One Week in Provence

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You may have remembered that I mentioned earlier in the spring that my sister and brother-in-law would be living in Geneva for the summer while she finished up her master’s degree. I’m happy, so pleased really, to report that her master’s is completely finished, which comes as a tremendous relief, I know. But, it’s also such a shame because it means she and her husband are no longer in Switzerland and I’m left moping about wondering what in the world we are going to do on the weekends now that they’re no longer here. Honestly, it’s not that bad, but saying goodbye to them a couple of weeks ago sure wasn’t pretty.

To cap off our summer together, and to truly celebrate both Courtney and Jared graduating from their master’s programs, we decided to go to Provence for a week with our parents.  The theme for the week was “relaxation” and we made sure to find an Airbnb with a big pool and lots of areas in which to lounge and nap. We liked that the location was quiet and removed from a big city center. But it was still easy to plan day trips to nearby hill towns and even the sea.

Overall it was a really, really lovely week. We read books, swam in the pool (my dad is the biggest water baby!), played Uno, cooked dinner, went out to eat, shared breakfast in the mornings on the patio, explored and relaxed. We talked about the babies and wondered aloud what it will be like when they arrive, everyone excited for two new family members with which to share all this fun and love. Thinking about that week makes me a bit weepy (not a challenge at all these days) because I love and miss my family so much. Spending such quality time with them was priceless.

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For every nice picture of Courtney and me there are always three that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Adam calls them “outtakes” but we call them “magic.”

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After a long drive from Geneva we decided we wanted our first full day to be spent at the house enjoying the amenities. We slept in and had a long breakfast on the terrace before parking it poolside for the rest of the day. We did venture out that evening for dinner at La Table d’Yves, a fancy restaurant on a vineyard that sits right next to Fayence’s famous aerodrome. You can sip a glass of wine on their beautiful covered patio and watch the gliders land. The food was delicious even if the staff were a bit stuffy.

The next day we drove about 45 minutes to Saint-Raphaël, a beachside town in between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. It was too hot to explore the old town so we spent most of our time at the family-friendly beach. There is a good stretch of public beach—and nearby Frejus has a lot of open sand as well—but we opted for an organized beach with loungers and umbrellas. The staff was very accommodating and we had one of the best beach lunches I can remember. The water was perfect for frequent dips and it proved to be a relaxing day at the beach, ending with a ferris wheel ride!

A quick note: cars proved essential for this trip. We rented them in Geneva and drove the whole way instead of taking a train there and picking up the car in Cannes or Nice. Public transportation among the small towns is unpredictable and infrequent and you’ll be limited to bigger tourist hubs if you opt for this option. I’d recommend renting a car instead and tailoring your countryside trip to include exactly what you want to see and allow for last-minute changes and additions. Just make sure you have navigation or google maps handy on your phone!

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Um, matching hats?? Yes, please!

The next day we went to Fayence, which was a ten-minute drive from our place, for their weekly market–a recommendation from our Airbnb host. We got there early not only to beat the heat but also the crowds and we all left with lots of local treasures and gifts. It’s a really sweet town and I’d recommend stopping there for a visit if you’re in the area.

We had our best meal at Le 8 and I urge you to stop there as much for the fun and gracious company of the hosts as the French food. The menu is limited to five or six dishes but they are all fantastic and the location is charming, to boot.

That afternoon we were all pooped from walking around so we relaxed–where else?–by the pool before grilling that night for dinner. In case you’re wondering, I read Among the Ten Thousand Things while we were there and really enjoyed it. A good, if slightly bleak, summer read.

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We spent a full day in Cannes and had fun trolling the old town and sipping very swanky cocktails (or, er, alcohol-free beer) at a ritzy hotel when the heat became too much. We wanted to go out on a boat this day but it was too breezy and they canceled all the trips. I’d recommend exploring Le Suquet for beautiful views of the sea and harbor and admiring the high-end shops, at least from the street. Before heading back we took a walk to check out the yachts and each picked out our favorite–maybe for Christmas this year!

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Our last full day was spent close to home. Courtney, Jared, and Dad explored a nearby hill town for lunch, while Adam, Mom, and I stayed back to read and swim. Of course, once everyone got back it was time for a little burst mode action by the pool. I need to find a way to get all the images into gifs because scrolling through them is one of my new favorite pastimes. I love the energy!

