Birthday Girl, Part 2

From classic Shakespearean theatre to the great outdoors, my husband planned the perfect birthday weekend getaway!

We road tripped down to southern Oregon, stopping once at the In-N-Out in Grants Pass. It’s the closest location to Portland–about 4 hours away–and one of only two locations in the whole state. I mean, if it’s on the way, you gotta stop! This girl loves her burgers.

I snapped a pic of this road sign because it had both our destinations on it: the historic hotel where we would be staying at, and of course, the Festival itself.

My grandparents used to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival almost every year for their wedding anniversary (I always say they’re where my love for classic lit came from!). They both passed away when I was in my teens, but they weren’t far from my mind this weekend when we saw Romeo and Juliet.

We watched the famous play of star-crossed lovers performed underneath the stars in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. It’s an outdoor theatre, and, though it was a chilly evening, it was such a treat.

Peacoat: H&M (similar) Striped Top: Adrianna Papell (similar here and here) Black Jeans: Topshop Clutch: Saint Laurent Shoes: Franco Sarto (similar)

I wore a wool coat over a long-sleeved blouse, but I was admittedly still a bit cold. Many playgoers brought blankets with them, which was definitely a good idea this time of year (the evening temperatures were in the mid 50’s). The play’s start time was 8pm and was almost three hours long (including an intermission in the middle).

As for the play itself, I very much enjoyed the set design, the Elizabethan-style costumes that had a modern edge, and the high quality caliber of the actors (we weren’t permitted to take photos inside the theatre itself due to copyright laws). Juliet’s performance was especially memorable–the actress balanced the character’s youthful innocence and fierce passion extremely well. My husband thought Friar Lawrence provided the perfect dose of humor and wit to the tragic nature of the play.

I first read this play in high school in my freshman English class, when I was 14 and quite near Juliet’s own age of 13. Like a lot of teenage girls, I was a bit fanciful then–the whole notion of love at first sight seemed romantic, and the idea of a secret elopement felt exciting and forbidden.

Now I’m 27 and–needless to say–have a bit more life experience under my belt. I studied the play several times in college, but something that struck me this time around was the fact that Romeo and Juliet share only four scenes together–technically five if you count the death scene at the end; however, they don’t speak with each other because at first Juliet is still asleep, and then by the time she wakes up, Romeo has already killed himself. This is one of the most iconic plays in English literature, and the title characters barely interact with each other!

And yet, four scenes is all it takes. The eloquence of Shakespeare’s writing, the immensity of what’s at stake, and the timeless romanticism of forbidden young love all make it the great tragedy that it is.

Before the play, we had dinner at Larks, a cozy local restaurant adjacent to the Ashland Springs Hotel. I had one of their daily specials (the salmon was excellent!), and I was grateful my husband had made reservations weeks prior to our visit because it was such a busy spot.

We’d also made our hotel reservations at Ashland Springs about 5 months prior (Ashland is a small town and the hotel is so conveniently located to the Festival–barely two blocks away!).

The next day, we headed out on Crater Lake Highway to–you guessed it!–Crater Lake National Park. I’ve lived in Oregon all my life, and yet I’ve never visited this famous site.

It was formed by the explosion of Mt. Mazuma over 7,000 years ago. The crater was filled in with water over time, gradually becoming what is now the deepest lake in the United States.

Hat: Portland Gear Jacket: Levi’s (color is Concrete Indigo) Hoodie: J. Crew (similar) Leggings: Nike (similar) Sneakers: Nike (similar here and here) Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

No filter needed for the incredible blue water of Crater Lake! It’s famous for its vibrant blue hue, and the intense sapphire color truly didn’t disappoint.

I’m no expert, but I learned that the remarkable blue color has to do with the lake’s depth and water purity. Since the water is so clear, sunlight is able to penetrate deep into the water and most of the colors on the light spectrum (red, orange, etc.) are absorbed. But the blue and violet light rays are reflected to the lake’s surface, creating that amazing blue.

We had planned a short hike at Crater Lake, but my husband was just getting over a cold and I was just starting to come down with one, so unfortunately neither of us were up to it. Next time!

I do recommend checking the weather and visibility before making the trek to Crater Lake. We had friends who went earlier in the summer, and they couldn’t see anything because of the smoke caused by the wildfires in Oregon and California.

All in all, it was the perfect birthday weekend! Thank you to my sweet husband for planning such a lovely trip with so many of my favorite activities. ❤️ I’m hoping we can take another visit down to Ashland next summer for some more plays! Is there ever such a thing as too much Shakespeare? 😉

Have a wonderful weekend, loves! Thank you for stopping by!

Seas the Day, Part 2

We cruised in the Caribbean aboard the beautiful Carnival Vista, one of Carnival’s newest and largest ships. It was my third cruise with Carnival, and it was my best one yet! I’ve always had a positive experience with Carnival, and our 6-night voyage on the Vista was exceptional. Everything felt new and modern, and the staff was so gracious and helpful.

This was the first time we decided to get a balcony room, and honestly, I’ll never cruise again without one! My husband and I enjoyed it immensely–we loved reading outside in the warm ocean breeze or watching the vibrant sunsets with a cold glass of champagne. Pictured above is one of the most colorful sunsets that we witnessed at sea.

I think there’s a certain stigma that exists around cruise line food–some love it, some hate it. I’ve honestly never had a bad food experience on any of Carnival’s ships, and the Vista’s food even exceeded my expectations.

For example, Guy Fieri has two restaurants aboard the Vista: Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse. We didn’t have a chance to dine at the burger option, but that’s probably because we ate at the Smokehouse twice! My husband and I love barbecue food, and the pork was excellent (also the mac and cheese!).

Coincidentally, Guy Fieri himself was aboard the Vista the same week as us (if you’re a fan, he has pics of his trip on Instagram). My husband saw him at the casino several nights, but didn’t want to bug him for a photo (pics or it didn’t happen? 😉).

One evening we paid extra to eat at the ship’s steakhouse, and it was worth every penny! The four-course meal was elegant and well-prepared, from the flavorful French onion soup to my medium rare filet mignon.

Dessert was especially theatrical and unlike anything I’d ever seen. I included the video above of the dessert we shared, which they called “Art at the Table.” This tableside masterpiece mixed such a variety of tastes and textures, from the “drawings” made of tart passionfruit syrup to the sweet, white chocolate ball. My husband likened the white chocolate ball to an artistic, adult version of those Wonder Ball candies he ate as a kid.

Sunflower Bikini: Forever 21 (similar)

On our days at sea we lounged in the Serenity, the adults-only area of the ship. It was definitely serene, and the cabana-like pods were a cozy spot for two!

Dress: Spense (similar here and here) Heels: Nine West (similar) Clutch: Halogen Watch: Marc by Marc Jacobs (similar)

I wore this fabulous red dress for the ship’s formal night. There was definitely a variety of attire amongst the passengers–some wore full suits and long gowns, though I would say most women wore cocktail dresses and most men opted for a collared shirt, slacks, and no blazer or jacket.

This A-line dress was a TJ Maxx find from last year, so I linked similar silhouettes above!

Bikini Top: Cupshe Wrap Skirt: Band of Gypsies (similar here and here)

Our first stop was in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We had this be our casual, beach day, so we didn’t book any excursions.

My floral wrap skirt from Band of Gypsies was a breezy and effortless cover-up. The lightweight crepe fabric was such a practical choice for the humidity and strolling on the beach.

We had lunch at Margaritaville and really enjoyed the Jamaican jerk chicken and jerk pork tacos. The Jamaicans we met were so friendly and outgoing, and I would definitely love to come back here in the future to spend more time on this beautiful island.

Our next stop was the island of Grand Cayman. We booked an excursion through Carnival to the Cayman Crystal Caves. Our tour guide was so energetic and knowledgeable, and we had a wonderful morning trekking through the caves and learning about all the rock formations. Do you see the skull shape that the stalactites and stalagmites make in the picture above? 💀

There were bats in some of the caves, but our guide told us they were fruit bats, not vampire bats. Nevertheless, I definitely walked quickly through the cave they called “the bat cave” because I get pretty squirmy and uncomfortable around bats!

Hands down our favorite was the one they call “the lake cave” (shown above). Look at all those stunning shades of blue in the water! And please excuse how sweaty we look, but between the hiking and the humidity we were definitely glistening (hah 😉).

Our last port of call was the island of Cozumel, Mexico. We booked an excursion called “La Casa en La Playa” through Carnival’s website, and this peaceful, ocean-side retreat more than lived up to the amazing reviews we read online.

They keep the group small for this excursion, which makes this perfect for those who want a relaxing day in paradise. A private chef cooks you an authentic, Mexican lunch, and whether you’re hanging out in the ocean or the pool, the staff brings you tasty drinks and fruity cocktails at your leisure (lunch and drinks are included in the price of the excursion).

My husband and I love tropical vacations where we can swim in the warm ocean and lounge on the beach, so this was truly an idyllic day for us.

Hat: BP (similar options) Bikini Top: Target (similar) Swimsuit Bottoms: Cupshe

This hat I found at Nordstrom Rack earlier this year, and I love these playful styles with sayings embroidered on! I found on Amazon a large selection of similar hats with a variety of sayings and puns.

I enjoy mixing and matching swimwear, and I especially like strapless, bandeau-style bikinis to avoid tanlines.

Jumpsuit: Monteau (similar here, here, and here) Earrings: Nordstrom Rack (similar)

This striped jumpsuit is one of my favorite looks from the trip. It was a recent TJ Maxx find, and I’ve linked comparable black-and-white options above. I’ve been loving jumpsuits the last few years (they’re so cool and chic!). I’ve seen tons of different prints and silhouettes recently, from so many brands at various price points.

I hope you got some inspiration for your next tropical getaway! Thank you so much for stopping by, and please comment if you have any questions about our cruise. What are your favorite vacation spots? 🌴

Seas the Day: Part 1

After a brief blog hiatus for vacation, I’m so excited to share our recent travels! Part 1 will consist of our time in Miami; Part 2 will cover our Caribbean cruise aboard the beautiful Carnival Vista and the three islands we visited.

We traveled to Miami for our dear friends’ wedding. My husband was a groomsman, and the wedding guest dress code was formal. As such, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to wear a long dress. However, given the hot Miami weather and humidity, I also knew I wanted a lightweight fabric, and a color or print that evoked a summer vibe.

I found this gorgeous yellow dress at Nordstrom several months ago, and it checked off every single one of my dress requirements. It’s by the brand Eliza J, which makes truly beautiful dresses: long formal gowns, cocktail attire, flowy sundresses, and more. I found it on sale on the Nordstrom website (40% off! Yay!) with a few sizes still available. I also saw it on the Lord and Taylor website (only one size left).

I’ve linked here a comparable dress by Eliza J, also in a lovely yellow print. There are a variety of sizes available for this option. I’ve also linked here a long dress with a similar silhouette by Eliza J, available in two colors (mint and pink) that would be wonderful for summer weddings and bridal showers.

This dress was perfect for the elegant reception at the InterContinental Miami, a modern and glamorous hotel located downtown. The ballroom had a beautiful view overlooking the water and of the nearby skyscrapers.

We stayed at Hotel Victor, a lovely art-deco hotel on the iconic Ocean Drive in South Beach. We also stayed there two years ago on our last trip to Miami, and its proximity to the beach, restaurants, and shops makes it an ideal location. I’m pictured above in the lobby of the hotel before we headed downtown for our friends’ wedding.

Adjacent to Hotel Victor is the flashy and decadent Sugar Factory, a restaurant and sweetshop. They have multiple locations all over the world and are known for their rich food, elaborate desserts, and celebrity appearances.

They have an extensive list of drinks and cocktails, and our favorites are the goblets filled with dry ice. Available with or without alcohol, these colorful drinks are a cool, refreshing treat to beat the Miami heat (and the drink poured over the dry ice produces a dramatic smoky effect!). We enjoyed the Watermelon Patch on our last visit (pictured above!), complete with gummy watermelon candies.

I also loved the rainbow sliders. I sent a picture of them to my brother, and he said they reminded him of the “Pretty Patties” featured on Spongebob. Definitely a fitting comparison, and almost all the kids that walked by our table excitedly pointed at my colorful lunch!

One-piece swimsuit: Heat Swim (similar) Panama Hat: J. Crew (similar) Sunglasses: Circus by Sam Edelman (similar)

We always have a great time on South Beach, the iconic stretch of bustling beach perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching! The water was very warm and comfortable to swim in, but we actually saw a couple small sharks!

Allegedly they were “nurse sharks” (the ones we saw were about 5 feet in length) and are regularly seen on the Florida coast, though they’re not particularly aggressive unless provoked or stepped on. Nevertheless, our group got out of the water after that!

Next door to Hotel Victor is the famous Versace Mansion, once the glamorous Miami home of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace. Now called the Villa Casa Casuarina, it operates as a luxury hotel and restaurant. According to Vogue, it’s “the third most photographed home in America, after the White House and Graceland.”

