Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Two Day Roman Holiday

Just returned from a fantastic trip to Vienna and Budapest a few days ago, so now I'm going to share some pictures from our Thanksgiving trip to Rome. Makes no sense, but it's been kind of a whirlwind here between travel and general holiday chaos (including a mad dash to get everything wrapped and shipped to the States before the postal service deadline), so it is what it is. 

Our trip to Rome, like many great ideas, was born out of some boozy, wine-induced conversations with friends about renting a villa over the Thanksgiving holiday. We decided on Rome since some of us had never been, not been in a while, or really...why not go to Rome? There's history, culture, art, architecture, and if you're not into any of that, there's always the great food and wine. Somehow we managed to actually coordinate 4 families (8 adults and 5 littles) for a 4 day trip. It was a Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving/Thanksgivukkah miracle. 

Graham fell into the never-been-to-Rome category, while I had been years before during my semester abroad. I can be a little fussy about revisiting locations, but for Rome, I was happy to make an exception. Our compromise was that he got to plan two days in the city seeing all the typical sights and I got one day to do something outside of the city, preferably dedicated to food and/or wine (more on that later).

Our two days in Rome were essentially a greatest hits tour. Rome has so much to see, but also so many things you can't miss, that it's impossible to do it all. But as far as the top "must see" places, we felt like we came close. We were up early every day (each family decided to do their own thing during the first couple days, then get together for dinner at the villa) and were able to see a lot of the city. Here are the places that made the 2-day list:

Borghese Gallery

Our first stop was my suggestion. The Borghese Gallery is a relatively small, but impressive, collection of ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art housed inside the Villa Borghese.

I love this small museum (seriously, it's the perfect dose of art - in fact, tickets are only sold in 2 hour blocks) and it was a highlight of my first trip to Rome. It contains several absolutely stunning Bernini sculptures, which I consider to be some of the most beautiful in the world (sorry, Michelangelo). Apollo and Daphne is a heart-stopper for me and I'm not normally that moved by marble sculpture. It will impress even the most disinterested of viewers, I guarantee. 

To top off the experience, the villa is surrounded by a park, which is the perfect sanctuary from the surrounding bustle of Rome. It's fun to imagine being a Roman and taking strolls with Cora and Chloe through such a pretty green space.


The Borghese Gallery was my top choice and this was Graham's. We opted for the tour that includes access to the underground and top levels. 

The tour was completely worth it, as we were able to see the Colosseum from areas that other general entry tickets couldn't, which also meant getting away from the crowds, and had great views over the Palatine Hill and Forum. Not to mention, our tour guide was interesting and informative.

Roman Forum

We continued the ancient Rome theme with a stroll through the forum.

The Pantheon

In keeping with the theme, the 2000-year old Pantheon was our next stop. 

Piazza Navona

This was our last stop of the first day before heading back to the villa. Vendors were just setting up for a Christmas market and it was interesting to see one of Rome's most iconic piazzas sharing its space with a carousel. 

St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums

No trip to Rome is complete without these two stops. We had pre-purchased tickets to the Museums, so getting in to see the Sistine Chapel was relatively easy, but we were stunned by how many people were lined up to enter the basilica. Luckily, it moved quickly (I had started to get a little flustered that we were going to have to give up) and we were inside the massive interior of St. Peter's.

There's really no way to describe how cavernous, yet perfectly proportioned and balanced, this space is. You are completely dwarfed;  it is truly awe-inspiring (and this is coming from a decidedly non-Catholic).

Graham with Michelangelo's Pieta. It is gorgeous, but I always think it's an interesting experience when you see a piece of famous art in person. When you see its image in pictures, you aren't aware of all the security measures, like bullet-proof glass and railings, or the fact that there is constantly a giant crowd of people jostling to get a look. The Mona Lisa is another perfect example of this.

Who doesn't love a man in a (funky) uniform?

Trevi Fountain

We had to ensure our next trip to Rome, of course. It worked for me last time, although it took the coin 11 years...

Piazza di Spagna

A quick pass by the Spanish Steps as the sun was setting was the end to our 2nd day.

So, there you have it. Our two day Rome itinerary. It's pretty standard and straightforward, but that didn't take away from the experience at all. These places are visited over and over (and the same ubiquitous images captured in photographs) with good reason. From ancient Rome to the Renaissance and beyond, this city contains some of the world's most iconic sights. 

Sometimes you have to embrace being a tourist. I loved every second of it!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Post-Thanksgiving Post

*I've realized that as much as I love sharing my travels and experiences through this blog, real life will always trump writing and posting, as long those things remain one hobby amongst many priorities, interests, and loves. Whether times are good or bad, and I've had large shares of both recently, it's more important for me to be present in the current moment, rather than sacrificing precious time to write about (and review, edit, and tweak) my past experiences. So, there you go, my somewhat vague justification for disappearing from the internet at random. I'll try my best to catch up and you can usually check in with me on Instagram (meghannbg).*

A couple things in the (very!) good times category:

We hosted a Friendsgiving potluck at our casa for 25 amigos. There weren't any elaborate tablescapes and barely enough chairs, but there was plenty of food (everything from gazpacho to cole slaw to pumpkin pie to jello with bananas), a fully stocked bar, and excellent company. Combining the best of both worlds, we deep-fried a fresh turkey from the carnicería.

Friendsgiving was followed by a trip to Rome for the Thanksgiving holiday. We rented a villa just outside the city with a group of friends and their peques. Instead of turkey, we had gnocchi and in general, a fabulous holiday getaway, filled with equal parts sightseeing and indulging.

One small snag (well, along with a stomach flu that took out half our group for a day, yuck) was that there was no wifi at the villa, so here are just a few phone snaps that I was unable to share in real time.

I'd say that if your biggest problem during the holiday is a lack of internet at your Roman villa, you have much to be thankful for, and I certainly am grateful for so much, despite some very difficult times this year. It's a wonderful thing when friends can get together wherever they are to celebrate a holiday and feel like family.

I'll have more Rome pics to share (and more Baltic roadtrip recaps) soon!

Hope you all had wonderful Friendsgivings, Thanksgivings, and Thanksgivukkahs!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Roadtrip Review: Plitvice Lakes

Remember in my first roadtrip recap that I said I wouldn't be titling any posts "Don't Miss This Or You Will Regret It Forever"? Well, I won't be. But if I was going to, this would be it. Take note. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Plitvicka Jezera) might not be a place you know by name, but I guarantee that you've seen pictures of it before. If you haven't, it may be because you haven't encountered a travel magazine, top things to see before you die article, or are brand new to the internet. 

The stunning (and ubiquitous) images of this destination capture the imagination of almost anyone that sees them and lands it on many travelers' lists, including mine. But photographs, even those that are far superior to the many that I snapped, don't do this place justice. It is otherworldly.

And because of its location, farther north and inland than the popular islands and cruise ports, not everyone that travels to Croatia will go to Plitvice Lakes. But they should.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Roadtrip Review: Pula, Croatia

On the road again!

After overnights in Ferrara and Rovinj, we were headed to Plitvice Lakes but knew that we had time to make a stop in Pula to check out the Roman ruins.

I know that sometimes after people have spent a lot of time traveling in Europe, they can tire of seeing cathedrals, or castles, or ruins, or what Graham and I generally lump together into a category that we affectionately refer to as "old shit". Admittedly, it's everywhere - from small villages to grand cities, almost every town boasts its own visible (and visitable) connection to the ancient past. And sure, it can start to run together. Which town was that Moorish fortress in? Which pueblo blanco has the church at the top of the hill? (Answer: Almost all of them.)

But to be honest, I still love it. Maybe it's the American in me, but I'm still fascinated by the antiquities that are found around every corner. And Roman ruins are no exception.

We had previously visited the Roman ruins north of Sevilla, in Mérida, and it seemed like a great opportunity to see more, so much farther east, in Croatia.

So, we stopped in Pula, a Croatian seaside town in Istria that has Roman ruins strewn throughout, and woven within, its streets.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Roadtrip Review: Ferrara & Rovinj

The blog took a week (mas o menos) hiatus because I had friends in town from the States and spent my time with them instead of the computer - taking day trips, exploring pueblos blancos, seeing the sites, catching up during some late nights, and of course, wining and dining them with typical Spanish specialties. So, it was very quiet on the internet, but quite busy in real life. Which, if I have to choose between the two, is what I prefer, hands down.

Also, I've been struggling (mostly due to the epic number of photos that I took) to decide on the best way to share our end-of-summer, 12 day, big Balkan roadtrip, but after some thought, I'm just going to go through our destinations chronologically. I know, so boring, no Top 10s or 5 Musts or Don't Miss This Or You Will Regret It Forevers (actually, I do have one of those, but I'm sure the title will be something much more literal than that). 

Instead, I simply want to focus on the pretty pictures and share some of our favorite parts of the trip, sticking with the journaling style that I like. When that's all finished, I think I'll do a wrap-up post with more details, tips, and specific information for those who are interested in planning a similar vacation. What do you think? 

Great, here we go. 

Ferrara, Italy

We flew into Bologna in the evening, picked up our rental car, and had just enough time to get to Ferrara for a late dinner. While it was bustling and charming on a Friday night, it wasn't until the next morning that we really got a chance to see the city.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm back and August recap!

If you follow my instagram, then you're probably aware that we recently returned from a 12 day driving vacation - mostly Croatia and Slovenia, with a little Bosnia and Montenegro thrown in, and even some Italy and Austria for good measure. It was amazing, I took a couple thousand pictures (I could have exaggerated and said something like "a zillion" but the real number is ridiculous enough), and will be sharing some posts about the whole trip soon. 

Before moving on though, I really wanted to talk about the end of my summer. August was just what I needed after an incredibly rough time (see:  my June and July) and made it clear to me that after 2 years, El Puerto de Santa María is my home. It's the familiar place that I look forward to being after a long or stressful trip, I like the routine and the pace of daily life here, and it has become full of friends and experiences. Of course, it won't last forever, such is Navy life. But for now, I'm enjoying living la buena vida.

So this is just a happy little recap of my August, some events and good times that really bolstered my battered spirits. Sounds dramatic, but seriously, if I could never have so many negative things happen in such a short time ever again, that would be wonderful. Gracias.

Each one of these events could have had its own post, but at the time, I was just happily soaking everything in and loving living in the moment, which was so refreshing. 

Anyway, let's get to the pictures!

This was our third year attending the beach races in Sanlúcar and it's one of our favorite events, so we made a point of going 2 nights, once during each weekend. Both times, we went to the finish line tent.

Horses, sunsets, a little betting (but no winning), drinks, food, and friends. What's not to love? Well, except for the not winning. That would have been a nice bonus. 

Since we had recently traveled to the States twice and to Bordeaux, we didn't travel over Labor Day weekend (Graham gets American holidays, even though the base is Spanish). But we did try our best to get out and see some different sites in our area.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Labor Day long weekend!

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy weekend! For my fellow Americanos, it's a holiday, and Graham is lucky enough to have 4 days off (a "96" in Navy-speak). Since we have a vacation to Croatia and Slovenia coming up soon, we won't be traveling over the weekend, but we do plan to make the most of his time out of the office (including a day trip to see beachside Roman ruins). Some people might call this a "staycation" but really it's just an effort to not let 4 days pass by in a complete blur of general laziness.

I'm sure we'll still find plenty of time to relax. And there will definitely be at least one trip to the chiringuito.

Feel free to follow along on my instagram account @meghannbg!

What are your plans? Are you traveling, planning a busy weekend close to home, or just doing a whole lot of nothing? Whatever you have going on, ten un buen fin de semana!