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Monday, October 31, 2011

Cinque Terre, Italy

During our only full day in Tuscany, we decided to leave. 

Tuscany that is. We drove northwest to Liguria. The weather was supposed to be amazing and we wanted to take advantage of it the only way we knew how - by hiking. Before we left on our trip I did a quick Google maps search and found out that the famous Cinque Terre was only an hours drive from our hotel. So, after a leisurely breakfast at Locanda al Colle we were on our way.

At the recommendation of Riccardo we drove to the town of Portovenere and took the ferry to "the five lands". I had visited Cinque Terre with my friend Kelly during the semester abroad that I spent in Florence. I remember it being one of the most beautiful places I had seen that spring. The hiking was amazing, the towns were picturesque and the spaghetti we had for lunch was, for serious, out of this world.

Sadly, that was over eight years ago.



Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Favorites...Anniversary Edition

Happy Anniversary!!

Three years ago this week we packed our bags and moved across the pond. Can you believe that?! Where does the time go...

I thought it would be fun to do a special anniversary edition of Friday Favorites in honor of the last three years - three action packed years at that. Our primary reason for moving was to take advantage of a new continent at our door step, and I think we've been doing a pretty good job...

Here are some of our favorite trips from the last three years -

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Locanda Al Colle

To be perfectly honest, I didn't do much planning for our trip to Tuscany last weekend. A friend had already booked the trip and invited us along with them, so my flights and hotel were already chosen for me. Bonus. All I needed to do was show up. 

Things that I can do in life:
1. Show up for a trip to Tuscany
2. Eat cookies

Sadly, our friends had to cancel their trip. We figured we might as well still go, heck the trip was already booked. But I had to do some actual planning. 

What airport were we flying in to? 
Where the heck is Camaiore?? 
What kind of pasta am I going to eat?!

See? Things were getting scary, real fast.

Luckily, one thing I didn't have to worry about was where we were staying.

aka - a little piece of heaven in the Tuscan country side.

My friend found this hotel through Mr and Mrs Smith (seriously, check them out ASAP if you think I am talking about a movie rather than an awesome boutique hotel website) - and let me tell you, the Smiths did not steer us wrong. Neither did the awesome reviewers on TripAdvisor - every.single. reviewer for this boutique hotel on TripAdvisor gave it an "Excellent" rating and wrote a glowing review.

So, did this place live up to all the hype?

You bet your boots it did. 

It was more than what we could have imagined or hoped for from a place to rest our feet at night.

Upon arrival the first thing I noticed (besides all of the cute and welcoming nooks on the front patio that just screamed COME HERE AND DRINK A GLASS OF WINE! and all of the amazing flowers blooming around the entire property) was that there wasn't a check-in desk. There was no formal computer system or line of other guests waiting anxiously to get to their room. Instead, I was greeted by softly playing music as I stepped in to the hotels living room. Arianna appeared from nowhere and welcomed me right in. Within moments of telling her my name she had our room keys in hand and was showing me the way to our room.

Immediately upon entering the room I felt at home. I was hard for me not to kick off my shoes right then and there. After a quick tour of the room she was off again, and I was left to my own devices. As I usually do when I first get to a new hotel room, I went through every nook and cranny in the place. No drawer was left unopened, no door was spared from being opened. I read all the welcome pack information as well as had a peak at all the bath goodies and the rain shower in the bathroom. And then, I sat down and took it all in.

The room was impeccably decorated with vintage furniture, interesting mismatched pieces that perfectly fit together in a way that I could never replicate in my own home. The room was a calming mixture of taupe and sage green, eggshell and muted gold with pops of orange and wood furniture. The bathroom was divine. Bath products made from local olive oil, plush over sized towels and the biggest rain shower I have ever seen in my whole life nearly made me want to move right into the bathroom itself.

Of course if I had done that I would have missed sleeping in the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on in Italy. Not only was the bed comfortable and the bedding luxurious - but the pillows! These were the biggest, fluffiest, squishiest pillows I have ever slept on in probably all of Europe. Typically in European hotels (apart from all the big chains, obvi) the pillows are some sort of an after thought. Or maybe, Europeans don't really care about the quality of their pillows too much. All I know is that they usually leave us with a sore neck the next morning. But no...not these....

And the view....

Oh, the view....

If you look hard enough you can just see the coast and Mediterranean in the distance. I was surprised at first but then realized that we were only 5km away from the sea. Amazing, considering it felt like we were a million miles away from everything.

Locanda al Colle is nestled in the Northern Tuscan hills, about thirty minutes drive north of Pisa. Lucca is close by as well as many charming small towns, and the ritzy summer seaside town of Forte dei Marme is a mere ten minute drive away. Normally we stay in Southern Tuscany, so I was a little apprehensive about how we would like this area. I should never have feared (duh, we were in Italy after all). There are more than enough things to do here, I wish we could have stayed for a week rather than just the weekend.

In addition to our perfect room (next time I want to check out one of the Deluxe or Suite rooms which come with private outdoors space) the entire hotel (not that it's that big, there are only nine guest room in total) is decorated impeccably. Much of the furniture was picked up by Riccardo on his travels around the world and many pieces are vintage, perfectly preserved or restored. There is an odd mix of old and new, contemporary and vintage, but somehow it all just works.

The hotel also features artwork by local artists, from paintings to sculptures, displayed inside and out. Find a piece you really fancy? Just ask Riccardo for the price list and he is happy to indulge.

Speaking of indulgence - I haven't even started telling you about the food. Included in the rate was daily breakfast - served only from 9am to 11am (my kind of place - you don't have to worry about getting there early before all the good stuff is gone!) - and is a casual affair served in the communal kitchen. There are fresh breads with jam, cereals and yogurts, usually one sweet and one savory baked item and fresh fruit. Fancy some eggs? No problem! Place your order and Arianna or Riccardo will fix them right up for you, often times sitting down to join the guests for breakfast.

And if you are lucky enough to stay at Locanda al Colle on a Wednesday or Saturday night, you MUST take advantage of the home cooked dinner that is served. The chef (who used to work in a two star Michelin restaurant I might add) cooked us, and the other hotel guests, a delicious four course dinner. The evening starts with a glass of prosecco and canapes in the living room while you mingle with other guests or admire the artwork. Moving into the dining room you have your choice of wine (or more prosecco if that's how you want the night to go down) and then the courses start flowing.

While we were there we had a delicious polenta starter, followed by an artichoke and spec risotto and ended by pan fried sea bass with seasonal vegetables. Each bite was divine. And then, we had dessert. Arianna made an orange tiramisu that was out of the world. The orange flavor was so delicate and it was such an interesting and inventive twist on a traditional Italian dessert. We had an excellent time chatting with the other guests and learning more about Riccardo and his amazing hotel.

Oh yeah...I almost forgot to mention!

Don't forget to bring your bathing suit (like I did). There is a heated pool that is open year round.

Overall I have to give Locanda al Colle is glowing five star review (As if you couldn't tell that already). Not only is the hotel beautifully decorated and as comfortable as your own home (if not more!) but the hosts Arianna and Riccardo really do make this place special. They were both so helpful in recommending local restaurants and things to do, and were more than happy to print out ferry schedules and add their two cents on how to make our stay even more enjoyable.  It is amazing to know that this place has only been open for a year and a half - when it seems like they have been doing this all their lives.

The value for money here is outstanding - but you better hurry up and go...this place won't stay a secret for long!

Locanda al Colle
Via della Stretta, 102
loc. Capezzano Pianore
55041 Camaiore (LU) 
Phone +39 0584 915 195

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New York, New York

New York.

Oh, New York.

How do I even begin to talk about the first great love of my life? I guess I could start off by telling you about how I've missed New York every day since I moved away nearly three years ago (sorry London, it's nothing personal). I could tell you about how I compare every city I visit to the great NYC. New York for me is some what of a cross between your first great love and your dad - a mixture of warm and fuzzy feelings mixed with awe and admiration.

Every time I arrive in New York - whether by plane, train or automobile - the first glimpse of that skyline gives me a lump in my throat, my heart beats faster and I inevitably press my nose up against the glass to try and get the closest look possible.

As soon as I step out into the street I'm immediately overwhelmed by the sites and sounds - hundreds of people rushing up and down the streets, street vendors selling photos and hotdogs and hot nuts, car horns blaring, ambulances screeching by and jack hammers that sound like they are coming from inside your head rather than four blocks away.

To some, it's pure chaos.

To me, it's bliss.

I love how the city keeps reinventing itself. There is always a new, hot club - restaurant - neighborhood - dessert - [insert anything you can think of]. The city is always moving, shaking, pulsing. You can find something to do - ANYTHING you can imagine - at any time of day, any day of the week. If you are bored in New York City, then you aren't trying hard enough.

Hungry? Me too. Where shall we eat? Five star, Michelin star rated high class restaurant? Small, cramped hole in the wall down in Chinatown or Alphabet City? Something in between? Italian, American, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Czech...pick a corner of the world and you can find it in New York.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Photography Project - Children's Photography

If you haven't noticed by my lack of Project 52 posts lately, I have become a little bored with the project. This is pretty typical for me - start off with a bang and buckets full of enthusiasm and then slowly push it to the back burner and become distracted by something else (Baking? Shopping? Shiny tinfoil??)

To combat my boredom with Project 52 I decided to try and challenge myself in another way. I have been interested in expanding my photography experience into other areas for a while now. I've done plenty of travel and landscape photography, and really liked the fast paced street photography that I did in Vietnam. I would love to try my hand at photographing weddings or newborns or children.

So that's what I did.

I put the word out with a friend of mine that has two little ones and has lots of friends with children. Soon after I had my first "project". The Roos family graciously let me invade their home for an afternoon taking photos of their beautiful children (and one cousin!). The children - Sienna (two and a half), Mia (eighteen months) and cousin William (also eighteen months) - were really good sports, letting a strange lady stick a big, weird camera in their faces.

I'm not really around kids that much so to say I learned a lot was an understatement. I learned how quick you have to be on your feet and comfortable with your camera you have to be. I found myself sticking the settings on Aperture Priority just to keep up with the little ones.  I also learned how quickly little kids moods can change - from happy to crying to laughing all in less than 60 seconds!

I would like to give a great, big THANK YOU to the Roos family for letting me photography their lovely kids!