Spring Wish List

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Back in January, when our extended vacation to the States was coming to a close, I gathered up all my new purchases to mail back to Italy. 
Let's just say I couldn't believe the amount of clothing that we had to ship back.

My husband, after taking a ridiculous load of boxes to the post office, kindly asked me to refrain from buying anything for a couple of months. I made a deal that I wouldn't do any shopping until March.

We are now a mere day away, and I must admit my bank account greatly appreciated the shopping hiatus.

Seeing as March 1st is tomorrow, I've obviously been checking out the new springtime goods. 
Since I have become allergic to paying full price for anything, I normally have to wait a bit for my coveted items to drop in price.

As I was browsing online I came across a number of adorable things for spring, and some of them were even on sale! 

These are some of the goodies on my wish list.



The weather here is still freezing, but my mind is already set on spring!







Breaking the rules at Neuschwanstein castle

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago we took a spur of the moment trip up to Innsbruck Austria.
While we were there we decided to take a day trip up to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
It's only an hour and a half away from Innsbruck, and the magical castle that inspired Walt Disney ranked pretty high on our must-see list.

We set out first thing in the morning, and arrived before 10am. Seeing as it was a snowy day in February, there were just a handful of tourists at the castle.
Honestly, I can't even imagine what it must be like to go during the busy seasons. Not my cup of tea.

To visit the castle you first must arrive in Hohenschwangau.
This is a cute town below the castle where you can park your car and purchase tickets for the tour. It's VERY important to buy your tickets before heading uphill to the castle, because they are not sold once you get up there! We waited in line for like 5 minutes (seriously, we need to do more site-seeing in the winter) and had about two hours to kill before the first English-speaking tour began at noon.
Typically there are three ways up to the caste: A horse-pulled carriage ride, a bus ride, and old-fashioned walking. The bus wasn't running due to the amount of snow, so we decided to try something different and hopped in a carriage.




We were absolutely frozen by the end of our carriage ride, but that's ok because Neuschwanstein castle is AMAZING.


Definitely the most breath-taking castle I have ever seen.
We still had some time to kill, so we took a few pics and walked around.



The castle is in amazing condition, probably because it wasn't constructed until the late 1800s. That's pretty "new" by European standards.
Of course a place as cool of this doesn't allow photography inside, that would just be too convenient. 
Neuschwanstein was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria who barely got to live there before mysteriously passing away in 1886. It is said that the King was becoming mentally ill, but they were never able to determine what caused his death.
About six months after his death the castle was opened to the public.
All of the rooms you see on the tour are furnished in their original condition. The coolest by far was the cave room, which was constructed to look like a real cave. 
The tour wasn't very long, but I'd say it's the coolest castle we've seen (so far that is).

Afterwards we were determined to snap a great photo of the castle, after all what's the point of going somewhere neat if you can't get a great photo of it?

There is a pathway that wraps around the side of the castle and leads to Marienbrucke (or Mary's Bridge) a bridge where you can get fantastic photos. 


Unfortunately, due to the snow they close this pathway in the winter.

You have GOT to be kidding me, was my reaction.

A fence with a sign reading "Do Not Enter" in about five different languages was standing between us and a fantastic picture.
Who knows if we would ever get a chance to make it back here!

So we hopped the fence like a couple of rebels, and trudged through what seemed like miles in the snow (ok it wasn't miles, but it was a lot of snow). 



We finally made it to the famous bridge to snap that perfect, breath-taking picture.



Was it worth it? 
TOTALLY

I would definitely recommend visiting Neuschwanstein in the winter. If you are prepared for the cold it can be a great experience with very few tourists, and the snow is an amazing backdrop for this Bavarian castle.

But you've gotta be ready to hop a few fences, because the view from the bridge just cannot be missed!


My favorite breakfast smoothie

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's taken a few days, but I feel like I'm finally fully-recovered from the nasty stomach bug that haunted me last weekend. After only being able to keep down a few sips of chicken broth (saltine crackers even sent me over the edge) I'm finally able to eat real food again!

It's time to get back to clean eating. 

NO processed foods. Lots of veggies.

One of my breakfast favorites is a little smoothie I came up with last summer. 
It's easy, you can drink it on your way to wherever you have to go in the morning, it keeps you full, and it's healthy!



Tips:

  • Since I only use 1/2 a banana, I store the remaining half in the freezer to use when I run out of fresh bananas.
  • I like to use frozen berries because it makes my life easier, but make sure to get organic.
  • An immersion blender is probably one of the best creations ever. You can get one for like $20-30 on Amazon, and I use mine constantly. It's great for soups too!
  • I wrote 1/2-1 cup of Greek yogurt because when I was working I would have hours between breakfast and lunch so I used a full cup of yogurt to keep me full. Now I only use 1/2 cup because I don't have to go as long between meals. 
  • Sometimes I add a bit of water if the smoothie is looking too thick to achieve my desired consistency.
  • I like to enjoy my smoothie in a fancy glass, because lets face it, it's just more fun that way.

Enjoy!




Wordless Wednesday: Photo of the day

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Laduree. Champs-Elysees. Paris, France.

Take me back to Paris please. 

This past weekend I caught a very unfortunate stomach bug.
I'm still recovering from it all, but some wonderful posts from recent travels should be going up soon.

Paris is my absolute favorite city.
What's yours?

Farewell wine, I'll see you at Easter...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The past couple of days I've been trying to decide what to give up for Lent.
I didn't want to chose something easy, I wanted to give up something that would be really difficult.


Alcohol

I've come to the conclusion that I should give up alcohol, but I really really really don't want to give it up 100%
I mean we live in Italy for goodness sake.
The wine is just so fantastic here.
So perhaps just one glass, once a week. The good ol' Sunday loophole right? 

While I was at Ash Wednesday Mass listening to our priest talk about sacrifice and what not, I started having second thoughts.
Can I really go without my regular glass of wine for the next 40 days? Well of course I can, but do I want to commit to that?
I quickly tried to think of anything else that I could possibly give up for Lent besides my beloved wine.
Nothing came to mind.

So there you have it.
This girl is going to be sober for the next 40 days.
I suppose until Easter this blog should just be called Pearls.... & Sparkling Water.


Do you participate in Lent? If so, what did you give up?




Wordless Wednesday: Photo of the Day

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Mai Tai in Maui, Hawaii

The past few days I've felt like I can't escape the snow.
This past weekend we headed up north to Austria and spent some time in Innsbruck.
We also made a day trip to see the Neuschwanstein castle in Germany.
Everything was covered in snow, which was beautiful but cold.
We returned to northern Italy, and the past two days it's been snowing here.
Today is looks like things are finally getting back to normal, 
but I find myself dreaming of more tropical times. 
Is it spring yet?

Adventures in Amsterdam

Monday, February 11, 2013


The final leg of our trip concluded in Amsterdam. 
Our plan was leave Bruges first thing in the morning so that we could have all afternoon in Amsterdam. We made it to the train station and purchased our tickets to Amsterdam with plenty of time to spare. We had to make a quick stop in another town in order to catch the train that would take us to Amsterdam. We made it to first town without a problem, but unfortunately the Belgian railways weren't running very smoothly that day. After waiting around for an hour for our "delayed" train, we learned that there was a very good chance that it might never arrive. Thanks to my problem-solving husband, we changed our route and were finally on our way after a few more hours of waiting around a freezing train station. 
This slight detour did end up costing us an entire afternoon in Amsterdam, one that we really needed in order to see everything that we wanted to. It was after 6pm when we arrived, and significantly colder (mostly due to wind chill) than Belgium had been. After checking into our hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we were more than ready for bed. 

Where We Stayed
We stayed at Multatuli Hotel, and I would NOT recommend it to anyone. I will start off by saying that the one positive aspect of this hotel was that it was right across from the train station. The hotel was old, and even though we requested a non-smoking room the place reeked of smoke (what was worse was that the hotel tried to cover up the smell with mint. Smoke mixed with mint might even smell worse than just smoke by itself). Everything was dingy, and looked like it needed to be updated or replaced. Thankfully we never spend much time in our hotel when traveling.


Amsterdam has a great tram system that runs similar to the underground metros of other major cities. We bought a day pass so that we could hop on and off as much as we pleased. Our first stop in the morning was the Van Gogh museum. 

Van Gogh museum
We followed our map to where the Van Gogh museum was supposed to be located. Much to our surprise, we learned that the museum had temporarily moved due to construction that was being done on the building. At least there were museum staff outside of the building to notify tourists like us of the move. They had also ran a red string/wire across the top of the whole city, leading you to the temporary location of the museum (which was inside of the Hermitage museum). It was about a 20-30 min walk, but we eventually made it. Since the Van Gogh exhibit was located inside of another museum, you were forced to buy a double ticket to both museums. 
Despite all of the difficulties at the beginning, we really did enjoy the museum. It showcased Van Gogh's life, and started with when he first learned to paint. It lead you through all of his different phases and eras, and provided you with a lot of information regarding Van Gogh's life in addition to information about his paintings. It was really interesting, and definitely a must-see site if you are in Amsterdam. We were also pleasantly surprised by the Impressionist exhibit at the Hermitage museum, and were happy that we got to see that as well. We definitely wouldn't have made it there if it weren't for the Van Gogh museum being there temporarily. 

Anne Frank's House
This is without a doubt the number one thing to see if you are in Amsterdam. 
We purchased our tickets ahead of time online, so we were able to walk right in when we arrived. The tour is self-guided, and you are given a map of the house with explanations of which rooms were which. It was absolutely amazing. I read The Diary of Anne Frank years ago when I was in middle school, and I surprised myself with how much I remembered. Being in the actual place where everything took place was unreal, and so very sad at the same time. Reading entries from her diary and standing in the exact room she was referring to was a really incredible experience. It's hard to not get emotional while you are walking through the house. There are a number of places where you can stop and watch a video that further explains what happend during the time the family was hiding out here, told you a bit about Anne Frank herself, and interviews with people who knew her. At the end you can watch an interview with her father (the only member of the Frank family to survive) discussing what it was like to read Anne's diary, and talk about why he decided to create the museum. 
Unfortunately photography was not permitted, so we weren't able to take any pictures. 

The Red Light District
After seeing what I felt where the two most important sites in Amsterdam, we wandered off to the Red Light District. When in Rome, right? We were curious to see what all the fuss was about. After wandering past numerous sex shops (all of them with signs reading "Play like Fifty!" Seriously, this Fifty Shades of Grey thing is starting to get old) we eventually came upon what everyone is always talking about. Small rooms with large glass windows line the ally ways, and this is where the working girls rent out space for the day. The girls were much prettier than I thought they would be, and smiled nicely in their lingerie as we walked by. There is a red light above each door that lets you know who is currently "open." 


The area didn't bother me that much, it was mostly other curious tourists like us walking around. Then we started to see gross, creepy old men walking out of the rooms. That's when we decided we were done with the Red Light District, and quickly headed to a more family friendly side of town. 



There were still a number of places I wanted to see in Amsterdam, but after loosing an entire afternoon due to travel delays, there just wasn't enough time. The next morning we walked across the street to the train station, and headed straight to the airport. 
We both thought the city was really interesting, and would have liked to spend just one more day there. Unless you are ready and motivated to brave the cold, I would NOT recommend going in the winter. It was absolutely freezing, especially with the wind chill. Although we had a handful of difficulties, we still had a really good time here. It's definitely a unique city, and I'm glad we took the time to visit. 

Bruges, Belgium

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It was afternoon by the time we arrived in Bruges (a short 1.5 hour train ride from Brussels) and we had no idea where our hotel was. The snow was coming down and we had no map at our disposal, so we did the easy thing and hopped in a cab.

Where we stayed
We stayed at Hotel Salvators, and I absolutely LOVED it! I would recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Bruges. Downstairs had a great fireplace to relax in front of after a cold day in the snow, along with a bar that had a few beers on tap (including a delightful cherry beer that I was obsessed with). 


The rooms also had a faux fireplace to continue to ambiance, and the bed was actually comfortable (something that rarely happens when we travel in Europe). Breakfast was included in our room rate, and along with the standard breads, meats, and cheeses, they also offered fresh Belgian waffles and omeletes. The batter of the waffle was so sweet that syrup wasn't even't necessary. YUM!



After checking into our hotel we decided to roam around the city. One thing I did not know about Bruges before planning this trip is that in January a lot of places are closed. They all re-open in February, but unfortunately we were unable to go to some of the neat pubs that we had heard about. The city was way less crowded than I would imagine it to be other times of the year, and it looked beautiful in the snow. 






We stopped in and had a beer Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges. It was small and cozy, and was a nice break from the freezing cold. 



By the time we headed back out it was close to dusk, and we were just in time to watch the sun set. 




The next day we headed out to the De Halve Maan brewery tour. 


Although we have been on many brewery tours in the past, this one was unique. This brewery is much older than any we had previously been to, and it showcased how beer was made back in the day. 



After the tour we tried a couple of beers, but with alcohol percentages of 8 and above it doesn't take much! The "Straffe Hendrik" was our favorite out of the brews we tried.



For lunch we went to a small place right across from the brewery. I cannot remember it's name, but it was literally right across the street. What enticed us to eat there was a sign that read "Mussels and Fries." We had yet to try the much talked about mussels in Belgium, and obviously couldn't pass up more fries. We ended up with a big pot of yummy mussels, a bowl of fries, and some more Straffe Hendrik. From what I can recall after a few beers, it was delish! 


Now that our stomachs were full, we headed to the Church of our Lady.  This church houses Michelangelo's Madonna and Child, which is said to be the only statue that left Italy during his lifetime. When we arrived there appeared to be some sort of orchestra/choir practice in session, so we sat and enjoyed the ambiance for a bit. 


We roamed around in the cold for a bit more, and had to try some Belgian chocolates. I had read a few chocolate shop recommendations, so we decided to stop and try two. The first one we stopped at was Dumon, which was amazing. There's nothing better than quality chocolate.


The second one, Confiserie De Clerck or Chocolaterie Confiserie, was less expensive but not nearly as good. Apparently with chocolate you really do get what you pay for (even in Belgium), and this cheaper chocolate was so not worth it. 


That evening we decided to go to a popular pub, t' Brugs Beertje, and continue our beer tasting. The place was small and packed, but we eventually found our way to a table. We each tried a variety of beers, and dined on a small cheese and salami platter. A perfect finish to our Bruges adventure. 



The next morning we got up early in order to catch our train to Amsterdam. Thanks to weather conditions this didn't go as smoothly as we had planned, but I'll share more about that later.

We both enjoyed really enjoyed Bruges. The city is adorable, but a bit on the touristy side. I'm glad we finally got a chance to go, and the snow made everything look like a fairytale (perfect for taking photos). The only down side was that many places were closed while we were there, but we still managed to have a good time!







Brussels, Belgium

Monday, February 4, 2013

A couple of weeks ago we took our first trip after returning to Italy. Although it was freezing cold, we ventured out on a 5 day vacation to Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam.
First stop on our trip: Brussels.
Although the main reason for our visit to Brussels was because it was the easiest city for us to fly into from Italy, I am definitely glad we decided to stay for a night. 
There isn't a ton to do in Brussels, but it's worth checking out if you are able to. The food was delicious, the beer outstanding, and French is the main language spoken (which I just think is fantastic).

We arrived at the Brussels airport at about 6:30pm on Thursday, and had no problem hopping on a train to the city center. The train is located in the basement of the airport, which makes finding your way to the heart of Brussels extremely convenient.
Upon arriving at Central Station it took us a while to get our bearings due to the serious lack of street signs. After a few stressful moments and confusion, we finally whipped out the Iphone and were able to locate our hotel which was a short hop, skip, and a jump away (or like a 7 minute walk).

Where We Stayed
We stayed at the NH Grand Place Arenberg, which is in a great location (close to everything, yet off the main road). Our hotel room was much larger than expected, and everything was super clean and updated.

There aren't a lot of "sites" per-say, but I would say my top two must-see things in Brussels would be Grand Place (the main square) and Manneken-Pis (a statue of a little boy peeing).

Grand Place




This main square in Brussels is composed of multiple buildings, including the town hall and museums, most of which you can enter for a price. We didn't go into any of them, but I enjoyed the architecture (most likely because it reminded me of Paris).






Manneken- Pis


This is literally a little statue of a boy peeing. There are spin-offs of this statue all over the place. It supposably stands for the cities love of life and a good time.


What's with the outfit? Apparently costumes are sent to Brussels from all over the world, and they change his outfit regularly. When we visited he was dressed as if he was from Africa.

Where We Ate
Fin de Siecle
By the time we got checked into our hotel Thursday night, it was already fairly late and we were starving. Thanks to some research I did while we were waiting at the airport earlier that day, I already knew exactly where I wanted to eat. Fin de Siecle had great reviews on TripAdvisor, which is basically my go to guide for finding restaurants.
We weren't quite sure what everything was, so we creepily eyed the plates of everyone surrounding us. It became clear what meal the place must be known for due to the overwhelming amount of people with mashed potatoes and sausages on their plates.


This traditional meal was exactly what we needed on a cold Belgian night. Obviously the beer was yummy too, because what Belgian beer isn't? The restaurant had a warm cozy atmosphere, and judging by how crowded it was at 8:30 on a Thursday night (and the fact that everyone was speaking French), I'd say this is a popular spot with locals as well.

Noordzee Mer du Nord




This outdoor seafood bar is a staple in Brussels, and I can see why. The food is so good that it's worth standing outside in the freezing cold for. If you're a fan of seafood like I am, this is a must-eat place if you are ever in Brussels. I would recommend ordering a variety of items off the menu to try. We had an early lunch here on Friday, so we were able to beat the usual lunchtime rush.





Although it was cold, having snow falling as we walked around the city gave it a magical feel.  We didn't even stay for 24 hours, but it was plenty of time to enjoy good food and the main sites of the city.  We spent Friday morning wandering around, and were at the train station on our way to Bruges by early afternoon.