One Week Itinerary Florence and Venice, Italy

Happy Spring!

April is upon us and while it has been very cold in the CT area, I have been very fortunate to enjoy some spring in Italy! I am very excited to share our one week itinerary to Florence and Venice, Italy.

While we have traveled to Mexico and other spots, it had been awhile since we made it to Europe. Our trip really could not have been more perfect and while I was originally worried we were trying to do too much in one week – our experience proved otherwise. CG1 is studying abroad in Florence so this trip was a must (of course) to visit her. Today’s post (and possibly a few future posts) will go over what we did, where we stayed, ate and other important tips to plan a fun one week itinerary for Florence and Venice, Italy. Our trip also included visiting the CinqueTerre and Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano as well as the Tuscan countryside.

Travel to Florence Practical Details

Being in CT, we decided to fly out of JFK, the largest airport in the New York area that has most of the international flights. We flew to Zurich, had a short layover and then headed to Florence. Of note, you do not need to claim your bags at a stop over in Zurich if flying Swiss Air (of course check to be sure). They checked our bags right through.We were greeted with the most amazing sunrise over the Swiss alps – breathtaking (see photo below). We left around 4:30 EST and without delays on Swiss Air landed in Florence at around 9 a.m. The Florence airport is on the small side and easy to navigate. We quickly picked up our luggage. There is a taxi stand outside the entrance and it was very simple to take a taxi. We confirmed the price (about $26 Euros with a few extra dollars for our luggage).

Day 1 in Florence

We take a cab from the airport to check into the Hotel Orto De Medici.  The hotel is lovely and on a quiet street. Our room is off of the courtyard where Michelangelo was a student in the Academy that was held there. It is full of history and close enough to the main sites. We meet CG1 at her apartment and explore (note – better not to sleep if you can avoid it – it is good to be very tired that evening and get over the jet lag).

We walk to the Duomo admiring its dark green and white facade. The Duomo, consecrated in 1436, is a central feature of Renaissance art and easy to use as a landmark.   After a lunch at a cafe and more sightseeing, we climb to the Piazza Michelangelo and then head to dinner at Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe for pizza with prosciutto, pistachios and burrata – one of many delicious meals we will eat. I also order the chicken Sorrentino. We head to bed after being finally struck with jet lag.

We are not tired…really…

Day 2 in Florence

We awake on Sunday to a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Orto de Medici. The sun filled atrium is the perfect place to enjoy eggs, pastries, and of course a fresh cappuccino as well as blood orange juice that is fresh squeezed with a special machine. 

The first Sunday of the month, the museums are free in Florence which is perfect.  We head to the Accademia to see David. David is as impressive and memorable as I recall when I visited my own junior semester abroad.  I still love Botticelli’s Venus and so many other incredible paintings. 

I had not visited the Church of Santa Croce before and wanted to see it this time so we headed there right after the Accademia.  Santa Croce is a gorgeous church off of a plaza where jousts used to take place.  Galileo and Michelangelo are buried there. 

Santa Croce is not too far from the leather market and surrounding shops.  It is time for some retail therapy, and I buy an Italian wool scarf from a boutique, and an orange pebbled leather bag from the leather market.

Lunch is at the Mercato Centrale which reminds me of Chelsea Place in NYC.  Full of stalls with the most delicious pizza, panini, fresh pasta with wine bars not far away.  We have a panini. Italian food here is so fresh. Even something simple like salami on bread takes on a new dimension. You can taste the freshness of the charcuterie, the bread and the olive oil.

Afternoon brings a tour of the Ponte Vecchio (or old bridge as it translates) which stretches over the Arno river. It is full of wonderful shops.  We then enjoy an aperitif at CG1’s favorite café which is also a floral shop and boutique.  Dinner is at the Trattoria Za Za – very reasonable prices and a lot of food!  I particularly loved the spread of Tuscan appetizers.

Just a few appetizers Tuscan style…

Tuscany and Florence is known for beef.  The Bistecca is a large, t-bone type of meat cooked rare.  I pass on this but enjoy the local white beans.  Bruschetta is everywhere, and it is, for some reason, so much better than home? The next day we head to Cinque Terre so we turn in for the night at a reasonable hour.

Day 3 Hiking the Cinque Terre

On Monday we wake early to head to Cinque Terre, a UNESCO protected site and national park.  The park is also the third most visited site in all of Italy.  It is pouring rain in Florence (is this not a great day to hike the Cinque Terre we ask ourselves?).  I have booked this tour through Viator which we had an excellent experience with for all of our excursions.

Our guide is Alessandro, and he is excellent.  We take a coach bus to La Spezia, which at one time was a beautiful city that was included in the “Grand Tour” for wealthy Americans.  Sadly it was destroyed in WWII – even the cathedral and a hospital were bombed.  We pass marble quarries on the way.  Apparently Italy is a huge producer of both marble and marble dust.  L’Oreal owns the mountain where so much of the dust comes from as make up uses a lot of marble dust (as does tooth paste!).

We take the train to Manorola for the first views of the Tyrrhenian sea. Luck arrives with good weather.  We walk to Corniglia where we dine at Ristorante Cecio. Lunch includes a seafood appetizer and a delicious pasta with home made pesto.  Pesto here includes seasonal nuts, basil, green beans and even potatoes. 

Seafood appetizer…delicious!

After lunch we hike and are not disappointed.

This region, Liguria, is known for seafood.  According to our guide, everyone in the Cinque Terre knows how to scuba dive as they go down into the crevices to fish for octopus. 

