Travel

Annual Storytelling Festival

annual-storytelling-festival Hey guys! I didn't fall off the face of the earth, I swear! We left on Thursday for our annual trip to Jonesborough, Tennessee and I guess I totally slipped into vacation mode! Oops!

It's a family tradition to go to the Storytelling Festival in Tennessee every October. We go with Aaron's family who have been attending for more then 20 years, and stay at the same bed and breakfast every year; the inn-keeper, Marcy, is like family!

Well, I became part of the tradition six years ago when Aaron proposed at Marcy's breakfast table. I blogged about Aaron's proposal (naturally!) (you can read that here), and I've been blogging about the festival ever since! You can see photos of last year's trip here and here. The Storytelling Center even did a little write-up about us -- you can read that here!

The trip was great, it always is! The town was bustling with families, like ours, huddling in tents, listening to stories, and crowding Main Street, shopping and eating ice cream. For me, it's always so fun to see what's new in town. This year I noticed they added this mural, which I love!

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Also new this year was my mom! It was her first time going with us on the trip and she had a blast! Over the years she's listened to me rave about our annual trip to Jonesborough; the proposal; the people; the stories; all of it! And finally, she got to see it for herself! She described the experience as enchanting (the quaint town, Marcy's bed and breakfast, the time with family) of course, we were thrilled she came along.

It was really nice do this with her and my in-laws all at once; blending two families isn't easy, but when it happens, it's oh so rewarding!

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Of course the weekend went by too fast and it's back to the real world tomorrow!

What did you do this weekend? 

Do you take any annual trips?

Do you ever travel with your family? 

The Reebok Spartan Super

Reebok Spartan Super at WintergreenWhen I said I had a busy weekend, I wasn't kidding! After New York all day Friday, I headed to Charlottesville first thing Saturday. My husband, Aaron, was signed up for the Reebok Spartan Super, one of the most difficult obstacle races in VA! Reebok Spartan Super

Some of you may have seen on Instagram how proud I was of Aaron for completing this race... it was seriously like nothing I've ever seen before!

Aaron has talked about Spartan races for awhile and having done a Tough Mudder, I thought I knew just what they were; wrong! The Spartan races are a lot more difficult and the "super" (the second level of three among Spartan races) is beyond difficult. The website describes them as "World's best obstacle race. Period." I might modify that to say "World's most difficult obstacle race!"

Of course I acted like the paparazzi at the event, following Aaron around snapping pics! I couldn't see him for most of the race but I did intercept him at the 7 mile mark, near the end. A lot of the obstacles were deep in the mountain and it was a really, really foggy day so unfortunately these photos don't do it justice.

Check out more right here on the Spartan website.

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If it looks ominous that's because it was! The fog was so thick, which just added to the sort of epic feel of this entire race.

In the photo on the right below you can read some of the 26 obstacles -- a lot of wall climbs, a set of monkey bars, and a log carry. What you don't see are some of the tougher ones, like having to carry a bucket of rocks up and down a huge hill; pulling a 100 lb sandbag out of the water with a rope; a spear throw and tire haul; not to mention the big ass rope climb at the end!

Reebok Spartan SuperHaving been there to witness this race in person I can tell you the participants were dying! One actually broke his leg and I'm sure there were a multitude of other injuries I didn't hear about...

I saw a lot of obstacles, too and they looked hard. Also, if you can't complete them, it's a 30 burpee penalty! Meaning... with 26 obstacles there's the risk of having to do 780 burpees. WTF!

The crazy thing is, despite how tough and treacherous the obstacles looked, Aaron and others said the worst part was really going up and down the mountain in Wintergreen. It's a ski resort you can just imagine how hilly it is; not to mention all the mud!!

Aaron didn't want to flex or smile or take any pictures when he was done, but I at least got him to stand in front of the Reebok Spartan Race banner. Way to go babe!

Reebok Spartan Super

It's funny, we've spent the last few days talking about this race and it came out there were several DEATH NOTICES he had to sign to participate! What?! Good thing I didn't know about that before!

Thankfully, he says he has no desire to redo this race or do any other Spartan race... Haha! I can't blame him! But we'll see how long that lasts...

Would you ever do a race that required you to sign a waiver indicating you might die from participation?

Have you ever done a Spartan race or been interested in trying one? 

Vacation in Daytona Beach Florida

Good morning and happy Monday! I just got home from a lovely vacation in Daytona Beach Florida. We go there at least once a year to visit my grandmother and great uncle and always, always have a wonderful time! Everything is so bright and colorful in Florida, I always try to carry my nice camera and get a few good photos - I wish I would have gotten more! SONY DSCSONY DSC

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In the second photo from the top is my grandmother, Betty, better known as granny - the reason we go to Daytona! She has a condo there where we stay and she always spoils us when we're there with nice dinners and mini-shopping sprees! She's the best!

In the second to last row (in the purple) is my little sister, Brooke. She's grown so much these last few years - check out this adorable photo of her from 2010! Brooke, my dad, my stepmom and other little sister (Alison) met us in Daytona our final day (Saturday) and the six of us (including Aaron) spent the day at the beach. We seriously had so much fun. My little sisters have my heart - they are adorable!! I love spending time with them.

Besides spending time with them, I have to say my other favorite part of the trip was waking up early to see the sunrise on the beach with Aaron. It was gorgeous!