My husband and I watched American Crime Story: the Murder of Gianni Versace earlier this year, and many scenes from the critically-acclaimed series were filmed on location there.

Jumpsuit: Flying Tomato (similar cropped-length jumpsuits here and here) Panama Hat: J. Crew (similar) Sandals: Michael Antonio (similar) Sunglasses: Quay Australia (similar)

Gianni Versace once said: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.” I’ve long admired these words from this inspiring fashion icon, whose life was so tragically cut short but whose legacy lives on.

Hope you have a great week and thank you for stopping by! This weekend I’ll post Part 2 of our trip about our Caribbean cruise and island hopping. 🌴

Oregon, Home Sweet Home

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I’m dedicating my travel series for the month of June to the beautiful state of Oregon that I’ve always called home. I’ll be sharing my personal picks for Portland (from restaurants to breweries to activities) and several quick and easy day trips–from Mt. Hood to the Oregon Coast.

I feel truly blessed to grow up in such a gorgeous, green region; we may get lots of rain, but that rain lends itself to colorful seasons and lush landscapes. Also, if you’re planning a visit to the Portland area, our summers are lovely, with mostly warm, dry weather from July through September.

Unlike my travel posts from May, however, I’m spreading out my favorite places and recommendations over the course of the whole month of June, so these will each be shorter, more succinct pieces.

I’m starting with a bit of nostalgia today and sharing one of my family’s favorite restaurants that makes the perfect pit-stop on Highway 26, when en route to coastal towns like Seaside or Cannon Beach.

Also, my summer reading list is at the bottom of this post!

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Camp 18 is a charming, rustic restaurant about an hour’s drive west of Portland (and only 25 minutes from Seaside). The restaurant’s name comes from the fact that it’s located at mile post 18 on Highway 26 (one of the major highways that runs east/west in Oregon, stretching from the coast to the Idaho border). Its structure is a beautiful log cabin with massive wooden beams, hand carved front doors, and a picturesque creek located just behind it.

We adore their brunch and have been coming here since I was a little kid (highly recommend the “flatcars”–aka giant pancakes–with the locally made marionberry syrup!). This family-friendly spot is great for locals and tourists alike (pictured above on a recent visit with my younger brother!).

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Striped Top: H&M (similar here and hereBlack Jeans: 7 For All Mankind (similar)  Leather Jacket: Wyatt (similarMules: Topshop (similarPurse: Prada (similar style here)  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster  Watch: Marc by Marc Jacobs (similar)

The weather has been hit-and-miss lately; we’ve had some hot, sunny days, but also some cloudy, mild ones. This outfit is perfect for those temperate Oregon days, typical of spring and early summer. I’ve been loving the off-the-shoulder trend, and this version from H&M is an awesome striped option. My mules are from Topshop and are a comfy, 90’s trend that I’m definitely a fan of. My Prada purse was a purchase on our honeymoon in Italy; above, I linked the exact style and also a less pricey option that is a similar size.

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My summer reading list (so far!):

  1. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
  2. The Light We Lostby Jill Santopolo
  3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  4. Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald

Currently reading The Little Paris Bookshop (and LOVING it)–I’ll share my thoughts on the full novel in a few weeks. The Light We Lost was recommended by a friend and is one of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks.

As for the first novel of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ll be honest: I’ve been trying (and failing) to take the plunge and read the series for years. I’ve been obsessed with the show since season two debuted back when I was a senior in college, but I have yet to read the book series. Trying to make this the summer that I at least read the first one.

My best friend and I wanted to read a poetry collection that we haven’t yet done, and we chose Collins’s collection Aimless Love. And last, but certainly not least, I want to revisit one of my all-time favorite novels, The Great Gatsby. I try to reread this American classic every few years, and it’s one of those incredible books that no matter how many times I read it, I get something new out of it.

I would love to hear what you’re reading this summer! Have you made it through A Game of Thrones and the other books in the series, and/or are you a fan of the show? Are there novels you love that you reread over and over again? Let me know in the comments!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Travel Series: La Bella Italia, Part 2

Check out Part 1 of La Bella Italia for more Italy adventures, such as Venice, Florence, and Pisa. Like my previous travel posts on London and Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. But now onward to Part 2!

Rome

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“Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.” –George Eliot

This quote perfectly captures the essence of Rome, the Eternal City. It’s like constantly walking through a museum because such vibrant history is literally at your fingertips.

