Cinque Terre

So I'm gonna keep it going with my Italian adventures and highlight my time in Cinque Terre. What is Cinque Terre you say? It's literally the meaning of it's name- "five lands". Cinque Terre is made up of five colorful towns or villages that sit right next to each other along the Italian Riviera. You may have seen it's popular coastline before. It's beautiful to say the least but my time there wasn't quite so appealing.

(Before I begin on my series of unfortunate events, let me give you some informative information if you plan on visiting one day. There's a train that goes through all of the towns kind of like the metros and subways we have here, so transportation to each town is totally covered. The beaches (like most European beaches) are rocky beaches, so take water shoes if you plan on spending time at the beach.) 

Now onto what not to do in Cinque Terre (or anywhere really). So my trip to Cinque Terre was a university trip with all the other study abroad students. We had the option to go hiking on a trail or spend the day at the beach. Being the mermaid and beach bum that I am, choosing a day at the beach was a no-brainer. My friend and I decided that grabbing drinks was first thing on the list, so after a couple of daiquiris and margaritas later, we headed to the beach. As soon as our feet touched the sand, we saw kayaks in the distance and decided to rent one. Mistake numero uno: Don't drink and kayak. I. Was. Miserable. Just as we paddled out to the middle of the ocean, everything hit me at once. The effects of the drinks were taking place. The sun felt like it was only five feet away, and my arms were already exhausted from paddling. I remember literally laying down in the kayak and contemplating taking a nap right there, in the middle of the ocean. If it wasn't for my fear of the tide taking us further out to sea or the fact that if Jaws approached us, he would totally win the battle, I would've remained laying in that little kayak, but we quickly sobered up and gathered up some energy to make it back to shore.

As soon as we were on dry land, it was nap-time for me. That was mistake number two: Don't sleep on the beach. I woke up with so many sand fly bites on the back of my thighs I could cry (in fact I did). I remembered seeing these little moth looking creatures flying around, but I thought they were totally harmless. Well I was wrong. That made my next week or so in Italy a nightmare (and it also took months to heal and for the scars to fade). I remember the bites itching so bad that I couldn't sleep. What made it worse was the fact that when I went to the local drug store, the lady had no idea what Benadryl was and due to the language barrier, it was hard for me to tell her what was going on so that she could assist me better. Luckily, my super intelligent roommate suggested that I write down the main ingredient in Benadryl and take it to the drug store so that they could find something with that same main ingredient. Thank God, and whoever developed it, that medical terminology is universal (oh, and thank my roommate too for being the little genius that she is).

All in all, despite my experience, Cinque Terre is gorgeous and definitely a go-to place at least once in a lifetime. If anything, Cinque Terre taught me some rule-of-thumb's to traveling that I hope you can take away too for all your traveling adventures.

Traveling Tip: Create a "travel first-aid kit" to take with you whenever you travel. Sure that's one more thing you have to figure out how to fit into your suitcase but it will come in handy if a drugstore doesn't happen to be nearby or if you don't understand the language of where you're visiting well enough to navigate around a drugstore yourself. In addition to basic first-aid items, make sure your travel first-aid kit also has allergy medication, sting/bite creams, cold/cough/flu medicine, motion-sickness aids, and gastrointestinal meds. 

Venice

Aaah, Venice, Italy. Where do I begin? Well for starters, I always refer to myself as a mermaid. Why? Because I love everything about water, and I mean EVERYTHING (swimming, showers/baths, beaches, aquariums, marine animals, and rain are at the top of my favorite things list). So, being that Venice basically floats on water, I fell in love with the city before I ever got a chance to visit. Fortunately, I was able to experience this love first hand when I was able to go to Venice while studying abroad in Italy.

When I first arrived, I had to hop in a water taxi from the Grand Canal (the main canal in Venice that splits the city in two) to get to the part of the city I was going to. Take a second to take that in- yes, a water taxi, or the proper term is a "vaporetto". How cool is that? With 177 canals flowing through the city, the canals are the main routes of transportation. If you ever visit Venice, you'll notice that the front doors of buildings face the water canals, and it is simply because of that. So imagine instead of "rolling up" to the club, you "row up" haha. (Corny? I love dry humor.) But seriously, all jokes aside, it's the coolest thing ever. Along with the vaporetto, of course I had to do the proper tourist-thing and take a gondola ride to nowhere. I'm not big on being "tourist-y" but I suggest everyone that goes to Venice indulges in this. I mean where else are you gonna get to go on an ORIGINAL gondola ride? That's right, nowhere. Plus, Venetian tradition says that if a couple riding in a gondola ride kisses under each bridge, they will remain in love forever. I'm considering trying this with my dumbbells and P90X dvd so I can be in love with exercise forever LOL. (I crack myself up. That's a struggle and a story for another blog post.)

Outside of the water, Venice's architecture is beautiful. You will notice that its streets are a little narrow, but that is also due to the fact that the main routes of transportation are through the canals, not the streets. Regardless, I loved exploring the Venetian streets, through its narrow alleyways and across its many bridges. It's enchanting.

Now of course I saved the best topic for last, FOOD. So you know how people claim to have "spirit animals"? Yeah, well Venice is my spirit city. Let me tell you why. Venice's signature cuisine is seafood, and its signature drinks are bellinis... Two. Of my. Favorite. Things. When I learned about this, I was elated. You mean to tell me my favorite cocktail and my favorite food is this one city's signature cuisine? Like, no matter what restaurant I go to, they will have seafood and bellinis? Like, can I just stay forever? No, seriously.

Here are my last words of Venice advice, if you plan to visit one day, plan to go in the near future before it's too late. With Venice sinking at the rate of 1-2 millimeters a year, the city has already experienced days of high levels of water where you might as well have a rowboat or canoe in the streets. Though I wasn't there during those times, I could see steps to buildings that were already under water as I rode through the canals. But whether you like the water or seafood or bellinis, I hope everyone gets to experience the magic of Venice.

Denver

So this past May, I went out to Denver, Colorado to visit my college roommate/bestfriend and got a chance to live the "high-life", and yes I mean that in more ways than one (shh, don't tell my mom).  Needless to say, if you watch the news, or don't live under a rock, we all know what herbaceous law has been recently passed in the state of Colorado. And I mean hey, why not openly partake when it's government-approved. I mean that basically makes it like culture now right? But we'll get into that fun later.

PLANNING. I booked my trip through the Expedia app, which I would personally like to recognize Expedia for creating such a super easy, user-friendly app. It has definitely been my go-to ever since for all my future trip-booking endeavors from flights to hotels to rental cars. After a few clicks, I was on my way.

DISCLAIMER. Now let me be the one to state this disclaimer: when you are traveling, keep one thing in mind... time-zones. This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I made the rookie mistake of looking at my flight times and not considering the fact that Denver was two hours behind my time (Eastern time). I was so confused when looking at my flight itinerary as to why my trip there was only one hour and my trip back was five. It actually really didn't dawn on me until I was on my connecting flight there and saw that the flight time was 3 hours but we were going to arrive only an hour later than the time that was on my watch. I literally palmed my face after putting two and two together. One of my top "duh" moments in life!

ARRIVAL. The Denver airport is much like any major airport... which means it's huge and confusing and you have to take trains and cross rivers and pretty much sacrifice your first born child to get from one part to the other. But for a traveling pro like me, despite my brain meltdown on the plane, it was a piece of cake. And by pro, I mean if you can read signs and follow directions, you should do just fine in any airport. So here's a fun fact: My friend was telling me how the statue of the huge mustang scultpure in front of the Denver airport is said to be haunted, as it practically killed its artist as he was building the sculpture. Supposedly, the horse's head fell off severing the artist's artery in his leg, killing him. The sculpture's eyes glow red at all times of the day. Freaky right? (Actually as I was writing this post, I was doing some research on Denver to check my facts, and came across even more conspiracies of the DIA. Feel free to google it to creep yourself out even more. It's very intriguing).