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I took photos of the sunrise in Florida a few years ago - it's amazing how different it looks every time!

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In case you were wondering, we did workout while we were in Florida! We dropped in at CrossFit Port Orange and did Karen, AKA 150 wall balls! They don't post workouts in advance at CFPO so it was quite the surprise to walk into a benchmark WOD like Karen, but we survived! I finished in 8:23 seconds Rx but holy wall balls, it was hard!

I have to say, even though we didn't see a big fireworks show or do anything really big on the Fourth of July, this was probably one of my favorite holiday celebrations yet - just being with family and relaxing at the beach was wonderful!

What did you do for Fourth of July? 

Do you have younger sisters? Are they growing up fast? 

Italy: The History & Art

firenze Hey friends! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I finally - finally! - organized our pictures from Italy! This was a huge undertaking and as you can see from the length of this post, it was tough to narrow down! Initially I planned to write out all the places we went, but to be honest, that got a little boring, even for me and it was my vacation! I thought about what I love so much about blogs and it's definitely the photos; therefore, I've decided to share our adventure with you through these images and just a few small snippets about where we went and what we saw! If you're traveling to Florence and would like to see our itinerary, email me and I'd be happy to send it to you! Ciao!

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Getting There:

We left from Newport News, VA around 2 pm and then flew from Philly to Frankfurt at 4pm. We arrived in Germany at 6 am, midnight our time! In an attempt to adjust to the time change (or really, just because the food looked so good) I ordered eggs florentine at Frankfurt Airport. About an hour later we took a small plane from Frankfurt to Milan, and actually flew over the Swiss Alps!

We arrived in Milan mid-morning and took a bus to the train station. We were shocked at how industrial (and just generally WORKED) the city looked! It was a breath of fresh air to arrive in Florence several hours later! Everything was so pretty! It was old worldly and so charming, with a dash Christmas spirit! We were energized by its beauty!

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^ As you can see, my hubby was so happy when we finally made it to our hotel! We'd been traveling for 10+ hours! We stayed at Hotel Pierre and loved it. I highly recommend this hotel! It was beautiful, centrally located and the staff were amazing! My only suggestion would be to ask for a room in the back -- our room was street side and a bit noisy at night.

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We went out to eat our first evening in Florence, met up with the others in our group (remember we were doing a renaissance tour) and then crashed! The jetlag had definitely set in and we were exhausted! We both woke up refreshed and excited the first morning, though, and were ready to embark on our tour of this amazing city!

About the Tour:

We would not have had the pleasure of experiencing the amazing history and art in Florence (in the in-depth way that we did) without the help of our awesome Renaissance tour instructors, Debra & Frank (also Georgetown University professors) and the others shown in this photo:

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In Italy, Debra & Frank's guidance was priceless. Debra's vast knowledge of the art and history - her passion for it! - paired with Frank's fluent Italian and his ease with the logistics made for an enriching, effortless experience for the rest of us. Our group ranged from retirees to recent high school graduates - and personally, I think we really lucked out! Our group was awesome!! Most of them signed up for the trip through the Renaissance company, but others, like my husband were taking the tour for class credit through Georgetown.

Here's what we saw on the tour!

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Man - was that a lot of pictures or what!? I had the hardest time narrowing it down! Like I said, we saw a lot and I'm happy to share the specifics of what we saw if anyone is interested! This was probably the most incredible trip I've ever been on and I'm so happy I got a chance to share it with you! If you made it through all those photos - you're a trooper! Thank you!

Have you ever been to Italy?

What was your favorite site?

Italy: Restaurant Reviews

firenze-1 Hey guys! How are you? I'm continuing my little series on Italy: the eats today and sharing a full breakdown of all the Florence restaurants we tried! In total, we ate at more than 10 places and I must say: I'm proud of us! We really dove into the culture and tried our best to assimilate to the Italian way of eating, which, I'll admit, wasn't that hard being that they eat several courses, love red wine, and usually cap dinner with gelato! :) (Easy peasy) There wasn't a single bad meal in Florence, but I will say, some restaurants were better than others. That goes for food, service, and value!

Hostaria il Desco:

  • Food: *****
  • Service: *****
  • Value: *****

Five stars across the board - this was my very favorite restaurant! I read about it on Girl in Florence - a blog I stalked in the weeks leading up to our trip - and hunted it down our second day for lunch. It was actually really close by our hotel, but we walked right past it the first time!  When we found it, we had a truly an enjoyable experience eating there! The staff didn't speak English but the menu had English translations (so important!) and, the owner/woman who sat us, easily understood our English. The value was especially great - at lunch, vino was just one euro, which paled in comparison the hotel price of 5 euros and average dinner price of 7-9 euros!

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Try: The blue cheese and pear gnocchi -- OMG! Talk about delicious! As you can see from the picture below, it was more of a sauce than blue cheese and pear chunks. It was divine! For lighter fare, try the chicken special at lunch (shown on the far right). The potatoes are cooked in olive oil (and rosemary, I think?) and are delicious! For dinner, try the ribollita (photo of that in my last post).

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Acqua al 2:

  • Food: ***
  • Service: ***
  • Value: ***

There's actually an Acqua al 2 in DC and one of my coworkers always raves about it. When I noticed they had one in Florence, I added to my list of places to try. Unfortunately, we didn't love it -- it was very pricey and the service was just so-so. We got the salad sampler, pasta sampler, and the blueberry and balsamic steaks... While the food was good, it wasn't as good as some of the other pastas and steaks we'd had in Florence. The blueberry steak was tasty and very unique, though and I enjoyed it a lot.

One thing that may have contributed to our experience -- the menu didn't have English translations, which makes ordering SO difficult!

Try: The blueberry steak or balsamic steak - both were delicious!

Photos of Acqua Al 2, Florence This photo of Acqua Al 2 is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Il Grillo:

  • Food: ****
  • Service: ****
  • Value: ****

Three words: best. pizza. ever.

We totally stumbled upon this place! We were running short on time to grab lunch because we got a little turned around walking, and ended up spending way too much time shopping at Roberta's, a local leather store. Once we made our purchases, we asked the sales associate where a good pizza place was, and he walked us down the street to Il Grino, exclaiming, "they have the best pizza in all of Florence!"

We were starving and ordered quickly - we even got a coca cola! I wasn't sure I was in the mood for fresh tomatoes and mozzarella (actually, the pizza Aaron ordered sounded much better), but, when it arrived: let me tell you, I've never tasted anything so delicious!

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Try: This tomato, mozzarella, oregno pizza. YOU WILL LOVE IT!

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Trattoria 4 Leoni:

  • Food: ****
  • Service: ****
  • Value: ***

Three more words: best. lasagna. ever.

A friend from Instagram recommended this place and I'm so glad we had a chance to try it! I was craving salad when we arrived for lunch and again, the menu wasn't in English (boo!). But, I could easily spot the salad section and the Italian word for avocado (it's avocado!). The salad was AMAZING. It was served with chunks of swiss cheese and avocado, and topped with a pesto sauce. With olive oil drizzled on top, it was perfection!!!!

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For my entree, I ordered a vegetarian lasanga -- the waiter was extremely patient in helping us translate items on the menu!

The lasagna was AMAZING!! It was so cheesy and gooey and delicious! I had a hard time not eating the ENTIRE thing! Aaron had the filet (which was pretty big!) and a side of pasta with bolognese (meat) sauce -- he loved it! This place was a little pricey, but definitely worth checking out.

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If you go: Make a reservation, especially if you plan to go for dinner -- we were turned away for not having one! We returned a few days later for lunch and got a table no problem!

MaMMaMia:

  • Food: ****
  • Service: ****
  • Value: ***

We were starving one night by the time we decided on this place... it was close by our hotel and we'd heard the pizza was pretty good! As a starter, we shared a cheese, grape, and honey platter, which was delicious. (I blogged a little about that here.) Then I had pizza and Aaron had raviolli. (I only ate half the pizza - I had no idea it was so massive!)

I can't say anything really wowed us about this place, but it wasn't bad by any means. The pizza was just, different... the crust was very thin and crispy, and I prefer a softer crust. (The pizza I mentioned earlier had a much softer crust.)

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Casa del Vin Santo:

  • Food: ****
  • Service: **
  • Value: ****

Another pizza place!! At Casa del Vin Santo we shared a pizza and salad and both were really good. The pizza, I have to say, was better than the pizza at MaMMaMia, if not just because the crust was softer. However, one pizza wasn't enough to sustain us both! We saw a lot of other people eating full pizzas themselves, but we thought it'd be too much. Eventually, though, we learned and at Il Grillo, each got our own. (The crust is so thin it's not as filling as American pizza!)

The salad we shared was delicious -- again, especially with extra virgin olive oil poured on top, and it was a very good size salad! (Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of this salad!)

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Sadly, the service at this place was very poor. It seemed like all the tables around us were getting their orders -- double orders of calzones, pizzas, etc., -- and we still waiting around for our one pizza to come out. When I asked about it, the waitress seemed a little annoyed at my persistence. In the future, we'll get our food to go from this place.

Moye:

  • Food: *****
  • Service: ****
  • Value: *****

This place was a hidden gem and the bright white modern decor was a delight for my eyes! It was a welcome change from the old world, darker restaurants we'd been to in Florence.

Photos of Moye', Florence This photo of Moye' is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Try: The "troccoli cacao e pepe," which is a creamy and delicious spaghetti with white sauce or the "orecchiette con datterino al basilico e cacioricotta," which was shell pasta with red sauce - also very good!

For a second course, we shared the meat rolls or "Le bimbette pugliesi" which were delicious! They were served with zucchini and potatoes that all tasted fresh and delicious. If we hadn't of discovered this place so late in the week, we would have definitely gone back!

Photos of Moye', Florence This photo of Moye' is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Il Cantastorie:

  • Food: *****
  • Service: *****
  • Value: ?

Our farewell dinner was probably the best overall - it was several courses and I couldn't turn away a single one! We had duck pattee (not pictured but not pretty anyway - looks a little like dog food, but it tastes good!), pasta with wild boar sauce, pork and potatoes, florentine steak and a dessert of our choice! All of which was served with a delicious red wine. We even had a shot of grappa after dinner!

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For dessert, Aaron had the caramel pudding and I had the tiramsu. Others in our group raved about the traditional Tuscan dessert of biscotti in dessert wine, which looked very good. We went home so full and delighted after this meal!

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I don't know the value because it was courtesy of our group leaders - thank you guys!!

Osteria del Porcellino:

  • Food: *****
  • Service: *****
  • Value: *****

Probably our favorite dinner spot in Florence, we ate here twice we liked it so much!

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Everything was amazing! The first night I had the potato gnocchi with sausaage and truffle sauce -- OMG, try not inhaling this dish, it's so delicious! I seriously had to pace myself. And Aaron got the balsamic filet.

On our second visit, I got the veal chop with creamed artichokes and white wine sauce -- so good -- and Aaron got the sea bass fillet with tomatoes, capers, lemon and oregano, which was good, but he got a few bones and didn't like that. For dessert, I got the tiramsu and he got the chocolate pear cake - both were so good! I left here feeling beyond satisfied!

Try: The "gnocchi di patate alla norcina," which is a potato gnocchi in a sausage and truffle sauce, the beef filet with balsamic vinegar sauce, the chocolate pear cake, and the tiramisu (OMG!! Creamier than any tiramisu I've ever had!).

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As for the coffee, gelato, & other treats:

Caffe La Posta:

I joked with Aaron this was my favorite coffee shop in Florence, but really, I just like coffee shops -- of any kind! This place was cute though and while I didn't have any food there, the espresso and the caffe latte I tried fromt here was great! I also bought some dark chocolate by the register which I thoroughly enjoyed! (It seemed like a very popular spot for smokers as they had two outdoor seating areas that were always full!)

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Galetaria Venchi Firenze:

Venchi is a company that has been producing gourmet Italian chocolate since 1878, and lucky for us, there was a geletaria venchi down the street from our hotel! #win! I tried the hot chocolate one night and it. was. amazing. It was thick, dark chocolate -- not anything like the watered down hot chocolate you get in the U.S.

There's a venchi chocolate shop or galeteria near wherever you are in Florence, go!

Photos of Gelateria Venchi Firenze, Florence This photo of Gelateria Venchi Firenze is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Random waffle stands are everywhere; find one:

  • Food: *****
  • Service: *****
  • Value: *****

I can't forget to mention this darling waffle stand. We had been walking around all morning when I saw it, stopped and exclaimed to Aaron, "I want one!" I asked the guy working there to fix me up the regular and he proceeded to layer nutella and gelato onto a steaming hot waffle! In hindsight, I would have asked to leave off the top waffle so that I could have enjoyed the gelato (it melted), but it was delicious nonetheless!

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You'll see these waffle stands everywhere! Definitely worth a try!

So, there you have it! All the places we ate in Florence! Can you tell we enjoyed ourselves? We certainly enjoyed the food! One day, when we go back, I plan to revisit Hostaria il Desco, Il GrilloMoye and Osteria del Porcellino - my favorite spots!

I'm sure there are plenty of places we didn't try, though! This city is known for it's food and everyone will tell you - you really can't go wrong no matter where you eat! Just be prepared to pay for water, and relax, it's not the fast food you'll find in America! Enjoy it! Savor it! Really live it up! After all, I'm missing it already!

Have you ever been to Florence or Italy?

Did you have a favorite restaurant?

Italy: The Eats

firenze-2 Alright guys, hold on tight because we're going to Italia this week! That's right, I'm recapping my nine-day trip to Florence and it took about five posts to squeeze it all in! Are you surprised I'm starting with the eats? You shouldn't be. You know I love food! And, what's everybody say about Italy? THE FOOD!! OMG!! THE FOOD!! One lady even told me, "It'll change your life!"

Well, dun-dun-dun: she was right! The food was amazing. Like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaamazing! We didn't have a single bad meal! Everything was good, and it was good all the time. We were introduced to so many new foods, too! The food in Italy is nothing like American food -- here's a look at some of the eats you'll encounter if you ever travel to Florence!

Fried pizza dough: Mm! My mouth waters just thinking about all the fried pizza balls we ate! The antipasto (which means the "before the meal") was cured meats, goat cheese, and these delicious -- filling! -- balls of dough. They were usually served on a cutting board wrapped in brown paper, like you see below.

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Wild Boar Sauce: I don't think I've ever seen wild boar sauce on an American menu, but it's everywhere in Florence. It's like a traditional meat sauce (bolognese) but better: lighter and tastier! Wild boar is popular in Italy because it's indigenous to the Tuscan region! (Read this recipe a delicious wild boar or bolognese sauce!)

2014-01-12_0056 Cheese, honey, and grapes: Everyone's heard of cheese and grapes before, but add a little honey and it goes a long way! This was a surprisingly delicious combination! (The honey is in the small white ramekin.)

2014-01-12_0092The Italians may have a sight obsession with nutella: But, then again, so do I! :) I got my first taste of Italian nutella with this waffle sandwich...

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Then I spotted this enormous jar of it at a local market!

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Simple sandwiches are an Italian staple: We tried all kinds of sandwiches while in Florence, but I have to admit: we didn't love them all. In the U.S., there's tons of stuff on sandwiches like mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, etc... but in Italy, they keep it simple. A little arugula, a little ham, a little goat cheese, and lots of bread! Sometimes too much for our taste (and sometimes too hard for a girl with braces)!

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Floretine Steak: Another thing you'll see on menus everywhere! But here's the catch - it's only served in qualities of 2 lbs or more, so you'll need to have a few friends on hand to help you eat this! Also, be prepared for it to be served, well, practically rare...

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Balsamic Steak: Aaron had balsamic steak twice and loved it! The first time, he remarked: "Such a simple concept to marinate steak in balsamic, yet so delicious!" I had a few bites and have to agree! delicioso!