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That night we drove back to Fayence for dinner at Restaurant Le France, how typical! We had an excellent dinner here and celebrated our parent’s 35th wedding anniversary exactly one month early. It was fun to hear them talk about their wedding day and some of their favorite moments throughout their marriage. We also talked a lot about our childhood and it is so funny to hear what everyone remembers–it’s often so different from what is crystalized in your own memory. I would highly recommend this place for dinner, and snag a table outside if you can.

That was Bastille day, July 14th, and we purposely stayed close to home that day and night to avoid crowds and traffic. We woke up early the next morning to hit the road and were devastated by the news that 84 people had been killed in Nice the night before. It was heartbreaking and incredibly sobering after an idyllic week spent together. The world is a very scary and confusing place right now and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t be bracing for the next tragedy. It was a chilling reminder to hold your loved ones close and not take for granted all that we’ve been given.

Three Days in the Cotswolds

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After a few days in busy London we made our way to Oxford where we picked up a rental car that would get us further into the Cotswolds, a rural area of rolling hills, thatched-roof homes, and endless charm, where we would stay for a few days. The drive was smooth (if not effortless–thanks Adam for braving the “wrong” side of the road!) and beautiful and we were so happy to arrive at The Lamb Inn in Burford.

I cannot recommend this little bed & breakfast highly enough. It was located on a side street, meaning it was extra quiet, and all the quaint touches around the inn made it feel so special and cozy. In the sitting rooms two fires were regularly stoked each day (despite temperatures in the 60s and 70s…we didn’t mind!), and it was full of over-stuffed chairs and sofas perfect for nursing a pint of local brew or a cup of tea and reading a good book. There was also a pub with delicious food and a restaurant that would be a perfect spot for a bit of a fancy dinner. I loved the cheery and comfortable rooms and the staff couldn’t have been more lovely. Can you tell I loved this place?! I would go back in an instant.

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After a late lunch of fish and chips and bangers and mash, we all went out for a walk through town to check out the adorable cottages and shops that were already closing up for the day. That night we ate at The Highway Inn, which is a local favorite. Unfortunately they were out of all the best things on the menu but overall it was a pretty good dinner.

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The next day we took some recommendations from the staff and headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, and Broadway—all little villages dotted throughout the countryside. We took our time in each spot and enjoyed window shopping, walking the narrow streets, and stopping in pubs and cafes for a break. It was a leisurely day with little agenda; I loved it.

A few snaps from Stow-on-the-Wold:

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Taller than Adam for once!

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One tip would be to bring rain gear wherever you go. A sprinkle or mid-day rain is not uncommon and it’s best to be prepared with a rain jacket or umbrella. Also, comfortable shoes are a must, as are layers. English weather has a tendency to turn drafty and cool so come bearing layers.

Also I would srecommend you rent a car for a proper visit. There are a handful of tours you can take that will stop off at many of the towns in the Gloucestershire area, but it was so nice to have our own car and to make our own itinerary. You’ll just need to remember to keep to the left!

And a few snaps from Chipping Campden

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We ate dinner in Broadway that evening at The Swan, which was tasty. In fact, I wish would could have spent a little more time there as it looked very cute and full of fun shops. But there are so many little towns in the area that it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.

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The next day we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and I’m sorry to say that this was one spot that actually did disappoint. For such a small place it is so overdeveloped and cheesy that I didn’t actually enjoy walking around there too much. It might have been nicer to spend more time walking along the river but the pouring rain drove us out of town early. Of course if you are hoping to see something from the Royal Shakespeare Company then it is worth a visit, otherwise I’d recommend skipping it.

That afternoon I had tea and scones in our room while Adam explored Burford a bit more and we had a nice (anniversary!) dinner at The Bull (order the rarebit as a starter). We took off early in the morning to catch a bus from Oxford to Heathrow and made it back to Bern in time for summer to arrive! Boy, we are so happy to see the sun here. It’s like a different place.

I’d love to come back to the Cotswolds sometime and imagine renting a place in the country for a couple weeks with family and friends. It was so relaxing and peaceful and everyone was so friendly. Have you been? I’d definitely suggest going there for a country holiday after a bustling London tour.

