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New Orleans ~ like coming home

September 2nd, 2011

phpivm73qpmTravel has a way of broadening your horizons and making you feel small at the same time. I’m amazed at how our big world becomes small every time I step out of my surroundings to travel. Our trip to Italy opened my eyes to a big world, learning to get along with a foreign language and the customs of a different culture. When a destination grabs your heart and becomes like home, the world doesn’t seem so big. Our annual pilgrimage to New Orleans feels like coming home and somehow makes the world smaller every year.

Our 6TH Annual trip to New Orleans to celebrate Paul Helm’s birthday was just as fun as always. It’s a tradition that feels like coming home for a holiday. We get to see friends and family that we only see during the last weekend of August. Much like a growing family, we add new friends to the reunion every year. It is so much fun to witness friends experiencing New Orleans for the first time.

This year we mixed it up a little.

We stayed at the Bienville House for the first time this year, a sister hotel of the Hotel Monteleone. We have such a great relationship with the staff at the Hotel Monteleone. Their recommendation to stay at The Bienville House turned out to be great advice. I found being on Decatur St. very convenient, an easily walk to Bourbon St, Jackson Square and the French Market. All the guests loved their rooms, with each room having unique features.  Historically, the location of the Bienville House had transformed into several different businesses.  Originally housing the Planter’s Rice Mill, the newly renovated boutique hotel feels like staying at an intimate guest house with breakfast served daily. The party officially kicked off on Friday when the whole gang had a drink at Iris, the hotel’s beautiful restaurant. Throughout the weekend, several of us enjoyed relaxing in the beautiful quart yard with a salt water pool.

This year I had the privilege to meet with Angela Anthaume of The Bienville House and Noelle Cantarno of FSC inter@ctive. These young women have exciting careers in sales and marketing and were so much fun to get to know. I was honored that they took a few minutes to chat about the Bienville House, marketing, social media, Weekend ReTweat and best of all recommendations to get off the beaten path. I loved talking to them about life in New Orleans, which offers so much more than Bourbon Street and is constantly changing! Among many suggestions, they recommended Frenchman Street. That advice turned out to be golden! Thanks again Angela and Noelle for meeting with me. You inspired me in many ways.

The Music

php6bzanypmI love Zydeco music! We always head to Bourbon to hear our favorite Cajuns. Our tradition is playing the washboard with Waylon and Timmy at Tropical Isle and dancing to the Bonoffs at The Olde Opera House. After a few hours of Bourbon, a few of us headed to Frenchman Street to check it out.

Frenchman Street, lined with nightlife, restaurants and shopping, is where the “locals” enjoy a hip young bohemian culture. Live music with jazz, Latin, and blues influence fills the streets at night. I spent three nights in a row soaking in all kinds of music and watching couples swing dancing with 40′s style outfits. One couple seemed to have a unique style, with their upper body calm while their feet were moving double time. I later learned that style is called West Coast Balboa. The dancing was fun to watch and tempting to try! Experiencing Frenchman confirms my belief that getting off the beaten path is always the best direction to go. My only fear is that tourist will one day discover Frenchman and ruin it.

The Food

phpofahofpmFood always plays a big part of our annual party! We usually hit the landmarks and have our favorite restaurants. We can’t go to New Orleans without visiting JoAnn at the famous Desires Oyster Bar or getting a Lucky Dog on Bourbon Street. However, this year I was excited to add Coop’s Place and El Gato Negro to our list. Coop is traditional Cajun, while El Gato Negro is Mexican. You wouldn’t necessarily think Mexican food on a trip where crawfish, oysters and gumbo are to die for. However, I am here to tell you… El Gato Negro was the best Mexican cuisine I’ve ever put in my mouth! We also changed the big birthday dinner from Pascale’s Manale to a river boat cruise. The Creole Queen proved to be a relaxing dinner and stroll down the Mississippi. Returning to the dock gave us a breath taking night view of New Orleans lit up over the water.

Getting off the beaten path

Among the list of firsts, I enjoyed shopping “junk” stores on Frenchman Street. Thankfully Jeff and Jason were patient with me. I am so excited to have met business owners that encouraged me to pursue a few ideas with Flown The Coop. I am constantly looking for ways to incorporate my passion for travel, New Orleans, social media and junking. Stayed tuned for that one…

phpirnhn1pmIn the midst of all the fun and enjoyment, a few of us took a somber journey through The National WWII Museum. Jeff and I have wanted to tour it for years and finally made the time. In my opinion, the WWII museum is a “Must See!” I felt ashamed at how I easily forget and take for granted the sacrifices so many people made for our freedom. Words just don’t do this experience justice. I highly recommend the incredible 4D movie Beyond All Boundaries to complete the experience.

Sad to say good bye

Every year I am a little sad to say good bye. This year was wonderfully full of first time experiences, as well as experiencing our favorite traditions. I look forward to coming “home” again next year. However, I am hoping that I don’t have to wait a year. I am confident New Orleans will welcome me back like family at anytime of the year.

Enjoy a little video montage of our trip….

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This summer’s theme: Adventure

July 18th, 2011

Tiffany Eckahardt's River Expeditions trip with Weekend ReTweatRecently the Weekend ReTweaters were invited on a River Expeditions adventure white water rafting on the New River in West Virginia. Lindsey Evans, Janice Robinson, Vicki Esh and I had the time of our lives white water rafting! It was a weekend of adrenaline rush fun, laughing until it hurt and relaxing in our luxury cabin complete with a hot tub! Perfect way to escape from it all!

I’ve never been white water rafting. Admittedly, I was a little nervous (ok…scared). Turns out I had nothing to fear. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.

We arrived on Friday afternoon to get settled into our home for the weekend. River Expeditions has accommodations for everyone! You can tent camp, tent camp on a platform (tent and foam mattress included) or stay in small cabins, deluxe cabins or luxury cabins. We were thrilled with our luxury cabin with a kitchen, five bedrooms, two baths, wide screen tv, porch with rocking chairs for porch sitting and a deck with a hot tub and grill. The cabin would be perfect for a group of couples or any group of friends.

Weeeknd ReTweat at River Expeditions in West VirginiaPorch sitting at it’s best!

River Expeditions camping Weekend Retweat picture by Tiffany Eckhardt

Tent camping looked like a lot of fun… I even hear the showers were nice.

Platform tents at River Expeditions ~  Weekend ReTweat picture by Tiffany EckhardtPlatform tenting is genius in my opinion.

  • #1 great use of the hill side
  • #2 avoid tent set up and couples feuds over how to do it!

River Expeditions base camp is right outside Fayetteville, a historic little town that reminds me of a hippy Yellow Springs in the mountains. We headed into town for dinner, choosing Dirty Ernie’s for BBQ, and then onto sightseeing. The New River Bridge is a sight to see!

276143_1118870860_4400695_nVicki and I got up early to enjoy breakfast at the Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville.  Thanks Vicki for the pic of me!  I love this coffee house, with a creative hippy vibe and huge stained glass windows from it’s past life as a church. Their Cheddar Jack Omelet was just what I needed before my big adventure. However, I began to feel a little more nervous when I noticed that I was in the land of tattoos and no body fat. These fabulously fit people made me wonder if I was fit enough for a white water adventure? My insecurities didn’t help, but I’m not one to back down from an adventure.

All the guides are a perfect mix of crazy fun and safety minded professionalism.  Marcus, our trip leader, leaned on the crazy fun side. I knew we were in for a fun day. I suspect that River Expeditions hand picked Brad to be our guide for the day, a veteran of the river and guiding adventures. He had his hands full with us girls. We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be matched with for the day, a group from Ohio who were just as fun loving as we are. After going through all the safety lessons and learning the rowing commands, I was ready to get this party started.

River Expedition photo

River Expedition photo

Adrenaline pumping, we charged our first rapid. Yep, my face tells the story. In all the pictures my smile is a mile long. I’m surprised that I didn’t drown from taking in the river while laughing hysterically. I don’t remember a single rapid that scared me, which could be a result of Brad making it look easy. He knows the river!

A few times throughout the day we got to hear stories of Brad’s adventurous lifestyle. He has seen so many cool places and trekked through America’s beautifully rugged places. The combination of having my first real outdoor adventure and listening to Brad’s stories left me with a desire to jump outside my comfort zone more and experience life!

The day was filled with creating great stories of our own and the first prank of the day was on me. First off, Brad made a point of telling us to make sure you go in feet first out of the raft if you plan to get into the water. Lindsey took advantage of the first chance to jump in, while I stayed in. Helping Lindsey back into the boat went something like this…

Lindsey: Would you be mad if I pulled you in?
Tiff: Yes, I’d be pissed

I finally pulled Lindsey safely in, which is not so easy to do, and slapped her on the butt for the fun of it. Don’t ask why. I don’t know.  As we turned to take our seats and continue down the river she tackled me into the water backwards, HEAD FIRST.

My first response: Lindsey he said FEET FIRST!

Watching the video later, Vicki observed how ironic that a rule would be the first thing to come to my mind. She never remembers me following the rules. Yes, rules are to be observed when it serves me.

We had several fun times throughout the day. Jumping off a 30 foot rock was not my idea of fun, but Janice attempted it. After several tries, she finally went off and unfortunately landed chest first, hard to explain. Poor Brad thought he might have the only casualty at the rock. Another really fun part of the trip was Josh “riding the bull.” Josh was brave enough to sit on the front of the boat going through the last rapids. I may volunteer for that one next time.

