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Varenna- The Dream Part 2: An Italian Adventure

Varenna is a small community on Lake Como in the Northern part of Italy.  It looks like a picture and I couldn’t believe it as we got out of the car.  It was everything I dreamed Italy would be with colorful homes, historic hotels, stairs leading down to the water and locals everywhere. It was beautiful!


We left from Milan and as we drove through the tunnels to Lake Como each glimpse got more and more beautiful. We arrived on the afternoon of Thursday, September 29th for a two and half day stay and when we pulled up to the hotel I almost died!  It was perfect! We stayed at Villa Cipressi and when walking up it was clear that this place had been around for a very long time. It was a noble’s home built between 1400-1800 and turned hotel in the 1980’s or so. The key to our room was a regular old school key with a large gold weight with green fridge attached. The rooms were somewhat small but bigger than the rooms in Milan. There was a large window that overlooked the lake with amazing views. We left the hotel to explore a bit. About a 1 minute walk from the hotel was a small square. There were a few small restaurants and cafes. We sat down and ate cheese, meats, melon wrapped in proscuitto and had Italian beer. There were local Italian kids running around, laughing and playing. Afterwards we walked around for hours. This place was everything I thought it would be. The stairways led to peoples homes and up to main streets as well as down to the lake. We walked up and down so many of them and I took so many pictures. It was like art in every direction I turned. My dad and uncle grew out their hair just so they could get Italian haircuts.  There was a great little salon with a woman who had faded red hair and a very friendly smile. She didn’t speak much English but their haircuts came out great! It was such a cool experience.

We ate dinner at different places every night. The first night we had pasta and while everyone else had dessert I got a cheese plate!  I love cheese and when in Italy you eat cheese. We ate breakfast every morning in the breakfast room in the very downstairs of the hotel.  It had an old fireplace and looked like old serving quarters with huge steel doors where you entered and exited.  The hotel had a large botanical garden which overlooked the lake. We walked and ran through these gardens and found so many historic things. Statues, old gates with locks and chains, beautiful plants and little pathways all around the hotel and through the garden.

One of the days we took the ferry over to Bellagio, another small more famous community on the lake. We ate lunch on the lake and walked up and down the stairways there. It was bigger than Varenna and there were a lot more people. I was happy to get back to our side of the lake after a few hours.  We spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Varenna, eating gelato, embracing the Italian culture, drinking coffee in the afternoon and eating at little restaurants hidden in allies. It seemed like I could have stayed there forever.

One day we decided to do some laundry. We walked to a wash, dry and fold place just off the main street. The woman working didn’t speak any English but we managed to drop off the clothes and find out the pick up time. It cost about $15 American dollars to wash one load of clothes. It’s not cheap! My sister and I spent that afternoon by ourselves. We walked all over the place and had so much fun taking pictures and embracing the fact that we were there together.  That night we ate at a very small restaurant with mostly outdoor seating. Al Prato was the name and it was situated in the middle of beautiful Varenna homes on a street just off the main square. The food was good and the service was great! It was a dining experience we all loved and will never forget. It was dark and there was just a bit of lighting from a few lamp posts on the walkways. We had such a great time that night.

One afternoon we sat outside at a small cafe in the middle of the square. It was filled with locals. I think we were the only Americans there. It was so loud with all these people laughing and talking and smoking. It was a little surreal sitting there. It was like time stood still a little bit and we were in another universe. We drank espresso, enjoyed all the culture around us and watched the little local kids run around. It seemed so simple and slow. It wasn’t like anything I was used to.

Our last morning in Varenna we ate gelato for breakfast and took one last walk around this beautiful place. My sister and I both agreed that when we go back to Italy in a couple years, Varenna is where we will stay. In all the cities we stayed, Varenna holds the most memories. The meals, the walks, the exploring, the haircuts, the laundry, the locals at the cafe… It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Part 3 of our Italian Adventure is set in the place where our family started centuries ago. It was our favorite place in Italy.


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Twenty Hours in Milan- Part 1: An Italian Adventure

September 28th 2016 was the day I landed in Italy. We left LAX on Tuesday, Sept. 27th at 8am and arrived the next day in Rome at 9:15am. (Fun Fact: Italy is 9 hours ahead of California.) It was a long couple of flights but the second I stepped foot into that Italian airport, the discomfort and exhaustion were gone. I had finally made it to a place I’d dreamt about for most of my life. I’d been planning for this trip and on my 30th birthday in February my dad surprised me with it.  Five of us set out on more than just a vacation. My dad, husband, sister and uncle were ready for an experience of a lifetime. And there was so much more waiting for us than pasta and gelato… I would soon meet my 6th cousin and 11 other distant relatives. To call this an adventure is an understatement and I’ll explain why in this 6 part post.

img_0325After landing in Rome, we rented a 9 passenger Mercedes van (Siciliy by Car) and drove a long 7 hours to Milan. The drive was rough as all of us were so tired but looking out the window and imagining all the wonderful things we were going to experience in the next two weeks kept us going. We arrived in Milan at about 5:30pm. Milan is a crazy city. Motor scooters and cars zipped past us honking.  So much of the city is covered in graffiti. There was a lot of construction and it took us a while to get to our hotel in our huge van.  But when we pulled up it was so exciting to finally be there. We stayed at a quaint boutique hotel situated on a surprising quiet street near the city center. It was yellow with dark brown shutters. Plants lined the second and third floor balconies. Hotel Gran Duca di York was the perfect hotel for us in Milan. (I booked all our hotels on Booking.com.) We had dinner at a locals spot called Trattoria Milanese that our hotel recommended. The tables were full of Italians talking, laughing and eating.  We were the only Americans in the place and the waiters didn’t speak English. Welcome to Italia! The food was amazing. Probably the best meal of the trip. I had spinach and ricotta stuff tortellini tossed in olive oil. It was so fresh. It was by far the best pasta I’d ever had. We all enjoyed our meal that night at this restaurant on a small hidden street around the corner from our cute hotel.  As we walked back I tried to take in every moment. I’d been waiting to be here in this moment for so long and I was with people I love so much. The streets were quiet and deserted. We walked slow and enjoyed each other’s company. We hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours and it showed. The rooms at the hotel were small. My husband, sister and I were in one room. My husband and I shared a twin bed which was less than comfortable but it didn’t matter because we were so tired and we were finally in Italy! I Facebook messaged my cousin before bed and we confirmed our meeting time and place for October 1st. I was almost too excited to sleep but then again I hadn’t slept in so long and I needed it. I went to bed that night feeling a little different than usual. My gratitude, happiness and anticipation were at an all time high.

The next day we walked the streets of Milan. This city was very alive in the morning. People commuting to work, parents walking their kids to school and locals rushing for coffee. We met a guide named Fabio right outside the Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the Last Supper which was an experience I can’t describe. Fabio was a peppy guy with a great personality.  He spoke good English and his sense of humor was even better! He guided us into the room where the last supper was painted. But before that he gave us a great history lesson on Leonardo da Vinci and his painting method. The building that houses the Last Supper was severely damaged in WWII by bombs but the wall that it was painted on was left standing. When we got inside it was silent. To see something so old and historic was amazing.  Watching my dad look up at this beautiful work of art, that his mother would have given so much to see, was something I will never forget. I could only imagine what he was thinking in those moments. I highly suggest going to see this if you ever make your way to Milan. After 15 minutes inside we exited the building and walked to the Duomo di Milano. It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in real life and the largest church in Italy. It was surreal standing in front of it. There is military with large guns surrounding the building and they check you out before going in. We got our tickets and walked into the most beautiful church. Stained glass, huge pillars, statues, pews and holy water. We walked the perimeter inside and then headed outside to get to the roof. We chose to take the stairs which was an experience all it’s own. There were hundreds of stairs in a very narrow winding stair case shaft which was barely wide enough for two people. When we got to the top it was breathtaking and unbelievable. The building of this Duomo started in 1386 and took six centuries to complete. Mark Twain visited in 1867 and wrote, “They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.” This statement seemed so true. This Duomo was magnificent!

We ate lunch at a little touristy spot, unfortunately, but we were so hungry it almost didn’t matter. We had pizza and caprese and I had my first Italian cappuccino.  We then walked back to the hotel and stopped for some strawberry and mango gelato. There were so many yummy treats! The gelato was pretty good but nothing compared to what we were going to have later in the trip. We checked out of the hotel after a mini photo shoot in the middle of the street. We were sad to go but we packed up and headed out to the next place on the map. Next stop… Varenna, Lake Como! (Our 2nd favorite place it Italy. I can’t wait to share our favorite.)

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Italian Adventure.

Have you experienced Milan? I’d love to hear about your favorite hotel, restaurant and memory.  Share below 🙂


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The PERFECT Carolina’s Vacation

As I’ve said before 2016 has been our year for travel. 2015 ended in disappointment and 2016 started the same way. So we decided to give it all up and just live our lives exactly how we wanted with little regard for being responsible.

Our weekend trips to Vegas and Cabo were great but this June week long adventure in the Carolina’s will forever be one of our top vacations of all times!

My sister’s best friend from college is from Charlotte, North Carolina.  Her family has a beautiful home on many acres.  They also have a beach house in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. So for 7 days, my husband and I, our dog Gia, my sister and her boyfriend spent our time with two of our absolute favorite people traveling through these states and having the time our lives.  We met some really great people and have memories that will last forever.

We flew into Charlotte on a Sunday. The green landscape and beautiful homes are a huge part of what makes this place so appealing. We spent that night watching the NBA finals, eating pizza and planning our week. The next morning we ate at a cute street side cafe and explored downtown Charlotte. We got to go inside Panthers stadium and see where Carolina football takes place.  This city is beautiful!

That evening we headed over to the Ward home and the best night of our trip (according to my sister) took place.  We walked into their gorgeous huge house and into the kitchen where a very thoughtful welcome sign was waiting for us. We raced on golf carts and scooters through open land with the GoPro capturing some funny moments. They have a huge pond/lake on their property. We fished and kayaked while the sun went down and after dark we watched TV on the back patio and ate some delicious food. Fire flies or “lightning bugs” were everywhere and being from California, it was something I’ve never seen before.  Our dogs played in the yard and we relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. Our 1st full day was an amazing one!

The next day we left for Surfside Beach.  It was about a 3 hour drive and we started the morning with a little Bojangles Famous Chicken and Biscuits. This is a place we’ve heard a lot about. It was a huge hit! We drove through rural areas and saw homes much different from those in California. The beach town of Surfside was cute, quiet and charming.  The family home was two blocks from the beach with a pool, two decks and 4 big rooms.  It was the perfect place to spend the next 3 days.  People get around on golf carts and bicycles so we took many rides exploring the beach houses and little shops. But our favorite was riding to the grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly.  We spent our mornings riding to get coffee, our afternoons on the beach and our nights in land mark cities or barbecuing and swimming.  After dark we’d walk to get ice cream and there were many corn hole tournaments with some serious competitive moments.  Our first night we went to Mrytle Beach, had dinner at Margaritaville and watched some awesome fireworks. Our last night in South Carolina, we decided to drive down to Charleston.  This town was the most beautiful I have seen.  We ate at Poogan’s Smokehouse which was a ritzier type of BBQ joint. By the time we were done eating it was dark but we still walked to see Rainbow Row and Battery Street. We ended up in a park with a gazebo where a couple slow danced in the dark. It was straight out of a movie.  We waited on the curb for a couple of Pedicabs to pick us up.  We rode through downtown and right by the Calhoun Mansion where part of the Notebook was filmed. There were so many amazing homes and buildings. After we were dropped off we walked down King street where we saw the 1940s deco American Theatre and the intersection of King St and Mary St where Noah and Allie laid down to watch the traffic lights.  We again ate ice cream and admired the night life in this lively city.

