Friday, March 28, 2014

26 week update

26 weeks pregnant
I've been terrible at documenting my pregnancy, so I decided it's time for an official update.
I'm 26 weeks along and things are starting to feel very real!
I've got a bit of a waddle to my step, my lower back officially hurts, the heartburn is awful, and baby girls kicks me pretty much all day long. Oh--and I pee about 1200 times a day. Too much info?
Baby girl is growing big and she seems to be getting stronger and stronger
(based on the power of her kicks!)
She gets real excited when daddy sings to her and definitely enjoys herself some chocolate chip cookies, just like her momma! Rob is already obsessed with her (he's in trouble) She'll definitely have her daddy wrapped around her little finger.
I'm sure all you moms out there can relate, but it's truly amazing how much I love her already. This pregnancy thing is definitely a physical phenomenon, but it's also one of the most spiritual experiences I've ever had in my life. I feel like we understand each other, and I actually begin to miss her when I don't feel her moving and kicking about. As cheesy as it may sound, I feel like she's made me a better person. I pray daily that I will be the kind of mother that she deserves. It scares me to death that I won't be deserving of such a blessing.
I can't wait to meet the little princess.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

travel guide: venice, italy

Travel to Venice Italy
Venice was that dream you never want to wake from.
Every corner you turn, you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It's like no place else I've ever been.
It's (quite literally) a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two.
What to do in Venice Italytravel to venice italy
Venice has and always will be a very popular stop for tourists in Italy. You really can see a lot of it in just one day and it's not uncommon to take day trips to visit Venice, but I'd recommend staying for at least two.
We arrived in the evening by train, had a late dinner, spent the whole next day looking around and exploring, spent another night and then left the following afternoon. It was plenty of time to soak up beautiful Venice!
Okay, so now--on to the important stuff.
What to do in Venice, Italy
Rialto Bridge Travel Venice Italy
The oldest bridge on the Grand Canal and is one of the famous picture taking spots in Venice.
There are little tourist shops all across the bridge. I don't care much for the tourist shops, but it's a fun place to take some pictures and get a great view of the canal. You will also see (and probably go under) this bridge if you take a Grand Canal Tour.
Rialto Bridge Venice Italy
 Oh, and as you can see--it didn't take long for me to switch from my "cute" shoes into my Nikes. Be prepared to walk A LOT in Venice!
Sidenote* I briefly mentioned this earlier but want to elaborate a bit more--YOU WILL GET LOST in Venice. It is inevitable that you will get turned around at least once (but most likely fifteen+ times) There is very little--if any--method to the madness of their streets and alleyways.
The best tip I can give you is to try and keep a sense of what direction you need to move. Eventually you'll get somewhere, because it's really not that big. And in the tourist heavy areas they will often have signs with arrows pointing to "Rialto Bridge" or other big landmarks.
Also note, my husband has an international phone/data plan--so we did have Google maps the whole time we were there and still got lost many times. So even if you're thinking "oh, we'll have data--we'll be fine"...think again & just be ready to get yourself all sorts of lost.
However, there is a plus side of getting lost and that is that you may possibly come across hidden book stores in small alley ways....
How magical is that picture?! Venice is full of gems like this.
...and this darling man who was playing/singing Simon and Garfunkel in Italian. 
He won my heart pretty quick.

Small church we stopped at on our way back to hotel.
The archway was stunning.
I should also mention that there are so many galleries, museums and church/cathedrals you could wander through all day long throughout Venice. There are certain passes you can buy to get into a lot of them that have an entrance fee. We were on a tighter schedule, so we didn't purchase one of the passes, but if you time I imagine it would be amazing!

Next on the list is one that we actually didn't have recommended to us, but decided to do it last minute because the reviews on TripAdvisor were so impressive.
Not cheap, I think it was roughly $20-$30/per person, but you can probably get better deals if you buy ahead of time online (again, we decided last minute and just bought our tickets there)
Even at that price though, it was well worth it! We didn't regret our decision, and if you have the time take the audio tour as well. There is so much to see and so much history to be heard!

 Outside in the courtyard area of the Palazzo Ducale...
We weren't really allowed to take pics inside, so we only got a couple but these will give you an idea of how grand it is!
Gorgeous, right? 

 3. Gondola Ride or Water Taxi
 I have a confession to make...we didn't take a gondola ride. Before you judge, let me explain why! For starters, we tried to talk a few of the Gondola drivers down a bit and none of them would budge (we've heard of people successfully doing this--especially during the off-season when we went--but we had no luck--so if you try and succeed, let me know your tricks!)
 One of the main reasons we decided not to was because even though we had a few blue skies throughout our stay, it was quite cold and really windy. I felt like we'd basically be paying $100 to sit and freeze on the water for 45 minutes.
However, I still think it's something that needs to stay on the list! I don't regret our decision, but if the weather is good and you don't mind paying, I'm sure it is as magical as it looks!
 We did take a water taxi, and it is quite beautiful viewing the buildings and streets of Venice from the water!
4. Ponte dell' Accademia
This is one of the four bridges over the Grand Canal. The view from this bridge is amazing (see above & below)

I love this guy.

A couple of random pictures from our exploring--probably one of my favorite parts of Venice! Just the random little cafes and beautiful old buildings that we'd stumble across.
...and that handsome man of mine. I mean, right?! That face!
Probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Venice, and it is a must. The architecture alone is enough to go and just stare at, but even better--you can go inside! Oh, and did I mention--it's FREE. We love when we get to do cool stuff for free. There was a small line, but it only took us about 5 minutes to get don't let the line scare you away.

6. And then of course, St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
It really is a breathtaking scene. Take time to stop and admire the architecture and enjoy some people watching. No matter what time of the year, this place will be bustling with tourists--so if you don't like large crowds you may need to hurry through this one, but it's definitely worth a stop.
Also, the sun was shining exceptionally bright while also reflecting off the water. I had glasses but poor Rob didn't...and this was the best pic we were able to get! (So, sorry Rob!)

Not going to lie, the sun was out but it was freezing this particular morning! I am glad we were prepared and came bundled up. Though by later in the afternoon, it did warm up quite a bit. For those of you considering going in the off-season (we went in February) I definitely recommend it, because the crowds are so much smaller but you do need to make sure to check the weather reports and dress accordingly. Nothing is worse then going out for the day in a new place, ready to see a million things, and then having it ruined by being too cold!
7. Just right down the way from St. Marks is the Bridge of Sighs and if you do the tour of  Doge's Palace like I mentioned above, you will get to walk inside of it, and it's pretty amazing.
Why is it called the Bridge of Sighs?
The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts would see before taken into the prison (which you'll see on the tour is not a light and happy place) Prisoners would sigh at their last and final view of beautiful Venice.
My husband captured this shot while we were inside the Bridge of Sighs. This would have been the view that the prisoners would see as they saw their last glimpse of Venice!
 8. I'd also like to give a shout-out to my FAVORITE food stop in Venice...
When you visit, please make sure to stop in for me--and honestly you can't really go wrong with any pasta/sauce combo that you choose but I do highly recommend the Creamy Broccoli Alfredo Sauce with the Fettuccini noodles.
I may or may not have gone back two days in a row :)
Overall, Venice was one of my favorite stops in Italy!
It is such a magical, romantic place with so much to do and see.
And as always, please add to my list in the comments below! I love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and experiences!
 See more of our time in Italy here!

