Cruise Stop #1: Livorno/Florence, Italy

how was stop #1?

Alrighty then! Let’s get started on this European Explorer cruise adventure!

*Feel free to leave questions, and stories about this location and surrounding area in the comments.*

The first night on board took us from the Port of Civitavecchia to Port of Livorno in Northern Italy. Livorno is said to be a beautiful town in its own right, but we decided to take an “excursion” (a.k.a. bus ride) to Florence for the day.

In case I forgot to mention it or you didn’t read my first impressions post, my parents did enjoy this cruise with us despite it being our official honeymoon trip. Yes, I know it may sound strange, but it was really enjoyable being able to share this experience and adventure with them. We all had plenty of time to do our own thing and never felt like anyway was crashing the party.

Our mission: Get Mom a leather jacket and Dad a bistecca Fiorentina.

Back in September 2017, my husband and I traveled to Florence for a quick getaway after I arrived in Italy (semi-permanently) and before heading back to the states for our wedding. We are pretty familiar with the general area and have our trusty Google Maps to help guide us when we need some help with directions.

Our meeting point was the Basilica di Santa Croce. We hadn’t ventured to this beautiful piece of architecture before, and it was a site to see. It completely stands out and defines the plaza it is part of. We didn’t go inside, but maybe next time…

IMG_3818

Due to a slightly stern moment with Mom in Rome when she pointed out some leather bags, we first headed to the San Lorenzo Market where you’ll find nearly endless amounts of leather goods. I believe my exact words were “You don’t need that. Don’t even look at it. If you’re going to get leather from Italy, it will be in Florence.” Imagine I said that with a joking tone blanketed by seriousness because it’s true. You buy leather in Florence. We did pass by the Catedral di Santa Maria, better known to tourists as the Duomo.

IMG_5249

Once we arrived at the market, we located the store my good friend’s (who happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend, Pasquale… for now 😉 ) father runs. Claudio Iacovelli. Remember the name. After trying on several jackets until just the right one (well, two in this trip) was found, part one of our mission was complete. As a reward for playing tour guide the previous few days, I got a new leather purse that is INCREDIBLE!! ❤

If you’ve never bought a real leather jacket before, this is the perfect store to go to. Yeah, it might sound like I’m just saying that, but it’s true! For my fellow Harry Potter fans out there, Pasquale is the Ollivander of leather jackets. There is THE ONE for you and he will find it!

IMG_3825

Now that shopping left us famished, we headed to the same restaurant we visited before, Fermento. This pub restaurant has some fine bistecca Fiorentina. Bistecca Fiorentina is essentially the regional meat specialty. You take a huge cut of meat including the bone, put a little salt and pepper, maybe some rosemary, sear it on both sides, then serve. There’s no such thing as a well-done bistecca Fiorentina… not even a medium cooked one exists. The entire steak will come out rare to medium-rare. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few pieces near the bone that cooked a tad bit more if that’s your preference.

We ordered one steak to split between the four of us as well as the Fermento pizza (prosciutto, tomato, mozzarella, and pesto), Caprese salad, bread on the side, and a carafe of red wine. We were properly fueled to begin the trip back to the Sapphire Princess.

As we walked back to the meeting point, we stopped in a couple souvenir stores, passed by the Hard Rock Café to get a magnet for our collection, bought a pair of pants, and grabbed a gelato.

It was a quick day in Florence and a beautiful day in Florence. The sun was shining the whole day and it was the perfect way to ease into the cruising life we’d be living the next 9 days.

Next stop: Monte Carlo, Monaco/Nice, France

My First Cruise

what was my first cruise impression?

My cruising cherry has been popped and the itch to go again has already started. If you haven’t gone on a cruise before and have been thinking about it, jump on the bandwagon because it was a pretty fantastic experience. We went on the European Explorer itinerary with Princess Cruises aboard the Sapphire Princess.

I figured I’ll start with my impressions as a first-timer, then move on to the stops we made. 🙂 And off we go!

If I missed any aspect of the ship or you have other questions… leave a comment!

Checking In

The check-in process is really similar to when you’re flying. You check your bag and it magically appears in your stateroom later. There is an option to carry items on with you. Luggage doesn’t immediately appear in your stateroom, so I kept a few things on me that I thought I might want right away, like my purse, toiletries, phone charger, and clothes in case I wanted to change.

The Ship

img_5309

The sheer size of cruise ships is mind-boggling! The majority of the decks are filled with staterooms, but there is plenty of room for the several dining rooms and pools. As we entered, all I could think of is how powerful water must be if it can cause this ginormous piece of machinery to heave and ho.

Similar to hotel folklore, our ship did not have a 13th deck.

Stateroom

The room was bigger than I thought it would be but definitely smaller than your average hotel room. There was a large flat screen in the corner, a desk for keeping items, a HUGE mirror above the desk, two nightstands that were the same width as the space around the bed, a good size closet with lots of hangers, and a small bathroom. The shower is stall style BUT was roomier than I’d been preparing myself for. As an average-sized, 5’6″ person, I didn’t have any problems.

We upgraded from an interior room to a room with an “obstructed view.” I’m so glad we made this decision. Having the window for natural sunlight was great! I think it contributed to the room feeling bigger also.

Back to the closet, I loved being able to hang all my dresses and some shirts I brought so I wasn’t living out of a suitcase like I typically do in hotels. There are seriously SO many hangers! At least 30 so we both had plenty and then some. The robes were soft and I ended up lounging extra long in mine after showering.

Stateroom Steward

img_5252We were serviced by Agnelo each day. He was the sweetest and most pleasant person to see each morning, after my husband of course, haha. He always greatest us and asked how we slept, if we needed anything special in the room, and how our day was. He was very knowledgeable of the services on board and even the port call times. We were very impressed with his level of service. The bar has been set high!

For my sanity, I was grateful to find a really decent selection of movies and tv episodes to stream in our stateroom. We watched a few that we hadn’t caught in theatres and rewatched favorite tv shows during downtime and after turning in for the night. One of our favorites was Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin. Yes, he’s still making content people!

On a side note, we did get chocolates on our pillow, some yummy chocolate covered strawberries (Thanks Monticello Travel!), and a pillow animal one day.

 

Amenities

A tour of the spa and relaxation area did not disappoint. Thermal steam rooms and saunas, heated relaxation chairs, a hair salon, acupuncture, workout facility, and more are offered onboard. It’s all extra $$$, but you’ll read more about how we did indulge some.

Sapphire Princess is home to five pools and six hot tubs. Each night, and some days, there was a Movie Under the Stars at one of the outdoor pools. If there was a shortage of anything, lounge chairs is not one of those things. There are stacks and stacks of them everywhere there is an open space on an open-air deck!

There’s also no shortage of food options. There is one 24-hour option, several dining rooms, and informal stations to get quick food to-go. We quickly found the ice cream station and got a swirl cone as we continued to explore the ship.

There are some retail stores if you need something quickly or have a shopping bug. Pretty much anything is available from apparel, makeup, skin care, jewelry, purses, and personal items in the many stores on board.

Overall, this ship is literally a mini-city that floats. My husband was even able to get his suit dry cleaned on board! The only thing it was missing is data service and wifi I didn’t have to pay for. I was pleased that if any needs came up (and a few did) that I wouldn’t have to summon my inner McGyver to get through a sticky situation.

Food

We chose to do the traditional dining rather than any-time dining, something I was persuaded to do with some reluctance. After the first night, I was really pleased my husband pushed this suggestion. Our waiters, Daniel and Anna, were fantastic. They have the same level of service and personality as our stateroom steward, so seeing them each day was an enjoyable experience.

