Let’s Get Serious

I decided to get a little more serious with this blogging business and buy my own domain. There was a lot of cursing and hand wringing mostly because all of the names I wanted were taken, but I finally found one that lets me grow and post things other than just travel.

The new site is The Organized Journey and it is up and running. It will be about my attempts and being organized in everyday life, travel, and planning for the future…as well as my not so successful attempts. Let’s be real. No one’s perfect.

I’m excited to take this next step and I hope that you’ll start this new journey with me.


Florence: Wine, Art, Gelato, and Wine

Love Locks

The train ride from Venice to Florence was about two hours long, but went fairly quickly. On the way there I read through our Italy guidebook and my notes from our Florence guidebook to refresh my memory on places we wanted to make sure we saw.  We arrived at the train station and used the scary underground walkway to get to the other side of the street, opposite the station. Then, we promptly got lost. Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here. We walked around for about another 20 minutes, the whole time within a block of our apartment. Don’t you love that?

Our apartment contact, Artan, was pretty awesome. After checking in, he took Bryan and me out into the neighborhood and showed us where the nearest grocery store was, the general store, the meat and produce market, where not to buy leather, and the best (and cheapest) meal in Florence.

Our apartment was huge and had a really weird layout due to the fact that the building was from the 1400s. Definitely rustic. It had a family room/dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms, a loft and two bathrooms. It was in a great location, right around the corner from the Duomo, on a really quiet street.

After checking out the apartment and unpacking, we went to the grocery store for the first time this trip. Being able to buy and cook your own food is a great way to save tons of money. Going to the supermarket for the first time in another country is always interesting. It typically goes a little something like this:

  1. Go into store and wander around trying to figure out what everything is because the labels are all different. You spend lots of extra time spent trying to figure out what you’re looking at, because it’s in a different language.
  2. Walk around the store some more and try to get the layout down pat. Where was that cereal again?
  3. Put lots of wine in your basket, because it’s cheap.
  4. Buy waaaay more food than any other person in the store and get crazy looks from the cashier. From what I’ve seen, most people in Europe shop day to day instead of weekly like a lot of Americans do. Note: this also makes it easier to carry things back to your apartment.
  5. Carry all of your loot home and find out you forgot to get something.
  6. Go back to store and repeat, but this time you know where everything is.

By the second or third trip to the grocery store, I usually know where just about everything is and can get in and get out with minimal issues. It’s kind of comical when you notice people that are obviously there for the first time and think ‘That was just me yesterday!’

Our first night we made some awesome chicken parmesan, played card games, and went to bed early so we could have a full day of touring. We spent a very rainy day exploring the Duomo, the Duomo Tower and the Uffizi Museum. The Duomo is spectacular on the outside and absolutely beautiful on the inside. Even better, it was free. We bought combined tickets for the Crypt, Tower and Baptistery, and in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it. I’ve seen a few crypts in my travels and this one was just ok. Nothing spectacular. I loved the Tower climb (really great quad and butt workout) and at the top, there were great views of the city and the Duomo’s dome. I highly recommend making the climb. We wanted to climb to the Duomo’s dome, but the line was crazy long. Not really worth the wait since we were able to go right up the Tower stairs.


Afterwards, we went to the Uffizi Museum, which is over by the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. We didn’t purchase tickets in advance (or the Firenze Pass), but we were able to get a time within 15 minutes of buying our tickets. The Uffizi has soooo much art in it that you could easily spend two days going through each of the hallways and rooms. I love art, but by about the second hour I was tired and starving. We had a late, cheapo lunch at a pizziera in the square. It was 5€ for a slice of pizza or Panini and a beer…not bad, right?

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

After lunch we did a little more wandering, some gelato tasting, shopping, and then headed back to the apartment for dinner. Did I mention yet how miserable the weather was the entire time we had been traveling so far? Rain the entire time. We made the best of it, but it kind of put a damper on walking around. We made another trip to the grocery store and had some hamburgers (‘Merica!) and pesto grilled chicken sandwiches for me because I don’t eat red meat.

The next day was our freaking awesome and totally-worth-it wine tour. Wine! Our winery tour with Pierre of Tuscan Winery Tours was one of the highlights of Florence. We met him on the other side of the city, underneath the Piazza de Michaelangelo. He was very warm and friendly, and gave us a rundown of our itinerary for the day. The plan was to visit two wineries with lunch in between, and then make a stop in a little town to browse some shops.

Wine barrels

The ride out to the first winery, Coranzo & Paterno, was quick and we introduced ourselves to the lovely woman and her mother that joined us from Romainia to celebrate Women’s Day. I had never heard of Women’s Day before, and it seems like it’s popular outside of the US. It started raining harder as we got out of our van, so we quickly looked at the vineyard and headed inside to see where they make, bottle, and store the wine. Then we got our wine and cheese on. Coranzo & Paterno Winery also has a diary onsite and their cheeses were out of this world.


Wine and Cheese Tasting

We sampled five different vintages of wine and six different types of cheese, along with three olive oils and two types of jam. Pierre gave us a quick lesson on how to taste the wine and olive oil, and told us a little about each of the wines. My favorites were the 2008 and the 2011. We bought two bottles of each, which were reasonably priced. After drinking about a bottle myself in an hour probably anything would have seemed reasonably priced. When in Tuscany….

Chianti view

Next, we took a short ride to Dario Cecchini, the Crazy Butcher’s, shop in Panzano. We were warned by Pierre that Dario is an artist, and that we should be able to tell what kind of mood he was in by the type of music playing when we walked in. He kind of put a little fear in us, dropped us off at the door, and sped off to ‘park the van’. I was a little worried about what we had gotten ourselves into as AC/DC came pumping out of the shop. We walked inside and were greeted with heavy metal, free flowing wine, cured meats and lard on bread. Sounds like a good time to me!

The Crazy Butcher

Someone mentioned to Dario that they liked his taste in music and he replied by saying, “You like AC/DC?!” and cranked the stereo as loud as it would go. I think my ears are still bleeding ringing, but it was pretty cool to rock out with a knife-wielding legend. After a few minutes of headbanging, we headed across the street to Dario’s restaurant where we had our own table set up with fresh veggies, olive oil, vinegar, delicious bread and more wine.


And then came the meat. Now, I’m not much of a carnivore…I just started eating pork five years ago, and still won’t touch ham today…but the food we had here was life changing. We had rosemary roasted pork that was delicious, a pulled pork that was mouthwatering, and a steak tartare, which I didn’t eat, but I heard was amazing. All of that was accompanied by roasted potatoes and some homemade sauces that were so good I thought about stuffing a few of the bottles in my purse…or at least lick what was left off of the plate. Soooo good!  And so good that I didn’t take pictures. Ha!

After rolling our food-and-wine-stuffed selves back into the van, we took a short ride to Montecalvi Winery to spend some time visiting with Jacqueline, one of the owners. The weather was still crappy, so we took a quick tour of the grounds and headed inside to warm up by the massive fireplace in her lovely, rustic home. Talking with Jacqueline felt like talking to an old friend. We had a great time chatting about the winery and about life in general. After we had exhausted our bottles of wine, we said our goodbyes and made one final stop at a few quaint little stores to do some souvenir shopping. By the time we got back to Florence, we were exhausted and grabbed some quick dinner.


The next day, Bryan and I went to the airport to pick up my sister, Kim, to join us for the rest of our trip. Once we found the bus station, it was really easy to get to the airport in Florence. It took us almost 30 minutes to find the bus station once we got to the train station. We asked for directions at least 3 times, including the information desk at the train station, which was so not helpful.

It’s inside a building about a block away from the train station. Crappy signage and lots of time wasted. If you still can’t find it, look for a bus and follow it…that’s how we finally found it. Luckily, we got to the airport just as Kim’s flight landed. The bus wasn’t leaving for Florence again for another 30 minutes, so we took a taxi back to the apartment. It was a little more expensive than the bus, but it brought us within a block of the apartment.

We went to the apartment to drop off Kim’s luggage and it was at that point that I realized I had left my jacket in the taxi. I didn’t get the taxi number or remember the company, so I considered the jacket gone. Bummer. It was one of my favorites because it was warm, waterproof, and had a awesome hood. That jacket went with me on at least five other trips. I ended up buying a waterproof jacket at a Superdry store that was not so waterproof.

After buying a jacket, we made our way up to the Piazza de Michaelango, which over looks the entire city of Florence. It’s a little bit of a hike, but has great views. Afterwards, we did a quick walking tour of the sites for Kim and got some gelato at our favorite place, Corona’s Café.  We made reservations for 5pm at the Accademia to see the Statue of David. The reservation desk is across the street from the museum in the building with the red door. It was so worth it to make reservations, especially for that time of day.  It wasn’t too crowded and an hour was the perfect amount of time to see everything in the museum.  The Statue of David was absolutely awe inspiring; definitely put it on your must see list!

It was our last night, so we had dinner at one of the places Artan recommended. Bistrot La Capannina was one of the best, cheapest meals we had. Our order was taken by the same guy that cooked the food and served us, and it was delicious. We called it an early night to finish packing. The next day we were taking the train to Rome and then picking up a car to drive to Sorrento.

Have you been to Florence? What was your favorite sight?


Overcome By Events (OBE).

That’s my excuse for why I’ve been MIA from this blog forever two weeks. After the terrible events at the Boston Marathon last Monday, and the horrible explosion in West, Texas, I decided to take a little break from blogging. Being a runner, what happened in Boston really hit home and my heart goes out to all of those affected. I took some time to hug my puppy a little tighter; even though he really doesn’t like it, and ended up biting me and jump kicking me running away. I spent some time with the husband and friends, and did some crafting therapy to snap me out of my funk.


I’m still working on that Florence post, but in the meantime, check out these interesting posts about travel:

Ten Tips for Smoother Travel – This is one of my favorite DIY blogs. This dynamic duo has been traveling around the US (and then some) promoting their new DIY Book and they have a few great tips on how to make travel easy, breezy.

Rome Travel: Why You Should Skip the Colosseum. Forget the Vatican Too. – When this article showed up on my Twitter feed, I was pretty shocked by the title. What do you mean, ‘Skip the Colosseum?!’, but once I read through it, I wished I had seen it before our Italy tripCondé Nast Traveler put together a list of sites to see instead of the typical tourist jaunts like the Colosseum and the Vatican. While I don’t necessarily agree that you should miss the big sites, the ones offered in this article provide good, alternative sightseeing off the beaten path. I think if you were spending some extra time in Rome, or if you were making a return trip, that these should be on your must see list.

London’s Secret Small Hotels – This post has a few hotels (some a little more affordable than others) that never came across my radar when we were searching for places to stay last December or this past March. Check them out as a different alternative to your everyday chain hotel.

If there are any runners out there, I’d love to hear how you stay in shape while traveling.  Hope everyone has a great weekend! 

*The YHL book link above is an affiliate link, and will not cost you anything extra.*

Sweepstakes: Condè Nast Readers’ Choice Survey

Conde Nast 2013 Sweepstakes

Source: Condè Nast Traveler

I just started following Condè Nast Traveler on Twitter this week and saw they were offering an awesome trip package in exchange for hearing readers’ travel experiences. They want to hear what you have to say about the cities, islands, resorts, airlines, hotels, spas and cruise ships you’ve experienced in the past year.

The Sweepstakes ends April 30th, 2013, so head on over to their website to enter to win a Grand Prize of a 3-night stay at the One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico and a First Prize trip to Australia for a a 3-night stay at Qualia. Honestly, both trips sound amazing and I’ve only heard great things about both locations.

Beware, the survey is a little long if you’ve been to more than 2-3 places over the past year. Good luck!

Are Los Cabos, Mexico or Australia on your future trips list?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Condè Nast Traveler to talk about this sweepstakes. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to win a great vacation.

Venice: The City of Canals and Crepes


I’m surprised my Type-A self was able to wait until November to buy plane tickets for our trip in March. I’m so glad I did though, because by about that time prices had dropped $200 from their price a few weeks earlier. I knew it was the right time to buy, so our group of six met to book the flights and apartments. We used Airbnb.com for the apartment rentals and CheapOAir.com for the airfare.

Both the out and back flights had layovers in London. We had a 12+ hour layover in London on the way to Venice, but had to switch from Heathrow Airport to Gatwick. What do you do with that much time in a city? Not much when your flight gets in late and you don’t actually get into the city until 9:30pm on a Sunday.  We decided to get an inexpensive hotel room; just somewhere to stash our bags and maybe sleep for a few hours. We had dinner at a little Indian restaurant Bryan and I ate at during our December London trip (more on that in another post). After dinner, pretty much everything was closed down and there wasn’t anything to do but head back to the hotel.

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the front desk to book a taxi to pick us up early and drive by each of the sights so we could at least see them and take some pictures. We went back to the room, took showers and slept for a few hours before getting picked up and driven to Gatwick.

The drive there wasn’t too bad and it only took about 45 minutes. One thing I’ve noticed about international airports is that their check-in and security process is way faster than in the states. Our flight from Gatwick to Venice was short and uneventful. I slept for the entire thing and only woke up to see the Swiss Alps out my window.  We landed around 10:30am Venice time, got our bags and made our way to the water taxi booth. Based on some of the information I read before we left, there were a couple options for getting to Venice: bus, the Alilaguna, or a private water taxi. The bus is a good option if you don’t have much luggage; this wouldn’t work for us because we each had a bag or two. The Alilguana was cheaper than the private water taxi, but from what I had read, it’s often crowded and takes longer. We chose the private water taxi because it was just a few euro more than the other options and it would only take about 30 minutes to get within a block of our apartment. There was a desk right outside of baggage claim with a few companies to choose from. I don’t remember which one we used, but they all had the same prices listed.

We were dropped off on the opposite side of the Rialto Bridge from our apartment. It was a bitch little difficult getting our bags over the steps on the bridge, but we made it and eventually found our apartment after getting a lot little lost in the windy, tiny streets of Venice. Our apartment was on a great little side street, right by the Rialto Market, and just as it was pictured online. Everyone had their own room and it was super clean, which made my germaphobe heart sing. The only downside was the listing said it had two bathrooms, which I took to mean that it had two showers, but it only ended up having one shower and two toilets. It ended up being fine and we made it work.


After we got settled, we walked around by the Grand Canal. It was around 1pm and it was pretty deserted. A gondolier was cleaning his boat and asked if we wanted a ride offering to take us all for 80€. It was reasonable price, similar to what I had seen online, so we decided to go for it. The gondola ride was really nice. Our gondolier stayed mostly on the ‘side streets’, and it was really nice how quiet it was.

We did a little more walking after our gondola ride and stumbled upon what just happened to be one of my favorite things the entire trip. Nutella Crepes. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but I’ve never had Nutella in my life. Ever. I know…talk about deprived. I watched the vendor make a crepe for someone else and it looked amazing, so I ponied up the 3.50€ for the little slice of heaven. And let me tell you, this guy knew how to make the perfect crepe. Like party in my mouth, dance around the plaza like a fool amazingness. During the twoish days we were in Venice, I think I had at least five and I’m kicking myself for not having more. Seriously. I want to go back to Venice just to have another crepe. He’s in the Campo Santo Stefano by the Rialto Bridge. Make him a visit and you won’t be disappointed.

After gorging myself on crepes, we found a table at one of those tourist-trap-of-a-restaurants right on the water. The sun was shining, it was warm out and we were starving, so we caved and ordered three pizzas to share and a carafe of wine. The pizza was sub-par, but the wine was good. We walked around a little more, checked out some shops and headed back to the apartment. As soon as Bryan and I got to our room, we were out like a light. The rest of the group stayed up and went out to a lackluster dinner.


The next day, we got a pastry at one of the bakeries near our apartment and headed over to St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco). As we read in a few guide books, it was packed that early in the day, so we took a stroll down by the water. We checked out the Bridge of Sighs, took pictures in front of the naval museum’s huge anchor and found a really cute park to wander through.


On our way back, we found a decent restaurant to have lunch with a really nice maitre’d. The food was ok and the price wasn’t bad either. After lunch, we headed back to St. Mark’s, which was empty, and made our way through the church. St. Mark’s has beautiful mosaic work and a great view of the plaza from the second floor balcony. We were going to climb the bell tower next, but the line was kind of long, so we opted out.

Instead we got some gelato (and maybe another crepe or two) and started wandering around Venice. We got pretty turned around, but to be honest, you really can’t get lost because the island is so small. We thought about trying to take one of the boats to Lido, Murano, or Burano, but everyone was so tired at that point that we decided to just head back to the apartment. On the way, we found this little ‘dive bar’ looking place that had a Happy Hour sign in the door with a buy one, get one special for 8€. There’s always time for drinks. Count me in.

This bar was so amazing that they gave us all a free shot before we left. Yes, please. I would definitely go back there if I ended up back in Venice. We were actually pretty upset we didn’t find this place sooner.  We hung out at that bar until about 7pm or so and headed back to the apartment to get ready for dinner. On the way we stopped at a little shop and got some wine and booze for later that night. Dinner was an utter and abysmal failure. I don’t even want to post about it because it was honestly that bad. The food was meh and the service/treatment was so horrible that I seriously considered leaving without paying. Yep. That bad. Don’t be like me…plan your Venice restaurants very carefully. Do research your and then some.

After dinner we got some more gelato. Yes, more. Unfortunately the crepe guy was closed for the night. I may or may not have almost cried. We went back to the jazz bar we were at earlier to get some more drinks. By that point in the night, the crowd had changed and pretty much every person in the closet of a bar turned to look at us as if we had ‘TOURISTS!’ tattooed on our heads. We found a table in the back, had a drink, and got the heck outta there.

Back in the apartment we listened to some music, and played card games.  We called it quits around midnight to rest up for the train to Florence the next day.

We were all packed and ready to go by 8am, so we took one last stroll through the shops to get some final souveniers. I probably should have bought something, but I was too busy smearing Nutella all over my face from those delicious crepes. Yep. Everyone else shopped and Bryan and I stuffed our faces. We took the Vaporetti Line 2 on the other side of the Rialto Bridge to the train station and hopped on the 9:38am train to Florence. There was a small delay (about 15 minutes) and we ran into a little hiccup with the seating arrangements. Apparently they don’t really assign seats to everyone in your party; only a few people. Strange, right? A couple of our tickets basically said that someone was standing in the aisle. That was their seat. Luggage was also an issue. There was zero room to put larger bags, like none. Luckily, the train ended up being fairly empty and we all had seats near each other and we used an entire aisle to put our bags in. The whole experience kind of ticked me off because we ended up buying first class seats based on Rick Steeve’s suggestion just so we could get seats. Fail. But at least we got free beverages and a little snack.

Overall, the train ride was uneventful. Less scenic than I was hoping, but that just left more time for reading and sleeping. Venice was a beautiful city, and I’m glad we went, but I won’t put it on my ‘places to go back to’ list.

Next up…Florence!

Have you been to Venice? Would you go back?

Sweepstakes: Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

I was reading through my email this morning and came across an email from Volvo about their Road Trip of a Lifetime Sweepstakes. Volvo flies you and a guest out to the Volvo Factory, gives you a facility tour, and then lets you drive one of their cars around Western and Southern Sweden. The sweepstakes is promoting their Oversees Delivery Program. I first heard about this last year from Kevin and Amanda’s Blog. Amanda was lucky enough to be contacted by Volvo and given the chance to experience the prizes in this giveaway. You can read about her experience here.

Funny enough, a few weeks after reading her recap I found myself heading to Sweden for work. I didn’t get that much extra time to explore Sweden, but what I did see definitely made me interested in exploring more of that area of the world. I have a draft post for my Sweden trip waiting for some final edits, but in the meantime, take a look at what this contest has to offer.

I chose the Volvo XC60, because I’m dying to buy an SUV so Gus has a comfy ride around town. Yep, I want a bigger car just for my dog…he’s a beast! As you step through the website, it guides you through selecting activities for each day that you add to your itinerary. You can also pick one of the pre-planned itineraries based on your interests. While the pre-planned itineraries looked amazing, I ended up wanting a mix of of historical, culinary and outdoors activities. My final itinerary looked like this:



Stay at: The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel



  • Volvo Factory Delivery Center
  • Volvo Cars Brand Experience Center
  • Volvo Café and Shop
  • The Volvo Museum

DAY 3 & 4


Stay at: Bjertorp Slott

DAY 5 & 6


Stay at: Ystad Saltsjöbad

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Good luck if you enter!

Have you been to Sweden before, or would winning this contest be your first time there? What do you think would be your favorite part of the trip?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Volvo to talk about this giveaway. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to road trip around a really cool part of the world.

We’re going to Italy…No, really

A few of my conversations early last fall with my husband went like this:

Me: Wouldn’t it be great to go to Italy before we have kids?

Hubs: Yeah, that would be nice…if we have the money.

Me: We should go next year.

Hubs: Do we have enough money go to?

Me: No, really…we need to go. I need to go. We’re going.

Hubs: How much is this going to cost?

That’s when I started my research and hatched a plan to get to Italy before becoming a mama. First things first was figuring out what cities to hit and how long to spend in each place. I started by checking out a few of my favorite travel blogs as well as some message boards. (I love how detailed and candid Amanda of Kevin and Amanda is with her travel posts.) We picked March to go because it was pretty much the only month that didn’t interfere with work commitments or weddings or bridal/baby showers.

It sounded like Venice, Florence and Rome were on the top of everyone’s must see list. Some of the other cities were Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Sorrento and the Almafi Coast. We added Cinque Terre and Sorrento to the list, ruling out staying in Tuscany because we would be close enough in Florence to take a day trip out if we wanted to and we ruled out the Almafi Coast because we’d also be able to take a day trip from Sorrento…plus, we weren’t sure how the weather would be in March.

View from inside the Vatican Museum of St. Peter's

View from inside the Vatican Museum of St. Peter’s

About this time, we had told a few friends that we were going to Italy and they wanted to join. This changed our plans a little, because now we’d need to look for larger places to stay and our one friend had family in Sorrento. We started planning out our itinerary and realized that we wouldn’t be able to do Sorrento and Cinque Terre in one, two week trip, so we dropped Cinque Terre and added it on to our Future Trips list.

From talking to friends and interwebs research, a half day (travel day) and a full day in Venice sounded like enough. We wouldn’t get to visit Lido, Burano or Murano, but we’d get a good feel for Venice. We decided that two nights in Venice would be good.

For Florence we went back and forth with how many nights we should stay there and originally decided on three. We ended up adding an extra night in order to spend a full day on a winery tour…good move, right?

Some of my friends had recently been to Rome and said it was their favorite city with tons to see, so we decided to spend four nights there also. That left three nights in Sorrento. We had originally planned on working our way down the country from Venice to Florence to Rome to Sorrento, and then coming back up to leave out of Rome. A quick read of one of Rick Steve’s websites made me make a slight change to our itinerary and put Rome last…which would later prove to be one of the best choices of any trip I’ve ever taken…but more on that in another post.

Our final itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: Depart home for Venice

Day 2: Arrive in Venice

Day 3: Tour Venice

Day 4: Travel from Venice to Florence (by train)

Day 5: Tour Florence

Day 6: Tour Florence/Tuscany

Day 7: Tour Florence/Tuscany

Day 8: Travel from Florence to Rome (by train and pick up car) to Sorrento

Day 9: Tour Sorrento

Day 10: Tour Sorrento

Day 11: Travel from Sorrento to Rome

Day 12: Tour Rome

Day 13: Tour Rome

Day 14: Tour Rome

Day 15: Depart Rome for home

The only addition was that we had a early morning flight out, had a 12 hour layover in London, and then flew out London early the next morning for Venice.

Looking back on the trip, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about the itinerary. I think we spent enough time in each city that we really got a feel for them. If I wanted to squeeze in another city I think we could have cut a day off of Florence, Rome and maybe Sorrento, but those were the lazy days when we got to relax, walk around the city, and enjoy what Italians call ‘la dolce vita’, the sweet life.

In the next few posts I’ll talk about the rest of our adventures in Italy and what made it the trip of a lifetime.

What one trip have you been dreaming about taking?