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Pizza: Honestly, I didn't love Italian pizza at first. It's thin crust and I usually like thick; plus, it doesn't always come with meat and I usually like a meaty pizza with pepperoni or sausage. But then, I had this pizza... !

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The best pizza I've ever had in my life!!!

I know it may not look like much (it certainly doesn't look like American pizza), but the flavors and textures of this pizza were out of this world! The mozzarella was soft, the tomatoes were perfectly ripe and the olive oil -- which was nothing like the olive oil here!! -- had so much flavor!! A few oregano flakes on top really set it off!! Mmm. I would have ate this pizza everyday if I could have - too bad we found it the day before our departure! :(

Buffalo Mozzarella: Speaking of mozzarella... Buffalo mozzarella is very popular in Florence and for good reason -- it's SO good!! It has more flavor than the mozzarella here in the U.S., it's softer, and it makes the perfect pairing with fresh tomatoes... Another typical antipasto :)

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Ribollita: One of my favorite dishes!! Think vegetable soup, but with bread and olive oil mixed in! This is comfort food like you've never had before, and so perfect for rainy, cold days in Florence like we had toward the end of our trip. I had this twice in the span of two days and I left wanting more. It was so filling and so flavorful -- mm, I'm craving some now!!

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Puccini Mushrooms: And risotto... Or better yet, risotto with puccini mushrooms. I tasted this Risotto with puccini mushrooms (below), as I was eating my ribollita and let me tell you: I thought THAT stuff was good! This was DELICIOUS!! I loved the texture of the risotto -- it was cooked perfect -- and the mushrooms added this huge punch of flavor! Mmm.

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Interesting fact: We bought a small pack of puccini mushrooms at an Italian market while we were there because we had heard they were cheaper in Italy than in the U.S.

Welp, upon our return, Aaron found a half-pound bag of puccini mushrooms at Whole Foods for $50! We paid about 9,00 euros for half that! We should have bought more!

Gelato: Truth: I went to Cold Stone Creamery after dinner with friends this weekend in the hopes to recreate that familiar gelato-after-a-meal feeling. TOTAL FAIL. Gelato is so different than ice cream! It's lighter and so much more flavorful; it's creamy but not in a heavy way. It was by far my favorite food in Florence!

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Tiramasu: I wish I had a picture of the first tiramsu I had at this one restaurant - it was so creamy and delicious and I was seriously dying as I was eating it, it was so good! Not to be over dramatic or anything, but the tiramasu kinda changed my life! YUM!

Photos of La Bussola, Florence This photo of La Bussola is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Chocolate-Pear Cake: Once we got in the habit of ordering dessert with dinner (the last few nights), it was kind of difficult to control ourselves! I got tiramasu two nights in a row (it was SO good, OMG.), but then, I switched to the chocolate pear cake, and didn't miss it one bit! I you like a very chocolate-y, moist, thick cake -- you'll love this stuff. Order it.

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Lastly, the drinks: water, wine, and espresso! (I still love saying espresso like the Italians! Lots of emphasis on the esss! And a little roll of the tongue: presso!).

Espresso, cappacino, and caffe lattes: The first time I tried the espresso - as much as I loved the way the word rolled off my tongue when I ordered it -- I couldn't handle it straight! I had to add sugar, but I noticed a lot of others doing the same. Aaron, on the other hand, drank it plain and looooved it. Both of us have missed being offered expresso after a meal here in the U.S.! The caffeine boost was always nice!

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Interesting fact: Italians don't take milk in their coffee after 12 noon! You can certainly order a caffe latte or cappuccino for lunch or after dinner (which I did on occasion), but it's not customary.

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Mmm. I loved the caffe lattes!!

Vino. Aaron doesn't drink so we didn't get really into wine tastings or anything, but I did order a glass here and there. My favorite part --  the house wine was always a cabernet sauvignon, which happens to be my favorite kind of wine! From the hotel to the restaurants, house wine was a delicious cab. (And I even found a delicious cab at a local market for 2,50 euros! Talk about cheap!)

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Prosecco: From the moment we arrived in Florence, the porsecco was flowing. Our group leaders served it at our welcoming reception and it was served (free of charge) with our continental breakfast each morning. We also received a few glasses "on the house" at neighborhood restaurants. I told my mom, the champagne is like water over there. #fact

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Acqua.

Water was served in small glasses, with no ice, and it was either with or without "gas." It never felt like enough (certainly not the amounts we get here of tap water!), but we savored it because we usually opted for it over soda! Win!! When we did splurge and order a coca cola, it was SO sweet! OMG! Delicious and sweet, and we both enjoyed it. We were starving and treated ourselves; I really like the idea of soda as a seldom treat, rather than a regular accompaniment to meals! (I wonder if you had to pay for water in the U.S., most people would get it instead of soda?)

The only thing I didn't like:

One of the salads I ordered with "salmon" came with raw salmon... #notafan. (And you know I love salad!)

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So, if you couldn't tell... I loved the food. I mean, I really loved the food. It might have been my favorite part of the trip! Stay tuned for A LOT more about Italy, including several restaurant reviews and a lot about the history and art! :)

Have you ever been Italy? What did you think of the food? 

What are some the unique foods you've encountered on vacations?

My Bacon & Eggs Costume

Hey guys! Happy Halloween! If you're following me on Instagram, you know that I'm in Florida spending the week with my grandmother (whom I I call granny). One thing about granny - she doesn't just sit around! She's loads of fun!

In fact, when I suggested we dress up for Halloween, she was all for it. We shopped around yesterday and found this great bacon and eggs costume! I love it!

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We even bought face paint to complete the outfit!

We're headed out this evening to granny's favorite bingo spot. (Yep, she plays bingo! She's actually an avid bingo and mah jongg player!). They're having a big Halloween party, others people are supposed to be dressed up, too and there's a little costume competition! Hopefully we win!!

Are you getting dressed up today? 

Don't forget to sign-up for the November FFAB newsletter!

Weddingbee Blogger Trip to Austin Texas

Good morning friends! I am back in DC and back to work after 2 weeks off and a wild vacation to Austin, Texas! You might have seen on Instagram that I traveled there with a bunch of fellow Weddingbee bloggers - it was one of the best girl's trips of my adult life! I honestly don't even know where to begin to describe it... it was just so fun. Not only did I get to meet and hug and have fun with several girls I’ve known online for years… I made new friends. Like really good, wanna-keep-in-touch-forever friends.

My roommates were Stephanie (Mrs. Fox) and Jennifer (Mrs. Petit Four), and we were kinda like the 3 Muskateers! We got along fabulously and had a great connection. I'm already missing these girls so much!

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Truth be told, all the Weddingbee girls are so fun and nice. I especially loved meeting those I've corresponded directly with in the past, like Kristin (Mrs. Glasses), who got accepted to blog for Weddingbee around the same time as me; Bree (Mrs. Bunting), who illustrated my old blog header; and Rachel (Mrs. Highwire) who I've emailed with about Salad Club. Loved these girls!

In total, there were close to 30 girls and they came from all over the country; places like North Carolina, Oregon, California, and Michigan, just to name a few. Seen below is a sampling of us, waiting in line to order food from Torchy's Tacos.

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Austin 4The trip was very well planned and we explored Austin in the funniest ways! We went to an Esther's Follies show and partied on 6th Street, the town's central nightlife location. We bar-hoped on Rainey street and did a little shopping along College street... 

We pedaled through town on a wooden trolley (that we actually had to pedal to move!) and we pedaled waterbikes on Austin's Town Lake to see thousands of bats (yes, bats!) flock into the night's sky (so amazing!). Oh, and as a result, we got a guano shower! :( It was totally gross and hilarious!

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Austin bats

We ate from food truck after food truck, everything from tacos to greek gyros to cupcakes, and tasted a locally made grapheful vodka that is all the rage in Austin right now. Somewhere along the way I picked up a nutella sandwhich (Lol!) and get this - it was made with bread literally baked inside the food truck! Only in Austin!

We had a hellava time trying to tell people how we knew eachother. They'd ask, what brought 20+ girls from around the country together to Austin? ... Well, a blog bascially. Writing and weddings, and as one girl put it, "we're kinda like a sorority." 

I’m not sure anyone really got it, but one thing is for sure: we did. Among us, we know we share something special... and personally, I feel privelaged to be part of it.

This was the fourth annual bees trip, but my very first. I cannot wait for the next!

Do you take girl's trips?

Have you ever been to Austin?

Photos borrowed from @stephalop, @breeannveenstra, and @mrspainauchocolat via Instagram.

Austin Texas Travels with Weddingbee

Hey Friends! Happy Friday! I'm blogging to you from Austin, Texas! I'm here with several fellow bee bloggers and we're having a fabulous girl's getaway!

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I met up with DC-area blogger, Stephanie, aka Mrs. Fox and flew down with her. I'm really excited to have a full weekend to connect with Stephanie (we've hung out before) cause she just graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (Whooo! Congrats Steph), and plans to target her health coaching business to brides! You could definitely say we have a lot in common! :)

After a long day of traveling, we arrived in Austin around 7 last night, quickly changed and headed to Rainey Street to meet up with the other girls and do a little bar hopping!

We got our first taste of the city from this food truck, which the hotel bartender highly recommended. I got the "hercules pita" and it was delish!

2013-10-18 00.03.56This morning we woke up early to explore Mount Bonnell. We were prepared for a full-on hike but it was more like a few stairs and overlook. Still really worth the visit, we got lots of great pictures! (More coming soon!)

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We also went to Monkey Nest for coffee this morning and I had the most delicious oatmeal. They had a wide variety of breakfast and coffee options, and the whole place had a really great vibe (lots of peeps just hanging out on their laptops, cool decor).

Tonight we're seeing a show at Esther's Follies and planning to enjoy a little Texas Tex-Mex (maybe a few margaritas!).

I probably won't blog much more cause we have a packed schedule, but I'll be back to regular scheduled programming Monday. You can always follow me on Instagram, too!

Have a great weekend!

Have you been to Austin or anywhere in Texas before?

What's your favorite thing to do there?  

Our Annual Tradition: National Storytelling Festival {Day 2}

Hey guys! Good morning! I'm back from Tennessee with more photos to share! Day two of the National Storytelling Festival was just as great as day one! We shopped around, ate hot dogs and ice cream, and spent some quiet time on the Hawley Bed & Breakfast porch, which overlooks the town. We also met up with some of my Tennessee family to watch the Tennessee football game against Georgia. UT football is kind of a big deal around here! I was excited to wear some of the new clothes I got for my birthday. I rocked this flannel shirt and pants from Forever 21, and riding boots. It was a little warmer than previous years, but I loved my fall outfit too much to change!

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I know I say this every year, but I really love the Hawley Bed & Breakfast where we stay. The Inn Keeper, Marcy, is one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met! She's so good to us! She says Aaron and his sister, Amber are "her children," because she's seen them grow up over the years; she also says Aaron's proposal is the most special thing to ever happen in her home!

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Oh and did I mention Marcy's breakfast? It's delicious - every. single. morning! We wake up early to eat and share stories at the breakfast table (the same table my husband proposed at!) The food in town is pretty good too. We scarfed down hot dogs and ice cream, and enjoyed hot chocolate during the evening stories. Paleo was out the window!

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Despite all the great shopping, food, and Southern hospitality, the highlight of the weekend is always the storytellers. We enjoyed Ed Stivender and Bill Lepp, who we've heard in years past (both are hilarious), and we also really liked the new tellers, Antonio Rocha and Tim Lowry. (Shown below are a few of the other featured tellers.)

 

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As you can see, it was another wonderful day at the festival-- another wonderful year! I'm sad we're headed back already - the weekend flew by - but I know this place will be around this same time next year, and I know we'll be here yet again!

If you're interested, you can read about our one year anniversary back at the festival here, and read the write-up the Storytelling Center did about us here.

What did you do this weekend?

Have you ever heard of storytelling?

Our Annual Tradition: The National Storytelling Festival {Day 1}

Hey guys! Happy weekend! I usually don't post on Saturdays but I wanted to check in to show you a little of the what we're experiencing this weekend at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee! We're staying at the Hawley Bed & Breakfast, where we stay every year, and where my husband proposed 3 years ago, and so far, the weekend is off to a great start! We're staying in the Main House this year (as opposed to the Butterfly Cottage) and the weather has been wonderful - it's in the 80s; it's usually much colder!

We spent the entire day yesterday listening to tellers - if you aren't familiar, the storytelling festival is a place where people come to listen to performers, comedians, storytellers share stories. We heard some incredible ones yesterday. My favorite tellers were Antonio Rocha and Tim Lowry. Rocha's story was funny, but had a deeper meaning and was really inspiring. Lowry was just downright hilarious!

Being around all these storytellers really inspires me as a writer!

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Have you ever heard of such a thing as the storytelling festival?

Do you listening to live storytelling?

 

Back From Our First Cruise; Celebrating Two Years Married!

Hey y'all! Happy first of July!!! I know it's been unusually quiet here on the blog! I had a few posts lined up for the week but I didn't actually schedule them! Oops! We went on a cruise and didn't have internet access from Wednesday through Saturday, so that is why I have been missing-in-action! Here's a recap of our vacation -- this was our first-ever cruise!

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THIS SHIP:

We spent the first few days getting acclaimed with cruise life and our ship -- we were on the Carnival Freedom.

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We liked our room a lot and that was quite surprising, considering it didn't even have a window! The shower was bigger than I anticipated and overall, we were comfortable! The rest of the ship was just OK, in our opinion. We've never been on another cruiser and can't compare, but we didn't feel there were enough pools (there were three and they were small and always full!), and there weren't a lot of ship activities either (the only two we really enjoyed were the stand-up comedians and the movie under the stars). We also thought the interior of the ship was a little dated. We're looking forward to booking on a newer ship in the future!

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It's important to note that the staff on this cruiser was great! I couldn't believe the waiters and waitresses remembered our names! Japhet (in the photo below) said good morning and good evening everyday (also remembering and calling us by our names). He was so sweet I had to get a picture with him!

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PORTS & EXCURSIONS:

We went to Key West, the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica!

Key West was an absolute blast! We walked off the boat with absolutely no plan and tried just walking around, but after about 4 blocks in 100-degree heat, we opted for a moped -- that was an adventure! (I was a lot more afraid than I look!) We rode to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, which was so beautiful! From there, we found this great restaurant, Azur, which was way off the beaten path. The food was delicious!

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Grand Cayman was a whirlwind!

We signed up for biking, kayaking, and snorkeling... little did we know how intense those activities were!

We ended up biking a total of 7 miles!!! We biked to the Rum Cake Factory and a place called "hell" (because of the dead coral reefs on display there).

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After biking, we headed for Seven Mile Beach, which, in my opinion, is seriously the most gorgeous beach ever with its turquoise, crystal blue waters and white sand! We loaded into our kayaks and (wow, kayaking is hard work!) we traveled about a half a mile down the beach and got in the water for snorkeling. We saw lots of beautiful fish and just being in the water was fun! Then we kayaked back  -- we were so tired at that point! We snapped a few pictures and then loaded the bus back to the boat! (We didn't have a waterproof camera so sadly, there's no pictures of us kayaking or snorkeling! :()

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When we got back to the room, we couldn't believe how red we were! The sun was no joke!

Holy sunburn!

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Jamaica was pretty cool but I have to admit, we didn't see much of it. We were totally fine with that, though... We were exhausted after Grand Cayman and really, just wanted a day of relaxation in the sun. We found a beach within walking distance of the boat and hung out there all day.

Again the water was crystal blue and lovely...