I was pleased with the menu each day BUT wish there had been a larger variety when it came to ethnicity for entree options. Yes, most people enjoy steak, chicken, and their occasional veggie dishes, but I was lacking the diversity of flavors. Maybe I was too picky or didn’t order the right things. I ordered Pad Thai once, one of the few Asian-inspired dishes I saw on the menu during our time at sea. It was good, and a nice change from the seafood and red meat I tended to order.

img_5251Overall…

In many ways, our first day on board was exactly what I expected. The ship had more than I thought it would and the activities offered on board were sure to keep us occupied. We had a nice blend of scheduled items, downtime, and port visits. We even managed to log decent sleep each night. Sorry, this old couple isn’t jamming at the Skywalker Lounge until 2:00 AM anymore, but it was there if we wanted to. 😉

Our Ports of Call

I’ll make these links to each location once posts are written. Here’s what you have to look forward to reading about.

Livorno/Florence, Italy
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Barcelona, Spain
Gibraltar, UK
Lisbon, Portugal
Le Havre/Normandy, France

Life as a Stay at Home Wife

What do I do with my time?

*Tea review will be added later.

**This post was typed on a mobile device. Instead of excusing any grammatical and spelling errors, kindly excuse and pass over them.

Hey everyone! Life has hit full force and the life I thought I’d have here is so much greater than I ever imagined it to be. When we made the decision for me to quit my job to move to Italy, I surely thought I’d have a tougher time finding things to fill up the calendar.

I guess this post is to sort of explain my lack of posting regularly by expressing that I’m not simply being lazy. However, now that some balance is being achieved I have a plan to make sure this personal project doesn’t completely fall between the cracks and actually becomes part of the productivity I seem to still have day by day.

Growing Friendships and My Support System

You’re probably thinking, “Wow, spending time with friends sure sounds productive.” Maybe the thought was even accompanied by an eye roll. As a military wife, this is crucial, especially living abroad. Until living here, I could count the number of people I knew who had lived overseas on one hand. In college and working after graduation, I did not have any friends who have gone through this type of experience, or at least not any who shared about it.

Being able to talk with people about struggles I’m currently facing has been so valuable. Yeah, I can talk to my husband about it, but sometimes it’s nice having other perspectives on the situation. There’s a lot of things to get used to technology wise and regarding the culture.

For example, this winter was REALLY cold. I felt like I couldn’t layer on enough clothes to keep warm sometimes and the space heater became an extension of me as I wheeled it from room to room. At first, I thought I was being a huge wimp about it. Turns out this was one of the coldest winters or area has had in awhile. I learned that from others who lived here last winter… and then when it snowed for the first time in six years.

Also, it’s nice having people to run errands and carpool with. Sometimes I’ll tag along on a trip to the commissary just to spend time with a friend. Other times, we’ll plan a day to meet at the gym to get a work out in. I should probably do more of the latter.

I can’t forget my friends and support system back home. I still talk with them regularly as the time difference permits and am really trying to become a card person on people’s birthdays/special occasions back home. All my life, my grandmother has been so good about sending me cards and even postcards when they traveled the world. I’m returning the favor even though her birthday card was late, Brussels was a month ago, and Easter already passed. I said I’m trying…

Exploring My Interests

One thing you should know about me is that I LOVE playing softball. Prior to now, I was playing multiple times a week. It’s finally softball season here! We have practice three times a week and games start soon. You have NO idea how excited this makes me that I can play even for a few months over here. Also, I’m finally exploring the talent I have in written. During school, I was complemented several times on my writing ability and even have a bachelor’s degree in English. For years, I’ve wanted to start a blog. Obviously, I’ve done that. I started exploring the world of freelance so my voice and experience can be read in other parts of the internet. Eventually, I’ll compile some links together so you can check out some of my other, more professional work that’s out there. This shouldn’t come as a shock, but I’m just as guilty of binging Netflix and keeping up on television shows as most people are. I watched a lot of Christmas movies and finally got myself some Hulu access to keep up with shows from back home. There are days (occasionally) that I reward myself with only watching tv. I use the term “reward” her a little loosely.

Training, Meetings, and Trips

Yeah, I go on trips and they are a blast. I feel so fortunate to be able to experience the variety of cultures that Italy and the rest of Europe have to offer. Belgium and Spain were both fantastic! We have a cruise and two trips planned for Germany coming up soon so stay tuned!

I do take advantage of free trainings that are offered by the Navy that spouses can participate in. I’ve gone through SafeTalk, a suicide intervention and prevention training, and a training on being a valuable sponsor to someone new coming to our command. We’ll actually be going to Germany to participate in a Marriage Enrichment Retreat. For me, these experiences give me more that I can bring back to the states with me. I want to continue having a happy, successful marriage, and I know the SafeTalk training is something that will benefit me when I start applying to positions at a university again.

And yes, I go to meetings. The ombudsman hosts a meeting each month to address any information to us from the command and hear any concerns from the dependents. I’ve learned something every single time I’ve gone. When they’re held and I’m invited, I’ll go to meetings or briefings for wives who have husbands on the ship to try to better understand their perspective and possibly support them better if I can.

The Marriage Stuff

What I really mean is continuing to shape our marriage. It’s definitely evolved since we first started living together and in the long run the changes have been positive. We grocery shop together and use that time to discuss what we’ll have for dinner. It’s also when we talk about when we’ll go out to dinner instead. A cleaning schedule was put in place a couple weeks ago after a “discussion.” I believe it’s been helpful but the jury is still out on that. If anything, it reminds us both (*cough* mostly me *cough*) what has been cleaned that week and what still needs attention. I used to only do things away from the house when my husband was at work, but now, I’ve allowed myself a little more autonomy. Just because he’s home, doesn’t mean I have to be. Through trial and error, I’m learning what a good balance looks like for both of us to feel like we have a good amount of quality time together, whether it’s watching tv, cooking dinner, or walking around the NEX looking at things we don’t really need.

Basically…

Being a stay-at-home wife is not what I thought it would be, and I think it’s a lot different than others think it is. I don’t wear pearls and vacuum every day. I don’t eat chips and become part of the couch (most days). Heck, I don’t even clean every day. Work-life balance isn’t something that only exists on the workplace. It exists at home too. I know I’d be miserable if I was the stereotypical stay-at-home wife, so I’ve redefined that role. I’m using this opportunity to better myself, my marriage, my friendships, and my experience living here.

**The reason I’m writing his from my phone is because we were watching a Champions League game in our room. My husband fell asleep and I had been working on freelance stuff. Instead of going another week without posting, I decided to finally bring this post to life by the light of my cell phone.

Food from Belgium… but no mussels in Brussels

What food is in Brussels?

Welcome to the first #foodfriday post! I recently went to Belgium with my husband, and the food there did not disappoint. You’ve probably heard the phrase “mussels in Brussels.” Well, we went to Brussels but did not have any mussels. Instead, we enjoyed other delicious findings that Belgium is known for. I’m shocked I didn’t pack on a few extra pounds, probably from all the walking, and wish I had indulged more in each of these.

In this post, I’ll talk about the food tour, chocolate, beer, fries, and waffles. You can click on each to skip straight to what you want to know about most, but I guarantee you’ll want to read it all. 😉

Brussels Journey – Beer & Chocolate Tour

First, if you go to Brussels and love beer & chocolate, this tour is so worth it. With the Brussels Card, you get 10€ off each participant. You’ll walk quite a ways, so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. We stopped at four of the premier chocolate shops for some free samples and the opportunity to purchase with a discount often times. To round off the night, we stopped at four local pubs and brasseries and tasted 10 different Belgian brews. The first pub stop is the oldest in Brussels.

What I didn’t realize we would get is a tour of the city and a witty history lesson. Our guide was knowledgeable and proud of his heritage regardless of how weird it may be. His words, not mine. He stopped us at one point to show us a house built in the art nouveau style and to explain prominent buildings we passed as we walked from place to place.

Rating: 10/10

Belgian Chocolate

Belgian chocolate is more than just pretty chocolates you can eat in one bite. They do taste amazing, but Belgians are quick to let you know they do not “make” chocolate, they make pralines. To Belgian chocolatiers, making chocolate means the process from cocoa bean to block of chocolate. Everything after that is what the majority of the chocolate ships in Belgian offer to their patrons, and they sure do it well!

img_4911We stopped by Chocopolis one night, which happened to be the site of our tour the next day. We decided to create our own box of pralines and ate the entire thing without shame, recalling each flavor combination and appreciating each one. Our next stop was Frederic Blondeel‘s where we tried some 100% Vietnamese chocolate and a Vietnamese cacao bean. I’ll just say, it was an experience I only need to have once. We tried some pralines here (the jasmine one was my favorite) and caramels. If you’ve never had a raspberry caramel, make sure you do one day.

img_4935In Belgium, pralines are not what we know them as in the US. Belgian pralines are a chocolate shell and some sort of filling. Fillings are often flavored, and you can find some really interesting combinations. There are traditional pairings, like hazelnut and orange, and some more eccentric ones, like earl grey tea. We tried an earl grey chocolate at Pierre Marcolini‘s chocolate shop, and I wish I had bought a whole box. Also, Pierre Marcolini is arguably THE most famous chocolatier in Belgian, so in this case, being famous doesn’t mean he’s flashy with subpar creations. It means he has some of the best chocolate in all of Belgium.

Belgian Beer

For everyone who thinks that Stella Artois is a premier Belgian beer, it’s not. It’s really popular, but it’s not the best. And here’s another thing… there’s definitely the Belgian wheat style of brewing, but that’s not all that is produced in Belgian. You can find brasseries that concoct a good IPA as well as good dark beers. Our first beers were had at Autoworld, one of the museums we got into for free with our Brussels Card. I had a Leffe wheat and Matt tried a cherry beer. Both were delicious, but we found out those are still pretty standard and not the best Belgium has to offer. Same goes for the Grimbergen I had at Hard Rock Café.

BYRZfbjMQ8SBnP3oN6C8KQHistorically, monks brewed a lot of the beer in Belgium and provided it to the communities. The beers called “trappist” are ones brewed by monks. They also came up with the dubbel, tripel, and quadrupel style of brewing to have heavier alcohol content and sometimes a richer, darker color. Believe it or not, the tripel is actually lighter in color than the dubbel. If you want to read a little more info, here’s a good guide so you’ll know what you’re talking about when you travel to Belgium one day.

UF%zWZp1RSSOdozcSDwSo here’s the problem right now… I didn’t want to be that nerd that was taking notes while drinking beer, so I only remember a few things. I guess you’ll just have to go on the tour for yourself.

  • I don’t like sour beers. Matt got two of those.
  • The IPA was tolerable (I just don’t prefer them), but also my fourth (or fifth) so that may be why.
  • Everything at the third and fourth stops was amazing!
  • The very last beer was my favorite. It was a quadrupel and suited my taste for porters/stouts nicely.

Belgian Fries

We got a taste of Belgian fries at Hard Rock Café and then again at a Belgian Frites near Chocopolis before we went on the food tour. They did not disappoint. I don’t care where you stand in the McDonald’s vs. Burger King debate, Belgium has them all beat!

According to our guide from the Brussels Journey tour, the proper way to make fries is thick cut, fried once for a longer time at a lower temperature, then fried a second time for a shorter time at a higher temperature to get a nice crisp on the outside. There are a variety of sauces available from mayonnaise, ketchup, curry ketchup, and my all-time favorite andalous sauce. I’m determined to recreate this amazing sauce so I can have it all the time.

The vendor we bought them from handed them to us pretty much straight from the frier, so we knew they were nice a fresh. Definitely let them cool a bit before taking the first bite because they are HOT! You should also know, some chocolate shops might not allow you inside with fries because the smell compromises the smell of the chocolate in the shop. I was told to dispose of my empty fries cone OUTSIDE because it was mixing with the chocolate aroma.

Belgian Waffles

There are two styles of waffles: thick and fluffy, and thin and crispy. Crispy ones tend to be cheaper (1€ to 2€) and are generally eaten plain. The thick and fluffy ones are where you’ll find the multitude of toppings. Some even have goodies baked inside the waffle, like ham and cheese.

The street from Grand Place, the plaza between Stadhius van Brussel and Brussels City Museum, that leads to Mannekin Pis is known as “Waffle Street.” Once you pass a few lace shops, the scent of freshly baked waffles will fill your nose. On either side, you can see shops with photos and examples of the variety they offer. I went for one with strawberries, banana, and Nutella. It was the perfect treat to share with our new friends we made on the food tour after all the beer we drank.

wafers-730835_1920

In writing this, I realize that I ate all of these foods in one day. Haha. I don’t regret it, and I shouldn’t. When you find that you’ve eaten all this in one day when you’re visiting Brussels, I doubt you’ll feel just as shameless as I do. When in Rome, eat all the Belgian food… or something like that. 😛

This is not a sponsored post. It does not contain affiliate links.

6 Ways You Know You’re Probably on a Military Base

what’s it like on base?

See this week’s tea review now or read it at the end of the post.

Now that I’m finally official over here in Italy, I thought maybe I’d share some of the things I’ve experienced when it comes to being on base and how it differs from… outside off base. I think most of my friends (and maybe readers) have never been on a military base before, and those of you who have, feel free to share anything I missed and stories you have.

Also, before any of my non-Navy friends chew my head off… I know it’s called a post for some of you. Please, just roll with me this once. Thanks! 😛

1. You needed your ID to get on base.

Despite the fact that our tax dollars fund the government which funds the military, military bases are secure installations. That means they don’t allow your Average Joe and Jane to just waltz in.

If you are a military member or dependent, you’ll show your military issued ID to get through any gate that serves as an entrance. Civilians, or those with no military affiliation, need to be sponsored by a military member or dependent before being allowed to enter.

This goes for everyone. No ID, no entry, no exception.

2. Everything stops twice a day.

Literally, everything stops at 0800 and sunset when you’re on base. This time is reserved for something called “colors.” Colors is when the flag is raised and lowered each day.

To signify colors is happening, you’ll hear the Star Spangled Banner playing. Cars stop driving and people stop walking while it’s playing. Once it is finished, normal activity resumes.

“Why?” you ask. It’s a simple answer. Respect.

3. You’ll have to drive slow and stop at stop signs.

Speed limits on military bases are generally lower than normal streets. For example, most places have a 45-50 MPH speed limit on main roads that aren’t residential. These types of roads are restricted to about 20 MPH with you’re on base/post. Sometimes it’s even slower!!

Don’t even think about going even one MPH over that limit either. Military police are ready to hit you with a ticket that’ll just piss you off. Same with the stop signs. If you’ve never stopped at one and plan to visit a military base, start practicing… like now… seriously, everyone actually stops at them.

