Cruising Do's and Don'ts: When I planned ahead and when I didn't plan with my head.

Being that this was my second cruise I thought for sure I was adequately knowledgeable about the ins and outs of what to expect and what to bring. Turns out packing/cruising for 7 is a tad different from the small party of two that was the last trip. 

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-BRING A LANYARD: I don't know why I didn't think about or remember this from the last trip- but please for the love of god bring a lanyard to keep your sail and sign card on. Since cruises are non cash accepting zones, these things are needed for everything (get on and off the boat at port, buy drinks, pick up souvenirs in the gift shop, play in the arcade/casino). They are linked to whatever CC you set it up with (or pre-loaded cash) and I can't tell you how annoying it was to have to keep it in my wallet the whole trip which I was then forced to carry around on the ship the entire 7 days. Mia was smart and brought one as a "just in case" item. They *do* sell them on the boat, but my cheap ass wasn't paying $13 (per lanyard) for both my husband and myself. Lesson learned. Bring a lanyard! 

-IF GOING IN A GROUP, A WALKIE TALKIE IS A LIFESAVER: Being that we were traveling outside of the US (without an international data package) we knew we would not able to communicate with each other using cell phones while on board. Even our normal tricks of using WiFi to text via WhatsApp wasn't an option being that Carnival charges a daily Wifi fee that I was definitely not going to fork over (cheap ass remember?) Thank goodness Mia came up with the brilliant plan (she comes up with most of them if I'm being honest) of bringing a set of long range walkie talkies with us in the event that we wanted to split up so we could still communicate when/where to meet back up. Or to prank call each other from our rooms at night/in the AM, whateves. The boys scoffed at us, but they quickly realized how useful they were and everyone was happy we forked over the $15 per couple to buy them from Amazon. 

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-CHEERS! PACKAGE OR NAH? So the Cheers! package is an unlimited alcohol package for when you are on board the ship. At about $50 per day per person- this one isn't for the casual drinker. We weighed this option very carefully and did ALOT of math when determining if it would be worth it for us (see kids, math DOES come in handy when you are adulting- tabulating drink costs on a cruise ship for 4 of age adults is no joke!). In the end we decided to fork over the $800 per couple total cost just to have the peace of mind of not mentally tabulating our sail and sign bill each time we ordered a cocktail. (I should clarify that *I* didn't worry about calculating that bill but hubby saw that as the total to beat and kept track of every drink we each had in order to calculate if we really got our monies worth...we did....and then some in case you were wondering). At between $6 and $10 for your most bought beer and cocktails, they can add up quick! Throw in 3 full days at sea with no ports (and let's be honest- three kids who while adorable and lovely- can drive you up a wall)- and we easily met our moneys worth. We were also able to use them to get the kids some fancy (non alcoholic) drinks and sodas that we would have normally had to pay for, so all in all it was a good deal for us. 

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- TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP- THAT IS THE QUESTION: When given the option to pre-pay for tips up front when we booked the cruise, we opted out. (Now hold your horses people- we are really great tippers and always tip well when we receive a service- over 20% in fact). We were unsure of how the staff was actually tipped out from this option and wanted to tip individually to those who provided us with services (room stewards/bar tenders/waiters) to ensure that our tip money was actually going to those serving us. Turns out, everyone is charged a flat fee for tips, they just give you the option to pay it up front or your card will be charged at the end of the cruise. We found this out the night before setting sail which was kind of an annoyance (my husband had already taken out a couple hundred dollars...in ones...) but c'est la vie. Because we firmly believe in over-tipping, especially when the service is phenomenal- we went ahead with our original plan and tipped our servers individually anyway. These guys were some of the most friendly, efficient, hard working service industry professionals I have ever met and they deserved every dollar (and more), so when given the option to tip- do it. 

- DOWNLOAD THE CARNIVAL HUB APP- A free app with cruise specific info, this thing was a life saver most days at sea. Set it up with your own unique login and password, and it keeps an electronic tab of all your purchases on the boat as well as a schedule of all the events going on onboard each day. It allows you to mark items you are interested in and it will alert you when they are coming up we found it really handy! The best part? The app will work on the boat and will not charge you for wifi (app is free and to use is free even in international water). Score! 

- WHAT TIME TO DINE? Upon booking your cruise you will asked to choose a dining time for dinners at your assigned dining room. Three options are given, Early, Late, and 'Your Time". I would choose the "Your Time" dining option as it is the most flexible of the three, allowing you to go early or late depending on what other activities you guys have going on on any particular day. With so many fun and exciting activities both onboard and onshore it's nice to have this flexible option. 

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- BEACH TOWEL BONANZA: Carnival does provide beach towels for your use (one per person will be folded up for your use in your room) BUT if you loose one during the day they charge your room $20 for a replacement. Since they all look alike and the whole boat had them, it is very easy for people to pick them up thinking they are theirs and they are YOU are stuck with a bill (happened to me on our first cruise- so annoying!) So I say bring your own distinct beach towel so no one mistakes it for theirs.

WATERPROOF CAMERA IS A MUST! I originally planned to just get a water proof case for my phone but I chickened out when it came to the deep blue ocean... I mean, let's face it... even though my phone is ancient, I paid like an arm and a leg for it, so I don't want it ruined! I did test the case, and it did have good reviews, but I'm a nutcase and I couldn't make myself submerge my iphone under the sea.  In a pool, yeah.  In the ocean. No.  So I went online and bought a cheap version of a goPro.  and OMG that little camera is awesome! Paid just $20 for it, plus $10 for the 32gb memory card, and I have to say that the pictures and the video quality is off the hook! This tiny (super tiny) camera with a very good waterproof case did wonders under water... here's a video of me snorkeling:

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-JOT DOWN YOUR MEMORIES.  Take a Journal.  Yeah. It might sound a little juvenile to you, but taking trips down memory lane 20 years from now when you find your journal in a drawer or in a box would be awesome.  You are welcome in advance.  Also, pick your favorite picture from your trip, print it, and throw it in there.  You'll eventually forget about it, but when you find it, it will make you smile like never before.  

 

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FOR GOODNESS SAKE, CHILDREN, GIVE OCEAN CLUB A CHANCE.   Do it for your parents.  They deserve a break.  Our little humans were excited to go check it out and were there for about two hours.  When we picked them up, we could see them dancing and laughing and doing crafts, but as soon as they saw us they changed their attitude.  We asked "did you like it!?" "Nah" They all said they didn't want to come back, they all wanted to spend 24/7 with us because (and I guess this is partially our fault) they enjoyed the activities that involved music, and singing, and trivia, and games, and although family friendly, they weren't catered to children.  Oh well.  Next time we will probably approach it in a different way and maybe they'll have more kid time and we can have more adult time.  

TAKE AN EXCURSION! we took ours in Grand Turk.  Reserved through their website.  They took us snorkeling to two locations, over the coral reef, and then swimming with sting rays. Yes, those things are scary looking.  After that they gave us Rum punch and fed us freshly prepared (caught in front of you) Conch salad. An awesome experience and highly recommend.  

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There are many Do's and Don'ts that I can write and you are going to tell me oh no I didn't do that or "I did " So bottom line, go have fun! Enjoy the sun, the water, the people, don't forget that the people that work there are people too and those people are super cool actually... as they have met sooooo many more people than you.  Be kind and you'll have a great time!!!! 

Bon Voyage!!! 

Cruising the Caribbean: The Highlights Reel

So here I am, not even a week post cruise and I'm already dying to go back. We have spent the last seven days gliding along the Atlantic, hitting up spots in Nassau, Half Moon Cay (a privately owned Carnival island) and Grand Turk (which my 6 year old affectionately dubbed "Turkish" for the entirety of the trip) and we have lived to tell the tale! I'm happy to report that Mia did not fall off the boat, or get eaten by a shark, or get left on an island as the cruise ship sailed off and left her alone, nor did the zombie apocalypse occur while we were in international waters, or really any waters for that matter. Oh, we had a plan of course in case such a situation arose, but I digress.... Nothing but a little sea sickness and in the grand scheme of things- it was pretty benign. 

Traveling with a large group (7) including three kids, we did have our fair share of meltdowns, tears, whining, and general pestering, but by and large it was a truly fun trip. So, of course, we have to break down our favorite things about cruising and our ports of call. 

1) I'm not sure what kind of list this would be without mentioning the most important item for us when traveling (or let's be serious, just generally in life), THE FOOD. Being that it was an all inclusive trip, all food costs were covered in the initial price of booking, and for real ya'll, we ate our monies worth. From Guy's Burgers, hot and fresh taco bars, cafeteria styled feasts, to formal sit down dining, a cruise is the place to be for any foodie. Sit down dinners were my favorite meals of the day as they always featured unique menu items along with the more traditional fine dining meal options (steak lobster, etc. ) I am proud to share that I sampled escargots and frog legs among many other carefully crafted delicacies. I may have left the 7 day cruise 10 pounds heavier, but my stomach has never been happier

RELATED: MY FIRST CRUISE

2) You may not know this about us, but we are a pretty competitive bunch. Well, let me clarify, the husbands are a pretty competitive bunch so you can pretty easily guess that we took all the onboard activities very seriously on our trip. From bingo to scavenger hunts, Harry Potter trivia (which we were were ashamed not to know all the very tricky answers!)  and roulette, we were on a mission to win any and all competitions (even self made) with extra bragging rights if an actual prize was involved. We were dubbed ping-pong champions , back stroke masters, scavenger hunt aficionados, bingo extraordinaires, and family challenge victors. Between the two families we won over a dozen medals, a cruise ship shaped trophy, a bottle of champagne, and $340 in bingo spoils. There is always something fun going on onboard, and we always add our own flare/style to the events! As a funny side story, at the scavenger challenge, one of the items was to get a bikini top and bring it to the stage...well, Mia's hubby had the fantastic idea of snagging her bikini top. Thank goodness she had her cover up on because he was serious about it (umm hello? bragging rights and a snazzy plastic medal were at stake!) and took off with it! Unfortunately he was not quick enough, and my hubby snagged the victory on that one. ;)

Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

Our team name was "The Incredibles" and we ROCKED the family challange! 

3) Out of the three ports we visited, my absolute favorite was Grand Turk. There was something for everyone; chitzy & craftsman style shopping, white sandy beaches, fun and exciting excursions, and of course....places to eat. This was the island we had chosen to go on our excursion, snorkeling with sting rays. We took a motorboat out into the water to three separate spots to explore various reefs and sea life with the last stop at a small island cove where we got up close and personal with some sting rays. Riding the motorboat back inland, the crew whipped up a fresh from the sea conch salsa (so good!) and some rum punch. 

4) THE PEOPLE. Yes. We met pretty fantastic and interesting people on this trip. Oddly enough, none of which were fellow cruisers...well, not really odd because, let's be honest here, we are not "walk up to random strangers and make friends" type of girls. Hello! Social anxiety!  We actually made an effort to speak with and made friends with the crew of the ship.. they looked much more approachable (maybe it's because they are paid to be nice to you? ;) ) It happens that the crew consists of a very international and diverse community and talking to people from so many different parts of the world (parts that we had never heard of before) is kind of amazing. We met people from all parts of Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Romania, Peru, and different parts of the US. What we found even more amazing is how humble, and hard working all these people are, and to be honest, I think we found some great friends in this trip... in fact, our next big adventure might be to Transylvania! 

So, bottom line my friends: Pack your bags and take a cruise!!!!! Enjoy the good food, the beautiful places, and the great people. Then go home with some amazing memories and share them with the world!

Snow Tubing Fun!- Hawksnest, Seven Devils, NC

When you are not a very sporty person, the idea of spending your weekend participating in what your mind is perceiving as a extreme sport, is not very appealing. It gets even harder to admit that you are crying inside when your six year old is over the moon excited and fearless.  

Living in Charlotte, North Carolina we don't get a lot of snow around here. Maybe once every few years we'll see a few inches of snow (and the whole city shuts down). That being said, we don't own snow gear, or snow clothes, or anything of that sort... but we are resourceful. You should've seen me in layers of leggings, and sweatpants, and an old pair of Uggs. Throw in a rain jacket, and you have the perfect snow tubing outfit. Although, for my daughter's fashion taste, I looked "embarrassing". I didn't care. I was warm and dry. 

Maybe a little bit too warm, if I want to be honest. It was a scorching 55 degrees at the top of the mountain and I wasn't feeling so good, as the windy roads messed up my stomach and I almost puked, twice.

But this weather was not ideal for snow activities. It's basic science folks...snow melts on anything that is over freezing temperatures. Who would've thought that it was going to be so (relatively) hot at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter??? -Global Warming people!

We had to pay $5 for parking (cash only) when we got there...and... none of us had any non-plastic money.

**mental note to check do's and don't online before visiting a new place**

We started sweating even before we got out of the car. We worked hard to gather those $5 guys! Fortunately, there were enough quarters and dimes in the car. The attendant didn't seem too happy to receive this heavy, and quite annoying form of payment. Money is money, and she let us through.

I was quite disappointed to see mostly green. Green hills, green grass everywhere (well, dead grass, mostly), and then I saw the snow.  Tons of "snow"...cause I'm assuming it's fake, just on the track lanes. Not quite what i was expecting. What ever happened to the sight blinding shine of the white snowy hills you see in the movies? I guess not in NC. It hasn't snowed in a while around here.  

We stood in line with a couple hundred other people. We got there pretty early, so we were like second in line, which was nice. When they opened the gate, they directed us to grab a tube per person and proceed to the tracks.

I was nervous, my heart was racing, my legs were shaking. My daughter and hubby went down the hill as I watched them. They seemed fine, so I went. I sat on the tube and let go.  Weeeeeeee. I made it out alive.  No broken bones, no injuries.  I was fine. You might be thinking... It's JUST snow tubing lady! Stop whining... No.  You don't understand.  I am clumsy and I tend to always get injured...so I was very proud of myself here, friends!

When you successfully get to the bottom, you must get your tube and step onto the "magic carpet", which is a slider conveyor carpet, that will pull you, and the tube, up to the top.  Although, it takes like 15 minutes for it to get all the way up.  It was the boring part of the ride.  It goes slow because it has no handles and it's very easy to lose your balance off of it, believe me.  I almost did.

If you pay for one session, you only have 1 hr and 45 minutes to "play". Trust me. That's plenty.  I couldn't have done it longer. I didn't get wet as people suggested, but instead, I was sweating to death, and dying to sit down and drink something cold.  

The snow tubing ended up being a lot of fun, despite my earlier doubts. They also had zip lining, but that would've been too much excitement for one day.

This might be something we would do again. We all had lots of fun. My daughter keeps talking about it, and how much fun she had.  

Here's a short video of me sliding down the mountain...

So if you are in the area, visit Hawksnest in Seven Devils, NC.  It's the largest snow tubing park in the region, and guaranteed fun for the whole family.  **kids 3 and up are allowed to ride**

Have you guys been there? I didn't fall out...did you?

And then...I fell. Traveling as a clumsy person.

I fall... a lot.

When I met my husband, one of the first things he said was "Wow, you're accident prone!" as I bumped my knee with the table for the 100th time the week we met. Do you know those kids that can't have a cup of milk on the table because it will be spilled? Yeah, that was me. Or the girl that decides to dress up and wear high heels for a party, and falls in the middle of the dance floor? Yep, guilty as charged.  

I'm not kidding.  

I fall, bump by knees, my head, my limbs...a lot. I'm so used to it that it has become part of who I am. I like to look at it as one of my quirky, endearing qualities. Yeah....

For the most part, I try to avoid dangerous activities as I know what the outcome could (probably will/eventually/inevitably/certainly) be. Although I have run a 5k obstacle course without a trip to the ER! **insert proud face here**  But then again the first (and last) time I tried paintball I got injured, like, bleeding injured.  Well, there as that time I went ziplining and survived! (another proud moment of my life).  So, from time to time, I do risk it a little...You've got to understand that what seems normal and fun for most, it's risky business for me.

Now that you know how my limbs and coordination fail me from time to time, just imagine what happens when we travel. We have been horse back riding in the Andes mountains, hiked up to a natural hot springs waterfall in Colombia, climbed to the top of Notre Dame, and the Saint Peter's Cathedral's dome - 37 stories high!-, walked hundreds of miles on the streets of New York, New Orleans, Paris, and Rome...a lot of falling is bound to happen for someone like me.  

I remember a couple of years ago when we spent our family Christmas vacation in Daytona Beach, FL. We rented a huge place to house 17 people for a long week. I was excited to explore the place, and as I was walking through the rooms and entered the playroom, I missed a step, fell forward, bumped my head on the table, and my knee bruised almost immediately. Oh well, what could I do other than laugh about it?. So I put myself together, limping through the rest of the house.  

The next morning we drove a few miles south to visit some friends, and again, as I was outside on their back deck, I accidentally took a step backwards, missing the fact that I was up on a deck...falling down backwards and turning in mid air-matrix style-, landing on my knees.  Bloody accident that was. I think I still have that scar.  

One of my most memorable falls was while walking through the gorgeous gardens of Versailles Palace in France. It was a rainy day, but the rain had subsided for the most part. The gardens are so big, you can literally get lost in them. We did. For a long while. We stopped a few times to try to find our way by puzzling out a (French) map of the grounds. I mean, the place looks like a maze of beautiful plants and rose bushes (it smells delicious). The maze-like part where we got lost has high bushes that serve as walls, giving the illusion of large corridors of green walls, and dirt floors under the blue (cloudy that day) skies. A little science lesson here for you guys:

Dirt plus water equals slippery mud.  

I learned that the hard way. We knew it was slippery. In fact, we were all walking quite carefully through the muddy patches. I think I was thinking to myself about how proud I was to make it so long without incident...and then it happened.  

My thoughts betrayed me as my feet unintentionally moved in a skating motion. In slow mode, my brain was thinking "what is happening?" while my legs were trying really, really hard to keep the balance. All of a sudden, my whole body tilted right and my legs gave up to the idea of saving me from the inevitable. 

I fell into a pool of mud.  

I fell so hard I thought I broke my wrist. The entire right side of my body was saturated with brown, wet, mud. My shoes, my jeans, my very white jacket...brown. Good thing I know how to handle these things with a sense of a humor and a little decorum. I was not ashamed of finishing my day, walking through a French Palace, covered in dirt.  

GO travel and see the world! even if you fall...

GO travel and see the world! even if you fall...

So, dear fellow travelers, and fellow dreamers.  Don't hesitate to go see the world, and to do risky things from time to time if you are like me. I'm the queen of clumsy, but life is good, and clumsiness makes for great stories.  

What is your most memorable fall? Also, as you read this, can you guess how many bones I've broken? 

***Read about our travel adventures here!***

2016 Travels: The Good, the Bad, and the Funniest

2016 was good to us.  We were able to travel to and explore four different states in the US and two countries in Europe. We saw, ate, learned, and enjoyed different cultures, languages, food, and people. Our traveler spirit shone bright this year. We usually tell you the good and the best places to go and eat (we are all about positive thinking here!), but there are a lot of unsaid things when we post our articles. We thought it would be a good idea to actually tell you about the good, the bad, and the funniest parts of our experiences... because, let's be real, you are bound to have something funny happen when you are clumsy and curious at the same time.

NEW ORLEANS, LA

THE GOOD: We visited the amazing city of New Orleans this past spring. This is a city that has my heart and my soul and I will come back to visit any chance I get. That's a promise. I can't get enough of the beautiful architecture, the folklore stories, Bourbon St, hurricanes at Lafitte's, ghost and vampires, the gorgeous cemeteries, and of course, the food. If you haven't been to New Orleans, book your trip today!

THE BAD:  Nothing too bad in this trip. But I can say that in this trip we learned two things:  always bring comfy shoes, and rain gear. While we walked towards the Harrah's Casino on day 3, a torrential rain poured down suddenly and with no warning. People, when I say torrential, I mean TORRENTIAL. We stopped at a little store and were able to get umbrellas...that lasted 10 minutes, because ALL of our umbrellas were turned upside down by the wind, and we ended up getting soaked.  every single inch our our body was soaked.  It's no fun to gamble at the casino, and walk around with wet clothes.  

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THE FUNNIEST: While we eventually found the humor and were literally "dancing in the rain", one of the funniest parts was when Coco's hubby felt fearless and thought it was a good idea to climb a post on Bourbon St.  He was actually successful in his first few attempts, but he was abruptly stopped by the massive amounts of grease covering his last targeted post. His hands (and parts of his clothes) were saturated by gooey, greasy, gunk, which, by the way, was very hard to clean off.  After that, we danced with a parrot, a rabbit, a pig, and a turtle, and sang "Eye of the Tiger" at a piano bar.  Yeah, that happened.  

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PIGEON FORGE AND GATLINBURG, TN

THE GOOD:  Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are great places to visit with the family.  Home to DOLLYWOOD, we had an amazing time this spring.   

THE BAD: Nothing too bad happened while we traveled to TN, other than terrible traffic due to construction. Unfortunately, due to the recent wildfires in the area, many of the city's iconic sites were lost. Our thoughts are with the wonderful people of these two great towns.  

THE FUNNIEST:  Another torrential unexpected rain. While in Dollywood, and towards the end of the day, the skies broke down and rain poured like an open faucet.  We sought refuge at the main gift shop inside the park, and were able to buy an overpriced yellow rain poncho (good quality though). Thank goodness it wasn't cold, as our little 6 year old was not a happy camper.

CAROLINA BEACH, NC

THE GOOD: This trip was great.  It was Memorial Day Weekend, and the weather was perfect. The craft beer at Goodhops Brewery was fantastic, and the fire works at the boardwalk rounded off a fun filled night.

THE BAD: We wanted to stop by and tour the USS NC, in Wilmington, but, and I'm guessing it was because it was Memorial Day Weekend, the lines were long, and the kids were whinny.  We saw it from a distance and learned a little about too. Maybe next time.

THE FUNNIEST:  There is a town fair at the boardwalk. Our daughter made us laugh hysterically when she compared a Carousel Rooster to her daddy (my hubby). I guess she found the similarity in the long neck and height? Either way, it was a hoot!    

PARIS, FRANCE

THE GOOD: This trip was almost perfect. We couldn't get enough of the food, the wine, the cheese, the coffee! So many places to go, so much to see, so much to do. It was simply amazing! My favorite part was when we got some wine and food to eat picnic style at the Tuileries Garden, in front of the Louvre. It was relaxing, and uplifting, and one of my favorite memories.  *Read our articles on what to eat, and what to do in Paris*

THE BAD: While we were in Paris, the EuroCup was in progress in France. Because of that, security in Paris was extra strict, which is good, but also, drunken soccer fans were everywhere.  And let me tell you, roving bands of loud drunken peoples, especially in a city you are not familiar with can be a bit scary. The Eiffel Tower perimeter was barricaded with police and body searches, and we weren't able to see the Eiffel Tower at night. Next time it is. ALSO, there was a very limited access to free WIFI around the city.  Cafe's and restaurants will lure you into thinking you can use their WIFI with "free wifi" signs, but it's a lie! They just want you to sit down and eat/drink something.  When you ask for a wifi password they will give you a bogus one. This happened in MANY cafe's (not all though) in the touristic areas. Won't fall for it next time. 

THE FUNNIEST: Everywhere we go, it seems to rain, torrentially. But luckily, this time we were prepared! We had rain jackets, umbrellas, and waterproof shoes. Bring it on rain! What I didn't count on, was the fact that rain makes dirt slippery. Imagine this: Walking down the beautiful vast gardens of the Versailles Palace, when suddenly your feet move in a skating motion trying to avoid your body from hitting the ground. You fail, and you must spend the rest of the Palace tour COVERED in mud. Covered. Did I mention I was wearing white?  Yay me! 

ROME, ITALY

THE GOOD: The food. Oh the fabulous food. *what to eat while in Rome** The historical places were amazing as well. The Coliseum was breathtaking, and the weather was just perfect.

THE BAD: Our flight to Rome got cancelled. - Insert full panic mode emoji- We got a heads up that it was cancelled by calling home (to the US) and talking to a family member who happened to look at our itinerary. We spent hours on the phone with the airline trying to reschedule a flight for 6. Our flight was rescheduled for later that same day and we got complimentary food vouchers while we waited at the airport.- insert happy emoji here-. Finally, beware of pickpockets. While we didn't have any experiences with stolen goods, we were very well aware of our surroundings. Pickpockets and thieves will try to lure you into thinking you are watching a street show, or will force you into buying something you don't want. Keep all of your belongings on you at all times when navigating the streets of Rome. Sadly, many thieves will use children to lure you, so don't fall for those puppy eyes.

THE FUNNIEST: Pigeon poop.  Yes. When a pigeon scared Coco (she actually screamed) and pooped on her later. That, my friends, was epic.  On another note, while at the Rome's airport, we thought it was a good idea to stop by Starbucks and get a latte.  They asked for hubby's name (Chase), and the attendant didn't understand the name and asked again, and again...then she gave up and just wrote it down... this is what was on his cup, and that's how I will spell it forever.  

HELEN, GA

THE GOOD: Oh Helen, Georgia, home of Oktoberfest in the south. We pack our bags every year in October, and head to the mountains of Georgia. This little gem of a town, welcomes us with open arms and lots of brews and great food. We all wear our Alpine hats full of pins that we have collected over the years as memorabilia of our adventures, and try to match our outfits, and dance Polka at Festhall...yeah, I know, dorky...but it's fun! 

THE BAD: We have always been very fortunate and have had a place to stay while visiting (thanks Stephanie's parents!) but if you plan to visit this town during the Oktoberfest festivities, better book your hotel way in advance. The town is small, and the few rooms available book out very fast. It's almost impossible to find a hotel within a few weeks of the fest.  

THE FUNNY: Das Boot is always fun to play. Drink as much brew as you can from this massive boot-shaped glass and pass it along.  IF you finish all the beer in it, the person that went before you buys the next round.  We also tried some Stroh.  This exotic rum, smells delicious (butterscotch), but as soon as you taste it, it will burn your throat, like gasoline.  It tastes nothing like it smells, and it will make you cry. Yeah, it was pretty hilarious to see the boys try it.  

This year we also found wild bunnies roaming around in the parking lot, and we tried to catch them...unsuccessfully of course. But it was good exercise. 

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Remember how I mentioned we like to match? That includes the matching suspenders bought for our party of 8 to wear. Those little boogers can be tricky to hook and unhook, just ask Coco. In an unfortunate bathroom incident, she simultaneously had her suspenders fly off her pants, into the toilet behind her, all while a drunken alpine dress wearing Oktoberfest goer barged into her stall. I'm sure the entire Festhall heard her startled screams.  Oh, I love Helen times!

 

 

2016 was a great travel year for us and we are grateful to have shared our memories with all of you.  Stick around to see where 2017 will take us! It's going to be epic!

Always,

Coco & Mia 

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The Southern Christmas Show

It's no secret that Christmas is my favorite holiday. Twinkling lights, Christmas trees, cookies, wrapping gifts, SANTA. There is nothing about Christmas that I don't like. 

One of my favorite annual traditions that always gets the holiday season kicked off for me is The Southern Christmas Show.  Located at The Park Expo and Conference Center in Charlotte, NC, the show runs from November 10-20 and features a wide array of craft and artisan booths as well as more mainstream realtors. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 if you buy in advance online (so, ummm duh, buy them online).

Make sure you block off the day to fully enjoy all that The Christmas Show has to offer. I can literally spend all day browsing and perusing the various stalls and booths. Good thing they are open from 10-6 on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays and until 9 all other days! 

They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

In order to keep up your shopping stamina, make sure to grab some food at one of the many vendors set up at the show. Take your pick from a cafeteria style set up, or stalls with hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, or pretzels! A stage toward the end of the first building is set up with ample seating to stop and rest your tootsies while taking in some local musical talent. The Christmas Show hosts a number of local choirs and bands throughout the day and evening to keep the Christmas spirit going all throughout the show.    

Now. Onto the shopping!

Check out some of my favorite vendors.

The Christmas Mouse is a must! A Christmas tradition in my family is to gift each child (or in my case adult) with a new ornament each year in his/her stocking. The ornament is usually symbolic of something accomplished during the year or an especially memorable experience. One year my husband received a beautiful American flag ornament when he became a citizen, I was given a stunning crystal chandelier in remembrance of watching The Phantom of the Opera on a family trip to London, etc. It's really amazing to look at our Christmas Tree each year and remember significant life events, and fun vacations from over the years. All of these unique items, we purchase the The Christmas Mouse.

 

You can't go the the Christmas Show and not stop by to try Helmut's Strudel. Featuring several different types of their award winning strudel, I always opt for the cheese. Located in the last building at the end of the shopping day, I'm always excited to scoop up a box (or two) and indulge in the flaky, cheesy goodness this pastry has to offer. 

Shea's Wildflower Company. This exhibitor is located right smack dab in the beginning of the first building. Filled with charming, rustic Christmas decorations, you are sure to find something in here to bring home and adorn your walls, shelves, or gardens. Boasting both natural and artificial decor, I have to seriously control myself because I want it ALL! I mean c'mon, look at all these goodies! Everything from wreaths and topiaries, to lighted figurines and decorative houses, it's all beautiful and well crafted.   

This last vendor was a new one (new to me anyways) that featured beautiful little succulent container. These adorable miniature gardens were fashioned out of small plastic ornaments which can be hung to adorn your tree, or, thanks to the flat bottom, can liven up a shelf or table. I chose to display mine on a shelf in my library. Doesn't it look fantastic?! 

If you are in the Charlotte, NC or surrounding area, do yourself a favor and grab your BFF, mom, sister, grandma, cousin, whoever, and make a day of The Southern Christmas Show. Arm yourself with comfy walking shoes, a tacky Christmas sweater, and loads of Christmas cheer for a day of laughs and fun!

Huzzah! Travel to the Renaissance Time!

The queen and her court

The queen and her court

I've always dreamed about being a princess.  Since I heard the happily-ever-after stories of Snow White, and my favorite, Beauty and the Beast, I often fantasized (and still do) about Prince Charming on a white stallion.  Then, I learned about King Arthur, and the amazing stories of Camelot.  Oh it was love at first....word...cause I learned about it when I read my books.  

Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING gets closer to being part of those times, than a Renaissance Festival.  Just imagine yourself, walking down a village from the middle ages, with small cottages, and artisan stores.  Where peasants (in full attire) roam the village, singing, and showcasing their arts.  Where you can feast on huge turkey legs, while watching knights jousting to entertain the crowd and the King. Where you can see fairies, and magic walking trees; where you can test your archery skills and other medieval arts.  