When in Rome (pun intended!), of course a must-see is the Colosseum, the infamous arena of ancient sporting events, ceremonies, and the gladiators. We visited the Roman Forum and the Colosseum on a guided tour, so we got to enter through the group entrance (a far shorter line than the regular ticket entrance–or if a guided tour isn’t your thing, you can buy a Roma Pass or an Archeologia Card to avoid the chaos of purchasing at the door). A friend of mine who just visited there last week said that she stood in the regular ticket line at the Colosseum for two full hours, so we highly recommend purchasing your tickets or passes in advance!

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A detail that has stayed with me since visiting the Colosseum is how worn the narrow stone stairs are; it made me imagine all the millions of people who have travelled those same steps. After all, the arena is almost 2000 years old (completed in 80 AD) and has about 4 million tourists visit every year.

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The iconic Spanish Steps is a bustling tourist spot (pictured atop the Steps with my husband). But what was most meaningful for me about visiting this area was the chance to tour the Keats-Shelley House (as mentioned in an earlier post, the British poet John Keats is my all-time favorite!).

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Keats resided in this very room overlooking the Spanish Steps in the final months of his life. He had contracted tuberculosis and sought the milder climate of Italy in hopes of regaining his health. However, he passed away in this very house at the young age of 25 and was buried in Rome in the Protestant Cemetery.

Vatican City

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We very much enjoyed visiting Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museum. The line to get into St. Peter’s was extremely long (if you look at the picture below you can see that the LONG line follows the half circle shape of St. Peter’s Square). My friend who is currently in Italy said that they avoided the long lines at St. Peter’s by arriving early in the morning, about 20 minutes before the church even opens. She said there were no lines at that time, and they got in right away.

As with many Italian churches, there is a strict dress code–no bare shoulders or cleavage, and knees must be covered. It was a warm, humid day when we visited, and my husband and I stayed comfortable (yet dress code compliant) in white, cotton tops and lightweight pants. You don’t have to dress up fancy–just keep in mind that they very much enforce their dress code and won’t let you enter if you’re not clothed accordingly.

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To reach the roof level, you can take an elevator (or climb 231 stairs). But to reach the very top of Michelangelo’s dome (and this incredibly gorgeous view of Vatican City and Rome), you must climb an additional 320 stairs (no elevator option for this part!). I’m a bit claustrophobic, and I’ll admit that the small, winding staircase caused me some anxiety. However, when I made it to the top and saw the view, I was immensely glad I’d done it.

We also visited the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (which is located inside the Museum). Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the Sistine, but it was such a treat to gaze up at Michelangelo’s breathtaking ceiling.

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Pompeii

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The ruins of Pompeii are an archaeological marvel (cue the Bastille song! 😉). This is a great day excursion if you’re staying in nearby Naples or Sorrento (my husband and I personally love Sorrento!). This ancient site was so much bigger than I had ever imagined it to be and wandering these grounds in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius was a truly humbling experience.

To beat the crowds, we got there in the morning when it opens and were among the first groups to enter that day. Especially during the warmer months I highly recommend going earlier in the day because you spend much of the visit in direct sunlight.

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What to Pack

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Gray Lace Top: A Diva (similarStriped Shorts: Forever 21 (similarGraphic Tee: Gucci Museo (similar here and hereDenim Jacket: Levi’s (similarGray Striped Dress: One Clothing (similar here and herePanama Hat: J. Crew  White Button Up: Gap  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

As I’ve mentioned in previous travel posts, staying within a cohesive color palette is how I prefer to pack for travel. For Italy, particular in the warmer months, I would recommend breathable, lightweight fabrics–and a great hat, like this Panama hat from J. Crew! Pictured is a sample of what I would bring, staying within a gray, white, and blue color scheme.

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This gray, striped dress I wore in Rome with a classic, cotton button-up layered over it. We were on an all-day walking tour, and I wanted to protect my shoulders from the sun! I’ve linked similar striped options above.

Style Inspiration

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Pinstripe Blazer: Halogen (similar here and hereGraphic Tee: Gucci Museo (similarJeans: Lucky Brand (similarHeels: Nine West (similarWatch: Marc by Marc Jacobs (similarLip Color: Birthday Suit by Tarte

This navy, graphic tee I purchased at the Gucci Museo–when I travel I really enjoy buying items that evoke memories of that trip and location. I often see graphic tees styled on bloggers, influencers, and models all over Instagram and Pinterest (this other Gucci tee is particularly popular lately, but quite pricey!). As such, I wanted to share a polished way to style a fun, graphic tee, especially for those special shirts purchased on a trip or at an event.

