While I’m stuck at home…

While I’m stuck at home, bored, with limited human interaction and talking ceaselessly to my dogs, I figured I’d reminisce about the time not so long ago when I was absentmindedly living in Florence without a care in the world. That is until the coronavirus hit Italy. It has now been over a month since my program decided to hastily cancel the semester. What was la dolce vita turned into a chaotic mess within 48 hours while we all tried to rapidly flee the country. At the time, it seemed like a major overreaction by the program. As it happened, that abroad program was the first American school to cancel in-person classes, a move that seemed drastic, yet now ironic, as practically every student from the US is currently completing their semesters from living room couches across the country. All of us abroad students, along with the rest of the world, are trying to grapple with what happened to “our time” abroad, “our time” to travel, explore and be free, “our time” to not be burdened with work for once and have nothing in our way. I know that there are many more severe problems that people are facing with this virus, and that is it truly a privilege to go abroad in the first place. Still, I think it necessary to accept and mourn everything we’ve lost, even the small things, to keep our sanity in this surreal situation. It has been an emotional blow for me since study abroad has been something I’ve dreamt of my entire life. Some days, I wake up, confused, and have to come to terms with everything that happened since I don’t usually live at home. Positively is key, however, and I can only hope to return to Italy as soon as possible and continue to explore and immerse myself in the beautiful country.

I’m very thankful for the time I got in Italy and Europe. If I have learned anything, it is to always take advantage of any opportunity because you never know when it could end or be taken away from you. I tried to make the absolute most of my time abroad, traveling when I could, and exploring Florence when I had the time. No, I didn’t get to see the entire city, regretfully saving many attractions for when my parents and friends came to visit. That’s ok, though; it gives me a reason to go back. There were many places I was dying to see this spring, yet, I can only look forward and still anticipate visiting them in the future.

After “fleeing” Florence, I luckily had the chance to spend some more time traveling in England and Scotland, as I had already planned a spring break trip in London and had friends I could visit there. I wanted to prolong returning home as best I could, and quite frankly, I stayed in Europe as long as I possibly could have. The two and a half weeks I spent on trains traveling around the UK were remarkable, and I’m thankful to have gotten the chance for more memories before the whole quarantine fiasco started. My travels in the UK felt as though there was a dark cloud over every excursion and conversation as the coronavirus was about to start affecting everyone else abroad. There was much uncertainty since it was only a matter of time until other programs got sent home. The virus was chasing after me, but there was nothing that anyone could have done. I had my adventures, often by myself, that I can look back on and cherish. I saw more of the country than I would have if my program didn’t get canceled, and I got to spend more time in London, one of my favorite cities in the world.

I’ve been reluctant to look back at all of my travels, and have put off writing about them while back at home since it seems as though it was a lifetime ago that I was carelessly moving throughout Europe. I have had a hard time thinking about my time abroad, choosing to focus on various crafts, family activities, and schoolwork to take my mind off of where I should be right now. Positive distractions are essential at a time like this. It’s been long enough, though, and I hope to share more about my journeys and experiences moving forward through posts and pictures to reminisce and celebrate the time I did spend in Europe. For now, arriverdverci

Austrian Adventures

Austria, home of strudel, snitzel and the Sound of Music, has a sense of regality that makes you feel momentarily like royalty.  History seeps into every grand avenue of Vienna, lined with enlightenment era white marble buildings and ornate cafes.  Two days in Vienna allowed me to appreciate the cultural richness of the city from the classical music to the turn of the century art movements that define the golden era of the Habsburg empire.  Across the country, lays Salzburg, in the mountains, where both Mozart and the Von Trap family originated.  I regrettably only spent one night in Salzburg, but that was enough for me to fall in love with the alpine charm and natural beauty of the area.  

Vienna appears surprisingly like a modern busy city from the outskirts in with plenty of energy and vibrance.  City center, however, old town charm is abundant.  The churches show the best of baroque architecture, marked by the massively elaborate St Stephans Cathedral with its intricately colorful mosaic roof and spires.  I happened to walk into a service at the church and got to hear the organ play while taking the elevator up to the rood which was quite an experience (imagine hearing the lords prayer sung in German).  The cathedral boosts wonderful views of the city, along with views of the unique roof.  The famous opera house, where Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, among others, casually premiered much of their most well known work, is right across from the Sacher Hotel, home to the original Sacher Torte.  I enjoyed the famous chocolate and apricot cake at the Sacher Cafe which was magically upholstered in deep red velvet and magnificent chandlers.  The apple strudel from the cafe is also amazing and the atmosphere itself is worth it, even if you don’t like chocolate cake.  