FOOD. My favorite. My friend and I are big foodies, so naturally she took me to all her favorite spots that she knew I would love too. Besides her grandmother's bomb Brazilian cooking that she blessed us with during my stay, we hit up a few hot spots in the city. I would say my top pick is "D Bar". Never have I ever been able to order a classic "milk and cookies" at a restaurant, but here, all things are possible. Grant it, these were the chewiest, most rich, delectable cookies served with a tall glass of cold milk. Like, I'm pretty sure I got a glimpse of heaven as I devoured that dish. Aside from their dessert, the restaurant does pretty well on the non-dessert side of things as well. Their parmesan fries ("Crue Fries" on the menu) are also the best I ever had. On to the next, we had lunch at this cute Asian bistro, "Hapa Sushi". It's one of those order-to-share restaurants which are always the best, because then you get to try like the whole menu, and whoever you came with can't get mad at you for taking food off their plate because that's how it works! The only downside is that you also have to share what's on your plate. Bummer. We ordered various plates including the calamari, Korean beef sliders, the "Orgasm" rolls, and the "Monkey Brain".  One night, we went out in downtown Denver, and stopped by a couple cool places, the first one being the ice cream spot that Jay-Z himself stopped by after one of his shows out there a couple years ago. The spot is  called "Little Man Ice Cream", which I found ironic for such a notorious man to choose as his destination dessert spot. Nonetheless, I felt empowered as I was walking in Jay-Z's footsteps. (Please excuse my fangirl moment.) Lastly, we grabbed dinner at "Brother's" where I had the most amazing "fish and chips" of my life. Not sure if it was the munchies or if it was just that good, but either way shout out to them.

FUN: Whether you participate in mary-jane or not, visiting the dispensary is an experience in itself. It was cool to see how something that was once illegal (and still is in other parts of the U.S.) is now organized and sorted out into cases where employees help you "pick out" the best form and variation for you like your local jewelry store. I'm not a big smoker so I opted for some strawberry shortcake edibles, and my friend snagged a 24k roll (yes, rolled in 24k gold paper). Aside from that, Denver is a gorgeous city all around. The majestic views of the mountains will captivate you, and if you can get a chance to go up in them, do so. We unfortunately had to cancel our horse-back riding session through the mountains due to weather, but it is at the top of my list for next time. Downtown Denver is also extremely nice and it really comes alive at night, as well as Pearl Street in Boulder. I can't wait to go back!

New York City

Recently, I took a trip to the “Concrete Jungle”. I went for my birthday as a gift from myself (and my bo) and I figured I’d do some shopping. After all, New York is one of the greatest cities for shopping with all of their larger-than-life versions of the stores we have back home. (A three story Victoria Secret is the closest thing to heaven on earth as I know it, and let’s not forget Macy’s New York where one can easily get lost in.) But New York has so much more to offer than its shopping, so next time you’re in the city, make sure you get a good taste of the “Big Apple” with its unique food places and attractions. Here are a few spots I’ve tried along with some advice on how to get around and score the best deals in the “City That Never Sleeps” so that you aren’t exhausted and neither are your pockets.

Well first thing’s first, if you want to save, you have to plan. Me and my bo got our plane tickets a little over a month in advance through Expedia at a cheap rate of $176 coach/roundtrip. We flew through JetBlue, which I was a little skeptical about since I have never flown through them, but let me be the one to tell you… Best. Domestic. Flight experience. Ever. I was so pleasantly surprised with everything with this airline from my first checked bag only being an easy $20 to how they boarded the plane from back to front (instead of the twisted method of front to back that some airlines use) so that you’re not whacking people in the face with your bags as you maneuver down that skinny aisle to personal tv’s for every seat (with a great channel selection I might add) to how much space there was to stretch out. JetBlue definitely upholds their title of being the airline with “the most legroom in coach”. My honey and I were so comfortable. He was able to stretch his legs out and watch the football game and I was able to stretch my legs across his lap as I watched “Two Broke Girls”. We could’ve easily spent a few more hours on the plane. All in all, I’m a sticker for great service and getting the most out of my dollar, and I was so pleased with JetBlue I became a TrueBlue member as soon as I returned from my trip. So worth it.

But enough about that. Once you’ve booked your flight, you gotta figure out where to stay. With New York (and pretty much everywhere all over) the closer you stay to and within the city, the more expensive the hotels will be. Now I know how exciting it can be to stay in the middle of all the commotion of the city but it will be on you to decide if it’s worth it. I chose to stay at the W Downtown in the Financial District which was still close to attractions like the 9/11 Memorial and the ferry’s and one of my favorite stores Century 21. The rate I paid for a nice room (with a view) in a fancy hotel like The W outside of the city was equivalent to the rate you would pay for a standard room in say, a Holiday Inn within the city. And honestly, it was nice to wind down in a quieter, less busy area of NYC after spending all day in the hustle and bustle of the city. You just have to decide what’s worth it to you.

Now with getting around this big place, we all know taking cabs and uber rides can get pretty expensive. But why spend so much money on auto transportation when you have the very convenient New York subways right at your feet (or below your feet literally). While we were there, we didn’t spend a dime on a cab or uber even when it came to getting to and from the airport. We opted to take the air-train to Jamaica-Queens and then got on a subway straight to our hotel. It’s about the same amount of time, but so much cheaper. However, my bo and I did learn that if you’re going to be using the subway a lot to get around it’s more cost-efficient to purchase the 7-day unlimited rides ticket even if you’re just there for the weekend. (The 7day/unlimited pass was around $30, where we spent roughly $50 in subway rides over the three days that we were there. Plus it just gives you extra room for mistakes if you don’t quite know where you’re going and happen to get lost in the underground maze.)

As far as things to do in the city, the list can go on and on. There’s so much more to NYC than the classic Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building visits. We went and checked out the renowned Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, which we really enjoyed more than we thought we would. It was just so much fun taking pics of and with our favorite stars, and our ticket also afforded us this cool “4D Avengers experience” thing they’re doing right now. (I’ve never seen my boyfriend turn so much into a big kid.) My advice is to purchase the online “Late Saver” tickets. They’re the cheapest tickets at  only $25 per person and it grants you access to the museum anytime after 6 pm plus the extra 4D mini-movie.

Now on to the good part, FOOD. Here are a few good restaurants that are a must-try next time you’re in the city.  Whenever, I’m traveling, my go-to is Groupon to look for cool restaurants and places to eat that I wouldn’t otherwise come across on my own (and then the plus is that I’m getting a discounted rate for my meal. :)) Anyways, I came across this restaurant near our hotel called Ambrose whose specialty menu items were lobster rolls and beer. Sounded like a perfect meal to me! Previously, I had never heard of lobster rolls until then but let me tell you, Ambrose has the best. Mind you, Ambrose is the only place I ever had a lobster roll but it was just that good. Their lobster rolls have just the right amount of seasoning and butter and the bread is soft. To add to the “straight-from-the-harbor” character (and taste) of the dish, they serve the lobster rolls with Cape Cod chips. How cute! Another restaurant to add to your hit list is Bill’s Bar and Burger which is also located in the Financial District. They specialize in gourmet burgers and sandwiches which I must admit they do a pretty good job at. I got the “Onion Soup Patty Melt” which is a combination of Swiss cheese, American cheese, caramelized onions, and thousand island dressing on marble rye bread, and bae went big with the CNN’s Top 10 Burger awarded “Fat Cat” burger. Both are de-lish. Then of course, you can’t forget about breakfast. I found a cute little Irish brunch spot on Groupon called Nelly Spillane’s where we enjoyed impeccable service and classic brunch foods with mimosas- a perfect way to start your day. And last but not least… DESSERT. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll love Sprinkles cupcake bakery with every cupcake flavor you can imagine.

I must say I enjoyed my little trip to the Big Apple, but I was so delighted to return to my quieter, less populated hometown. As much as I would love to be a true NYC gal, I don’t think I’m cut out for all the commotion and motion of the city so I’ll leave that to the pros. This chick has to have our beaches around her. But I’ll be back soon to explore the Concrete Jungle again Comment your fave places of NYC below and maybe I’ll check them out next time I go!