Weekend ReTweat at the Red Dog River Saloon Tiffany Eckhardt pictureReturning to the River Expeditions base camp, we cleaned up and joined the rafters and guides at the Red Dog River Saloon to see our trip videos and scarfed down a steak dinner at River Expedition’s restaurant.  (PS… you’d have to read the Blogges to understand why we thought the Rooster was so funny!)  Exhausted, we enjoyed the rest of the evening hanging out with our new friends at our luxurious cabin. Janice’s video footage of the day had us in tears laughing.

All the way home we reminisced about our very amusing adventure. I realized that for a whole weekend I didn’t think about the worries of life or anything important. It was simply a weekend of getting outside my comfort zone and laughing at myself.

I’ve added a few more items to my bucket list. I now feel comfortable to do the next level. I would love to return to River Expeditions for the Gauley or Bridge Day. You will never see me jumping off the bridge, but would love to witness it and celebrate the season at their after-party at the Red Dog River Saloon.

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Staycation Celebration!

July 13th, 2011

I am passionate about traveling!  I love the whole experience of discovering a new culture and seeing the world in a new light.  Unfortunately, there are times when I just can’t get out of Dodge.

My Mom always told me that you make your own fun.

Instead of getting bummed about my travel dreams, I set out to be a tourist in my own community.  I love the idea of a Staycation and was thrilled when Eversave (affiliate) launched their Staycation Celebration this week.  It is a great economical way to treat your family to a vacation at home and be a tourist in your own back yard.

So here’s the scoop:

  • Kicking off the Staycation Celebration, Eversave is offering a Summer Staycation Sweepstakes for a $500 American Express card. (Takes a minute to enter)
  • Are you on Twitter?  Eversave is having a Staycation Twitter Party next Thursday, July 14th from 3-4 p.m. The Eventbrite page can be found HERE.  There is a chance there will be special promo codes for those who attend.
  • Throughout the week there will be Saves offered for fun activities, like Granville Golfland, the Santa Maria and today’s Save, Stars Cinemas.

Star Cinemas

Today’s Save: $12 for admission and snacks for two or $7 for one at Star Cinemas in Grove City

Expires 12:00 PM – Jul 15, 2011

Sitting in the theater watching a great movie sounds like the perfect escape from the heat! Also, if you use the promo code FUN you can get another $3 off the Save.

Have you ever organized a Staycation?  Or… have you ever took the time to be a tourist in your own town?  If you haven’t, does this inspire you to try it out?

Share your stories in the comment section for a chance to win today’s Star Cinema’s Save!  I’ll pick a winner tomorrow at 3pm during the Staycation Twitter Party.

Winners will be notified and posted to the comment section and on Facebook.

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ReTweating this weekend!

May 18th, 2011

Destination:  The Inn at Versailles

27517_111924948817786_9427_nThe Weekend ReTweat ladies hit the road this weekend!  I am fortunate to be spending another weekend with these talented ladies as we discover another fabulous destination in Western Ohio.

I am looking forward to exploring Darke County in western Ohio and staying at the Inn at Versailles.  Roy Brown, the general manager, has arranged for us to meet Michael Delligatta, the chef at Michael Anthony’s and tour the Inn’s farm.  Our agenda includes a trip to Greenville where we’ll visit the Kitchen Aide store and the signature shopping of this quaint little town.

As we collect unforgettable experiences, the Weekend ReTweaters love to share all the details with you!  If you haven’t yet, please “like” us on Facebook.  We’ll be posting updates on Facebook, Twitter @WeekendReTweat, Foursquare, Yelp, etc.  It is the mission of Weekend ReTweat to discover new get aways and spread the word using social media.

So… stayed tuned!

Have you been to the Inn at Versailles?  Do you love spending the day in western Ohio?  Please share your experiences in the comments section!   I love to swap stories.

Where ever you find yourself this weekend… hope it’s full of discovery and good times!

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3 things I’ve learned from my focus board

May 9th, 2011

I have created focus boards for years … you know the corny imagery that motivational gurus love to encourage?

Call me corny or a hopeless dreamer… I’m here to report that focus boards work!  For over ten years, my focus boards have pointed me in the direction of my dreams.  Recently I decided to create a new focus board, which inspired me to take a look at all my past boards to reminisce.  My corny motivational projects are now proof to me that dreams come true!

The Fall of 2000

phppxj44eam

When Jeff and I were home educating our children,  we were hoping to inspire our children to dream big, have a thirst for learning and instill a wander lust for our big world.  Looking at this focus board makes me giggle.  I always thought the big house and fancy cars would make me happy.  Turns out that the trips we took and the memories created were more precious than any home we were working hard to provide.  I am grateful that we took the kids to the Caribbean, Washington DC, New York City, camping trips, trips to Texas and just about every museum in the state of Ohio.  Our daughter spent a summer in Panama.  Our son spent a summer in Italy and Spain.  These are unforgettable experiences for them!

Focus for a successful career

phpj16bgmpmWhen I was a Realtor, I had big dreams of building a team and being top in sales.  I loved looking at a picture of Stilletos propped up on a fancy desk and imagined a highly powerful career in real estate.  I did have some professional accomplishments to be proud of.  However, I am most thrilled about the experiences that my focus board motivated me to try.  Jeff and I had so much fun on a Harley Davidson we bought, putting 32,000 miles on the Harley in about a year!  I got in the best shape of my life and was running.  (that didn’t last)  For the first time I allowed myself to dream of traveling the world, with no idea how these journeys would ever take shape.  I just kept looking at images of all the exotic places I had in mind.  It’s amazing how many dreams have been realized from this one board.

Finding my “muse”

phpvbfwpmamWhen I left my career as a Realtor, I definitely needed motivation.  I read a lot of travel blogs at the time and knew I had to set out on an adventure.  One day I came across a quote by Rolf Potts, “travel isn’t expensive, maintaining stuff is.”   So I listed my car on Craig’s list and sold it within a week.  Using the money from my car, I started to plan an adventure.  I chose to go to Costa Rica on a RealGap trip to learn Spanish and live with a host family.  If you look closely at my real estate focus board, you’ll see a montage of pictures of a girl having an adventure in Costa Rica.  Funny!  This wasn’t planned when I did my focus board for my real estate office. Now I have a wonderful family in Costa Rica that I keep in touch with on Facebook.  I will always cherish that adventure!

What I needed most after returning from Costa Rica was quotes to assist in “Finding My Muse.”

“In every real person, the will for life is also the will for joy” ~ Kari Barth.

And one of my favorites:

“Figure out which direction you want to go, but don’t be afraid to be creative with that direction… you have to go with the flow because you never know where it will take you.  Just don’t expect things to happen overnight” ~ Anne Marie Craig.

Travel full time?

php5gar6uam1-150x1501The next focus board reflected a shift to pursuing travel full-time.  While travel is not a new pursuit, I decided to pursue a business in the travel industry.  Deep down I just knew it was the direction that I needed to point myself.  While I was pressing into the various travel related projects and working with social media, I looked at my focus board for inspiration.   I am very proud of the direction Weekend ReTweat is taking!  I believe success will eventually come from focusing on the direction I want to go and pressing into various opportunities that present themselves.

phptlytgdam1When I created my focus board for my real estate office, I couldn’t imagine ever realizing a dream trip to Italy.  After saving my money for a long time, Jeff and I finally took that dream trip!   I used to daydream about Europe while looking at a picture of a lady standing on a balcony overlooking an European city.  I had cut her out of a magazine and posted it to my focus board in the real estate office.  While in Naples, Jeff shot this picture me, yet another image of my focus board came to life… YEARS LATER.

Living the dream….

php80n6boam1Every once in a while I need a fresh outlook.  I decided to create a new focus board with a slight shift in focus.  I will inevitably be traveling.  I need to look and feel good for all my future travel adventures!  I have made several attempts at conquering my fitness without much success.  However, I’ve learned that if I keep focusing on my dreams I will eventually realize them.  Day in and day out I will be reminded of all the great adventures that lie ahead and the need to be fit while experiencing the joys of life!

Here’s a quote from my new board:

“Her favorite story is the one she’s living right now”

Lessons from the focus board….

  1. Dreams Come True!
  2. Images from a focus board come to life &  focusing on them gives direction to press into
  3. Don’t expect them to happen overnight… just keep pressing into opportunities that come your way!

Trust me!  Dreams do come true!!!  What’s on your focus board?  If you are inspired to create one… I’d love to see it when your done.  Please share a picture with me on my Facebook page and leave a comment here!!!!  Let’s inspire each other.

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My muddy music fest tradition

May 3rd, 2011

Beale Street Music Festival ~ a tradition

php2nxzxypmOur fourth annual trip to Memphis in May for the Beale Street Music Fest felt like going home. This year Jeff and I were excited to share our muddy music tradition with our daughter Emily and her boyfriend Jacob. I love the South and keeping traditions!

The best part of our annual pilgrimage is staying with our fun loving friend Erin Lee, who first opened her home to my family in West Point, MS, and now opens her home in Memphis anytime Jeff and I want to visit. Erin is like family to us and is truly a non judgmental friend no matter what we are weathering in life.

php0nw7kkamThe weather was the big new this year for the Beale Street Music Fest! Friday and Saturday we stayed dry for the first time in four years. It was wonderful! However, Sunday did not disappoint those who bought a new pair of Memphis in May boots, another tradition for the fashion divas at mud fest.

Enjoying the festival

We didn’t last long on Friday night. The sunset was amazing over the Mississippi! We heard a little Manchester Orchestra and Cake, but missed Jason Maraz. We just couldn’t hold up after a long day of traveling.

phpl9ykwvamThe weather and lineup was perfect on Saturday!

  • I saw Amy Lavere for the first time. Amy is a spunky little gypsy jazz chick who plays a double base and writes beautifully witty songs. She sang a couple songs that really resonated with me, and a few that Jimbo Mathus wrote for her.
  • Jimbo Mathis is another Americana, gypsy jazz, blues musician who is known as a folklorist. Jeff and I heard Jimbo last year at Ground Zero in Clarksdale preforming Mosquitoville, a tale based on local Quitman County history. We were looking forward to hearing him again and was not disappointed. His show rocked the Blues tent!
  • Jeff and I had to see Jerry Lee Lewis, wanting to see how the “mean old man” was holding up. This year Jerry Lee’s sister Linda Gail Lewis, accompanied by her daughter, hit the stage to preform a couple of Jerry’s songs, obviously inheriting his talent. Jerry Lee Lewis looked great and seemed to be really into it this year.
  • I lucked out with an awesome spot to see Mumford and Sons. Saturday night sold out with a truly electrifying crowd, a sea of people on the banks of the muddy Mississippi stretching out from the Budweiser stage to the front gates. Mumford and Sons were the highlight of my trip! We had planned to see Ludacris and John Mellencamp, but went back to Erin’s because the crowd was just too much (even for me).

phpmo9fh7pmNot really ready to call it a night, Jeff, Erin and I hit Beale Street which was just as packed as the festival. To escape the crowds, we ducked into the juke joint attached to the Rum Boogie and were extremely fortunate to hear Patrick Dodd, who rocked his faded blue Fender with a mixture of blues and some old school Jimmy Hendrix! I absolutely love the local talent in Memphis! A few musicians showed up to the juke joint with their instruments. Patrick invited a sax, trumpet and an electric guitar musician to join him for an impromptu performance. Wow, another highlight to my trip!

php34f1tmpmSevere weather on Sunday prevented us from heading to the festival until it was safe. The mud fest must go on! I had a blast dancing in the mud, shuffling between Ziggy Marley, Saving Abel and Al Kapone. CeeLo Green was worth all the mud dancing! His voice didn’t carry as well, but he still rocked Crazy

“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind…there was something so pleasant about that place” Love that song!

and then finally “F” You. Despite the horrible weather delays, it was another great day!

Sunday night a new tradition was born! We ended a perfect festival weekend at Itta Bena’s, a fine dining restaurant above BB King’s. Closing down the joint, we ordered Crab Bisque, hot rolls and Southern Pecan Beer. MMM! Erin and I danced at BB Kings to some soul music and ended the night with a walk around downtown Memphis to see what all the locals were up to.

No trip to Memphis is complete without breakfast at The Blue Plate, one of our favorite traditions. We toasted to another fun trip and a wonderful breakfast.

Beale Street Festival Observations

Social Media was in the house! This year we used the Beale Street Festival Facebook page to stay on top of the developments, even though we didn’t trust their weather announcements on Sunday.  It was fun to hear what people were saying about their experiences at the festival.  My favorite snark….

Kim Walker
‎…all because “Memphis in June” doesn’t have a ring to it…
Sunday at 4:06pm · Like ·
4 people like this.

While most people were positive, some complained about the lineup and the lack of AT&T coverage. I hope they will utilize their Facebook page even more next year, posting more updates. I also enjoyed the pics and videos posted, although I was a bit envious of the press pass holders. I really think bloggers should be considered for press passes next year.

6_2011_bsmf_poster-72dpi1John Henshall, a friend from Australia, has attended past Beale Street Music Festivals. John observed the evolution of the Beale Street Music Festival in the posters by George Hunt, which clearly illustrates how the festival’s roots are in Blues musicians and now features a lineup that he wasn’t familiar with. I had to admit that I didn’t know many of names either. We wondered if the target audience has shifted to a younger audience?

Plans for next year ~ the tradition continues

Next year Jeff and I will be even more prepared for the mud fest. Jeff, the original cat herder is always thinking logistics. We came prepared with our boots, rain gear, etc. This year we were given a little back pack from Nationwide, which inspired Jeff to create a “survival kit” for the festival that will fit into this little nap sack.

Jeff’s Memphis In May ~ Beale Street Music Fest Survival Kit

  • Large piece of plastic to sit on
  • Ponchos (rain gear) & umbrellas
  • Little plastic bags for phone & wallet
  • Travel tissues for the Port-O-Potties / maybe even a few wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Beer coozie
  • Little light weight over the shoulders nap sack

Regardless of the weather or an unfamiliar lineup, I thoroughly enjoyed the diverse music, discovered a few new bands that I will follow, had a blast with Memphis friends and heard some fantastic Blues on Beale Street. We’ll be back next year, It feels like coming home and is a cherished tradition!

Do you have a favorite music festival or a yearly pilgrimage that has become a tradition?  Please share your stories with me!

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Lucca, Italy… oh how I love you!

March 23rd, 2011

One of the best days of my life!

Jeff and I spent our last days in Italy in the little country town of Lucca in Tuscany.  As we got off the train and strolled toward our hotel, I looked at Jeff and proclaimed, “Lucca is our kind of town!”  He didn’t know how I could tell that from the train station.  It just felt right.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved everywhere we went.  We loved the art in Florence, the medieval town of Siena, the grand monuments and fountains in Rome, and ocean views of Naples and Capri.  I would be hard pressed to pick one favorite place, restaurant, experience or sight.

187116_1118870860_1567811_n1Lucca is famous for the medieval wall that surrounds the historic center.  Life seems to take place outdoors in this beautiful little town with people walking, running and riding their bikes.  This lovely town seemed to be family oriented with young families in parks spending time with their children and socializing.  It was sweet to see how people interacted with their children.  I was even welcomed by returned smiles as I passed people around town.  Most people rode a bicycles equipped to carry groceries and a passenger.  I was impressed with many of the women’s ability to maneuver their bicycles with passengers and groceries while looking incredible and very well dressed.

Jeff wisely recommended that we use our day in that area to explore Lucca instead of trying to see Pisa as well.  We were both in need of a casual day without trying to figure out a bus schedule and another map.  I am so thankful we did just that!  It ended up being one of my happiest days, a treasure I’ll keep forever.

196154_1846501518478_1118870860_32214839_1180887_n1We got up early on a Sunday rented bycles from our Guest House on a sunny but cool Sunday.  Perfect day to explore Lucca!  Spring was in the air as we rode down a beautiful cobble stone street lined with Japanese Magnolias in bloom.  A bike ride on top of the city the wall with great views of both sides of the city gave us a better idea of the lay of the land and another glimpse of Lucca’s lifestyle.  There were old men playing some kind of competitive checkers game making very animated hand gestures and plenty of locals walking, running or riding their bikes.  We were surprised by the number of people we saw at the hour of the morning.  Life in every other Italian town doesn’t get moving until after noon.

199962_1846510398700_1118870860_32214870_5199408_nJeff and I anticipated a quite day of riding down all the streets and soaking in all the sun and architecture, not thinking much would be open on a Sunday.  We were pleasantly surprised!  That Sunday the historic center of Lucca was lined with a Flea Market.  I couldn’t believe that I could be that lucky and found a couple of treasures to purchase.  The squares were packed with people strolling through the market negotiating pricing in Italian.  A marching band came through one of the squares, making the atmosphere even more festive.  We had our picnic lunch in the square and watched the amusing children chase pigeons.  After a Gelato, we headed back to the Guest House to participate in the afternoon siesta and rested before another ride around the wall to soak in this picturesque town before sunset.

We learned early on in our trip that dinner doesn’t happen until around 7pm in Italy, so we took a walk before dinner.  Surprised by the number of families and friends out walking, we made our way through the crowded cobble stone streets to window shop in the mixture of Mom & Pop shops and Benetton department stores.  We decided on a restaurant that had a group of young people hanging out front of it earlier, thinking it was probably good if the locals like it.  Jeff ordered pizza with Wurstel thinking it was some kind sausage, but was served a hotdog pizza.  We had a good laugh over that one!  To end a perfect day, we took another long walk and said good night to Lucca!  It is really sad to have to say good bye especially with reality looming around the corner.

I wish I could adequately put in words just how much I loved my day in Lucca!  I am blessed with some incredible memories, along with pictures and a couple treasures to remind me of that day.

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Naples – Italia intensified!

March 15th, 2011

Leaving Rome a seasoned Roman

The day we had to leave Rome, we felt like seasoned Romans.  We had the city and the bus system figured out.  We walked with purpose and started to feel at home.  When you travel, give yourself some time to get acclimated and then enjoy!

197002_1833758919921_1118870860_32195910_6077255_nWe needed to tour the Vatican Museum before we left.  I wasn’t leaving Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel.  It was so worth it.  We stood and looked at the ceiling for a long time.  I highly recommend renting the audio tour or downloading Rick Steve’s app on your smart phone.  There is so much to be explained with the master piece.  After all the reading I did on the subject, it was so cool to be standing underneath it.  I didn’t cry, but felt extremely thankful.  I didn’t bring my camera, but it turns out that I could have taken pictures everywhere except the Sistine Chapel.  Another piece of advice, arrive early to the museum.  We arrived at about early and only had to wait about thirty minutes.  Once we exited the museum the line was around the building.  I felt sorry for those people.  There are plenty of people wanting to help you avoid the lines at a price, but it isn’t necessary if you arrive early.

We arrived to Naples with minimal struggle.  The lack of signage is still frustrating.  I would learn more Italian if I returned to Italy!  We took another cab to our apartment.  EEKS!  The driving is unbelievably scary.  It driving is bad in Rome, Naples is even worse.  Jeff took a video that he’ll post to Facebook eventually.  Naples does seem to be Italia intensified!

