Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Woke up early to my new friend Kaitlyn’s booming laugh. I tried tagging myself in one of her Instagram posts the previous night but accidentally tagged a guy from Hong Kong with a similar user name! He left a very confused comment on her photo and we couldn’t get over it. Oops!

After a very carb-heavy buffet breakfast, we hopped onto the bus heading to the boat yard. The boat ride to Venice was one long, amazing view and I was in sensory overload due to our arrival at the floating city. Tour guides in Italy have to be certified for each place they specialize in, so we acquired a very tall, Venice specific guide who walked us along the coast towards St. Mark’s Basilica.

The square where the Basilica stands is intrinsically gorgeous. Apparently, the entire square floods during heavy rain and the people who live there use planks to get around above the water! As for Basilica itself – I can’t event begin to describe its magnificence (I promise that is not a copout description!). It is covered in 24 carat gold leaf glass murals that portray the various books of the bible. I felt so small inside the Basilica and my neck started to ache from looking up at the art on the ceiling for almost the entirety of the tour.

Inside St. Mark's Basilica

After the Basilica tour, we walked through the narrow streets to the famous Murano Glass Factory which makes Venetian glass. Over thirty years ago, my mother visited this very factory and bought a red and gold wine glass set that we use every Christmas. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to retrace her steps and go to this family famed place. Once we climbed up the old, narrow, wooden steps to the artisans workshop, we watched one of the glass masters make a beautiful glass horse and then toured the gift shop (of course!). I even saw the same glasses my mother owns!

Post glass tour, we had a mandatory gelato break, and then we headed for the gondolas. Our gondola captain was singing Italian hits like a drunken bird throughout our ride and said “spaghetti” when we told him to say “cheese” for the camera! He was great. You could basically describe all of the gondola guys as having the “Jersey Shore Guido” look. Overall, it was a very relaxing and fun experience floating through the canals of Venice.

About an hour of cruising later, we navigated through the maze-like streets of Venice to a restaurant with wifi for lunch. Plus-side to Italy’s tourist area restaurants – lots of them provide free wifi if you eat there. Down-side to Italy’s restaurants – the waiters get very irritated if you ask for tap water. The tap water is perfectly drinkable, but they always want to charge for bottled, so they will tell you they don’t have tap when they do.

After lunch and an agitated waiter later, we did some street vendor shopping and I acquired a beautiful painting of Venice from a local university art professor. It was bursting with color so I had to have it as a souvenir.

We eventually made our way back to Dario (our overall tour guide) and hopped back on the boat to out hotel. Since our dinner experience at the previous night’s restaurant was so excellent, we returned with an even bigger group for some pizza. One of the girls tried the black squid ink pasta and her mouth turned black! We ate and then hurried back to the hotel to subsequently zonk out.

Venice travel tips:

  • Bring a hat and sun screen. All of the outside walking under the sun will catch up to you.
  • Ask for tap water at the restaurants. Why pay for bottled when the tap is just as good?
  • Go to the glass factories for a demonstration. Not only is it an amazing art to watch, but the demonstration is a worth while break off of your feet during a full day of touring.
  • Haggle the street vendors when buying souvenirs. Most of the prices are very negotiable if you are not in an actual shop.
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Getting to Venice, Italy

After two days with our 43 people tour group, little sub-groups started forming. I became good friends with two other girls from Texas and one from Miami, all of whom decided to room together in our hotel outside of Venice!

We arrived in the late afternoon to an adorable hotel right on the beach. It was a little chilly on the coast so we grabbed sweaters and headed to the beach before sunset. Despite the cold, some of the girls ran into the ocean. I dipped my toes in and immediately got goose bumps and respect for those crazies who were in up to their necks! We got a little crazy with pictures instead..

Silliness on the beach in Italy

The sun started setting so we took off on an adventure through the little town to find a place to eat. We found a quaint little family run place with home-made wine and tortellinis – my favorite combination! A few other girls joined our group, totaling 10 in all, basically filling the entire restaurant! Even with all of the other girls, our “core four” group ended up having a very deep and fulfilling conversation about our lives. It’s amazing how people from all different backgrounds can become so united in such a short period of time.

After such intense conversation, and a little more vino, we decided to lighten the mood with some 1€ go kart races on the way back to the hotel. I ended up on the “cop kart” and chased everyone down. It was silly but was one of the most fun nights of my entire life!

Go Karting in Venice, Italy

After a few laps around the track, we met the rest of the tour group back at the hotel for a night-cap and then bed to rest of for our day in Venice!

 

Lima, Peru – Packing List

Lima, Peru – Packing List

The below packing guide is for Lima, Peru in the summer months. We went to Lima in May when the avg. temperature is 75° F. Multiply the clothing suggestions by the number of days you are staying in Lima.

A few things to note when spending time in Lima:

  • You will be walking a lot so comfortable shoes, sun protection, and hydration are very important.
  • The beaches are pretty but very rocky so, if you decide you do want to get in the water, wear water shoes.
  • The weather is warm so, with all that walking, it gets hot. Bring layers for the temperature drops at night, but lighter clothing will work during the day.
  • The views are beautiful so don’t forget a camera to document!
Lima Peru Packing List
Lima, Peru Packing List

 

Lima, Peru

Planning the trip to Peru was easy, but getting there was pretty complicated…

Stage #1: The Move

Our apartment lease came up at the same time as our trip and we wanted to move somewhere with a patio. Conveniently, we found an apartment right down the hall from our current one  – the only catch being that move-in day was May 15th, the same day we were embarking on our Peruvian journey! My roommate / boyfriend Ryan had to work that day so, with the help of our puppy, my taller but little sister, and some movers, we lugged everything to our new spot. My sister and I thought we were smart so we unhooked my 6ft long closet rung full clothes and tried carrying them to the new place in one go. Do not try this at home! Our ambitious plans deteriorated as MY clothes started falling off the rung and were then littered down the block-long hallway. Thankfully there was no lingerie involved for fellow apartment neighbors to see scattered along the halls!

