A Ticket to the Top

24,901 miles of adventure, food, and love. All starting in NYC.

My Return to Stockholm

 

One of my earliest posts was my 11 day journey to Stockholm to visit a very close friend. This summer, I returned to Stockholm for a much shorter trip. I arrive Thursday morning. The Arlanda express left me a few blocks away from my hotel, The Sheraton Stockholm. Having learned from my last trip, I knew to skip the kiosk line in the airport to buy my ticket and bought it on the platform (pending you have a chip and pin card, not a chip and signature).

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Me and Mt. Anders

My tallest friend also lives in Stockholm. I made it a priority to see him. It really is great having friends in cities where I am a stranger. They know all the best places. We grabbed a coffee and chatted, or the Swedish term “Fika.” Our chit-chat was cut short because I was meeting my other friend for a rooftop tour! This was very cool and highly recommended for a different Swedish experience.

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I blinked on purpose #lies

I am not one for walking or bike tours. Who am I kidding? I love historical tours, but I don’t want to put in the effort to move. In this case, the tour was done atop of the parliament building. We were strapped in and walked a predetermined path while our guide pointed out famous areas and historical buildings.
The remainder of my trip was spent doing non-touristy things. I did a lot of biking champagne drinking. My friends even taught me how to sabre a champagne bottle. Having dinner with my friend and her family, at their home, surrounded by love, was the best moment of the trip. Now the funniest moment, however, was when we went to “Bersa and Bulle.”

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Wine in hand with my game face on

My Swedish friend began to describe the game of “Bulle” She said “You throw one ball then you have to get your ball closest to it.” “Bocce” I said. “No, it’s different. It’s Bulle,” No, it was the Swedish version of Bocce, a game I, as an Italian American, grew up playing. I was the overall winner, with a little help from my Sangria.
Sadly, my journey came to an end that Sunday. Such a short trip, but a very full filling and magical journey as they all seem to be.

The American Desert

I very much enjoyed the Grand Canyon. First, my hotel was fantastic (as usual) thanks to my best friend’s connections.

By 10AM, I was poolside and tanning. The server, Jason, knew to keep the mojitos coming. Reading, sunning, and mojitos are all categorized under “perfect.” In the same column is also my massage. I booked a Pima healing massage.

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The Sheraton property I stayed on is leased land from the Pima Indians. I was technically on a reservation. And if I was unsure, the casino was a give away. My Pima massage was done by a member of the Pima tribe which focuses on Pima healing techniques. I called it an early night because in the morning my tour was picking me up for THE GRAND CANYON!IMG_0917

Seeing the canyon was worth the long drive from my Phoenix hotel. I had a great tour guide, who even came back after dropping me off because i forgot my favorite jean jacket.

What did I pack? Whatever could fit in my longchamp purse: a dress, shirt, a bathing suit, sandals and 2 pairs of underwear. Travel made simple!

I took a red eye flight back to Charolette where I luckily caught an earlier flight to La Guardia. I was showered and asleep before my parents woke. Despite the difficulty getting there, it was a grand trip.

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Helicopter ride over the canyon

 

A Grand Trip to The Canyon (Delayed)

This Labor Day weekend (LDW) I found myself at the Grand Canyon. My best friend was at a wedding, my other friend was in Boston, and D was on a romantic weekend. That’s when I realized, I only have about 3 friends…

I proudly decided, on the Wednesday before the holiday, I would take a trip. Thanks to my coworker’s suggestion, it would be the Grand Canyon.  I booked my ticket on US Airways, not heeding the warnings of friends who have sworn off the airline.

I promptly showed up to the airport. When dad drove away I received a phone call- my plane was delayed almost 2 hours. No worries! I would make friends at the bar- I always do. I spoke with several people over the phone and in person, who assured me I would not miss my flight from Charlotte to Phoenix because my “plane is the aircraft traveling on from CLT to PHX.”  I gladly sipped my sangria and adopted the bartender as my temporary boyfriend.IMG_0896

When my tipsy self-boarded the plane, the gate agent informed me I would have a plane change. WHAT?! I spoke with the purser who so aptly informed me “Sugar, you ain’t making that plane.” All I could do at this point was go to sleep for the next hour and half on the plane.

I did, in fact, miss the plane. And due to some pretty crappy airline laws, US Airways claimed it was weather related. Absolute BS! I’ve taken a few law classes in my undergrad years, plus I’m a “cute” girl. My goal in this situation was to not get a free flight or an upgrade, but to secure a free hotel (since I landed in CLT at 23:00.)

People were going nuts and being escorted by security. I’m normally not a crier, especially in public place, however my exhaustion from the week, and the pitcher of sangria were exactly what I needed at that moment. I employed the Socratic method, looking all doe eyed and confused until finally my tears welled up and one tear rolled down my face as I said “I just want a safe place to rest my head.”

BINGO!!

That night I enjoyed a bed at Four Points and my flight in the morning had me poolside by 10AM.

Giuseppe, Nina, and .5 Km to go

IMG_9999When I think of Italy, I imagine myself dressed in white surrounded by men feeding me grapes and whispering things in Italian to me. Catherine imagined hiking a mountain. She found her mountain. I didn’t get my men.

On the announcement that we would spend a day hiking “Mount Grona” I gave a fake smile and a thumbs up. Not my idea of a vacation but when traveling with a companion, compromise is key.

We woke up early to catch a bus. The bus would take us to Mennaggio, where we would take a second bus up the winding road to Plesio, the base of Mount Grona.  Before getting on the bus, I stopped at Lake Como’s version of a bodega; 2 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges, and a big bottle of water.

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Once we were comfortably on the bus, Catherine realized she forgot her phone. My POS iPhone would have to guide us. To Plesio we finally arrived to, um, nothing. The town was empty besides a church. Not exactly sure where to go, we figured ‘up’ would be a good direction. Thank you to the little old Italian man who, between his laughter, pointed us to the trail.

So the hike begins. I can hike. I’ve hiked before. Hell, I’ve gone running in the mountains before. We jump over a barbed wire fence. I ask Catherine if we could not do dangerous things like that again. She agrees. We chat. We laugh. Then, we find a sign (see below.)

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“We must be at the Refuge center!” I hopefully exclaim. Nope. We keep going up. 45 minutes later we hit the refuge center to which we split a cliff bar (breakfast and lunch.) It should be noted the apples and oranges are devoured. The intermediate trail is what we’ll take to get to the top. The top is only .5 Km up, no problem. By my calculation that’s a third of a mile- so like 20 minutes.

We climb. Literally, we climb. Half a kilometer the signs keep saying. My phone dies. My hands are holding on to boulders praying not to fall. Catherine tells me “Don’t worry, we’ll only get seriously injured, not die.” Seriously injured with 2 tampons, a box of Band-Aids and no phone in the Italian mountains. And again, an hour later, its .5Km to the top.

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Right before we reach the top, I lose it. “Half a kilometer! HALF A KILOMETER!” I shout some more. “You know what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. You have a Giuseppe and Nina. And Nina says to Giuseppe ‘ah, Giuseppe, I needa you to makea the signsa’ and Giuseppe says ‘Nina, whata you mean?’ ‘You know. The signsa that say .5 km to the top’ So Giuseppe makes the signs and they all say .5 Km to the top and Nina says ‘Giusseppe, a stupido, they all saya the same thinga! Ack, no a wory. No one willa care.”

Catherine doesn’t know if she should laugh or admit me to a mental asylum. Fortunately 3 minutes later we were at the top of the mountain and I was sitting in the sun eating a chocolate bar that I forgot was in my bag.

Mi chiamo vino blanco

The only phrases Catherine and I know in Italian are

Mi chiamo …. (My name is)

Or mi piace (I like)

For our final night in Milan, we wanted a cool restaurant with amazing food. And that’s how we found Mics Milano, a restaurant not popular among tourists (yet).

 

Appetizer at Mics

Appetizer at Mics

Catherine was lucky our waitress spoke English to translate the menu. I was lucky that my Italian grandmother still uses the Italian names when she cooks.

I drink red wine, “vino rosso”. Catherine likes to drink white, ” vino blanco”

During our second course meal and approximate 4th glass of wine, these two little Italian boys come running up to our table. They are speaking so fast. Our waitress shoos them away. “Boys. English. Americana”

The little boys look at each other then at my friend. “The-ah chef-ah….” the first boy starts to say before the second boy blurts out “Hea Lova You!”

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The chef also showed his love via pesto

The chef proceeded to come out and ogle Catherine. She turns bright red. He’s speaking Italian to her. She’s speaking English. The waitress is trying to translate and I tell Catherine she DOES  know Italian. I tell her to say “mi chiamo,” and in her sexiest voice she goes “no chiamo vino blanco.”

Yes, her name is white wine. I’m done.

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Every time your name shows on my phone, my heart races. And it is not the good kind. I’m afraid that you are going to hurt me like how you are hurting inside. And I guess like a 10 year relationship, I am sad to see you leave me. I am angry at myself for […]

FDR Geocache Dash

This weekend I finally went geocaching! Geocaching is similar to a scavenger hunt for adults.

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Barracuda Fairfield Geocache #1

It is a global network of people who hide a “cache” and tell you the geographic coordinates. The cache can contain a log book to sign, a clue to another cache or tiny objects to swap.

For this adventure, I had a navigator codenamed “Alex Mamba.” (codenames are essential for any adventure). My codename was “Barracuda Fairfield” which is a pretty sick name, if I do say so myself.

So Alexa Mamba and I headed to FDR State Park. It took us a few minutes to figure out how to use the geocaching app. Helpful tip: use the compass function to see which direction to walk and your current geo location in relation to the cache. We found the first cache with relative ease. With some time to spare before the 1pm Jets game, I thought it would be fun to do one more.

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Alex Mamba w/ #2

Let’s cut through the woods they said. It will be an adventure they said. Don’t take the easy way they said. Why did I listen to them?

Definition of them- Myself

So into the woods Alex Mamba and I went. And at first it was easy. A few hills here and there. Then, we hit wet land.

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Sneakers didn’t stand a chance

By wetlands, I mean mud and lots of it. Though nature and I are usually bitter enemies, I didn’t mind the mud. It must have been the company making it better. I did feel bad for my poor sneakers. If I wore my boots, I would have ran through the mud pits. Funny enough, I think the wet lands made it a real adventure. We had to walk on fallen trees to cross streams and jump from rock to rock until we finally found the cache.

Needless to say, we took the long and dry route back to the car.

Until the next mission….

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Barracuda Fairfield over and out.

Cheese, Wine, and Men; All things that are better in Italy

Remember that trip to Italy I booked for an insanely low price? Well I am finally ready to talk about the adventure. It truly was an adventure, filled with  exploration, dancing, castles, boys and wine.

On our first night Catherine and I met a group of Italian guys at a local bar. What characters…Guido who was dressed in a 3 piece suit, Michael the Italian fashion importer who lives in LA, and his rocker girlfriend who loves healing crystals. That night we got the scoop on tomorrow’s “big event,” an Ultra concert next to the lake. This conversation occurred over pizza which Marcelo kindly bought us ladies.

Boating around on the lake

Boating around on the lake

Catherine and I took our tipsy, jet lagged bodies, back to our adorable AirBnB (think a tiny apartment inside a locked courtyard) for a very adult bedtime of 9PM. In the morning we would be climbing Mount Grona.

***NOTE*** I am not a nature person. Yes, I have done my fair share of hikes in New York. Oh sure, I am athletic. My ideal vacation normally doesn’t include long hikes, but my companion wanted to and I am all about compromise.

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I am still unsure how steep of a hike Mount Grona was. 3 hours hiking  bare handedly climbing up this mountain, 3 hours down the mountain, and an additional hour walking toward town- I think it was safe to say I deserved those 4 scoops of gelato, personal pizza, half a fish and bottle of wine that night, which ended with an Ultra concert next to the lake.

Catherine and I had plans to head to Switzerland for the a night, but we canceled them to head into Milan for an extra day. Catherine slept on the train. When she woke up i proudly pronounced “Giovanni, a friend of a friend, is picking us up in a blue buggie to take us to a picnic in Bergamo at a castle.” And folks, that is what happened. Catherine and I ended up eating lunch in the Bergamo castle. Why we headed to Milano that night instead of staying in Bergamo is still something Catherine and I ask myself.

 

 

Some highlights from the remainder of the trip:

  • The most delicious house wine at a tiny Sicilian restaurant
  • Our last minute luxury hotel deal
  • Rinsing my mouth with champagne before clubbing
  • Expo
  • Italian lingerie shopping
  • Hair cuts from two women who spoke very little english but gave us both great cuts

 

Ooooh Baby, BAAAABY!

This weekend I cohosted a shower with 2 of my dear friends. I am so excited to share photos of the beautiful job the ladies did. Guests left calling it “the best baby shower” they’ve been to. It was a Jack & Jill shower, with games including poopy diapers, chugging, and a baby relay! Oh and it was brunch themed- who doesn’t love babies and mimosas?

Olive Espana

Spain is still this magical place in my head.

I was so happy that I began and ended my trip with my friend Camz. I am also so grateful to have had the 5 days on my own.

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I landed on a Monday morning to Camz waiting outside customs for me. After a failure in finding the bus, we hopped in a cab to the beautiful Westin for some tea and nibbles. I had a chance to explore Madrid with her as my guide. The best part of the day (besides spending the day with her) was discover 2 euro wines. I ended my night at the hotel bar, drinking a wonderful red wine, which I regret not getting the name of, and meeting an older gentleman from Dubai/France, who regrettably got my name.

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That morning I headed to the train station for my train to Seville. I bought a youth ticket (under 26). Apparently he printed as “child”. I tried to explain in my mediocre Spanish that it was a youth ticket. With no luck, I “took a ticket” to wait for a new ticket. With my new ticket in hand, I ran to the gate and made my train just in time.

**Side note on trains** When you book your ticket, you book a specific seat. You cannot sit wherever you’d like.

When I got off the train, I knew I entered a magical place. Seville, you have my heart. It is the most magical city in my eyes. Filled with beautiful people, amazing architecture, and an interesting history, I cannot stop dreaming of this city. The most magical moment was in a hot tub, on my own, looking at the Cathedral of Seville lit up at night.

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I made a new friend on my trip to the Alhambra, and was invited to her wedding in Canada!

It was sad to leave after 3 nights in my perfect hotel (it was next door to Carmen’s Cigar factory). I long for the day that I can return and fall asleep, in my comfy bed, with the light breeze coming through the open balcony window and the sound of a solo saxophone player wafting into my room.

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Mt trip ended with Barcelona. I had one day alone and I ventured a hour north to Figueres to see the Salvator Dali museum. (such a good idea.) Bright and early Camz showed up at my hotel. We had a day packed with Picasso, getting drunk in “The Fairy Forest,” Park Guell, napping, olives, wine, and being silly.

Such a wonderful week in a wonderful place during my wonderful life.

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