4. Gotta scan that ID again to buy groceries.

Yeah, you read that right. Not only do we have to show our military IDs to get on base, but we have to scan it AGAIN before we can even start our grocery purchases. Sometimes, we have to show it just to get in the commissary. Commissary is our fancy name for the grocery store. 😉

Also, if you shop in the NEX (Navy Exchange), you’re supposed to show your ID at the checkout counter. It might not be as consistent because it’s not a step that’s part of the checkout process, but they are SUPPOSED to check that you’re a military member or dependent first.

Basically, the takeaway here is that unless you have a military ID, you’re not going to be purchasing anything. “But what if the military person scans their ID at the commissary, then I pay with my card?” You could do that, but it’s not really kosher.

Prices at the commissary and NEX are a little lower than at your normal grocery and department store, so even buying stuff for someone who isn’t permitted to come on base is considered a no-no. Just don’t do it, it’s not that much cheaper anyway and definitely not worth losing your NEX/commissary privileges.

5. You’ll feel like you’re in a mini-town.

Mini is not the most accurate term because some of these “mini-towns” are HUGE! They have their own zip codes sometimes. What I mean is that you really can find a lot of the same offerings on a single military base that you can find in most towns. Police station, fire station, hospital, commissary, NEX, bowling alley, schools, libraries, restaurants, and movie theatres. All of these and more are common staples of military bases.

6. You stand for the anthem before a movie.

Speaking of movie theatres, there’s one big difference when you see a movie on base, and it’s not the cheaper ticket prices. After previews play and before every movie starts, there is a video played while the national anthem plays. Also, everyone stands during it, so put your popcorn aside and close your cell phone when the previews end.


Another disclaimer before someone says, “My base doesn’t have that.” Not EVERY base (or post) has all of these things. These are just some of the giveaways that you might be on a base. 😉


Tea of the day: Green Tea Energy
Brand: Yogi Tea
Color: Alright, so this green tea isn’t necessarily green, but it’s more of a yellow-green. That’s pretty common compared to other green teas I’ve had.
Taste: This is probably the lightest tasting tea I’ve had to date, and I’m not saying that as a bad thing. It’s so mild that it’s almost hard to detect anything, and I love it! This is so weird! I  saw lemongrass and spearmint leaf when looked at the ingredients. Maybe it’s a mind trick, but the next sip I could ever so slightly taste them. Overall, it’s actually really refreshing not having an overabundance of taste.
Ideas for next time I have this: If I ever feel like I want the energy component of this and more taste, adding lemon and/or honey is definitely my go-to step.

Click here to return to the top!

This is not a sponsored post. It does not contain affiliate links.

Italy vs USA

Happy Tuesday family and friends! I’ve been back in Italy for nearly two weeks, and let me just say, this transition was much more difficult than last time I “moved” here. Not sure why, but I’m back on the wagon and ready to share some of my comparisons of Italy to things we love in the good ‘ole US of A. There is one thing that is available in Italy and the USA though… betcha can’t guess what it is…

Tea of the day: Irish Breakfast
Brand: Twinings

Color: As with most teas I tend to drink, this one is quite brown. But more of a rich chocolate color, than dull muddy color.
Taste: This is the first of the “classics” in my Twinings variety box. If you have a stereotypical idea of what tea tastes like, this is it. It’s earthy but without being too bitter. The Irish Breakfast is to English Breakfast what dark roast is to medium roast in terms of coffee. It’s got some more body to it which really diminishes the need to add anything, unless that’s what you prefer.
Ideas for next time I have this: I LOVE adding honey to my tea, almost regardless of what flavor or brand I’m drinking. It’s a great way to add some sweetness without adding straight sugar and some health benefits. I might even see about “double-dipping” and brewing this with a flavored one to see if I can get a a fruity and earthy taste at one time, like the Country Peach Passion or Lemon Zinger.


If you think of something else you want to see compared, leave a comment! 🙂


Driving

So, imagine if were allowed to drive like Nascar on the freeway and not get in trouble. Passing people who went to slow even without an official lane to do it in. And don’t even worry about your turn signals; that’s too much energy. THAT’s the way people drive in in Italy…. on the autostrada (Italian highways) AND normal roads! Also, watch out for that moped, they’re the ones who pass cars the most often.

Most roads that aren’t the autostrada are 2- to 4-lane roads, so that means there’s no way to pass if someone is driving slow. If you think the speed limit of 45 MPH is slow on USA city roads, try 40 KPH (25 MPH)! And the autostrada is even worse! 70-80 MPH = 44-50 MPH. You’re probably thinking, “who even follows that!?” The answer: no one!

This is just my opinion because it is maddening to have a lower speed limit, fewer lanes, and crazier drivers. The only upside is this means my Nascar driver itch is being scratched. 😉 However, I do miss there being more reasonable speeds and space so…

Winner: USA


Travel

First off, the culture in Italy is amazing and so close to where we live. And the history and culture in Europe really isn’t that far either! Technically, Europe is larger than the USA, but that’s because we often forget that it includes a portion of Russia. The countries more commonly thought of when people they think of Europe are smaller and much closer together. Where we are in Italy, we can get to practically anywhere in Europe in about three hours. Our flight from Naples to Barcelona was literally one hour! And London is about two hours.

Not only is it closer, but the airfare totally rivals that of traveling within the US. I can visit several states for the same amount, usually less, that it costs me to visit a entirely different country. With the popularity of Airbnb, it’s easy to find accommodations without breaking the bank. I personally, prefer Booking.com, but we’ve had some major wins with Airbnb.

Winner: Italy


Heating

If you read the Top 5 Technology Things I’m Getting Used To post, you should have seen this one coming, haha. I miss central heating so much! I don’t know if it’s our type of radiators or what, but the ability to heat a room is pretty much non-existent unless the room is small and the door is closed. Still pretty attached to all the blankets and space heater. Luckily, it’s getting warmer during the day.

Winner: USA


Pizza

My first real job was at a pizza restaurant. I can remember eating pizza my entire life pretty much. I was a “just cheese” girl until I moved to Arizona. I literally had pepperoni one time because that’s all there was lol. Now, I’m open to more pizza toppings, but stay away from most veggies still haha. Anyway…

I’ve had thin, thick, medium (what I’d consider Domino’s and Papa John’s normal crust), and deep dish, but nothing has Italy beat. There’s just something about the dough here and the char from the wood-burning oven that gives it a more delicate flavor that doesn’t overpower any of the other parts other parts of the pizza, but rather perfectly compliments them. Maybe it’s because there’s less gluten in most of the flour produced? I only bring that up because I eat pizza 2-3 times a week and I LOST weight. The sauce is not heavy and the cheese is SO good! I love me some mozzarella slathered on a pizza but the bufala mozzarella is so indulgent it’s not necessary.

Let me say this. I had pizza a couple times when I was home recently, but the whole time I was craving the Italian version so…

Winner: Italy


Food variety

Did you know there’s Chinese food in Italy? And they’ve got sushi too. And Mexican food is slowly coming around. BUT there still isn’t quite the variety that is readily available in the US. I’m not saying that the variety in either place is 100% authentic (except the Italian here, lol), but my taste buds appreciate what’s offered more in the US.

I’ve yet to see other types of Asian cuisines, like Thai and Indian, here yet. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And poki bowls haven’t made it over here yet. Still haven’t found a place that has boba tea. And chicken wings are few, far between, and not nearly as good. For a girl who didn’t start liking more spice until she was a legal adult, I’m surprised how much I miss the spice!

Winner: USA


Wine

I think this is a no brainer, haha. I’ve learned so much more about the wine-making process by touring different facilities. Did you know that white grapes have their skins removed before being fermented and red grapes retain their skins while fermenting? It’s pretty cool to see the vineyards and get walked through the process.

Being in the USA and not a huge wino, I was only introduced to the more popular varieties of wine. Cabernet sauvignon. Merlot. Pinot grigio. Pinot noir. Chardonnay. And literally, that’s all I could name before coming here. There’s so many more regions and types of grapes than I knew. Falanghina is my favorite white wine, and brunello is an amazing red! You can read more about my wine experience in Italy in my Favorite wineries in Italy – Ranked post.

I’ll definitely be shopping for a different selection of wines when I am living in the US again, and for that…

Winner: Italy


Coffee

Alright, considering I tried to avoid Starbucks as much as possible when I was living in the US, it was a real treat to have while I was home visiting. I may have indulged a few too many times, but we don’t have it in Italy, unless you buy the k-cups or coffee grounds at the commissary or something. Also, I do like having a larger cup of coffee rather than the smaller quantities offered at local Italian cafés. I mean, I have a Keurig at home for a reason and I order two cappuccinos for a reason when I go out. And coffee in the US is more expensive. Probably because of the quantity we drink it in, but regardless, I can get an entire pizza for the same cost as a grande frappuccino.

BUT there is one type of coffee that I have never seen in the US and even searched for while back home. I could not find it! I googled… asked coffee brewers… nothing. If you have been or go to Italy, order any type of coffee with ginseng. Ginseng cappuccino. Ginseng caffé. Ginseng moccacino. If you’re like me, it may sound weird, but I promise it’s SO good. My life won’t be the same when I leave here and I’m determined to find a way to bring this delightful caffeinated creation back with me. They aren’t any more or less expensive than other coffees, but they could be and I’d pay it!

Maybe it’s because I’m more of a tea drinker these days, and each country has their own qualities that outweigh each other…

Winner: TIE!


If you think of something else you want to see compared, leave a comment! 🙂


This is not a sponsored post. It does not contain affiliate links.

Closing the Gap – Military Wife Myths

What’s it like being a military life?

I’m in the midst of preparing to head back to Italy and it’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve been away from my husband for over a month and I kind of feel like it’s the first time I’ll be visiting again, except this time I get to stay. There’s always been a combination of shipping items over and figuring out how to pack everything else that, in the end, really ends up being a lot easier. I can guarantee in 24 hours I’ll admit all this stress really wasn’t worth it.

Since my husband and I are FINALLY closing the distance (YAY! The sponsorship process is over! We get to finally live together officially!), I thought I’d let you all know some of the common questions I get often being a military wife and now as a sponsored military wife.

I usually put a tea review, but right now, I want to get this blog post out there and I’ll add a tea review later. 🙂

Did you get to fly home for free?

Well, that certainly would have been amazing! No, I do not get to fly home for free now that we are married. There are Space A flights but a lot is dependent on who else is being transported on that flight and why. There’s so many other individuals that could bump me from a spot on a Space A flight (which would be free) and that journey home could be drastically long.

What I’ve gotten really good at is finding really affordable flights and making our money work to our advantage. This mean sometimes I fly from a larger airport to save on airfare, don’t opt in for in-flight meals, and use flight rewards from my credit card to get a little hopper flight back to Phoenix. Let me know if you’d like a blog post with some of those tips.

How come your husband didn’t wear his uniform in your wedding?

For those of you who know me in person, you know I got married “twice.” Once to be legally wed and start our sponsorship process, and the second to enjoy with our family and close friends. Neither time did my husband wear his dress uniform, and I’m ok with that. It was entirely HIS decision to make.

First, there is no rule that says, “If you’re in the military and get married, you must wear your uniform.” It’s completely a choice that’s left up to the service member. As I thought more about it, there’s more reasons service members may choose to wear their dress uniform, because they primary reason I could come up with not to wear it is very simple. They don’t want to. Then THAT reason can go in zillions of different directions.

Here’s some reasons I thought of that make a whole lot of sense for a service member to wear their dress uniform when getting married.

  • It’s the nicest outfit they own at the time.
  • A new suit/tux/outfit is not affordable at the time.
  • The service member’s participation in the military is a very strong part of their whole life.
  • They want to wear it.

Bullet point #3 might throw some people off. In my husband’s case, the Navy is a large part of his life right now, but hasn’t been a large part of his life as a whole. He enlisted after graduating college, having a career, accomplishing a huge feat in refereeing, and was quite a bit older than most other recruits. Had he enlisted right out of high school MAYBE it would have been a different story.

If you’re married, how come you’re not living together?

Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as simply getting married to be able to live together when it comes to the military. It’s an even bigger pain in the butt when you’re stationed OCONUS (Outside the Continental US), and even MORE complicated if the service member had orders there before you get married.

Here’s the short story. We got married and immediately started the paperwork needed to get command sponsorship for me to officially join my husband. That took almost four months to get the approval and continue moving in the direction of getting a visa for me, which took another three months. So after seven months, I’m finally in a position where I can officially live with my husband where he is stationed.

You need a visa even if you’re there with the military…?

Ok not so much a question as a statement said in a confused tone.

Yes, I need a visa to stay in the country my husband is stationed in. This isn’t always the case with each country, but with Italy, it is. Service members do not need a visa, but spouses and other dependents do. Not only do I need a visa, but I’ll get what in someway is an Italian green card, called a soggiorno.

#FunFact! I can stay in Italy the length of my visa, and can travel throughout the Schengen area as I please without adhering to tourist restrictions!

Now that you’re married, why aren’t you having kids right away? Don’t you get more money for having kids?

No, we don’t get more money for having kids while my husband is in the military. So what’s the rush?! 

It’s a common misconception that the more kids a military family has, the more money the service member gets in their paycheck. That may have been the case at one point (which I have no idea when that would be), but it is not true now. Once a service member gets married, they get allowances with dependent rates. That rate is the same whether there’s one dependent (usually the spouse) or 5 (spouse + kids).

Basically, we’re in a different country with lots of access to areas we won’t be able to get to as easily once we PCS. Having kids is not the priority right now. We have a single income and hopes of seeing as much of Europe as we can before returning to the US.

If you have other questions about being a military wife, leave a comment or sending me a message! If there’s enough, maybe you’ll see a part 2 to this post. 🙂

Why Quitting My Job Works For Me

How can quitting my job work?

Before moving to Italy with my husband, we made one of the most difficult decisions I think we’ll make as a couple until we have children. I say WE because it truly was a joint decision that I don’t know if I could have really made on my own in good faith. The decision was to quit my job so we could be together full time.

Tea of the day: Refresh Mint
Brand: Tazo Tea

Color: More like the Peppermint Bark tea than Mint Medley I tried before, this tea is brown in color. It’s a lighter brown that allows you to see to the bottom of the mug still.
Taste: I had to check the ingredients because there is a familiar taste that I like but was slightly different than a normal peppermint. I thought may be it would be licorice, but instead is spearmint. I almost exclusively chew spearmint gum which is what made the taste familiar. The spearmint does make the bite of mint flavoring stronger than Mint Medley, and it offers a cooling sensation in the mouth.
Ideas for next time I have this: I still struggle to think of other ingredients to add to mint flavored teas. The strength of the spearmint makes me really enjoy it the way it is, so why fix what’s not broken?

Now, I had a pretty good job, and I liked it for the most part. I was a trainer at a university’s call center. By the time I left, I had trained over half the existing staff, knew everyone by name, and could tell you at least one thing unique to them. My favorite part of working is the relationships I build with other staff and my position gave me the perfect opportunity to do that with everyone.

Why it works

I would never encourage anyone to just quit their job. Some people have the ability to make those decisions without having something else like that. I am not that type of person. I wouldn’t quit a job without one in place or a plan.

Here’s why quitting my job works for us:

  • WE talked about it a LOT. My husband and I discussed several times at length what our financial situation would be if I were to quit my job. We discussed how much debt we each have, the income we would have, and looked ahead at what we would like to do with expendable income. We even got on the same page about a savings plan.
  • Extra money was saved for when we became a single-income household. Because of our specific situation with where my husband is stationed and living options, we did have some extra cash flow coming in for a few months. Before we got married, that money’s purpose was identified and we have not strayed from it. It is in a separate account and only spent on my mandatory expenses related to bills and travel. Luckily, we saved enough that student loan payments are not a worry until I can get a full-time job upon returning to the US.
  • WE discuss larger purchases. Being a single-income household brings accountability and we have to hold each other accountable. We each are very conscious about what we spend and any large purchases are discussed beforehand. Part of that discussion includes which account the purchase is made from, its necessity, and other possible options. Two recent examples are a second car and a device that diagnoses car problems.
  • It’s an ongoing conversation. Like most couples, money talk is typically left open-ended. The conversation is never truly over. There are always bills being paid and purchases being made. That ongoing conversation is part of our accountability system. It’s not wrong to ask if the internet bill was paid or if it’s ok to buy something we “want” rather than “need” on Amazon.

That last point is really key. Without the ongoing discussion, my not having a job would not work. I’d be too stressed out about money to the point where I’d likely give up my social life out of fear. Having the constant conversation continues to bring assurance of our financial situation while alleviating the stress that could be a symptom of one income for two people.

Benefits of quasi-employment

There’s also some serious benefits to not having a job, especially when you’re living abroad. I say I’m quasi-employed because I am a skincare consultant and am working on starting my own coaching business, but right now, there’s little to no income generated from those.

  • Focus on my marriage. I really have the ability to focus on my new marriage and being a great wife. Not that I wouldn’t be able to if I was employed, but our relationship has never really had to compete with a job in person. My husband and I were long-distance the first 18 months of our relationship (that includes our first 3 months of marriage), so spending time with each other never had to compete with time for our jobs. We haven’t gotten to spend time together consistently until now, so to be able to really focus on that when we are together instead of fighting thoughts of what I need to do to prepare for work the next day is incredible.
  • Focus on my interests. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English that I haven’t really used except to go to grad school. I’ve always wanted to write something. Never really knew what, but I got some time to figure it out. I started this blog and exploring opportunities to write in other places on the internet. You won’t know most of it is me, but it’s out there and I know it. 🙂 Also, I love tea so I get to drink a lot of it now. AND I’m having a lot of fun playing travel agent for us by researching places for us to travel to while we’re stationed in Europe. Oh, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stay up and watch the World Series at 2:00 AM if I was working.
  • Focus on my family and friends. I think I might talk more with my family and friends back home now than I did when I was working and lived closer to them. I’m so grateful that I’m able to keep up with them even when I’m 6,000 miles away. I don’t know what I’d do without my family and friends. Just because you move away doesn’t mean you have to completely start over. My husband and I grew stronger through distance so I know it’s not an excuse to lose connection with people I love and care about. And this extends to new friends I’m making in Italy!
  • Focus on me. I’ve been back in the states for almost a month. My husband decided to text my mother asking how they were holding up with me back home, haha. My mother’s response was that they were doing fine and that I was more centered. That really hit me. I have been working since I was 15 and always get invested emotionally in my job. You could say I was “always” working. Between that, a social life, softball tournaments, traveling for family gatherings/weddings, and then my own wedding, there wasn’t much time for focus on me regardless of how often people said I needed time to just relax. Well, I have it now. I’m not productive every day, but most days I am in some way. I embraced the true laziness for awhile, but it’s a lot easier to make productive decisions when I’ve actually had a chance to relax.

I still feel like I’m on a long vacation. I’m not sure it’s totally hit my psyche that I don’t have a job I will be going back to. Whatever that job is, I’ll have to apply for it and that’s a thought I can push away for now. The reality is that if I want to work, I can, but I don’t have to.

Like I said before, I’d never simply tell someone to quit their job. But if you’re thinking about it, maybe this can help ease your mind about what some benefits are and some things to REALLY think about beforehand.

Our Guide to Barcelona in December

What did we do in Spain?

This Tuesday Tea turned into Next Thursday Tea which turned into skip a Tuesday haha.

To end the near year, we finally took off and left Italy for a few days.  We set off to Barcelona, Spain for a three day weekend and loved every second of it. Here’s a guide to how we got around, where we stayed, and the landmarks we visited.

Tea of the day: Yogi Herbal Detox
Brand:
 Yogi
Color: This detox tea has a sort of golden brown color.
Taste: Even though it was steeped for over five minutes (recommended 3-5 minutes), the taste is rather light considering the complexity of flavors that are included. The stronger flavors come out at the very end. Normally, I’ve experienced teas with licorice or licorice root to be strong in that flavor but this one is not. I’m more aware of the cinnamon and pepper in the aftertaste of a sip.
Ideas for next time I have this: I may add some honey to complement the light flavor of dandelion and honeysuckle, and cut some of the spice in the after taste.

Easyjet – Naples to Barcelona

Easyjet is definitely a no frills, no thrills airline. They had the lowest price just a few weeks out and we paid the extra 5 euro to have choose seats to insure we sat next to each other. Talk about the quickest flight ever! We were in the air for barely an hour before arriving at our destination.

Because Easyjet is a budget airline, we flew with just our backpacks. We would have had to pay extra just to bring more luggage on board. This isn’t Southwest. No carry-on AND personal item, just personal item unless you want to pony up so extra cash. This was a new experience for me and I’m glad to say that I got through successfully! A few tips!

  • Select accommodations that offer a hair dryer so you don’t need to travel with one.
  • If your accommodations also include personal care items in the room, leave your travel size stuff at home.
  • Plan ahead to bring ONE pair of shoes. (We don’t go clubbing or anything so walking/running shoes were perfect, and I wore them on the plane.)
  • Another perk of planning ahead, I knew the weather and chose what I would wear each day so I didn’t overpack. Who really needs options for three days?
  • If you’re wearing a jacket, place smaller items in the jacket pockets so get that tiny bit of extra space in your backpack.

Barcelona Metro

We utilized the Barcelona Metro system (and our feet) to get around Barcelona. It was 10 euro each to get from the airport to the station nearest our hotel. We also opted for a 48 hour pass (14.50 euro each and includes airport transport fees) to use Saturday/Sunday and get back to the airport. The 48 hour time frame starts as soon as you validate it, not at time of purchase.

If you’re familiar with other metro systems, it is very similar and easy to navigate. Grab a map from an information booth that shows where popular destinations are to make it easier to know where to hop on/off.

Hotel Catalonia Square

We stayed at Hotel Catalonia Square and it ended up being the perfect location. It is located in the Gothic Quarter and near the Catalunya Metro station. Don’t let the understated exterior fool you, this hotel has class once you walk inside and see the colorful staircase that leads to the main lobby area after checking in.