The next morning we left South Carolina and drove back to Charlotte. That afternoon we drove out to Cabarrus into an open field next to a creek where we met up with some friends for a few hours of skeet shooting and target practice. It was so fun to be outside instead of at an indoor shooting range. It was so hot and humid but it didn’t matter. I tried dipping tobacco “dip” for the first time because when in Rome, right?!  I kept the pouch in for a good 2 minutes before I got rid of it. Pretty gross but I’ll try anything once. We shot smalls guns, big guns, shot guns and rifles. And I actually hit 2 out of 5 clay discs with a shot gun. I definitely felt like a bad ass!

We got back to the house a couple hours before sunset.  We picked up the dogs and went on a long walk on a trail behind their house.  There were open fields where the dogs ran free and a big bridge that was full of graffitied artwork. We were chased by big beetles and the dogs jumped into some nasty water but we saw some beautiful things. That night we were exhausted so we got some greasy food and the best milkshakes in town from a fast food place called “Cookout.” All of us fell asleep in the living room while watching a movie.

Our last full day in Charlotte was my favorite. My sister and her boyfriend left this day which was disappointing but later that evening we drove out to New Salem, North Carolina to a family friend’s property where they had beautiful horses.  We rode Pistol, Daisy and Sage.  I’ve had an obsession with horses since I was a little girl in Montana. I love riding them, brushing them and just being in their presence. It’s been years since I was actually able to spend quality time just being with them so this evening was the highlight of the trip for me.  My husband made a comment that he hasn’t seen me this happy ever. I thought it was funny but I think I might be happiest in moments like this.  The family that owned the horses were so kind.  These horses had an amazing life and this family opened up their home for us to come and really spend time with them. After an hour or more of riding, we were able to take off their saddles, brush them, let them graze and love on them.  It was AMAZING! Being in the presence of an animal with such power is like nothing else. Riding is one thing but caring for them is on a different level. I was absolutely in heaven. Later that night we rescued a dog from the side of the road, took it home and the next morning found it’s family. All in a days work 🙂

It was day 7 and time to leave. On every vacation I’ve ever been on I was ready to go home by the end of it.  But not this time.  I could have stayed there in those moments forever. By far the best vacation I’ve ever been on.  I know it sounds a little funny.  Better than Hawaii or Cabo??? Yes, it was! The Carolina’s hold a special place in my heart and the amazing people we spent time with are more like family then friends. I highly suggest visiting the Carolina’s for your next vacation.  We will definitely be back because there is so much more to see.

7 Day Trip:  Fly in/out of Charolette and spend time driving around the area and admiring the beautiful homes. Visit downtown and Panthers, Bank of America, stadium. Visit or rent a home on beautiful land to get the full experience of living in North Carolina. Head to South Carolina and visit a beach town. East Coast beaches are completely different than West Coast beaches. Visit Myrtle Beach, it’s a fun fair/marketplace like environment but if you like a little more of a calm home base, stay in Surfside. Drive to Charleston and immerse yourself in history and beauty. (We’ll be going back here specifically because we want to really see everything we can.) Walk by Rainbow Row and admire these gorgeous colorful historic homes. Take a pedicab through the streets at night and admire the lit up buildings and the fast paced feel of the historical city.  Don’t take for granted spending time in the small counties that are rural and back woods-ish.  These places are open, green and absolutely beautiful. Shoot guns, ride horses and fish.  Eat BBQ, Bojangles, Cook Out and any other staple place you can find.  Most importantly embrace the way of life, try things you normally wouldn’t and enjoy the stunning land that make up these beautiful states.

Now on to the next adventure!


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Unknown Path

I used to be scared of the unknown. Now a days I find myself running towards it. New places, unfamiliar people and almost impossible challenges are what I’m drawn to. I want to experience all that I can while I can so I often choose the unknown path simply to see where it takes me. Have you considered the unknown?


Just some Wednesday morning thoughts…


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