Monday, March 17, 2014

a baby girl nursery.

baby girl nursery
Happy Monday y'all!
This weekend I needed to de-stress a bit while battling a cold...
and I decided to spend some time planning out a baby girl nursery!
Baby girl Campbell is going to be here in about 15 weeks (Eeeeek! I can't wait!) and
 I'm starting to feel like it's time to get serious about planning!
 baby girl nursery  
(here are the links to the items above)
lamp (see below)
I love texture, industrial accents, pops of color, down-filled pillows and clean walls.
And I have this dreamy pink glass lamp that I have had since college that was literally saved off the side of the road in the rain--by an interior design friend of mine with a magical eye, and then given to me after she realized she didn't have room for the little dream. It is one of my prized possessions! It looks similar to the one picture above but a bit more traditional character. I am so excited to now have a perfect home for it. Hopefully baby girl will love it as much as I do!
Oh, and I'm also crushing big-time on the west elm ryder rocking chair but sadly it's no longer available. And this restoration hardware beauty is a bit more shabby-chic/traditional (and more $$$) but I still think it's just precious...especially for a baby girl!
Any one have any suggestions/tips for rocker/gliders or rocking chairs? I love the look of traditional rocking chairs, but worry that I may need something more comfortable (?)
I'd love to hear your opinions!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

train travel in italy...

Train Travel Italy

 Okay--time to talk train travel in Italy. It can be stressful, but it is the best and cheapest way to get around. We spent over two weeks in there in February and a little over a week of it in Florence because my husband had a work conference there. On the backend, we were able to break up our time across the cities/areas of
Venice, Sienna, La Spezia/Cinque Terre, Pisa, & Rome
Most of our travel was done by train, with the exception of one bus trip.
While planning the trip, I read so many articles and blogs on how to travel around Italy--and though they were all very helpful, I now have a few tips and suggestions of my own that I'd like to add.
My motto with travelling is that you need to just enjoy the journey because you're undoubtedly going to have to learn by mistake at times. And it's true, we may have missed a train (or two) but we learned our lesson and now I'm hear to share my experience with all of you Italian dreamers!
Here are 5 detailed tips, tricks & suggestions!
1. Get to know THIS WEBSITE:
It's going to be your main source for purchasing tickets and looking up train times. By the end, I was extremely familiar with this site. I wish I had become more familiar with it BEFORE leaving on the trip. My recommendation would be to get comfy with using it, because you'll be relying on it quite often--especially if you're going to be traveling around to multiple cities like we did.
(Our travel schedule: Flew from Houston, TX  Florence, from Florence took round trip bus ride to Sienna, then trained from Florence to Venice, then Venice back to Florence (We had to go spend another few days in Florence for my husbands work), then trained from Florence to Pisa (stopped there only for an afternoon), then from Pisa to  La Spezia/Cinque Terre and then from La Spezia trained down to Rome)
2. Memorize or at least become familiar with the main train station names. Here is your key:
Rome: Roma Termini
Pisa: Pisa Centrale
Florence: Firenze S.M. Novella
Cinque Terre/La Spezia: La Spezia Centrale
Verona: Verona Porta Nuova
Venice: Venezia S. Lucia
I promise, keeping this information handy will save you a lot of time.
And as always, ask your hotel concierge for help. That's what they are there for and we are firm believers in utilizing their knowledge and expertise!
3. Cost will vary a tiny bit depending on times, but will also depend on what type of train you are taking (there are normal and high speed train options) 
*Tip-- If you are travelling on Saturdays--Trenitalia is now doing a Special 2 for the price of 1 if you purchase ahead of time (at least 24 hours) My understanding is that this only works on Saturdays, and the special is only valid until June 14, 2014.
See deal information here.
4. Now--travelling via bus from Florence to Siena, the better option is the bus (there is a train option but bus is the easier/cheaper way to go--we verified this with many people including our concierge) It's only about an hour bus ride with plenty of room for your luggage overhead or underneath (that was a big concern of mine about the bus--so don't worry ladies, you shouldn't have any problems with the luggage)
And I'll be honest, I couldn't find any great info about the bus travel online, but the bus station in Florence is right around the corner from the train station and they have buses leaving almost every hour. Ask your concierge to give you the Florence to Siena Bus Schedule and then ask when the most direct bus will leave (I think it's every other hour they have one leave that goes directly to Siena--as opposed to stopping on and off all the way there) We made the mistake on our way there of hopping on the first one to leave without asking if it was direct. It probably only added like 15 minutes to the ride, but the way back was much nicer--with the more direct route. Sorry I don't have a better website to direct you to, but I promise if you follow these steps you won't have any problems getting out there.
5. IMPORTANT! A few quick travel tips that WE DID NOT KNOW about Italian train travel and...lets just say, we learned the hard way.
a) This applies to Regional Tickets ONLY but on all Italian regional and local trains you much validate the ticket before you board the train. There are small green machines that should be on every platform. You stick the ticket in and it will punch a small hole in the corner. The tickets are technically valid for two months and do not have specific dates. If the dude comes by to check tickets and you have not validated, there is a hefty penalty fee.
b) Luggage will not be an issue. We travelled pretty much every type of Italian train possible, and never once had a problem fitting our luggage. It was a big concern of mine, and I saw so many different opinions and reviews on what sizes to take/not take but the truth is--you will be fine. There are no weight limits or baggage fees. I mean, smaller roller-luggage is obviously going to be easier then the larger sizes--so I recommend just packing smart, but don't stress about trains having room for your luggage.
c) Another concern I had was understanding the signs, but in Italy I found that most the signs were in English and Italian. And again, being familiar with the station names will be VERY helpful. Also, using the self-service machines is also nothing to be concerned about. You can choose the "English" option and it's very self-explanatory from there.
All that being said, getting around on the trains was extremely efficient and for the most part, inexpensive. By the end, we were familiar enough with it that it didn't stress us out as much--but it can take some getting used to. Hopefully you find these tips helpful!
See my full Florence Italy Travel Guide here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

travel guide: florence, italy

Florence Italy Travel

We spent a total of 2 1/2 weeks in Italy and covered
I'm starting with a Florence Travel Guide because it was our first stop on our Italian adventure. We also spent the most amount of time in this charming city, and by the end of our stay I had grown quite fond of it!
Where we stayed: Located in the heart of the city, the Grand Hotel Baglioni was nice because almost everything was in walking distance. However, I was not impressed with this hotel. Believe it or not, we ended up changing rooms 3 different times. First time was because they put us in a room in the front that, though quite beautiful and charming with that old Italian feel, had construction going on literally right outside our window (they were doing something to the front of the building and had it covered in scaffolding) The construction crews would wake us up with banging, drilling, and hammering every morning around 7a.m. We nicely requested to be moved to a more quiet spot. They then put us at the very back of the hotel in a smaller but still very nice room. We spent one night there, and then woke up the next morning and our ceiling was literally spilling water and our bathroom floor was flooded. The hotel management was extremely unapologetic, but moved us to a new room (my husband had to insist they upgrade us for the inconvenience--both of us extremely irritated by this point) and then the staff never followed up with us after that. I was quite amazed by the lack of customer service and basic understanding of how frustrating the experience had been for us. I expected someone to ask if everything was okay or if the new room was alright, but no one ever did.
They are fairly well rated on Trip Advisor and on, but we would definitely not stay there again (moral of the story--just always stick with what you know [aka Starwood-for-life])
travel florence italy

Okay, now what to do in Florence?! Time for the "to-do list" portion of this Florence Travel Guide.
It's such a lively city--full of good food, diversity, shopping, and historic sites.
We began with a stop at Duomo- Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore. Located just down the street from our hotel, we found ourselves stopping here quite often. It is just so magnificent, you can't help but stop, stare, and snap a few more pictures. And you can't miss it--it's right in the heart of the city and I believe is the tallest structure around. Trust me, it won't disappoint! Make sure you buy a ticket inside and climb the tower--especially if it's a clear day! Check out their website here.

Close up picture of one of the many doorways into the Cathedral.
That detail is incredible, right?!

Street view of Il Duomo. Whimsical is the best word I can think of to describe that view. I love Florence.