Italy: Wine Tasting, Sienna, and Pisa

IMG_0534On our last full day in Italy we decided to stick close to our home base and go wine tasting in Montepulciano. I mentioned before that it’s wise to call ahead to a winery and either book a tasting appointment or at least confirm that the tasting room is open, but we scrapped our own good advice and just went for it. Honestly, I think we got lucky but if you’re willing to be turned away at a winery or two then why not head out on the open road and discover what’s out there?

Early afternoon on Friday we set off for a specific winery that completely escapes my memory at this point, but they turned us away because we didn’t have an appointment. We back-tracked a bit to Lunadoro, which had a sign out front saying they were open. Good enough for us! We drove up a narrow, gravel driveway (very typical for the area) and found the winery in the very back of the property. Though they looked closed, they were more than happy to have us visit and Barbara served us a number of tastings, which were wonderful. We brought home a bottle of their Eclisse for a special occasion.

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She recommended we visit Avignonesi for their cellar and wines, but we only managed to enjoy the latter since we didn’t have an appointment. Their tasting room is open all day so we were able to pick a corner booth and enjoy a flight of their wines. Had the weather been better I would have liked to sit out on their patio, which looks like a lovely place to take in the surrounding hills.

IMG_0485Lastly, we stopped by Poliziano on our way back into town. This winery, along with Avignonesi, is one of the biggest producers in the region so you’ll probably be directed here by your hotel or host. The tasting room is also open all day so I imagine you can stop by anytime as long as you aren’t in a big group. But, for a tour of the property and cellar you need an appointment. We tried some nice wines here as well and snagged a couple bottles for home.

Overall it was a fun afternoon of learning about Vino di Montepulciano, the region’s most distinguished wine, as well as Rosso di Montepulciano and other local varieties. I should mention that this was a completely self-guided tour (see here for more good info) and we always designated a driver to keep us safe on the windy, narrow roads. So, when you’re out there, make good choices : )

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Saturday was Phil’s day! Earlier in the week we each decided on a non-negotiable, a sight or experience that was a must, and Phil’s was the Leaning Tower of Pisa (mine was Orvietto and Adam’s was Brunello wine tasting in Montalcino). We decided to visit Sienna very quickly in the morning since it was somewhat on the way. Sienna is a beautiful medieval town with incredible history. Of course it is completely overrun with tourists on the weekend (we were there on a Saturday morning…yikes) so I would recommend a visit on a quieter weekday. I don’t necessarily recommend running in and running out like we did, but a quick visit to the top of the tower, overlooking the famous scallop-shaped square was totally worth the mad dash.

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IMG_0524Following this speedy adventure we headed way west toward Pisa. It’s an uneventful drive, especially after the beauty of central and southern Tuscany, but we were there in under two hours so it’s an easy trip to make if you have the time. We went specifically to see the leaning tower…along with a million other people. It’s no surprise that this area is always laden with tourists so just enjoy the ride. We relaxed at a cafe for a little while after seeing the tower, but I can’t imagine spending much more than a couple hours in Pisa. It has a mostly manufactured charm. Still! Go to see the tower if it’s on your list. It really is beautiful and quite the spectacle.

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IMG_0547Cheesing out super hard might be one of my favorite activities here. You can’t help but be inspired : )

Italy, we LOVE you! I mean, we really, really love you. What a special place. Have you been? What were your favorite places to visit? Next time we go I want to head way south and visit the Amalfi coast…

For more on Italy:

Italy: Pienza, Montechiello, and Montalcino

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IMG_0418This whole post could be pictures of sunsets and vineyards and it would accurately describe these couple of days in Tuscany. As we looked out the car window we kept saying, Wow, and, Man, that is beautiful! Tuscany was not short on stunning views, yet we never felt immune to its charms and beauty. The golden hour and sunsets? Simply stunning.

One thing I really liked about this trip was our relatively loose itinerary. I knew there were a couple of hill towns I wanted to see in the area and we all knew we never wanted to feel rushed, so visiting one or two towns a day felt very reasonable. We would sleep in, make scrambled eggs and coffee, ease into the day and pick a spot to visit over breakfast and reading. It felt spontaneous and relaxed but still productive. Of course we wanted to “see the sights” but taking our time and indulging in quiet mornings was just as much of a priority on this vacation.

Pienza was recommended to us and lucky for us it was only 20 minutes away from Montepulciano by car. It’s a very small town that is overrun with tourists on the weekend so we were happy to find it only partially full on a Tuesday afternoon. Pienza is home to pecorino tuscano cheese so be sure to set aside some time for tasting in the local cheese shops.

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IMG_0216The alleys and streets are picturesque and dotted with novelty shops and cafes. We opted to walk around the little cathedral and grab a couple beers at the Tabacchi in the main square and people watch. We also had some really delicious gelato here…

After buying cheese and salami we got back in the car and headed to Montechiello, which is about 30-40 minutes away from Pienza. I know measuring distance in time sounds a bit obtuse, but those roads! They’re so windy and there are so many little routes you could take that I could never keep track of it all. If you tend to get carsick, as I do, keep a steady constitution and your eyes on the road.

I had read somewhere that Montechiello had beautiful sunsets and it certainly did not disappoint. We walked around the teeny village, bought a little souvenir, and grabbed an aperitivo from a wine shop outside the city walls for the sunset.

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IMG_0243Right inside the walls is a well-known restaurant called La Porta (by the way, I noticed that almost every town has a restaurant called either La Porta or La Grotta; sometimes both). We were unable to get reservations the night before but snuck in this night and boy am I grateful. It was our favorite meal of the trip and a very memorable night. The service at the restaurant is wonderful and we felt very well taken care of. They have a phenomenal wine list, and might I suggest treating yourself to something special and unique? I’d highly recommend making the sunset and dinner a part of your itinerary. Booking essential.

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IMG_0268Attenzione, ladies! Phil likes running, skiing, cool music, good food and wine, and the Kansas City Royals, among other notable pastimes : )

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IMG_0294^^La Porta (you could snag those outdoor seats if you’re lucky!)IMG_0280

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IMG_0315Wednesday was our major chill day. We slept in blissfully late, cooked breakfast, wandered around Montepulciano, and then when the rain got too bad, grabbed groceries and came back to the house. I think we were all back in our jammies by 3:00 p.m. The rest of the day was a blend of napping, reading, cards, and snacking. We went to bed early and indulged in the rainy day.

Before the week started we each decided on something that was essential for our trip. I really wanted to revisit Orvieto, Phil wanted a massage (they are prohibitively expensive here in Switzerland), and Adam wanted to taste wine in Montalcino, which is known for their world class wine. So we dedicated Thursday to all things Brunello di Montalcino.

A note on visiting tasting rooms and vineyards: We were in Italy during the harvest time, which meant that the wineries were busier than usual, but no less willing to entertain visitors. That said, it’s important to check out each winery you wish to go to so you know if they are by appointment only, or if they have set visiting hours. We had to book some appointments at least a day or two in advance so it’s helpful if you know a couple places you’d like to go. We also got ideas from locals and other tourists so be open to trying new places if you aren’t too picky. We did, however, get very lucky on Friday when we were driving around Montepulciano and stopped into three different wineries without making appointments and were able to taste at all three. When in doubt, call ahead! (this post was helpful)

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IMG_0401We scheduled an afternoon visit to Molino di Sant’Antimo and were lucky enough to be the only guests. It’s a family-run establishment and Valeria, the winemaker pictured above, gave us a tour of each part of their operation. It’s incredible to hear how much work goes into making wine each year and how much is totally out of their control. Brunello di Montalcino is some of the highest valued and most prized wine in the world and there are a lot of rules that winemakers must adhere to in order to be classified as true Brunello DOCG. This summer was hot and dry–perfect for making wine–so we are looking forward to trying the 2015 vintage, which we won’t be able to do until 2020. The 2011 will be released in February of next year but we were able to try a glass in their tasting room, which also doubles as the family’s dining room. A true family operation! It was a fantastic visit and we look forward to trying more of their wines in the future.

Afterward we went to Poggio Antico, a large winery on the other side of Montalcino. We had had a bottle of their 2007 Brunello Riserva at La Porta in Montechiello so we were eager to see where it came from. Again, we scheduled an appointment and showed up with several other tourists. The property is immense and gorgeous. The wines were delicious—and we brought several home as souvenirs for the future—but the real treat here was the sunset.

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IMG_4463It could have been the wine talking, but this was one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. We debated which is the better sunset, beach or mountain/hill, and mountain/hill might win out. Thoughts? (p.s. having to decide on the winner in this debate is firmly classified under “not a real problem”.)

I can’t speak to the actual town of Montalcino because we only showed up for dinner but based on our cursory glance I would say it’s definitely worth a stop on your trip. It looks like a lot of other towns, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. We had dinner at San Giorgio (and picked up yet more wine at their wine shop across the street), but Il Giglio also came recommended. Had we time enough I would have liked to stop in the fortress where there also happens to be a nice wine bar–ask for Jo.

I’m beginning to cringe slightly at how many times the word “wine” appears in this post, but we wholly embraced the “when in Rome” ethos on this trip. We were surrounded by world class wines and it was fun to feel a part of that world for a while. And, to be honest, we also just like wine : )

The last bits of Italy coming next week!

Italy: Montepulciano and Orvieto (and Radicofani)

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IMG_0093If you are planning a trip through central Tuscany, might I politely suggest finding a nice farmhouse or villa for your stay? And might I further suggest Montepulciano as your base? Because it is perfect and wonderful.

Adam was tasked with finding our lodging for the week and he did such a terrific job picking this spot that it might be his job forever! Really, though, it was in a great location, just outside of town but close enough to a supermarket where we could pick up ingredients for breakfasts and dinners at home. He found it through the Agriturismo website and we’d recommend checking there if you’re planning a similar trip, anywhere in Italy.

We liked Montepulciano, perhaps one of the bigger Tuscan hill towns. There are lots of shops and wine bars, not to mention exceptional views from the fortress tower within the city walls.

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IMG_0103It is hilly! Our guidebook said it would “push our quads to their failure point”, but I’m proud to say that we’re all in good enough shape that that wasn’t an issue. But stops at the city’s numerous wine bars helped break up all that trekking. As I said, there are many, but we would highly recommend La Bottega del Nobile. They carry over 300 labels of Tuscan wine, along with other Italian varieties. Over 60 of these are on tap and you can taste as many as you’d like. You’re given a card with whatever euro amount you choose and simply insert it when you’d like a try— the amount will automatically be deducted. Samples are offered in three different sizes so you can have just a taste of something new or a glass of an old favorite. You’ll find Paolo working the rooms, offering suggestions and little-known facts.

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IMG_0356We had one meal here, which really wasn’t that good, unfortunately, but otherwise took our meals either at home or at other cities. So I can’t really say much about the dining in Montepulciano. If I ever have the chance to go back I’d love to try out a few like La Grotta and Osteria Acquacheta.

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IMG_0152On Monday we visited Orvieto, which is an hour’s drive from Montepulciano, and actually located in Umbria. It’s another beautiful hill town that was originally founded by the Etruscans, well before those pesky Romans showed up. You’ll spot it immediately from the highway, as the volcanic cliff it sits on is quite dramatic. I visited this city with my family eight years ago and it was a treat to revisit it. It’s very busy during the day, but I’d love to stay overnight sometime to see the city in all its charm.

We visited the cathedral, which is a must. It’s probably one of my favorite churches. The striped travertine is stunning and the carvings on the facade are exceptional. They were created in the 14th century and tell almost the entire biblical story over four panels. Unfortunately the mosaics were covered by scaffolding, but they are striking as well. It’s a beautiful space.

Afterward we went for lunch. I had picked two restaurants (Trattoria del Moro Aronne and Osteria Numero Uno) and both were closed! Typical Monday in Europe, especially in tourist towns where restaurants will stay open on Sunday to accommodate additional crowds. So, do your research beforehand. We ended up a Restaurant Le Duca by chance and it was fantastic. Porcini mushrooms are a local seasonal favorite and they were so good along with the regional pasta, pici. When you’re in Orvieto it behooves you to try the local white wine.

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There are hundreds of caves that lie below the city, but most are private cellars and basements. You can take a tour of the larger public caves, which we did in the afternoon. Otherwise we spent the day walking and walking, pausing for gelato and cathedral views.

That evening we planned to go to Montechiello for sunset views and dinner in town. Instead, we were forced to take a detour on one of the area’s long, windy roads and found ourselves in Radicofani. One of my favorite things about Phil is that when he sees a tower, or any tall structure, he has to find a way to get to the top. So you can imagine how our plans changed upon seeing this from miles and miles away:

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The fortress in Radicofani sits atop a hill so high that on a clear day you can see it from Siena, 60 kilometers, or 37 miles, away. It dates back to the 10th century and offers some of the best views of the Val d’Orcia. It costs a few euros to enter and the grounds are well maintained and really, the view is stunning. We explored the area for a bit before heading into down to find dinner. I’ve never seen a ghost town quite like this, but it was charming and idyllic all the same. There was only one restaurant, La Grotta, and though we were initially the only diners, the place filled up with locals and other random tourists. In fact, it was one of our favorite meals of the week—authentic, delicious and simple flavors.

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IMG_4390My biggest takeaway from this day is that it’s important to remain open to new agendas and destinations. We had never planned on going to Radicofani, much less even heard of it, yet we had a lovely afternoon and evening there. Having a week to explore a region allows for a looser itinerary, which can be such a luxury. It’s more about the journey than the destination sometimes, though it’s hard to imagine going wrong in Tuscany.

More photos and highlights to come!

Off to Italy!

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IMG_1472.JPGAdam, Phil, and I are on our way to Florence today! I haven’t been since I studied abroad there 8 years ago and I am looking forward to revisiting some of my favorite sights and apologizing for being a silly 20-year-old in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

We’ll be visiting the Uffizi, walking along the Arno, eating too much pasta and gelato, looking at sculptures, ogling the Duomo, and enjoying the slower pace of Italian life. On Saturday we are renting a car and driving to a Tuscan villa to camp out for a week. We’re staying at a working vineyard and we’re just in time for harvest. Plus, it’s truffle season! It will be bliss.

Adam has a very generous vacation leave and we’ve been hoping for a chance to take a holiday that is longer than one week but it hasn’t been in the cards for us this year. Finally we are getting ten full days in one place and it will be so lovely to stretch out and enjoy ourselves and not feel so rushed. Long weekends in a new city are always fun, but ten days in a country: yes!

I’ll be leaving this space for a while as you can probably understand. Our Tuscan location will be remote so I’m not sure how reliable our internet connection will be, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can always find me on Instagram, but like I mentioned, we’ll see how active that is.

Wish you and yours a lovely couple of weeks and I’ll be back the last week of September, by which time it will be fall. Can you believe it?!

Until then.

Iceland: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

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IMG_8955I had been looking forward to exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula the entire trip for reasons I am not entirely sure I can articulate. The limited images I had seen looked unreal (even more unreal than anything we’d seen previously) and I was sure that it would be a place I’d never forget. Sometimes it’s dangerous to put such high expectations on a location, but in this case they were well warranted.

The coastline of the peninsula is dotted with fishing villages and the area as a whole is dominated by the Snæfellsnes mountain, which is further topped by a massive glacier. On a clear day you can even see it from Reykjavik. And although you certainly will pass the wandering tourist, it’s much quieter than the other places we visited in Iceland. We loved the solitude.IMG_8965

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We stayed at The Old Post Office Guesthouse in Grundarfjörður, which is on the north side of the peninsula. It was a comfortable place to stay but it’s important to note that there is no organized breakfast. There’s a grocery store a short walk down the street where you can pick up provisions, which we would recommend. The local cafe doesn’t open until later in the day so you’ll want to fix something yourself. There’s a saga museum close by where you can enjoy a small breakfast and good coffee; it opens at 9:00.

After hunting down our own morning meal we hit the road to explore the area. We had plans to go whale-watching in the afternoon but when we arrived in Ólafsvík where the boat was set to depart the captain told us that the weather would not be great and we’d probably only see a few dolphins and maybe a whale. Four hours on a rocky boat in the rain sounded less than ideal so we took a hard pass. I was disappointed because it was something I was really looking forward to, but it became clear very quickly that the weather would be perfect on land as opposed to out at sea.

From Ólafsvík we headed west toward the very end of the peninsula. Our guesthouse proprietress told us about a few sights that we should see, the first of which was a lighthouse.

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IMG_9052It was at this point that I felt the furthest removed from anything and everything. It was just us out there for a while and we felt so isolated. It’s hard to visualize because there are no trees or shrubs or tall grasses so you can’t see the effects of how windy it was, but the wind was positively howling. Standing there bearing the winds (I can’t imagine if it had been raining…), you can almost grasp how hardy Icelanders are. The landscape is so desolate and barren and inhospitable. It’s really incredible.

I do want to note how rocky and rugged the road is out to the very tip of the peninsula. Our car, which you can see up there, did just fine, but you’ll want to take it slow and pay careful attention to the turns and drops. The view is definitely worth the drive.

