Guest Blog- Italy!

All About Italy!

Guest Blogger: Jen Elmore

Ever since Pinterest was created in 2010, I have spent countless hours scouring through the travel boards and daydreaming about the picturesque images of Italy. Every village looked like a postcard, every meal looked divine, and every dreamy little beach screamed romance. My husband and I finally booked our dream vacation to Italy and traveled there in 2016. The trip was perfect, however, the planning and preparation getting to that point was less than seamless just because there was so much to see! Therefore, I could not be more excited to be a guest blogger and put together my ideal itinerary if you want to try to see all of Italy on a tight timeline and do not want to spend hours on research.

Capri

JenO1Capri

Capri came highly recommended to me by multiple friends, and after spending three days there, I PLEAD with anyone going to Italy to please spend time there. I have been very fortunate to travel to amazing places on this earth, and Capri is by far the best place I have ever been. To get to this beautiful little island, fly straight into Naples and take a 40 minute high speed ferry into the island. The island itself is small and you can explore the entire place in a few days, however I would spend a week there if I could. We stayed in Capri 3 nights today – spent 2 days in Capri and then took a day trip to Positano.

Where to stay:

The island is split into two parts: Capri and Anacapri. Capri is full of nightlife, shopping, and fun town squares. Anacapri is quitter and more laid back. We stayed at an exquisite Airbnb in Anacapri, which is on the far side of the island and away from all of the touristy crowds. I have never seen sunsets so vivid and views so beautiful that I have from the front door of our Airbnb. The owner Genny and his family live in the main house and built the entire home from hand. They were exceptional hosts and I am so happy to have met such a wonderful Italian family.

http://www.villadalessandro.it/

What to do:

Capri is an island of relaxation and romance, but there is still plenty to do and explore.

  • The Blue Grotto: This is world famous and something that was at the top of my list and was conveniently just steps away from our Airbnb. It is a cove with white sand on the bottom so the rays from the sun make it appear bright blue. The waves are crazy so you need to take a boat into the cove but then you can get out and swim around. It was one of our favorite memories together!
  • Private boat rental: We got a cute little private boat (http://www.giannisboat.com) and absolutely loved it. It was an adorable boat with pillow beds, coolers full of wine and beer, and an extremely knowledgeable captain. This is by far the best way to see the entire island and its secret coves. We did lots of swimming and snorkeling and saw some of the bluest waters either of us have ever seen!
  • Hike and get lost in the winding streets: One of our favorite things was just walking and exploring the beauty of this island. You can take a chairlift to the top and take in the views, or you can hike it yourself I you are feeling adventurous.

Where to eat:

Pro tip – Italians eat LATE. We never made reservations because every time we ate around 7 or 8pm, we were the only ones there! Also, Italian house wine is GOOD and cheaper than water. So don’t be shy, indulge!

  • Da Paolina: This was the best meal of our life. The restaurant itself is the definition of romance and is in the middle of a lemon tree forest! Their specialties are lemon sauce and lemoncello! We also had the best caprese salad of our life here (hint…caprese salad was created here)
  • Da Digiorio: This was steps from our Airbnb and overlooked the ocean and sunset. They had extremely fresh seafood and it has just come in from their fisherman, so we got to go into the kitchen and literally pick our fish out!
  • Ristorante Matertita: We loved this adorable restaurant. It was right in the Anacapri square in front of a beautiful church. We ate vodka sauce gnocci here that was out of this world and had some of the best Rose we had in Italy.

Positano

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When I close my eyes and imagined Italy, I imagined Positano. We knew we wanted to go to Positano, but we didn’t have the time to stay everywhere, so we ended up making Positano a day trip out of Capri and it ended up being perfect! You can take a 30 minute ferry out of Capri in the morning, and then take a ferry back in the evening. It ended up being plenty of time to see everything and truly feel like we got the Amalfi Coast experience. In a lot of ways, I preferred this because Positano is a major hub for cruise ships, so it was extremely crowded with tourists and it was just a chaotic feeling. Also, it is extremely expensive to stay there, so a day trip was the best of both worlds.