The next stop we made was at the Uffizi Gallery. This is a must stop and is often very busy! We were there at probably one of the slowest tourist times of the year, and it was still one of the most popular galleries we visited. If you are going in the spring or summer I would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time (during any time of the year it would probably be the smart way-to-go). It's absolutely stunning. Make sure to give yourself a good amount of time here--It's BIG.
You can buy your tickets ahead of time here:

This guy is the best travel buddy a girl could ask for.
He's so adventurous and has so much energy. Poor guy had to be patient with me this trip. I wasn't at the same energy-level I usually am...
 (I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time and I was exhausted every day by noon)

 Just around the corner from Uffizi Gallery is Ponte Vecchio.
You've all seen pictures of this famous bridge, and it really is quite a beauty. We were there on a spotty-day. The clouds were pretty grey and we were getting just small glimpses of blue sky but it was still amazing and so picturesque.
(P.S. I have to confess--before ever making it to Italy, I spent quite a few weekends with my family at the Lake Las Vegas Resort where they totally copied this bridge. My first comment to my husband was, "Just like Lake Las Vegas!" He laughed at me and responded, "Pretty sure this one was first.")

Great picture spot! I am so glad I have a lifetime of travel ahead of me with this handsome man.

Not too far from Ponte Vecchio is Piazza della Signoria. This is one of the central squares. There is an old palace across from some Michelangelo copies and other famous sculptures. It's going to be near impossible to explore through Florence and NOT come across Piazza della Signoria. We passed through it on numerous occasions and I loved it every time.  


We just couldn't get enough pictures here! I was in love with the Fountain of Neptune. And though we never walked through here at night, I hear it's a fun evening destination.
Palazzo Vecchio is worth a visit and is right there in Piazza della Signoria.
How dreamy is this picture?!
In that same general area is Piazza della Repubblica.
It's also in the heart of ancient Florence. There is a lot of history in that square and it's now known for its quaint little carousel. It's fun for the kids and people watching. And bonus--there is some fun shopping nearby.
 Another stop we made in Florence was at the Galleria dell' Accademia. This was a bucket list item for me--home to several of Michelangelo's sculptures and most notably--the famous "David". Walking around the corner of that beautiful gallery and seeing David majestically calling out on the other end of the hall was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It is hands-down something you must experience while in Florence. Again, it's safest and cheapest to get your tickets ahead of time!
Buy tickets here:
I also compiled a list of some of our favorite eats from Florence.
SO many yummy choices!
To see that full list--Visit HERE!

As always, please add any of your own suggestions below in the comments! And if you have any questions, please let me know. In the next two weeks I'll be posting the rest of our stops on our Italian adventure--so stay tuned! Hope you enjoyed this Florence Travel Guide :)

what to eat: florence, italy

One thing there is not a shortage of in Florence is food--and it's definitely not cheap but it is delicious. You should know, we're not really big food spenders. We're always looking for more affordable options--however this first recommendation I'm going to give you is not cheap, but is some of the most delicious seafood I've ever had in my life.
Not easy on the wallet, but definitely makes the stomach happy-happy-happy.
Check out there Google Reviews here.
Now for much easier on the wallet but also SUPER tasty...
If you check out the TripAdvisor reviews, you'll see that this is a very popular stop and also very affordable. My husband and I both loved our dishes--I got a hamburger type thing and he got a Lampredotto sandwich and LOVED it. It's a traditional Florence sandwich. Give it a try!
And then for dessert...there is obviously gelato all over the city and can be found on every corner, but I'm quite picky--I'm the type that doesn't really want to waste the calories on desserts that I don't love (because I take my desserts VERY seriously)
Out of all the gelato/ice cream we tried, this place was my favorite. I highly recommend it!
Those were top three of my favorites. There are so many great restaurants in Florence, it's really hard to narrow it down. My suggestion is always to look up the reviews before going. That is what we do, and it's saved us from getting caught it some "tourist trap" restaurants. We like to enjoy the more authentic, delicious experience!

To see the full Florence Travel Guide click here!