Monday, November 30, 2015

Exploring Italy // Florence

Traveling has been a passion of mine since I was a child. Our family would pack it up every summer and head to a new state to explore. Those experiences set me up to be fully passionate about heading to new places. That has not changed one bit as I've become and adult. My husband and I love to explore new countries and get excited for each adventure.

I started this series a few weeks ago and already explored Verona and Venice with ya'll. Both cities were beautiful and so much fun in their own way. But our journey did not end there! Next we were off to Florence!!

Florence


Florence was the one city we stayed the longest in and through that, we got to know it very well. The city was gorgeous and there were so many wonderful places to explore. There was amazing shopping, historical sites, and of course food! So here is the lowdown on the yumminess!

Food

We had some delicious meals in a multitude of locations (since we were in Florence for 4 nights). Here are a few of my favorite meals from our time spent there!

The first day that we wandered around Florence, we enjoyed the scenery and all of the culture. One of the first areas we stumbled upon was the Piazza della Signoria. This gorgeous piazza has some amazing statues and plenty of hustle and bustle. We sat in the middle of this beautiful area to enjoy one of the many cafes and ended up at the delicious Ristorante Il Daivd

It was a wonderful location to soak up the sun and the happenings around us. If you don't mind being in the center of it all, this is the perfect location to feel fully apart of the city!



Another delicious lunch that I truly enjoyed was at the Canto De Nelli which is just outside of the Leather District, up and down the Via dell' Ariento. This fusilli pasta was mixed with veggies and soaked in a tomato based oil. The food was delicious and was the perfect portion for not that expensive!


Our absolute favorite restaurant in Florence was Tijuana. Now I know what you are thinking, "Your favorite restaurant in Florence, Italy was Mexican??" Yep! lol We loved the food, ambiance, drinks, and excitement that surrounded this delicious location. It was such a favorite that we ate there two separate nights! I would fully recommend it to anyone visiting Florence. It was not only incredible food but a wonderful overall experience!



Lodging

Since we stayed in Florence the longest, we were searching for something inexpensive that would not cost a ton per night. In our searching we found the Diva Hotel on Booking.com, about 2 miles outside of the main city. This hotel was the most affordable of everywhere we stayed our entire trip. The staff was incredibly friendly and there was a fairly large breakfast included each morning.

As I mentioned before, the hotel was about 2 miles outside of the city, however there was a bus that picked us up each morning directly outside of the hotel. The bus was super cheap and after a 20 minute ride, we were in the heart of the city. The hotel rooms were very clean and had a nice balcony off the side of it. Our only disappointment was that the beds were the least comfortable of the trip. But for the inexpensive price and easy accessibility into the city, it was an even trade.


Photo Cred
Places to Visit


Carousel Antica Giostra Toscana


Piazza della Repubblica 


Piazza della Signoria


The Ponte Vecchio




Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore


We found out that these Vino holes were all over the city. People used to sell wine out of these a very long time ago. Trying to search for them was such a fun game!


Basilica of Santa Maria Novella



The local shops and artisans


Tuscan Wine Tour

So I'm pretty sure our trip to Italy would not have been complete without venturing out into the Tuscan region and heading on a wine tour. I did so much research on the best tours in Florence before we left and found an incredible tour that was extremely affordable. Grape Tours is a Florence based wine tour that meets at the Tuscan Wine School, has a half hour class on Chianti Classico, and then heads out into the Tuscan region to two separate vineyards for some tours, tastings, and a light meal. All for only 100Euro a person!

Everything about this tour was amazing and we all had a blast throughout this evening adventure!



The Wine Class




The Vineyard & House



The Wine Cellar




Distilling the Wine




The Tasting



The Second Vineyard



Florence was a gorgeous city over all and our time spent there was incredible. The city was so fun to explore. There was beautiful history everywhere, live music in the streets, delicious wine and food, romantic views, and wonderful memories to be made. If you are headed to Italy, Florence needs to be on your list!

To see more pics from my trip to Italy, check out my Instagram!


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Friday, November 20, 2015

Creative Guest Gifts for Your Holiday Party

 This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #LoveAmericanHome #CollectiveBias

I absolutely love putting together holiday parties and get togethers. Planning each beautiful detail excites the parts of my life that bring me so much joy. I love coordinating each food item with the design. And that is exactly why I love to comb through Pinterest for tablescape inspiration. It helps me to bring beauty and deliciousness to those precious moments with my family.

One of my favorite parts of designing my holiday party is creating a gift for each of my guests. It's a great way to instill into your guests just how much you love and value their time spent with you. I think this is one of those things that you have forced into your brain when your a child and there is a goodie bag after each party. I just feel like people need to leave my house with a goodie bag!


So I was perusing through Walmart the other day and came across these adorable little American Home™ by Yankee Candle® brand candles that were under $5!!! I couldn't believe it. I am a candle fanatic and absolutely love the Yankee Candle brand. I seriously could not believe how affordable these candles were at Walmart, as well as the Walmart Assortment Page!


So of course I went crazy stocking up my cart! Some of my favorite scents were the Banana Walnut Bread, Ginger Pumpkin Pie, and the Sweet & Salty Caramel. I am a huge home baking fragrance kinda gal and that got me thinking...what if I made little treats that went along with the sweet fragrances. I know...I'm brilliant! 


So that is exactly what I did. I grabbed the Ginger Pumpkin Pie 4oz tumblers (and then a 19oz two wick tumbler for myself!) as well as the ingredients needed to make my favorite holiday pumpkin bread. I started making this recipe several years ago when I had my very first taste of pumpkin bread and fell in love! It is a holiday favorite that I never miss out on making.

Before I ran out of Walmart, I just happened to stumble upon these adorbs ramekins in the holiday isle and knew they were the perfect little package to bake my tiny breads in! So I grabbed a decent amount of these as well. If we're giving out little gifts this holiday season it is going to be in style!


Now on to the bread making!

 Ingredients for my Favorite Pumpkin Bread:
*3 Cups of Sugar
*1 Cup of Vegetable Oil
*1 (16oz) Can of Pumpkin Puree
*3 1/2 Cups of Flour
*1 tsp. of Baking Powder
*2 tsp. of Baking Soda
*1 tsp. of Cinnamon
*1 tsp. of Nutmeg
*2 tsp. of Salt
*2 tsp. of Vanilla Extract
*4 Eggs
*2/3 Cup of Water


First you want to mix your sugar, vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, vanilla and eggs into one bowl.


Next you want to combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into a separate bowl and whisk lightly together.


Add bits of the dry ingredient bowl into the wet ingredient bowl and stir after each time you've added more. Do this until all of the dry ingredients are blended in. 


Finally add the water to your mixture.


Once that is finished, add butter (or Pam) and some flour to your cute little ramekins and place them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes (until you can get a clean toothpick to come out).




Once my treats were all completed, I tied some ribbons and tags onto the candles and placed them, as well as my mini breads, on a cake plate for my guests to enjoy!

I absolutely loved spending the relaxing afternoon baking for my holiday party. The sweetest scents of pumpkin bread swirled around the room while the delicious fragrance of Banana Walnut Bread from the American Home™ by Yankee Candle® brand danced over top of it. My entire home smelled of a Christmas bake off and put me fully in the holiday mood! I will absolutely be heading to the Walmart Assortment Page to pick up some more of these perfect little gifts! 


What are your favorite fragrances of American Home™ by Yankee Candle®? How do you create fun gifts for your guests during the holidays??
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Exploring Italy // Venice

I loved starting this new series last week all about exploring Italy. Spending time in Verona was such a blast and was only the beginning of our adventure. We spent 11 days in Italy exploring so many different cities and towns. It was seriously a magical experience with some incredible people.

Continuing on with this week's adventure, we are talking all things Venice!

Venice


So, like I had mentioned last week, we rented a car for the full 11 days and drove around the northern portion of Italy. We did a loop from Milan, headed east straight across the country, then south toward the Tuscan region, back across to the west coast, and then up the Italian Riviera back to Milan. It was a perfect adventure and the freedom of being able to travel where we wanted versus being on a tour was absolutely worth it to us. I talked all about the car price here!

The second stop on our trip was in Venice. It really is as romantic as the pictures proclaim. The brightly colored buildings dance off of the surrounding waterways.  I'm pretty sure I took some of my very best pictures in this city (and I don't just mean on this particular trip, but in life). There really was no bad shot to be had.



Getting Around

So the first thing I wanted to talk to ya'll about is parking because, as I mentioned before, we had a car. I know the first thing you may be thinking is, "Where do you put a car in a city that has no streets??" Trust me, we had the same exact questions. 

I did a little research and we decided to go with one of the best options, the "island" Tronchetto. Now why is island in quotes? That is because Tronchetto is an artificial island created strictly for parking purposes. No joke. The entire island is one massive parking garage. Super convenient and easy to access, Tronchetto is the first right hand turn coming off of the bridge from the mainland. 