We grabbed all of my rogue clothes and the movers were able to get our boxes and furniture over within a minute of the two-hour window I booked them for. My boyfriend came home to switch spots with my sister so she could go pack for the trip. We cleaned the old place, turned in our keys, and grabbed our luggage to head to Houston for the night!

Stage #2: Houston

I consider myself super lucky as my boyfriend conveniently came with the best perk possible – an adorable dog named Dakota. Ryan’s family was nice enough to volunteer to babysit Dakota for our trip, however, they live in Houston. My family took off for Lima, Peru the night we moved, but Ryan and I decided to drive to Houston and fly out from there the next morning. After a 4.5 hour drive, we arrived in Houston around 9:30 PM, and my adrenaline was still pumping despite the craziness of the day! Dakota’s was too and she took it out on about 10 stuffed dog toys which she found and quickly unstuffed all over the living room floor. Squeakers are her arch nemesis and any toys with them must be destroyed, always resulting in some fun clean ups.

Stage #3 – The Airports

5:30 AM wake up to head to the airport. We got word that my family had made it to Lima, so the race was on to meet them! When we arrived at the gate to learn that a couple with triplets was sitting behind us on our first leg to Miami. Never a good sign when you want to sleep your way through a flight. Apparently the triplets had the same snoozy idea though because we didn’t hear a peep from them the whole time and I got a few hours of sleep in before our Miami landing. Phew!

A quick layover and lunch later, we hopped on the next plane to Lima. Our flight attendant was a Spanish looking Robert De Nero who offered me a mini-bottle (about two glasses) of wine – for free! Of course I took him up on it and we fake toasted to the trip. About 30 minutes later, he passed us again, and this time we both took him up on more wine, a mini-bottle each! Robert was quickly becoming one of my new favorite people. He disappeared for about an hour and came back to us with a long face, exclaiming they had run out of wine – what tragedy! There was a glint of trickery in his eyes though. He smiled and reached into his jacket to pull out one final bottle that he saved just for us! By this point we were in great spirits and cheers’ed him as he walked off. Flight attendants can really make or break a flight! We finished up the inflight movie and I had a wonderful Chardonnay induced nap. I woke up to laughter as Ryan was taking pictures of me sleeping as we were landing.

Ocean view of Peru from the plane
The view of Peru from the plane.

Stage 4: Mia Flores District in Lima, Peru

We landed in Lima at 5:32 PM, hustled through customs, and found our driver to go to the airport. While we are driving through the city, the driver made me put my purse under my legs in the back seat as people could potentially try to steal it while stopped at a light! You must always be aware in new places. We drove all the way to Miraflores district in Lima, Peru to meet my family at the Hotel Britania.

We dropped off our luggage and took off on foot this time to find a resultant called Cafe Cafe for dinner. I got a delicious passion fruit and pineapple salmon dish and Ryan had a very green, but good, shrimp gnocchi. We also all got Pisco Sours – a traditional Peruvian drink made from grapes from Pisco, Peru. A must try while you are in Peru!

In the middle of Miraflores is a big park nicknamed the Cat Park where all of the abandoned cats in the city congregate. It is a beautiful park with local artists lining the outskirts and a chachki market in the middle. We ended the night by walking around the park and buying some trinkets at the market, including the below leather journal for all of our trip documentation:

My Peru leather journal

 

Peruvian Trek – Background

You never know where life is going to take you, despite all of your travel lists and plans. Sometimes the best trips are ones formed out of love and surprises.

Peru had never been at the top of my travel list, however, my dad has been talking about it for years. My parents were finally going to climb Machu Picchu for their 30th anniversary, but a last-minute family issue destroyed those plans, and my dad’s Incan dreams.

To give some context, my father has provided an incredible life for my family and has encouraged / funded some amazing trips for my sister, mom, and I that he hasn’t alway been able to partake in. We’ve wanted to give back by taking him somewhere for years, and, seeing that he had a big “35th” birthday coming (it’s been his 35th birthday a few times now) we had the perfect opportunity to do so!

We came up with the idea around August and dad’s birthday wasn’t until  June of the next year. Luckily, some family friends had just returned from a marvelous trip to Peru and got me in touch with an amazing travel company called ECS Travel. They planned our dream trip with flights, hotel, transport, tours, guides, and breakfasts quickly and affordably. It is amazing how easy trip planning can be when you find the right people (though I may have claimed the booking credit…).

We were able to nail down almost all of the trip planning details by October and then it was time to plot the surprise. We decided to place a birthday card containing fake plane tickets to Peru on our Christmas tree and save it for the last gift of the present-opening extravaganza. Of course, knowing what was coming, we ripped through our gifts to get to that last card. We presented it to Dad and he opened the birthday card with confusion that quickly turned into extreme delight has he read the tickets and realized it was a trip! “Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu!” he kept exclaiming in probably the most excited voice I have ever heard from him. If that wasn’t telling enough, the rest of Christmas day was spent listening to everything dad knew about Peru, queuing up Incan documentaries we had to watch, going through the itinerary, and hearing many more “Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu!”s.

We finalized the dates in May, finished booking the flights, and were ready to take on Peru!

Alpacas atop the ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Alpacas atop the ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru