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.

IMG_1680

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.

IMG_1809 IMG_1515

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

IMG_1689IMG_1807

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.

IMG_1692

 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.

IMG_1678

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.

IMG_1550

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.

IMG_1806

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.

IMG_1786

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.

IMG_1787

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

IMG_1791

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.

IMG_1796

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.

IMG_1790

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!)

IMG_1795

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.

IMG_1700
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.

IMG_1866 IMG_1850

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.

IMG_1870

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

IMG_1859

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.

IMG_2021

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.

IMG_1949IMG_1950

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.

IMG_1932

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.

IMG_1899

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.

IMG_1959

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.

IMG_2048

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.

IMG_2046

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

IMG_2044

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!)

IMG_2045

 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.

IMG_2026

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

IMG_2019IMG_2017

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.

IMG_2013

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.

EDD9B28A-255A-4D8C-810C-0AE2A3636C40

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,

73c1d-signature


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):

Thumbnail

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…

73c1d-signature


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):

Thumbnail

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,

73c1d-signature


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.

IMG_0824

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.

IMG_0734

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.

IMG_0721IMG_0715

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.

IMG_0735

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.
IMG_0731IMG_0726

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!

IMG_0635

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

IMG_1140

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.

IMG_0766
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.

IMG_1139

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.

IMG_1142

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.

IMG_1136

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.

IMG_0947

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.

IMG_0953 IMG_0955 IMG_0956

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

IMG_0957 IMG_0949 IMG_0832

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

IMG_1132

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

IMG_0836IMG_0825IMG_0946

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.

IMG_1129IMG_1128

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.

IMG_0830

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.

IMG_0828

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.

IMG_1125

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.

IMG_1124

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

IMG_3600

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.

IMG_1276

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…

5F34C672-75F2-4ABE-B516-9B90323F4871

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.

IMG_1318

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.

IMG_1277

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.

IMG_1280IMG_1279

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.

IMG_1289

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.

IMG_1319

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…

IMG_1317

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 🙂

IMG_1334

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.

IMG_1396

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.

Screen-Shot-2017-09-07-at-8.42.13-PM

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…

IMG_1509

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.

IMG_1371IMG_1522

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:

IMG_3735

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.

IMG_1456IMG_1457

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.

IMG_1488IMG_1486
Fortunately we got a replacement ATV and finished circling the perimeter of Paros before the days’ end, stopping at a handful of gorgeous beaches.

IMG_1455 IMG_1408

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

IMG_1389

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.

Screen-Shot-2017-09-07-at-8.43.13-PM Screen-Shot-2017-09-07-at-8.43.35-PM

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.

IMG_1373

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.

IMG_3428

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

IMG_1504

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…

73c1d-signature


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.

Screen-Shot-2017-08-28-at-9.51.54-PM

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):

MALTA

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. 

IMG_0537

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. 

IMG_0538

Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

IMG_0541

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

IMG_0539

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. 

IMG_0618

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. 

IMG_0744

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

Doors

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.

IMG_0617

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

IMG_0742IMG_0614Screen-Shot-2017-08-28-at-9.52.40-PM

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.

IMG_0612IMG_0633

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

IMG_0571

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. 

IMG_0629

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,

73c1d-signature


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.

IMG_0196

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.

IMG_0197

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.

IMG_0395

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.

IMG_0392

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.

IMG_0153
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.

IMG_0150

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.

IMG_0152

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

IMG_0149IMG_0148

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.

IMG_0156

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.

IMG_0183

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.

IMG_0177

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!

Tile

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.

IMG_0195

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.

IMG_0178

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.

IMG_0269

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.

IMG_0223IMG_0249

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.

IMG_0247

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.

IMG_0246

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.

IMG_0245

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.

IMG_0263

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.

IMG_0264

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

IMG_0346IMG_0305

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

IMG_3331
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.

IMG_0300

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.

IMG_0299

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.

IMG_0348

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.

IMG_0378

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

IMG_0374 IMG_0375

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.

IMG_0377

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.

IMG_0397

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.

IMG_0384

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.

2

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.

IMG_0418

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.

IMG_0414

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.

IMG_0416

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.

IMG_0500

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.

IMG_0429

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.

IMG_0499

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.

IMG_0480

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.

IMG_0484

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.

IMG_0481

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.

IMG_0498

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.

IMG_0497

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…

73c1d-signature


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:

IMG_9834

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.

IMG_9858

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.

IMG_9835

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.

IMG_9836

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:

IMG_9840

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).

IMG_9859

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

IMG_9865

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

IMG_9860

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

IMG_9863

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.

IMG_3097IMG_3098

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.

Baths2

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.

IMG_9883

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.

IMG_3123

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.

IMG_3126

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

IMG_3135

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.

IMG_9913

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…

IMG_9946

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.

IMG_0268
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.

IMG_9942

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.

IMG_9944

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

IMG_9940

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.

IMG_9943

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.

IMG_9988

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

IMG_0024

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.

IMG_9987

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):

IMG_0094

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

IMG_0039

The Pantheon, impressive inside and out:

IMG_0038

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

IMG_0025

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

IMG_0028

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!

IMG_0080

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

IMG_0081

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.

IMG_0083 IMG_0082

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

IMG_0084

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.

IMG_0089

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…

IMG_9989

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.

IMG_9908

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,

73c1d-signature


Italy Part 2: Venice to Florence

Day 121-122: Venice

Five days after we’d picked up the keys to our Fiat in Milan, the first and memorable leg of our Italian road trip had come to an end in Venice.

IMG_2924

We were warned about the comedown effect of leaving such a breathtaking and peaceful part of the world, only to jump in to the touristic chaos of one of Italy’s top destinations, and we were prepared.

IMG_9508

It actually wasn’t so bad. Parts of Venice were overcrowded with all walks of life—which made the people watching quite interesting—but there were plenty of hidden gems.

IMG_2983

For two days we explored the floating city on foot, opting out of the expensive €80 30-minute gondola ride through the canals.

IMG_2955

Instead we hopped from bridge to bridge, scouting out the quietest and most picturesque spots to take in the beauty of this historic city. Even in peak season, there certainly was no shortage of secluded corners.

IMG_2964

On our last morning we woke up at 5:30 to catch the sunrise and wander the empty streets.

IMG_2907

It’s amazing how different a place can feel when the environment changes. Without the distraction and noises of crowds or the discomfort of the hot sun, a city can truly be appreciated for what it is.

IMG_2911 IMG_2882

This was the first time we’ve watched the sunrise on this trip, and that soft pink early morning glow is truly the best time to experience most cities. Absolutely worth the loss of sleep.

IMG_2961

Day 123: Venice > Parma

Two days was just enough to get our fill, then it was time for the next rental car! Meet Fritz the Fiat:

IMG_9514

The second leg of our road trip would include Cinque Terre on Italy’s Mediterranean coast, followed by a few days in the Tuscan countryside before ending in Florence.

As always, we made no concrete plans in advance—booking our accommodations for the night as we went, sometimes minutes in advance.

The first day after leaving Venice was not exactly what we’d hoped for— it was flat and isolated. We stopped in a few towns only to find them completely empty, like some strange apocalyptic movie we weren’t in on.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 9.59.30 AM

Many of you suggested that August was Italy’s vacation month and that everyone was at the beach. We figured they were on an indefinite siesta or hibernating indoors away from the heat. Either way, we went without meals a few times this past week (even the grocery stores shut down!)

Day 124: Levanto

After discovering that there was nothing to see between Venice and the coast (no offense Italy, we still love you!) we arrived in the coastal town of Levanto, just north of Cinque Terre.

IMG_9533

There we spent the afternoon swimming in the ocean (our first dip in the Mediterranean, surprisingly!) and filling up on pizza and wine before heading down to La Spezia for the next full day ahead.

Day 125: Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is Italian for “Five Lands”, describing the five small fishing villages that comprise this famous coastline. With only one day allocated, we decided to squeeze them all in, which was made easy by a railway that connects each one.

Our first stop working from south to north was Riomaggiore:

IMG_9539

You have seen this familiar image once or twice, and for good reason as it’s quite a unique view. It was also quite packed, and very hot, so we stayed long enough for a sangria and caprese salad before catching the train to our next stop. These villages are smaller than they look, so you can easily walk every street in under an hour.

Five minutes on the train, and we were in the next town of Manarola.

IMG_9547

This village had a more dramatic profile, built up from the face of steep rock, and a larger lagoon for cliff jumpers and sunbathers alike. Our clothes had been sweat through at this point, so we jumped into the crystal teal waters to cool off. This was our favorite stop.

IMG_9548

Not wanting to miss the others, we found ourselves on the train once again bound for Corniglia. Several minutes later after delays (the trains tend to be quite unreliable here) we were dropped off quite a distance from our next destination, with a long and steep journey head of us.

We lugged our bags with heavy camera gear up each step, the sun showing no mercy as any last bit of sunscreen melted off. Half a mile uphill later, we entered the town which had significantly less tourists (not surprised due to the hike).

IMG_9555

Corniglia doesn’t quite have the postcard picture look as it sits on top of the cliff rather than extending down to the sea, but the narrow streets are quite charming and it’s worth checking out for a quieter experience.

With the clock ticking, we decided to skip the next (fourth) stop and head straight to the fifth and final stop, with plans to return to the fourth town on the way back instead.

IMG_9563

The northernmost village of Cinque Terre, Monterosso, is easily the largest of them all with streets big enough for cars. It’s mostly a beach town, spread out along the coast with countless rows of chairs and umbrellas.

IMG_9562

It lacked the unique and compact characteristics of the other four, and the sun was close to setting so we got right back on the train, heading south this time to our final destination.

Vernazza lies just a few minutes south of Monterosso by train, and is another place that may look familiar.

IMG_9574

It’s quite possibly the most photogenic of the five lands, and we were fortunate enough to be able to experience it at sunset.

IMG_3005

Finally, the temperature had cooled enough to sit outside and we were able to enjoy an
Italian meal by the sea, next to a live poetry reading of Dante (in Italian, so we understood none of it).

IMG_3002

Day 126: La Spezia > Tellaro > Pisa

A successful day of sightseeing in the books, we went straight to another coastal town the following day, based on a recommendation from a friend.

IMG_9583

Tellaro is about 20 miles south of Cinque Terre, and could easily be considered the sixth village if it were near them.

Much less crowded than its’ famous counterparts, this beauty is equally as charming with views that even surpass them.

IMG_9576

We couldn’t stay long though, with just two nights left with our dear Fritz the Fiat.

Ocean views gave way to hills and soon mountains, and we stopped at a hill top castle along the way that caught our eye. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be another empty town, so we ate our picnic lunch and headed for Pisa.

Pisa wasn’t pinned as one of our “must-see places”, but it was directly on the way so we made a quick stop for the obligatory leaning tower photos:

IMG_9738 IMG_9739

And then finally, we were in Tuscany.

Our first stop was a tiny no-name town, in a €45 B&B with the sweetest old Italian lady who spoke no English but sent us on our way with homemade cakes and biscotti.

The following day was spent driving through the countryside, admiring distant hilltop villas with long and winding cypress tree-lined driveways.

Day 127: Volterra > Monteriggioni > Panzano in Chianti

It’s the hottest, driest time of year and in the middle of a deadly heat wave, so much of the earth is golden yellow with a thick, dusty haze that turns the sky white. Not exactly the lush, green rolling hills I was expecting from Tuscany, though it did become greener as we drove.

IMG_9780

Our first stop of the day was a town called Volterra, which is one of a handful of popular tourist destinations in the area. It’s also the home to the Volturi, for any Twilight fans out there 🙂

IMG_9757IMG_9759

The villages here are quite different than in France. Most situated on top of a hill, it’s tough to tell them apart, especially after the days of hopping from one to the next blend together. You won’t find any pastels and baby blue shutters here—they’re all built from the same golden brown stone, or plaster painted shades of red and yellow. They certainly love their warm colors!

IMG_9758

One great feature Italy shares with its’ European counterparts—doorways full of charm! No shortage of these here:

IMG_9911

After Volterra we arrived in Monteriggioni, but after walking around in 43°C heat with no shade (that’s nearly 110° in Fahrenheit) we reluctantly threw in the towel and headed straight for our hotel in Panzano.

IMG_9760

Unfortunately we discovered our AirBnb had no AC, so the discomfort continued with tossing and turning in wet sweaty sheets whilst being attacked by mosquitos. At least the view was lovely.

IMG_9781

Day 128: Florence

After a restless night of little sleep, we B-lined it straight to Florence where we planned to spend just 24 hours.

IMG_9921

Florence, too, was caught in the grips of the heatwave. Without being able to wander outside for long, we chose our top must-see item: the statue of David.

IMG_9795

Quite magnificent in person, and the entire museum was a great way to spend a couple hours. Apart from that and walking by a few monuments, we hibernated in our room with the AC on full blast, drinking wine and watching Under the Tuscan sun. Florence, we’ll come back for you another time.

IMG_9792

Tuscany was one region of Italy we had set high expectations for, but it’s difficult to fully enjoy the moment when your eyeballs are burning and clothes are melting into your skin as soon as you step outside. I would warn not to visit in summer, though that’s not entirely fair as it is quite hotter than normal this week. We plan to return someday to fully experience what it has to offer—but it will be in the Spring or Fall!

