Thursday, November 21, 2013

Make This // Gilded Chipboard Party Coasters

No sooner had our plane home landed that I found myself fully immersed in our next project: the party we always said we'd throw on New Year's Eve. Busying my hands with decorative projects for our soiree has helped to ease the common symptoms of a post-vacation, return to reality. 

For one such project, I uplifted some old beer coasters we had laying around the house - you know the kind usually distributed with your pint at your local brewhouse. Ideally, I would have ordered a set of pretty, professionally printed monogrammed coasters. But inspiration struck and I transformed that stack of printed chipboard coasters and saved a little money in the process. More than that, I was pretty tickled with how these came out.  The shiny gold leafing paired up well with black for our fancy, night-time affair. But I imagine these would also be brilliant in other colors for your coffee table - cobalt, lavender, hunter green and bright orange all come to mind. Here's the very simple how to:

While we used some old beer coasters, you can purchase plain, unprinted versions from Etsy.  Gold leafing kits are readily available at your local crafts store, as are the metallic paint pens if you wish to add a monogram detail like I did.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Italian Adventure Highlights (+ Paris!) // Part 2

While staying in Sorrento, we took a wild ride on the Circumvesuviana to see the ruins in Pompeii. I had been once before, but after watching numerous documentaries on the subject, it was something The Mister wanted to see while we were in Italy.  It was just as sobering an experience as it was the first time I saw it. We found ourselves smiling for pictures to take back home and show others, but the reality of the place and what befell its inhabitants nearly 2,000 years ago weighed heavy that day.  There was also wonder too- amazement of the work that still continues to take place to unearth treasures buried so very deep in hardened ashy earth, bit by little bit. 

We took another risk right outside the train station and hired a local guide to teach us all we did not know. It was one of the best investments of the trip and surprisingly inexpensive. We landed with a small group and an archeology student who was well versed in every nook and cranny of the site. We learned so very much that day, saw portions of the city that had opened only the weekend before and could not help but be awed at how beautiful the surrounding landscape was. There were also the resilient wild dogs of Pompeii to marvel and coo at. Both were reminders that Pompeii is also a survivor and not just a city in ruins.

We left the Bay of Naples and headed off by train to Tuscany for the next three days. We arrived in Siena at dusk and immediately made our way into the medieval city centre for dinner. Our first glimpse of Piazza del Campo, the main square in front of the towering town hall was another moment I'll never forget. I'd stared at pictures of it for so very long and I think I must've said I can't believe we're standing here! so many times that night. We ate at Bar Il Palio, a historic watering hole named for the famous horse race that takes place there twice each year and over a plate of Pici, giggled at the bar's soundtrack for the evening, Elvis' Greatest Hits. It was surreal being in a distant place so brand new, trying a dish we had not ever heard of while we were serenaded by a voice all too familiar. 

I could definitely live here. I think I made the announcement several times as we walked the narrow stone streets of Siena. It somehow felt more cosmopolitan than Rome or the other cities we had visited. From table to table you heard people speaking French, German and Italian, readily exchanging one language for the other depending on who they were addressing. We were made aware so many times on our trip that we are part of a global community and yet here was one more reminder. I felt ashamed that I could only order in my native language and made a promise to myself over plate of wild boar pappardelle that I would make a solid attempt to pick up another language well before my next big birthday.

Put Siena on your bucket list. It's a place well worth a visit, maybe even more than once.

It wasn't on our original itinerary, but a change of plans had us spending our last full day in Italy in the city of Florence. We needed a bit of a break before we took our next destination by storm and decided on a slow exploration of the city, picking out just a couple of spots that would give us a little taste of this historic place. After lunch, we pinpointed The Basilica of Santa Croce as our big draw and visited the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli and Michelangelo before taking in a little street-side shopping.  

Paris is a city to be shared. My first Parisian experience over a decade ago was a solo mission and I understand now more than ever that I didn't get the same feel for that magnificent city as I did when The Mister and I landed there for the final leg of our trip. I was joyful, ecstatic even nearly every moment we were there. Perhaps it was due in part to our inaugural cocktail the night we landed. It's not everyday that you get to taste a bloody mary made from behind the bar where it was invented. The Mister can finally cross that one off his bucket list.

But the truth is, the beauty present in every single thing in this city spoke resoundingly to the romantic in me and to my surprise, my Italian Mister who might have whispered that this was his favorite leg of our journey. It was amazing to us how clean, well cared for and styled every table, monument, lobby, garden bed and street corner was - how evident it was that people actually took the time to "make pretty", everywhere.  Made us want to return home and do the same.

We had just two and a half days in The City of Lights and we made the most of every minute. I plotted out long walks that made the most efficient use of our time there and we found ourselves seeing everything we wanted to see on this trip. We walked in the rain along the river and found the best bowl of Pho I've ever had in St. Germain (I'd give anything to go back there right now and have that meal again). We walked the heart of the city at least twice over and among many things saw Napoleon's tomb, picnicked on The Seine, cruised the river after dark, locked it all up on The Pont des Artes, saw a mass take place at Notre Dame and yes, sipped champagne under the lights of the Eiffel tower. We even took a train out to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit Morrison's tomb. The Mister can cross that one off his list as well.

Note the lipstick stains that mark the tomb of Oscar Wilde above.
There was also Edith. I can cross that one off my own list.

Our last day greeted us with sunny skies and it was Sunday afterall, so all of Paris was found strolling the Champs-Elysees along with us. We walked from the Arc de Triomphe up the great avenue to the Place de la Concord and finally through The Tuileries before landing in front of the glass pyramid at The Louvre. It was free admission that day and the line did not end. We made a promise to come back and see it when we could spend the time and do it right. 

The best way to end a trip is with the promise of another.

If you'll indulge me, I have one more post to share with you. With so much to see, it's easy to dismiss where you stay as unimportant, but I have some thoughts and some great finds to share with you on the subject. We did a lot of reflecting on our journey and learned a lot about ourselves, as well as gained a new understanding about travel and why it is important (even if the destination is not always as grand). Of course, there are some logistical learnings that you might want to file away for your own adventures in the future. Keep a look out for that post next week.

For reference, Part 1 of our journey is chronicled here

* photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally


Monday, November 18, 2013

Italian Adventure Highlights // Part 1

We've talked about taking a trip together to Italy for as long as I can remember. My husband's family hails from this particularly beautiful part of the world and it was always on our collective bucket list to have this one carefree, wondrous adventure for ourselves before we ever started a family of our own. I daydreamed my way through more than a decade, planning and plotting what we'd do, what we'd see, what I'd wear (yes!) and how much this experience would mean to us and our marriage. But you know how it is... things come up, years pass, other events like buying a house take priority, money is saved and eventually spent and travel luxuries, well, they tend to fall by the wayside. 

Thankfully, fate eventually stepped in and gave us a little nudge. A portion of the trip was unexpectedly gifted and it finally became non-negotiable that this trip was going to happen. We buckled down and saved, got creative with our resources (hello eBay!) and squirreled enough away to finally have the trip of our dreams. So it was that in late October, we boarded a plane and made our way to the Eternal City to begin our adventure.

I had been to Rome before. When we were just dating, I got on a plane all by myself and hit London and Paris solo before eventually meeting up with my Uncles for a whirlwind tour of Italy's great cities. It was good background for us going in this time around, as we were able to weed through what we wanted to do with the short time we had there. A flight delay on the front end allotted us only two full days to taste Rome, but running on pure adrenaline, we were able to drink it all in.

Traveling during the 'shoulder season' is less expensive, but certainly delivers a mix of weather. We got both rain and sun and planned activities accordingly. Late one afternoon, we stopped for a drink at a cafe in front of The Pantheon and watched all the umbrellas come out. The colorful parasols only added more atmosphere to our little happy hour and the sight of them all popping open in near unison was one of those hallmark moments that I know I'll always remember.

I fell in love with the towering stone pine canopies that seemed to cover every sidewalk and pathway around Rome. It sometimes felt like they were watching over us as we took long walks through antiquities and along the Tiber, eventually fading out as we wound and weaved our way into pretty piazzas for more food and drink.

Against our better judgement, we bought a guided tour that very first day from one of the street vendors  out in front of The Vatican- solely on the promise that we would get into Saint Peter's Basilica, which was scheduled to close early that day. Our rationale was that we had a short amount of time to spend at The Vatican and this would fast track us through the museum hordes and eventually past the never-ending line at the Basilica entrance to see the show-stopper. As luck would have it , our guide eventually ditched us in The Sistine Chapel and the fast track we were promised failed to happen.  In the end, we chalked it up to divine intervention because we would never have risen at the crack of dawn the very next day to see St. Peter's Square at daybreak and with nary a line in sight. The way the hazy morning light blanketed the square was magical and we agreed it was one of the best gifts of the trip.

If you only see one thing at The Vatican, this is it folks. You can not conceive of the majesty of it until you stand beneath it and see it with your very own eyes.

We took the train south for a 3-day stint out of Sorrento. From there, we saw Capri, Amalfi, Positano and Pompeii. The weather was not on our side the day we went to Capri, so we skipped the boat and spent most of our time in cafes people watching and indulging in sweet treats. It was a nice break from the high pace of Rome. But by evening, we were ready for some more action so we headed into town from our hotel.

Downtown Sorrento will forever be one of my favorite places to visit. The energy was well suited to The Mister and I - plenty to see and do if you wanted to partake, GREAT food found inexpensively and atmosphere, lots and lots of atmosphere for sitting in a cafe and watching the evening passeggiata.
That Sunday night, we sat at what became our favorite spot and suddenly the whiz of the motorbikes stopped, the buzz of the crowd was silenced and we looked up to see a procession of nuns and priests filing out of the nearby church, holding up a statue of the baby Jesus. It was incredibly moving to hear an entire bustling town silenced at its busiest hour, suddenly falling into cadence in prayer. I'll never forget it.

Our final day had us truly on The Amalfi Coast, white knuckling through the SITA bus ride to Amalfi before taking a ferry back to Positano for lunch. It was everything it promised to be - colorful enclaves built right into rocks that preside high above the bluest water I've ever seen. Some parts of Italy are meant to be seen on foot or by train. But this... there is no other way to see it than from the water, studying every towering detail, wide eyed, wondering what strength and fortitude the people who live high above must have to hike those hillsides day in and day out. 

As we returned back to our hotel to pack up for the next destination, we recognized that we had half of our trip now behind us. It was evident that we were both fighting off that nagging realization that eventually we'd board another plane bound for home. La Dolce Vita had certainly taken over and if we couldn't make it last forever, it was definitely starting to become clear that we'd want to take home a little more than a trinket souvenir from this journey. 

Be sure to check back for Part 2 of our adventures in Pompeii, Tuscany and finally, Paris.

*all photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

If you've been following along with me on Instagram, you might have noticed that The Mister and I snuck away over the last couple of weeks for a little European Adventure. Our travels took us through some of the most beautiful cities in Italy - Rome, Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, Positano, Siena and Florence and eventually lead to a weekend in Paris. We talked about this trip for more than a decade and it was a dream so personal, so hard fought for, that it were not for the sweet perfection of it in the end, I might be mourning a return back to some of the everyday work routines here back home.  Getting on the plane back home was tough- I'll admit... but by the time we landed, I felt so full of gratitude for what we had experienced, for what we took back home with us, that I can not feel anything else as I get dressed for the office this morning. 

We ate, we drank and we walked... we've guessed over 50+ miles of twisting, turning, uphill, downhill cobbled pathways over the last two weeks, fueled by the sweetest adrenaline. Posting may be a little spotty this week while I re-acclimate. But look for some of our adventures to unfold here on the blog. I can't wait to share what we've seen and learned with you.
© Holtwood Hipster. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig