Tag Archives: vacation

Florence Part 1

I’m back with the next post in my series about our trip to Italy! As mentioned in my previous post When in Rome, our next destination was Florence.


In the morning of our third day in Italy, we went to the train station in Rome and traveled to Florence. It’s a high-speed train, so the trip only 1.5 hours, and it goes through beautiful parts of the countryside on the way. We relaxed, read books, and listening to music. And it cost less than $50 total. I wish that the US had more trains like this!

TIP: Buy tickets in advance online. It saved us a lot of time and hassle to have our tickets already.

After arriving in Florence (aka Firenze), we took a taxi to our new Air BnB. This Air BnB was beautiful, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the summer months. It does not have air conditioning, which wouldn’t be so bad if there were screens on the windows. Unfortunately when it got stuffy we either had to deal with the warmth or open the windows and let bugs in. The Air BnB was also quite close to the road. We were able to drown out the street noise with white noise on Derek’s laptop, but it is not be the best place for light sleepers.

TIP: Always check Air BnBs for air conditioning if you’re traveling in the summer! I am a silly American who is used to it being standard and did not check until after we booked. Whoops!

On the plus side, the Air BnB had a great location that allowed us to walk almost everywhere. We set out to explore on foot as soon as we were settled in. Since we arrived in Florence in the early afternoon, we decided to do something low key and check out Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a square dedicated to – you guessed it – Michelangelo, and we heard it had a fantastic view of Florence.

It took us about 30 minutes to walk there. Be forewarned- it involves a ton of stairs!



After spending the morning on the train, it felt good to get some walking in, and the weather was amazing. It was in the mid 70s and breezy.

People were not exaggerating about the view. It was incredible.



There were beautiful gardens up there as well.


Stopping to smell the roses. 


And of course there was a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David.


After all of our walking around and climbing stairs, we decided it was time for a pizza comparison. Our Air BnB host recommended Pizza e Carbone Acasamia, which was less than a 10 minute walk from the apartment.

TIP: Italians generally do not eat dinner until at least after 8pm. There was only one other group at this place until almost 9pm.

We started out with a salad and beer, which Derek was quite excited about. Of note, we accidentally ordered an entire pitcher due to our poor Italian. Oh well!


He finally got some beer in the land of wine.

Derek and I both agreed that the pizza at this place was one of the food highlights of the trip and hands-down the best pizza of our lives.


Veggie pizza with bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini,  and mushrooms. 

TIP: Pepperoni and peperoni (Italian) are not the same thing. Peperoni refers to bell peppers.

We actually went back our last night in Florence because we liked it so much.


Prosciutto, tomato, and ricotta.


On our first full day in Florence we decided to spend the morning checking out a market near our Air BnB followed by an afternoon at the Duomo since we knew it was going to rain later in the day.

Exploring Mercato Sant’Ambrogio was another excellent recommendation from our Air BnB host.


We loved strolling around and looking at all the different foods, flowers, and goods available.

We decided to get brave and cook a meal at the Air BnB for dinner and picked up a few things to take back with us.


Our spoils from the market. 

Trying to explain how much beef and pasta we wanted in our stellar Italian was hilarious for us and the poor guy assisting us. I think we provided his entertainment for the day. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the final product, but it was delicious!

After our morning adventure at the market, we made our way to the heart of the city to see the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence.

After we got our tickets, we waited in line to enter the building. It started to rain, which cleared out the crowds quite a bit. We were prepared with ponchos and umbrellas and decided to tough it out. However, we thought that a little gelato might help the situation.


Pistachio for Derek and tiramisu for me.

The US really needs to do the whole gelato thing. So good!

After about 45 minutes we reached the front of the line and started the climb inside the Duomo.


See the gray arches at the top of the dome? We climbed up INSIDE those. It was like climbing a ladder in a tunnel. The experience was crazy/claustrophobic/incredibly cool.

The ceiling art was mind boggling and striking. How did they do that?


And the view at the top was awe-inspiring.


After conquering the dome climb, we spent the rest of the time checking out the actual cathedral and the various museums associated with it.


I didn’t get as many pictures in the museums, but we learned a ton about the selection of art and architecture as well as how the Duomo was built.