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FOOD:

It's true what they say about the abundance of food on a cruise! You can order two or three entrees at dinner and that's after you've had an appetizer and soup! There's always room for dessert, too! The buffets didn't interest us much because they were always pretty crowded; although, I did make a huge salad a few times and top it with chicken fingers once and a few popcorn shrimp another time. I also hit up the chocolate extravaganza buffet, but compared the people in front of me (a couple -- each with two plates filled to the brim!) I think I did pretty good sticking to a few samples and not even eating it all. I can't say I was "good" though because I had my fair share of trips to the soft serve ice cream dispenser (ice cream is my weakness) and I had a few sugary drinks too.

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WORKOUTS:

I'm sure many of you are wondering if we worked out while we were away and the answer is YES!

In fact, we came up with our own cruise WOD! :)

Here's us having fun with the front-facing camera on my iPhone and mirrored ceiling at the finish!

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Working out = happiness!

I'll be posting our cruise WOD soon, so stay tuned!

I'll tell you now - I underestimated how difficult it'd be! Aaron came up with it and I was pretty much dying half-way through, which probably means you'll love it!

Where did you go for your second anniversary?

Have you ever been on a cruise?

We're Setting Sail for a Week-Long Cruise!

Today is my last day at work for a week! Woo hoo! Tomorrow I have a volunteer obligation in the morning and a birthday party mid-afternoon, but after that, we're free! Aaron and I are running off to Florida to set sail for a 6-night cruise to Jamaica, Key West, and the Grand Cayman. I'm. so. excited. We need this vacation! We've been really busy this year with moving, blogging, Aaron with school, and the seemingly never-ending plans with family and friends! We're so looking forward to this getaway.

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Our first trip out of the country together to Costa Rica on our honeymoon!

Crossfit Update:

So, you thought I wasn't going to talk about crossfit? Ha! Guess again!

I have to say that I'm a little sad to leave our box for a week! :( I've become quite fond of (obsessed with?) the workouts! I've done two non-elements classes now and loved them both. I'm also a little afraid that an entire week away will put us right back where we started! To ensure that doesn't happen, we plan to do these Crossfit Travel WODs for Cruises, from Carrots n' Cake, and I also plan to do some crossfit reading (I'm still struggling to remember the official names of all the movements, the acrononyms, etc).

I'm also really looking forward to picking up the July issue of Oxygen Magazine (my fav!). Camille Leblanc-Bazinet is on the cover!! She was named "The Fittest Woman on Earth," at this year's Reebok Crossfit Games and she also happens to be the first - ever - crossfitter to grace the Oxygen cover! Eeks! (The timing is totally eerie with me just having started this sport, but having always loved this magazine!!) I'm VERY excited for this read!

You Can't Meal Plan a Cruise...

Costa Rica 4So you might be wondering how I plan to survive the endless supply of food on this cruise! Well, I'm not exactly sure because I've never been on a cruise before (!!), but I do have a few ideas to at least try to keep myself from going overboard. (Haha. Get it? :))

Besides fitting in some WODs, I plan to drink a lot of water. I'm also going to TRY not to overdo it with the sweets. I'm basically going to give my hubby a sweet code phrase like, "You're the most beautiful amazing woman ever," as a hint that I might be overdoing it. :)  (Because typically, when I overdo it, I tend not to notice, or at least want to notice!)

I'm not really worried about the actual meals, because I tend to go for salads, fish, etc., but the sweets is where I mess up the most. Plus, your brain on sugar is never safe!

As far as alcohol, we're not big drinkers so I'm not too worried about that. I don't always like the way liquor makes me feel, so I tend to go for red wine anyway. I'm not going to feel bad about a few glasses of that! ;p

Of course, in Jamaica I'll probably have at least one fruity rum drink and I'm a stickler for frozen margaritas (especially beach side), so I may get one of those. 

Most Looking Forward to:

I'm really looking forward to the break from social media - that went well before. Sometimes I don't think I even realize just how often I check instagram in a day... and for what? I'm not sure! I'm looking forward to being present in my own life, and not peering into the lives of others all day!

I'm also looking forward to getting some quiet time with my Powersheets! (Buy yours here!) I started them a few weeks ago but have not had a single minute to sit down and actually fill-in my goals. I think being away will give me clarity as to what those goals should be and when I return, I'll be able to jump right into using my tending sheets!

Mostly, I'm looking forward to one-on-one time with my husband... I love this man so much  and between the two of us, he needs this vacation. Bad. His job has been pretty stressful lately and he hasn't had a real vacation since LAST APRIL (2012). I really hope he is able to relax and forget the world for a few days!

We're still newlyweds, right?

I also have to say, that ever since we started crossfit, our bond has grown tremendously! (Yes, in just 3 weeks.)  It's given us something new to talk about, which doesn't have to do with upcoming plans or bills. And the endorphins we feel after a workout really make for some good times together... We're laughing more than ever.

I'm looking forward to life-planning with him... talking about our future... when we'll have kids... careers... and crossfit, of course. It's going to be a great time of connecting and relaxing. I'm ready to go NOW.

Coming up:

I have posts scheduled for next week, which I hope you enjoy! When I get back on the 29th I also plan to grocery shop and meal prep the 30th so that I can start July off on the right foot! (Anyone up for a Paleo challenge in July?)

Do you have any summer travel plans?

Have you ever been on a cruise? Any advice for a first-timer?