Wanderlust

I’ve spent nearly 7 weeks away from New York this year and March isn’t even over. It’s an odd feeling for me to be so disconnected from the city I love most, but my wanderlust is really in full force. I’m fairly convinced New York is the love of my life, the city I’m meant to be with forever, but we’re on a healthy break right now. I’m in search of new loves and actively dating as many cities as I can.

Mexico City was a whirlwind romance, a pure love that I didn’t even know I was capable of feeling outside of New York. I met the city in January and he felt like a familiar stranger who I wanted to have endless conversations with. I joked that the fastest way to my heart was through my stomach and he rose to the occasion. We floated down the colorful canals of Xochimilco eating oversized quesadillas. We laughed over never-ending bowls of guacamole and chicharron. We took long walks sipping fresh jugo and attempted to make mole after a trip to the mercado. He made me feel safe, alive, and inspired. It actually pains me that we parted ways, but I know he and I will rendezvous again soon.

Xochimilco

Rio de Janeiro was the perfect rebound to distract my aching heart after Mexico. He has perfectly sun-kissed bronze skin, traces of sand on his clothes and weathered Havaianas, and a natural rhythm that makes his body move effortlessly on the dance floor. He’s the type of summer love that is exciting and playful, the kind that gives you passionate kisses in the rain, naps on the beach, and excursions through waterfalls in the jungle. Although he’s fun and easy on the eyes, he isn’t someone who stirs my soul.

Rio de Janeiro

I plan on visiting Denver at the end of the month. He’s an old friend I see occasionally. Rugged, charming, and laid back, we often venture to the mountains to soak in scenic views or simply drive without a destination in mind. Sometimes I wish I could love him as more than a friend. We would have a simple, easy, and happy life together. But I know myself too well to know that simple is not my style and that I’m rarely content without a challenge.

 

Last, but not least, there’s London. He’s New York’s older, more experienced cousin and he has a charming accent I can’t resist. We met many years ago when I was a teenager and I fell hard. Over the years, I’ve questioned whether we have a future together and that’s part of what I want to explore more deeply. On paper, London is really good for me – smart, witty, and cultured – but he’s never made me feel settled. If we lived together, would I always find myself comparing him to New York? I’ll have a month with him later this spring to find out.

 

What other suitors are on the horizon? There are so many possibilities it’s actually overwhelming. I fantasize about floating in the Dead Sea or sleeping under the stars in the desert. I think about sailboats in the Mediterranean and long hikes in Patagonia and the Nordic fjords. I want to dance salsa in Havana, sip on tea and slurp noodles in crowded cities, and ride bikes through the tulip fields in the Netherlands.

I’m looking for love in all shapes and sizes. It could be intense and romantic or the quiet love you experience reading together in silence. It could be adventurous love that is physical and tough or convenient love that comes with many indulgences.

I’m wandering. I’m lusting after the unknown. I’m in search of love and finding that it truly is everywhere.

Star Wars Costume Exhibit at Denver Art Museum

I was in Denver recently and checked out the Star Wars Costume Exhibit at the Art Museum. It’s a must see for any fan and a fun way to spend the afternoon if you’re downtown.

The  exhibit features 70 original costumes from all 7 Star Wars films (no Rogue One, unfortunately). I documented maybe 80% of it if you want to live vicariously through my experience.

A Saturday Morning at SFMOMA

I have been overdosing on art and culture lately and it’s done wonders to elevate my mood and inspire creativity. A highlight for me was a recent visit to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
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I had no idea that this space and collection is larger than the one in New York. I went when they opened at 10 AM on a Saturday and it was surprisingly empty.  No complaints here!

The mobile app kinda blew me away. It’s probably the best museum app I’ve ever used – intuitive, informative, and genuinely fun to use. Anyone in the tourism marketing industry should download it just to get a sense of what is possible. Wired has a good overview video here.

Around every corner I found my eye drawn to really sexy curves and geometric shapes.  Here are a few shots I snapped on my iPhone.

I couldn’t take photos inside, but the Bruce Connor exhibit is excellent. The other highlight for me was new work from Japanese artist Sohei Nishino. He created a series of diorama maps, large format representations of different cities. Look at the photos below and see if you can guess which cities they are.

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Amazing, right? Kudos if you recognized Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, and London.

I know Modern art isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more in recent years. There are still times when I look at a piece and think “How is this art?” or “I can make that!” but then I pause and think about the reaction it provoked. It did its job.

 

An Afternoon at Onsen San Francisco

I wanted to hike Mount Tamalpais the other week when visiting San Francisco, but my plans were foiled with heavy rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Bummer.

When I suggested scoping out a spa or bathhouse, my girlfriends suggested Onsen, which opened earlier this month. I don’t typically associate the words clean and awesome with the Tenderloin, but if you can suspend your disbelief like I did, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Onsen is a wonderful slice of Japan located on Eddy St. about 5 blocks from the Civic Center BART station. It’s by no means large or scenic like the onsens you’ll find in Japan, but it’s a welcome respite from the daily grind.

I’m looking forward to going back on my next trip and trying out their dinner service.

Recommendations for Rome and Florence

A few friends recently asked me about recommendations for traveling in Italy. Although there are so many wonderful places to explore throughout the country, I highly recommend Rome, Florence, and surrounding Tuscany for first-timers. Whether you’re going as a family, solo traveler, or for a romantic getaway, there’s really something magical for everyone to enjoy.

I’ve done this trip twice, once with my friend Nick, and the other with my cousin Nick. If you have a week, spend at least 3 days in Rome and 4 days in Florence. You can easily find direct flights to Rome (FCO) and then use Italy’s extensive railway system to explore Florence and surrounding areas (Pisa, Lucca, etc.). Renting a car is always an option, but I wouldn’t do that until you get to Florence.

In no particular order, here are more detailed tips that you might not necessarily find elsewhere:

ROME

I don’t think I could ever live in Rome, but it’s one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to. It oozes with culture and history and transforms into one of the most romantic and enchanting places at night.

1. Tour the Colosseum with a guide

Save yourself the trouble of waiting in line and purchase these tickets in advance. This is for entrance to the Colosseum along with access to the gladiator pits and third ring. You’ll be with a guide, which is the only way to access these areas. If you don’t do this, you’ll still appreciate the site, but you’ll have serious FOMO looking down at the tour groups that are standing in the center arena doing their best Russell Crowe impersonations (download Gladiator on your
iPad or laptop to watch on the plane. It will make your visit 10x more fun).

On a quest to get cheesy, touristy jumping photos in front of all 7 wonders of the world. 3/7 complete.

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2. Buy Vatican Museum Tickets in advance

You will want to punch yourself in the face if you don’t do this. Did you know that Italy gets more tourists than any other country in the world?! Even during off-peak times, tourist destinations like the Vatican are packed. The line extends several blocks so you’ll be saving yourself at least 45 minutes of wait-time if you buy your tickets in advance. Go to the website and look at the different options available (I haven’t done it, but I hear the night tours give you special access to galleries closed during the day).

It’s worth noting that you can spend at least half a day in the museum. If you’re pressed for time, prioritize the Sistine Chapel, which is one of the most breathtaking works of art ever created. Don’t miss it, even though you’ll be tempted to when you’re crammed like a sardine in the hallways. Suck it up and deal. The photos don’t do it justice!

Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel is breathtaking (top), but Raphael's work wasn't too shabby either (bottom). Where's the love, peeps? #underhyped

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2) Climb St. Peter’s Basilica

If you’re in decent shape, not pressed for time, and not claustrophobic, do this! You’ll get an up close and personal view of the frescos that line the ceilings of the Vatican and a surreal panorama of Rome at the top. If you can time it so that you do this on a clear day in the late afternoon, you just might catch one of the most epic sunset views of your life.

Unlike the United States, the tourist signage in Italy is void of legal jargon and disclaimers. There’s a sign that says you can take an elevator up the dome, but what it fails to explicitly say is that it only takes you up 1/3 of the way. For 7 euros, you can take the elevator 320 steps, but you’ll still have to climb 551 (!!!) steps to the top with each flight getting drastically narrower. It’s not a bad climb, but if you’re expecting a leisurely walk in the park or you think the elevator is going to take you to the top, you’ve been warned!

Bonus: The inside of the Vatican is so ornate it will be easy to get caught up in the splendor of it all. Look out for the very tiny sign pointing to the crypt, which houses the ruins of St. Peter and Popes throughout the ages. This might feel creepy to some, but as someone who was raised a Catholic, I appreciated this experience.

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3. See the Trevi foundtain, but linger at Piazza Navona 

Everyone goes to see the Trevi Fountain. You have to see it, but it feels like the Times Square of Rome – too crowded and full of tourists. Grab dinner at Campo de Fiore and walk to Piazza Navona, a large square with two giant fountains designed by Bernini. I’ve spent hours here sipping on negronis, savoring gelato, and people watching.

Made a big wish at the Trevi fountain. If it comes true, 2014 is going to be amazing 🙂

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4. Eat Spaghetti Carbonara at Salumeria Roscioli 

There’s something therapeutic about twirling your fork in a mound of spaghetti laced with freshly grated parmigianno and pancetta. I’ve never been a big fan of spaghetti carbonara, but it’s a must eat in Rome. You’ll get one of the best bowls of it here. The restaurant is tiny and also doubles as a deli where you can find some of the best salumi and cheese in town.

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Craved this bite of spaghetti carbonara for a whole year. Confession: it wasn't nearly as good without you, @nickperold.

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5. Stop for lunch at Pizzarium before hitting the Vatican Museum 

If you love pizza or focaccia, Pizzarium is a real gem. It’s a few blocks away from the entrance to the Vatican Museum and easily the type of place you would pass by if you weren’t looking for it. The only reason you might take notice is that it does get crowded at lunch and you’ll often find patrons lingering on the sidewalk gorging on their slices. There are dozens of toppings and you order by the pound, not the slice. My strategy is to ask for small slices so I can try as many different variations as I can. I’ve never been disappointed by any of them.

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FLORENCE 

There’s a special place in my heart for Florence because of my trip there in October 2012. I was feeling burnt out and the city completely revived me. I ate delicious things, drank too much wine, explored til my feet hurt, and found myself in a place where I could slow down and enjoy the finer things in life. I’ll always be grateful to Florence for that. 

1. Buy the Florence pass and reserve tickets to see Michaelangelo’s David

If you’re going to spend more than 3 days in Florence, I’d recommend buying the Florence pass because it gets you access to 30+ sites in town ranging from the Uffizi Gallery (must visit if you love Renaissance art) to smaller chapels and historic homes. I don’t typically find things like this to deliver on their value, but this one is an exception. They sell it at most tourist kiosks or you can find them at museum entrances.

Just like the Colosseum and Vatican Musuems, Michaelangelo’s David draws the crowds. Go online and buy tickets in advance or else you’ll be stuck online for at least an hour. If you’re on the fence about whether to see this or not, don’t be. I wasn’t expecting much and it completely blew me away. I didn’t realize how big it was and having seen the Sistine Chapel a few days earlier, this gave me so much more appreciation for Michaelangelo’s talent and range as an artist.

4 hrs in Florence: Michaelangelo's David ☑️ Duomo ☑️ Ponte Vecchio ☑️ Gelato ☑️ Truffles ☑️

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2. Picnic at Piazza Michaelangelo at sunset

Go to one of the local markets (Mercato Centrale is the largest, but San Lorenzo is my favorite and also the oldest). Pick up a bottle of wine, some fresh meats and cheese, and take a cab up to Piazza Michaelangelo. If you go before sunset, you’ll get this view and it’ll make you cry.

Bonus: Most markets will vacuum seal food for you. That means you can stock up on your favorite salumi and stash it in your suitcase.

Sunset at Piazza Michaelangelo

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Went to the Sant'ambrosio market today and was blown away. I never want to shop at a supermarket again. #eatlocal

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3. Book a Day Trip to Pisa, Sienna, and San Gimignano

This was easily one of the best tours I booked. Nick and I allocated a whole day to this and it allowed us to see a Tuscan vineyard/farm, the town of Sienna (amazing), the walled city of San Gimignano, and the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s such an efficient way to see a lot of things in such a short amount of time.

One day I think I'd like to have a mid-October wedding at a villa in Tuscany. #justsayin

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4. Visit the town of Panzano

One of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had traveling was a day trip from Florence to this tiny town of Panzano. I had to go because I’d read the book “Heat” which is about the author’s apprenticeship with Dario Cecchini, the world’s most famous butcher. Dario sings in a loud operatic voice at the top of his lungs, cites quotes from Dante’s inferno, and represents 8 generations of butchers dating all the way back to the Etruscans. When I read this book, I thought to myself, “I have to meet this man!” and so I did. His store is 200+ years old and you can book a meal at his restaurant for $25 w/ unlimited wine. This meat-centric extravaganza blew me away is one of my all-time favorite dining experiences.

The crescendo to my Italian culinary adventures: Visiting Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in the world. His 6 course tasting menu: an orchestral meat symphony.

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BONUS: Just up the road is this wine shop called “Accademia del Buon Gusto” (school of good taste). Go in there and talk to the owner and he’ll walk you through a flight of the most delicious locally sourced Tuscan wines you can’t find anywhere. I spent 3 hours in that store and bought some of the best value Super Tuscans and dessert wines ever.

 

5. Eat Bisteca Fiorentina at Perseus

I went to Perseus twice in one week. One thing to know about Florence is it’s famous for its T-bone steaks that come from white cows specific to the region. They’re cut about one inch thick and are found at most trattorias. I always ask locals where they eat and they sent me here. It’s a carnivore’s paradise.

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I could wax poetic about how much I love Italy and these two cities. If you need other recommendations about where to stay, what wine to drink, how much to budget, etc. just holler. Happy answer questions in the comments or just email me.