This navy pinstripe blazer is by Halogen and is a recent sale purchase from Nordstrom (I found it still available in one size on Nordstrom Rack’s website, but I also linked some comparable options). My jeans are Lucky Brand, and my heels are Nine West.

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In honor of our 3rd wedding anniversary this week, I’ll be doing a special themed post on Friday (local vendor recommendations for the Portland area, wedding advice, and style inspiration for brides-to-be and guests!).

Wishing you all a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!

Travel Series: La Bella Italia, Part 1

img_2707“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.” Mark Twain

In the beautiful land of Italy, there is SO MUCH to see and do–and, of course, eat! Each region has its unique charm, with its own impressive history, culture, and landscape. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. For the purposes of this post and the next one, I’m going to share several memorable highlights and recommendations.

Part 1: Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Lucca.

Part 2: Rome, Vatican City, and Pompeii (and also my usual “what to pack” feature)

Like my previous travel posts on London and Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Italy is truly a gorgeous country with such a rich, varied history, and this would be a HUGE post if I tried to include every city or site that I’ve visited there.

Venice

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I’m starting with my favorite Italian city, which novelist Thomas Mann once called “half fairy tale and half tourist trap” (but don’t let the latter description dissuade you from visiting). There’s something inherently romantic about Venice, with its winding streets, narrow waterways, and complete lack of cars. My husband and I were newlyweds when we strolled through these ancient streets and floated in a gondola down the Grand Canal, so I will admit that it’s possible I’m a bit partial!

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We were so taken by the city’s irresistible charm, and our private gondola ride at sunset was worth every euro. The pastel buildings lining the canal matched the soft pinks and blues of the Venice sky, and the air was warm, with a comfortable breeze… Some would argue it’s not worth the steep price, as it’s around €100 for 50 minutes if you go in the evening after 7pm (which, in my opinion, is the perfect time to go, particularly in the summer months when it can get quite hot during the daytime). However, I couldn’t disagree more, as it was an iconic experience that we will never forget.

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We also very much enjoyed the sites at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). From the opulence of the Doge’s Palace, to the intricate golden mosaics inside St. Mark’s Basilica, and the hustle and bustle of the Piazza itself, the grandeur and magnitude of this historic area is truly a sight to behold.

We loved the view of the Piazza from the Basilica’s balcony–the stairs are steep but I definitely recommend! The horses on the balcony are replicas of the Roman originals, which were first placed on the balcony in 1204 but are now on display inside the church to preserve the bronze material. The lion statue I’m sitting beside is located next to the Basilica, as the lion is a symbol of St. Mark.

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This giant canvas painting is Il Paradiso, and is one of the many exquisite works inside the Doge’s Palace. This particular oil painting is the largest of its kind in the world.

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The above picture is the view through the tiny openings in the limestone windows on the Bridge of Sighs. This infamous bridge connects the Doge’s Palace and the prison. The idea behind the name is that the prisoners would breathe a sad sigh as they glimpsed their last views of Venice before being sentenced or imprisoned. Lord Byron, the English romantic poet, once wrote about this very site: “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand.”

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On a less somber note, we enjoyed lunch nearby in the Piazza at the famous Caffè Florian, which is Italy’s oldest cafe at nearly 300 years old. Casanova, Lord Byron, Dickens, and other noteworthy individuals all frequented here once upon a time, so you’re in historic company! The live music and view of the square is an idyllic locale for a nice lunch and people watching.

I adored the charming hotel we stayed at, Hotel Antiche Figure, whose building dates back to the 15th century. The lovely suite we were in was decorated in an elegant Venetian style. It had a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal, and one of the hotel’s employees told us the balcony itself was over 400 years old!

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People often refer to Venice as a maze, and indeed its narrow, winding streets and alleys certainly give it that feel and make it very easy to get lost! Give yourself ample time if you have to be somewhere by a particular hour.

For our guided tour of the Doge’s Palace first thing one morning, we left early (and we did indeed get turned around a couple times! Pictured above is my husband with his trusty map). Yet we were rewarded with the site of Piazza San Marco in the early morning light, nearly devoid of tourists. Losing yourself in this city and exploring its streets can truly be one of the most enjoyable and romantic things about it.

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Florence

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Michelangelo’s David is probably Florence’s most famous “resident,” and this seventeen-foot statue did not disappoint. From the exquisite detail of his face and body to his towering height, I completely understand why he’s one of Michelangelo’s most famous masterpieces.

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Florence’s Duomo is, of course, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. This Gothic cathedral was completed in 1436, over a hundred years after construction first began. Its giant dome glows a vibrant orange when the sunlight hits it at dusk.

Nearby is the San Lorenzo Market, which gave us a great taste of the Italian market scene (Somehow I didn’t take any pictures! Too busy shopping!). Florence is known for its leather goods, so at the market I purchased a brown leather jacket that is extremely soft and comfortable. There were SO many to choose from that it was honestly a bit overwhelming.

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Pictured above is one of the oldest copies in existence of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Being an English major who also studied medieval lit in college, this was a really cool experience to visit Dante’s home and see this centuries-old text.

We also visited the Gucci Museo, as the Italian fashion house Gucci was founded in Florence in 1921. I love fashion history almost as much as I love seeing early editions of classic literature, so perusing this museum was a real treat (pictured above: a set of classic Gucci trunks and an old Gucci Cadillac!).

However, earlier this year the Gucci Museo was reopened as the Gucci Garden, after being renovated and transformed. They still have a museum and shop, but they also added the Gucci Osteria, a brand new restaurant run by a three-Michelin-starred chef. Next time I’m in Florence I definitely plan on stopping by to see what they’ve done to the place!

Pisa

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Visiting the iconic Leaning Tower was bucket list for me. It was particularly special because when I was a little girl my grandfather would tell me that a favorite memory of his travels with my grandma was when they ate pizza across from the Leaning Tower of Pisa (notice the alliteration there? 😉). The opportunity to do that was truly special, especially since it’s been about a decade since my grandparents both passed away.

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The Leaning Tower was originally built as the bell tower for the nearby cathedral, but because of flaws in the original architecture, its infamous tilt made it become the world-renowned landmark that it is today. There are roughly 300 stairs to get to the top, and it’s definitely a bit disorienting, as the tilt is quite noticeable as you climb. However, just look at that panoramic view!

Lucca

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I didn’t know much about the Tuscan city of Lucca before our visit, but it came highly recommended by our travel agent to do as a day trip while we were staying in nearby Pisa. And truth be told, our afternoon here remains among my favorite memories of Italy.

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Lucca is noteworthy because of its large, intact walls that date back to the Renaissance (though its earliest walls were first built by the Romans, and then rebuilt and fortified multiple times in the many centuries since then). It’s unique that their walls still remain, since most cities in Tuscany removed their old fortifications long ago as the cities and populations grew over time.

We rented bikes at a local shop and rode them on the picturesque street that sits atop the wide walls. The view of the old town inside the walls and the beautiful greenery that lines the promenade makes this city feel like something out of a dream. If you’re staying in Pisa and have a spare day or afternoon, I encourage you to visit this lovely place.

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I’m continuing my Travel Series with Part 2 of La Bella Italia on Sunday. I’ll be sharing Rome, Vatican City, Pompeii, and what to pack!

I would love to hear your favorite sites in Italy in the comments, or places there that you dream of visiting (our next Italy trip we hope to see the Cinque Terre and Capri!).

Happy Friday! I’ll leave you with two photos of my favorite Italian foods to take you into the holiday weekend (Gelato and spaghetti! YUM). Thank you for stopping by!

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Travel Series: London Town

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“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson

London is definitely one of those cities I will visit as many times as I can in my life. From the lively theatre scene in the West End to the cultural significance of Westminster to the grand tradition of afternoon tea, the sights and sounds of this historic city captivated my heart. Being an English major and a lifelong fan of British lit, I was truly inspired.

Like last week’s travel post on Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Also, in honor of the Royal Wedding this weekend, I will be sharing our visit to Windsor Castle, which is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married.

Theatre

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First of all, it had always been bucket list for me to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (pictured above). We saw Much Ado About Nothing and absolutely loved it (for more info on this play, check out my first blog post).

A bit of advice: I studied quite a bit of Shakespeare in college, whereas my husband, who majored in the sciences, hadn’t been exposed to any Shakespeare since high school. So in order to prepare for the play, we read it together before our trip and also watched the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. Since Elizabethan English is quite different from modern English, I highly recommend doing this, unless you’re a Shakespeare expert or quite familiar with the play you’re going to see.

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We also saw Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre and Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Both musicals are longtime favorites of mine. I admit that I cried at the end of Les Mis, despite that I know the story and songs very well. And though I’d seen Phantom live in the US on four previous occasions, it was an entirely new experience to sit under the famous chandelier when it drops.

We would’ve loved to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well, and even though we tried to buy tickets months and months in advance, they are so hard to get! However, we did have a magical (pun intended!) Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

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Growing up, I was a Harry Potter fanatic (hmmm where was my Hogwarts letter?). When each new installment was published, my parents would drive me at midnight to a nearby bookstore so I could be among the first to read the latest book (I would definitely be a Ravenclaw).

Anyway, visiting the gorgeous sets where the Harry Potter movies were filmed made me feel like I was ten years old again and seeing the movie for the very first time. They truly transport you to the Wizarding World and beautifully illustrate how the costumes, sets, and special effects make the magic come alive. Allow at least three hours here, especially because the line to get into the Great Hall, where the tour begins, can get quite long (even if you purchased tickets in advance like we did).

Pictured below is my husband staring up at the huge, intricate model of Hogwarts, which is what they used to film many of the panoramic shots of the castle.

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If you’re even a moderate fan of the Harry Potter universe, I still think you would enjoy this; if you’re like myself and are a Hermione-level expert of all things Harry Potter, then this is a must.

Westminster

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The area of Westminster includes the famous sites of Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

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In addition to watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we were able to tour inside the State Rooms (no photos allowed inside, unfortunately). From late July through September you can purchase tickets for this tour. I’ve heard that the dates can vary slightly from year-to-year, based on the Queen’s summer travel plans (since it’s available to tour when she’s on holiday elsewhere). For more up-to-date info visit the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

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We purchased our Westminster Abbey tickets in advance and greatly enjoyed visiting this iconic church. When I was in college, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married there, and I remember staying up late to watch the beautiful ceremony and marvel at Kate’s stunning Alexander McQueen gown. I also very much enjoyed “Poet’s Corner,” where many renowned writers, poets, and playwrights have been buried or memorialized (Shakespeare, for example, has a monument there, though he was buried in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon).

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The telephone booths in this area are also ideal for photo-ops!

Shopping at Harrods and Afternoon Tea

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Simply put, Harrods is shopping heaven. The exterior particularly dazzles at nighttime and beckons one inside to the opulent grandeur. Their gift shop is also a great spot to bring home souvenirs for yourself and for loved ones.

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My husband and I had afternoon tea at The Georgian, an elegant restaurant inside Harrods. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker than coffee, so this was a special treat for me (also: Pink champagne! Tea sandwiches! Pastries! Yay!). We booked our tea time on their website several days prior so we could get the exact time we wanted.

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Windsor

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This 11th century castle feels like something out of a fairy tale, and is one of the Queen’s official residences. We visited first thing in the morning when it opens and really enjoyed wandering the beautiful grounds and touring the State Apartments.

This Saturday Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married at Windsor inside St. George’s Chapel. I will definitely be staying up late to watch it on TV, and I can’t wait to see her wedding gown!

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What to Pack

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Red Top: Pleione (similar here and here) Black Ponte Pants: Jolt (similar)  Striped Shirt: H&M (similar)  Lace Top: Rose and Olive (similar here and here)  Trench Coat: Ellen Tracy (similar here and here)  Bag: Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote  Scarf: Burberry (similarUmbrella: Burberry (same style, but in red)  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

As I’ve mentioned in my previous travel posts, staying within a neutral color palette is my personal preference for packing versatile outfits. Adding a dash of color helps mix things up (red and maroon tones always look great with black, white, and beige, as illustrated above).

The other way to add interest to an outfit is with textures and prints (lace and stripes are classics). For London, I brought both my Burberry scarf and umbrella, as the iconic print evokes timeless British style. Given their cloudy, damp climate, a water-resistant trench coat is vital.

P.S. Just wanted to mention that I had such a wonderful time viewing the rare books and manuscripts at the British Library Treasures (they have a copy of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other historical texts). If you’re a bookworm like me, this was a real treat.

I didn’t discuss any of the London museums we’ve visited, but the British Museum and the National Gallery are especially stunning and overwhelming. If you enjoy history, give yourself as much time as you can at the British Museum in particular. It’s MASSIVE. Next time I would really like to spend longer there.

(The photo below was taken just a few blocks from the National Gallery. I couldn’t resist a picture with those beautiful flowers!)

Are you going to be tuning in to the Royal Wedding this weekend? Let me know in the comments! Hope you all have a great week!