After lunch we hike to Vernazza.  The hike is fairly challenging so much of the group decides to forgo it.  We forge on – the views are beautiful and there are air bnbs along the way (which I would love to stay at!).  

Vernazza is our favorite town.  There is a small beach, a beautiful church and a number of cafés.  We sit down and enjoy the local Limoncino (similar to Limoncello but not the same).  We buy some souvenirs in the local shops. We then head to Manorola which is the largest town and in our opinion, not as charming.  You can take a boat here but the weather did not permit it so we moved onto Rio Maggiore.

Rio Maggiore is gorgeous.  The best photo is here and we love the colorful houses and bright fishing boats that line the beach.  We buy a bottle of the local, white wine to enjoy later.  Tiny vineyards dot the hillsides (along with other crops) and the local, small farmers can sell to the larger cooperative to make wine to sell.

We return around 8:15 and are tired so we head to the Mercato for some wine and food from the stalls.

Day 4 Onward to Venice

CG2 and I are up early to head to Venice.  We enjoy a last breakfast at the Orto de Medici, take a short walk in the area and then head to the train station.  The station is quite large with numerous boutiques.  We enjoy shopping a bit before boarding our train.  Our hotel is about fifteen minutes from the train station.

The Hotel Moresco in Venice is a gem.  We are greeted with a glass of prosecco in the lovely parlor adorned with stained glass windows and beautiful, antique furnishings. The hotel is in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice which is quieter but still lively.  We walk to the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto bridge and shop a bit.  We love a small leather and paper boutique where the artisan is cutting paper and leather in front of us.  We purchase a journal and a paper book mark for CG2.

The hotel offers cicchetti, or Venetian snacks with an assortment of drinks.  The food is delicious and the ambience relaxing.  Our fellow guests are largely British.  We venture out for dinner and happen upon the Osteria Oniga.  The place is crowded and has more than one table of Americans (it is top ranked on Trip Advisor).  The black “cuttlefish” pasta is divine.  I have the three course menu which includes “sour sardines” (sardines with sauerkraut).

Day 5 Tour of Basilica and Doge’s Palace in Venice

Wednesday:  The hotel has a delicious buffet with eggs made to order.  Honeycomb honey is delicious by the way (they serve an entire honeycomb on the buffet!).

We stroll and shop the morning, stopping for artichoke pizza (the food is amazing here and each restaurant is charming – even for simple food!).  We have a tour booked at 2 p.m. to see the Basilica di San Marco and the Doges Palace.  Our tour guide, Nicoletta, gives us an in depth tour.  So much to learn!  The church is over a thousand years old and is full of tiny (real) gold mosaic pieces.  St. Mark’s “relics” are here.  Each ceiling is even more fantastic than the next.  Apparently the Doge was head of the church (it did not report into Rome).  The style is modeled after the St. Sofia in Istanbul.  Our tour includes the balcony where we can see the Piazza San Marco as well as the bell tower and working clock which has two statues that move when the time changes.

The Doges’ Palace is full of Tintoretto murals – each one more impressive than the last.  The largest painted canvas in the world is here in the Senate room. 

Post tour we relax with a gondola tour which does not disappoint.  Something about seeing Venice from the water makes this city even more magical.

We enjoy appetizers again that evening.  Dinner is at a darling restaurant where our waiter is fully entertaining. Alexia enjoys the cuttlefish pasta again while I try a sampling of cod.

Day 6 Touring the Venetian Islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello

Thursday:  Thursday we are up early to enjoy breakfast.  Today we are touring the islands in the Venetian lagoon.  I booked a tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello.  Originally I thought we might figure out our own water taxis but it was daunting especially as we had to catch a train later that afternoon.

The tour is perfect – a “taste test” of each island.  I plan to return to stay longer.  On Murano, home to famous blowned glass, we see a short demonstration of glass blowing and then stroll the darling streets that line the canal.  We purchase a glass sail boat at a shop where the artisan is in residence.

Burano is my favorite.  The houses are so colorful.  Burano is known for hand made lace as well as S shaped cookies.  We buy some cookies, a tiny Venetian mask and enjoy a tiramisu cannoli.

Torcello is the quietest.  Hemingway and Princess Diana have eaten at one of its famous seafood restaurants.  There are two very old churches here and the feeling is very peaceful and natural.  Back in Venice we have a delicious panini (we marvel at how the simplest food is so good in Italy!).  Onward by train back to Florence.

We check into the hotel Perseo.  It is not fancy but the people are very friendly and welcoming.  It is also right next to the Duomo and close to CG1’s apartment.

Day 7 Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano and Tuscan Winery Lunch

Friday:  Our last day will feature a tour of Tuscany and the cities of Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano. 

First stop is Siena another UNESCO site,. Siena is an ancient city which once rivaled Florence until much of its population was struck down by the plague.  Siena has a number of sestieres (or neighborhoods) each one represented by an animal.  The year’s highlight is a horse race where the neighborhoods compete.  Siena has a number of rules as it is a UNESCO site.  There are approved colors for the building colors and shutters (green, brown, grey). 

We visit the impressive cathedral which has one part that was never fully constructed due to the plague.  Inside there are statues carved by a young Michelangelo.  The floor is inlaid with scenes from the bible and the library is a gem.

Next stop is a Tuscan winery and farmhouse.  We sit with two Macedonian women and other study abroad students.  The wine is delicious.  Lunch starts with charcuterie, cheese, fresh bread with virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Chianti “Classico” (which is the best mark for Chianti) as well as a light white wine.  The main course is pasta Bolognese – perfectly cooked with just a little bit of meat and a perfect tomato sauce. Dessert includes a rose wine with some biscotti.  Naptime on the bus!

After lunch we visit San Gimignano – a medieval town known for its slim towers and now – award winning gelato.  We purchase some divine, lemon soap and of course have to sample the gelato which is the best we have ever had.

The last stop is Pisa. The tower, featured all over the world, is actually beautiful – white with carvings.  The basilica is also gorgeous.  We have to take the tourist photos.

Back to Florence for our last dinner.  We head to Acgua Al Due – which I realize I dined at way back when I visited Florence junior semester abroad.  We have a long wait but the food is excellent.  The salad sampler is sooo good (especially the pear salad with nuts and cheese).  I order chicken with wild mushrooms.  The girls have ravioli with pear and cheese.  Dessert is the sampler and the tiramisu is more delicious than I remember.

The perfect ending to a fantastic week! Can you do a comprehensive trip to Italy in one week? Well, maybe not…but hopefully you enjoyed this one week itinerary for Florence and Venice Italy!

Where to ski in New Hampshire

Hey there! After a fantastic long weekend on the slopes, today’s post is about where to ski in New Hampshire.

Our family loves a day of skiing with après ski either on mountain or maybe at home – with our favorite buffalo dip appetizer.

I grew up skiing in New Hampshire and Vermont. While I have skied all over the U.S., New Hampshire has a charm of its own. No nonsense, not too fashion conscious and full of down-to-earth folks who love a good brisk day on the slopes (with plenty of après ski afterwards). And, if you have an Epic pass, you won’t want to miss the three resorts that take it.

Where to ski in New Hampshire for Epic Pass Holders

This past weekend, Mr. SB and I decided to explore New Hampshire resorts. We focused specifically on those that took the Epic pass – Wildcat, Attitash and Sunapee. We started off with Wildcat mountain.

Wildcat Mountain – Know before you go

Wildcat is the furthest away (of the three) from southern New Hampshire and the Boston area (where many skiers make day trips). You wind your way through North Conway, NH which has a very extensive outlet shopping area and many quaint restaurants and shops. The drive up from our place near Winnipesaukee was beautiful. We drove along a pristine river and some darling small towns.

Wildcat is known for its stunning views of Mt. Washington. Mt Washington is the highest peak in the East (East of the Mississippi) at over 6,000 feet. While half the size of some of the Rocky Mountains, it is impressive. The week before it also held the world’s attention as temperatures dipped to 100 below zero degrees.

I recommend checking the weather carefully and in particular the wind conditions at Wildcat which I will get into next. As you can see, I prepared well by wearing all the layers and being sure to cover my face!

Where to ski New Hampshire
I am somewhere in there!

What it was like to ski Wildcat

Thankfully Saturday was a balmy 32 degrees going up to 40. Not surprisingly, there was some wind. Wildcat, being so close to Mt. Washington, can be very windy. Two of the lifts were closed when we arrived. Unfortunately, the Express to the top was one of those lifts. We took the triple up halfway and while the views were beautiful, we did not have the complete Wildcat experience until the Express lift to the summit opened.

Wildcat has some of the longest runs from the top in the state. We were not disappointed. In addition to a beautiful view, the skiing was superb and with blue skies and excellent snow we had a great day. Be sure to snap a photo in front of Mount Washington with the sign telling you the altitude (see my main photo for the view).

We love après ski as much as we love to ski. Wildcat’s lodge, while basic looking on the outside, had a charming pub. Food prices in the cafeteria were also very reasonably priced. Epic pass holders get 20% off!). All in all, Wildcat is a hidden gem that I wished I had not waited this long to try!

Attitash: Know before you go

Next up on our Epic pass New Hampshire tour, was a visit to Attitash Mountain. We skied Attitash a few years ago with the girls on a cold and icy day. Frankly, I was not too happy with the experience. While you should always check the weather before skiing, I would say it is particularly important for Attitash.

What it was like to ski Attitash

Attitash was amazing this past Sunday. Skiing Super Bowl Sunday will now be a tradition chez SB! We felt like it was our own mountain for the day. The skies were blue, the snow was great, and temperatures were like spring skiing. Attitash has 68 trails and 8 lifts. Almost every trail was open.

Trails wind past some lovely ski chalets. I loved the wooded feel of many of the runs.

The lodge has entertainment almost every Saturday with live music. There was a cute pub. We ate in the cafeteria which offered typical ski food. Mr. SB enjoyed a bratwurst while I sampled the chili. Both were tasty and while a bit overpriced – in line with typical ski lodge pricing and quality.

After skiing we decided to stop in at the outlets in North Conway. There are numerous brand name outlets including: LL Bean, J Crew, Talbots, Loft and more. I picked up a cute puffer vest at Talbots for $30 (retails $150 and even on sale is about $100) while Mr. SB scored some $10 J Crew shirts. Definitely worth a trip!

Sunapee: Know before you go

Mr SB and I took the day off Monday to ski Sunapee. Sunapee is the closest of the three resorts to Boston so it can be crowded on the weekends with day skiers. I would avoid long weekends in particular as well as school vacations for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Mount Sunapee looks over Lake Sunapee which is a beautiful lake surrounded by summer homes.

Where to ski New Hampshire with a view of Lake Sunapee
The view of Lake Sunapee from the slopes

What it is like to ski Mount Sunapee

Skiing Sunapee was highly enjoyable. The ski resort boasts 66 runs. Of the three resorts, we found the skiing to be the easiest. The views were gorgeous as you see the lake and five other ski resorts in the distance. As it was a Monday, we skied ten runs in two hours!

After skiing we hit the pub. The lodge where it is housed, was a bit on the older side – typical seventies ski lodge look. Of note, you will not get the Epic pass discount in the pub. The chili was tasty. Mr. SB had a turkey avocado wrap which he said was delicious.

Where else to ski in New Hampshire?

While this mini get-away focused on the Epic resorts, we have also skied Waterville Valley and Gunstock. I grew up skiing Waterville. It is a favorite. There is only one road in and out of Waterville Valley and it is stunning. Last I skied there, it still had the old double lifts that go all the way to the top. I remember skiing that terrain when I was about six years old!

Gunstock has gorgeous views of Lake Winnipesaukee. We also love their local pub for lunch. For non skiers there is a mountain coaster which our girls tried and said it was great fun. There is also an outdoor sports center where you can rent cross country skis. We tried that one day and loved it too. Lastly, fun fact, Gunstock also offers night skiing.

Where to ski in New Hampshire? Try one of these options or explore others. For a great day with some old New England charm thrown in, I highly recommend trying these resorts. Until next time – happy skiing!

Fall This and That

Happy Fall! This fall has been busier than ever. This post I will share a few short updates on what I have been cooking, where I have been going and a few fall items I purchased that I am loving. Grab a pumpkin/apple spiced beverage and let’s discuss.

First, with high school gal applying to colleges we have been doing some last minute rounds to see local schools (if you missed our tour of a few southern and PA schools you can read about it here). We made it to the Boston College home game, and boy it was fun. I loved the latest game day look for girls which included some cute tennis skirts (why do I remember us wearing baggie jeans?!). Our team (BC) won so it was a huge celebration and so great to see old friends.

We also headed up to see college girl in Vermont and catch some fall foliage. I had made a mean care package (if I do say so myself) a few weeks ago for a first bout of homesickness. I created the perfect cookie for care packages as it does not crumble. This time I planned to bring one with a fall theme.

With not much time to spare I lucked out with an easy pumpkin oatmeal cookie mix from Trader Joes. Chewy, oatmeal cookies with chocolate chunks and plenty of pumpkin flavor…I did add a few extra chocolate chips. These are another care package win as the cookies hold their shape and flavor. Pick up a mix when at TJs. I am adding some spiced tea and latte easily made with the electric kettle along with a few other goodies.

For some reason this fall I have wanted to buy clothes! Maybe after last year’s imposed home stay and nowhere to go it feels good to get out. I bought this J Crew coat. I love the raspberry color and think it works for both fall and spring. With temps falling in CT, I have been wearing it everywhere.

Anyone else craving sneakers? Stylish sneakers are my go-to shoes as I work from home and am often shuttling between the gym, car pools, dog walks and zoom calls. These New Balance ones caught my eye. Can’t wait until they arrive as they are so comfortable. I like the subtle animal print on the back too.

Next up? I have a bunch of fall recipes on the blog which I will be making for football games, hiking picnics and more. You can make them too:

One bowl pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting

Pumpkin crisp

Apple crisp

What have you been doing to celebrate fall? Mums on the porch? Pumpkins everywhere? Halloween decorating? This is one of my most favorite times of the year, and I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am. Cheers!

Perfect Day Trip to Nantucket

Hi there. Hope all is well! Before I get into what a perfect day trip to Nantucket could look like, I have an anniversary to celebrate. It has been about one year (maybe a day short) since I launched Sunday’s Bread! Hopefully you have enjoyed the recipes and the few insights into chez SB. I realize I have a lot still to learn (photos in particular!). This is a journey so I look forward to sharing more and getting better at it!

Ok, so onward to today’s post – I have been wanting to share how to visit Nantucket just for the day. A couple of weeks ago the girls and I had the most perfect day on Nantucket. Today I will be sharing what a perfect day trip to Nantucket could look like. Yes you can go just for the day!

Why go for a day trip to Nantucket?

I adore Nantucket and have been visiting since I was a young child. We would cruise the coast on our boat and stop in to explore ports around New England. Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard were my two favorite stops (all of those cute shops and ice cream:).

Then I went back to Nantucket in college. I had many friends who worked there for the summer or had family homes (where I was lucky to stay). Right out of college, when working in Boston, I would take off on Friday night from Boston, drive to Hyannis. I would catch the ferry in time to meet my friends out at a club called the Chicken Box. Very fond and fun memories.

So, I could not wait to show this darling island to the girls. We had visited when they were babies. So little that I recall remembering I was worried that the double stroller would not fit on the ferry. They do not remember any of that visit. We also visited the Vineyard a few years ago – my youngest loved Edgartown. So it was time to try the other island, Nantucket, which is only 11 miles away.

A day trip is perfect too. First, you can see how the weather will be. Nantucket is famous for its fog and frankly as much as I love it, it is very expensive. There is some risk of getting there on a not so great day weather-wise. We booked our ferry two days prior.

How do you get to Nantucket?

We were coming from Cape Cod after visiting some friends in Orleans. Orleans is about 45 minutes from Hyannis which is where I always pick up the high speed ferry. The high speed ferry will take one hour to get to Nantucket. As mentioned above, this is also doable from the Boston area.

We made reservations for the high speed Hy Line. As we were a couple of days out we could not park there as the ferry lot was full. If you are leaving early, as we were (8:30 a.m.) this is not an issue. There are numerous parking lots where you can park all day. We paid $35 and were about a block away from the ferry. I had packed some muffins but we grabbed coffee at the café right next to where you board. They have a selection of breakfast items to go, or you can sit for a larger meal if you have the time.

It was a gorgeous summer morning so sitting next to the docks sipping coffee was a great way to get started. On board, we sit up top to get the view and fresh air. I love the view of Nantucket from the ferry as you approach the island.

Where to go once on island

Nantucket town has a few primary streets lined with shops and places to dine. The harbor docks also have dozens of lovely boutiques. Our aim was to shop and eat so we set off and started browsing. Here are some of my favorite stores:

Murray’s Toggery Murray’s is the home to the famous Nantucket Reds, faded pinkish, red chinos for men and women. JFK famously wore them as he played golf and sailed. They have been around forever and anyone who has spent anytime on boats or near yacht clubs knows them well. Murray’s has far more than just the famous pants though. I purchased a beautiful cashmere wrap in hot pink (the girls’ suggestion), and we browsed lots of brands. The look tends to be preppy with some outdoorsy clothing too. All very fitting for Nantucket.

Pawsitivity We just discovered this adorable shop which sells beautifully made pet collars and leashes. The owner was so helpful and we enjoyed chatting with him (they also have a store in Vail…not too bad!).

Ack 4170 We headed here for sweatshirts and to browse some beautiful jewelry. I love following them on Facebook too.

Stop N Shop Hah yes the local Stop N Shop was a favorite as we could easily pick up bottles of water, kombucha and snacks. As we were only there for the day we did not want to even carry water bottles. Stop N Shop also has restrooms (the visitor center does too) so we stopped in a few times during the day.

Perfect day trip to Nantucket, MA
Everything is adorable on Nantucket…how cute is this bike?

If you have not visited the Nantucket Whaling Museum I highly recommend it. Nantucket’s history is vibrant and the whaling industry (as sad as that is to me now) brought wealth. Many of the gorgeous historic homes date back to those times. You will need to make a reservation to visit (not sure if this is due to Covid or not). The museum has a notable scrimshaw collection. Many exhibits convey what it was like to be part of the whaling industry.

If you would like to see more of the island, you can also rent bikes. We opted not to do this as summertime is also high traffic time (stressful when biking). There is also a shuttle that goes all around Nantucket. We decided we would try that another time.

Where to eat on Nantucket when visiting for the day

There are many fine dining and casual eateries on Nantucket. A personal favorite has always been the Straight Wharf where I love the bluefish pate – soooo good. For us though our trip was short so we did not want to spend too much time dining. Instead we headed to Provisions which has been on Nantucket since I was a college student.

The Turkey Terrific sandwich is one of the best sandwiches I have eaten. It is “Thanksgiving on a sandwich,” as my daughter described it. Super fresh bread, yummy stuffing, cranberry sauce and turkey of course. They also have a delicious baked tofu sandwich which I ordered. Tip: If you are buying to eat on the ferry, leave plenty of time! Provisions is very popular so there was a wait and we saw two people have to leave without their food.

Right around 4 we stopped at the Juice Bar, another institution for some of the best ice cream ever. Feeling a bit full from lunch, we had a raspberry sorbet. The sorbet tasted like fresh picked raspberries. Post lunch we walked around town looking at some of the notable homes such as the Jared Coffin House. I love antiques and old homes so this was a delightful way to spend the afternoon.

Perfect day trip to Nantucket, MA
Gorgeous Hydrangeas

Where to eat in Hyannis after a perfect day trip to Nantucket

We took the 6 o’clock ferry back to Hyannis. 10 to 6 was just the right amount of time. Mr. SB was waiting for us with our lab as the ferry pulled into Hyannis. He is a huge fan of whole belly fried clams (and I am too!).

There are two clam shack restaurants in Hyannis, Baxters and Spanky’s. We have eaten at both post Nantucket ferry (both are excellent for fresh seafood). Spanky’s was dog friendly so we opted to eat there. We ate outside and watched the sun set. It was delicious and a perfect ending to the perfect day trip on Nantucket.

College Tour – Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania

Hi all. Well, last week was a whirlwind college tour. Little Miss High School and I road tripped it for a college tour of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was a lot of driving but also a lot of fun so I thought I would share some of the details.

University of Virginia

Our first stop was Charlottesville, VA to visit the University of Virginia. This was about a seven hour drive from Connecticut. We arrived in the late afternoon which was perfect as we could explore Charlottesville and do our own informal walk around of UVA. We stayed a Hilton Hampton Inn which was brand new and perfect for us. I even hit the gym in the morning while Little Miss slept in.

Charlottesville is home to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello which we also wanted to visit. Unfortunately given that we had to drive to North Carolina after the tour we did not have time. We did however see the beautiful home from afar where it is perched on the river. UVA is very historic and was Thomas Jefferson’s conception. He had attended William and Mary but apparently saw room for improvement (according to our guide). He thought students and professors should live together for constant learning. Here is a picture of the lovely area where even today students live and professors live next door. In each of these rooms, there is a list of all residents. One list even has Edgar Allen Poe on it as he attended for a semester.

UVA Grounds
UVA Grounds

“Grounds” as the campus is called is gorgeous and for a history buff like me heaven! So what did Little Miss think?

She loved it too. And as any teenager does, took plenty of photos.

She is also very into history and after a year of intense AP US History was gobbling up the background of this picturesque university. We walked around that evening and explored downtown Charlottesville which is a quintessential college town in the best way. The next morning we arrived for a fantastic tour. Our guide was upbeat, really engaging and clearly very smart. We liked that you apply to Arts and Science but then apply for business at a later date (which is her interest). UVA also has D1 sports (my Little Miss is a sports fan), Greek life (35% though so plenty of students not involved if that is not your thing) and hundreds of clubs. The academics are stellar and of course it is very selective especially out of state. After a trip to the bookstore (Cavalier sweatshirt in tow), we headed to UNC Chapel Hill.

UNC Chapel Hill, Elon and Wake Forest

We drove about 3.5 hours from UVA to UNC Chapel Hill. The drive takes you through rural Virginia and North Carolina but was pleasant enough (Little Miss practiced her driving). I would recommend packing a sandwich or stopping in Charlottesville first (we ended up with fast food which is not my preference but was the only quick option).

UNC and Chapel Hill are beautiful. We did not have a formal tour though so we walked around on our own. Little Miss thought it may be a tad too large and spread out. She will do some more research. They also have great sports (basketball especially), a lovely town and excellent academics.

We then headed to Winston-Salem which is about an hour from UNC Chapel Hill. Much to our surprise, Elon University was right on the way so we decided to stop. Elon has a beautiful campus. We know many kids that attend, and it is especially popular in the Northeast. Brian Williams and his son put it on the map with communications. Little Miss liked the campus too. I think it will be on her list.

That evening we had reservations at the Wyndham in Winston-Salem which is called the historic Brookstown Inn and dates back to 1837. This hotel is actually on the national register of historic hotels, and it was adorable! Exposed brick, period furniture and very spacious rooms all at a reasonable, Wyndham price. We loved the warm cookies and milk served at night too. Little Miss and I headed to Willow (an easy walk) for dinner for tasty salads (to offset those cookies which came later!). The area is very charming and historic Salem is not too far either. The hotel is about fifteen minutes from Wake Forest University.

In the morning, after a traditional Southern breakfast (gravy, biscuits, eggs etc.) we headed to Wake Forest University for a formal tour. Wake Forest, founded in 1834, is lovely and in a very nice area with spacious homes and lots of beautiful greenery. Our tour guide was energetic and warm. It was hot though (note to tour guides…please bring your groups into the shade!).

Wake also has an excellent business school and again, you can apply after being admitted which is a plus (some schools you have to apply directly for business). Wake has about 60% in Greek life so that seems to be something you have to want to do (or be comfortable not doing but know that it is a big part of life for many students). The school is very well take care of and the buildings were gorgeous. Post tour we visited the business school which is brand new and impressive. We picked up an Einstein’s bagel sandwich for our road trip to College Park Maryland which is about four hours away. Little Miss is adding this one to the list for certain.

U. Maryland, Lehigh University and Villanova

Our trip to College Park took us through DC which was fun. We drove past the White House and other major buildings. On the other side of DC is College Park where the University of Maryland resides. Frankly, this one was just too big for Little Miss but if you are interested in a large school this may be the right one for you. The next day we were up early to hit Pennsylvania with a first stop at Lehigh.

Lehigh University is in Bethlehem, PA and is comprised of some lovely stone buildings on a hill. We would like to see town when the students are there as it was a little sleepy mid summer. We had lunch at a coffee bar, and then headed to Villanova University for a tour. Villanova is also a beautiful campus right outside of Philadelphia. Our tour guide led us around campus and shared some of the interesting facts such as every student takes a mission trip funded by an alum. When students become alums, they fund another student’s trip. Villanova has several schools. You can transfer to business although apparently it is difficult once enrolled as you will need to catch up. There is some Greek life too which is unusual for a Catholic university.

Exhausted and full of college facts, we headed back home through torrential down pours. Fortunately I know New York well enough to take the major highways as many of the smaller ones were flooded. Next up will be a tour of my alma mater, Boston College. Hopefully you have enjoyed this little peak into a college tour of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Stay tuned!

Visiting the National Parks with Kids: Expectations Versus Reality

We have visited over 10 national parks with our girls. Each one has been unique, breathtaking and full of ways to be active in the great outdoors. Today’s post is the first in a series about visiting the National Parks with kids – specifically what our expectations were for our trips, versus reality.

Expectation: Breathtaking scenery

Yes, we decided to travel across the country on several occasions for the pure beauty of the parks. This expectation was met and then some! What we did not expect was the sheer diversity. From the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the majesty of the old growth forests in Olympic National Park, to the almost surreal scenery of Bryce Canyon, each park has been so unique and gorgeous. None disappointed in any way.

Expectation: The kids might be bored

Wrong. Our girls loved the parks at every age. We started visiting when our youngest had finished second grade and our oldest, fourth. They were the perfect age to become Junior Rangers. The Junior Ranger program has a self guided scavenger hunt, puzzles, and other activities that lead you to explore the park. At the end the girls would receive a badge. Each park has a unique Junior Ranger program, and they are all very educational with lots of science and often history.

Our girls also loved to hike, watch for wildlife and visit the historic sites. Where else could you pick fresh fruit from an orchard originally planted by pioneers (Capital Reef)? Or see the names of pioneers or Native American Hieroglyphs etched into the cliffs? (also Capital Reef).

Many of the places we stayed did not have Internet access. Guess what? We played board games, drew, listened to music and read. We also brought books on CD or used audible (more recently) to listen to books on long car rides. Many of the parks protect the night sky too so star gazing is amazing. Worried about boredom when visiting the National Parks with kids? No need…plenty of old fashioned fun to be had (and everyone is tired at night after hiking, rafting, touring).

Expectation: There would be numerous places to eat and stay outside the parks

Well, this one really depends on where you are visiting. Coming from the East Coast where you can’t throw a stone without seeing a highway exit with restaurant signs – we had a few surprises. After leaving Grand Canyon to drive to Zion we went hours without seeing a restaurant (and fast food would have been fine!). I highly recommend that when you start your tour, go to a store and stock up on snacks as well as a cooler. Fortunately we had done this so our girls were happily munching on fruit and Chex Mix until we found a place to eat. I also like to pack some breakfast items such as granola or muffins to eat when we stayed where breakfast was not included (time and money saving!).

Expectation: The highlight of the day would be the National Park

Hah. So with school age kids, our expectation was that they would be as enthused as we were to see such amazing sights. For the most part they loved it. However, in our case we often stayed outside the parks in chain hotels such as the Hilton Garden Inn, or Marriot Courtyard. These hotels often had a swimming pool and free breakfast. Let’s just say that usually around 3 p.m. our girls could not wait to hit that swimming pool. Oh, and as I do not buy sugary cereals…the hotel free breakfast was usually a hit too. So while I would not say that swimming pools and Fruit Loops were the highlight…they were a close second after the sights in the park.

Expectation: The parks are not really untouched and can be crowded

Ok, so in some of the parks there were crowds. Yellowstone had tour busses filled with tourists from abroad. Yet, 99% of those tourists would descend to see Old Faithful and get back on the bus. One ranger told us that fewer than 2% of visitors ever go beyond a mile or so from the main attractions. This fact presents a great opportunity if you do want to go off the beaten path.

In our case we ventured beyond the main attractions, and then you are really removed from the crowds. We stayed on the hiking trails, had a map, plenty of water and snacks and were able to see some amazing sights such as geysers and waterfalls with either no people around or one or two. In some parks you have to watch out for bears – they do not like surprises so we would often sing as we hiked to give them fair warning! We did see a bear twice but once from afar (a Grizzly mama and her cubs running across the plains of Yellowstone and a brown bear which the Park Rangers shooed away when he was too close to people). The parks do sell bear spray too if you are worried.

In general the parks are very wild and you need to heed all of the precautions. We always checked into the main park ranger station and reviewed the weather reports, spoke to the park rangers and outlined our day. We also followed directions and did not sit too close to the rim at Grand Canyon or at any of the incredible water falls we have visited. I can’t tell you how many people were not following those precautions. My theory is that people are used to visiting Disney and think they are safe like it is a ride. It is not! Heat can also be an issue in the Southwestern parks so you need to bring plenty of water and not stay out too long.

Final thoughts

In general, our expectations were exceeded at all of the National Parks we have visited with our kids. Visiting the National Parks is budget friendly, educational, fun and a great way to make memories with your family. Check back as I continue this series on the National Parks. My next post for Travel Tuesdays will be our two week tour of the Southwest National Parks including Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, The Arches, Mesa Verde and more.

Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Family Vacation Review

We love to travel and usually travel internationally with our girls at least twice a year. These days with the pandemic, I have been doing more #armchair travel and reminiscing about past trips. Today’s post is about a family vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun.

Mexico is a favorite family destination, and we have stayed at the Club Med in Ixtapa and Cancun as well as the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun. Today, I am sharing our review of the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun, Mexico where we enjoyed a fabulous Spring break.

Why did we choose Cancun?

Our East Coast winters are tough….full of snow and ice. So, come April we are looking for guaranteed weather. Sunshine please. I have never had anything but spectacular, sunny weather in Mexico so we checked that box!

Second, Cancun is an easy trip from the East Coast. We leave out of New York airports typically, and you can get a direct flight to Cancun. So nice! We flew Jet Blue which on the way down was super easy, and we left New York in the morning and were at the hotel for a delicious, buffet lunch. The Cancun hotel district (where the Hard Rock is located) is about 15 minutes from the airport. Super convenient which is great for a one week vacation where you want to maximize your stay and not be traveling too much.

Why did we choose the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun?

We had stayed at the Hard Rock in Universal (Orland, Florida) (highly recommend). The food was delicious (we had chosen their club level for “free” h’ors d’oeuvres). They also have a nice points program.

For Cancun, we chose the all inclusive option at the Hard Rock hotel. Mr SB and I do not like to pay for every meal, drink and excursion when on vacation. So having it prepaid and knowing it met our budget was worth it as it relieves that constant nagging feeling and risk of over spending. It was also a great value. Pictures of the ocean and hotel did not hurt either…

Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Beach
Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Beach

Our Stay

So let’s get to the good stuff. What is it like to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel, Cancun?

First, there is never a dull moment. With two teen daughters we were looking for a place on the beach where there was always something to do and with an entertaining atmosphere. Let’s just say the HRHC has that in spades.

Ambience and Decor

The lobbies are decorated in the classic Hard Rock style of posters and memorabilia from famous bands and musicians. The activity is non stop. From the games in or beside the pool to the bands that play all day long to entertainment – magic shows, comediens etc. at night. If you want a quiet hotel this is probably not for you. With two teen girls – it was perfect.

The hotel has 601 rooms with a gorgeous location right on the ocean and the main beach in Cancun. One drawback – the exterior is a typical high rise hotel. This construction makes for some beautiful views but the exterior of the building is not that charming. For us this was not an issue as the gardens, pools, terraces and interior are lovely.

A Room with a View

Rooms face the bay or the ocean. I recommend the ocean view. It was worth the upgrade. Make sure you specify this when you reserve and that it is included in your deal. We did have some issues upon arrival with the “fine print.” The hotel staff graciously figured this out for us, and we had a spectacular view of the ocean with a balcony perfect for reading. There is also an opportunity for club level rooms which have their own pool. We opted for the regular (non club) room, and that level suited our needs perfectly. We actually enjoyed the constant pool activity.

The room was well appointed. The one drawback was a large jacuzzi tub which maybe some guests enjoy. We preferred to use the whirlpools by the pool, and the one in the room just took up space. The fridge was well stocked with complimentary rum and other alcohol. We also found that unnecessary but well – Cancun is a party town so depending on your tastes maybe that works for you.

Beach, Pool and Amenities

First the beach is spectacular as my photos show. White sand and clear blue water. On a windy day it can get rough so we did not swim too far out when there was a strong breeze.

Pool Hard Rock Hotel Cancun
Infinity pool at Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

There is also a gorgeous infinity pool pictured above with ocean views and two swim-up bars where I can assure you Mr. SB and I enjoyed a few mojitos and pina coladas.

Bar Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

The girls and I also enjoyed the spa – very reasonably priced manicures and pedicures. Mr. SB and I even had massages. All wonderful.

The gym is beautiful – two floors outfitted with weights, Peloton bikes and more – and if you like there are fitness classes.

Dining and Restaurant Reviews

Ok now let’s get to the good stuff. Food. The food was delicious and with six restaurants there is a choice of Italian, Mexican, Japanese, South American (Churrascaria) and a buffet that serves all kinds of foods.

If you have picky eaters there was always pasta, fries, pizza and other items you would typically find on an American kids menu. Also, while sometimes travelers (Americans) can fall ill while visiting Mexico as they are not used to the water – we have never had an issue in Cancun or at the Hard Rock. They are used to travelers from all over the world and take the necessary precautions on site.

The Buffet

The breakfast area has an all you can eat buffet with smoothies (my favorite was the mango), American and Mexican breakfast items, and an omelet and pancake/waffle station. We love smoked salmon and that was a daily treat included on the buffet. The fresh fruit is amazing. With Mexico’s sunny climate you can count on mangos, watermelon, pineapple, melon and more.

Every day at the pool there are grills with delicious, fresh fish/meat, vegetables and more. They also served woodfired pizzas all day long.

We loved every restaurant and had difficulty choosing which one to go to each night.

Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Food
Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Food

Zen – Sushi and Hibachi

Since we adore Asian food, Zen was a top choice. You can get hibachi or sushi. The space is a large and with the murals and hibachi chefs it makes for an entertaining evening.

Murals Zen Hard Rock Hotel Cancun
Murals at the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun Zen Restaurant

Ipanema – South American Steakhouse (Churrascaria)

Ipanema, the Brazilian churrascaria, was also delicious. All kinds of meat, poultry and seafood which they bring to your table to slice as well as an extravagant salad bar. The restaurant also looks out on the pool and ocean so if you sit in just the right spot the view is beautiful.

Frida – Upscale Mexican

Frida, the Mexican restaurant, has a fantastic decor and is actually outside (but covered). With low lighting and local Mexican art it really sets the mood. The food was super fresh and delicious (and if you have not had really good Mexican food you are in for a treat…this is a far cry from Mexican fast food commonly found and thought to be “Mexican food” in the States).

Frida Restaurant Hard Rock Hotel Cancun
Frida Restaurant Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

Ciao – Elegant Italian Cuisine

Ciao, the Italian restaurant, is beautiful and has an upscale feel with neutral walls and rich, heavy drapes. The food is classic, upscale Italian and like the other restaurants – fresh and delicious.

Each restaurant was so different in terms of food and ambience that it was almost like leaving the hotel to go to a new place each night (but without the hassle!).

You may want to reserve even before you arrive if you have preferences.

Service at the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

Everyone was so nice at the hotel. We had a favorite bartender who made delicious mojitos (both virgin and with alcohol). Service at meals was attentive and friendly. Our room was kept clean and tidy. I do recommend you make sure you put the door hanger out so the staff knows when it is free to clean. The women in the spa were lovely. My one negative was that the manicurist did not seem to know how to do a professional manicure. Nice enough for the price but an area for improvement. However massages were delightful and well priced.

What is there to do at the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun?

Well that is up to you. We opted to stay at the hotel enjoying the pool and beach to read and relax with occasional, long walks down the beach. The pool always has activity – games, dancing, bands…

There are numerous excursions available from the hotel. Mexico has a rich cultural heritage. You can take a full-day to the Maya ruins at Chichén Itzá (admission not included in the all inclusive pricing), the Ik Kil cenote, and Valladolid. If play is more your thing then there was a trip to a local water park.

You can also fish, sail and enjoy numerous other water sports. The hotel also has access to a golf course. In my opinion it was a bit hot to play golf but if you are an avid player or visiting when the temperature is more moderate, it is available.

Have you stayed at a Hard Rock Hotel? Have you visited Cancun? Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts!