Thursday, October 20, 2011

Much Ado about Malta

I don't know is the Maltese have a saying about windy days, but they really should say: Riħ Tibni Karattru or Wind Builds Character. Because, my friends, Matt and I learned that in spades when we traveled to the quirky little island nation known as Malta.

Trust us, this island is as filled with character as it is wind.

Nestled in the Mediterranean just south of Sicily, Malta is a tiny island which has long been an attractive strategic point for different powers such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and the British.

Now it has become a hot spot for thrifty Europeans who are looking for a seaside holiday on a budget. Therefore, this combination of exotic tropical sex appeal edged with post-colonial grittiness that, for me, made it the the truly endearing "Poor Man's Italian Rivera."

Malta has a lot of history, a lot of beauty and a whole lot of eccentricity which you won't find anywhere else. Oh and its got wind too.

Matt and I spent a few days taking in the ancient sand colored fortifications, ancient ruins and breathing in the salty sea air. We were lucky enough to be there for the Easter week celebrations which allowed us to witness the profound spirituality of the Maltese. This made the island seem much more mystical; as if we had stepped back into the Malta of the Knights of the Order of St. John. It truly was a unique twist to our very eclectic experience.

All and all, Malta really is a hidden gem of the Mediterranean. If you are looking for a topical getaway with a flare completely different from the continent then Malta is a must! Just be prepared for the winds, and the sunsets.

Tanti Baci,


Monday, September 26, 2011

Seeing Green

Like a good number of Americans, I can trace part of my ancestry back to the emerald isle. In my previous travels, I had been lucky enough to spend a week in Ireland with my family exploring our mother land roots. On this round of adventures, I had the opportunity to go back to my ancestral homeland with two of my closest friends to take advantage of its lush splendor.

I will be honest, I am somewhat partial to the North of Ireland. It is truly one of the most glorious places on Earth. That being said, I can tell you quite frankly that Cork City is not my favorite Irish urban hub. It is certainly worth seeing, but it isn't near the top of list. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the city, Cork County's surrounding countryside did not disappoint. The areas was brimming with a bit of character, a dash of flare and oh yes a lot of green.

I know, I know focusing on the lush greenery when it comes to Ireland is so cliche. However, anyone who has ever been to the island can testify to the intensity of green that surrounds you.

Mantis, mint, pistachio and chartreuse all seem to mix together in a dazzling array. It really is quite a sight.

Even the boys couldn't help but be amazed by all of the vibrant color!

Although it was a quick jaunt, I truly do feel extremely forunate to travel back to this lovely island. Visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the legendary Blarney stone* was something every bona fide tourist should do. Also, make sure to check out the small towns that lace Cork's countryside they will certainly give you more of a taste of the county's local flavor.

For the most part, our trip to Cork was truly a nice one** and I was left wanting to explore more of the county. Therefore, if you are ever in the southern part of the Isle I would recommend spending a little time in Cork County. This will allow you to get an even more complete feel of such a beautiful island.

Tanti Baci,


*Has kissing the stone given me the gift of gab; the true skill of eloquence, flattery or persuasion. Well, the verdict is still is out on that one. I do know that in the short term, kissing a stone while partially dangling upside-down off of a roof did scared the Bejesus out of me and left me incapable of speaking for an hour or so (or feeling my legs either.) I have no pictures of myself kissing it (that I would allow to be posted online.) However, here's a picture of Matt and Sam capturing super cute Irish memories. AWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

**Poor Matt go terribly ill while we were in Ireland. This means that much of the time he was either in bed or not feeling up to his Emery Travel Agenda. Therefore, both Matt and I agree that he deserves an Ireland redo (anyone willing to front the bill?)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bouyant Bruxelles

With the EUPS program, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Brussels for a second time. Unlike our first time in the capital city, the sun shined brilliantly. The weather that we encountered was absolutely fabulous (apparently some of the best springtime weather the city had experienced in years) and gave Brussels the glow of a golden wheat beer.

This extraordinary weather allowed me to drink in many new sights the city had to offer and reflect on this melting pot. Brussels is a French speaking island in a Flemish sea; a meeting point for so many different cultures through out Europe. In turn this has created a city with a rich and complex texture, that I believe is overlooked by many.

It is as elegant city while still also being an eclectic mix of groups, truly the capital of Europe in many ways. Sadly one can sometimes miss that in a haze of rain, beer and waffles. But in feverish sunshine or the glow of a Spring night, Brussels burns brightly in technicolor and allows you to experience the city known as Bruxelles (French) or Brussel (Dutch) in all of its glory.

Don't pass up such a luminous city. You will regret it!

Tanti Baci,

I though I should share about this little fellow, Manneken Pis which translates to "Little Man Pee." Although the fountain may seem crude to some, the story behind Manneken Pis is deeply rooted in the city's folklore and seen to represent the spirit of Brussels. According to one legend, the statue was created to honor a little boy who, while hiding in a tree, drove away invading troops by peeing on them. Another says the little boy saved the city during a siege by peeing on a burning fuse that would have set Brussels blaze. Whatever the legend, Manneken Pis is certainly a landmark with close connections to the culture of the city and should not be forgotten (especially since sometimes the fountain has beer flowing instead of water!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Paris of the Danube

There are very few cities that can be described as having a grown up type magic. Many places can be described as having that fairytale-esque type aura that makes you feel as if Walt Disney's genius is lurking around the next corner. However, very few can cast the spell of adult magic and can whisk people away in a more mature fashion. Many say Paris has this ability or so I have been told by the movies. I wouldn't know because I have never been to the city of lights. But I can tell you for certain that Budapest does indeed have its own brand of enchantment. The city literally glows in a bedazzling light.

My heart kind of skips a beat when I think of Budapest. One of the three imperial cities of the Hapsburg empire, Budapest is truly a crown jewel.

The city's sense of grandeur is spellbinding without being oppressive or unapproachable. It is impossible not to be drawn to such gleaming monuments that make Budapest the "Pearl of the Danube."

Whether its strolling across one of the four stately bridges that link Buda and Pest together, gazing dreamily at the Danube from the Fisherman's Bastion or sharing a bottle of Hungarian wine with someone special on Margaret's Island you will be bewitched. The city is truly a marvel that sadly many miss out on.

Don't wait, go to Budapest and fall in love like I did. You'll find that many other cities pale in comparison to it's magic and I dare sat you might start referring to Paris as "The Budapest of the Seine."

Tanti Baci,

PS: If ever in Budapest I HIGHLY recommend the restaurant Poszonyi and while there try the jokai bableves soup. It is a little local hole-in-the-wall, but the food was incredible.

And on another foodie note, Budapest has an extremely famous coffee culture. I highly recommend exploring these scrumptious coffee options! If not only for the taste then for the designs that are so lovely it makes it almost a crime to consume them!

Monday, August 15, 2011

City on a Hill

No family vacation is complete without an excursion- it is the best way to escape the big city and see what an area is all about. Following that mantra Katie, Bobby and I (along with baby P!) meandered into the Italian countryside. What did we come across on our early morning train ride from Rome? An imposing hillside town called Orvieto.

Standing dramatically above the countryside, Orvieto has been an ideal strategic location for the area's inhabitants. For thousands of years the Etruscans, the Romans and the Papacy all took advantage city's fortified location. This militaristic past as a stronghold has made the city an archaeological gem rich with history. Nowadays, Orvieto is a charming little town which is home to some of the best wine in the Umbria region.

We all found Orvieto to be a much welcomes retreat from the hustle and bustle of the Italian capital. Despite the high elevation and mighty winds, we found ourselves getting extremely comfortable in this slow city*.

We allowed ourselves to wander aimless through the cobblestone streets, feast on mounds of delish pasta and laugh together until we gave ourselves stomach aches. Isn't that what la dolce vita is about eh?

A lovely getaway. A perfect day on a city on a hill.

Tanti Baci,


PS: Orvietois actually a "slow city." It is apart of a movement known as Cittaslow that looks to protect the diversity, uniqueness and quality of life in small cities.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Roman Holiday

All roads lead to Rome, or so they say. This was the case for me when I traveled to the eternal city to meet my family for Spring Break.* I was lucky to experience Rome for the second time with my sister Katie and my brother-in-law Bob. However, what made this trip extra special was that my sister was pregnant with my beautiful niece. So it wasn't just three best friends experiencing this monumental city; it was four.

Rome is one of those cities that should be an essential on every persons travel to-do list. Between the art, the culture, the food and the wine it really is a must for all travelers young and old. It truly is a sensory overload; there is just so much to see and do that it can be overwhelming. Despite this overload that may occur while in Roma, you just have to push through and try to experience all the history you can. Just look to your trusty map for some guidance if needed (unless you are like us and get your map in the wrong language.)

My personal favorite sight in Rome is the ancient Roman Forum. Layers below the modern city, you have the ability to travel down into living history. While walking through the ruins you cannot help but be filled with wonder and perhaps almost envision the ghosts of famous Romans such as Caesar, Pompey and Cicero.

I also highly suggest the artsy Piazza Navona. The piazza was filled with such elegance and energy.

And no trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the Colosseum! *Queue chanting: MAXIMUS! MAXIMUS! MAXIMUS!*

I really can go on and on about Rome. But the city doesn't need me to advertise for it, Rome can speak for its self. Just go and see the eternal city!

Tanti Baci,

PS: Whenever you are touring Roman ruins, it is CRUCIAL that you take some modeling shots :)

*"Spring Break" in February...Give me a break! More like "Mid-Winter Freeze My Butt Off Break!"

Two Lands, One City

Situated on the Ill River, Strasbourg is a city perched between the massive powers of France and Germany. Due to this, the city has a unique atmosphere; one that on many levels has allowed it to have distinct touches of Deutschland as well as français flare.

This has also meant that the city of Strasbourg has had a rather tumultuous history; since 1917 alone the city has switch hands between France and Germany four times! Since cooler heads did eventually prevailed between the two nations, you can walk freely from country to country or as I did straddle the border and be in two places at once!

Strasbourg is a lovely little city which is now
home of the European Parliament. Despite the modern editions that the European project has brought to it, Strasbourg reminded me of the Belle's village from Beauty and the Beast with some German aspects thrown in.

One of the highlights was Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg. Described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel," the cathedral is very awe-inspiring and a great example of Gothic architecture. I'm not really a church person (whether or not I'm traveling) but it really was lovely. The stained glass was just pun intended. In all serious, it really did fill the cathedral with such vibrant dancing colors. I wish my photographs could do it justice.

I recommend Strasbourg if you happen to be in the Alsace region and would like to experience a city caught between to cultures.
Truly an excellent day trip!

Tanti Baci,

PS: Food was A-MAZING! I think I ate my body weight in french bread, cheese and wine. Deeeeeeeeeeeee-lish!