198370_1834616101350_1118870860_32197326_231257_nOur apartment has more room than we’ll ever need, but is so convenient for us.  I love having a kitchen, washing machine and a terrace.  We are located in an upper class neighborhood in Naples, just outside Naples Central with fabulous shopping.  We arrived around 5pm and were a little frustrated without a map.  There was no way to communicate with the locals to find a grocery store.  Today we learned that we are closer to a good market than we thought.  I love the energy of the neighborhood.  There is a constant stream of scooters and people talking outside our apartment.  While some travelers don’t like the noise, I love the sound of people enjoying life!  Not many people speak English, but we manage to communicate, although some Italians seemed annoyed with us.  When we travel we always try to avoid the real tourist spots and favor the local hang outs.  Renting an apartment in a residential neighborhood has allowed me to feel the pulse of the city and what life is like in Naples.  I love feeling like a local.

195920_1837189005671_1118870860_32200627_4740117_nWe sailed for Capri today, pronounced “Caaapri.”  I fell in love.  Just when I thought I saw the best of Europe, I see something even better.  It is a fabulous little island with wonderful little walk ways.  We attacked Capri like we did Rome and walked for ever!  We took a scenic path that got us a little lost, but saw amazing scenery!  We had a picnic lunch along the path and enjoyed nature.  The maps weren’t helpful and signage was a problem again.  Please check out my Facebook page for the unbelievable shots we took of Capri.  We didn’t get a chance to sail into the Grotto.  Renting a scooter looked like fun on the island as well.  I may need to return to Capri, stay on the island and wear hiking shoes.

Tonight we are relaxing in our apartment and enjoying our trendy crash pad.  We did some shopping in the markets on our way “home” today and cooked another meal for ourselves in our kitchen.  It was a simple pasta meal with salad and fresh mozzarella.  We realized today that we haven’t eaten meat the whole time we’ve been in Italy, although we’ve seen some butchers and seafood markets with unidentified selections of meats and fish.  We were able to buy some eggs for breakfast.  I am missing eggs for breakfast.  The Italians aren’t much on breakfast.  Today we stopped at the Cafe Tourista.  We almost pasted it up because of the name.  We ordered a cafe latte, espresso doppio, and two pastries for 3.80 Euros.  I couldn’t believe it, great price!  I walked away from there wondering how they maintain their slim figures.  I am feeling the weight of my “no carbs left behind” trip to Italy.  Tomorrow night we will make pork chops or fish.

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We could go for a walk tonight, but are so tired of walking.  We’ll just soak in our little home away from home!

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Italy trip underway….

March 10th, 2011

Editor’s Note:  documenting my trip to Italy.  Please don’t edit my writing as I am writing on the go….

184281_1827115648028_1544406328_31875259_7194636_sMarch 7-8th

Our dream trip to Italy started out with a slight melt down about my luggage as we boarded our first International flight.  The flight to Munich took forever.  My calves and feet were swollen by the time we touched down in Munich.  I watched 5 or so episodes of Mad Men on the way.  Despite the struggle to get here, I am so happy to be in Europe.  I got my passport stamped in Munich.  I was hoping it would be stamped in Italy as well.  It is a goal of mine to fill my passport up with stamps from around the world.  :)   Had my first latte in the airport.  It was beautifully prepared.  I was reminded that we need to learn more languages.  It is sad we can’t communicate well with our European friends.  Flying over Germany I noticed it looked much like Ohio from the air.  As we descended, I saw slight differences.  There is a definite look to European architecture.  The flight from Munich to Florence was much shorter with an amazing view of the Alps.  I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any mountains that can compare.  I had to wonder what the villages were like in the valleys of the Alps

I arrived in Florence a bit tired and legs swollen, but extremely happy to begin my dream trip.  I put all the struggles to get to Italy behind me as Jeff and I walked through Florence to our hotel.  It was my first experience in Europe.  It was everything I imagined it would be.

March 9th

I am learning that words can’t adequately describe the sights I am seeing.

190406_1824136559368_1118870860_32180452_6924538_nWe woke up at the crack of dawn.  My internal clock hasn’t caught up yet.  That is what I get for bragging to Jeff that it is never really a problem for me.  After a while we got dressed and headed out for a little walk, just the beginning of our walking tour of Florence.

I had two items on my agenda for the day.  I wanted to see the statue David and climb the 411 steps of the tower Campanilla di Giotto to see a view of Florence.  We accomplished all that before lunch.  Next time we are in Florence I want to tour the Duomo and the museum Cappelle Medicee.

March really is a good month to visit the museums.  The lines were not long at all.  We wouldn’t have had to stand in a line at all, had we knew where we were supposed to be.  The entrance to the museum was not marked well.  We toured the Galleria dell’ Accademia first.  We entered a room with musical instruments and rich colored artwork, which Jeff really enjoyed.  Nothing prepared me for seeing David.  He was incredible.  We turned the corner into the corridor with David at the end.  It took my breath away!  I teared up when it occurred to me that I was close enough to touch a masterpiece that I’ve seen in pictures my whole life.  I had to just take it all in.  Pictures were strictly prohibited.

We took several pictures of the tower (Campanilla di Giotto) to document our hike to the top, winding up a narrow stair case worn by time and travelers.  It was breath taking, the kind that out of shape Americans could barely complete.  The view is well worth the effort.  The panoramic view of Florence is incredible with the Alps in the background.  Climbing the tower in the morning is a perfect way to get the lay of the land before heading out for sightseeing.

We had our first pizza at a little cafe on a side street.  To see the restaurant owner’s laundry hanging up in the back of the restaurant was a little odd to me.  The pizza was great and we had worked up an appetite.

196229_1824157719897_1118870860_32180541_3765648_nOn the way to see David, Jeff got pulled into a leather shop and was accosted by an Italian salesperson who insisted that Jeff try on a leather jacket.  It was funny the first time it happened.  It happened twice.  After the museum we passed a second leather store and was sucked into trying on jackets.  Awe… I fell in love.  I absolutely love the sense of style Italians have.  I love their leather coats, knee high boots and stylish sun glasses.  We didn’t buy a jacket, but I’ll be thinking about it for the rest of the trip.

After lunch we decided to just wander the streets of Florence.  It was a beautiful day for a walk.  The sun was out with a temperature of about 60 degrees.  We walked along the water and looked at artwork.  Jeff and I really enjoy finding the neighborhoods and seeing how the people of the city really live.  We came upon a park where we sat and watched children play.  We were already feeling tired of walking.  Long story short, we ended up wandering from the park making a huge loop around a neighborhood and ended up back at the same park.  It would have been hilarious if we weren’t so tired.  We asked a kind Italian who spoke no English for directions and were thankful that the language barrier didn’t prevent him from showing us our way.

As I imagined we would, we stopped by a market to buy dinner.  We sat on the roof top terrace to soak in the scenery while we caught up on email and Facebook.  It was fun to watch the locals come out on their own terraces.  I was tempted to ask them what they were having for dinner and could we join them.  However, we had a picnic in our hotel room and went to bed early.  I’m hoping my internal clock catches up soon.

Jeff said at the end of a long day of walking and trying to learn the language, “Would it kill Americans to learn another language and loose a little weight?  I know this American is going to work on both.

March 10

Siena

Jeff and I had another frustrating day of feeling lost.  We should have learned a few phrases, such as “where is the bus station?”  We finally made our way to the right location.  Jeff needs to cover this story in his logistics.

The bus ride to Siena was uneventful, thank goodness.  It was lovely scenery.  We saw vineyards and a bit of the Tuscany countryside.  The bus ride was really comfortable and not a bad way to go.

197084_1826593780797_1118870860_32184438_3605401_nOnce we arrived in Siena, we were a bit lost again.   We finally found our hotel, which happened to be just around the corner from the bus station.  The story of our lives!  The hotel is perfect for us, not a far walk for us and has a cool balcony!  We can see a soccer stadium from our balcony.  Hope we see a game.  Siena is a medieval city with amazing architecture.  The city is divided into three sections that come together at the Plaza de Campo.  This plaza is a Mecca for travelers to sun bathe, have a picnic and relax.  Another location that took my breath away.

Jeff and I enjoyed walking the streets of Siena and having pizza in the Plaza de Campo.  We stopped by another market and bought some light snacks for dinner.  We will plan to have another dinner in our hotel room and take a walk in the evening.  I want to see Siena at night.

Next stop… Rome.  I am confident we’ll love it as well.

Ciao!  (for now)  Let me know if there is specific information you would like for me to cover… I’ll try to write more from Rome.

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Living La Vita Tiffolious!

March 1st, 2011

Happy Travel Tuesday!

Editors Note:  As a special treat, my husband Jeff will be doing an occasional guest blog.  Wish you could have the sound effects too… maybe a video will be in the near future.  Enjoy!

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Traveling with Tiffalicious/tastic

Traveling with Tiff.  Really not sure where to start.  It’s somewhere between pure enjoyment and fingers on the chalk board.   The fingers on the chalk board only comes into effect when we have realized that we have forgotten to eat.  The whole family is that way.

So, Tiff has been talking about going to Italy FOREVER.  We are finally getting to go and I am really getting excited. It has been non stop planning, at least for the last couple of weeks.  We had this dissolution that we could go without much planning and I can hear all the ladies saying, “O how romantic, sounds soooo amazing”.  Not my personality at all.

As a detail person, I am a little nervous.  A tremendous amount of questions come to mind like…

  • How do I avoid the inevitable body cavity search by the thick Italian women?
  • What if I can’t get Tiff to leave once we get there?

Many of you know Tiff brings the fun and I would like to say I direct it, but we all know I really just herd it.


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