens to be where part of the second Twilight was filmed (when Edward goes to the head vampires and wants to reveal himself and Bella is running to stop him). We enjoyed exquisite views of the   endless hills of Montepulciano and pondered how quickly we could find a house and move there.

The beautiful views
The beautiful views

After enjoying the views, we were back on the bus to head to a smaller town, Montalcino, where we would visit another, more traditional vineyard. And if I thought I wanted to live in the first town, I knew this was where I was meant to be. When you think of Tuscany and vineyards and hundreds of acres of villas on top of hills overlooking rows and rows of grapes to make some of the best wine in Italy, Montalcino is the place you imagine. This place was the images of postcards and photographs that you stare at and admire and never imagine yourself standing there, feeling the wind coming over the hills and smelling the grapes laid out across the land.

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It’s a funny thing. I am such a city girl, and if you were to ask anyone they would tell you I belong in Manhattan and I agree. I’m in love with that city, my heart belongs to it and right now it aches for that magical place. However, I have never truly felt more at peace than I did at that moment, looking out over the land and taking everything in.

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I was immediately captivated and overcome with joy when I realized that this wasn’t a dream and I was actually standing there- in a place that won an award for having one of the top 100 wines in the world. Unfortunately this wine was out of my price range, but I did buy other bottles for myself and my family.

This was a more traditional vineyard that has been around since the 1400s and has definitely perfected the craft of making unbelievably delicious wine. We toured the grounds and saw the process that the grapes and then wine underwent. The guide explained to us how many years the wine ages in the barrels (most were 5-6 years) and how they were bottled. She also told us the many other products that they make from these materials including a fabulously smelling body lotion (a perfect grift for my grandmother) and brandy. After the tour we were lucky enough to taste three amazing wines while overlooking the landscape. Then it was time to buy the family, and ourselves, some gifts and head back home.

As we boarded the bus and pulled away from this gorgeous place, I couldn’t help but think, that la vita è bella.

“We travel, not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -anonymous