What to do:

  • Wander the streets: If you are a big shopper, you will love it here although it is very high end. The streets wind like crazy so we loved just getting lost and exploring. Walking around was the best way to take in the sights and see the beauty.
  • Have lunch at Le Sirenuse Hotel: This place is PRICEY…however, it is very well known because it has the best view of Positano so tourists flock here to take pictures. It was worth it. When I walked out on the balcony of the restauraunt I literally gasped in awe….there in front of me was THE Pinterest picture I had seen so many times and imagined how awesome it would be to see it in person. Well there I was, seeing it, and it was so special.
  • Rent a beach bed and relax: Laying around people watching was one of our favorite things to do. Completely surrounded by beauty and drink in hand, we spent hours just doing nothing and it was the best.

Rome

Rome

Rome was an absolute must see for my history obsessed and very catholic husband. Even though Rome is a big city and there is a ton to do there, I recommend spending only 2 days in Rome as it is more than enough time to see everything you want to see.

Where to stay:

The best neighborhood to stay is a cute little area called Trastervere which translates to “the other side of the river.” While it is pricier than most areas, it is very quint, trendy, and has some of the best restaurants in Rome. It is also centrally located to most of the big sites to see.

What to do:

  • The Vatican: This is an obvious one, but if for some reason you feel like it might be overrated and not worth the hype, wrong. It is worth seeing. My husband loves the catholic church so we went all out and did the 3 hours tour which takes you through the basilica and the museum. It is very long so if you are not extremely interested about the Church, I would skip the tour and just walk around yourself through the church and the square.
  • The Colleseum: Another “worth the hype” experience. It was unbelievable to see the ruins and imagine how the romans were able to build such massive structures.
  • Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon
  • largo di torre argentina: This is a ruins site that Caesar was murdered at, but now it is an actual cat sanctuary for the city cats. I am obsessed with cats so of course I had to see it, and there are literally hundreds of cats who live in the ruins and are fed and vaccinated by the city. Even if you don’t like cats, it was actually a really awesome sight to see!

Where to eat:

  • Dar Poeta: Our favorite pizza in Italy!
  • Ristorante Della Ricciotta: This was the cutest boutique restarautant in Rome. Very small and it felt so personal, we also had some of the best pasta here.

Florence

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Florence is the definition of an Italian city. We spent 5 days here total, however only 2 of them in Florence but then 3 of them as day trips out of Florence. It is a great home base for day trips because it has a great central location. I recommend doing day trips to other cities because that way you don’t have to deal with the hassle of packing and checking in and out of hotels so much.

What to do:

  • Ponte Vecchio
  • The Duomo: This is the giant church in the main square, and by far the prettiest church in Italy. Make sure you climb the tower all the way to the top for INCREDIBLE views of Florence.
  • The David: I hate museums, but wow. David really was overwhelming. The statue itself was MASSIVE and extremely intricate, it is absolutely worth it to see.

Where to eat:

  • Bucca Mario: Florence is very well knows for Florentine steak and this place does it the best. The steak itself was bigger than my head and it was worth the price.

Day Trips!

Day Trip- Tuscay

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I am a huge wine lover so I knew I wanted to see Tuscay, however we just didn’t have the time to really do it, so a day trip was the perfect solution. I recommend using Viator.com which is a website that has a tour for anything you could think of. We ended up doing an entire day tour that took us to multiple wineries in Tuscay where we could tour and taste the wines (https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Taste-of-Chianti-Tuscan-Cheese-Wine-and-Lunch-from-Florence/d519-5070CHIANTISAFARI)

This was one of the highlights of our trip and I am already planning on coming back just to spend time in Tuscany.

Day Trip– Cinque Terre

Day Trip

Okay so I know I say a lot of things are my favorite part of my trip, but this is one of my favorite parts of our trip! Cinque Terre translates to “5 towns” and essentially is exactly that. There are 5 towns all lined up along the coast and each one is the cutest Italian village you could ever imagine. We took a tour to see it all (tours are the way to go) and were so happy we did. Each town is connected by a train or a hike. The views were absolutely spectacular and I highly recommend you add this to your trip! https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Cinque-Terre-Full-Immersion/d519-6274P35

Day Trip– Venice

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I always knew we wanted to go to Venice, but I had friends actually tell me they didn’t like it so I worried scheduling it into our trip. Again, that is why day trips are perfect. We booked a train ticket and it was about 2 hours to Venice. I literally want to stop being friends with the person who told me not to go to Venice, because it was the absolute best way to end our trip. We had nothing planned in Venice, you simply go to get lost in the streets. There are no cars there so no streets. Streets are canals and the entire town is a maze full of turns and dead ends. We explored for a full 6 hours and stopped as cute cafes for lunch and drinks. PLEASE GO TO VENICE. Every corner was cuter then the next and I constantly had to stop for pictures, I wanted to gag it was so cute. I am so happy we got this memory, especially and it may not be around in the future as it is actually sinking.

We trained back to Florence that night and flew home the next morning. All in all our trip was 10 days. A lot to squeeze in, but it can be done. Italy is magical and if you have the opportunity to go there, do it!

 

2017 Top 10 Trip Countdown

At the end of each year, I have spent the time to reflect back to my personal growth, and a lot of it comes with lessons learned through trips, people I’ve met, time spent, and memories made.

That said… here is my top 10 trip countdown!

10. Washington D.C.

If looking to do a weekend trip to see the most popular memorials DC has to offer this can be a weekend trip. I recommending seeing: Lincoln Memorial, then White House, Washington Memorial, and Martin Luther King Memorial. For me this trip made the top 10 because it was a nice reminder that although I have a lot I want to fit in a weekend trip, that being in the moment is most important. This trip I remember dragging on from arrival until 1-2am in the morning, and although all stops on most itineraries were met, there wasn’t a particular spot that I just lived in the moment. For 2018, I’m going to get where I want to go, and spend time there being present. Well, there is a moment with red,white, & blue popsicles that sticks out, and playing at a game bar, but besides the point… haha.

9. New Haven, Washington and Milford, Connecticut

If a Gilmore Girls fan, or just trying to marvel over expensive homes, perfect roads, and quiet beaches, then Connecticut may be for you! This is a fun weekend trip, especially if only for a weekend. The entire state spanned over just three hours, and had lots of cute boutiques and small-town feels.

8. San Francisco, California

I left my heart in San Francisco. This was another city toured by the Big B Bus Tour, which was perfect given that getting nearly anywhere here was hilly, and time consuming! This particular trip stuck out in my mind because I had seen a few things that I hadn’t seen in years, or at all: The Painted Ladies (more commonly known as the Full House, house), Alcatraz, and the downtown Pier area, where there was many small shops and museums. Additionally, the many scenic views from many perspectives reminded and humbled me that although I’ve seen many pictures of the beautiful city, that my vantage point by being present is most valued (for me, so travel on!).

7. The 2017 Eclipse, Simpson Illinois

Never have I ever…been a place where half of America drove to, in order to share the same experience at the exact same time. After going directly to Illinois from work, to camping with work colleagues… this trip is an unforgettable one. This made the top list, as I remember the moon covering the sun and the whole sky go dark, everyone go quiet, and then being humbled that as important as our every day lives are… that we are just a small piece of this entire universe.

6. Miami Beach, Florida

This is definitely a place one must visit… during the day the city has miles of beach that welcomes you to natural beauty, and at night the calm beach vibes turn into a salsa/reggae tunes. There has not been such as a place that has both business, beach, and nightlight moods in one place. On this trip a Big B Bus Night Tour was taken, which I would definitely recommend as it acclimated tourists to hidden areas where celebrities live and guides you through the Havana District where many movies were created.

This trip made the top 10 as nothing went as planned, but ended up being one of my most memorable nights in my travels. The only goal all weekend was to hit the beach and soak up the sun, but a part of planning ahead is the unknown if Mother Nature will cooperate. This time, she did not with there being LOTS of rain that particular weekend. But as the saying goes, “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.” So! That is exactly what happened, fun in the ocean with rain sprinkling. Then ending the night with a evening walk, and the best food and drinks at Mangos!

5. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park is the perfect place to visit if looking for scenic drives and HUGE sequoia trees. If you’ve never seen one it is certainly worth the day trip over to this national park. My fear, is not seeing things I’ve always wanted to see because I chose to wait too long. These trees were a must! To see photos and read in books the huge trunks of these pieces of nature I could only imagine, but now can envision from personal experience! P.S. Take the General Sherman stop, preferably visit before the sun fully rises to enjoy the quiet paths and the sound of your breath as you make it to the biggest tree in the country.

This trip, similar to Miami Beach, reminded me to go with the flow and to accept what can’t be changed in the moment. After a long drive, from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park, with many detoured roads due to forest fires, the destination was made. But what happens when you’re ready to take a first camping experience and you have everything except tent polls. Yes, this happened. Admittingly, my first reaction was not pleasant, and throwing the tent over the windows while the warm 100+ degree weather heated the car causing periodic middle-night car starts, it made for an experience. If not, at minimum a lesson for the basics… I mean who forgets tent polls.. this one. All-in-all it was funny looking back at it, and after spending the next night in Fresno to purchase a cheap Walmart tent and extra tent polls for the following nights in Yosemite.

4. Yosemite National Park, California

This was definitely top 5 worthy due to its beauty, challenges, scenic stops, late night fire talks, and nummy s’mores. What stands out most to me was the 8-mile North Dome trail. Having never really hiked a trail, this was quite the challenge what I found was the journey to the desired location was quite wonderful, and I’ve always been one for the motto “it’s the journey, not the destination.” If you’ve never been to Yosemite and looking for a day-trip hike that isn’t too difficult, I recommend this hike! A helpful tip would be to carry a liter of water for every two miles walk, especially if the weather is hot. When visiting it was about 90 degrees. The nice thing about this hike, was a lot of it was shaded until the last mile, when you overlook the Half Dome. And, when you’re at your destination weather doesn’t matter… you take it all in!

3. The Big Island (Kona), Hawaii

Okay I’m going to be honest. I don’t know how Hawaii made it as a (U.S.) state, I need to read up on the history. The length of time to travel from Michigan to Hawaii, was just as much as it was to go to the Philippines and Europe. That’s a crazy thought! Now, I’ll tell you this was the first trip in my travels that challenged me in planning, because I have to: learn that there are many islands, that cost differently to get to each, and each provide different terrains and activities to do that are vastly different. Once I figured out the different islands, and considered the various costs my mom and I decided on the Big Island. Flying into Kona was certainly a memorable experience watching the plane land to rugged land, when I had always pictured luscious greens and beautiful birds. Landed, got “laid,” and took on this annual trip with my mom that was unforgettable. The Big Island provides: traditional late night luaus, beautiful volcanoes, rocky beaches, macadamia nuts, exotic flowers, fresh fruit, submarine tours with WWII ships, GORGEOUS waterfalls, and cave tours.

2. Iceland

Can you believe the idea of visiting Iceland came from a country song? Yes! “Die a Happy Man,” by Thomas Rhett. I remember hearing this beautiful song, and thinking “this guy is willing to give everything up he wants to see for a woman?” One line said, “if I never get to see the northern lights…” and I thought… one day when I meet my future man and maybe I will have to give up some moments I’ve always wanted, and before that happens I better see these Northern Lights! I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is so very true! So, needless to say, I started doing some research of cheaper places to visit in February that allowed this experience, with the symbolism of February being my birthday. And, well Iceland didn’t disappoint! And, the Northern Lights dancing along the sky was something I’ll never forget. The beautiful country provided MANY different experiences.

The southern part of the country is historic, rooted from the Viking days, and from volcanoes that changed the geography of the country. The eastern coast has beautiful and unforgettable black sand beaches and glaciers to hike. The northern region of the country is known for taking a snowmobile to the tops of glaciers, and you can’t visit Iceland without visiting the city of Reykjavik, that was quaint, quiet and walkable offering many mini shops, seafood, and iconic buildings and landmarks, and the infamous Blue Lagoon.

I definitely recommend this trip for 20-30 somethings, but as a helpful tip, be prepared to spend a lot of money on food, due to everything needed to be imported into the country. I would say the average meal was about $40 USD.

1. Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

My favorite trips have mixed in: historical symbolism, road trips, family, loved ones, and new experiences. This trip provided all of these! This was the first time for all those who had come on this trip in taking an RV across the country. I am long overdue to share some of the RV experiences, but for those considering a visit to Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota not only has a mountain with four presidents on the side of the mountain, but is home of Bear Country, the antique Drug Store (that is comparable to a mall with country antiques and fees), Crazy Horse, Falls Park, and Railroad tours that allow you to take the beautiful state all in.

This trip is for all ages! If you want to be ambitious, I challenge you take it in an RV!

The Jiffy Factory Tour…FREE!

With me purchasing of a new home this summer meant cutting out my second international trip for fall 2017. Instead, I thought why not save some money and invest time in the beautiful state I can now say is home, Michigan. 

Not to far from Ann Arbor, MI is Chelsea, Michigan, where the Jiffy Factory is located. 

What is Jiffy? Whether you noticed it, or not, Jiffy is everywhere spanning over every US state, and in 20+ countries worldwide. Jiffy provides 11 baking products with the most popular being cornbread mix, brownie mix, and blueberry muffin mix! And the best part, each box is less than $0.75… whhhhaaatt! Peak at Jiffy Products Here!

I want to share with you a tour I went on this morning, which was a second go-around…the last time being when I was in elementary school in the 90s. 

What about this tour?

The best thing about the factory tour is that it’s FREE! The tour totals an hour that includes a 20 minute introduction video (was an easy watch, content filled, but entertaining/funny), 10 minute safety video, and a 30 minute packaging tour around the factory. The packaging tour includes seeing how each of the boxes are folded, filled with white plastic, and filled with flour/mix. Concluding the tour are gifts from the factory to your kitchen, and a recipe book!

If you’re looking to join a tour, you must make a reservation. My recommendation if you’re an adult, is to go during the first tour, 9am. This way, you don’t have to worry about lots of kids, or it being too loud, just saying.


Random Facts

  • The factory has been inherited and ran 4 generations, so far
  • It is difficult to get a job because turnover is low- my tour guide, Brenda, has been with Jiffy for 18 years and is considered a junior employee  (people with seniority have been with the company nearly 40 years…wowza!)
  • All Jiffy mix is made at the Chelsea factory, being that it’s the only factory
  • Jiffy is found in most grocery stores including: Meijer, Walmart, Aldi, etc.- most places don’t carry all Jiffy products but Jiffy encourages you to inform the store manager if you’re looking for their product that’s not in store. Most store owners want to carry Michigan made products, but don’t know the demand for which products
  • Jiffy can be found above and below eye-level in stores. To keep the prices low they don’t pay for the premium shelving space.


If you’ve ever gone I’d love for you to share your experience by commenting on this blog. If you have any questions, thoughts, or comments they can be left below too!

 

Hawaii Underwater

Motivational Rant:

I am deeply motivated by learning, which has been my motivation and drive toward visiting new places and meeting new people. Each place I visit is an opportunity to become more educated on the places unknown, unseen and with people I haven’t met. 

Although some know my travels as tackling this endless bucket list of places I want to see… it is as equally rewarding to try new things in the places I visit. 

Life. An opportunity to know everything we want to know. For me, learning comes in forms of understanding and hearing new perspectives, and viewing the world from a new vantage point. Each place I visit is a piece that lives and continues on in the blogs I post, pictures I take, videos I create, but most importantly the memories I keep with me. 

This brings me back to the beautiful state of Hawaii. And, let’s marinate in that thought… Hawaii is a state? Hawaii, located in the middle of Pacific was closer to New Zealand, Australia and Asian islands than my home state of Michigan. Yet, it is a part of the U S of A. What a thought! 

Before this visit, when I had thought of Hawaii I pictured luscious, greener palm trees, white sand beaches, deep blue oceans, sweet songs of birds, etc. But little did I know that the memory that would live on would be seeing Hawaii underwater, from a submarine that is!

The Experience:

Imagine, cradling back and forth in the Pacific Ocean in a tank, small face sized windows, hard McDonald-style seating, shoulder to shoulder with strangers and no seatbelt. Then, the captain of the ship telling you that it is about that time to descend in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. You take one last peak at the shore line that is about 2 miles away and begin to question if this quest is for you. As you descend downward your ears pop and you see the meter to the left of the captain increase in 5 feet every 15 or so seconds, indicating how far below surface you are submerged. Anxiety releases when you see the first fish. Meek water, dull colors, and just silver fish. 

50 feet under… you notice that the ocean floor is a ways down, but in view, you see more fish swimming. Why here? 

60 feet under… you grab the one you are closest to and start to appreciate a world you never knew. You swam in it, but this is new life, a different life. 

80 feet… coral. No, the coral is not the color of that you see on Finding Nemo, instead it is gray and white, impacted by the pollution we humans have done. Light bulb, you are important, but is nature too is and we need to respect it. 

100 feet… ocean floor. Quiet, no one talks. A calming sense of appreciation, success of reaching the bottom, you look out. And, to your surprise you near a ship wreck. We did that… but there’s hope. Many fish have claimed this ship as home, coral has grown, fish are playing. To the fish the best home is the mess we humans left behind… ironic right? 

The Lesson:

We all have our preconceived notions of what it is we see, or I should say… what we choose to see. But we should spend the time to frequently reflect on seeing things from a new perspective. In positioning ourselves with a new point of view we can truly appreciate our world and all walks of life (standing, or swimming), and more importantly, learn. In learning we can become more than what we are, and help more than we think.