Guys, look!  I made it to the final post about our trip to Italy.  I’m pretty proud, because I think it took me months and months to post about our last trip to Europe.  This is progress!  Also, I’m not really sure how to tell you about Venice because I had slightly mixed feelings on it.  On the one hand, it was beautiful and unique and just an experience like no other.  On the other hand, it was cloudy most of the time, it was very confusing to get around and I was maybe just sort of tired by this leg of the trip.  Still, when I think back on it, I feel so lucky to have been there and it really truly grew on me in the end ♥


First, there are NO roads in Venice.  I thought that was a well-known fact, but every time I told someone that, they were surprised.  It’s true!  So once our train got in, we had to catch the water bus to our hotel.  We thought we lucked out because one of the stops was STEPS from where we were staying, meaning we didn’t have to lug our suitcases around, but it also meant that bus pulled up every 10 minutes and made a bunch of noise that I wasn’t psyched about at 2 AM 😛  Also, we had requested a room with a canal view and when they put us on the ground floor, with a window that was actually lower than the dock, I was so disappointed.  Luckily, we were able to switch rooms to one that actually had a balcony, from which you could definitely still see the canal, but this did not feel like a good start.

We had a so-so dinner at Hostaria Osottoosopra, which I definitely can’t recommend, but still, that nighttime view of the canal will wash away any memories of disappointing rooms and dinners!


A new day and a fresh start!  We had breakfast at Farini, which was okay (actually Joey liked it a lot), but I was still hoping to find a good stand-at-the-counter spot for us.  Afterward, we made our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, which is lovely!  We were not the only ones with that idea so there was a bit of a line but we had nowhere else to be.  Contemporary art can be so weird sometimes — we literally saw a framed piece of white paper?? — but for the most part, it’s all so different and interesting that I usually prefer it over earlier styles that all start to blur together for me.  I know the art was the point, but we thought Peggy’s house was also really cool!


A few hours later, we walked ourselves to lunch at Osteria Al Squero.  All of the cities we went to in Italy had different food styles and in Venice… CICCHETTI!  The concierge at our hotel explained it as “like tapas,” but it’s more like bruschetta with different toppings, if you ask me.  Gosh, I loved this concept so much!!!  We popped in, pointed at the ones we wanted and took our plate outside to eat by the canal.  I think the caprese was my favorite (that pesto underneath!) but the mortadella was pretty good too.  This is also when I discovered I do NOT like an Aperol Spritz.  Sorry!


We spent the rest of the day strolling Venice, including St. Mark’s Square and we even met some other Coloradoans on the steps of this church!


We made dinner reservations at Algiubagio but left our hotel a bit early so we could see St. Mark’s Square at night.  All the restaurants in the area have musicians playing alternately and it was really fun to listen to!  Also, how amazing does the basilica look??  Dinner was amazing!  We shared a sardine, fish dip and polenta chip (!) dish to start, then split a linguine dish that tasted to freshly tomato-y and a fish entree that we devoured.  It was Michelin-rated and we felt very fancy but mostly just happy 😛


A new day in Venice and we finally found THEE breakfast spot: Marchini Time!  We’d actually walked past this place a few times but the name looked suspiciously American, so I’d wrote it off as a tourist trap.  I’m glad I gave in and went because the cappuccinos were the silkiest and their pastry selection was killer.  After breakfast, we made our way to the water bus to check out some of the nearby islands.  First up, the cemetery!  We were amazed at how almost every grave had fresh flowers!


After the cemetery, we headed to Murano and… just no.  Murano is known for glass blowing, which sounds cool, but in reality, is just shop after shop after shop selling glass trinkets.  Maybe our interest was dampened by the fact that we had ZERO intentions to buy anything.  We did pop into the glassblowing factory real quick to watch actual glassblowers work, so I guess that part was interesting.

On to Burano, which it must be said, is THE CUTEST!  I felt bad for all the people who actually live there while us tourists just walked around taking pictures of all the brightly painted houses.  But how can you resist??  Al Gatto Nero seeemed like to place to go, so we headed over to see if they could seat us for lunch.  The bad news is they were currently full but the good news is they said we could come back at 2!  So we wandered, admired the water, saw a cute garden and then made our way back over.


What a treat it was!!!  The place was bustling and we were wildly entertained by the big table of Italians next to us, who racked up an €1800 bill!  We started with the calamari and I talked about how good it was for the rest of the day.  Just so lightly breaded and fried and perfectly salted.  It was amazing!!!  We also split the pappardelle scampi with smoked ricotta and even though we argued about whether that squash blossom was for eating or for garnish, we agreed that this pasta was delicious!  A top meal for sure.


One last stop after Burano… Torchello!  It was small and I think we were only there for something like 20 minutes but it was so quiet and idyllic.  A man was even playing the accordion along the path into the town.  We did not go up that tower, though I think you can?  But we did walk some dirt path by ourselves till we came to the water and turned back around.

After making it back to Venice, we rested up at the hotel and walked to a late dinner… in the rain!  Weirdly, we had bought some cheap umbrellas that morning because it looked like it might rain and were mad when we made it through the day without even a sprinkling, but then it was all worth it.  Except, I definitely could have done without the rain and was not exactly thrilled when we finally made it to Osteria Bancogiro and the back of my legs were wet and my hair was super wind-tangled.  BUT… then our meal was one of the best we had in Italy and it totally turned my mood.  We started with the most interesting version of a caprese salad that had dehydrated tomatoes, basically a lettuce pesto and a little cube of tomato-flavored gelatin.  Joey was weirded out, but I loved it all!  I had a parchment-steamed fish and potato dish for my main course and it was INSANELY GOOD.  I’ll dream of that flavor-packed dish for the rest of my days.  Obviously had tiramisu for dessert 🙂


Our last full day in Venice and would you look at that… FULL SUN!  I cannot tell you what this sunshine did for my mood, it was wonderful!  Breakfast at Marchini Time, followed by a walk to St. Mark’s Square again to actually go inside some of the buildings.  We went inside St. Mark’s Basilica, paid extra to see the “treasures” and it was quite lame.  Sorry!  But the rest of the basilica was very beautiful.  After that, we headed to the Museo Correr and wandered through for a bit.


We broke for lunch afterward and headed to Cantinone Già Schiavi for more cicchetti!  It did not disappoint.  After my Aperol Spriz fail, I tried a Campari Spritz and also hated it, ugh!  This is also when I should mention Venice has A LOT of seagulls and pigeons flying about.  Joey is already freaked out by birds so this was not his favorite thing and he was so distracted by them flying about while we ate this.  I think I probably told him to stop being dramatic but then a gull totally swiped the entire plate from a couple next to us!!!  So I guess they really were out to get us.  Also, that’s me gazing off into the distance while Joey took a picture of me on that bridge before an oblivious man decided to walk up and stand right there.  Men!


After lunch, we walked back to St. Mark’s Square — did I mention we walked 131 miles on this vacation?? — to visit the Doge’s Palace and I just want to tell you I LOVE the Doge’s Palace!!!  Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful and maybe it’s because I sometimes call my dog a “doge,” who knows!  It really is gorgeous though.  After we gazed at it from the outside, we headed inside and through the “Golden Staircase,” which had a sign explaining that it’s called that because it’s golden and a staircase.  Well okay!  We got a kick out of that clock that had animals instead of numbers?  It’s always crab o’clock for me 😛  Joey was really excited about seeing the prison cells and we got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs.  It was convicts’ last view of Venice before being imprisoned, hence the name.  We each took a picture through the limestone and they focused differently, whoa!


Okay, post-Doge, we decided to go find one last gelato spot and I knew which one I wanted it to be!  We rode the water bus all the way to the train station, then proceeded to wander around for way too long looking for La Mela Verde, which Yelp had shown to be in the area but we could NOT find it.  Joey ended up turning his roaming on so we could look up the address and it was NOT in the area…  extremely annoying, Yelp.  Um, so we maybe just got gelato at the GROM inside the train station, but whatever because it was actually really good!  We rode the water bus all the way back to our hotel and pretended it was a nice water cruise and it was actually the perfect view ♥


The sun was just starting to set by the time we got back to our hotel, so we quick grabbed our jackets and headed out to find a gondola, because it was now or never!  Yes, these gondolas exist entirely for tourists to ride around in, but it ended up being so romantic and I’m really glad we did it.  They charge a set amount, so it’s nice knowing you don’t  have to hunt around for the best deal.  It was so peaceful as we drifted through the smaller canal areas basically by ourselves.  All the lights from the surrounding homes and restaurants felt extra twinkly 🙂  Since it was our gondolier’s last trip of the night and he needed to dock near the Rialto Bridge, he took us out onto the Grand Canal and actually under the bridge!  What a magical sunset ride ♥

Later that night, we went out for one last Italian dinner at A Beccafico.  It was just warm enough to site outside in the square.  We each ordered a pasta and couldn’t figure out whose was whose, so we maybe switched halfway through and decided we liked each other’s (or our own??) better. Joey was only too excited about the giant tiramisu and complimentary Limoncello at the end of the meal.


In the morning, we had one last breakfast at Marchini Time, then took a very fast water taxi to the airport and sadly said goodbye to Italy.  What can I say except that I will remember this vacation forever and treasure it always.  Italy is a truly wonderful country that I hope to explore more one day.  And I am so grateful for the chance to take this trip with my favorite travel companion ♥

A Mardi Gras Trip to New Orleans

A month ago, my mom invited me to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  She hadn’t been back for Mardi Gras since she was pregnant with me, so it only felt right that I should be there if she was going.  I said “YES!”  And so did Joey and we were beyond excited.

I think a MAJOR misconception about Mardi Gras, is that it all takes place on Bourbon Street and that you have to take your top off to get beads and while that sort of thing is happening on Bourbon, most of Mardi Gras takes place elsewhere and it’s family-friendly.  I saw so many families, with kids, having the best time together and look, we never even set foot in the French Quarter.   Let me tell you what we did instead.


We maybe took a Spirit flight that got into Nola at 1 AM, but it was cheap so oh well!  I’m sorry for the dark and blurry picture, but let me explain.  Back in 2012, my sister and I attended our first Mardi Gras and, after taking us to a balcony party on Bourbon where we threw all the beads our hearts could desire, my Uncle went to drive us back home but we literally ran into a barricade.  He got out of the car and proceeded to move it, when a cop showed up and they had a brief argument, before she made us turn around.  Once back in the car, I reminded him that he was wearing a jester’s hat.  I requested that he wear that exact hat when he picked us up from the airport and to my SHEER DELIGHT, he did! 😛


We slept in the next day, then headed to breakfast at Surrey’s Uptown because I could not get those Shrimp & Grits out of my head.  Happy to report they were just as good as I remembered.  Emily joined us!  Afterward, the three of us walked Magazine, stopping into a pop art gallery, Fleurty Girl and finally, the Craft Beer Cellar, where I more or less forced Joey to get a beer because he had taken like 10 work phone calls during our walk and seemed very stressed.


It got pretty rainy that evening so we figured our Muses parade plan was done for and went to dinner at Blue Oak BBQ instead.  I thought it was so good!!!  We wanted it all so we got the “all meats, all sides” to share and man, that rib felt like changing.  By this point, the rain had cleared out, so why not head to Muses??

All the floats are ridden by women and they occasionally throw out a shoe they’ve decorated.  It’s a hot commodity and I went home with one!!!  I was so happy and so covered in glitter.  Also, there was a group of men all dressed as Freddie Mercury and seeing them all walk by, singing along to “We Will Rock You” was just too much fun.  This was Joey’s first ever Mardi Gras parade and I think it was a good introduction 🙂


On Friday, we grabbed a quick breakfast then hit the road to run some very important errands.  First up, KING CAKE!!!  Not any King Cake, though, a Dong Phuong King Cake, specially ordered by my uncle.  I held this box on my lap and it smelled SO GOOD.  We also picked up crawfish, then the rest of the supplies at an outrageously busy Walmart.  My uncle has boiled us crawfish twice now and it is so amazing.  I feel so lucky!  This batch was seriously so good.  Spicy and flavorful and those crawfish were a real nice size.  Don’t worry, we had room for King Cake afterward.  We maybe all ate two pieces, except my mom, who ate three.  I love her!


Saturday!  Endymion Day!  Joey and I walked over to District Donuts to grab breakfast and I ate a “taco” that was basically a baby burrito and was not mad about it.  So good!  The big parade on Saturday is Endymion and you best be prepared for it.  My uncle has access to a lot on the parade route (THANK GOD), so we showed up around noon and the place was packed already.  We walked around before and got to see bands playing on front porches, parade ladders (guys, I want one!) and all the floats lined up!  We also ate muffulettas for lunch and more on that later but it tasted really good at the time.

Endymion is just so cool!  Flo Rida was on one of the first floats and Joey caught a football he threw!  Not going to lie, the float riders were straight CHUCKING beads and frisbees and footballs and I was maybe doing more ducking than catching, but it was still fun.  I think my favorite part was my mom yelling “throw lighty things!” once the sun went down.  Don’t worry, we got some glow stick necklaces.


We went to Bacchus on Sunday night and even though it was cold and I started to not feel very good halfway through, I think this might be my favorite parade!  Plus we managed to tag along with my uncle’s friend and neighbor Laura to the most beautiful house, with an epic view of the parade.  I didn’t mind it one bit!

This is sadly where this vacation must come to an end, because I got sick that night, my uncle got sick that night and my mom got sick that night.  I figured it was food poisoning, but the only thing we all overlapped on was that muffuletta and Joey, who didn’t get sick that night, ate the most BY FAR.  We were all bedridden the entire next day and I was still struggling when we flew home on Tuesday at 6 AM (ugh!).  I barely got off the couch, once we were back home and I don’t think I really started to feel better until Friday or Saturday.  So that’s a sad ending to an otherwise wonderful trip.

Mostly though, I want to remember (almost) everything about this trip.  I want to remember having dinner with my mom and Joey at Root Down inside DIA before our flight.  I want to remember hearing someone order a burger with extra lettuce (???) while we waited at the terminal.  I want to remember the humidity and the smell of New Orleans that hit me when I got off the plane.  I want to remember seeing that jester hat.  I want to remember standing in line at Fleurty Girl with my mom.  I want to remember looking back while we were at Muses and seeing my mom and uncle standing together.  I want to remember asking my mom to hold my parade loot and seeing her stuff it all inside her coat.  I want to remember using a light-up ring as a flashlight.  I want to remember all the arrangements my uncle made for crawfish and Endymion and how he did it all, even though he wasn’t feeling well.  I want to remember eating that King Cake.  I want to remember putting glitter on my mom and Joey’s faces and thinking how much better my sister would have been at it and missing her a lot.  I want to remember having breakfast at District Donuts, just Joey and I.  I want to remember the float with the band from Michigan rocking out at both Endymion and Bacchus.  I want to remember all the families, camping out, just enjoying themselves before the parades.  I want to remember how beautiful those floats were in the daytime.  I want to remember seeing Harry Connick Jr. visiting his dad’s house across the street (OMG!).  I want to remember being able to share this fun experience with the people I love best ♥