IMG_9782

As of today, we have now officially left the Tuscany region as we inch our way towards Rome. In the next post I’ll have more from the next seven nights spent between the rest of Tuscany and Rome, including a”secret” spot that became one of our favorite nights in Italy. Stay tuned for that next week, and make sure to follow my instagram for updates as we continue our trip!

73c1d-signature


Italy Part 1: Lake Como > Dolomites

Day 116-117: Milan > Lake Como 

After having the time of our lives road tripping through France, we decided to do the same for Italy. We plan to break it up to segments between the major city stops of Venice, Florence, Rome and Sicily.

The first leg of our adventure began in Milan with our next rental car, Franzi the Fiat. Loaded up and ready to go, we headed north out of Milan towards Lake Como. 

IMG_9086

We had heard a lot about this lake and its reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous, and couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about. While starting up the west coast of the lake, we cruised by George Clooney’s villa and quickly found a spot for lunch in one of the small villages. With very few people in sight, we wandered the empty streets, getting lost in the small passageways between mansions.

IMG_9087

As we neared the north end of the lake, the traffic lightened up and the scenery became more dramatic and the villages more quaint.

IMG_2663

As we turned down the east coast of the lake, we found several more spots that we had to stop and take in. 

IMG_9146

After a full day of circling the lake, we ended at the southern tip in the town of Lecco for wine and dinner on the water. The day wrapped up with another hour drive into the remote mountains, where we found a $35/night Airbnb (with free wine and breakfast!) to catch a few hours of sleep before Day 2.

Day 118: Lago d’Iseo > Lake Garda > Trento

We had heard from several people that Lake Garda was a must do on our trip. Some even said it was much better than Lake Como. With this in mind we headed that direction while stopping at a few smaller lakes on the way. 

IMG_9157

Lake Garda is the largest Lake in Italy, and is situated in the north bordering the Alps. It’s scattered with towns and castles, but lesser known than Lake Como. 

IMG_9151

After battling traffic and unsuccessfully trying to stop at the lake’s main attraction, Scaliger Castle, we moved onto a quieter area for a picnic lunch.

IMG_9149

Happy and full, we continued up the coast of the lake looking for the gorgeous views that everyone raved about. It didn’t take long for us to find out as we turned a corner and saw the sheer cliffs of mountains lining the lake that had been hidden from our view previously. We instantly fell in love, and spent the next couple hours driving/stopping to the northern end with the views improving around each bend. 

IMG_9152

With daylight fading, we reluctantly continued east to our next stop. The hesitation quickly turned to amazement as we crossed a bridge to find a ruined castle atop a pointed cliff overlooking the small town of Arco. 

Screen-Shot-2017-07-29-at-1.28.30-PM

We’ve seen a lot of castles so far, and this one is near the top of the list. 

IMG_9504

After a quick stop in Arco for a closer look at the castle, we headed north towards our final stop: Lake Toblino. 

Screen-Shot-2017-07-29-at-1.31.57-PM

Toblino is a small lake that even locals don’t know about, with a picturesque castle that appears to float above the glass like water.

IMG_2692

With the setting sun and rocky mountains as the background, it was the perfect ending to our day (minus the mosquito bites). 

Day 119: Trento > Merano > St. Magdalena

With two days of lake hopping behind us, it was time to move onto the Alps in search of castles and villages. We left our cheap hotel that morning (it was a last minute booking because our Airbnb fell through) and hit the road in search of adventure.

On our way to the first castle, we spotted one in ruins at the top of the hill and pulled over to investigate.

IMG_9332

A steep hike later and we reached the top, admiring the views of the vineyard covered valley below.

IMG_9330

Then it was onto the next stop—Brunnenberg Castle.

Two things we realized quickly in the past few days: 1) northern Italy is much more populated and less road trip-friendly than most of southern France, and 2) the Alps of northern Italy is basically Austria. We began to see signs in German and chalet style buildings as we climbed in altitude, and had to double check our GPS to make sure we were still in Italy.

IMG_9386

Turns out we were, but the scenery could have been taken from a Switzerland postcard and the primary language is German.

IMG_9333

We parked in the Alpine village of Merano and walked downhill for our first sighting of the castle.

IMG_9337

I’ve found my dream home. The best castle in all the land.

IMG_9338IMG_9339

We stayed a bit longer in the town, enjoying an Austrian lunch in the beer garden before going on our merry way.

There was only one more stop planned for the day, which took longer than expected due to multiple traffic jams, confusing roundabouts and wrong turns. This Italian wilderness isn’t as remote as we thought!

Little Franzie the Fiat used all her strength to pull us up the steep and windy switchbacks (most of the roads are only big enough for one car—driving here is not for the faint of heart) but it paid off, with views like this:

IMG_9344

We passed countless ski lifts and climbed until we entered the clouds, inching toward the Dolomite mountains. The views had been getting better each day since we’d started, and by now I was rendered speechless. Inaudible sounds were all I could muster as the ever changing scenery appeared through the windshield.

IMG_9281

This is the most extreme case of “photos do not do it justice.” Trust me.

We had one spot in particular chosen to see before sunset—the tiny village of St. Magdalena.

IMG_2782

We arrived just in time for the sun to shed its final rays onto the peaks of the Dolomites. There we stood in awe, witnessing a scene that didn’t feel real.

IMG_2745

This is what we came for. This makes the hundreds of miles of traffic and tiny roads and steep inclines worth it.

IMG_2768

There weren’t any AirBnb’s in the area and we didn’t feel like splurging for a hotel, so that night we found a river alongside the road, pulled over and slept in the car. Not the most comfortable sleeping situation, but you can’t beat the view…

IMG_9285

Day 120: Lago di Braies > Cortina d’Ampezzo > Lago di Santa Croce

Groggy and stiff, we woke up with the sunlight streaming into the car and stretched our bones from the restless night in the car.

A quick coffee stop later and we were refreshed and on our way to Lago di Braies, or as I explained to Lucas, “the most instagrammed location on earth.”

IMG_9283

We made it there at 9am, when there were just a handful of other folks, and the Tiffany blue water was as smooth as glass.

IMG_9287

Within minutes, wooden boats began to release in the water as folks lined up to paddle around the lake. Our perfectly reflective water was now blanked with ripples, but that didn’t stop us from snapping a couple shots from the famous dock (taken with an iphone, thank you very much).

IMG_9347IMG_9284

By the time we left over an hour later, hundreds of tourists were funneling through the entrance. This was definitely the most popular attraction on our route!

IMG_9348

If we had to do it over again, we’d arrive as early as possible to enjoy the beauty of the setting in solitude.

IMG_2813

While Lago di Braies was worth the drive, there are plenty of other gems in the Dolomites equally as breathtaking. This lake with a view came out of nowhere as we continued on our way, and we had it nearly to ourselves.

IMG_2831IMG_9384

And then there’s the most picturesque towns you can imagine, like Cortina d’Ampezzo, where we spent a few hours exploring:

IMG_9519IMG_9392

And this lake we came across in San Vito di Cadore…

IMG_9499

Complete with the sweetest family of swans:

IMG_9498

And then this village by the name of Valle di Cadore…

IMG_9495

I slammed on the brakes and pulled into a no parking zone when I saw this one. Still an iphone photo, and it looked even more magnificent in person.

IMG_9494

Our last stop for the night was at a bed & breakfast an hour north of Venice, in Lago di Santa Croce. Another empty town we had all to ourselves:

IMG_9521

The four days and nights spent winding our way around the northeast of Italy were quite different than the relaxed, back country road trip through France. There were lots of highways, traffic, and steep, narrow roads which took away some of the freedom and spur of the moment detours—but the scenery? Some of the most breathtaking sights we’ve ever witnessed. We will never forget these moments of awe.

IMG_9520

As we head further south into the heart of Italy, we expect to take more of a laid back, less planned path through the Tuscany region down to Rome. And now after a couple days in Venice, we are ready to return to our tiny villages off the tourist path—and of course, looking forward to sharing what we come across! Watch the latest 24 hours on my instagram stories & snapchat @jennasuedesign, and check back here next week for our recap of Venice to Florence!

73c1d-signature


Road Tripping through France: the Video

After days of filming and hours of editing, I think we’ve made our favorite video yet (I know I’ve said that before, but this one was definitely the most fun!) Click below to watch our journey through France:

France Road Trip Video

If you missed the blog recaps, make sure to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2. France was much more than the countryside and castles we’d expected, and we hope that our recap can help anyone planning their own visit—or just give you a new insight into the lesser known parts of this amazing country.

We’re nearly a week into our month long road trip in Italy now, so there’s a lot more of what you just saw on the way (including some of the most incredible scenery we’ve ever seen). Stay tuned for the first blog post from Italy with tons of photos on the way! And as always, you can get daily video & photo updates on my instagram & snapchat @jennasuedesign 🙂

73c1d-signature