The parking rate was around the 22Euro for 24 hours range (which was pretty standard over there and so much cheaper than any of the other parking areas for Venice). Once you have parked your vehicle there is a public water taxi just outside the garage named ACTV, the no 2 line. We hopped on that and it drove us along the main canal, stopping ever so often to let people on and off. We took the water taxi to the end of the line and headed toward our hotel.

Now you may be asking where our luggage went in all of this. Since we knew we were only staying in Venice for one night, the group of us each packed our own bookbags with overnight items and our next day's outfit. This allowed us to easily travel the waterways without dragging around a ton of stuff. You can absolutely bring your luggage onto the public water taxis (many people did it), but if you are only staying for a short period, the less stuff to carry the better. Those taxis get packed.


Food

Now on to the important stuff, the delicious food! I'm pretty sure by the end of the trip we were all in agreement that our favorite meal was the one we had in Venice at an adorable little restaurant called Marco Polo. Honestly, we picked the restaurant for the cool name but I could not have been happier with our choice. 

We sat outside on the tiny street and really got to be apart of the culture that is Venice. Most of us got pasta that night, each different, but all super delicious. The wait staff were all incredibly friendly and the ambiance was perfect. Marco Polo added so much of what we loved about Venice to our trip. I would highly recommend it! 




After dinner at Marco Polo, whilst wandering around the mostly shut down city, we stumbled upon this darling little local bar, Ostaria Da Simson. Spending the rest of our evening in this location was one of our favorite nights. It truly allowed us to be fully immersed in the local culture, instead of being surrounded by tourists. It was one of our true tastes of what real Italy is like and we had a blast. 


Sadly enough, I did not get any pictures of our lunch outing the next day. The restaurant we ate at was the Moka Efti Crazy Bar. The food was really good and the prices were extremely reasonable for Venice. It sat directly on a small canal where the gondolas would ride through. Here was our view from lunch!


Lodging

While we were in Venice we stayed at the B&B Venice Hazel. This location was one of the coziest of our trip. Booking.com did not do us wrong with any of the places they helped us pick for this trip! We stayed in an upstairs loft with two bedrooms (perfect for the two couples on the trip). This area was complete with it's own living room, kitchen, and bath. It was beyond adorable with the old wood beams running through the ceiling and it gave you a sense of that old world Italian charm.

The property itself was not attached to what they deemed the "main office." We found out once we got there that B&B Hazel holds multiple properties throughout the city. So once we checked in, we did have to walk quite a bit to get to our actual residence. It was truly all worth it once we saw the space however. It was super comfortable and felt like living in a Venezian home. 

Tip! Make sure you bring cash because they do not accept charge cards to pay. I actually found that to be true for most of the places that we stayed at that were not prepaid.   



Places to Visit


These lamps were a highlight for me, not only for their sheer architectural beauty, but because my mother took photos of them while she was in Italy nearly 15 years ago. A photo much like this one has been in my home ever since. 


The strip along the Grand Canal has tons of street vendors, gondolas, and things to see!


The gorgeous architecture of the surrounding various churches.



Take a gondola ride! They are 60 Euros for a half hour, but with 4 of us sharing it that was only 15 Euros a piece. You just can't beat that for a once in a lifetime experience. My one suggestion would be to pick one up deep in the city and not in the largely populated tourist areas. It makes them alot more intimate and not over crowded.


A mask shop! Trust me, you do not have to go far to find one of these. They are everywhere. Masquerade is huge in Venice and there are gorgeous masks and costumes that cover the streets.


The Bridge of Sighs


Piazza San Marco


Basilica de San Marco


The adorable nooks and crannies of the city. Our favorite part of the city was exploring the areas that were not filled with tourists.



All in all, Venice was a gorgeous city. The colors were so vibrant and the city was full of life. If you are someone who is not big into crowds, some of the tourist locations may be a bit much for you. Staying further back into town helped us to get a feel of the Venezian culture without being piled on with tourists.

We all absolutely loved staying in Venice but were completely fine with only being there one night. The city itself is a bit crowded and the prices for most things are pretty expensive. We paid the largest per night fee for our accommodation in Venice then our entire trip. However, completely worth it to visit for the time period that we were there!

Have any of you ever been to Venice? What were some of your favorite parts??


For even more pictures from our trip to Italy, follow me on my Instagram page!

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