When Jack and I began planning our recent trip to Europe, we expected to only visit Italy. We had our hearts set on seeing Lake Como and the Piedmont region, but we weren’t sure where else to go. We looked into visiting Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast, but quickly realized that we wanted a bit more city sightseeing to balance out the quieter lakes and Italian countryside. I looked at a map and realized that Vienna, Austria was just a quick plane ride from Milan; neither of us had visited Vienna before, and we had fantasized about spending time in this seemingly charming city after watching the movie Before Sunrise. This location was new to both of us, different from the other spots we were visiting, and fit seamlessly into the logistics of our trip. Vienna it was!
I had every intention of writing my Vienna post this month, but time is getting away from me and I don’t want to rush through all the details. We attended a wedding in Kansas City last weekend, and we’re headed to another wedding in Washington, D.C. this weekend, followed by some sight-seeing and a conference in Anaheim for me – so my food and travel writing has taken a back seat. However, I did want to write up a quick recap of our Italian vacation itinerary from two years ago, as our friends who just got married last weekend are planning to recreate much of this trip on their honeymoon, and it got me feeling sentimental.
2015 was an epic year for me as far as travel was concerned. For years I had been dreaming of using my education leave hours at work to finagle a trip abroad to study Spanish. I had a coworker who traveled to Chile to take Spanish language immersion classes, and our company paid for this time off as well as some of her travel expenses because Spanish is an applicable skill in our job. What an amazing opportunity! So, at the young age of 33, I planned a trip to Spain to study Spanish, and combined this with travels around Spain (solo, then with a friend) as well as Italy (with Jack).
Jack and I just returned from a two-week vacation in Europe. We visited Vienna as well as three spots in northern Italy. I hope to write up each of the cities/regions we visited in detail over the coming months, as well as some of the delicious meals we ate while traveling. Here is a general outline of our trip:
Days 1-2: Travel days
We Flew from SFO to VIE with a short layover in FRA (Frankfurt). We left San Francisco at 2pm on Saturday and arrived in Vienna by 1:10pm Sunday.
Days 2-6: Vienna, Austria
We stayed in Vienna for four nights (Sunday – Thursday). It rained for most of our stay in Vienna, but we were able to do most of the activities to which we had been looking forward. We saw one of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen, attended a 4+ hour-long opera, ate incredible Middle Eastern food, ate fish cooked in beeswax, drank local wine at heurigen (wine gardens outside of the city), and explored much of this beautiful imperial city on foot.
Jack and I had been wanting to visit Seattle together for some time, and we finally made it happen last month. Jack has gotten to know this city fairly well over the past couple of years, as he travels there for work frequently, and he wanted to show me around. I also have some really close friends who have settled in Seattle, and I was eager to catch up with them in person. So when my dear friend (and Seattle resident) Nicole notified me that U2 was planning a tour of The Joshua Tree album with a stop in Seattle, Jack and I quickly seized the opportunity to see this epic tour, as well as explore the Emerald City together over a long weekend in May.
We arrived in Seattle early Friday and left in the evening on Monday, giving us plenty of time to explore the city. We stayed at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel downtown, which was reasonably priced and centrally located, and allowed us to earn Starwood points (pro tip: pay to stay at Starwood properties to earn SPG points, then redeem the points at Marriott or Ritz Carlton for a 1:3 conversion). The view was pretty great too!
I love Las Vegas. On paper, I feel like I shouldn’t like it: a city erected in the middle of a desert that struggles to sustain it, full of cheesy entertainment, tacky themed restaurants and hotels, and smoky casinos. However, over in the past 10 years or so, Las Vegas has reinvented itself. Hotels now strive to provide a more inviting ambiance (with windows!), sophisticated entertainment and night life, and a range of dining experiences, some from well-known chefs and restauranteurs. Food is no longer seen solely as fuel to keep you going while you gamble; and for those of us who don’t care to gamble at all, it’s enough of a draw to keep us coming back to Sin City on a regular basis.
My ideal visit to Vegas is a 3 day/2 night weekend trip during the warm months of spring or fall. There are frequent direct flights from SFO to LAS, making it an easy trip logistically. I prefer to stay at a hotel with a great pool and decent restaurants on site or nearby (I like the SLS/W Las Vegas, Cosmopolitan, and Wynn/Encore). The evenings are centered around a good meal and maybe a show while I’m there (I highly recommend Absinthe or a concert at The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan – we saw the Strokes there a few years back and it was awesome). I usually don’t gamble or stay out late, and I’m totally okay with that.
Ah, Carmel. My “happy place.” Carmel holds a very special place in my heart, as it is where my parents were married in 1973, where my family and I celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in 1993, where Jack surprised me with our first weekend getaway in 2007, and where Jack and I were married in 2012. We make a point of visiting Carmel at least once year, and we have yet to tire of this magical place.
Carmel is located in the county of Monterey, about a 2.5 hour drive south of San Francisco, give or take depending on traffic. The charming “downtown” known as Carmel-by-the-Sea is a popular tourist destination, and for good reason: the shops and cottages in this foggy little seaside village look like they’re right out of a storybook. The town is very walkable and is full of great shops, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and beautiful homes. Carmel-by-the-Sea is quirky: there are no addresses (which is quite inefficient, if you ask me), no street lamps (warning: don’t wear high heels at night), and is full of crazy dog people (myself included). What’s not to love?
Just east of Carmel-by-the-Sea is the quieter, sunnier Carmel Valley, which boasts wineries, fancy resorts and spas, and a pleasant climate (sunny and 75 degrees throughout the summer). The lodging in Carmel Valley far outshines the overpriced kitschy inns and motels in Carmel-by-the-Sea, in my opinion. We prefer to stay in the valley because the hotels offer so many more amenities, though Carmel-by-the-Sea is where we dine and drink.
We were married at Bernardus Lodge in the Carmel Valley; however, this resort has since been purchased by a large hospitality company, renovated, and saw its rates skyrocket. I still think it’s worth the price, but only in the summer months when you’re planning to spend a lot of time at the resort. Otherwise I recommend Quail Lodge, which is closer to Carmel-by-the-Sea (and therefore gets more fog) and is much more affordable. Carmel Valley Ranch is another beautiful (and pricy resort), though I’ve never personally stayed there. If you prefer to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I recommend L’Auberge Carmel, which is a cozy and elegant hotel right in the heart of town.
Over the past few years Jack and I have rung in the New Year just the two of us in one of our favorite nearby towns. We’ve reached the age where many of our friends are home with little ones or doing family trips to Tahoe, so we’re generally not missing any parties by leaving the city. Plus, the holidays are always so hectic and busy that it’s really nice to quietly mark the New Year as part of a romantic getaway.
This year we chose to visit Sonoma for two nights over New Year’s weekend. We compared hotels in Sonoma, Healdsburg, and Carmel, and the prices in Sonoma were significantly more affordable. In addition, we hadn’t stayed there in several years and there were a couple of new restaurants and wine tasting rooms that we were eager to try.
Jack and I have learned over the years that when we travel, we don’t like to change locations too frequently. I feel like we really learned this about ourselves when we traveled to Costa Rica in 2011; we tried to see too many places in a short amount of time, and I felt like we were constantly packing and unpacking our suitcases and trying to get from point A to point B. From that point forward, we started to plan our trips differently: rather than try to squeeze in as many sites as we could, we would spend more time (typically four nights or more) in fewer locations overall, so we could really get a feel for a place and not be rushed. We followed this rule during our honeymoon in Bali in 2012, as well as our trip to Spain in 2013, with great results. I believe everyone has their own traveling “style,” and we found ours (luckily Jack and I have a similar styles!)
That being said, we bent this rule a bit when we went to Italy in June of last year. We had originally planned on spending five nights in Positano, five nights in Florence, and five nights in Rome, with occasional day trips from these spots. However, we really wanted to eat at Massimo Battura’s acclaimed restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena (pronounced MO-dee-nah), which at the time held the Number 2 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We had also heard that Bologna, Modena’s neighbor, was a great city for foodies. So, we decided to steal two nights from our stay in Florence to do a quick jaunt to Bologna, which conveniently was only an hourlong train ride from Florence. This ended up being just the right amount of time to see, do, and taste much of what we wanted to in this region.
Happy Blogiversary to me! I wrote my first blog post one year ago today, and I can’t believe a whole year has gone by already. As I reflect on the last year, I am immensely grateful that my life has allowed for so many fabulous vacations and memorable meals with those I care about. It’s also been really fun for me to look back and see how my writing has evolved over the last year, and to relive so many great meals and adventures.
My original motivation for writing Dish & Room was to have a place to share my travel experiences and recommendations with friends and family. I’ve enjoyed having a quick way to share these suggestions when someone mentions, “I’m going to Rome – do you have any recs?” I’ve also learned that the blog serves as a kind of photo album and travel journal as well, and it’s been especially fun to read through old posts and relive these experiences all over again.
When Jack and I first started planning our trip to Peru, the one obvious must-see on our list was Machu Picchu. This breathtaking site of Incan ruins draws over a million visitors annually, and for good reason – it is like no other place in the world, full of rich history and incredible beauty. Many of these visitors do a quick stopover in the capital city of Lima to check some old churches off their list, then continue on to Cusco, the closest major city to the ruins. But Jack and I had heard great things about the food scene in Lima, and we quickly discovered that we would need several days there to eat our way through what is often described as “The Culinary Capital of South America.”
We planned our visit for July, which is the ideal time to visit Machu Picchu: drier/cooler weather, lower chance of rainy day park closures. However, Lima is on the west coast of the continent and has drastically different weather than the mountains; it is sunny and warm during the summer (December-March), and cool and foggy the rest of the year. When we were there the daytime high was ~65°F, and we were in sweatshirts/jackets the whole time. The fog wasn’t as chilly as in San Francisco, but it also didn’t lift at all (we saw no sun the entire time we were in Lima). One interesting fact about Lima is that it is the second driest capital in the world after Cairo (average rainfall is 0.3 inches/year). You will hear people say “it doesn’t rain in Lima;” this isn’t entirely true, as the heavy fog resulted in some drizzles while we were there, but you don’t have to worry about a downpour. The cool, foggy weather didn’t prevent us from doing the activities we wanted to do on this trip, but I would love to return to Lima some day in the summer months (I want to stay at the Miraflores Park Hotel and swim in the rooftop infinity pool!)