Schoenbrunn palace is a quick 15 minute subway ride outside of the city center and holds so much history from Austria’s Habsburg glory days.  The giant palace sits on beautiful gardens and is well worth an inside tour since the rooms are perfectly preserved, including the grand ballroom and the big portrait rooms.  From a historical standpoint, the audioguide offered a lot of insight into the palace’s history and the lives of the people that lived there which was extremely fascinating.  

Belvedere palace is actually an art museum, yet looks extremely regal from the outside.  The palace hosts many of Austria’s most famous works such as Klimt’s The Kiss and other works, and the big Napoleon painting that is instantly recognizable.  The museum is really well done with a beautiful neoclassical marble interior and a great collection of art spanning many centuries.  

Beyond desserts, Austrian food is hearty and comforting.  I tried both pork and veal weiner snitzel served traditionally with potato salad, lemon and cranberry sauce.  The breaded and fried meat pairs perfectly with the sweeter garnishes.  It’s disgustingly delicious and definitely a must-try.  Austrian beef-broth soup is also very tasty, served with a big singular dumpling (think matzo-ball soup with beef instead of chicken).  Bratwurst stands can be found all over Vienna and they might seem sketchy, but they serve up the best hot dogs in soft baguettes.  I tried a cheese filled one with mustard and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.  Cafe Central is a famous belle époque era cafe that mimics a gothic cathedral and has had many famous intellectuals as regulars over the years.  I had apple strudel for breakfast there and have no shame about it.  

Cafe Central in all its glory

Traditional Austrian dinner

Salzburg, at the foot of the alps, is a mountain city, full of both regal and charm.  The Sound of Music tour was the perfect way to see the city and the surrounding area in a short time with unmatched panoramic vistas.  You get to visit all of the filming locations and sing along to the music on the bus.  The town makes Mozart’s presence know, with monuments and squares all over dedicated to him.  Walking around Salzburg at night was surreal, as the hill top castle and other landmarks are lit up, along with the incredible rock face that the town is built into.  

Restaurants:

Cafe Sacher: famous and beautiful

Cafe Central: also famous and beautiful with good breakfast

Weibel’s Wirtshaus: great classic Austrian food in a nice setting

Zum Zirkelwirt: Fun atmosphere and casual Austrian food in Salzburg

First impressions

Here I am, in Florence Italy, writing while sipping a crazy cheap and crazy good cappuccino in a gourmet cafe at 4:30 in the afternoon (a huge taboo, guilty as charge).  It’s been about two weeks since I first touched down in the land of pasta and gelato and so far I’ve loved embracing la Dolce Vita.  Cliché aside, catch me wandering every street till I get lost all semester long.  Culturally, the Italians love their food and they love their drinks.  Give me an aperitivo plate of prosciutto and pecorino for every meal and I’ll happily relax among all the tourists and bustling locals in the large piazzas.  On every turn, there is art, either in the form of a building, church, or street art.  Nothing quite beats finding the ancient Renaissance era palaces painted with modern edgy street art and I could go on and on about the coffee culture.  Watching elderly Italians sip their coffee at their corner cafes while reading the paper every morning always puts a smile on a face.  

The majestic Ponte Vecchio that connects the two sides of Florence over the Arno river.

Florence is a textbook definition of a walking city.  Everything is confined within the city center with the massive figure of the Duomo towering over the rest of the city.  The central squares are pedestrian only and walks to destination are no more than 30 minutes.  Every street presents a new surprise, whether it be an elaborate building facade, a cute cafe that you haven’t seen before, or a random ornate Renaissance sculpture which scatter themselves out through the city.  There is a sense of joy and curiosity that comes from walking in Florence.  Nothing is boring and everything is accessible.  The lack of a subway system allows visitors and locals to take advantage of the walking museum that is Florence.  

The Florence Duomo has to be one of the most photogenic buildings I’ve encountered. It photographs amazingly every time!

This past weekend, I ventured away into the tuscan countryside to explore the beautiful Chianti region and learn about the local wine industry.  Driving through the hills covered in vines and cypress trees was reminiscent of movies encompassing the beauty of Italy.  I visited a small local family vineyard where I learned all about the process of wine making and the history of Chianti.  The tour ended with a traditional tuscan lunch paired with the local wine in a picturesque chateaux over looking the fields.  Not only was it a super fun experience, but also a cultural one.

Grape fields at the Chianti vineyard.

The Chianti region offers the perfect break from the bustling city of Florence, even for non-wine people.  The vineyard I visited was only 20 minutes away from the city, but feels like an entirely different world.  Chianti wine is probably one of the most well known wines from Italy, coming from the Sangiovese grape.  The red chianti is smooth and flavorful, pairing well with the delicious ragu pastas that Florence is known for.  For my first weekend away, it was a great little escape that really helped me gain a greater appreciation for wine.  

The hills of Chianti

These first two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of cultural exploration, adjustment and fun. Embracing the Italian way of life has been easy, full of gelato and paninis. That’s all for now, as I anxiously await the start of my European travels. Ciao!

Exploring Argentina

Hi everyone! I’m back after a little hiatus. College life has caught up to me and I seriously haven’t had the chance to sit down and write anything. Lots has been going on and I’m about to leave for my semester abroad in Italy where I hope to document every aspect of my travels while exploring Europe! To kick off two months before I leave, I want to revisit my summer travels in Argentina, an amazing adventure for my first time in South America.

Argentina is a rich country full of culture and vibrance. I had the opportunity to explore all sides of the country from the tropical paradise of Iguazu Falls on the northern border, to the Patagonian tundra and the spirited metropolis of Buenos Aires. Starting with the city, Buenos Aires is massive with many different neighborhoods that harness different environments and cultures. Like any cosmopolitan city, there’s your trendy quarter (Palermo), the bourgeois strong held (Recoleta), a boho artist dwelling neighborhood (San Telmo), and colorful working class neighborhoods (La Boca). What makes Buenos Aires such a delight to walk around is that each of these unique areas feels like a different city with their own cultures, arts and atmospheres. I relished walking around each area and discovering the little quirks while enriching myself through the Argentinian culture.

A must see and highlight of the city is the Recoleta Cemetery, a world famous cemetery that is unlike any other. The cemetery is quite literally a city for the dead (think of a village of tiny house mausoleums), allowing you to easily get lost with intrigue among the mass of uniquely designed tombs. The park that surrounds the walled cemetery is perfect for people watching and soaking in the Argentinian culture. Street musicians and tango performers are abundant. Sitting outside sipping a latte at an alfresco cafe is an ideal way to watch the vibrant scene of the large park. On the weekends, a large local craft market sets itself up around the cemetery. Browse the local artisan stalls full of unique crafts and get lost once again in the central highlighting park/cemetery of the Recoleta neighborhood.

Palermo Soho and Hollywood reflect their namesakes, being the “trendy” neighborhoods. Younger and colorful, they offer fun steakhouses or parrillas and many nice boutiques for shopping. Don Julio and La Carnicería are two popular and delicious options that were highlighting meals of my trips (both in the Soho neighborhood). The strong dollar and weaker local currency makes shopping a thrill in Argentina (take advantage people!) and some of the best and nicest Argentinian labels are located in Soho. For a break from shopping, stroll into a local cafe and enjoy the slow art of sipping an Argentinian coffee (preferably with a football game in the background).

A Soho street

The La Boca neighborhood is the grittier working-class neighborhood with colorful architecture and street art that reflects the vibrant pride and culture of the people. The vibe along the small streets is definitely touristy, but the buildings are interesting to observe and provide for great instagram opportunities (sorry, photo-opts). Fun and fascinating street art can be found all over Buenos Aires, but the best can be found in the more seedier areas such as La Boca which drawls tourists.

A wall in La Boca

San Telmo claims to be the birthplace of tango and now boast a number of funky markets and gentrified streets. Many of the building were old “palaces” back in the day and it is interesting to tour the courtyards and balconies of the old dwellings since many have become stores, galleries or apartments. Foodies can delight in the San Telmo Mercado, an indoor market full of gourmet street food and antiques. Make a day searching for leather treasures and enjoying freshly baked empanadas.

Empanadas are a must try food in Argentina

Outside the metropolis of Buenos Aires lays a vastly diverse landscaped country. Iguazu Falls borders Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in the tropics and is the widest system of falls in the world. The boat tour is truly a thrill ride that heads straight into the falls. You get the best views from the boat down below, but there is also a whole network of hiking trails up and around the falls that allow you to enjoy the nature and wildlife of the subtropical forest. The falls are unlike anything I have ever seen and really take your breath away.

The falls from the boat ride

There are few places in the world where one can ski in August. Argentina is one of them. Venture to Patagonia to explore a winter playground. Bariloche, a town about 15 minutes from the Cerro Cathedrale ski resort, is modeled after Swiss ski towns and is situated right on the edge of a massive lake. The desolate landscape of Patagonia along with the lake country makes the Bariloche area breathtaking and unlike the mountain of the northern hemisphere. The country also allows visitors to take advantage of local produce, showcasing the best steaks and Malbecs for a very reasonable price.

Bariloche lake side

That’s it for the summer travels! Stay tuned for my adventures abroad, traveling across Italy and Europe!

Summer in the City

So I might have completely neglected blogging the last couple of months, but being a busy college student doesn’t always lend itself to an abundance of free time. A lot has happened since I last wrote. I managed to somehow survive a brutal finals period, pack up all of my stuff, move out, and work and prepare at home for a summer move to New York City. I am now finally settled in the city after a whirlwind first two weeks. So far, it has been an amazing experience, and I am absolutely loving the thrill and the freedom of living in the middle of a giant metropolis. I could write endlessly about everything that I have done so far, but I’ll leave that up to future blog posts that I’m anxiously waiting to post. Anyways, what am I doing and how am I living in this wild fast-paced city?

I admit that I was a little apprehensive about moving by myself to a large city. This is the first time I have lived in a city and it’s definitely a far cry from the isolated and sheltered rural college that I attend in Upstate New York. Here, I have to fend for myself. No more ordering everything on Amazon and marching myself 5 times a day to the unlimited dining hall. I even have to figure out “cooking” my meals which, although I’m a huge foodie, is definitely not my forte. Trying to prepare meals has probably been my biggest struggle, and I have resorted to a lot of dinners full of energy bars and bananas (I have some work to do). I’m also having to figure out transportation methods which is interesting enough since New York has a ton of options, none of which are completely ideal (rural college=clueless Uber newbie here). I seriously love walking around though, and my daily walks to and from work is actually quite invigorating. New Yorkers are intent on their commutes and they walk with such purpose which I can totally embrace and go along with. It’s fast paced and lively, giving me energy for my busy workday.

Talk about distractions, walking around is the worst for my wallet (and tight budget). There are so many great little cafes and restaurants to grab quicks meals or coffee. They all somehow seem much more appealing than my spinach and avocado “salad” waiting for me at home. Good food is so dangerous, please take caution. Everyday, I see somewhere new and make a mental note to try it out, pushing back my homemade oats further down my meal prep timeline. What might be even more exciting and even more dangerous are the sheer number of amazing stores dotting the whole city. Just on my commuting walk alone, I have probably ventured into 5 different stores and I have started a list in my head of all the shopping districts that I need to visit for my soul and not for my wallet’s sanity. My internship’s in fashion, so it’s all in the name of work, right?

Work itself is amazingly interesting and fun. Even being an intern and doing interning things is still somehow exciting. The environment is so creative and lively and the days go by quick. I feel so professional which sounds cheesy, but I get a rush when I walk into the elevator with all these fashion bigwigs at the beginning of each day. While the city can be overwhelming, it means that there is nonstop excitement, leaving me busy and curious. I could write on and on, but I’ll leave that up to next week. Yesterday, I went the Smorgasburg… so stay tuned!

A Weekend in Chicago

The Windy City has plenty to offer, especially during the holidays with fun displays full of festive cheer.  From art and shopping to food and culture, there is so much to enjoy!  I recently got my city fix in for a weekend, and it was honestly the perfect little itinerary for a short and fun getaway.  While I am nowhere near an expect on the city, here is where I suggest you eat, shop and explore in Chi-town.

Shopping

The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave is the place to go for shopping in Chicago.  Being one of the most famous streets in America, the glamour doesn’t disappoint.  Glitzy designer flagships align the street among large global chains and huge department stores, meaning there is something for everyone.  The window shopping is first class too!  For the holidays, the street is all decked out with fun little displays outside, in addition to amazing window decor from the designer stores.  I was there on Black Friday, and although crazy, the hustle-like atmosphere from the crowds was exciting and exhilarating, almost like out of a Christmas movie.  All of the department stores are worth checking out and, while not as large as their NYC counterparts, stores like Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Ave and Nieman Marcus prove to be alive in the holiday spirit.

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The scene at night of Michigan Ave on Black Friday

Perpendicular to Mich Ave is Oak St. which houses more designer stores, among nicer brands such as Barbour, AllSaints, and Madewell.  The area serves as a bit of an escape from the crowds of Michigan since it’s a little less grand and a little more quaint.  I recommend walking in and out of the surrounding streets to explore more of what’s around off of the high street.

Art

It is easy to make a day out of the Chicago Institute of Art and Millennial Park since they are right next to each other and I would 10/10 recommend doing so!  I was surprised at how vast the collections were at the art museum.  They literally have every sort of art imaginable, all wonderfully curated and displayed with countless masterpieces from artists of every time period.  Besides the more famous American art and impressionists collections that everyone goes to see, the museum has a super cool gallery of European armor from as early as the 7th century.  I can be a bit of a history nerd, so I found the display extremely interesting and well done.  They also have an exhibit of miniature rooms, like doll houses, that show scenes from different time periods and locations.

Down the street from the museum is the classic instagram famous mirrored sculpture otherwise known as the Bean.  I really wanted to check out the bean for the soul reason of getting a picture, but I ended up being more fascinated in it than I thought I would be.  Yes, it is touristy and crowed, but that is all apart of the fun and allure.  The shape of the sculpture creates many different illusions with the bean-shaped mirror that changes at every angle and location.  You can move anywhere around and you’ll get a totally different shot.  It also reflects a beautiful and well-positioned image of Chicago’s sky line, making it a delight for both tourists and locals alike (and of course insta-worthy!).

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Food

Like any major metropolis, Chicago has a wide range of cuisine and food specialities.  I’m honestly not a big deep dish fan (prefer NY pizza for sure, sorry Chicago), so I opted for other indulgences such as donuts.  Stan’s Donuts is a serious must try.  They are located right on busy Michigan Avenue, but have 8 other locations throughout the city with their cute little cafe-like shops also serving coffee and gelato.  I tried the nutella banana filled donut and the blueberry cream cheese pocket donut which were both amazing.  Honestly though, all of Stan’s array of classic and unconventional donuts looked fabulous (I’m that person that would try everything); I doubt you can go wrong.

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I checked out Eataly Chicago which was the first time that I’d gone to an Eataly.  Eataly is a food concept department-like store that specializes in imported authentic Italian food with the idea that food is a celebration and an essential part of culture.  The first stores started in Italy and they are now in many major cities around the world with Chicago being one of four in the US.  The indoor market has different stations serving up Italian specialities such as gelato and made-to-order cannolis.  There are different casual restaurants and many bars that allow you to “bar-hop” throughout Italy.

For a fun Sunday brunch, Luxbar in the gold coast neighborhood is classic and fun with signature entrées and delicious almond croissants.  And for a nice dinner, Brindille proves to be a fantastic dining experience with decadent and modern french cuisine.  Honestly, the highlight of the meal are the amuse-bouch potato beignets which taste like ridiculously good tater-tots.  The desert menu is also spectacular with options such as a plate of freshly baked cookies that will make you feel like a little kid on Christmas.

Culture

Both the Willis tower and the Hancock tower offer impressive views of the city and a different perspective from above.  You have to take a picture at the sky deck on top of the Willis tower.  Little clear capsules perturb out of the building making it seem like you are suspended above.  It is a little frightening, but super cool to look down (people with a fear of heights: beware).

Walking around the city during the holidays is an experience in itself, but to really get your Christmas fix, head down to Lincoln Park and see the Zoo Lights.  Every year from Black Friday to Christmas, the zoo puts up an over the top display of lit up animals and trees, complete with light shows to music.  It’s totally free and fun for everyone.

Your Guide to Scottish Cuisine (What and Where to Eat)

My trip to Scotland brought me all over the country which allowed me to experience a wide range of cuisine and foods.  Scottish food is underrated.  People seem to associate the “only” quality British cuisine with London, and while London is a huge culinary capital, Scotland is overlooked, especially as they provide so much industry and agriculture to the foodie world.  Take smoked salmon: the delicacy is a favorite in much of the world.  The best smoked salmon?  Scottish smoked salmon, fished straight out of the North Sea and prepared to perfection.  I recommend eating all that you can if you find yourself in Scotland.  And that isn’t all.  Scotland is known for its meats and game, along with cheeses, seafood and hearty breakfasts.  If you want to know exactly what foods to try, check out my post for Spoon University here! 

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Great places to try across Scotland:

Luigi’s (Dornoch, Scotland):  Dornoch is a tiny town up in the Highlands with a world famous golf course that attracts people from all over.  The best restaurant in the town is Luigi’s which is an excellent Scottish/Italian/seafood restaurant serving fresh oysters, lobster, and pasta.  The seafood here is amazingly fresh, and this is definitely the place to try fabulous North Sea oysters (which are, by there way, delicious).

-Boath House (Nairn, Scotland):  Boath House is a hidden gem; slightly off the beaten path, but wonderfully rewarding.  It has a very Scottish menu with most ingredients coming from the estate or nearby farms.  Everything taste extremely fresh and high quality.  The duck was one of my favorite dishes that I tried in Scotland since it was prepared perfectly and served with amazing foie gras.  The smoked salmon is also a thing of beauty.  Boath House is considered one of the top restaurants in Scotland outside of a major city and it is easy to see why.  It’s a great find and a great experience.

Scran and Scallie (Edinburgh, Scotland):  I talked more about this restaurant and the next one mentioned in my previous post about Edinburgh, but it’s worth mentioning them again due to their impeccably high quality Scottish food.  Scran and Scallie is where I tried haggis, a momentous occasion, and it is also where I had these dedacant savory pies.  You have to try haggis at some point, and a gastropub is the perfect place since they prepare in a gourmet fashion.  Scottish savory pies are really delicious in the most comforting of comfort food ways.

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The Wedgwood (Edinburgh, Scotland):  The Wedgwood is one of the top restaurants in Edinburgh, but what makes it really great is that they make an effort to serve true Scottish cuisine in a gourmet setting.  Ingredients include foraged mushrooms, Douglas fir pine, venison, pigeon, and sea spaghetti.  They put on the ultimate display of Scottish food to showcase the potential it holds.

Tail end (Dundee, Scotland):  You cannot go to Scotland without having fish and chips (unless you’re vegetarian, of course), and although the classic dish can be found in any pub, I recommend seeking out more contemporary chip shops that specialize in locally sustainable fish.  Tail end in Dundee does just that.  They take great pride in their “handsome halibut” and their delicious homemade tartar sauce.  The place is cute and trendy, making it the perfect spot to enjoy true Scottish seafood.

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-The Drouthy Cobbler (Elgin, Scotland):  Another mandatory experience in Scotland is going to a pub.  They are everywhere, but it can be a little difficult to a find a really good one that truly cares about the food they serve.  The Drouthy Cobbler is a little known hidden place in the small town of Elgin.  You can’t even access it from the main road, finding it instead in a little alley way.  The atmosphere is quaint and trendy but still feels pub-like and they serve solid Scottish food like smoked trout and salmon, sausage rolls, and bangers and mash.

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How to Spend 48 Fabulous Hours in Edinburgh Scotland

Hi there!  I just recently returned from a 10 day trip to Scotland where I pretty much road tripped from the Highlands all the way down to Edinburgh.  The whole journey was amazing, and I felt like I was really able to see the whole country.  However, more on that later (look out for a Scottish food post!).  One of my favorite places that I spent time in was the last place, Edinburgh which is a surprisingly bustling metropolitan center full of history and culture.  The last weekend was spent there, and although I definitely could have spent at least another day exploring the city, I was able to pack a lot in those two wonderful days.IMG_7297

Edinburgh isn’t very big in size and population compared to other landmark European cities, but the number of noteworthy sights, neighborhoods, and, quite frankly, tourists make the city feel larger than it is.  It takes on the vibe of a smaller and slightly less stylish London that is easier to walk around and harder to get lost in.  I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday having just played golf nearby.  The immediate cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city center, where my hotel was, made me realize that this place was different from the rest of Scotland.  Our hotel was very modern and stylish, as one would expect from a nice city hotel.

For dinner that first night, I ventured across town to the neighborhood of Stockbridge which is a hip high-end area bustling with coffee shops and gastropubs.  I went to a recommended restaurant called Scran and Scallie.  Nothing in Edinburgh is that far away, so my taxi ride to Stockbridge was an easy ten minutes and it easily paved the way for a light walk back to my hotel.  Scran and Scallie is a very popular gastropub serving traditional Scottish fare in a gourmet manner.  The clientele is young and fun, echoed by the quirky takes on traditional Scottish decor.  The menu appears very traditional with practically any pub fare you can think of available (meat pies, haggis, fish and chips), as well as some more contemporary options.  My Dad and I both opted for classic British entries, while I tried a Scottish specialty and he had an elevated Caesar salad for starters.  My haggis appetizer was a bit risky since I had never tried it before, but it was really good (the texture is oddly comparable to falafel) and I felt as though I was truly embracing the culture.  Our pies (mine was a seafood pie and he had a steak and ale pie) were deliciously comforting and really hit the spot after a day of golf in the rain.  The seafood pie, in particular, eluded flavor with salmon, cod, and shrimp mixed in with mashed potatoes.  Scran and Scallie is really the perfect place to indulge in local cuisine prepared beautifully in a fun atmosphere.

 

The walk back from Stockbridge was surprisingly easy and very pleasant.  The city feels very safe at night, and it is super cool to see all the sights and buildings lit up.  The famous hilltop castle that overlooks the city gleams brightly in a slightly eerie manner to the bopping crowd below.  Back at the hotel, my dad and I went to go check out Bar 1, 1 Square, and although my dad felt a little out-of-place, I found the Bar to be super trendy and cute.  They specialize in fancy schmancy gin and tonics (the hippest drink if there ever was one), as suppose to the traditional scotch collection that is found in most Scottish bars (more my dad’s cup of tea).

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Saturday was an early morning since there is so much to see and explore.  After a breakfast of Scottish smoked salmon (literally the best stuff ever) and black pudding (which is surprisingly delicious), I walked up castle hill which is a super cool walk to use my prepaid online ticket to Edinburgh Castle at 9:30.  On the way, there was a cute little farmer’s market that, if I was a local, I would totally be shopping at.  The castle is admittedly a tad touristy and you have to arrive right when it opens to beat the big buses, but it offers great views of the city and has a very interesting history.  I recommend going straight to the crown jewels exhibit since that line gets long very quickly and it’s probably one of the more impressive parts of the castle.  The castle takes about 2 hours, depending on the crowds, but you can totally condense it and choose to see less or more.

 

Tourist central of Edinburgh is the Royal Mile which you are fed directly into from the exit of the castle.  At first, the crowds are a little overwhelming but they filter out, and if you ignore all the street performers and touristy shops, the wide street is definitely worthwhile to walk down.  St. Giles Cathedral is a highlight and a must-see.  The Cathedral is huge and full of beautiful stain glass windows.  The tall blue ceiling is enough to take your breath away.  Farther down the mile, the crowds disperse and it’s fun to look around the admire the buildings and spirals.  The street finishes at the Holyrood Palace which is an official residence of the Queen.  It is fun to tour the palace and check out the old Holyrood Cathedral ruins since the place is rooted deeply in history.

 

After the mile, I, being a die-hard Harry Potter fan, wanted to check out some notable Harry Potter sites in the city, notably Victoria Street and the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first couple books.  I grabbed a quick lunch at a little cafe and continued to venture across town back towards the castle, but, this time, instead of walking up the mile, I walked on the edge of old town which is bordered by a valley with the train station underneath.  The views from there are great and there is a park that lines the street.  Victoria Street is the most “aesthetic” street of Edinburgh and claims to be the most photographed.  It is also the street that JK Rowling based “Diagon Alley” after, and really looks like it is out of a movie.  The shops are super fun along the curved street too! I then made the pilgrimage to Elephant House which calls itself the “birthplace of Harry Potter” to take some pictures, and I also photographed “Tom Riddle’s grave” in the nearby Grey Friar’s graveyard (creepy I know).

 

By this time, it was already mid-afternoon, so I ventured over to New Town to walk around and shop.  A highlight of New Town is the Scott Monument and park, a huge gothic steeple that distinguishes itself from the Edinburgh skyline.  Dedicated to the author and thinker Sir Walter Scott, visitors have the ability to climb the monument which I opted not to do since I wanted to get over to the shops.  I enjoyed a couple of hours shopping at British and European shores (including Topshop, Zara, and Harvey Nichols, a fabulous British luxury department store) while also in search of a quilt, being the cliché tourist that I am.  Shopping around Edinburgh is delightful, and there is a surplus of great stores that are harder to find in the US.

 

For my second night in Edinburgh, I went to Wedgwood Restaurant which is a widely considered one of the best in the city complete with a Michelin star and four rosettes.  That being said, the restaurant is nice and simple with a modern atmosphere that isn’t at all stuffy.  The food is centered around local game and seafood with very Scottish ingredients prepared in an elevated manner.  I had a douglas fir smoked salmon dish and an interesting savory bread pudding which was to die for.  My dad had a seaweed vongole pasta starter which was very unique and venison with haggis for his entry.  The highlight of this special meal was the very sticky toffee pudding, a celebrated Scottish dessert and a must try for anyone traveling to Scotland.  Wedgwood is a great restaurant located conveniently on the Royal Mile where you really get to appreciate Scottish produce and fine cuisine.

 

That wrapped up my stay in Edinburgh as I had a 10 am flight the next day.  Overall, I found the city to be delightful and could have definitely spent another day there.  Alas, I was able to squeeze in a lot while I was there.  Highly recommend exploring this city for yourself, even if it is only for 48 hours.

7 Trendy Essentials for a Stylish Spring Break

Spring Break- otherwise known as escape week… to a sunny hot destination with a beach where you can relax, recuperate and get very sunburn (the inevitable).  To prepare for the beach, a destination for most spring breakers (especially college kids), here are 7 essentials to bring on vacation to ensure a great and stylish week.

  1. A favorite trendy and fun swimsuit
    • Swimsuit styles are all the rage this year with many brands branching out to create fun and different trendy styles.  One of the most popular brands is Solid and Stripe who are making a splash with their bold styles and cool vibe.  One-pieces are huge all of a sudden, along with high-waisted bottoms, ruffle tops and off-the-shoulder sleeves.
  2. The perfect beach-proof scandals
    • I absolutely love my Jack Roger Boat Jacks which are a casual take on the classic Jack Roger flip-flops.  The sandals are waterproof, super light and can easily muster sand and dirt.  They look super cute and can even be worn outside of the beach or pool.  For me, they are much better than the typical plastic flip-flops since they offer a dose of color and style to any beach get-up.
  3. A  stylish straw hat
    • The sun can be merciless, especially if you are not used to it (like me) which means that you need to protect yourself as much as possible.  A hat is a great way to protect your face and head from the sun while looking stylish and beachy.  Straw hats are super trendy and make for a much more enjoyable (hopefully sunburn-less) vacation.
  4. Salt spray for hair
    • I swear by Lush’s Sea Spray to keep my hair from looking too rattled at the beach.  The spray makes my hair have that beach wave look but helps keep it together.  I spray it on before spending a day at the beach to create texture and embrace the inevitable.  Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 8.59.19 PM
  5. An Insta-worthy pool float
    • Big colorful pool floats are taking over Instagram (you know, the pictures of blow up donuts and unicorns), and you can get them too from Sunny Life, an Australian lifestyle brand that sells all sorts of blown up shapes.  Who doesn’t want to relax on top of a blown up pineapple?

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      Yup, you’ve seen these, everywhere.  They are from SunnyLife.com and are amazing durable floats that make any pool (or beach) fun!

  6. A cute beach bag to carry everything
    • To go along with the straw trend, find a casual straw bag to carry everything to and from the beach.  A great bag is perfect for carrying water, sunscreen, magazines, books, sunglasses, and snacks, all things that are needed for a day out in the sun.  Look cute with a fun and colorful straw bag!
  7. The perfect casual coverup
    • To top off any beach look, the perfect cover-up is needed!  Solid and Stripe has some cute ones that double as casual wear.  I have a blue seersucker dress from them which is perfect for the beach.  Lilly Pulitzer has a great collection of brightly colored elaborate cover-ups which scream tropical paradise (it is Lilly!), and you can always covert an oversized tunic or casual dress into the perfect beach look!

A Foodie’s Guide to US Bank Stadium-Home of Super Bowl LII

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The glass walls of US Bank Stadium reflect the glistening Minneapolis skyline in the background while entrapping the sheer excitement of fans.  Even on a normal game day, the atmosphere is one of grandiose amazement.  I can only imagine what the stadium will be like on February 4th.

While the newly completed stadium is a sight to behold, the experience of attending a game is not second best.  Local eateries and chefs have put in a great deal of effort to curate to fans for the ultimate game day experience; one that is still overpriced, but one that will not make you feel like peeling over from eating too many crappy nachos at the end of the game.  One thing is certain, the stadium and the NFL will be pulling out all the stops for the big game.

Most older stadiums tend to serve only overpriced deep-fried American “classics” which don’t always settle well in the stomach.  While chicken fingers and nachos are typical, and they are available at US Bank, most of the food in the stadium is thankfully pretty gourmet and tasty.  With changing eating habits and an emphasis on healthier foods, American fans are sick of the classic hot dog and beer combo.  Celebrity chef and Minneapolis native Andrew Zimmern, who is revolutionizing game-day food through his successful restaurant stands in Minnesota stadiums, said that “People expect better food these days” and “We put our best foot forward, not despite the fact that it’s a stadium, but because it’s a stadium” (The Star Tribune). It’s true.  The food is still overpriced, but I know that I’m personally much more willing to pay more for something that I’d actually like than something that I’d never eat out of a stadium.

Here are some of the best foods found at US Bank Stadium.

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The roasted chicken sandwich at AZ Canteen.  This booth is one of Zimmern’s ventures and serves up many different carnivorous options that are sure to delight any meat lover.  The chicken was juicy and tender while tasting great with cajun spices.

 

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Smoky Chicken Nachos from Twin Cities Foodie.  These serve as an upgrade to the fake cheesy classic nachos that seem to have embedded themselves into stadium fare.  They are spicy but flavorful.

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Fried Chicken Sandwich from Revival.  I guess that chicken seems to be a common theme, but it is so good at the Stadium.  Revival is a popular Minneapolis-based southern fried chicken restaurant that has transferred their well-known chicken sandwiches to the football stadium.  This was my favorite as the fried chicken was paired perfectly with mayonnaise, tomatoes, and pickles.  Also available in Tennesse-style hot (tasty but a challenge to finish).  Delicious!

 

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Frozen Hot Chocolate from AZ Canteen.  This unconventional desert is a must try for a chocolate lover.  I would describe it as a frozen chocolate mousse paired with white chocolate covered cereal on top.  It is sort of like ice cream, but better than what stadium ice cream is usually like.

 

 

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Bomboloni from AZ Canteen.  Ok, this canteen place is really good.  I feel like anything there would be worth a try.  Before the game, my family shared these beignet-like donut holes for breakfast.  They are just as good as they look and sound!

Overall, the best places…

  • AZ Canteen:  Gourmet meat sandwiches and bbq along with unique desserts and drinks.
  • Revival Fried Chicken:  Fried chicken exemplar, enough said.
  • Minneapolis Foodie:  Focuses on gourmat food options that are targeted to more sophisticated fans.
  • 612 Burger Kitchen:  A classic burger stand serving well-made burgers with fries and tots.
  • Curds ‘N Cakes:  If you really want to pig out, indulge in some fabulous beer battered cheese curds.

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