Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Inspiring Today - Only a Plane Ride Away

Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate, without them what would shape our lives? Perhaps if we never veered off course we wouldn't fall in love or have babies or be who we are.  After all, seasons change, so do cities, people come into your life and people go.  But it's comforting to know, the ones you love are always in your heart, and if you're lucky, a plane ride away. 
          ~ Sex and The City

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Laconda dell'Amorosa - Tuscany

Pour yourself a big glass of chianti and start day dreaming about the Tuscan countryside while I tell you about Laconda dell'Amorosa.  My family and I ventured to Italy in 2009 to celebrate two milestone birthdays - my father's 60th and my - cough-cough-mumble - 30th.  Actually, I didn't even mind turning 30 because I had a big party with friends and family and then we took this amazing trip.  Now, 31, 32... might be another story!  Why can't we aways plan a big, fantastic trip to distract ourselves from age?? Anyway, our birthdays are one day apart, mine on August 23rd and his on the 24th so we've always celebrated together, which is actually a lot of fun.  I had been to Italy after I graduated college with two of my girlfriends, but this was definitely a different experience then traveling as a poor, unemployed 21 year old.  Maybe that's a whole other post of it's own - low on glamour, but high on laughs!

Our first stop in Italy was three nights in Sinalunga, Tuscany where we were fortunate enough to stay at Laconda dell'Amorosa.  I had looked on line before the trip to try to imagine what it would be like, but to actually drive through the countryside, passing farms and villages really made me feel like I was in the heart of Italy.  We drove up to the hotel and came upon this entrance, what else can I say... it's country decadent.

The whole property will take your breath away.  It really captures the history of the property while incorporating charming modern amenities.  One of the first things we did after checking in was walk around and explore all of the little nooks and crannies.  They have quaint sitting areas, a wine bar, Osteria, as well as a formal restaurant, Le Coccole, an ancient chapel, vineyard and extensive herb and vegetable garden.  Since we were exhausted from flying all night, we laid by the pool and napped.   Somehow when I travel long distances and really need to sleep, I get this paranoia/fear that I won't be able to.  Then before I know it, it's hours later and I've completely blacked out into a deep sleep.  I can rarely fall asleep in public - planes, trains, cars, etc. - yet here I was, out like a light in one of those comfy lounge chairs.

After our naps we went looking for an afternoon snack at Osteria, which doubles as the breakfast room in the morning.  I know I would be an incredibly happy person if I could hang out here every afternoon sipping wine, eating local pecorino cheese and salumi.  

After my sister managed to explode and melt her American hair straightener, we headed to Le Coccole for dinner.  I was so excited to eat here because the space alone looked so italian and rustic.  Originally, these were the stables and they've tried to preserve some of that by keeping the brick walls and wood beam ceilings.  Le Coccole uses local meats, cheeses and of course produce from the garden for all of their dishes.  The garden is by far my dream garden.  I'm a city girl now and yes, every year I try to grow tomatoes on my roof unsuccessfully.  I have mastered kitchen window basil though!  This garden puts my window basil to shame... I can see my window basil cowering behind the paper towels right now in embarrassment.  The food here was at another level and looking back at my journal from the trip I described it as, "Amazing, the freshest, cleanest food... just perfect."  After dinner we took our wine out to the patio and had a dessert of - what else - more cheese!  The next two nights we had dinner off property, but we always came back to Le Coccole for wine and cheese.  We are in Italy after all, so we had to take advantage!

Le Coccole

My dream garden
The vineyard

My family and I loved our time in Tuscany and much of that is thanks to Laconda dell'Amorosa. The accommodations, staff and setting were unforgettable. To be able to stay at a hotel for three nights and leave feeling like you made friends is what traveling is all about.  This was a more than a hotel though; it was an experience.    

Tuscany is everything you picture and want Italy to be with it's picturesque hill towns, fresh food, delicious wine and the warm, friendly people.  We were so sad to leave but at the end of the trip, we did manage to sneak back to the country and do one more day exploring other hill towns!  I have so many things to share about my favorite area of Italy, I will be sure to write more soon.

Buona sera!

Love, Lizzie

Sunday, May 6, 2012

White Barn Inn, Maine

It's a bit hard for me to put into words what The White Barn Inn means to me.  It is quite possibly one of the best restaurants in the world.  The world.  It's a little bit of heaven.  The service, food, ambiance are all impeccable and exquisite.  However, for me, it's also a bit of a family tradition.  My family has been vacationing in Maine since way before I was born.  My father and his family would go up there every summer - 9 kids and all - I don't know how my grandparents did it. Eventually when the kids grew up, they took their own families up there too.  When I was really young we would go up for two weeks, renting a house with my Aunt, Uncle and cousins.  We would cram into a few rooms and make my cousin Michael sleep on the porch - what?  He was the oldest and a boy, so.... it made sense.  Once I was older, in high school, it dwindled down to one week and then in my 20's it turned into a few days.  Now, since my parents have a house in Chatham on Cape Cod, I do my best to get up to Maine for at least one night every summer... mostly thanks to my cousins who still rent a house there for a week!

Back in the day though, way back in the 1980's, when the White Family was on vacation, my grandparents liked to get all the adults together for a fancy dinner out.  Most nights at the beach were spent grilling, having burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, chips and of course an ice cream cone from the Scoop Deck.  Which, to this day, I always stop there for an ice cream when I'm in Wells because it's that good - mint chip might be my favorite, though I've been known to love an orange sherbet with chocolate jimmies (they're jimmies in New England!)  My grandmother was known to cook quite a bit even on vacation - she would often stand over a hot stove and make spaghetti and meatballs in the middle of August.  So, her big treat was going to the White Barn Inn for dinner.  Luckily for me, I was very mature for my age and got invited to the adult dinner every once in awhile. It was always a special place, but The White Barn Inn has gotten even better over the years with continued upgrades and restorations.  Back in the 1980's it was a beautiful spot to be, don't get me wrong... but I think my Grandmother would choke on her kahlua sombrero if she knew how amazing it is today.

The White Barn Inn is somewhere you go for a special occasion.  Yes, you will fork over a good portion of your paycheck to eat there... but you do it because it's worth it.  You will never have a meal like this anywhere else.  Every single time you go, you will get service and food that exceeds every expectation.  My family is pretty good about finding reasons to go up to to Kennebunkport for a night to have dinner there.... most recently we went last March, 2011 to celebrate my mother's 60th birthday. One time we went there for a holiday dinner in December and they had the Bates Boys Choir singing christmas songs a cappella.  It was honestly magical.  One of the most fun nights out we've had as a family.  The setting there is so unusual because you're eating in a 5 star restaurant, but you're essentially sitting in an old barn.  A renovated, charming, cozy barn at that.  When they started the renovations to turn the barn into the restaurant in 1973, they found many old signs and knick-knacks that now serve as the decor.
Check out those windows - they change the garden to reflect with the seasons, flowers in the summer and a big Christmas tree in the winter
My family celebrating my mother's 60th birthday, March 2011

If you're ever looking to mark a special occasion or simply get out of town, The White Barn Inn is where I would suggest.  It's quintessentially New England and makes you feel really special every time you're there.  The inn itself has 29 rooms, but you don't have to stay there to eat there.  There are a lot of smaller (see: wallet friendly) hotels and motels right in that area too.  I will continue to find any reason to head up to Kennebunkport for a night to spend some time here.  I genuinely love the inn and restaurant and over the years, my family and I have made some pretty fabulous memories within those barn walls.  

Happy travels!

Love, Lizzie

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pots & Pints in Melbourne

Landing in Melbourne was so exciting; even though it was a gray, dreary day, I knew our true adventure was just beginning.  The best part of the trip was that we were staying with our friends Lauren and Tim.  Staying with locals (new locals albeit) when you travel is the best way to see the sights and still have some comforts of home.  Luckily for Jaclyn and I, our hostess is a down-home Southern girl that knows how to bring on the hospitality.  The O'Connor's house was adorable but spacious and in a very quaint, residential area outside of the main city in Middle Park.  After crossing the International Date Line - somewhere over the Pacific - we landed in Monday.  We were exhausted but wanted to grab some lunch before naps.  We headed to the Pagoda Cafe, small, they don't have a website (gasp) but the food was amazing.  Trying different food when I travel is really important to me, I don't want to feel like I am eating at a Cheesecake Factory in the mall (which I love too) - plus, it's just fun.  Thankfully for me, Australia is big on cafes and restaurants with individuality and low on chains.  At Pagoda Cafe I got a salad that was amazing with roasted pumpkin, red peppers, avocado and goat cheese.  Given I was seriously delirious from lack of sleep, I forgot to take a picture of my meal (I made up for it the rest of the trip though).  After our lunch and a cool walk down by the ocean, we crashed hard and took a nap for a few hours.
Pre-naps - hostess Lauren & travel companion/BFF Jaclyn

Poor Lauren had to drag Jac and I to get up.  It had never felt so good to sleep.  We had a lot of celebrating to do that night though.  It was not only Halloween but Lauren's 30th birthday!  We had a little get together at the house with some of their ex-Pat friends and of course "snakes alive" cupcakes.  After a great dinner of pulled pork, chili and corn bread we headed off to drink more at the Middle Park Hotel.  Thankfully Lauren had educated Jaclyn and I on some important language to survive the night and the trip.  Without which, I may have been drinking more calories and getting some strange stares from the locals.

Middle Park Hotel - that a Pot for me
1.  Light beer does not mean light on calories, it means light on alcohol
2.  If you want an "American" light beer, you order a "blonde" - lovely
3.  There are three different sizes of beer - pot, pint and a schooner (even within Australia they vary, for more details click BEER)
4.  Nuddy = nude
5.  Root = sex ----- so be careful when you say you root for the local sports team!

It was such a fun night, I loved walking around the neighborhood, quiet but so many little bars and pubs. A very comfortable and homey area!  

Erin, Lauren, Jaclyn & I before the Cup
The next day we were off to the Melbourne Cup!!  A huge day in Melbourne - it's their equivalent to the Kentucky Derby and it's actually a state holiday so most have it off from work.  A lot of people go to the race, but if not then most gather for parties hosted at local pubs to watch.  We were lucky enough to get tickets, which required us to get dressed up like fancy folks - facinators and all!  I didn't have a facinator but luckily Lauren's dear friend Erin, hooked me up with one... oddly (or cooly) enough they sell them at the local Target!  We had a wonderful brunch at Erin and Brian's house where I had my first ever Tim Tam. Amazing.  Australian legend.  Brought home a box and it wasn't enough.

We took the train to the races where we proceeded to drink tons of champagne... oh, and we squeezed in some races.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, I didn't win a single dollar... even after betting on "Drunken Sailor".  Dunaden ended up winning in the closest race ever.  That's actually a fact, we witnessed history.  he view from the track and the company alone made for a fabulous day.  Just being in the city and seeing literally every person dressed up, reminded me of being in a Harry Potter movie (wrong country, I know).  After the race we hit the town, our first time out in downtown Melbourne. We went to A LOT of bars and I loved ALL of them.  I had so much fun, I can't remember all the names.  Here are some snapshots!  Good for my memory and blogging.

Flemington Race Track - site of the Melbourne Cup

First stop - Ponyfish Island - right in the middle of the Yarra River

Menu at Ponyfish

Possibly 3rd bar stop? 1806 Bar - cool, dark and a lil' swanky

Mint Julep at 1806 - representing Kentucky, of course
Up next - more drinking in Melbourne!  Off to explore the city and headed out to the Yarra Valley for a wine tour.

