In the heart of Sorrento, Italy is the Valley of the Mills. It’s unassuming until you’re on top of it, and when you are, it is beautiful.
I’m trying something new here. Sometimes on vacation, really funny things happen as a result of something I or Scube do, and felt that these little anecdotes haven’t quite made it into our travel stories. So while this isn’t a video of me falling on my face or scaring Chris Pratt with a fake dinosaur, this is a silly story from our last full day in Italy.
Our hotel in Naples didn’t offer free breakfast, and since hotel breakfasts are wildly overpriced (why is cereal $12?!?!), we decided to go out and do as the locals do. To be a local in Italy means walking up to the bar and ordering your pastry first. Once you eat your pastry, you order some form of an espresso, and then wash it down with a small, free of charge water. Well I don’t like coffee or espresso for that matter, but I am however in love with drinking chocolate (Italy’s version of hot cocoa). So in my awful broken Italian (beyond Grazie! Ciao! and Prego! I’m at a loss), I tried to order a drinking chocolate. “Vorrei questro cioccolata, por favore?” Well, L-O-L. This poor bartender was sent into a tailspin. It was like I asked him to conjur Willy Wonka as a patronus with Silvio Berlusconi in the role of Grandpa Joe. He looked at a shaker full of cocoa powder, found it was empty and started fumbling around behind the bar. The elderly man who owned the shop started yelling at him in Italian. What I gathered back and forth was “where is the cocoa??” and “how do you not know how to make a cioccolata you fool?!” After a lot of hand wringing, the elderly man escaped to the back and returned with a massive bag of cocoa powder and starting frothing the milk. Meanwhile, in my head, and unable to articulate to these two adorable men who didn’t speak a lick of English, I was saying “I just wanted a small little cup of drinking chocolate…” Instead, I was left on the sidelines watching this hilarious little horror transpire.
Scuba Steve was squeezing my hand hard as we were both thinking the same thing, which was “OMG Sara, what have you done?? These poor men.” Cue 5 minutes later and I had been served a pint glass, an actual, full blown pint glass full of piping hot cocoa. Adopting an “I don’t want to offend” attitude, I downed the crap out of that cocoa. Granted, it was delicious, but feeling so full from my chocolate pastry, I was not expecting to drink 16 ounces of hot chocolate at 9am. Scube was shocked, but let’s be real here, I can down a disgusting amount of chocolate in all forms with feeling zero digestive side effects.
And that my friends, is one of my many vacation bloopers.
September is a really special month for me. I started dating my husband (Scuba Steve as he will be known henceforth) in September, we got engaged in September, and then finally, we got married in September. When you don’t have kids, September isn’t a new year, it’s an extension of summer. So what does this have to do with California? Well, this is the story of our engagement trip.
I’ve mentioned this before, but air travel wasn’t something I spent a lot of time doing growing up. We explored the area around us with road trips and long weekends, but that was it. I used to sit in the back seat surrounded by luggage, art supplies, travel games and coloring books, and as an only child I’d like to think I was so entertained by myself that I rarely asked “are we there yet?” Since I grew up and still live in the Northeast, prior to September of 2012 I had not completed my manifest destiny, something at the time was very much on my bucket list. Chicago was as far west as it got, so when I told Scuba Steve I wanted to go to California, San Francisco and Wine Country to be exact, he added in the Redwoods and we were off to the races.
We tag teamed the planning on this one, and since I barely had any points at this time, hotels and flights were straight cash, a foreign concept to us these days. We were intent on hitting the Redwoods National Park up north, about a 5-6 hour drive from San Francisco. After a lot of research, we settled on the Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn in Trinidad, CA. A place we would love to return to someday. Each room had its own balcony overlooking the ocean where you could watch and certainly listen to the seals barking in the evening. Since the fog was so heavy we could not figure out what that soundtrack was to the first half of our trip and finally, when the fog lifted, at least 30 seals were barking away on a rock outside. The locals do not find this cute, but Scube and I were quite taken with it, I mean you don’t exactly hear barking seals in Philadelphia everyday.
Back to the B&B, the owners are the sweetest people, serving a delicious breakfast at around 9am (we were surprised, as normally breakfast starts so early!), and opened their kitchen to guests with beverages and snacks throughout the day. Additionally, they were quick to provide itineraries that matched the length of ones stay, as well as excellent dinner recommendations. Staying a few days, we opted for the lengthier itinerary, but upon arrival, we were beat, crashed and then naturally woke up ready to greet the world at 4am California time. Kitchen closed.
On our first morning, Scuba Steve had the worst cold, and we were plying him with a cocktail of Dayquil, Sudafed, and the like in the hopes he would be able to enjoy the day. At around 6am, we grabbed a granola bar and an apple and headed toward Patrick’s Point. Our morning hike consisted of Wedding Rock, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, our engagement! Scuba Steve had asked me to grab a map which if you know me, is hilarious. I cannot read a map to save my life, after rummaging through our stuff, I turned around and there he was, down on one knee. To this day, I have no idea what Scube said to me, I blacked out into a puddle of the happiest of tears. After composing ourselves (okay fine, myself), we tried to get through to our families and friends with what little cell service there was, and continued to explore Patrick’s Point. Nothing says excitement and disappointment like, “OMG we got en-…” to get cut off each time.
The area of Patrick’s Point was beautiful, as thick fog would slowly burn off as the sun would escape through small slats in the pine trees up above. After about an hour of exploration we headed back to the Inn for some much deserved breakfast of pastries, eggs, juices, the works. I mean we had been up since 4, a granola and an apple wasn’t going to cut it.
After breakfast, our itinerary for the day focused on the Redwoods National Park, and we hoped to spend a lot of time getting lost in the forest. After checking in with the National Park Visitors Center for a map (of course, Scube needs his maps) and a few trail ideas, we headed first to Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Tall Trees Grove. None of these were long or tedious hikes, but the pay offs were incredible. In typical fashion was tried to hug the trees and our outstretched arms didn’t even come close to completing a full on hug. I have an incredible fear of snakes, and one of my Scube’s favorite moments from the hike down into the Trall Trees Grove was when I asked “you don’t think we’ll see any snakes here?” as I unknowingly stepped right over one. So yes, there is a possibility that you could see snakes (ugh).
Even though this was a few years ago, California was fairly dry, and Redwood Creek near the Tall Trees Grove was almost completely dried up. We walked through the creek bed and headed the 2 miles back up to the car. When not hiking, the look out points on the main roadway to the points were stunning, and we were constantly stopping to take in the view and try our hand at some pretty bad selfies, but we didn’t care. The drive back to the Inn was incredibly beautiful. You end up driving down a hill where there’s the ocean on the right and a lagoon on the left. The beach was made of dark sand with small little caves and inlets we explored during our stay.
With some lingering jet lag, we decided it was time to relax for a bit before heading to dinner at Moonstone Grill to toast to our engagement. Moonstone Grill overlooks the ocean, and the scenery at the restaurant was fantastic. I have no recollection of the food, and that might be because upon leaving the restaurant we realized we were driving on a flat tire. Driving about 100 yards, we had destroyed the tire and turned back around, Steve went inside to call AAA, and I enlisted an elderly man to help me change the tire. Knowing that our spare would only last for 50 or so miles (my dad or Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny may have mentioned that), we unfortunately spent the next morning in a tire shop getting a new tire on our rental car. Since Trinidad was not all that close to a major city, this seemed to be the best course of action, despite the unexpected bill.
Once the tire had been replaced, we decided to visit Fern Canyon, where Jurassic Park 2 was filmed. The drive into the canyon was a single lane road, where lead cars are required to chaperon cars to and from the parking lot. The drive into the canyon was so incredibly cool. Wet ferns and foliage crawled up both sides of your car, as the dirt road seemed to narrow before your eyes. We truly felt like we were in the movie, though a bit hesitant considering there was some light off-roading through rocky streams involved. Nothing like replacing a flat tire and then holding your breath while the bars on your cellphone disappear faster than a vampire in sunlight as your car is rocking back and forth on rocks, in creeks, etc. But we made it. The hike into the canyon was damp, beautiful, lush and green. It involved climbing over massive tree trunks, getting your sneaks wet, and getting a little lost. Beyond the canyon, we walked along a beach in what was a gray day, and looked back upon the cliffs hiding the canyon from which we came. We saw hikers who had been hiking for months on the Pacific Crest Trail, large animal carcasses, and circling gulls, truly at peace with nature (something so new to me). After walking along the beach, we headed back to the car, waited for our lead car, and decided to head out to Elk Point, where Elk’s (luckily for us) were incredibly abundant. Elk’s were everywhere, and we kept a safe distance though definitely snapped a few photos. Our Elk detour only lasted a few minutes, and we decided to check out the town of Trinidad itself.
The town is very much a quaint fishing village, reminiscent of towns in Maine. With a stunning white and red light house, a beautiful cove/marina and a hike cliff walk, the town had a lot to offer, even if we only had a few hours to spare. That night we had dinner at Larrupin Cafe. The meal was out of this world, and we were not expecting that for such a small town. They bring a charcuterie board to start, and while I don’t remember exactly what we ordered, I remember we were both in culinary heaven. Fortunately, our car did not have a flat tire upon leaving so we certainly called this day a win.
We were hoping to kayak the next morning, but since the conditions were rough, the company cancelled our tour, so we decided to spend more time exploring Trinidad on our last day before heading down to wine country.
Trinidad was such an unexpected bright spot, and that excludes the excitement of our first morning. It was so diverse and offered and so many different outdoorsy activities coupled with really great food. It was such a great start to my very first time in the Golden State.
Off to wine country, next!
Capri is an absolutely magical and beautiful island with so much to offer. I’ll be blogging about our trip to Italy in the upcoming weeks, and I hope you followed along via Instagram as we traveled around Capri and the Amalfi Coast.
Below, the pic of the week is taken from atop Mount Solaro, the highest point on the island, in the town of Anacapri, which can be reached via walking, or a 13 Euro round trip chairlift ride. The views are breathtaking during your ride up, down, and upon arrival at the top. Enjoy!
I fashion myself a bit of a packing connoisseur, not nearly as great as this guy, but pretty damn good in my own right. I’ve managed to fit 2 weeks worth of clothes, shoes, plus snorkel fins in a carry-on. Applause welcome.
Packing is a gift, and it starts with the very simple question, what do you need? Not want, but need. Laying out everything you need gives you an idea of how much room you have left for the “want”. As a woman, I carry no less than 4 pairs of shoes with me at all times, in my carry-on, with all of my other clothes, accessories, toiletries, etc. It can be done.
- Pack multi-purpose things. There is nothing worse than realizing you packed a top or a bottom that can only be used once in conjunction with all items that you packed. Based on the weather, make sure you can mix and match appropriately. Also, as a woman, pack dresses, they take up less space.
- Do you really need those shoes? Again, I just mentioned I pack with no less than 4 pairs of shoes wherever I go. But here’s a tip. Going on a vacation where you’ll be active? Think running, hiking, etc. Buy a new pair of sneakers before you go and pack your old ones. Then leave your old ones behind, making room for souvenirs.
- Also, pack shoes last, as they can be stuffed in random corners of your suitcase
- Bringing socks? Put your socks in your shoes so that socks do not take up extra space in your suitcase.
- Roll, roll, roll! There is something to be said for rolling your clothes. When done right, your clothes will not wrinkle, and you will be able to squeeze in more with less.
- Wear bulky items on the plane. I don’t know about you, but I’m always freezing. While you might not be the most fashionable person on the flight, if you intend on bringing a large sweater, hoodie, whatever to your destination, wear that on the plane, don’t pack it. That goes the same for sneakers. My husband just went on a live aboard boat experience and everything needed to be in a medium duffel bag. You bet he was wearing his cargo shorts, sneakers, and hoodie on that flight in both directions to save space.
- Packing cubes. I have a love / hate relationship with these. I used them for Australia and found them very useful, but on shorter trips, I don’t really use them. Packing cubes (roll your clothes in them) help you segregate your items, i.e. a cube full of just tops vs. workout clothes vs. fancier items etc. But I find that they may take up more space in the long run when used. So if you’ve used packing cubes before, leave your feedback in the comments, I’m curious to hear from you!
- Never check these things. Seems obvious, right? But never check anything you would need if your luggage got lost or stolen. Of course you can replace most of these items while on vacation, but why should you have to?
- Tooth brush
- Two full mix & match outfits
In sum, pack smart. Packing light does not mean fashion is being sacrificed, but quite the opposite. If you pack smart, you can get a great diversity of outfits in one, tiny little carry-on. Makes it so much easier. But like I said, make sure you leave yourself with a little room for some souvenirs. My keepsake of choice, a Christmas tree ornament.
Three years ago I did something I never ever thought I would or wanted to do. I begrudgingly moved to Philadelphia. It was a move that I do not regret. While I have not nearly explored my adopted city to the fullest, it does in fact have redeeming qualities, and beautiful buildings. Below is a picture of City Hall. I want to go back and capture this at night because I love when the clock glows yellow, you can see it for miles.
I fully intend on doing a post on this city down the line, and if there is anything you want to learn about, please leave me a note in the comments!
Detroit, not exactly what you think of when you hear the term “tourist destination”, but as someone who spent almost 2 years in Michigan, I want to put a positive spin on a place that needs some serious positivity.
As mentioned previously, I used to be a consultant, and as a result, getting an excuse to see some parts of the USofA I didn’t think I’d ever visit came with the deal. One of those places, was Detroit. Fortunately, I had a great tour guide who lived there (still does), and gave us the ins, outs, does and don’ts of Detroit. I mean Detroit has a Whole Foods now, how bad could it be??
We went in the summer and scored tickets to a Detroit Tigers / Red Sox game (go Sox!) so we were determined to fill our days with all we could see. We met for breakfast at a cute farm to table spot outside of the midtown loop. What we learned is that when it comes to city planning, the same people that planned Detroit might as well have planned Philadelphia. I-95 runs right through the city, cutting off certain areas from downtown, with not the best public transportation.
Outside of the mid-town loop we saw their own Central station, a beautifully abandoned train station that will eventually be re-purposed. They drove us through an adorable residential area with cute row homes near what they dubbed the “hipster” part of town with coffee shops, bars/pubs, etc. and of course, near the Whole Foods.
We then ventured back into the central business district to see Eastern Market and the Detroit Waterfront. The Detroit waterfront is a beautiful walk along a boardwalk overlooking Canada. I had no idea! Your phone starts measuring everything in kilometers so be warned! The waterfront was really worth the walk, and they have beautiful fireworks each year for the fourth of July. We were really impressed by what they had done with the waterfront, and Eastern Market as well. Eastern Market is the world’s largest farmer’s market and was so much fun to walk through. Just a note – it is only open on weekends, and Sundays only from June through October.
Additionally, we ended our tour in the business district, which really showed the power of private industry. Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, moved his headquarters to downtown Detroit and encouraged other businesses to follow suit. As a result, there are beautiful office buildings in Detroit’s central business district, one containing the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
After leaving our tour guides, we decided to check out Greek Town, a really fun neighborhood in Detroit with delicious, you guessed it, greek foods, bakeries, and casinos. This part of Detroit is full of energy and life, and could be plucked and placed into any major city. With bright lights, enticing restaurants, Greek Town is not to be missed, and is easy to get to on their People Mover, which loops around the city. We were staying at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel and was in walking distance of public transport.
After a delicious meal, we were off to see the Red Sox get destroyed (womp womp) by the Tigers and check off a new stadium on our list.
I know I gave a very rosy view of Detroit just now, and I want it to remain rosy, but my husband and I had mixed views on the city itself. My husband saw the city as one going through a slow, yet steady resurgence, and I saw one that represented crumbling Americana hoping to some day claw its way back. With that being said, my 24 hours in Detroit were fun, and as with exploring any new city, exciting as well. So if you’re in the area, go support a city that needs a little extra love.
Our Australian adventure ends in Brisbane, where we had just about 24 hours to spend enjoying the city. And with 24 hours, we accomplished a lot. Brisbane is easily a city that I could picture myself living in, very similar to that of Chicago. The Brisbane River is the life blood of the city with so much carved into the riverbeds, be it homes, museums, restaurants, businesses, or boardwalks. Taking a boat tour of the river is an absolute must. From the South Bank of Brisbane, tours run frequently, and you can just book your ticket day of, as we did. The tour is not to be missed. For two hours we ambled up and down the river, intaking so much information and admiring the stunning architecture and views. Again, so similar to that of the Chicago Architecture Tours.
After our tour ended, we decided to explore the South Bank. For a city nestled between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts of Australia, Brisbane has its own man made city beach. Literally. With sand. After checking out the beach and the surrounding shops and restaurants for a snack, we waited in a short line for a whirl on the Wheel of Brisbane. The wheel is fantastic! A video plays during your ride pointing out landmarks and giving a brief history on the city itself. For having only 24 hours in a place, we learned an awful lot about its history.
We then decided it was best to get a little lost. We left the South Bank and just walked through their CBD, past beautiful museums, popped into the famous Oak Street Casino, and walked until we could not walk anymore, and still continued to press on.
We set out for dinner near Eagle Pier at Il Centro, an Italian restaurant on the waterfront. We did not have a reservation and were fortunately seated outside with a view of the river and the beautiful Story Bridge, lit in purple on that evening. After a relaxing meal we set out for our final Brisbane adventure, a ghost tour. Kind of silly and touristy but no less fun.
On occasion we love a ghost tour (the one in Key West is fabulous), and decided it would be a fun way to get a different perspective on some of the city landmarks that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy. The tour was really fun, and in true ghost tour fashion had an over-the-top tour guide. The most chilling part for me was walking through the arcade in the CBD and through a stairwell and a hall. With so much drama, he sent us one-by-one and mentioned a Shining Style sighting that comes out to scare most passersby. I had no such sighting but still bristled on the walk. After the 90 minute walk was over, we explored the city a bit more and then headed back to the hotel. With a flight home to the states the next morning our last evening was bittersweet.
While we were excited to get home and watch the Sox win the World Series, we loved Australia and talk about going back all the time, heck, we almost stayed there. Australia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and Brisbane exudes that.
When my husband said he booked us a day trip to Fraser Island I stared blankly at him and said “Okay, great!” I had no idea what or where Fraser Island was (geography, not a strength), and since Steve was in charge of our Australian honeymoon, I went with it. Before our trip, I learned that Fraser Island is the world largest sand island. Located in Queensland, and a world’s heritage site, many tours leave for the island from Noosa Heads, which fit perfectly with our plans.
Fraser Island has a relatively large camping scene, and while you can take a personal car to the island the terrain is tough to navigate and is not recommended for novices or those unfamiliar with the land. As a result, we decided to go with a tour group, which meant a very early morning for us. The tour started at 600am (good news, the pick-up location was just a short walk from the Sheraton), and we boarded our brightly colored Fraser Island Adventure Tours bus, eager but tired.
The drive from Noosa to Fraser Island is two and half hours long, fortunately, we stopped at Rainbow Beach (close to Fraser) for a bio break and to pick up the last members of our tour group. The views from above of Rainbow Beach were sprawling and beautiful, however, the true beauty is from the ocean looking up. Though, drivers be warned, Rainbow Beach is known for eating and swallowing more cars than any other beach! More on that later.
After driving onto a barge and crossing a small stretch of water between Rainbow Park and Fraser Island, we had arrived. On the East Coast of Fraser Island is 75 Mile Beach, it’s literally 75 miles long, hence the name. And we drove all over it, spotting dingoes, turtles, and a large number of dead birds. Our tour guide explained that these are migratory birds who fly for hundreds and hundreds of miles to get to Fraser Island and by the time they get here they have no more energy to continue. Truly a sad story. Apart from the animals (varying in levels of alive-ness), 75 Mile Beach is known for the SS Maheno Shipwreck and the Champagne Pools. In true Fraser fashion, that’s just a snippet of what’s available on this sand island.
For a sand island, inland there are two things of note. One is the redwood style forest. Literally growing into sand are massive trees. I thought I was back in the Redwood National Park and couldn’t believe that a rain forest so lush and so dense could grow on an island made of sand. It was mind blowing. Secondly, Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes, including the often visited Lake McKenzie. The water is so pure there that it is said to be fabulous for your skin. I naturally made sure my whole face got drenched in its crystal clear waters. Do I look younger?
Driving through the interior of the island to get to these lakes and forest, you can tell why it’s not really safe for drivers who are unfamiliar with the terrain. Between tough, narrow one lane unpaved roads, and quick moving sand, it was comforting to be in the hands of a professional. Plus seeing a few abandoned cars certainly helped solidify our decision to go in a group.
Our journey didn’t stop at the lakes and forest, we also explored the Pinnacles and Eli Creek. The Pinnacles reminded me so much of Bryce Canyon, as the colorful reds and yellow sands rose above the dunes. It was crazy to me that a small island could have so many uniquely different geographies and attractions. It seemed like Fraser Island was a microcosm of Australia itself, placed into one beautiful beachy / foresty location.
Eli Creek is a small stream with a strong current, so you hop in on one end and get to float all the way back to the beginning. We had a lot of fun on this lazy river and meeting people from fellow tours during our stop there.
After spending about 7 hours on Fraser Island, it was time to head back. The tides were in our favor as our tour operator decided why take roads, when you can drive on Rainbow Beach to get home??? He mentioned how the people drive on this beach all the time, but most don’t pay attention to the tides and that so many cars get abandoned or need to be towed off the beach at a later date. He even showed us a postcards to that affect that showed all the abandoned cars in a single year. You could probably fill a few calendars with abandoned car photos. Despite that funny little anecdote, Rainbow Beach is truly stunning. We marveled at the beautiful colors captured in the cliffs of the beach, understanding where it got its name, and simultaneously hoped that our driver really was well versed in the tides.