A bamboo house in Bali and a giant bubble in the French countryside? These unique Airbnb lodgings around the globe will have you wanting to book your next vacation. See them on LifeZette.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
After a few days in London we headed to the airport for our flight to Dublin. We had a few technical difficulties but Rachel and I finally arrived at the airport with Jasmine and Kate not too far behind. Fearing that we were late for our flight Rachel and I rushed through security and were heading to our gate when we were stopped by a man giving out free samples. Assuming it was just another annoyance we brushed him off until we realized he was giving out vodka samples. Being the broke college students that we are, it is almost illegal to pass up free alcohol. So we indulged in a taste and were quite pleased. As we were walking away we realized that there were multiple people with multiple types of alcohol giving out free samples so our indulgence continued. We moved on to the Jameson tasting station, followed by the rum station and finally finished with a shot of coffee Patron and classic Patron. As we were on our marathon of alcohol sampling we kept running into the same two older women who we finally found out were doing a weekend girls trip to Dublin. They insisted that we go out to Temple Bar later in an effort to find them so they could buy us some drinks- and people say airports are boring.
Despite being a little dazed by our previous sampling binge we definitely felt all of the turbulence that our plane experienced and after a rough flight and a few panic attacks later, we arrived in Dublin- a place I have always wanted to go. I’ve always wanted to travel to Ireland and explore the gorgeous countryside but at the moment Dublin was where I would begin. I came to realize that despite the crappy weather I completely loved Dublin. The people and the culture are so different from anything I have experienced and I love their carefree attitudes (the accents on the cute guys don’t hurt either). Ireland is definitely a place I will return to so I can explore more.
We arrived at our hostel, checked in and immediately wanted to eat at an authentic Irish pub. We wandered around the area by our hostel, the infamous Temple Bar- known for drunken tourists but still so much fun nonetheless. We ended up at O’Sullivans and enjoyed some warm tomato soup, a welcoming meal on a rather chilly and rainy day, and a nice glass of Harp beer. Then we unanimously decided it was time for a nap. After sleeping the rest of the day away (it was very much needed) we got ready for dinner. We ended up at Merchant’s Arch, an adorable little restaurant/pub near our hostel and enjoyed some more Harp, Irish stews- I stuck to my vegetarian options of mushrooms and spring rolls- and live music, which we quickly realized was everywhere in Dublin. The live music at all of the venues was so nice and I thoroughly enjoyed eating my meals to the sound of a guitar.
Then it was time to hit the town in Temple bar. We went to all the places our friends had recommended and bar hopped the whole night. It was a mixture of Irish jigging, house music and at one point a song from The Jungle Book even came on. Needless to say it was quite an interesting night but still very fun.
Friday morning we had our last Sandeman’s tour of the week. Our guide took us around Dublin and shared its colorful history with us. Not having a lot of knowledge about Dublin it was very nice to get an insider’s perspective into this quirky little city, apparently with quite a few jokesters who have played pranks on the city, which include erecting a monument to a fake war hero who never actually existed. We saw some castles, churches and Trinity College, which, for all of you Game of Thrones fanatics like myself, is where Joffrey goes to school. I was surprised to find out that despite how his character comes off on the show he is actually one of the sweetest people out there and very very smart as well. We ended our tour with stories of Ireland’s sadder history and how the people have rebuilt it and have intense pride for their homeland.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me was the bust of a famous Irish journalist, Veronica Guerin. She was a crime reporter in Ireland and reported on many dangerous stories about crime and drugs. She was more interested in getting the facts straight from the source and exposing the truth than she was in her own safety, risking her life in order to get to the bottom of things. She faced numerous death threats and attempts on her life from the criminals she was exposing but she did not give in to their intimidation. Unfortunately, she was murdered on June 26, 1996 by drug gang members. However, some good did come her death; it caused an outrage among the people of Ireland and within a week of her murder the Irish Parliament enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996, so that assets purchased with money obtained through crime could be seized by the government. This led to the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). Members from the drug gang that killed her were arrested and the investigation into Guerin’s death resulted in over 150 other arrests and convictions, as well as seizures of drugs and arms. Drug crime in Ireland dropped 15 percent in the following 12 months. This made a special impact on me because as a journalism student it showed me that one journalist can make a difference and make a change in the world.
After taking in all of the knowledge from our tour guide it was time to eat and we were lucky enough to stumble upon a buffet place that served all of our favorite American dishes. Needless to say we piled our plates high and stuffed ourselves. Feeling just a tad bit weighed down from all of our food we strolled along the roads and did some serious souvenir shopping, picking up gifts for the dozens of people in my family. Later that night we did a pub crawl and unfortunately were disappointed. So Rachel and I hopped off of it in search for some real Irish pubs not crawling with tourists. We asked the man working at our hostel for suggestions and walked far away from the touristy area of Temple bar in the search for some real Irish culture (and men). After roaming and popping in and out of numerous bars we finally surrendered and went to bed.
Our last full day in Ireland was dedicated to a trip to the small town of Howth about 30 minutes outside of the city. Here we had some crazy weather, with it clearing up just in time for us to embark on our hike up mountains and then hailing on us as soon as we finished lunch and continued our hike. Despite the freaky weather it was a gorgeous hike and the views were unbelievable. We saw more castles, learned about the family that has lived in it for decades and then ate lunch in a small, but apparently very coveted town at the top of the cliffs.
Pictures definitely do not do these views justice, as they were some of the most amazing I have ever seen. This trip reassured me of the interest I have always had in Ireland and convinced me that my next trip here will be to a more country-side type of town.
Feeling exhausted and thoroughly worked out from all the climbing, we went home and had our last meal in Dublin at a place many people raved about. I had an amazing goat cheese (obviously), onion, mushroom and sautéed vegetable sandwich on fresh toasted bread and was feeling especially satisfied. We sat and chatted for a while and reflected upon the past ten days and all of the adventures we had had. I was sad that our fabulous break was over but was excited to go back home to Rome (I still can’t get over the fact that I can call Rome my home) and continue our European adventures. Dublin definitely left its mark on my heart and was the perfect way to end our trip.
“Ireland is where Strange tales begin and happy endings are possible.”- Charles Haughey