Love, Lizzie

Australia - Getting There

I could probably write an entire post on just physically getting to Australia alone.  However, it's not all that entertaining unless you like hearing about bad luck, bad customer service and bad turbulence.  I will say this though - I was dreading the flight.  I am not an easy flier and I'm convinced every plane I am ever on is going to crash.  My least favorite thing to do when flying is to fly over the ocean.    Logical or not, I think that if you are flying over land and something goes wrong then you still have a chance to make an emergency landing.  If you are flying over nothing but water for hours and hours, then yeah, pretty sure you're just sh*t out of luck.  I didn't want my fear of flying to stop me from this trip though, so I booked my tickets quickly, i.e. without over-thinking it.  I learned that you can't avoid reality for ever and then proceeded to spend the two weeks prior to leaving consumed with thinking about the flight.  I had visions of going mentally insane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and having to be restrained by an Air Marshall.  I also had visions of being sucked out of the plane - seat and all -only to land on a strange and invisible island a-la LOST.  So, I talked to my doctor and begged and begged for a miracle pill.  While, she wanted to help me, she also didn't want to be the next the Dr. Conrad Murray.  So, we settled on Valium.  I take Xanax to fly to Florida so I wasn't going to let it go at that.  Mama needs a little extra help mm-kay?                                                                                                                                                                            
Landing in Sydney after flying for 13 hours

So, off we went Boston - Denver - San Francisco - Sydney - Melbourne!  I will say, for whatever reason, the flight from San Fran to Sydney was the best one.  The planes are massive, they have low lighting and friendly flight attendants who treat you like you paid to be there.  Novel concept.  Also, the pilot gave us a lot of information up front, my favorite bits of info: there were FOUR (4) pilots in the cock pit (safety in numbers) and there were storms over Hawaii and Fiji so we would experience some turbulence but they would still be landing the plane around 8:30 AM (so confident).  Also, I enjoyed when he told us we were going to miss Sunday altogether and just arrive on Monday.  It's the little things apparently, but that made me feel like a time traveler.  Finally, after a few Valiums, a few mini-bottles of wine and one too many carbs we began our descent into Sydney 13 hours after leaving CA.  Maybe I was high on my meds/drinks/lack-of-real-air but when we broke through the clouds and saw Australia I was literally in awe.  Just dumb-struck by it's beauty.  Even from the plane you could see these huge cliffs, rolling beaches and flowing inlets of water.  I've never been so sappy in my life, but it was love at first sight.

Welcome Basket from our hostess
We had one more short flight from Sydney to Melbourne but I didn't even care because we found out that Sarah Jessica Parker was on our flight to Melbourne.  Holy idol time.  It was like no one in the Sydney airport had ever seen a celebrity before, literally every employee there told us about SJP being on our plane.  These wild Aussies were winning me over quickly!  I did get to see her a couple of times - boarding, on the plane, and getting our luggage.  She was headed to Melbourne to promote her movie "I Don't Know How She Does It" and well, I can tell you... she does it with 5 Louis Vuitton suitcases and 3 assistants!  She was predictably adorable though and teeny-tiny.  Like the teeniest-tiniest woman ever.  She waved and said hello and then was hurried out of the dingy airport.  SJP does not do dingy airports, don't kid yourself.  The rest of us peons waited 20 minutes for our bags, but I digress.  Thankfully our hostess for the week, the beautiful and hospitable Lauren Keibler O'Connor picked us up because I was starting to feel delirious.  She was even more adorbs than SJP and she was carrying a Coca-Cola classic.  Thanks girl.

Coming up next - our adventure in Melbourne begins with some sleep, some pints, pots and lots of laughs!

Love, Lizzie

Time to Share

With all my travels and my overly obsessive picturing taking, I thought documenting my adventures made sense.  I guess at this point, I have traveled quite a bit.  I didn't necessarily set out to do that, but I do really love going away!  I find myself saying "yes" any time anyone ever asks me to go somewhere.  I never really thought to say, no.  I love seeing different places, even middle of nowhere places.  I just like it if someone mentions Middle-of-Nowhere, Minnesota - I can say, Oh, yeah, I've been there.  I'm a visual person so when I go to a new place, I take it all in and love every minute of it.

My goal here is to share all of the places I've been including my local hood - New England - plus further and father away in the United States, Europe and Australia.  The two places I haven't been but I plan to one day are South America and Asia.  I still have time, right?  I hope to share some of my favorite places in the world, literally - hotels, restaurants and more.  Since I live in Boston, I will share a lot of local travels too.

I hope you follow me on my adventures and it inspires you to go explore a new corner of the world!

Safe travels!

Love, Lizzie
Melbourne, Australia