Morocco: Part 1

Day 194-195: Tangier, Morocco

There are some places in this world that you fall in love with immediately—a paradise you never want to leave. Somewhere that slides right into your comfort zone and makes you feel safe and at peace.

Then there are others that humble you, reminding you of how fortunate and privileged you are to have the freedom to live any life you choose. Somewhere that challenges your version of reality and to face unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable situations.

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Morocco is the latter. While it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies or feeling as if I belong there, it does give me a great appreciation for another way of life for millions of people, and gratitude knowing that I get to see it from this lens.

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That type of experience is how you grow through traveling, and it is a gift that’s even more lasting and valuable than the memory of, say, enjoying a piña colada on the beach while watching a beautiful sunset (although those are pretty great too!)

We arrived at the Tangier airport on a Thursday afternoon, doing happy dances off the plane as we stepped foot onto African soil for the first time in our lives. The celebration was cut short moments later when we were told they lost my backpack in Spain, and drones were not allowed in Morocco so they’d have to confiscate ours.

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After an hour of trying to communicate through exchanges of broken English and Spanish with Arabic paperwork, my bag miraculously showed up, but they would have to hold our drone hostage at the Tangier airport—which meant we had to pay several hundred dollars to change our flight and travel plans. Our fault for not checking, and quite the expensive lesson to learn!

While it wasn’t the warmest welcome into Morocco, we chalked it up to another travel experience, and hailed the first cab into the Medina.

Medinas are the old, walled sections found in North African cities. It’s the heart of the town, and where all the history and action is.

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We booked a room inside the Medina for $10/bed in a riad—a traditional home, usually several stories tall with a beautifully intricate, open courtyard in the center.

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Our first impression of Morocco was a stark contrast to the quiet calm we’d experienced just hours before in Switzerland.

We wandered through the narrow, nameless pathways of the Medina, in full sensory overload. Trying to make sense of every scent, sound and sight.

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The air here is stagnant and scented. Weighed down by a thick layer of dust and smoke, there’s an underlying musky meat market smell that permeates into your clothing, hair and skin. Every so often it would be masked by whiffs of spices, incense, fruit and urine.

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Our eyes darted in every direction, trying to process every color, shape, pattern and texture of each door and rug and woven shoe we passed.

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The sounds of Arabic syllables and motorcycles and sheep intertwine like a captivating symphony of a movie score, performing a unique song in every new city.

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In the Medina especially, you can’t walk far without a local approaching you, going out of their way to be friendly and show you around. Or sometimes lying to you, telling you that a street is closed so they can divert you into someone’s shop or restaurant for a commission. Either way, in our experience, this always lead to them asking for money. This was to be expected, and it isn’t the first country it has happened in.

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Street vendors also follow you around in the souks, pressuring you to enter their shops and some even sneak their items onto your table at restaurants, trying to force you to buy it. Parents enlist their small children to beg tourists for money. You learn to develop a thicker skin, knowing it all comes with the territory.

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It’s a lot to take in at once, and easy to become overwhelmed at first if you’re not prepared for it (or if you’ve just spent a week in the most peaceful place on earth).

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Our Spanish skills were put to the test again for the first time since leaving Spain back in June. Arabic and French are the most common languages spoken, but many people also speak Spanish in the north due to its close proximity to Spain.

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The food here is flavorful with signature dishes like tajine and couscous, with meat grilled and seasoned to perfection. We were thrilled to trade in our $30 Swiss burgers for $3 meals. We were also pleased to find healthy options for lunch and dinner, but like most countries, they love their plates full of bread and sugary sweets for breakfast (and coffee cups that are way too small).

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Every country seems to have their signature drink, and in Morocco it’s mint tea—all day, every day. It’s their replacement for every liquid—water, coffee, soda, beer and wine. As a Muslim country, alcohol is against their religion, so instead their vice is sweet mint tea and cigarettes.

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Day 196-197: Chefchaouen

After two days in Tangier, we caught a local bus headed to a town by the name of Chefchaouen—known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco.

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This place was one of the first recommendations given to us, and it’s not hard to see why. The Medina of this small desert town is an artists haven.

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Every shade of blue you can imagine covers the walls, ceilings, even the ground. You could spend ten minutes in any one spot, just trying to take it all in. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped so frequently to take photos.

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Oh, and tiny kittens at every corner.

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It’s equally as adorable as it is heartbreaking, with so many starving cats crying out for food. I felt ill every day because it was so upsetting to watch (don’t even get me started on their treatment of donkeys and horses).

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We spent two nights in Chefchaouen and the time flew by—I don’t think we did anything other than eat, sleep, and get lost in the Medina. At sunset we’d head to the roof and listen as the day’s last call for prayer broadcasted through loudspeakers from each mosque, echoing in the stagnant desert air. We’d become used to hearing the Islamic chants five times each day in Tangier, but when the sky darkens in Chefchaouen, the melodic voices have a particularly eerie and mysterious quality.

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If you find yourself in Morocco, I’d put Chefchaouen on the must-see list (and skip Tangier altogether).

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Day 198-200: Fez

The day we left Chefchaouen, I woke up feeling ill with my stomach in knots. I’d been quite lucky throughout this entire trip, feeling proud for having tolerated every level of cuisine for months in South America and Europe. Turns out my stomach has finally met its match in Morocco.

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I survived the four hour bus ride to Fez with the contents of my stomach in place, but it took days to get back to normal. I can only hope this is conditioning my body for India.

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Fez is Morocco’s second largest city, and we came here for one main reason: to shop!

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No one leaves Morocco empty handed, and we’d been holding off on buying any substantial souvenirs/gifts for months, saving it all for the final weeks of our trip.

We read that Fez was one of the best places to shop—both for the selection of items and prices (spoiler alert: Marrakech is much better!) After waiting months for this moment, I was so ready to spend some dirhams.

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Negotiating with vendors here is an art form, and often a very long process. Shop owners are well versed in this skill, naturally, and you have to come prepared. Fortunately, Lucas’ previous career was in sales, so I let him do most of the talking.

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In the end, we walked away with two rugs, two pillow covers, a big market basket (my biggest score at just $8!), spices and beauty products, oils, nine scarves (I should’ve bought 900), table linen, pouches, jewelry and copper mugs. This was over the course of two days and around 15 hours of shopping.

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This may sound like a shoppers paradise, but it’s not exactly the pleasant experience of Pottery Barn when you’re funneled into a pathway bumping into severed goat heads, cornered by men relentlessly trying to sell you rugs every few feet and nearly trampled by oncoming donkeys. Pausing only due to bouts of sharp stomach pain from the sketchy street meat you ate the night before.

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But a rug is worth more if you had to overcome adversity to get it, right? We’ll go with that 🙂

While we did walk away with some great bargains, let’s not forget about postage. There’s no way we could haul our loot around for another five weeks, so we ended up shipping a box back home to the tune of $103. Yikes, that’s almost half the value of the items! Still worth it, but never forget to factor that into your bottom line if you decide to go on an overseas shopping spree.

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After a whirlwind week, our surroundings have finally started to become a bit more familiar and less chaotic. To a first time visitor, Morocco can feel like a tornado that hits you all at once, taking your senses on a wild ride and leaving you in a daze of jumbled, hazy memories. It’s unlike any other place I’ve visited before, and we’re just passengers along for the ride—embracing everything that comes with it.

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There’s beauty in every corner of the world, even if you have to look a little deeper to find it. In some ways, those places are often the most beautiful.

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Stay tuned for Part 2, where we venture by camel into the desert and find ourselves falling victim to yet another (unintended) shopping spree in Marrakech. Or watch as it all unfolds in realtime on my instagram stories. More on the way!

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Switzerland: The Video

After a hectic week in Morocco, I finally had a chance to sit down and sort through our footage from Switzerland. You’ve seen the photos, and those were just a small preview of the magic captured from the sky.

This video is a shorter and simpler than previous formats, as we only had a week to spend and a handful of locations to shoot. It’s entirely 4k drone footage, with a mix of scenes from Lake Lucerne down to Geneva. Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit, with the trees in shades of red, lovely weather and fewer crowds.

Come join us on our road trip through the windy roads of Switzerland in September (click to watch):

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Morocco Part 1, up next!

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A road trip through Switzerland

Day 183-186: Munich, Germany

After a ten hour bus ride from Croatia, we arrived in Munich and experienced our first taste of the madness that is Oktoberfest.

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I’m not much of a beer drinker, but this event is one of those bucket list items and something Lucas had been wanting to do for years. A few friends from back home flew out to join us, which made it that much better. It’s always so nice to see familiar faces after you’ve been away from home for so long.

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I won’t go into too much detail since this post is about Switzerland (feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions about the event), but it was a few days of good times and eating nothing but giant pretzels (they are SO good). Munich is a place I’d love to visit again around Christmastime when it’s decorated with lights and garlands and snow… it would be a life size replica of the mini Christmas village set we had growing up. One day 😉

Back to the road trip!

Day 187: Zurich, Switzerland

Two of our friends caught a flight out of Germany, but one stayed behind to join us for a few days in Switzerland. We had planned to spend a week driving around the country, with Zurich being our first stop.

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Zurich is your typical big Swiss city—situated on a river, clean and quiet, and outrageously expensive. Starving after our long day of travel from Munich, we eyed each menu as we walked towards our hostel, skipping every $30 burger and $20 side salad. No surprise coming from the wealthiest city in Europe.

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While we enjoyed the pleasant environment and crisp fall air, we didn’t come to Switzerland for its metropolitan areas. After a brief night in the city, we grabbed the keys to our freedom-mobile and headed for the mountains. For many countries, renting a car is the best way to explore, and Switzerland is no exception. The country is known for its having some of the most scenic train rides in the world, which we originally considered using instead, but those don’t go everywhere and they’re quite expensive. With an average cost of around $70 per day (including gas), renting a car (at least when there’s no snow on the roads) is a no brainer.

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Day 188: Lake Lucerne > Lungern > Interlaken

Although Switzerland is small enough to drive from one side to the other in just a few hours, we had only a week to spend and too many places pinned on our map. We also had to drop our friend off at the Basel airport midway through, which meant we had to skip the southeastern portion of the country *cue the sad violins*

Not wanting to waste any time, we headed south towards Interlaken, passing through the lake regions of Lucerne and Lungern.

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If we weren’t convinced before, these photos prove that the $1500 drone investment was worth every penny (and apparently they dropped the price!)

This gem of a village on Lake Lucerne (with no name on our map) had friendly goat photobombers:

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And then there’s this one, just outside of Lungern:

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The first thing you notice when in the countryside of Switzerland are the bells. All of the animals—the cows, sheep and goats—are outfitted with large bells around their necks. You can hear the distant ringing 24/7. It’s incredibly charming.

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Day 1 of our road trip ended in Interlaken—a town nestled between two lakes.

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The clouds cleared enough to reveal a cotton candy pink sky—a picture perfect backdrop for the countless paragliders floating about.

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Paragliding is hugely popular in Switzerland—the sound of helicopters, and parachutes in the sky are about as common as birds in some places.

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I can only imagine how incredible the view looks from above if this is how it looks from below.

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^This was the view from our hostel. We paid $31 per bed in a dorm room with less than sanitary and comfortable conditions (think black mold in the shower, hard beds and multiple loud snorers)—but that’s the tradeoff for affordability in Switzerland.

Day 189: Lauterbrunnen > Thun > Bern > Basel

The next day, we found ourselves a short drive south of Interlaken—in the storybook land known as Lauterbrunnen.

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I had pinned this location after seeing it all over Instagram… and it truly is the mecca of Switzerland. I can’t imagine it gets much better than this.

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We climbed underneath a waterfall, watched the sunlight pierce the clouds to reveal a forest of orange and red trees, and I learned by accident that electric fences are no joke while trying to call a sheep over.

But man, it was worth it.

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By the way—our drone takes some incredible photos, but you can also get pretty epic shots with an iphone as well. More than half the photos from this trip were from my iphone 6s plus, and I’ve taken a few comparison shots to illustrate the differences.

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The iphone’s colors are less saturated and there’s less detail, which is a look that some people actually prefer. The biggest difference, of course, is the ability to shoot in raw and the flexibility that allows you in editing. For scenarios like portraits, interiors or up close subjects, you’d certainly need an SLR/4k equivalent for professional results, but I find that for landscape/outdoor shots (aside from an aerial perspective of course), I reach for my phone more often than not. I haven’t even taken my DSLR out of the bag since Greece.

Here’s a couple more examples… pretty dang close, no?

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But back to Lauterbrunnen. My biggest regret is not being able to stay there longer—it was my favorite place we visited in Switzerland. If you’ve ever been to Yosemite National Park, the similarities are pretty striking, with steep cliffs and cascading waterfalls surrounding a narrow valley, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Except in Yosemite you don’t have pastures with cows and sheep in bells, with historic chalets and barns every few acres. Lauterbrunnen wins.

As much as I wanted to stay, daylight was wasting and we had to make it to Basel by nightfall, so we found another village by the name of Grindelwald, just ten miles to the east.

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Another incredibly picturesque valley town, though much larger and less quaint than Lauterbrunnen.

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We decided it wasn’t worth the $60 cable car ride to the top of the mountain (highway robbery) and set the drone out to get the views for us.

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We ate a lunch of fruit, cheese and crackers in the parking lot (this was what we survived on all week to save money) before making our way back north.

After passing back through Interlaken, we stopped by the St. Beatus-Höhlen caves on the north side of Lake Thun.

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The water level was on the low side so the waterfalls weren’t too impressive, and we spent an hour touring the caves inside the mountain after the mischievous gnome convinced us to go in.

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By the time we emerged it was drizzling outside, so we made one more brief stop in the towns of Oberhofen and Thun to see the famous castles.

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A successful Day 2 had come to an end, and we couldn’t wait to see what Day 3 had in store as we woke up before dawn for a full day of exploration.

Day 190: Gruyères > Zermatt

After dropping our friend off at the Basel airport on the border of France and Germany, it was back to just the two of us. We loved spending a week with our friends, but there’s a different dynamic traveling with only your partner, and we were ready for that again. After 190 days together with no breaks, we’ve only grown stronger… now that is true love 😉

Being in one of the most romantic places in the world doesn’t hurt either. Some might prefer exotic beaches or tropical islands… but there’s something about these towering mountains and chilly fall air that gives Switzerland the edge in the romance department. If you’re looking for a honeymoon destination that isn’t your typical beach locale, I’d put the Swiss alps on your radar.

Note that only the alps only run through the south of Switzerland, so if you’re thinking of coming here for the mountains (as you should), skip the north altogether.

After a couple hours on the road headed back towards the alps, the landscape began to become more mountainous, and the signs more… French. Just like the north of Italy may as well be Austria, the west part of Switzerland is indistinguishable from France.

Our first stop was in the town of Gruyères, famous for its gruyère cheese.

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There’s an old walled village with a castle, which was dramatically revealed as we drove in through the valley, sitting atop a ridge surrounded by low lying clouds and pastures of cows.

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For an hour we were transported back to our time in France, wandering through the old village of folks selling croissants and exchanging Bonjour’s and Merci’s.

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But we couldn’t stay long, because the Matterhorn was waiting.

Out of all the pins I marked for this trip, I was most looking forward to seeing the Matterhorn. Perhaps partly due to fond memories of riding the attraction at Disney as a child, but also because I’m just a sucker for a good mountain. My friends—The Matterhorn delivered.

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The town of Zermatt is the closest you can get to the mountain (without hiking to it, of course) so we booked an AirBnb with an unobstructed view. It’s a car-less town, so we parked in the nearest village of Täsch and took the train in.

Our AirBnb room (shared in a chalet with other rooms) is normally around $150/night but we had a $100 credit in our account. Best $50 ever spent.

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We really lucked out on the weather—it had been cloudy all week, but the day we arrived the sun finally peaked out to reveal the mountain. The king sized bed and comforter were heavenly, and crawled out of bed only once to for a tasty Swiss dinner of raclette, cooked by our hosts.

Watching the sun set and rise over the mountain from our window was truly the most special experience during our time in Switzerland—and one of the most memorable from this entire trip. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, I urge you to not to miss this.

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Another regret of mine is not being able to spend more time here. I would have loved to taken a cable car or hike closer to the mountain, but the day we left it was raining and we couldn’t afford to spend two more days in one location. Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes from the window of the train on the way back to Täsch.

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Day 191: Zeneggen > Saint-Jean > La Gouille

Once reunited with our car, we decided to take a leisurely drive through the back roads to see what other small villages we could discover. Zeneggen was our first stop.

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The winding, narrow switchbacks along the steep mountain were worth it. Behold, Switzerland in its full fall glory:

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We parked the car and wandered through the villages one main road, without a single soul in sight… except this gang of llamas:

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This one is my spirit animal:

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And this posse of cows:

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One of my favorite stops, for sure.

We made a quick detour through the next valley of Saint-Jean, then finally over to our final destination of La Gouille.

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Apart from the beautiful fall colors, the great thing about visiting Switzerland in the fall is that it’s the off season, which means very few visitors. We only made contact with a few humans during the entire 24 hour period after leaving Zermatt.

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I hope it stays this peaceful and untouched forever.

Day 192: Sion > Bagnes

Day 5 began with a dramatic view of the two castles of Sion, a larger city along the Rhone valley:

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The sky dried up just long enough for us to snap a couple closeups from the air:

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Our Airbnb for the night was located in Bagnes, in a valley at the base of the famous ski town of Verbier. It was easily one of our favorite places yet, and affordable too.

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We spent the afternoon wandering around town, admiring the French chateaus and autumn landscape.

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The clouds finally cleared out and we were able to get a birds eye view over the valley (just wait for the video!)

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We cooked our own dinner and enjoyed it on the patio as the sun lit up the snow capped glaciers in the distance. It was our last night in the alps, and we soaked up every minute.

Day 193: Verbier > Aigle > Rivaz > Geneva

On our last day in Switzerland, we first made a quick stop in Verbier, which has an expansive view of the valley and mountains to the west.

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Then it was all downhill from there—literally, not figuratively 😉

We passed the Pissevache waterfall, just north of Martigny (it was 60° and sunny at this point):

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Then we took a detour in the town of Aigle, which fell on our radar after seeing a majestic castle surrounded by a vineyard. It was even more beautiful in person.

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The whole village was almost too perfect for words. Red and golden leaves fell from the sky as we passed little French speaking children laughing and playing in the streets.

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Each home had its own private vineyard and garden, and as we passed one with a For Sale sign I imagined us moving here. We’d immediately bear five children who each played a different instrument, spoke four different languages, wore ruffled dresses and leiderhosen and began and ended each sentence with “please” and “thank you”, respectively. Surely that’s what every Swiss family is like, right?

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A girl can dream.

We continued north along Lake Geneva, which shares a border with France. A viewpoint sign caught our eye, so we pulled off the main road into the village of Rivaz.

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Another picturesque little French-Swiss town, with vineyards and views for miles.

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As late afternoon approached, it was time to end our Switzerland adventure and return the car to the Geneva airport. In a matter of hours we’d be on a completely different continent, exploring the wildly contrasting African country of Morocco. As always, a bittersweet ending to what was an unforgettable experience.

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Switzerland, thank you for the fond memories. We can’t wait to come back for more!

Stay tuned for the upcoming video of our week long road trip, and check out my instagram stories for the current sensory overload we’re experiencing in Morocco. This place is the polar opposite of Switzerland, and there’s so much to share I can hardly keep up.

Only six more weeks left of this trip around the world…

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17 Days in Croatia

Day 166-168: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Boarding a plane to leave Greece was probably our most difficult goodbye yet, but once in the air, we’re always excited and ready to embrace the new culture of the next country. Croatia was our next destination, with Dubrovnik as the first stop.

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Known for being Kings Landing in the Game of Thrones TV show, the city is a quite a sight. Lucas is a huge fan of GoT and while I’ve never even seen one episode, I could still appreciate the architecture and scenery.

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The old city is like an ancient fortress—situated along the gorgeous Croatian coast, topped with red tiled roofs and surrounded by high walls.

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We stayed at a guest house in the old walled town and when it wasn’t raining, we walked the narrow alleyways and along the boundary walls for birds eye view of the city and surrounding islands.

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 One thing we were surprised to find was how expensive Dubrovnik was. Between lodging, food and drink, it was the most expensive city we’ve visited all year.

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One recommendation that kept coming up for Dubrovnik was to go to Buža bar through the city wall for sunset. After a little wandering, we found the doorway through the wall that lead to the edge of the cliff. It was crowded with both tourists and locals, and we squeezed our way out onto the edge of a rock with the perfect view for the sunset.

With a beer and wine in hand, we sat and experienced the most amazing sunset we’ve seen on this trip. Words truly can’t describe the feeling in the air as the three masted ship cruised towards the sun.

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Knowing that the previous sunset could never be topped, the next evening we hiked up to Mount Srd for an aerial view of the city and the coastline. While the sunset wasn’t quite as good, it was a great hike and the view was worth the effort.

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Day 169: Montenegro

Dubrovnik is situated just hours from both Montenegro and Bosnia, so we had to at least take a day trip to one of those countries. Due to weather factors, we landed on Montenegro.

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Montenegro was part of the six countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, and they only recently gained their independence from Serbia in 2006. It was a war torn area that is still trying to find its identity, but from the coastline to the beautiful towns it has a lot to offer.

We signed up for a day trip that left early in the morning from Dubrovnik, with the first stop being the small town of Perast. The views of this area instantly brought back memories of Lake Como and Lake Garda in northern Italy.

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After a brief stop at a tiny church on an island, we were back on the bus heading towards Kotor.

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Kotor was the main stop on the tour, and it did not disappoint. A quick hike up the wall overlooking the old town gave us an amazing view.

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The biggest surprise of Kotor were the cats. Apparently they are known for their abundant and friendly stray cat population, which had us stopping every few minutes to swoon over a kitten.

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Our final stop of the day was in Budva. After a quick lunch, we spent a few hours wandering around the old town and taking in the bay views. They even have their own island named Hawaii, which costs just $5 to get to (I wish the Hawaii in America was that cheap!)

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It was a quick trip in Montenegro, but we are glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to see at least some of this beautiful country.

Day 170-173: Split & Hvar

The next day we boarded a bus to Split, and stayed just one night before catching a ferry the next day to Hvar.

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One of the most popular stops out of the Croatian islands, Hvar is known for its nightlife and beautiful scenery. Unfortunately for us, the weather had started to cool off and the perfect beach/boating days were behind us. Still wanting to make the most of our time on the island, we rented a scooter to see what we could find.

Our first stop took us to the town of Stari Grad. Wandering the streets, we were pleasantly surprised by the old town, which had a different feel from what we had experienced so far.

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The road traveling through the island gives breathtaking views as it winds through the hills. One of the more memorable scooter rides that we have had on this trip.

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The day was completed with a few stops at the pebble beaches, which were beautiful, small, and not very crowded this time of year.

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At some point during our stay in Croatia, we both felt that something was off. Months of being on the go with no break or sense of familiarity was finally starting to take a toll. No longer were we feeling excited or inspired to explore somewhere new—we needed to press pause and realign ourselves.

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So that’s what we did. Instead of trying to cram as much sightseeing and traveling as possible into the next couple weeks, we picked a few places to stay for a while and rest. I finished both the Italy and Greece videos, and we didn’t research or plan activities for most days.

We stayed at hostels long enough to meet new friends and get to know them for longer than one night. We picked a wedding date, booked a venue and began to plan the details. With summer officially ending, we bought warm clothes and snuggled up to the sound of thunderstorms at night.

While we didn’t see a lot of Croatia during our time there, the long period of rest was just what the doctor ordered.

Day 174-177: Zadar

After leaving Hvar, we chose to split the rest of our time between Zadar and Zagreb.

Zadar is a quaint city with an old town that sticks out into the water. Famous for its sea organ (supposedly only one of three in the world) it boasts some old ruins and amazing sunsets.

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One of the more unique features is an olympic sized swimming pool that is connected with the ocean. We spent one afternoon with some new travel friends just lounging while watching the waves crash into the pool and people jumping off the diving platforms.

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And of course we had to check out the sea organ, which is a series of holes that when the waves crash into them it forces air through creating musical notes that come out of little openings in the sidewalk. It was mesmerizing to hear the random melody being played by the waves. Next to the organ was a series of solar panels underneath glass called ‘Greeting to the Sun’, which lights up at night with colorful patterns.

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It’s amazing how quickly time goes by when you aren’t filling each day with new activities. A short five days after we had arrived, we were on the next bus up to the capital city of Zagreb.

Day 178-182: Zagreb & Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb tends to be a city travelers use as a hub for entering and exiting Croatia, rarely spending more than a day. We decided to spend our last five nights here before continuing on to Germany for Oktoberfest. And are we glad that we did!

The hostel we stayed at was was voted Croatia’s best, with a great social vibe and beautiful patio garden bar. We met several new friends, and even ran across people we had met in Zadar.

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Zagreb itself is a newer city that has a distinct modern feel throughout the majority of it. Between the central train station and main square, it felt like any other major city with a grittier, Eastern European feel.

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To be honest, I didn’t think much of the city until we went on the walking tour and explored the old city. The stories from our guide and the unique architecture from the buildings that still remain after war and earthquakes instantly changed my perspective.

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We even watched the daily cannon fire and saw the ceremonial changing of the guards.

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An ornate cathedral (the tallest building in Croatia) stands on one hill, while a unique church with a tiled roof sits on another. This was easily my favorite building from the walking tour (which I’d highly recommend!)

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 On our last day we took a trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is the second most visited location in Croatia after Dubrovnik. It is a gorgeous preserve filled with lakes and thousands of waterfalls.

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With the recent rains, the water was flowing strong and seemed to fall from the foliage at every turn.

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We spent five hours and several miles wandering through the trails, seeking out the best views. My biggest regret is not staying in a hotel near the park so I could wake up early and spend a full day there. For both of us, it was the highlight of Croatia.

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After spending over two weeks in the country, we have a great appreciation for Croatia and would love to return in the height of summer to experience more of its famous islands.

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As I write this, we’re on a bus to Switzerland after a lively few days in Germany for Oktoberfest. We’re about to enter some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, and I’ll be sharing live updates on my Instagram stories and Snapchat! Follow along @jennasuedesign, and soon I’ll be back with another blog recap of Germany and Switzerland.

Happy fall,

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Greece: The Video

Out of all the places I’ve traveled, Greece spoke to me like no other. It comes as no surprise then that this was also my favorite video to put together (Click to watch):

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I have to give most of the credit to the song, which I fell in love with the moment I heard it months ago and knew I wanted to do something with it (JT can do no wrong!)

Greece was the perfect location to shoot this, and I hope you enjoy watching as much as I enjoyed creating it.

In a few days we’re catching a bus from Zagreb to Munich, and meeting up with a few friends before we spend our last couple weeks in Europe. We’re finally feeling some cold fall weather here in Croatia… and as a warm weather girl, I’m actually enjoying the change!

Still posting more frequent updates on my instagram stories if you wanna stop by and say hello there, and let me know what you think of the latest video! Cheers to settling into this new season…

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Italy: A cinematic travel film

Eight weeks ago we rented a car in Milan and embarked on a 30 day adventure that would take us on a 2000km journey around Italy.

In 30 days we saw everything from Lake Como & Garda, to the Dolomites, Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Matera and Alberobello, Tropea, the beaches and countryside of Sicily and countless hidden gems in between.

Here is the story we captured (Click to watch):

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It was an unforgettable trip, and I pushed myself further into the video editing process to reflect both the chaos and beauty of this country that holds so much history. This film certainly took the most effort yet, after shooting for a solid month and sorting through hours of footage. I really hope you enjoy this one! Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on youtube, instagram or facebook.

I’m just now starting on the Greece video, and will be taking a short break from shooting during the rest of our time in Europe to catch my breath. Morocco is coming up in October, and I have a feeling that is going to be a special one!

We’re currently in Croatia, working our way north to Munich over the next couple weeks. This part of the world has surprised me with its beauty, and I’ve been sharing live photos & videos on my instagram stories. Come see what we’re getting up to and say hello!

Happy early fall,

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Greece: Athens, Milos, Santorini & Paros

Day 149-150: Athens

If there were a heaven on earth, it would surely have been created by the Greek Gods. Turns out this place does exist, and it can be found in the islands of Greece.

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We landed in Athens after a short flight from Malta, where we planned to stay just a couple nights before catching a ferry to Milos.

With Greece’s capital city so deeply rooted in history, I expected it to be more along the lines of Rome—rich in culture with an abundance of ruins, museums and sightseers.

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Instead, it felt more like a sprawling modern city with rows of trendy restaurants and shops. There was no shortage of charming streets lined with bars and cafes, and the dinner/nightlife scene was one of the best I’ve seen anywhere.

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On the first night we hiked up to the viewpoint at Lykavitos hill for sunset. With an unobstructed view of the Acropolis surrounded by a glowing sprawling city, sea and the sun setting over distant islands, it was pure magic. This photo does it no justice, but it’s hands down the best vantage point in Athens.

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Visiting the Acropolis up close? Not quite as spectacular. Most of the ruins had been rebuilt or were currently under construction, and while the scale of the monuments were impressive, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Forum in Rome which we both found far more interesting. To us, the Acropolis wasn’t worth the €20 entrance fee, especially when you can see it all from the top of the hill next to it for free.
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Our best moments in Athens were spent at the restaurants. I’d been anxiously awaiting healthy Greek cuisine after months of pasta and carbs, and this country does not disappoint. Since Day 1 we haven’t had a mediocre meal, and we’ve eaten our weight in greek yogurt, honey and Greek salads on a daily basis—it never gets old!

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With only two nights in Athens, we barely scratched the surface. My overall impression is that it’s a wonderful place to eat, shop, and get an introduction to Greek hospitality. If you’re coming all the way to Greece though, you’d be remiss not to visit the places that make this country one of the most loved in the world—the islands.

Day 155-159: Milos

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Milos was brought to our attention by more than one traveler we’d met over the past several months. They praised the island for its natural beauty and simple way of life. Largely untouched by technology and tourism, this small destination is ideal for a peaceful and more local Greek experience. It’s so local that the streets have no names, which makes giving directions tricky as every house is “the white one with the blue door.” But every one of its 5,000 inhabitants knows everyone else, so somehow it works.

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The beaches are Milos’ claim to fame, so we found the top rated boat tour on Trip Advisor and squeezed in at the last minute after a cancellation. How lucky we were, as it ended up being our favorite experience in Greece.

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There was a small group of us, mostly couples, including awesome newlyweds from Washington DC who we bonded with right away.

Our captain Elias was welcoming, full of energy and took us to the best spots while teaching us of their history along the way. It was a very windy day with a chilly ocean, but the water was crystal clear and made for great cave exploring and snorkeling.

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We cruised by a handful of other boats including an enormous fancy yacht, hoping John Stamos would come out and start feeding us Oikos yogurt. Sadly, no such luck, but our captain had prepared his own gourmet feast on board. Greek salads with fresh veggies from his family’s garden, homemade wine his Uncle made, fresh shrimp and octopus they’d caught and grilled on board, and bottomless bottles of Ouzo. We toasted and danced in circled around the boat as Elias shared jokes and stories of Greece.

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Another full day was spent on an ATV—apart from a boat, it’s hands down the best way to explore the island. Many of the roads are dirt and some beaches only accessible by off roading.

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We covered a lot of ground, driving past tiny churches and men walking their goats, stopping all along the coast and visiting each village. Sarakiniko is the top rated beach, and reminded us a lot of Sicily’s Scala dei Turchi with its white glacier-like cliff formations.

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Every beach offered something unique, from private black sand coves to an abandoned sulphur mine with red cliffs and sand.

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A small fishing village by the name of Klima stood out with its brightly painted homes lining the waterfront.

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Plaka, the main town near our hotel, was full of charm with classic Greek streets covered in outlined stone and pink bougainvilleas overhead.

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At sunset, everyone climbs to the top of the church to watch the fiery orange ball dip behind distant islands and the white buildings light up below. Greece has some of the best sunsets.

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Milos was our first spotting of the famous blue domes. The mostly barren landscape is dotted with tiny blue and white domed churches, and I couldn’t get enough.

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The abundance and location of these churches are a bit baffling to us—there must be one church built for every few people, and many are built into the mountain accessible only by a small overgrown path in the middle of nowhere. And they’re always empty. Who is going to these churches? Regardless, they’re fun to admire and a big part of Greece’s unique charm.

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On this sleepy island, our nightly entertainment consisted of watching kittens play in the street and staring at the harvest moon from our balcony. But our last night in Milos, we found out the locals were having their official end of summer celebration known as the Fire Festival. Our new honeymooner friends from D.C. invited us to join them, and we followed the sound of music until arriving at the town square.

Packed with locals, we were among just a few tourists to show up. Before long, we were joining hands and dancing around in a circle as a live band played traditional music in the main square until the wee morning hours.

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Greek tradition says that if you jump across the fire three times, you’ll bring the heat of summer with you and stay warm all winter. Everyone from toddlers to the elderly took their turn, so of course we had to participate! Lucas singed some hair off but hey, it’ll grow back.

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The festival was one of our most memorable nights of our entire trip, and the perfect note to end our five days in Milos.

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Day 160-162: Santorini

No trip to Greece is complete without a visit to Santorini. A caldera formed by an ancient volcano, Santorini is only around 10 miles wide so we planned for just three nights to explore.

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Being one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the world comes at a cost that is not backpacker budget friendly, so we found a hotel on the southern tip of the island for a very reasonable $60/night. It was in the middle of nowhere (think fields of donkeys), but at least it had a heart shaped pool…

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Like most places in Greece, ATV’s are the best way to see the island. We spent our first day cruising through the rocky landscape, pulling over at cliffs to admire the expansive view across the bay, and checking out some of the lesser known beaches.

Let’s be clear on one thing: Santorini is not known for its beaches. The volcanic land is comprised of black sand, red cliffs and rocky shores of ash and stone. Beautiful in their own way, but not the inviting turquoise waters of neighboring islands.

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What Santorini does best is picturesque cliffside villages. The blue domes of Oìa have become the official symbol of Greece, and for good reason. We spent two evenings walking through the main cities of Thira and Oìa, and as breathtaking as they are in photos, they’re even more romantic in person.

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Thira is the largest town on the island and known to be the liveliest, but isn’t quite as photogenic as Oìa. It’s also much less crowded, which makes it worth a sunset visit.

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For our last night, we booked an Airbnb for $95 in Finikia, a quiet village just outside of Oìa—where you can’t get a room for triple that price. We loved that it was a cave house, which is a common thing to find here.

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The discounted price was the trade off for a 20 minute hike uphill to get to Oìa, and once we spent some time walking around, we realized why people pay the steep price tag to stay there.

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As soon as dusk approaches, the narrow streets are packed with people clamoring to get a photograph and shoving their way up the hill to catch the perfect view of sunset. Oìa is a small place, and most of the roads along the main cliff are accessible only to hotel guests. Those hotel rooms are prime real estate and the best place to view the town or snap that coveted photo. Many rooftop restaurants are fully reserved or won’t let you in unless you order dinner, so unless you are splurging on a hotel room, reserve a table ahead of time or claim a spot along the wall hours in advance, you won’t get to experience Santorini in its full sunset or sunrise glory (and take that iconic postcard photo). And it’s popular for a reason!

We opted out of fighting through the sunset crowds and instead snapped a few photos while it was still bright outside. Fortunately, it’s hard to take a bad photo of this place…

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After sunset, we had dinner plans with our honeymooner friends whom we’d met in Milos, and they invited us back to their luxury suite for a drink first. Lucky us! It was fun to see how the other half lives and get a taste of what we were missing out on. If you have the means, staying in the heart of Oìa is certainly the best way to do it. We still had an absolutely wonderful and memorable time on a budget, and now have one more reason to work extra hard towards our goals so we can come back and splurge one day 🙂

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Day 163-165: Paros

Our final stop in Greece was an island by the name of Paros—a last minute decision after seeing a photo of it on Instagram.

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It was a short ferry trip from Santorini, promised beautiful beaches and had an airport to get us back to Athens, and that was all it took to make up our mind.

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Plain and unassuming on the outside, Paros lacks the dramatic cliff coastline of Santorini, but you can’t judge a book by its cover. Just beyond the ferry port lies a hidden gem waiting to be discovered…

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I was pleasantly surprised by the quaintness of the main town, Parikia, and it’s narrow streets lined with upscale boutiques and shops. You could get lost meandering through the passageways of white and blue buildings, covered with bougainvilleas in every color. Every new corner was another picture perfect scene.

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One day in an ATV is all that’s needed to circle the perimeter of the island and discover the best spots. We even made two new mini horse friends along the way—Milky and Muffin:

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The village of Lefkes, nestled in a valley in the center of the island, was perhaps the most picturesque of them all. We ended up walking there after our ATV died and left us stranded, stopping for a Greek salad at an empty cafe overlooking the countryside and sea.

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We walked past a house with a rooftop balcony and sea view selling for €110k… it took everything I had to not call them up and make an offer.

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Fortunately we got a replacement ATV and finished circling the perimeter of Paros before the days’ end, stopping at a handful of gorgeous beaches.

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To reach the best swimming spots, we also booked a full day boat trip around the neighboring island of Antiparos.

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Our boat crew brought out instruments, playing acoustic Greek music as they cooked up a mouthwatering buffet of local foods. Antiparos has some of the best water in the Aegean sea.

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Our last night was bittersweet as I could have stayed for weeks more, island hopping and finding new treasures that are plentiful in every one of Greece’s 6,000 islands.

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Between the incredible beaches, delicious food, charming blue and white palette, abundance of cats and the welcoming people—this country and culture speaks to me in a way that no other has. I’m pretty sure I was Greek in another life. If there’s anyone from Greece reading this, can you adopt us? Not even kidding. We’ll work for food.

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Four islands down, only 5,996 more to go… Greece, we’re coming back for you!

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As I type this now, we’ve just landed in Dubrovnik, Croatia where we plan to spend the next 17 days working our way up to Germany for Oktoberfest. We spent so much time out and about in Greece that I’m backed up with video editing, but I plan to take some time to pause and finally finish the Italy video within the next week (I’m really pushing my editing skills with this one, so hopefully it’s worth the wait!)

As always, you can connect with me as I share our adventures on my instagram stories and facebook, as well as the occasional snapchat @jennasuedesign. Less than three months to go on this round the world trip of ours… hope you’re still enjoying the recaps, photos and videos! Let me know if you have any questions/comments and I’m happy to answer anything about our experience! Signing off now, time to go catch my first Croatian sunset…

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Malta: The Mediterranean’s hidden gem

Day 146-148: Malta

Truth be told—a few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to point to Malta on a map. It wasn’t until we met two Maltese girls while traveling in Peru back in May that the country was put on our radar. Thanks to random encounters like these while traveling, we’ve been able to experience a completely new land and culture that we would have otherwise missed.

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I wasn’t planning on making a video since we were only here for a few days, but on the last day we couldn’t resist bringing the drone along to capture some of this incredible landscape. Here’s a quick minute of 4k aerial footage shot over one afternoon—I hope you enjoy! (Click to watch):

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Situated 50 miles off the coast of Sicily, Malta is a tiny country, comprised of three islands—Malta, Gozo, and Comino—with around just 400k total residents. It has a very rich history due to its central location in the Mediterranean, with influences from Africa, Italy, and Eastern Europe. They have their own language that is a mix of Italian and Arabic—it’s quite unique and beautiful. 

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We arrived at our hostel late at night, but not wanting to waste any time we booked a tour of Comino Island for early the next day. 

We spent the day walking the rocky shores, snorkeling through sea caves in electric blue water, and jumping off the jagged cliffs. 

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

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The final stop was at the Blue Grotto, which was extremely beautiful even with the crowds. 

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That night we met up with our Maltese friends, Yana and Nicole, whom we had originally met in Peru. They brought us to a local bar with live music, amazing food, and colorful drinks to give us a taste of Malta nightlife. Later, we stopped by a small family-run eatery for some authentic Maltese pastizzi and tea. Catching up with them was so much fun and brought back tons of memories from South America. 

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The following day we took a bus to Valletta, the capital city on the main island. Walking the streets of this city felt like taking a step back in time to the age of knights. 

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Valletta also brought to my attention what Malta does better than any other country we have been to: doors!

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I’m officially declaring Malta to have the best doors in the world. They’re colorful, intricately detailed and no two are alike. I took more photos of doors than anything else here. Watch out for Maltese door inspiration in future homes remodels 🙂

On our third and final day, Yana picked us up and we took the ferry over to Gozo island.

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We spent the day going to caves overlooking beaches, ocean salt pans, and swimming holes. 

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Our favorite stop was St. Peter’s Pool where the famous Azure Window used to be. It was a large arch that reached out into the sea, but it had grown weak from natural erosion and fell into the sea during a storm earlier this year. There’s also a natural swimming hole surrounded by caves.

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And not to be missed—the still functioning set from Popeye the movie, from 1980:

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We only spent a few days in Malta and feel like we barely scratched the surface of what this country can offer. From the beaches, to the food, to the people and doors, it’s a country that has captured our hearts and earned a spot on our “must return for a future vacation” list. 

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Our journey now takes us to Greece, where we’re in the middle of two weeks of island hopping, eating our faces off and trying to pet all the cats. I’ve been posting frequent stories on my instagram because I can’t get enough of this place. More on that soon, and I didn’t forget about the Italy video either! There’s a month of footage to sort through so I’m chipping away at it, slowly but surely. I think this will be a special one 🙂

Hope you are enjoying these last days of summer,

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Italy Part 4: Naples to Sicily

Day 137: Naples > Capri

After finally getting our first taste of authentic Italy during those few days in Rome, we boarded a southbound train to Naples.

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Northern Italy has beautiful sights—from the alps to the Tuscan countryside, the Mediterranean coastline to Venice—it’s not to be missed.

But Southern Italy? That’s where the soul is. I felt it from the day we arrived in Rome. The people carry themselves differently here—they’re livelier, more animated and use their hands practically as a second language. They’re loud and expressive, and we never knew if they were fighting or showing affection. It’s exactly what you’d expect if you’ve only seen these characters portrayed in the movies—something we didn’t really find much of in the north.

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The further south you go, the more apparent this is. People watching has become an intriguing pastime and if it weren’t for the language barrier I might sneak my way to a random dinner table and pretend I’m part of the family. I’m a few generations removed from purebred Italians so perhaps that’s just the ancestry itch.

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Speaking of dinner—I knew I’d be in trouble in Italy. The standard diet is cold cuts, cheese, bread and gelato. This is acceptable for every meal, mind you. Restaurants close during the day for siesta and don’t open until 8pm for dinner, so we’ve had to adapt to the locals eating schedule. On the plus side, olive oil and wine are about as cheap as bottled water.

There’s a dozen pizzerias on every block and while that’s been Lucas’ go-to, I’ve fortunately been able to find salads to stay somewhat healthy. Even still, I can’t say no to wine or the free bread at every table, and the clothes are certainly fitting tighter these days. I don’t know how people who live here manage to stay so in shape.

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Back to the road trip.

We locked down a great deal on an Airbnb next to the train station in Naples (PS, don’t stay in that neighborhood if you value your safety) and used our visit as a hub to get to Capri.

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The island of Capri sits just off the coast in the Bay of Naples, and is a quick hour ferry from the port. You can also stay on the island but the cost was well above our backpacker’s budget.

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Instead, we paid €16 each for a 2 hour boat tour around the island. The weather was gorgeous and we were able to explore some of the grottos the island is known for, however the famous blue grotto was closed due to the choppy sea and high tide.

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Back on land, we hiked through the neighborhoods to the top of the ridge for a pretty spectacular viewpoint.

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After our fill of fruit slushies and beach naps, our day was over too fast. This island is best seen via private boat—we’ll have to come back at a later date once we can make that happen.

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Day 138: Pompeii > Salerno

The following day we checked out of Naples and stopped by Pompeii for the afternoon. It took an hour of waiting during midday heat, but oh so worth every minute.

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Pompeii was a settlement originating in the 6th Century BC, thriving until nearby Mount Vesuvius violently erupted in 79 AD, burying and essentially preserving the town under 20 feet of volcanic ash.

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Plaster corpses of the victims, frozen in time from the moment of impact, still remain and are on display. Hundreds of statues, tools and murals are still intact as well. But what really sparked my interest? Look at this tile work!

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Apparently mosaic tile was trending back in the early first century BC, and the floors of many homes were covered in unique and intricate designs. I took photos of every one which I fully intend to copy/recreate in future houses. Those Pompeiiens were so ahead of the game.

Even the sidewalks of the main city outside of the UNESCO site caught on and stole the look.

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One of my favorite parts of traveling is soaking up new ideas and styles from all corners of the world. I’m feeling so inspired and can’t wait to bring that renewed sense of creativity into my work. As much as we are enjoying this trip, we’re equally as excited (if not more) to start our big real estate plans next year.

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Anyway, Pompeii was special and unlike any ruins site we’d seen before—highly recommended if you are in the Naples area.

Day 139: Amalfi Coast 

Next it was time to see what the big fuss over the Amalfi Coast was about.

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We decided to stay in Salerno which is just south of the famous coastline (again, to save money) and took another hour ferry to our first stop of Positano.

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Positano is potentially the most photogenic town in the area and a crowd favorite. We didn’t want to spend the cash for a boat tour, so instead we walked around a bit and grabbed lunch before catching a bus a few stops down to Praiano.

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The Amalfi coast doesn’t have much to choose from in the way of beaches thanks to its rocky and cliff laden coastline, but I read about one that was supposed to be the best in the area in the quieter village of Praiano.

With few signs to guide us, we descended some 450 steps down to the water to discover a cove of brightly colored umbrellas and tanned, buff bodies sunbathing and sipping cocktails to house music. It felt like we’d stumbled upon a hidden gem, but of course the umbrellas and wait staff at the exclusive club were by reservation only, so we instead claimed a rock at the end of the beach for a swim.

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The water was bright teal and refreshing on a hot day, and afterwards we hiked back up until reaching a bar with a view of Positano, ordered fancy Italian cocktails and daydreamed about our future. Life is a lot more fun when you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, earning it with each step—especially after getting a taste of what’s on the other side. Next time we visit, we’ll be the ones under those umbrellas.

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Day 140: Castelmezzano > Matera

After a quick dose of how the other half live, it was time to head inland and see what the ‘boot’ of Italy had to offer. We had a lot of ground to cover on this leg, so our first stop was 100km away—a village by the name of Castelmezzano.

We’d scouted out this place after it came up in a Google search and immediately added it to our itinerary. Although funny story—when we first pinned it on our map, we accidentally spelled it Castelmozzano—one letter off—which happened to be another town—a small village in the north. Imagine our confusion when we spent hours driving out to the middle of nowhere, circling an empty neighborhood with no wifi or anyone to tell us what was going on.

We had to redeem ourselves and find the real Castelmezzano, and it did not disappoint.

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After a confusing parking situation that became lost in translation, we ended up on a cramped bus with a big Italian family and were accepted into their circle, communicating mostly through hand gestures. Our friendship was sweet but short lived after we walked and chatted through the charming streets of Castelmezzano.

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A city named Matera was waiting for us next, and after showing up in that afternoon, we immediately knew we couldn’t leave.

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Some places look better in the photos and some just take your breath away in person—Matera is the latter.

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With cave dwellings dating back to the Paleolithic period, it’s said to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the world after Petra, Jordan.

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It’s a fascinating place to wander and take in the scenery—especially at sunset. We grabbed snacks and a bottle of wine, climbed to the top of a lookout and spent the evening watching the white city glow.

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Reluctant to leave what has now become one of my favorite stops in Italy, we took a few last morning photos and continued east towards Alberobello.

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Day 141: Alberobello

Alberobello is another town that caught our eye from a Google search, with an architecture style vastly different than any other traditional Italian town.

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Tiny white conical shaped buildings, known as trulli, line the streets like something out of a a children’s storybook.

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While they appear all throughout the area, Alberobello has the highest concentration of them and many have been turned into tourist shops/restaurants, though several are still inhabited by locals. As someone who loves interesting home design, of course I was smitten with these adorable buildings and wanted to walk by and peek inside every one.

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We still had a ton of ground to cover in our remaining few days, so just a few hours was all we could spend here. We stayed the night somewhere in the heel of Italy with plans to end up in the toe the following day.

Day 142: Tropea

By Friday, I was yearning for the beach again. Tropea looked like an interesting spot, situated at the top of a cliff over the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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With just enough daylight left for a swim, we quickly explored the small city’s center, grabbing a gelato on the way down to the beach.

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The water was clear, calm and so refreshing that we didn’t mind the hundreds of other vacationers around us. By the way, remember how perplexed we were about all of the abandoned cities in northern/central Italy? Well, breaking news: we’ve found all of the people—they’re all at the beaches of Southern Italy. I’ve never seen so many bodies fighting for every last inch of sand. Every day of the week, every time of day. And even with months of perfecting our golden brown skin, we’re still the whitest people on the beach.

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Our beach afternoon at Tropea was just the rejuvenating pause I’d needed after weeks of fast paced travel and hours of driving, but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Welcome to Sicily…

Day 143: Taormina, Sicily

I’d been warned about Rome and their crazy drivers, but Sicily is on another level. The whole island seems to be under some sort of construction/road block disarray, and if you aren’t going double the speed limit you can expect to be run off the road. It’s complete chaos, and those moments behind the wheel were certainly my darkest in Italy.

We’d planned to circle Sicily in the three days we had left, but after our AirBnb reservation was canceled at the last minute and we couldn’t get wifi to book another, we just started driving south, and ended up in the town of Taormina.

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Relieved to be free from the car and still in one piece, we stopped at the first bar in town and I chugged an Aperol Spritz or two to calm my nerves. With no luck finding any reasonably priced accommodations online, we walked to the hotel next door and (after much debating) scooped up their last €160 room for the night. It was certainly more than we’d normally spend, but in the end we decided it wasn’t worth the stress of continuing the drive—plus we had already fallen in love with Taormina and the promise of an Opera show in the Greek theater that night. Or, perhaps we can blame it on the Aperol.

Sometimes splurging pays off, and that night ended up being one of our most memorable in all of Italy. To offset the hotel costs we skipped dinner and instead enjoyed a bottle of wine and fruit from our balcony overlooking the sea.

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The opera show was another small splurge, but it was our very first and what better setting than in a Sicilian summer night, under the stars an Ancient Greek theater? Once in a lifetime.

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Day 144-145: Agrigento > Scala dei Turchi

With only one full day left in Italy, we had our sights set on one last beach on the southwestern shore. A few hours later, we found ourselves in Agrigento.

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It was a Sunday with no one to be found in the streets (because they’re all at the beach, of course) so we grabbed lunch and wandered about the streets, collecting images for my design inspiration vault.

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After snapping photos and staring longingly at every doorway trying to figure out how I could DIY them, our daylight was fading so we headed straight for the beach.

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Scala Dei Turchi is one of those places that makes you do a double take and wonder why you’ve never seen or heard of it before.

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Made from white limestone, the stretch of smooth cliffside along the ocean is what you’d imagine it to be like in the arctic after extreme global warming. From afar, the mass of dark figures walking along the ridge looks like a scene from March of the Penguins.

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This beach is certainly no secret to the Italians, who gather in droves at all hours of the day and night (we came back at 9am for video footage and it was already packed). Not somewhere you’d go for peace and quiet, but definitely one of the most unique sights in Italy.

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All of Sicily’s landscape is interesting, we found. At least during this time of year it’s a combination of all of Italy’s landscapes—dry fields, vineyards, rocky cliffs and the sea—all on the same plot of land. Ancient ruins just outside of modern cities. Gorgeous beaches and warmhearted people. The best of Italy, minus the crazy drivers and underdeveloped roadways. The perfect way to end our trip.

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During our 30 days in this country, we’ve covered thousands of miles, discovered dozens of cities and captured hundreds of memories and stories that will stay with us forever. While road tripping has its challenges, it was worth every sacrifice and penny invested, and then some.

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One day we’ll return to Italy, pull up an old photo from this trip and remember what it was like back then. We’ll relive these details and tell our children how much has changed. Though I hope when that day comes, it’s still as we remember it now. Full of life, history, beauty and soul. Tonight I board a plane to leave Italy, and with it a piece of my heart.

Video to come…

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Italy Part 3: Tuscany to Rome

Day 129: San Gimignano > Siena

Our quick stop in Florence ended with an unexpected surprise as I was handed the keys to a free car rental upgrade:

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We excitedly hopped inside our new turbocharged Fiat Spider, whom I named Frances (after the leading lady in Under the Tuscan Sun, naturally), and headed south.

Rome would be our final destination with Frances, and we had four nights, giving us plenty of time to explore Tuscany.

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San Gimignano was the first stop of the day—about an hour south of Florence and one of the most popular attractions in the area.

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The vast majority of villages in Italy (at least in the Tuscany region) are strikingly similar, but San Gimignano stands apart with its unique skyline. From miles away you can see the outline of towers, built in the Middle Ages by rival families competing for bragging rights.

At one point there were over 70 towers standing. Today there’s only 14 left, but it’s still enough to make this village stand out from the rest.

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Once again, our day was cut short by the heat wave and we retired to our Airbnb early. This one was a beautifully restored 14th century farmhouse in Sociville, just outside of Siena:

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Day 130: Montepulciano > Pienza > Saturnia

The following three days were spent leisurely winding our way down to Rome, enjoying the back roads of Tuscany.

We’d heard great things about Montepulciano and drove through the city center, but the town was quite crowded leaving nowhere to park, so we continued onto Pienza (which a few of you recommended).

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Pienza was much quieter and more quaint, and immediately became our favorite village in Tuscany.

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Not having to fight through crowds and lines of cars really allows you to appreciate a place so much more!

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The sweeping views from Pienza were also some of the best we’d seen in the area.

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Just outside of Pienza is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo—an impressive church and manor set in the picturesque countryside. We stopped for a quick visit and a few photos.

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Before sunset, we made it down to a town called Saturnia, known for its thermal baths.

Lucas had found a photo of the baths on Pinterest several months before our trip, and after a bit of research we marked the location as our first “must see” place in Italy. The baths have been called “Italy’s best kept secret”, but it was still packed with locals and tourists when we arrived.

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These natural hot springs are free to the public, open 24/7, and the 37°C water temperature was just right as the sun was setting. Even with the crowds, it was easily one of our top favorite experiences in Italy.

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Day 131: Pitigliano > Sorano > Civita di Bagnoregio 

After our skin had been rejuvenated by the sulphuric baths, we finished our last day in Tuscany by checking out a few last towns built on cliffs, that also appeared to be clones of each other.

Pitigliano was the first, and we admired it from afar rather than exploring the center.

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Next up was Sorano, which was surrounded by windy roads carved into steep cliff faces. A bit smaller than Pitigliano, but more interesting in my opinion.

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Finally, the one we were waiting for the most—Civita di Bagnoregio.

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This isolated village attracted a bigger crowd, and for good reason. The dramatic walkway leading to the entrance is the stuff of movies.

The small village sits isolated on top of a cliff in the center of a valley, with a mix of desert-like dunes and blue mountains in the distance. The inside of town is charming as well, and wasn’t too crowded given the extreme heat and hike it requires to make it there.

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At the last minute we booked a hotel room in a town nearby called Vitorchiano, thinking we got a great deal at €60/night. Turns out this town was not on any tourists’ radar, and we walked the empty streets until arriving the home of a sweet older Italian lady who had no idea we were coming. Confused and without a Plan B as this small village clearly had no hotels, we also quickly realized that she didn’t speak a word of English.

She led us upstairs and prepared a bed in her guest room that was hotter than the outside air with no AC or fan, while carrying on full conversations in Italian as we smiled and nodded politely, pretending to understand. The situations we get ourselves into sometimes…

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The next morning she fed us baskets upon baskets of homemade pie, biscotti and focaccia and sent us away with bags full of more sugary carbs, just like the Italian grandmother we never had.

Day 132: Vitorchiano > Bomarzo > Boccea

After our memorable stay with a village local, it was our last day before returning the car in Rome and we had just two stops planned—a forest of monsters and a decadent palace.

Bomarzo lies a stone’s throw away from Vitorchiano, and is home to the “Parco dei Monstri”, a park of ancient stone sculptures of monsters and other oddities.

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We spent the morning walking the grounds and enjoying the shade, before venturing south to a town named Caprarola.

Villa Farnese is the jewel of Caprarola—completely unknown to us until our last host insisted we visit. Clearly not a tourist destination as we only came across a handful people during our visit.

The villa appeared dingy and neglected as we climbed the entrance steps, but as soon as we stepped inside, we were in complete awe.

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This massive palace with its unique pentagonal shape and dramatic five-story spiral staircase is covered in masterpiece paintings and sculptures, and said to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture.

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Dozens of rooms, acres of manicured gardens, caves, a moat and even a casino—we spent over two hours and barely scratched the surface.

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It could easily hold its own alongside any attraction in Rome, and we were both dumbfounded as to why it’s not more well known. One of Italy’s best kept secrets, I’d say.

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That evening we managed to find a 4 star hotel outside of Rome for only €75, and soaked up every bit of our night of luxury with pasta and wine. We were ready once again for the big city.

Day 133-136: Rome

During this trip I’ve come to learn that I much prefer traveling off the beaten path—discovering small villages and spending time in nature. Cities have become more of a necessary pit stop to catch up on work and recharge for the next adventure, and I was expecting that from Rome as well.

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But not this time. Rome captivated me from the start.

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You’re taught about its history in school—from Julius Caesar to the Roman Empire and religion and how it all started here. You learn stories and memorize facts, acknowledging it as a part of life without giving it a second thought.

Then you arrive in Rome. You step on the soil and breathe in the ancient air.

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This feeling is the culmination of all those years of history lessons that once felt so distant and unrelatable. Standing at the base of the ruins, walking in the footsteps of gladiators and legends, listening to a classical symphony under the stars—it’s a sense that’s hard to explain, but I’ve never felt more connected to the past and centuries of those who’ve lived before.

During our three days in Rome, we visited a handful of attractions including the Piazza Navona (just lovely at sunset):

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The Trevi Fountain (far too crowded to really enjoy it):

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The Pantheon, impressive inside and out:

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The Colosseum, where we took a Virtual Reality tour—highly recommended if you’re a visual person like I am:

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The Forum and Palatine Hill, which really put the scale of the ruins into perspective and was my favorite site to visit:

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And of course, the Vatican City. We found the earliest tour possible which met at 7am and were the first group of people inside. Totally worth it!

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Rome at sunrise is truly the best time to see the city (this holds true for every city, in my opinion).

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The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums turn into a zoo as soon as it’s open to the public at 9am, so it was quite the experience to have it nearly all to ourselves to enjoy in (relative) peace and quiet.

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And St. Peter’s Basilica… the size of this place is incredible. So many churches in one:

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The most memorable experience for me was attending a live concert by the International Chamber Ensemble. I’d been wanting to see a classical music performance since we arrived in Italy, and after striking out in Florence I found this one in Rome and booked it immediately. We actually extended our visit by one day for it, and I’m so glad we did. Our trip to Italy would have been incomplete without it.

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The rest of our time was spent walking the streets, sampling food and sweets, and of course, the local beverages. Here you can’t walk past any eatery without seeing brightly colored orange drinks. Turns out it’s the unofficial drink of Italy, the Aperol Spritz, and it’s quite refreshing on a hot summer day. It’s also become a staple in my daily diet. But hey, when in Rome…

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As I publish this, we’re working our way down the boot of Italy to Sicily over the next five days. It will mostly likely be our last road trip for a while, before we return to planes/boats/public transportation as we work our way to Greece then north to Germany and Switzerland.

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We’re looking forward to taking advantage of this last bit of freedom and the open road, and as always, you can join us for the ride as I share daily updates on my Instagram stories!

Buongiorno,

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