After a fun day full of Italian culture, food, and history, we headed back to the Air BnB to cook dinner and rest up for our “Best of Tuscany” trip schedule for the next day. I’ll dedicate an entire post to that day. The places we went on the tour were our favorites of the entire trip.

Air BnB Info

At Ghibellina – Central Florence

Firenze, Toscana, Italy

<blockquote>A 200 metri da Piazza Santa Croce, dietro le antiche carceri delle Murate attuale sede dell’omonimo caffè letterario, deliziosa dimora fiorentina ideale per vivere nel cuore della città e muoversi …</blockquote></div>https://www.airbnb.com/embeddable/airbnb_jssdk</div>


When in Rome

As I mentioned in my Episode 0 post, Derek and I took a very delayed honeymoon trip to Italy. It was an absolutely wonderful trip, and I thought it would be fun to share here on Brown is the New Pink via a series of posts. I’ll also include some travel tips, just in case you’re considering a trip to Italy, too!

We traveled to Rome, Florence, and Venice for a total of 9 full days. In addition to the main cities, we also took two day trips out of Florence to the Tuscan countryside and to Cinque Terra. I’ll kick off the Italy trip series with our first stop: Rome!


The journey begins!


We flew out of the Charlotte airport directly to Rome on an overnight flight. The flight went as well as can be expected for international travel, and we managed to get a taxi and travel to our Air BnB without any issues. We loved our Air Bnb in Rome! I highly recommend staying there if you’re planning a trip. I’ll put some info about where we stayed at the bottom of the post for those interested.

TIP: Driving in Italy (especially Rome) is insane! The lines on the road are really more of a suggestion than law. 🙂  Unless you are very confident and comfortable driving in another country, I would suggest using public transport if at all possible.

Given the 6 hour time difference, our 9:45am arrival time felt like 3:45am. We were thrilled to be in Italy but totally exhausted. We ended up taking a brief nap, which was definitely worth it.

After our power nap, it was on to sightseeing! We walked about 45 minutes heading towards the Colosseum and took in the city.


Piazza Venezia


Tiber River

We arrived at the Colosseum late in the afternoon. It was actually good timing because we hardly had to wait in line, and it wasn’t very crowded.


Selfie stick for the win!

TIP: If you’re interested in hearing more about the history of the Colosseum, you may want to consider taking a guided tour instead of the audio tour. The audioguides were just OK here.

It was truly awesome, in the traditional sense of the word, to stand in the Colosseum and talk about its history and significance. Like many places we visited on the trip, there’s just nothing comparable in the US because it’s a relatively new country.


The Colosseum at sunset.

By the time we walked all around the Colosseum the sights were closing, and we didn’t get a chance to tour the Roman Forum. We were pretty bummed about it! Derek double-majored in biology and ancient history (i.e., lots of Roman history), and I took a Roman art class during college so we were excited about the forum. (Is it super obvious that UNC is a liberal arts college, yet? 🙂 ) We did, at least, check it out from above. It’ll be on our list if we head back to Rome someday!


Derek looking out over the Roman Forum.

After all that walking and the previous day of travel, we were famished! We stopped at restaurant called Piazza Sforza Cesarini on our way back to the Air BnB. It was a beautiful evening (low humidity, low 70s), so we enjoyed our wine and pizza on the patio.

People were not joking about how cheap wine is in Italy and how often everyone drinks it. I think I found my people!



We both decided on pizza, and it was delicious. (Though the best pizza of the trip was still yet to come in Florence.)


Al Prosciutto Fungi

TIP x3:

  1. Italians like to enjoy leisurely meals, and the servers usually do not bring the bill (il conto) unless you ask for it.
  2. You do not need to tip! Most places include a service charge. We often left a small tip out of habit but definitely not as much as we would leave in the US.
  3. Expect to pay for water, and don’t expect ice.

We finished walking home and then promptly passed out. Besides our quick power nap, we had been awake for almost 36 hours straight.  It was some of the best sleep of my life.


After a glorious night of sleep we were well rested and ready to explore.


Looking much more awake!

Checking out the Vatican was our plan for the day.

TIP: Remember to dress modestly for trips to the Vatican. Cover your shoulders and legs down to at least below the knee. (I wore a maxi dress with a sweater which worked out well.)