We ended up getting upgraded to a Junior Suite (Merry Christmas to us!) and it was incredible. Hello waterfall shower!! The hotel offers breakfast (for an additional cost or with certain reservation types) each morning and a free buffet from 2:00 PM to 11:00 PM that includes pre-made salads, yogurt drinks, sandwiches, fruit, and other small snacks. It wasn’t extraordinary but was perfect for that little treat on your way in or out during those times.

We arrived a few hours before check-in time. They happily held our backpacks for us while the room was finished getting prepared and we ventured out for some tapas. They also watched over our backpacks after we checked out since our flight home was later in the evening.

Tapas at Bo de Gracia

We meant to eat at a tapas restaurant a staff member of the hotel recommended, but ended up eating next door at Bo de Gracia. It is delicious! We ordered a few tapas and split them between the two of us. Every single one is incredible. Our waiter was superb and I was able to use some of the Spanish I know with him. I wish I had taken pictures of the food. 😦  We ordered six different tapas, but I can only remember four of them now. Like in Rome, the menu included several different languages, so don’t be afraid if you’re not fluent in Spanish.

  • Salmon on Toast (my favorite!)
  • Chicken wings (the sauce was great!)
  • Hummus with meat
  • Shrimp scampi

Fun Fact! Castilian Spanish is spoken in Barcelona, but most know “normal” Spanish also.

Amaya

We walked through La Boqueria as most of the shops were closing, then continued down La Rambla to see what was around. We got hungry and turned our sites to finding a place to eat. I had a mission to have paella so we looked for a close by restaurant that offered paella. We had our pick but one stood out for no particular reason, Restaurant Amaya.

We arrived after a few minute walk back toward the hotel and got a table for two. We saw they offered a lobster paella so we splurged on that along with glasses of the house red wine and some croquettes. The wine was good and croquettes a delicious snack to tide us over until our meal came. Now, this lobster paella had instructions that it must be ordered for two people. We soon saw why.

A huge, deep plate came to our table. The smell was mesmerizing. You could see the lobster, still in its shell, among all the rice. We were served our first portions, each getting half of the lobster tail. Oh… my… gosh. This is exactly what I had hoped paella would be. All the spices used in the rice were incredible and the lobster was perfectly succulent to complement the rice.

We finished the meal with Crema Catalana. It’s very similar to creme brûlée, but much lighter and had a slight citrus taste to the creme. It paired very nicely with the heavier meal we had just eaten. I’ll definitely be stopping here again whenever I’m in Barcelona next.

Park Güell

The next morning we stopped by McDonald’s for breakfast. Yes,.. we went to McDonald’s in Spain. That’s kind of one of our traditions for breakfast on trips, haha. Then we hopped on the metro from Catalunya to Vallcarca to get to Park Güell, Antoni Gaudi’s landscape architecture masterpiece.

What comes after the metro is not for the faint of heart. You’ll walk about one block from the station, make a left, then journey uphill for almost one mile. And I mean UPhill. There are stairs and if you haven’t worked out yet that day, it’s a good glute workout. Getting to the park is worth it. There are well curated and kept paths throughout the park without some lookout points. Our first stop showed the expansive city of Barcelona with westward and southward facing views. It’s a great first glimpse to see truly how extravagant and large the Basilica de Sagrada Familia is compared to other city buildings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We entered the Monumental Area (only accessible with a ticket starting at 7 euro). This is where you can see Gaudi’s colorful style with amazing tile work embedded into this area of the park. My favorite part was a bench that lined the entire border of a patio area that overlooked the area. Half of the patio area was under construction, so only have the bench was accessible to view. The color changing throughout the bench is exciting to walk along and no two areas are alike. Colors may repeat but the design and tiles used in that scheme are not.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Basilica de Sagrada Familia

After we walked through Park Güell, did a little shopping, dropped out loot off at the hotel, and had lunch at Hard Rock Cafe (another tradition Matt and I have for traveling). I won’t say much about our lunch, other than it is located in the Gothic Quarter on the opposite side of the square that is over the Catalunya stop.

After filling up, we got back on the Metro and headed to the Sagrada Familia stop. We had to switch trains for this trip, but we’re pros. 😉

Now… you may have already looked at one of the pictures I took from Park Güell and saw how it towers over the rest of that part of the city. “Towers over” might be an understatement. So, when we walked out of the metro station and turned around, I think that’s the smallest I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I was ready to see something big, but I wasn’t prepared for something this big!

The interior and exterior are both beautiful. So much detail is stretched out to every corner of each of the two facades that have been constructed so far. I chose to go up the Nativity Facade so that I could get better pictures with the sun setting behind us, against the Passion Facade. You get a closer look at the top of some towers part of the Nativity Facade and you can see Gaudi’s signature colorful style in the fruits that sit atop each tower. While descending, I had an opportunity to take a classic spiral staircase picture… minus not realizing my shoe was in the shot.

We took an elevator up and the stairs back down the facade. I was a little confused because that is different than several websites stated when researching which facade to go up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once we descended, we took a look at the inside glory. Multiple columns hold up the ceilings and light shines in from all sides. The stained glass windows are set in a way that cool colors and warm colors are on opposite sides. A sign inside stated that Gaudi’s design was inspired by a forest with the columns being like trees and the light coming in the stained glass windows resembling sunlight coming in through the trees.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the center of the staging area is Christ on the cross. That image of suffering and love amongst the colorful stained glass is the most beautiful representation of Christ on the cross that I’ve ever seen. Even in suffering and pain, there can be beauty and love in the same moment. Despite your religious affiliation, you can’t deny it’s gorgeous.

Palacio de Flamenco

Our last stop of the day was the Palacio de Flamenco. I found a groupon that includes dinner and the show, so we decided to be entertained with some classic southern Spanish dance. We arrived early to view a video about the history of Flamenco and receive a short lesson on how hands are used as percussion for the style of dance.

The dancing is so beautiful! And the singing is very different than anything I’ve heard before. I wish I knew more Spanish so that I could understand the stories they are stinging about. Imaging a whale singing but a deeper voice. That is the best I can describe the singing that accompanies Flamenco dance, and that’s not even a good representation because it really is so cool to watch.

Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella

Matt used his map skills to find our first place to venture to on our final morning in Barcelona. We decided to enjoy breakfast at the hotel, then hopped on the metro and headed for the Arc de Triompf stop. These stop names really make it quite easy to navigate the city! Haha.

The Arc de Triomf is stunning. It opens onto a large walkway where local artist show off their creations or perform. It was Christmas Eve, so not many were out that morning. There was a man with two poles attached with a string that had loops he used to make bubbles. There were a few children around and they enjoyed popping the bubbles he made.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That walkway goes straight until the Pard de la Cuitadella. So much greenery is in this park. The many walkway is dirt and very well kept. Another bubble maker was in the park and several others were enjoying a morning stroll like we were. The zoo is nearby and a local university sits along one of the edges of the park.

We stumbled upon the most beautiful fountain I have ever seen. There were horses and gold that adorned the fountain. Several ducks and geese were swimming in its waters. It really is a spectacle. I’m so glad that it is so accessible for park goers to see.

Mi Burrito y Yo and Catedral de Barcelona

Our true last bit of site seeing was to another area of the Gothic Quarter. I quickly spotted the restaurant that must have been named for me, Mi Burrito y Yo. We walked down a couple alleyways to see the Catedral de Barcelona. I had to use the panoramic view on my phone to get the entire front of the cathedral in one pictures. We decided to eat at Mi Burrito y Yo, and the only disappointing thing about it is there aren’t any burritos on the menu. We chose kebabs of lamb meat with vegetables and that definitely hit the spot.

That rounds off this post. Much longer than usual, so congrats if you made it this far! We are heading to Belgium soon so you can keep an eye out for a similar post after that trip. Bravo Barcelona, bravo!

Christmas movies: Love it or Leave it

What Christmas movies do I like?

Hello there fellow winterlings! Apparently winter is coming AND here simultaneously. There’s still technically two more days of pumpkin spice everything, colorful leaves, and other fall things UNLESS you live somewhere that’s already gotten snow, rainy days, and temps below 40 degrees. I think Mother Nature caught a cold early this year just like I did. I lost my voice two days ago and have been nursing it back through a self-prescribed order of rest, Christmas movies, and tea…

Tea of the day: Lemon Zinger
Brand:
 Celestial Seasonings
Color: For a lemon tea, this is a medium brownish color. Probably from the rosehips. My surprise comes from knowing other Celestial Zingers are very brightly colored in accordance with their fruit flavor.
Taste: The lemon is not overpowering, which I like. It’s almost like I squeezed some lemon juice into a cup of English Breakfast. Perfectly balanced in my opinion.
Ideas for next time I have this: Well, more how have I been drinking this for the last few days. I’ve added some honey and Apple Cider Vinegar to help ease my sore throat and bring my voice back. The ACV brings so tartness but the lemon and honey soften that so the bite isn’t too strong. Two days in and my throat is almost pain free!

Between it being cold outside and not feeling the greatest, I’ve taken the time to watch quite a few Christmas movies on Netflix.

1. A Wish for Christmas – If you’re really bored, it’s sweet

This movie brought to you by Hallmark! Who would have guessed!? It stars Lacey Chabert (the girl that didn’t make fetch happen) in the lead role of Sara. Santa grants her a wish so she asks for more confidence to stand up for herself. Once her wish is granted, she gets the opportunity to pitch her marketing proposal for a company… and find love?

This movie is your classic Hallmark cliché movie where the main character finds love around Christmas time in an unexpected way. For general enjoyment, I’d watch this movie again. It definitely has a good lesson in confidence and how it can be beneficial. That’s the biggest takeaway for me from this movie. #spoileralert Can we please get away from the boss-employee romances though? The lesson here is that those should be avoided.

2. Christmas Inheritance – just… don’t

p14868180_p_v8_aa

When the party heiress to a multi-million dollar company acts irresponsibly, what can save her? Oh, delivering a family Christmas card to her father’s friend with only $100 in hand and being restricted from letting anyone in Snow Falls know who she really is. Ellen leaves to deliver said Christmas card to small town Snow Falls but the recipient Zeke is off and away with no known return in sight. Frustrated, Ellen sticks around and gets into the Christmas spirit by lying to her host about who she is, because she’s supposed to. One townee knows the truth because Ellen resembles her mother, but doesn’t spoil the secret publicly. THAT would have been interesting. Does she deliver the card?! You’ll have to drink a lot of coffee before watching this to stay awake to find the answer.

Netflix is trying to cash in on Hallmark’s Christmas romance monopoly with this flick. Christmas Inheritance loses points for being ridiculously annoying and incredibly unrealistic to its target audience. Yes, I understand these Christmas romances aren’t realistic ever, but this is just beyond me. She can’t make it back to her boyfriend’s work Christmas party because 1) Zeke is still who knows where and 2) a storm is rolling in. So said boyfriends magically gets a flight to Snow Falls to surprise her. If she can’t get out, how does he get in!? Also, the attempt at flirty banter between Ellen and her taxi-driving host had my eyes rolling the entire time. Save yourself, skip this movie, and mail your Christmas cards next time.

3. El Camino Christmas – maybe it just wasn’t my taste

p14868105_p_v8_aa

This movie destroyed my hopes and dreams of what it could be! To me, it has an all-star cast. Tim Allen, Dax Shepard, Jessica Alba, and Kurtwood Smith. I’ll tell you what… Red from That 70s Show would have told this movie to stick itself up its own ass. Then I realized, “Oh, none of those people have been in much recently.” Granted, maybe it’s just not my style movie but I just could not get into it. And the Christmas element that I desire in a movie that has Christmas in the title was largely lacking. This is one of those movies that someone wrote and they said, “It’s missing something. Let’s have it set at Christmas!” NO!!!!!!!

Eric, the protagonist but not really, is searching for his father and manages to hold up a liquor store in the middle of nowhere. Deputy and Sheriff are outside trying to neutralize the situation outside. Eventually, there’s shots fired everywhere, a kid in danger (why didn’t Deputy Dumbass and Sheriff Stupidhead work harder to get him out first?), and deaths that have no meaning EXCEPT #spoileralert the long last father sacrifices himself! Give it a watch and tell me what you think.

4. A Christmas Prince – I hope they make a sequel!

achristmasprince-rosemciversource-2 Yes!! Netflix scored with this one! I was SO pleasantly surprised, and I see what you did there Netflix, leaving that ending wide open for a sequel. You better deliver! I won’t be the only disappointed person if you don’t.

Amber, played by Rose McIver (if you haven’t, check her out in iZombie), is an aspiring journalist sent to cover a press conference regarding the throne ascension of the Aldovian royal family. The press conference is canceled and she somehow becomes the tutor to the young princess to attempt to uncover some scandal lurking amongst the family regarding Prince Richard. #spoileralert A few plot twists later, Amber gets what would have been a GREAT story, saves the throne for Prince Richard, and gets him as a fiancé.

Alright, I gave some grief before about lack of realism, but this is too good to pass up. It’s like The Princess Diaries, but Mia is split into two people, Amber and Prince Richard. Prince Richard is the royal part, and Amber gets the makeover. I enjoyed seeing Amber actually getting close to the royal family while providing legitimate help (I hope since she didn’t get fired as a tutor) instead of just skeezing around offering excuses for why she wasn’t tutoring on some given day.

The acting was cheesy but not as cheesy as Christmas Inheritance, so in the battle for which Netflix holiday movie is best, the winner is… A Christmas Prince.

5. The Spirit of Christmas – Totally watching again!

Kate is a lawyer sent to oversee the appraisal and selling of an inn just before the holidays. She begrudgingly goes and has to deal with a slew of appraisers and townsfolk claiming the inn is haunted. Despite the inn closing the day she arrives, she stays as the current executor. The first night, a man enters the inn in the middle of the night and knows the security code! Gasp! When the innkeeper returns, he informs Kate that the man, Daniel, is the ghost who materializes for a few times each year right before Christmas. Kate sticks around and attempts to uncover the reason behind Daniel’s lack of “moving on.” Does she find love in the meantime?

Alright, another highly unrealistic Christmas romance BUT it is the most original storyline that I’ve watched in a long time. It tickles my paranormal romance bone so nicely. Daniel struts around in a very Darcy-esque way (any Pride and Prejudice lovers out there?) to keep Kate off his love-stricken scent, but the audience knows better. Kate catches on and you see their romance start to develop despite the odds that Daniel IS a ghost.

I’m not going to spoil this one. You MUST watch it! I know I will be a few more times.

What Christmas movies do you like? Leave your own reviews in the comments!

*SOME LINKS ARE AMAZON AFFILIATES LINKS AND I MIGHT MAKE A LITTLE BIT IF YOU PURCHASE SOMETHING.