Yes, there is a place where you can do all this and much more!  The Carolina's Renaissance Fair is one of the largest in the nation, with over 500 full costumed villagers, knights, and royals walking around and interacting with the visitors.  For 22 years, it is the best way to spend a whole day daydreaming about medieval times while participating in the many activities, shows, games, and magic around you.  Come in early (they have ample free parking), and enjoy yourself!

The stores are incredibly crafty and you can find amazing hand made art and artifacts. One of my favorite stores is Broomhilde . Here, you can find all kinds of magic wands and walking sticks, as well as flying brooms! -get ready Hogwarts!

This is a place for the whole family.  My daughter had a blast riding in the (fully man-powered) pirate ship, giant rocking horse, Davinci ride, and interacting with the very beautiful fairy. Her make up is perfect and my daughter truly believes she is a real fairy...or maybe she is.   

Acrobats from Barely Balanced -who are amazing!- walk around in stilts greeting and meeting people. You can also, if you are lucky, can catch a glimpse of the queen and her court walking through the village, saying hi to the people. And don't forget to look out for the knights! You can meet them too, while they are not jousting, throughout Fairhaven.  

If you get hungry, don't fear! Just feast on one of the very many food stands and accompany your giant turkey leg with a cold beer or sparkling mimosa.  

Our day was full of daydreaming and adventure. We tried our hand at archery, threw tomatoes at a obnoxious jester, found pirate coins throughout a maze, visited a dungeon, witnessed a pirate eat fire, shook hands with a walking tree, rode a camel, got a present from the fairy, saw a vulture perform tricks, found the perfect magic wand, and were amazed by the acrobats performance.  

Our day in the village of Fairhaven, at the Carolinas Renaissance Festival was epic. Huzzah!! 

for more information visit: www.carolina.renfestinfo.com

Prost! Oktoberfest fun in Helen, GA

For the past three years we have traveled to Helen, GA for their annual Oktoberfest festivities with a few friends for a weekend in October. Our friends parents own a cabin in Helen and have graciously opened their home, and traditions, up to us these past years, forevermore converting us into Oktoberfest-aholics! 

Quaintly situated in the rolling hills of Georgia, Helen is a perfectly picturesque town modeled in the German style of architecture. It is a mostly touristic town, with it's main claim to fame it's two months of Oktoberfest festivities in September and October (longest running in the US I might add!), but they still boast plenty of other fun activities throughout the year including the annual fasching event in February. Only a three hour drive from our hometown of Charlotte, NC, this makes for a perfect weekend getaway. 

We typically arrive on Friday afternoon and spend this time visiting and catching up with friends, sipping on some brews, and soaking in the beautiful scenery surrounding the cabin. Saturday we rise early; maybe go for a hike at one of the numerous scenic hiking trails, or like this year, explore a local corn maze. Lee Anderson Farms is a quick drive from the cabin, located in the small town of Dahlonega. We arrived at opening time, 10AM and moseyed on over to the charming barn to collect a bottle of water (included in the admission price of $10!) and check out the petting zoo before heading off into the maze! (As a side note can I just add that I have added "baby goat" to the list of animals I want to own that my husband says no to?) Now of course, we had to make things interesting and wager a bet. After hashing out the details, it was decided. Girls vs. Guys, loser takes a shot of stroh. (Not familiar? It's an Austrian rum that smells divine but unfortunately, tastes like gasoline. I was fooled the first year of Oktoberfest and have since learned my lesson. That stuff is an *ahem* acquired taste.) We snapped a few pics then headed off into the corn! Of course the girls crushed it and finished the course in a little under an hour. I can't really take any credit if I'm being honest, Mia is a whiz with a map and she has a keen sense of direction. Me? Not so much.

It was a gorgeous day to explore outside! Sunny and blue skies! 

It was a gorgeous day to explore outside! Sunny and blue skies! 

After coming home to freshen up and have lunch, we headed out into downtown Helen. The small downtown area is filled with local eateries, small chintzy souvenir shops, and numerous artisan shops with everything from handmade wooden cuckoo clocks to German-styled alpine hats. Of course we had to pick up a hat the first year we visited, and each year since have bought a commemorative pin to decorate and remember the years past. 

Before nightfall approaches, (the FestHalle fills up fast and we wanted good seats near the stage!) we make our way over to the FestHalle for a night filled with live music (polka of course!), pitchers of Dunkle beer, bratwursts, and more rounds of "das boot" than I can count. Not familiar with das boot? You can purchase a boot from the FestHalle filled with beer. Everyone passes around the boot drinking from it before passing it to the person to your right. The person immediately before the one who finishes off the boot has to buy the next round. This is one of my favorite Oktoberfest games! The FestHalle has a good selection of food to go with that beer and you really can't go wrong with whatever you choose. Pretzels with beer cheese, bratwurst plates, sour kraut, German potato salad. It's all delicious! Men and women dressed in German livery fill the Fest Hall to the brim making for an entertaining and delightful night of merriment. We always leave red in the face (from dancing or beer I couldn't tell you ;) ) feet sore, and bellies aching from laughing. 

Did I mention Mia bought us cute suspenders for the trip? Unfortunately mine took a swim in the toilet right before this picture was taken. It was tragic and also comical. Story of my life! 

Did I mention Mia bought us cute suspenders for the trip? Unfortunately mine took a swim in the toilet right before this picture was taken. It was tragic and also comical. Story of my life! 

Oktoberfest is always a great time and we are so fortunate our friends extend the invitation each year to join them. We would definitely recommend checking it out if you are in the area! 

   

Great Big Fun at Great Wolf Lodge

Now I know that we went to the beach last week as an end of summer treat for the kids but Mia invited us to a weekend at Great Wolfe Lodge before school kicks off this week and we just couldn't say no! Ever since it's opening in 2009 I have been dying to go visit. Located in Concord, NC, it is literally a few exits away from our houses it was about time we went and checked it out.

We checked in Sunday afternoon around 1pm. Each kid is gifted with a pair of adorable fuzzy wolf ears upon check-in. After getting all of our belongings secured in our room, we hit the deck and checked out all the water park fun this place had to offer (and spoiler alert- it was ALOT). The massive indoor water park boasts half a dozen water slides, a wave pool, a pool featuring basketball hoops and a leap pad area for kids, a massive two story water jungle gym, and an area for smaller children to wade/splash around. Each feature has highly trained lifeguards patrolling the sidelines, assisting on slides and man did they take their job seriously. None of this talking and joking around with other lifeguards, these young adults were highly alerted and oriented, focused on their task. I noticed that they rotated quite frequently so that you may see one lifeguard assisting swimmers on slides and half an hour later they were manning the wave pool. This constant rotation keeps them fresh and alert,  ensuring they don't miss a thing while patrolling. 

While inside the covered water park, there is a convenient food stand to purchase lunch/drinks/snacks as well as numerous cabanas you can rent out for personal use/massages/ etc. Don't worry about packing towels, Great Wolf Lodge offers complimentary towels to use while enjoying the features of the water park.

If you prefer sunshine and suntan lotion, step outside to enjoy the outdoor pool which features a tall fountain in the middle of the 4 ft. deep pool. You can also pop on over to the outside bar for an adult beverage or two. 

Now as if that isn't enough to keep you busy all day, Great Wolf Lodge also has a wide array of other non-water type activities including an arcade, bowling, MagiQuest, FairyQuest, a spa, a children's spa, mini golf, obstacle course, build a bear (or build a wolf rather) various gift shops and eatery's like the Hungry as a Wolf pizza place,Bear Paw Sweets & Eats, Dunkin' Donuts, and others . Make sure to pack comfy pajamas and a robe, story time with Violet and Wiley the Wolf takes place each night at 8pm in the lobby. Children (and adults)  are invited to attend this 20 minute show in which mechanical characters perform a musical show followed by the reading a story by a member of the staff as well as a meet and greet with the great Wiley the Wolf himself. 

After the bed time story, you're gonna be really happy to enjoy such nice room accommodations (trust me, we were pooped!) The Kid Kabin was perfectly equipped to handle our gang. Featuring a queen sized bed, a pull out double sofa, and a kid area with a bunk bed and twin bed (with their own TV- hallelujah) we were set! Rooms features include a mini-fridge, microwave which was perfect to store some snacks for our every eating gremlins (and husbands!). 

We definitely plan on making another trip sometime in the future, we didn't even scratch the surface of all the fun Great Wolf Lodge has to offer on our quick weekend trip!

Tell us about your weekend getaways! leave a comment below!

*********** READ MORE ABOUT OUR ADVENTURES HERE!

 

 

  

Medieval Times Myrtle Beach

With summer winding down and the quickly approaching reality of early mornings, homework, and strict bedtimes, hubby and I decided to treat the kids to a long weekend at the beach. 

Myrtle Beach, SC is usually our go-to beach, and we make at least one trip down there a year. Being that it's only a three and a half hour drive from our hometown of Charlotte, is very family friendly, and has tons of activities to keep the kids busy, it's really a no-brainer for us.

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH, NC FAMILY WEEKEND

This trip, we were looking for something different to do. We have played all the same mini golf attractions, eaten our fill at the iconic Big Crab Restaurant, fished off the pier, and explored the little shops and rides at Bearfoot Landing. Now don't get me wrong, these things are all a lot of fun but we wanted to try out something different. At the behest of a work friend, and our very own Mia, we bought tickets for the dinner show at Medieval Times. 

Medieval Times is located conveniently off Fantasy Way and was a short 20 minute drive from our hotel. Your $53.95 ticket entry fee ($26.95 for kids) allows you to step back into time and experience an authentically unique medieval experience. Guests are grouped into various colors based on your seating. There is a section devoted to the Red Knight, the Green Knight, the Yellow Knight, and so on. 

While dinner is served (a quite hearty portion) a performance is put on by the King, Princess, and various Knights who compete in jousting tournaments, perform horse tricks, and fight to the "death" to win the coveted title of champion. Yelling, cheering, booing, and general crowd interaction are not only allowed, but encouraged (much to my children's delight). Pleasant wait staff (dressed in appropriate medieval garb of course) cater to each guests every need for the duration of the 2 hour show. Dinner was served in courses, tomato bisque, warm baked bread, roasted chicken, sweet buttered corn, herb-basted potato, and the pastry of the day. Be warned, the authenticity of the night includes time period appropriate dining ware, no forks/spoons/knives. Be prepared to use your hands! 

Be prepared to pay a pretty penny not only for the initial ticket price, but for alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. The lobby of Medieval Times sells tons of wares, everything from princess crowns and children's swords, to unique and artisan style knives and metal figurines. 

Despite the sticker shock with admission prices, I am so glad we bit the bullet and took the kids. They loved every minute and left with huge grins. Don't have kids? This show is still very entertaining and engaging for an adult, either way it's a win/win in my book!

RELATED: HOW TO TRAVEL ON A BUDGET

*Travel Tip- most hotels in the area have free coupon books where you can score some discounted tickets, and always look online too. We were able to get the kids tickets free with the purchase of an adult ticket- score!

Childress Vineyards

My beautiful cousin, Shelby recently turned 21 and decided to celebrate with a family girls trip to a local vineyard for some lunch, wine tasting, and a tour. We settled on Childress Vineyards as it was the halfway point between the Charlotte, NC crew and the Kernersville, NC crew. 

Now let me make one thing clear, I am not a wine connoisseur by any means. I honestly wouldn't know "good" wine from "bad" wine, and my palate is really only good for a moscato or chardonnay, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to check out a local winery and spend some time with my fam.

Childress Vineyards is owned and operated by former NASCAR racer, Richard Childress and located in Lexington, NC. Opening its doors in 2004, this 72 acre winery has grown not only physically but also in reputation. With over 900 awards under its belt for it's stellar wines, Childress has really earned a name for itself among the wine community not only in North Carolina, but across the nation. We had the opportunity to run into Mr. Childress himself, and he is just as nice in person as everyone has raved. 

We started off our time at Childress with lunch in the outside pavilion. A 9,000 square foot covered patio with plenty of seats, a small lunch menu to choose from, and of course, WINE. We picked a table, enjoyed our lunch (y'all gotta try the mac and cheese bites, so good!), and soaked in the surrounding beauty of the farmland all to the easy going background of a local live performer.  

Next up, tour! Tours are every hour on the hour and last roughly 25 minutes. Tours start off in the lobby and show visitors briefly around the grounds outside pointing out the acreage & the pavilion before making its way down to the machinery. Our tour guide, Joann, explained the process of picking and converting the precious grapes into the wine we all know and love as well as the difference between the preparation in white versus red wine. I'm not gonna lie, alot of this process went over my head and alot of technical terms were thrown out but it was still cool to see all the big machinery and get even a tiny glimpse into the complex process of wine making. Next we were lead inside to the large vats where the various wines would ferment and go through all sorts of other processes which I really am not qualified to write about, before being barreled or bottled. As we came during the off season, we weren't able to see the bottling process first hand but if interested, head over between August and October to check it out!  

Lastly, the tasting! You have two options for wine tastings depending on which types of wine you enjoy. Pick and purchase your tasting at the gift shop counter, and mosey on over to the bar. A knowledgeable and friendly bar tender will take your slip and begin. Our bartender, Olga, was great! She expertly poured our selections, educating us on the various flavors as well as how best to enjoy it (with what kind of foods, temperature, etc). We were provided pencils to keep track on our wine tasting list of which wines we enjoyed, and which we didn't care for. 

Overall it was a fun trip (but honestly, what trip involving wine wouldn't be fun?!) and I would definitely recommend a day trip to check it out!

Find more information about special events and hours of operation on the Childress Vineyard website here. 

What we learned while backpacking. Paris and Rome.

Before we travel, I always make it a point to research the places we are planning on visiting for things like weather, customs, special laws, walk-ability, transit and transportation arrangements etc.  Often times I find it very useful when I read tips and suggestions from other travelers and their experiences.  SO, I thought I would put together a list of tips and suggestions from our own experience while we traveled in Europe.

1. TRAVEL LIGHT.

There is no need to carry a million items. Remember, people live there and there are many places to buy the essentials like toiletries and other products should you need them. So packing travel size items is totally the way to go. Your luggage will be less heavy and your back will thank you.

2. TAKE AN UMBRELLA/RAINCOAT

I guess this one depends on where and when you travel, but generally, I always take a small travel umbrella and a light raincoat. Many times in the past I've failed to take these items and the result? I get miserably soaked by the pouring rain. Especially if you are out and about sightseeing. A travel umbrella is so small, you can place it in a side pocket of your backpack with no problem and it is TSA approved. As far a a raincoat,I opt for a light raincoat (C0lumbia Sportswear worked perfectly).  Make sure it is waterproof and not just water resistant (believe me...great difference).    

3. PORTABLE CELL PHONE CHARGER

I use my cellphone to take all my pictures while traveling.  I mean, the convenience of just having a small device which you can also use as a camera/phone/GPS and mini computer is just a great perk of living in the twenty first century...as such, I also have to deal with terrifying "low battery" pop up message that is inevitable when traveling. A small, portable cell phone charger is a life saver. You can check out all our pictures now and thank the creators of such neat device later.

4. PORTABLE SELFIE STICK FOR PICTURES

When we exerted ourselves up 37 stories just to reach the top of the Saint Peter's Basilica or the Notre-Dame top level to see the mystic gargoyles, it was worth it. But we also realized there's an incredible potential for amazing pictures that cannot be achieved with just stretching your hand.  A selfie stick was the solution.  A picture perfect solution. 

5. TAKE A SCARF

Yes, It is HOT in many places in Europe in the summer days. This was especially true when we visited Rome. You will be tempted to wear just a tank top and shorts, or a sleeveless maxi-dress. It's the perfect attire for the warmth of this spectacular place...BUT be aware that MOST (if not all) churches, and sacred places in Rome - including the Vatican- will NOT let you in if you don't cover your shoulders (and your knees).  A scarf is the perfect alternative to wrap around your neck and shoulders.  and it also provides a very stylish way to accessorize your outfit. Locals in both, France and Italy wear scarves all the time, even in the summer months - and especially at night.

6. GIRLS, MAXI OR SUMMER DRESSES ARE A MUST

A perfect outfit when backpacking is one that you can dress up or dress down with ease.  A maxi dress or a cute summer dress provides the perfect combination of style and comfort. Dress it up with a scarf or custom jewelry, or just wear it as it comes during the day. You can't go wrong with a dress.

7. TENNIS SHOES ARE TOTALLY OK

One of the things I was most worried about was the fact that I wanted to pick the right pair of shoes for Paris and Rome. I didn't want to look like an obvious tourist.  I googled a million times and read a million blogs to investigate what kind of shoes other people were taking on their trips. All suggested comfortable walking shoes, and flats for women. Many stated to stay away from white tennis shoes. Let me tell you what I saw. An unbearable amount of both men and women wearing tennis shoes (as in Nike and Adidas). I also saw a lot of locals wearing white tennis shoes (usually Converse or Keds). So I wish I would've known this before picking my shoes. I opted for taking a pair of gray Bobs (by Sketchers) with the memory foam inserts. They were very comfortable walking shoes and they looked just fine with my outfits.  Just remember, whatever shoe you pick, make sure they are made for walking (we walked an average of 10 miles per day), and make sure you break them in in advance!

8. WATERPROOF YOUR SHOES

I learned this one the hard way.  Remember when I said we've gotten soaked by pouring rain in the past? Well, this includes our shoes. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than walking around in wet soggy shoes all day. So this time, I knew better. I got a water-proof spray (make sure it works on fabric) and waterproofed my shoes all the way around.  The result was as expected, and my feet did not get wet at all when it rained -Even when I accidentally stepped in a big puddle!.

9. PARIS PASS/TRAIN PASS 

Is it worth the money? Well, the answer depends on your needs.  There are many alternatives on packages that you can get while in Paris.  We definitely recommend to get the travel card even if you don't end up getting the whole Paris pass deal.  Let me explain.  The Paris Pass is a package deal that you can purchase online and pick up when you arrive at one of the many locations they offer. It includes a museum pass, an attraction pass, and a travel card.  You can get it for two, three, four, or six days, depending on your needs. If you purchase the whole pass, you have access to over 60+ museums and attractions and unlimited metro, RER, and bus travel, a bus tour, fast track access to many museums, and a guide book. So here's how you decide.  Make a list of the museums and attractions that you want to visit for sure, and if it's more economical to just pay for them individually (you can find the prices online) and if you are not interested in taking the bus tour either, then just get the travel card and a museum pass, or just a travel card and pay for the museum entries individually. We got the pass for convenience and peace of mind. For us it was worth it since we visited many places. 

RELATED: PARIS: CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS

10. USE YOUR MANNERS

I'm embarrassed to admit that many Americans are perceived as rude in Europe. And unfortunately it is true. I observed how many of us forget to use our manners when talking to strangers in Europe. I'm going to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and state that it could be (perhaps) the language barrier. Many people (including myself) get nervous and forget the few foreign words they know when someone speaks to them in another language. But either way, it's not an excuse. Don't forget to use your hellos and thank yous in the respective language.  You will see a huge difference in the way locals respond to you.

11. DON'T FALL FOR STREET SCAMS

There are MANY scammers scampering the streets for their next victim. From innocent looking kids trying to convince you to sign a petition - while his/her friend steals your cellphone or wallet, from very young women posing as old and disabled gypsy ladies begging for money - you know they are not real when they won't show you their face.  Many pickpockets and fake street performers that only want to distract you so you are an easier target. Also, there are many street sellers that will literally hand you an item and once you have it in your hand they will demand payment.  Best thing to do; be vigilant of your surroundings and your belongings and you will be fine. 

12. TRY EVERYTHING (FOOD/DRINK)

Forget diets! eat everything you can and enjoy a different culture through their cuisine.  You only live once!

RELATED: ROME MUST EATS

RELATED: PARIS FOODIE EDITION

13. FACE THE HEIGHTS

The most beautiful views in Europe will be from the top of a mountain or building. We climbed Norte-Dame, Sacre-Coeur, and Saint Peter's Basilica (at 37 stories high) by foot.  Hundreds of steps later, you will be awed by the incredible views you will find once you face your fear of heights and tight spaces. Especially in Paris, prepare to climb many, many steps all around the city.

14. CARRY A MAP

If you don't have constant internet access it's impossible to rely on your phone's GPS when you get lost in the city. Having a good map with clear street names can potentially save you your sanity when the time comes. This is a good advice also for a metro or RER maps. Plan  your route in advance so you don't waste precious vacation time trying to figure out where to go and how to get there with no map.

15. SUMMER CAN GET HOT

I said it before, but I'll say it again. Summer can get hot, especially in Italy.  If you are planning on visiting in June-August, plan accordingly and pack summer clothes. Shorts, dresses, sunglasses, and lots and lots of sun screen when you go out sightseeing.

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

16. AMERICAN EXPRESS- NOT ACCEPTED EVERYWHERE

We wanted to minimize the amount of cash we carried, in case of pickpockets. Didn't want to risk getting robbed of all our money. We thought it was a good idea to pay with a credit card whenever possible. For the most part this worked great. BUT be advised, only Visa and Master Card are accepted in most places. Coco had an American Express card that was barely used because apparently Paris and Rome (even the very touristic places) do not accept American Express.

17. THE WI-FI SCAM

One thing I would like to point out is the fact that almost every cafe, restaurant, and shop in Paris advertises free Wi-Fi for their patrons. LIES. Now, this is only a theory based on observation, but it seems to me that advertising free Wi-Fi is a good tactic to get people to have a seat and order an espresso while they figure out their maps or they make a call using internet access (namely, us).  But 8 out of 10 places do not really have this free Wi-Fi access. You have to request a password to access their network, and (if they provide it to you) the connections don't work. Our group was pretty technologically savvy and none of us could connect to most networks. When you ask the waitress for a correct password, they will say it is the password it was already provided and that it should work. Verdict: false advertisement just to get tourists to sit down while hunting for that precious Wi-Fi.

We all have different experiences every time we travel. It's our mission to share these with fellow travelers for informative purposes. We would also love to hear from you and your experiences! Comment below and tell us about your trip and backpacking experiences! 

***TRAVEL WITH US! READ ABOUT OUR OTHER ADVENTURES HERE!

Things you must try in Paris (Foodie edition)

It's no secret we LOVE good food.  In fact, part of the reason we travel so much is to try new food and to experience exotic tastes (and blog about it - insert cheesy smile).  While in France, we tried everything new we could get our hands (and mouths) on.  We also had a good glass of wine with our meals every time we could.  So, if you go to Paris, here are some things you must eat/drink:

RELATED: PARIS CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS

1. (French) ONION SOUP.

You will find this item under "Onion Soup" on the menu - If they list it under "French Onion Soup" their menu is too Americanized and trust me, you want to try the real thing.  We tried ours at a small cafe in the 10th arrondissement, next to the Porte Saint-Denis monument.  It was a savory, cheesy, soup with a generous amount of all the good ingredients.  Do not miss out trying this famous soup!

2. ESPRESSO

a must have with your meals.  Whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner you must have a cup of espresso.  I noticed that Parisians won't give you much sugar with any kind of coffee you order.  Good thing I'm used to black coffee! French espresso is made out of dark, perfectly roasted beans, brewed into a very strong (one or two gulps) tiny cup of coffee.  The perfect energy drink to keep you going.

3. CAPPUCCINO

Seriously, there is a coffee shop or coffee bar in every corner of Paris.  A very common practice is to approach the "bar" (which is the counter), order your coffee and pastry or choice, and enjoy it while standing up at the counter.  If you sit down, sometimes they will charge you slightly higher price for your snack.  Some places will ask you if you want the counter or a table before you pay so they know how to charge you.  DO NOT leave France without drinking -many- Cappuccinos.  This creamy, foamy, chocolaty cup of perfection goes flawlessly with any croissant you choose.  

4. PIZZA

Yes, you can find good pizza in Paris too.  Maybe because Italy is so close to France, we found really good pizza while in Paris.  I prefer the ones with lots and lots of gooey cheese.  One that comes to mind, the paysanne pizza.  Lots of cheese, mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes, bacon and a dairy creme (that I have no idea what it was but resembled sour cream) in the middle...perfection.

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

5. HAVE A TASTE OF FRENCH BEER

There are many to choose from.  Kronenbourg 1664 (blonde beer), Cervoise Lancelot, Duchess Anne Triple, or my favorite, Blanche Hermine (wheat beer).  Our hubby's like IPA's and it was quite difficult to find them around Paris. But, we stumbled upon a very cool little pub called Rivolux on 16 Rue de Rivole, which had IPA's on tap.  The bar tender, was as amazing making mix drinks as he was friendly.  Nice atmosphere, great company, good drinks.  Life is good.

6. CHEESE

My FAVORITE thing in the world is to eat a good piece of gooey cheese accompanied by a good glass of wine.  Blue cheese, goat cheese, Gouda, Camembert, Machengo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Comte Cheese, and many others are among the ones we tried every time we could put our hands on a cheese platter.  yum.

7. WINE

In Paris, a meal is not completed if you don't order wine.  Whether you like red, white, rose, dry, sweet, sparkling, wine is the perfect companion to your lunch or dinner.  Maybe the savory level of French cuisine is specifically designed to make your taste buds crave some wine.  Maybe it was the fact that we were in Paris and wanted to try everything.  Maybe is was the ambiance.  Have some wine.  You deserve it.  

8. ANGELINA PASTRIES at VERSAILLES PALACE

If you visit the Palace of Versailles, just south of Paris, you can enjoy ANGELINA's royal-like selection of pastries.  I tried a Strawberry cream cake that I only wish it was a little bigger.  They have a few locations throughout the Palace and the gardens.  You won't be disappointed.

9. FOUR CHEESE SPAGHETTI

Perhaps the best pasta dish I've ever had.  It was simple, yet incredibly flavorful.  The combination of mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and Asiago melts in your mouth and will keep your taste buds engaged till the last bite.

10. CREME BRULEE 

A classic made perfection.  Creme is a type of custard that is very popular in France.  You can find it in croissants, doughnuts, and other french pastries.  Creme-Brulee has always been a favorite of mine.  Creme with a rich layer of caramelized sugar...life doesn't get better than that.  

BONUS must EAT: CREPES

Plain, with chocolate, creme, caramel, chantilly cream, fruit, at a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, or at a street vendor. No matter where you are or what time it is, you can find a place that will have crepes.  Total paradise.

**** READ ABOUT OUR OTHER ADVENTURES HERE!

And you fellow traveler? what is your favorite must try?

Must eats in Rome!

Our three day jaunt in Rome was filled with some serious good eats. I can't think of one thing I ate that was just "meh", everything was rich in flavor and simply put, delicious. Rome had, hands down the best pasta and pizza I have ever eaten. The sheer number of items to sample can be overwhelming to a traveler so I'm going to give you a breakdown of the top 10 foods to try when in Rome!

1) Gelato: You can't come to Rome and not try the gelato. More simply put, icecream. Ranging in flavors from light and fresh fruits to deeply decadent chocolates and caramels, there really is a flavor for everyone. You won't have to search hard, there are shops on nearly every corner. I sampled the raspberry and chocolate and they were absolutely delicious. 

2) Corneto: Not to be confused with a croissant (yes they look exactly alike but don't make the faux pas of calling it a croissant!), this flaky pastry is the breakfast item of choice in Rome. Variations on the corneto are many, you can find them filled with chocolate (both dark and white) and cream. I tried them all -don't judge, it was for research (who am I kidding, I just really like a pastry) and I personally preferred the cream one, or corneto crema. Whichever way you order, these things are a must when in Rome.

3) Negroni: This cocktail was recommended by our traveling companion and resident one time bar tender, Stephanie. The negroni is comprised of one part gin, one part vermouth, and one part Campari and garnished with an orange peel. While not everyone was a fan in the group, I personally enjoyed the cool kick this stiff drink offered, especially after a long day of sightseeing.

4) Spaghetti Carbonara: A very traditional Roman dish, this pasta is comprised of egg, cheese, pancetta, and black pepper. Grate a little Parmesan cheese over top and voila, culinary perfection. Filling and scrumptious this was a meal fit for a queen!

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

5) Mezzmaniche Gricia- Another traditional pasta dish in Rome, this meal is comprised of rigatoni pasta, prosciutto Norcia, and onions. I grated some Parmesan cheese over the dish because, well, you can never have enough cheese! This was my first meal in Rome and definitely set the tone for all the good eats to come.

6) Cacio e Pepe: A very popular Roman dish, our Air BnB host, Helena raved about, insisting that we try it while visiting. Meaning simply, "cheese and pepper", the flavor of this dish is anything but simple. Each bite is cheesy deliciousness. Did I mention it was served in a fried cheese bowl?!  

7) Pizza : The amount of options available in all of Rome for pizza are staggering but trust me, pick any and you wont be disappointed. This pizza was made to order with all fresh ingredients, each mouthful an explosion of flavor. I opted for the spicy pepperoni, olives, and tomatoes, and believe me when I say, there was not one scrap of crust left on my plate when we left. Superb!

RELATED: PARIS: CITY OF LOVE AND MANY OTHER AMAZING THINGS!

8) Ravioli- Or as I like to call them, pasta cheese packets. These little suckers are the perfect delivery mechanism for some cheese! Even those are not so adventurous with their eats will love this one. Stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach served with a butter and sage sauce, these ravioli were definitely the best I've ever eaten. They were practically oozing with richness.  

9)  Trippa alla Romana: Ok now don't let this one scare you off, but trippa is....well...its intestines. I know, I know, it sounds absolutely disgusting, but let me explain. The intestines are cleaned and prepared, then cooked in a tomato based sauce filled with various herbs and spices. I was worried it would have a weird consistency or displeasing taste but was pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of the meat as well as the tasty combinations of spices used to prepare the dish. I would definitely recommend branching out of your food comfort zone to try this one out.

10) Soute di Cozze: Husband and I ordered these yummy mussels as an appetizer on our last night in Rome. Not only did they taste like they just came out of the ocean but whatever sauce they cooked these bad boys in was divine. (Our waitress spoke no English and we spoke no Italian so we weren't really able to get the full gist of what sauce these guys were cooked in). Taking a guess, I imagine it was a tomato based sauce with some garlic? Whatever is was, it was heartstoppingly good.

Well that rounds out my list of top eats in Rome, three days was not nearly enough time in the beautiful country of Italy (I'm already scheming ways to get back for a longer jaunt) but I think we really did Rome justice by packing in so much of the local cuisine in such a short time.

What are some of your favorite dishes in Rome? 

Backpacking 101 (for amateurs)

As a lover of clothes and shoes (and feeling the need for options when traveling) the idea of fitting 10 days worth of clothes, shoes, and toiletries into one backpack for a trip around Europe was daunting to say the least. Despite my reservations, the idea of backpacking and all that it implied (freedom, adventure, experiences) has always been something that appealed to me. Turning 31 this year (shhhh don't tell anyone), I realized I'm not getting any younger and what better time to chase your dreams than the present. Luckily my husband of 10 years has the same sense of wanderlust as I, and my bff/partner in crime Mia does as well; they both jumped right on board, no hesitations to make my dream trip a reality.

Once the flights were booked and the lodgings arranged, we began the arduous task of finding "the backpack" for the trip, and the even more arduous task of packing. 

RELATED: what to pack when you travel with kids

Hubby and I opted for the Cabin Max Metz Backpack that we found on Amazon. The reason this backpack appealed to us was it's ability to be packed like traditional luggage. The zipper went all the way around the pack which made it much easier when looking through the pack versus rifling through the top of a traditional backpack and digging to the bottom for desired items. The straps and back offered some extra padding and cushioning which was greatly appreciated when we got lost walking around Paris looking for our hotel (that's a tale for another day...). The front flap also had little storage zippers inside for small items like socks, undies, and toiletries.  

Mia and her hubby went with the OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack 50L with Waterproof Backpack Cover. A more traditional backpack style, this bag offered extra support as it straps around the waist and chest.  The side pockets offered a perfect place for a travel umbrella, and other small items, and the front (open) pocket provides a great place for a light jacket or any other item that you might need to get easily...but beware of pickpockets since this front pocket is a very easy target (just don't put anything valuable there).  It is 50 liters so you can pack a lot of stuff in this backpack, but this specific one is a top loader, so it can get tricky to pack it up. The solution? Packing cubes. This amazing little invention is a life saver. The idea is to organize your stuff in separate piles. Use one cube for underwear/socks, one for tops, one for bottoms, one for miscellaneous items or to store your dirty clothes after you wear them. This way, you won't have to take everything out, and spread your stuff around while searching for a specific item. You just take your cubes out and everything will stay organized and in place.

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

Ok, so backpacks have purchased now what to pack?

Knowing that space was very limited here is how I packed:

  •  One pair of thin (Dollar store brand) flip flops for the communal shower at the first lodging in Paris. 
  •  2 pair pants
  •  One Maxi dress
  • a mini-travel size dual voltage hair straightener. They are not very good but It comes in handy!
  • A world traveler Adapter- if you are going to Europe.  Believe me, you'll need one.
  •  Combination 8 tank/ short sleeve shirts.
  •  10 pair undies/socks ( In hindsight really could have packed half that and washed my undies in the shower with me everyday- leaving out to dry while we gallivanted around during the day).
  • 2 bras (black and white) I opted for sports bras just because they are super comfy.
  •  Lightweight fleece jacket (Paris got a tad chilly at night!)
  •  Rain jacket (I really liked my Columbia jacket purchased at Dicks Sporting Goods)
  •  Travel sized umbrella (this saved the day quite a few times in Paris- the weather was super fickle when we traveled)
  •  Travel towel- I purchased ours from Amazon and was very thankful when we saw the towels provided by the first lodging (more like hand towels than bath towels!)These things folded up super thin and didn't take up much room at all, really great investment for only $12.99
  •  Quart sized plastic bag of toiletries (remember nothing over 3 ounces- TSA rules!) I packed shampoo, conditioner, face wash, sea salt spray, argon oil, bar soap, extra contacts).
  •  Small makeup bag (I actually used an ipsy one) with one eyeshadow, one mascara, and one eyeliner. 
  •  Glasses- in case of a contact fiasco I wanted my glasses for backup
  •  Large cross body purse: Inside I packed my camera/case, small wallet with my ID and one credit card, small hand sanitizer, chapstick, extra hair ties, neutral colored scarf, & passport. 

**I didn't think to pack a small pack of hand wipes but I suggest throwing them in your purse too, they really were a life saver (thank you Stephanie) on two occasions when I had a pigeon poop crisis in Paris (I don't want to talk about- I'm working through it in therapy). 

***TRAVEL WITH US! READ ABOUT OUR ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD

Have you all gone backpacking before? What were some of your must haves while on the road? Anything tips or tricks you can share about backpacking?

Paris, City of Love... and many other amazing things!

So as all of you know, we packed our backpacks and embarked on a 10 day adventure to Paris/Rome and now we are sharing our experience with you. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Paris, France. But, before I go into details, let me debunk the saying “French people are rude” or “Paris is not that great” which I sadly heard numerous times before we decided to experience it ourselves. Parisians are incredibly nice, and the city itself is nothing short of amazing. There are so many places to see that in all honesty, we probably needed a whole month to see them all!. Many locals went out of their way to help us out and to give us directions when they recognized a "we're lost" face- even when we didn't speak each other's language. All you have to do is be polite to them and they will be polite to you. 

RELATED: WHEN IN ROME

So we made sure we had a metro map, and toured this fascinating city by ourselves.  Here are my top 5 must see places while in Paris:

1.       THE LOUVRE MUSEUM.  

 

This is perhaps my favorite place in Paris. The Louvre Palace was originally built in the 12th century and extended over the centuries to what it is today; a magnificent, massive palace, home to thousands of the world’s most renowned works of art. The actual museum opened in 1793 and is divided into several wings, from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, to Islamic art, sculptures, paintings, prints, and drawings.  You can see world famous paintings like the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci, to Greek art masterpieces like the Aphrodite sculpture (The Venus de Milo).  There is so much to see and experience in the vastness of this museum that it can be a little overwhelming. The Napoleon III apartments are a must see area of the Louvre. The extravagance and magnificence of the exhibit shows you how luxurious it was to live in this palace. I can totally picture myself living here (as a princess in a fairy-tale). Oh! and don't forget to stroll by the "carousel" and see the, also very famous, inverted pyramid.  It's beautiful!

2.       THE PARIS CATACOMBS

Equal parts amazing and macabre; the underground Paris Catacombs are definitely something different. Get there early (before they open!) so you don't have to wait too long in the line.  We got there thirty minutes before opening and still have to wait over one hour to get in.  When you enter, you have to go down, and down, and down a spiral staircase that seems never-ending (So beware if you are claustrophobic), but it's worth it!  There are miles and miles of underground tunnels and secret passages under the city of Paris and most of it is covered by the bones and skulls of more than 6 million people. Of course, only a portion of these tunnels are open to the public, but it is still shocking to see this osseous display with your own eyes.  Back in the late 1700’s when the cemeteries of the city were overflowing with centuries of dead Parisians, mostly from disease, famine, and wars, millions of remains and bones were transferred to the underground tunnels, establishing the largest ossuary in the world. They say there are several secret entrances around the city, and if you are not an expert in the tunnels, better not attempt to explore the non-public areas of the catacombs on your own…legend says a man got lost in the catacombs in the late 1700’s and died without finding the exit. 

 

3.       NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS CATHEDRAL.

Everybody has heard of Esmeralda and Quasimodo, right? Well, Our Lady of Paris (exact translation) is one of the most beautiful medieval/Gothic structures you can visit. It is surreal to think that you can step foot in a building that has stood tall for so many centuries. Construction began in 1163, but it wasn't until the mid-13th century that the design and the façade were completed. You can appreciate the magnificent Rose window and the Cathedral’s gorgeous inside. The Gothic architecture and the many engravings, and sculptures will keep your jaw dropping. We took an extra step (or 387 to be exact) and climbed all the way to the dome. I mean, you can’t go to Notre Dame and not see the very famous Gargoyles! It was a narrow, endless spiral staircase to the top, but we made it. After shaking the claustrophobic moment off, you can see it was well worth it when you catch your first glimpse at the amazing Gothic gargoyles. They have been watching over the city of Paris for centuries and they are still standing. Another quick step inside the bell tower (another smaller staircase) and you can see the Cathedral’s majestic bell. But, just so you know, this part of the tower is (all) a wooden structure, so you will feel it move underneath you. Or that could’ve been my legs feeling like jelly after going up 31 flights by foot.

 

4.       THE EIFFEL TOWER.

I get it. You can’t be in Paris and not see the very famous Eiffel Tower. Located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, this gigantic iron tower was built in 1889 as an entrance to the world’s fair.  When you are under it, you can actually feel its energy and magnificence on your own body. Security was very high when we went (the EuroCup 16 was in effect), and Paris celebrated with European soccer fans by hanging a colossal soccer ball from the tower. We didn’t go up to the floors allowed to the public, but we enjoyed some good ice cream, and shopped for souvenirs at the Champ de Mars. 

 

5.       SACRE-COEUR BASILICA

Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this basilica built in the late 1800’s, sits on top of the butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in the city. Prepare to walk up many, many steps, since the roads that lead to this point are filled with stairs.  There’s no avoiding this fellows, so get your legs ready. You can take a little funicular car (your metro ticket will work for this one) to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, you will be amazed by the view. It’s totally worth it. After your visit you can stay in the area and visit the little museums and galleries nearby. My favorite, the Dali Gallery, is within walking distance of Sacre Coure. 

Bonus tip, wear comfortable shoes when sightseeing in Paris.  You will do a whole lot of walking and stair climbing.  

Besides my top 5, I also have to mention the Chateau de Versailles. Located 45 minutes south of Paris (just take the C line and it will take you directly there), it was the luxurious home of Louis XIV in the late 1600's, early 1700's. We got there pretty early. They open at 9am and the lines can get very long, very quick. Since the early bird gets the best worm, we were among the first in line and were able to buy a "passport" ($18 euros) which grants entrance to the palace, the gardens, and other smaller house-museums inside. The golden gates of the lavish Chateau gave us a good preamble of what to expect once inside.The furniture, the decor, the chandeliers, the statues, everything evoked an extravagant way of life. A royal way of life.  *sigh*

We walked and got lost in the gardens (yes, they are that big), ate lunch at one of the several little restaurants, and rented a row boat for a romantic sail in the Palace's Grand Canal (it is so big, it took 11 years to be built). By the way, this is a must do! So the next time you are in Paris, don't hesitate to visit all of these places and take lots and lots of pictures!

**** Read about our other adventures around the world! HERE

Fellow travelers, what are your favorite parts of Paris? 

When in Rome!

So Mia and I just got back from a whirlwind 10 days in Paris/Rome. When I tell you this trip was PHENOMENAL! With only 3 days in Rome, we really had to make good use of our time to see everything on our "must see" list but surprisingly we also discovered a couple neat little gems along the way (which of course, I'm going to share with you guys!). So here is my  list of the top five things to do/see in Rome.

1) The Colosseum. Dating back to 70AD, this ancient structure is the home of bloody battles and torturous executions. Go ahead and pay the extra 6 euros to get a guided audio tour which provides interesting information on the structures architecture, the gladiators themselves, the fights, and other interesting tidbits of information. We got there about 30 minutes before opening time, 9AM, which I strongly recommend so you don't have to wait in long security and ticket buying lines. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the structure and that fact that it was almost 2000 years old. To think of everything it has seen and withstood over time is really mind boggling. 

2) St. Peters Basilica- Built in the 1500's, this basilica was constructed in the rumored place where St. Peter was tortured and ultimately crucified by Roman Emperor Nero in 64AD. The sheer size and attention to detail is simply breathtaking, not hard to believe you take into consideration that it was largely designed by the esteemed artist, Michelangelo. St. Peters Basilica is also is also the burial place of the much adored Pope John Paul II (now officially a Saint). You definitely don't need to be Catholic, or even a religious person, to admire the beauty and intricacy of this structure. If you are able, I strongly recommend you pay the few euros is costs to walk to the top of of the top of the dome and take in the panoramic view of Rome. I'm not gonna lie, it was difficult, and for someone who is deathly afraid of heights and super close quarters, it was a nail biting climb. The staircase spirals very tightly in places and is super hot (we traveled in June) but once you climb those 551 steps, the view is simply breathtaking. Take your time and walk around (enjoy the breeze and fresh air!) and snap a few pics before making your way back down again. The halfway point back down has the Vatican gift shop where you can stop in to purchase any number of items blessed by the Pope himself, rosaries, figurines, post cards, metals, prayer cards, anything you can imagine really. 

3) The Trevi Fountain. Rome is famous for their numerous piazzas (plazas) with amazing fountains and quaint streets but the Trevi Fountain is a must see when in Rome. Day or night, this fountain is awesome either way (trust me on this- we went one day and the next night to compare). Make sure and take a coin to throw over your left shoulder, backwards which according to legend, means you will come back to visit one day. Located in the Pizaaas di Trevi (imagine that), this place is always packed, and at night the lights illuminating the fountain are so romantic. Street vendors come out at night to sell all sorts of wears from jewelry to Italian souvenirs. (Keep your purse/wallet/phone close- the area is ripe with pickpoketers!).

4)Palatine Hill: Just a short walk from the Colosseum, Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient places in the city dating back to 10BC. Be ready for a long walk, we ambled around these ruins for several hours, taking in the breathtaking beauty. Palatine Hill was once the home of various Emperors and nobility and have remained surprisingly intact over the past couple of thousand years! It was like walking through a movie set for a post apocalyptic movie, the flowers and green grass provided such a contrast to the obviously old and crumbling city around. Please don't skip out on seeing Palatine Hill while in Rome!     

5) The Vatican/Vatican Museum: You can't go to Rome and not hop on over to the residence of the Pope! Home of the famous Sistine Chapel, The Vatican is the richest country in the world. Yes, I said country. I didn't know this either but the Vatican is actually it's own country, residents being those born in the Vatican or with proven family lineage of residence. Inside the Vatican you can walk St. Peters Square, visit the Sistine Chapel which houses the famous painting by Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (sorry no photos of this masterpiece- camera are strictly forbidden inside the chapel), and priceless works of art held within the Vatican museum by world renowned artists including Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bellini. We opted for the guided tour by City Lights Tours which was worth every penny. A knowledgeable and energetic tour guide, Enza, lead a small group (14 people) around the Vatican, Vatican museum, and St. Peters Basilica, sharing with us fascinating history and facts. (We were also able to skip the lines- score!)

 

Now I know I said this was my top 5, but I'm sneaking in this last spot because after all this running around Rome you are going to want a good spot to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good drink. The area of Rome known was Trastevere is loaded with good food and plenty of places to grab a drink. We enjoyed wandering the little streets and alleyways taking in the scenery and liveliness of the area. Known as a vibrant collage hangout, Trastevere is located in the 13th rione (district) of Rome. We picked a spot at a local bar and sipped Nagronis after a long day sightseeing, it was the perfect spot to unwind and take in the local atmosphere!

**** Travel with us! read about our other adventures here!

What are some of your favorite spots in Rome?!

Looking for Happiness? Just Travel

There are many ways to say "I’m happy".  In fact, when you look at a stranger most of the time you’re able to tell whether or not they are happy in general.  A smile, a gesture, an attitude can tell you, if you pay close attention, if the “energy” coming out of the person in front of you is positive or negative.  -Or maybe it is just me who can tell-.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is how to spark the happy flame in my life.  I travel.

Most of the things that apply to my life, can be apply to many of you. I mean, I’m only human (I think).  So let me tell you a secret.  Never hesitate to go places.  

But don’t get me wrong! I’m totally aware that physical travel is almost impossible, for whatever reason, for many people.  Money, time, work, lack of motivation, lack of transportation, lack of knowledge.  If this is the case, I promise you, you can still do it (in a way)... just pick up a book and read.   

When I was younger, and unable to travel on my own due to financial and transportation issues, I read, a lot, and I transported myself to different places, different times, and different worlds.  I learned new cultures (real or made-believe), and even how to cook.  Your mind will take you there, when you grab the right book.  So no excuses here.  When I talk about travel, everyone can do it.

Now, I you might wonder how can traveling make you happy?  Let me break it down for you:

1. It keeps your mind occupied.  

Whether is reading or exploring a new city, it will keep your mind away from things that can potentially make you sick.  When you worry too much about unnecessary troubles, your digestive, circulatory, and nervous system suffer causing you to feel sick.  Scratch the worrisome thoughts, and you get a healthier mind and body.  

2. It can teach you to manage your finances.

When you eventually save up enough money to go on a weekend trip, or a dream vacation, you’ll realize that you want to do this again.  If you saved up for a while to take your trip, the eagerness to see new places will make you want to save up  even more for the next adventure, and this can in turn teach you how to find ways to be better at managing your money.  (another secret: a minimalist way of life, with less material things means more money to see the world!).

RELATED: TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD ON A BUDGET

3. It'll let you discover new life lessons.

The experiences you learn,the things you see, and hear, and taste, and touch, and photograph, the stories you read about… all will fuel your soul with life lessons you could’ve never learned otherwise.  It will also alter your mood.  The more you travel, the better your mood will be.  Stop being cranky and get on a plane!

Honestly, it doesn't matter if you go twenty minutes down the road to a park you've never been to, or ten hours on a plane to the other side of the world.  The point is that experiencing new things, and new places will open up your mind to endless possibilities.  Believe me.  Go see your city, go explore your state, go explore the world!

*** TRAVEL WITH US!!! READ ABOUT OUR TRAVEL DESTINATIONS AND ADVENTURES HERE!***

Always,

Mia.

Leavin on a Jet Plane

Dear Readers,

TODAY'S THE DAY! Can you feel our excitement all the way through the internets?!

Today is the day we embark on our ten day adventure through Paris and Rome armed with only a backpack, a good camera, and our wits. We have planned, plotted, and practiced in preparation (holy alliteration Batman!) for this trip and the day has finally come. Don't miss us too much while we're gone, we promise we will take tons of pics, eat all the food, drink all the wine, and share all of our adventures with you. It'll almost be like you're there with us :) 

We will be posting from abroad to give you sneak peaks into what we are up to, and as always we have prepared some quality posts for you to peruse while we are gone. Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook so you don't miss out!

See ya on the flipside!

XOXO,

Coco & Mia

 

WANT TO EXPERIENCE A GOOD BEER? Try Good Hops Brewing

Since it opened its doors in 2014, Good Hops Brewing has been one of my favorite places to visit in Carolina Beach, NC.  I mean, this place is so cool and family friendly, I have no problem bringing in the whole family, (and the family dog...gotta love a pet friendly place!).  

RELATED: CAROLINA BEACH FAMILY WEEKEND. WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO GO.

Crafting a good beer is seriously an art form, and the brew master (Mr. Richard Jones) at Good Hops Brewing is terrific artist. Each beer is carefully crafted with a perfect combination of hops, and flavor.  Their beers are brewed daily using a three barrel system, keeping 8 different types on tap at any one given time. Beers are rotated and new flavors are created to satisfy any craft-beer aficionado. And don't forget about the seasonal beers! Porters, Stouts, and the delicious Bilyberry Wheat, brewed with fresh blueberries; believe me, it's awesome.

The establishment is great too. The atmosphere is so cool and relaxed that you feel as if you want to spend hours and hours with your friends there.  

Besides beer, they also have juice and root beer for the little ones. Yes, kids are welcome here. In fact, they have a whole section with board games that you can freely grab and play. Or if you prefer to sit outside, you can relax on a bench, play some corn-hole, or venture to play a game of disc golf.

Trinity Disc Golf Course is located on the property and it features a 9 hole challenging disc golf course (also appropriate for beginners). You can enjoy a good brew and exercise all at once. It doesn't get better than that.

Good Hops Brewing also hosts events, live music, as well as tours of the brewery. You can rent the back banquet room, which features a beautifully hand crafted bar and a spacious room for any party needs. 

So whether you want to enhance your taste buds with their delicious brews, relax with your friends and family (including Fido), or play some disc golf, check out Good Hops Brewing next time you are in the Carolina Beach area. They are the best craft brewery on the island.  

By the way, my favorite beer on tap, the Donna Golden Ale is the perfect and most refreshing flavor, ideal for any occasion.  

For more information visit their website at http://www.goodhopsbrewing.com/