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IMG_9064From here we drove south and slightly east to get to Hellnar, which had also been recommended to us. We stopped for a coffee and cake and listened to the sea. I would have loved to spend the night here, as it’s so quiet and remote, but it was completely booked by the time we made reservations. You feel like you’re at the end of the earth.

There’s a footpath that connects Hellnar and Arnarstapi that’s especially beautiful in the summertime. We drove to Arnarstapi instead (it’s less than ten minutes by car) and walked along the coast there. We watched the seabirds nestle into the cliff sides and were mesmerized by the waves.

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IMG_9070There’s a nice cafe here where you could have lunch or a snack and there’s even a guesthouse should you want to spend the night. we decided to head back toward the hotel since we had been on the road for almost 7 hours at this point. I know that sounds wild since the peninsula is so small but we really tried to cover it all and take our time. Adam made a good point earlier in the day when we were trying to force a few things (breakfast at the cafe, whale watching) that we should let the day come to us and I think it’s a great way to travel. We may start the day or the trip with an itinerary and some points of interest, but it’s important to let activities unfold as they may and be flexible to spontaneity. Once we let the day come to us we had the best time.

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IMG_9099We found out shortly after we arrived in Iceland that hitchhiking is a popular way to get around the country. The people are friendly and the distances not too terribly far, so it seems like a natural option for the budget traveler. We agreed that while that may be good for them it was not for us and we would not be picking up any hitchhikers.

On our way back to Grundarfjörður from Arnarstapi we took the mountain pass that we had driven over earlier in the day. It’s a beautiful route that offers a gorgeous view from the top. Just as we started up we saw a girl standing on the side of the road waving her arms obviously looking for a lift. We drove right by, remembering our rule from above. But as we passed her we realized that she had no pack or gear and that this road is a long way up and over. We were worried that she was in trouble and needed help. We pulled over and stopped the car and she began excitedly jumping up and down and waved over her friend who was in a ditch with their packs. We had been duped! She and her friend were Slovenian college students on a shoestring budget, planning to hitchhike around the entire country in just under a month. We broke our own rule and gave them a ride over the pass, dropping them off about five kilometers from their final destination, which was in the opposite direction of where we were going. After telling this story to a friend who is well versed in the art of hitching a ride, apparently that’s Hitchhiking 101: look slightly helpless and alone, ensuring you pull on a few heartstrings.

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IMG_9144That evening we had dinner at the local restaurant and ended the night playing cards and drinking wine in our room. There was a beautiful sun-shower that we ran outside for, but otherwise it was an uneventful evening. We stayed awake until the sunset at 12:14 and called it a night.

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IMG_9161On Friday we left Grundarfjörður and made our way back toward Reykjavik. We stopped by Álafoss Wool Store in Mofellsbær to buy a wool blanket like we had seen at The Old Post Office Guesthouse. It’s a beautiful and cozy reminder of our time in Iceland and I love having the visual in our room of one of our favorite trips.

We then headed to the Blue Lagoon for the remainder of the afternoon. It was the perfect way to end the trip and we left there completely exhausted. It’s touristy and overpriced, sure, but it was a fun way to spend the day. We’d recommend getting there earlier in the afternoon and booking ahead of time so you are guaranteed admission.

We stayed at a hotel by the airport since our flight was so early on Saturday morning, but we drove back into Reykjavik for one last meal. We ate dinner at Matur og Drykkur and it was outstanding. Adam had an entire cod’s head and I had Arctic char for the millionth time. We loved it and would highly recommend a special dinner here.

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IMG_9171Oh, Iceland, we love you! You are so beautiful and ethereal, kind and generous. We will be singing your praises for years and years to come.

If you’re interested in visiting Iceland (which you should be!) you can include it as a layover on your trip to Europe. If you fly over on Icelandic Air, you can include an up-to seven-day layover at no extra cost. Getting to and from Iceland, and then of course staying on the island, is very expensive so this is a cost-effective way to include it into your larger itinerary. Definitely worth a look if you’re considering a visit!

Have you been to Iceland? What did you think? It’s such a magical place, I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself someday. In case you’re interested here are the other days of our trip:

Reykjavik and the Golden Circle

Hella to Vík to Jökusárlón

Jökusárlón to Snæfellsnes Peninsula