Charming Cinque

I’ve got a thing for villages.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cities, too – I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go to New York or Paris. But there’s just something about tiny streets, quaint cafés and locals who all seem to know one another. The quiet and solitude. The realness of it all. I love villages!

The first time I saw Cinque Terre was in a photograph at a local art fair. It was Vernazza, I think, at dusk. Its colorful buildings and harbor with little canoes was lit up against a midnight sky and I turned to my Partner in Crime and said, “We have got to go there.”

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The view from our rooftop terrace in Corniglia.

At the time I saw the photo I didn’t think I’d have my feet in Cinque within a year but it just so happened that it worked out that way. We knew we were flying into Rome, and had to make the trip up to Lyon, France and Cinque turned out to be an easy stop between the two. We were there for about four days, which was just enough time to see each of the five villages. Each one was just as beautiful as I imagined it; I don’t think that I could ever, ever get sick of staring at the Mediterranean. I’ve never seen a more beautiful blue – it was just impossible for us to capture on camera. Sitting on the rooftop terrace of our AirBnB, with a glass of wine, staring out over the sea and watching the sun set beyond the horizon while the cathedral bells of Corniglia chimed from across town…it’s a memory I will always cherish.

Rome: Bite by Bite

There are few things I love to do more while traveling than eat really good food. Looking up restaurant recommendations (and asking for them from locals!) is one of my favorite ways to prepare for a trip. And what better place to stuff myself to the gills on amazing food than Italy?

One thing to know about Rome: it’s incredibly full of tourists. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can make finding real, authentic restaurants – ones at which an actual Italian would eat  – kind of difficult. And I don’t take eating crummy food very lightly!

So when my traveling Partner in Crime found out about Eating Italy Food Tours – well, let’s just say we signed up, no questions asked. We chose the Twilight Trastevere tour, which is an evening walking tour through one of the coolest neighborhoods in Rome, that’s still relatively off the beaten track for most tourists and where you’ll find a lot of Rome’s young people hanging out well into the night (and you may even catch a glimpse of Owen Wilson, who lives in the neighborhood!).

The tour (which had a maximum of 12 people) stopped at SEVEN different places at which we sampled a variety of traditional Italian cuisine. Let me tell you – I thought we’d be having tiny samples of everything but by the sixth stop on our tour (a full dinner) I was stuffed. And there was still one more stop afterward for gelato! Did I mention that this tour also includes a full glass of wine at several stops (including as many bottles as we could drink at dinner)?

Oh yeah. Now that’s my kind of tour.

So, what’d we eat?

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On the terrace at da Enzo.

1. Da Enzo al 29 – Our first stop was at the family-owned restaurant (a hole in the wall, really) da Enzo al 29. There, we got to know our guide, Sebastiana, a bit better and were able to chat with the other members of the group while we dined on prosciutto, melon and cheese and toasted the beginning of our tour with a nice glass of prosecco. This particular trattoria has award-winning food but is almost impossible to get into for dinner without a reservation – try it at lunchtime, instead!

2. Next we stopped by the wine cellar of Spirito di Vino, a restaurant that prides itself on being part of Italy’s “slow food” movement, which started as a reaction against Rome’s first McDonald’s and the concept of fast food. The wine cellar also happens to be 150 years older than the Colosseum and is also where the statue of Apoxyomenos was found (now he lives in the Vatican museum). At Spirito di Vino we sampled two varieties of red wine and four small samples of food that included an amazing baked spaghetti and roasted pork over apples, while taking in the eery (but awesome!) atmosphere of their wine cellar.

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In the wine cellar of Spirto di Vino

3. Feeling a little heady from three glasses of wine, we wandered slowly to Biscottificio Innocentea famous family-owned cookie factory where the owner Stefania loaded us up with sweet treats. The buttery lemon-filled cookies were my personal favorite, with the Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good) hazelnut meringues as a close second.

4. I Suppli – a tiny, hole-in-the-wall snack shop where we were able to munch on a Roman classic called suppli, a deep-fried ball of bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese. We washed it down with a square of pizza rosa, a cheeseless and slightly spicy red pie that I still fantasize about sometimes.

5. Antica Caciara – Porchetta. Pork that’s been heavily salted, seasoned, and slow-roasted for hours over a woodfire spit. Need I say anything more? I think not.

6. Dinner at a local Osteria – Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the osteria at which we ate dinner (I know, dinner, after all of that)! Of course I couldn’t refuse a few servings of cacio e pepi, gnocchi or the breaded ravioli. To say nothing of the wine!

7. Fatamorgana – Shockingly, we had all managed to save room (however little) for dessert: gelato! Fatamorgana is a local gelateria that serves up the real stuff which, unfortunately, is less and less common as quick-and-easy gelato mix has become relatively popular. Want to know if the gelateria you’re visiting is authentic? Check out their version of pistachio – if it’s the real deal, the pistachio gelato will be brown-ish in color (as is the real nut). If it’s bright green, it’s probably not real!

The tour lasted about 4 hours and was the absolute highlight of our time in Rome – I absolutely cannot recommend it enough for anyone planning on visiting the area.

Buono apetito!

 

 

2015 in Travel: A Retrospective

Now that we’re a full two days into the New Year, what better time to take one last look back at the travels of 2015? Since this is also a brand-new blog, this particular post is also a look forward to content that is soon to come. These memories are still fresh in my mind and I’m looking forward to sharing all of them very soon!

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2015 was an interesting year for me travel-wise because not only did I get to take time for myself, but I was also got to do my first bit of work-related travel.

That’s right. I took high school students to Europe. Without their parents. For 10 days. I know. I’ll write more about this experience later, but in short – it was wonderful. Everyone had a great time, including me! So much so that I’m already planning another student trip for 2017.

So, where did Megan take her carry on in 2015?

I hit two major European destinations this summer – France and Italy (super original, I know) but I got to see them both through an entirely different lens. France, because I went to some new-to-me cities and also got to see a few old favorites through the eyes of my students. Italy, because I got to experience it as a traveler with a little bit of money in my pocket instead of a flat-broke college student (more on that in a later post).

Destinations in France

1. Nice

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The looks on my students’ faces as they saw the absolutely gorgeous landscape of Nice, with its palm trees, mountains, and the shocking blue water of the Mediterranean was priceless. Out of all the places we visited in France, Nice was overwhelmingly the kids’ favorite.

 

2. Avignon

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Seat of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, Avignon is a quintessentially French town with old stone homes, narrow, winding streets and oh yeah – a gigantic old palace that held six papal conclaves during the 14th century.

3. Cassis

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Cassis is a stunning small town on the Mediterranean coast, a sort of halfway point between Nice and Marseille. We took a small boat into the Mediterranean for views of the impressive calanques and the crystal-clear water below. This was easily my favorite new “discovery” in France!

4. Paris

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Of course, no trip to France is complete without a stop in the city of lights. I’ve been to Paris many times, but this stop was purely for the students – no personal travel to Paris this year, unfortunately, but the kids had a blast exploring this amazing city.

5. Lyon

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My personal travel in France kicked off with a short weekend in Lyon. I’d never been to France’s second-largest city but my Partner in Crime and I had an awesome time exploring the traboules (hidden passageways) and sampling the bouchon lyonnais with our lovely friends Célia and Laure. Bonus – Laure lives in the heart of Croix-Rousse, one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in Lyon and allowed us to spend the weekend in her awesome apartment. Merci, Laure!

6. Strasbourg

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The city where French and German culture collide – the mix of cultures is everywhere, from the wooden-beam houses, enormous gothic cathedral and the French twist on spaetzle, flammkuchen, and choucroute (sausage over a sauerkraut-like mixture).

7. Besançon

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

We got a personal tour of Besançon from Célia, who went to university in the city. Besançon isn’t a place that gets a lot of foreign tourism, so we were able to enjoy it without feeling like we were being pandered to as tourists and as a French speaker, I could more easily blend in and just enjoy myself without being marked as an outsider – definitely my preference when I’m in France.

Destinations in Italy

1. Rome

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I had been to Rome before, in 2011, and had an unfortunately negative experience in the city. I wasn’t super keen on returning but the Partner in Crime and I knew we wanted to hit Europe again in 2015 and flying into Rome was the cheapest option. Thankfully my experience this time was much improved and we had a blast!

2. All five villages in the Cinque Terre

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Could I be anymore of a traveling poseur? No, probably not. Is Cinque Terre one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been to in my life? Absolutely. Do not try to shame me, travel blog readers of the world, for I have zero regrets in visiting this Instagram addict’s paradise.

Domestic Travel

Of course, as much as I enjoy traveling abroad, I also really love exploring the places around me. Much time was spent gallivanting about Detroit, but a trip to visit my brother in Grand Rapids, on the western side of the state, was also in order. And what’s a trip to Grand Rapids without a stop at craft beer Mecca – Founder’s Brewing Company?

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So there you have it – a glimpse back at 2015! More stories and in-depth posts on these locations will follow, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about my plans for 2016!

 

Welcome to Caffeine & a Carry On!

Hey! Welcome to the first post of Caffeine & a Carry On. You can learn the basics about me in this post. The goal of this blog is simply to document my ongoing travel experiences, both international and local. Okay, I know what you’re thinking…

Oh god, another travel blog?

Not really. My travel experiences, while adventurous for a plain jane Midwestern girl such as myself, are neither particularly cutting-edge nor nearly as prolific as many true travel bloggers – but they are my experiences and I’d like to keep a written record of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen along the way.

So why are you blogging?

In all honesty, I have ALWAYS been terrible about keeping a paper journal and find online journaling to be the most accessible to my personal taste and style – I’ve been writing online in some form or another for nearly 15 years. It’s what feels the most comfortable for me!

What are you going to blog about?

I’ve been oddly fortunate enough to have a bizarre variety of life experiences that I think some may find interesting (or…not). I left home at 17 to nanny full-time in New York City where I also fell into a job at a restaurant, traveled to China to perform with my university choir at the World Expo in Shanghai – yes, the same event for which the Eiffel Tower was built and was the basis of the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. I studied abroad in France where I learned a lot about the language, culture, and myself in the process. I’ve bobbled around Europe a little bit, but I hope to see much more in the near future. I also really enjoy exploring the communities around me as a sort of local tourist, so I plan to document all of these experiences here in the hopes that someone may find them interesting or useful!