On our way there we stopped in a little cafe for breakfast. It was one of the few places where we were the only people who spoke English. Ordering was little tricky, but we were able to do it with our shoddy Italian. (By the way if you know any Spanish, it will be helpful in Italy. The languages are more similar than I thought!)

TIP: Most Italians drink coffee/espresso quickly and standing up. Expect to pay more to sit down at some places.


Latte macchiato, cappuccino, pistachio cream pastry, and apple pastry.

I am so bummed that I can’t remember the name of this place because it was one of our favorite meals throughout the whole trip. The coffee/espresso in Italy is to die for generally, and the pistachio pastry was AMAZING.

Next we headed to the Vatican Museums. The audioguides here were excellent, and the museum is HUGE.

TIP: Buy your Vatican Museum tickets in advance. We spent about an hour waiting in line to buy tickets while the people who bought them in advance zoomed right in.


Nearly every room has an ornate ceiling.

The Sistine Chapel was, of course, amazing to see in person. (Though, to be honest, the crowds pushing around in there sort of take away from the experience.) However, my favorite part of the museum were the Rafael Rooms. They were unsurprisingly beautiful, but I most enjoyed hearing about the symbology and history of the rooms. It was fascinating!


Perseus with the Head of Medusa

After several hours walking around the museum, we were pooped and decided to start heading back toward our Air BnB. On the way back we stopped at St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s Square


Views on the walk home.

We capped off the day with happy hour on our Air Bnb’s gorgeous terrace and a relaxing dinner at a small restaurant down the street.


Happy hour on the terrace in Rome. NBD.

The next day we headed to Florence for four days of our adventure. Stay tuned for more trip recaps!

Air BnB Info

Vatican Terrace

Rome, Lazio, Italy

<blockquote>This elegant and bright apartment is located on the ground floor of an elegant building close to St. Peter’s. It has recently been renovated with high quality white oak parquet floors in all rooms….</blockquote></div>https://www.airbnb.com/embeddable/airbnb_jssdk</div>

Adventures in the Wizarding World

Soooooo . . . I’m just going to casually start blogging again after a 2 month hiatus. No big deal. Actually I plan on playing a little catch-up in a later post, but let’s just say that Derek’s surgery rotation took over both our lives for 8 weeks. Bleh. On a positive note we celebrated the end of the rotation from hell with a fun-filled trip, which is what I’ll be writing about for my triumphant return to the blogging world.

For those of you who don’t know me or Derek, you would assume that my lovely husband is the geek in the family. And for the most part you would be correct. When it comes to Star Wars, DotA, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and most other geeky fandoms Derek is your man. However, I take full and proud ownership of being a Harry Potter fan. (Fun fact: I told Derek I wouldn’t marry him until he read all of the books, and bless his heart, he read them all.)


Back in December, we started talking about taking a trip. We knew it couldn’t be too far away because I can only take a few days off from work, and we knew we wanted to go somewhere warm. We threw around a few romantic and mature ideas like Charleston or Savannah, but we ultimately decided that we wanted to do something FUN. Derek came up with the idea of heading down to Orlando to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. I was, of course, completely on board with this plan.

We bought our park tickets, found a flight,  booked a hotel, and waited for the end of April to finally arrive. Last Saturday we flew out at 7am and were in our room at the Hyatt Regency by 10am. Let me just say, our room and the entire stay at the hotel was great. The staff were helpful, the pools were beautiful, and the room was spacious. Hyatt Regency is especially a smart pick for weekend travelers (it’s business-oriented and therefore less expensive on weekends) and for government employees. We received a significant discount for the room because I’m a federal government employee.

After settling into our room (AKA marveling that we got HBO and playing with the wildly unnecessary but fascinating TV screen in the bathroom mirror), we headed straight for Universal Studios.


After some debate, we ultimately decided to spring for Express Passes. They’re pricey, but it was completely worth it. Derek and I went to the front of the line on rides with 60 minute wait times. If you’re going on a quick 2- or 3-day trip like us, they are particularly useful. We basically covered all of Universal Studios in one day because we didn’t wait in line. We bought Express Passes for the first 2 days but didn’t get them on the third day because most of the Harry Potter rides don’t have express lines.

Quick recap of the best rides at Universal Studios:

  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

We spent our second day at the Islands of Adventure park. Derek and I also wore matching tanks (because we’re cool).


We’re pretty serious about our matching tanks.

Quick recap of the best rides at Islands of Adventure:

  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman

Our third and final day at the parks was dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is actually divided between the two parks at Universal. In true wizard fashion, we started the day at Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) and later took the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts/ Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure).

One of the most clever aspects of the park design was the lack of signage for Diagon Alley. The outside looks like a street in London with Kings Cross Station. We had to find the right hole in the wall to get to Diagon Alley.


The Knight Bus inconspicuously parked outside of Diagon Alley.


Grimmauld Place. And yes number 12 was somehow missed. 🙂


Diagon Alley looked spectacular. I stopped and stared as soon as we walked in.

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There was so much to see. We walked in all of the shops and loved pursuing through everything.


I ended up getting a Hogwarts shirt, and Derek purchased a Gryffindor quidditch jersey. It was too dark to get any good pictures of it, but there’s even a Knockturn Alley with creepy shops and items for sale. After walking around for a while, we rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Waiting in line for the ride included a walk through Gringotts, complete with haughty goblins hard at work.

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After that we headed to lunch at the Leaky Cauldron.



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The Wizard’s Brew was a dark stout with hints of chocolate and coffee. Delish!

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After lunch, we headed to platform 9 and 3/4 to take the Hogwarts Express.

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Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were just as enchanting as Diagon Alley. Universal really did an excellent job of making the books come to life.

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We rode both sides of the Dragon Challenge (Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail), and the Flight of the Hippogriff. Word of advice, don’t ride the Flight of the Hippogriff unless you’re a fan of 15 seconds of crushing and/or being crushed by the person next to you. 🙂

We eventually worked our way back to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was my favorite ride at all of Universal. Even waiting in line for this one is entertaining because you make your way through Hogwarts and see different places like Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and hallways with moving and talking paintings.

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After our long day of witchcraft and wizardry, we stopped by Honeydukes for some sweet treats on the way out.



Our trip was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a tough few months. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, or just love theme parks, I would definitely recommend a trip down to Orlando. We had a blast!

Greetings From Kiawah

Greetings from Kiawah Island, South Carolina! After graduating on Saturday, Derek and I headed down to Kiawah on Sunday to spend a few days at the beach with my parents. I LOVE Kiawah, and I haven’t been here in 3 years. I’m excited to be back.


Kiawah is a gorgeous island that is located about 15 miles from Charleston. While its beaches are beautiful, the bike trails and wildlife make it special.


The glorious view from our condo.

Every morning we wake up, eat breakfast, and go for a 1 to 1.5 hour bike ride. There are tons bike trails, and the beach has hard, flat sand that is perfect for biking.


Derek and I are looking nice and sweaty after a 1 hour bike ride on the beach.

I love that we can exercise in such a fun way when we’re on vacation.


My parents are in their mid-50s, and I’m pretty sure they’re in better shape than Derek and me. They’re awesome!

When we bike, we’re always on the lookout for alligators, deer, bunnies, and herons. We saw this guy (below) eyeing the white bird seen in the upper left corner. After a while he gave up and started swimming towards us. We hopped on our bikes and moved on ASAP. See you later alligator. 🙂 (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)


Looking for breakfast.


Forget that bird. Those are some delicious-looking humans.

After an invigorating bike ride, we all throw on our swimsuits and head out to the beach.


It’s not a good beach trip without giant vodka tonics. 🙂


Yes, that is a water bottle full of vodka tonic.

It has been wonderful to sit on the beach and read a book for fun! I have really missed reading for fun since grad school. I’m currently reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I’m hoping this one will be just as good.


Besides reading, we play bocce ball and go for walks on the beach. We also went to Charleston for dinner last night. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should go to Coast. It was absolutely delicious. Today we’re riding our bikes out to the end of the island to see the dolphins. They apparently chase fish onto the shore to eat them at low tide. It sounds interesting; I’ll be sure to take pictures.

My posts will resume their normal pace on Friday. For now, I am enjoying spending time with Derek and my parents. It is so nice to relax after such a busy time in my life!

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