Well hello! It has been a minute! I thought I would do a general update today because sooo much has been going on since I last posted. This blog is a hobby for now so I do apologize for the long delay. I have been sporadically posting on Instagram so please do follow me there for more regular snippets.

Travel – Mexico and Japan

The big news for 2024 is that we have already taken two fantastic trips. Right after Christmas we headed to Punta Sam, Mexico to stay at the Villa Del Palmar. We loved this resort and highly recommend it. We booked the entire trip including flights through Costco!

It is a beautiful, beach front resort with the most amazing food (and even more incredible it is an all inclusive!). We had a full suite which included a kitchen and washer/dryer. Very comfortable for a family of four. Girls had a pull out in the living room but with their own bathroom too. We took the ferry over to the Isla De Mujeres and explored and enjoyed the beach. We also booked a snorkeling tour which was really fun – the underwater museum a particular highlight. Hoping to do a more comprehensive review with photos. In the meantime, here I am enjoying sunset on the beach:)

And, last week, we just returned from Japan! This was a trip that technically we planned before Covid and to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary! Japan exceeded our expectations in every way. I knew it would be interesting and that we would love the food, but I did not expect it to be sooo beautiful. It is a stunning country. We were also there for the cherry blossoms which really are spectacular. More on this trip but in the meantime, here is a favorite photo of Himeji castle.

This and That in CT

What else has been going on? Well as I may have shared, I am an entrepreneur. With empty nesthood I have really been able to focus on business which is so exciting. I have juggled parenthood and career for two decades and would not trade it for the world but now, in a different phase of life, I find my work really interesting and fun – especially as my business is growing. I have been reading a few excellent books – which may be of interest to fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. Built to Sell
  2. Traction
  3. 7 Figure Agency (very specific to the agency world)

Anyways, I adjusted my morning routine where I read business books first – apparently this is when we can focus the most. So far, I have gleaned so much.

On the home front, I am happy to be home with spring and summer to look forward to – I love winter too and we did some great skiing at Stowe, VT and in NH but this time of year is really fun. Our beach/boat club opens up and all kinds of outdoor activities. A big milestone is also approaching – CG1 is graduating! Yikes. Where does the time go. We could not be prouder of this girl – navigating Covid during college was no joke and she is graduating strong – maintaining her merit scholarship the entire time! Both girls should be home for awhile – we look forward to having the family home.

Well that is all for now. Hope your day is going great and please do check back – I will be sharing more details on Japan for sure!

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!

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!