Puerto Rico Travel Diary

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Back in April, my best friends and I traveled to Puerto Rico for a girls’ getaway. I’ve always overlooked Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, but the island has so much to offer that I wish I had visited sooner. A direct flight from Baltimore in the morning had us sipping piña coladas and laying on the beach by lunchtime. There’s no reason not to return when paradise is just a short plane ride away.

STAY

We stayed at The Ritz-Carlton San Juan, which is situated on a private stretch of beach in Isla Verde. The hotel is located directly across from the airport (a five-minute drive!), making it a prime location. The staff went above and beyond to make our week memorable and continued to surprise us throughout our trip. From the welcome gift bags and birthday balloons to the cold bottles of water and dried fruit by the pool, the hotel far exceeded our expectations in hospitality. Our favorite cabana boys even sang to me on the beach and brought out a piece of chocolate cake topped with edible gold!

EXPLORE

The San Juan National Historic Site // A series of defensive structures that date back to the 15th century were built to protect San Juan and now exist as a National Historic Site. We only had time to visit Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, but it was still fun to climb to the top and learn about the battles.

Old San Juan // Between the colorful buildings, rich history, and vibrant culture, there’s so much to see and do in Old San Juan. We spent an evening wandering down streets, peering into shops, and enjoying the lively atmosphere that was present throughout the island. Our only regret was not staying out late for salsa dancing!

El Yunque Rain Forest // I can officially cross zip-lining off of my bucket list! I’m so glad that we included a little adventure on our trip, because it was easily the highlight of our week. Our guides from Yunke Zipline Adventures lead us on five different ziplines throughout the Luquillo Mountains that offered incredible views of the wildlife. Naturally, I was the one (and only!) person who got stuck on one of the cables, but it was an unforgettable experience.

Flamenco Beach // Culebra, a small island off of the eastern coast of the mainland, boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For several weeks, we debated whether or not a trip to Flamenco Beach was worth it since it’s so difficult to get to Culebra. Options are limited–you can either take a ferry (which is rumored to be unreliable and rocky) or a plane to the island. I couldn’t get the white sand and turquoise waters out of my head, so I convinced my girlfriends to board an eight-seater plane and hope for the best. As soon as we arrived, we understood the hype. You don’t need much more than a bathing suit, picnic lunch, and plenty of sunscreen.

WEAR

I left packing to the night before our trip (procrastination at its finest), relying on my tried but true formula for tropical trips: several bright bikinis, gauzy coverups, and a great pair of worn-in denim cutoffs. I was also doing a juice cleanse that day, so by the time I got to accessories, I seriously lacked all focus. I kept it simple and packed my favorite beach jewelry: tassel bead bracelets, a boho necklace, and a white watch. A few pairs of sunglasses (currently wearing these), and I was good to go!

EAT

Fern at The St. Regis Bahia Beach // Fern at The St. Regis was like an adult-version of Rainforest Cafe, minus the penny-eating crocodile and tacky gift shop. We ate outside on the restaurant’s balcony and could hear the waves crashing along the shore throughout our entire dinner. The food was nothing short of amazing. I tried octopus for the first time ever (and only suffered a minor allergic reaction, ahem) and had a warm shrimp salad that I’m still trying to recreate at home.

Le Madre // As soon as we walked inside the restaurant, we knew we had found a great spot. It was dominated by locals, which is always a good sign in my book. While the food was delicious, our server was what made our experience notable. He gave us a handwritten list of things to do and places to eat all over the island…I just wish we had time to cover it all!

Il Mulino at The Ritz-Carlton // On our first night in Puerto Rico, we made reservations at the hotel’s Italian restaurant for an easy and low-key dinner. With a glass of Super Tuscan wine, fresh parmesan cheese, and a shared portion of pasta, I felt like I was back in Florence. Okay, so maybe it can’t compare to the real deal, but it was the next best thing.

Las Olas // After our day trip to Culebra, we drove in search of a casual beach bar for a round of drinks and authentic cuisine. Las Olas had peach sangria, a mystifying sunset, and good company…what more could you want?

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Venice Travel Diary

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It kind of makes me cringe to say this, but my sisters and I actually hated Venice–so much so that we cut our visit short. I was fully expecting to be enchanted by the colorful buildings, winding canals, and the romantic vibe that characterizes the small islands. In actuality, it lacked any true charm and seemed to be entirely catered to tourists.

While in Italy, we decided to use AirBnB for a more authentic feel rather than stay in Americanized hotels. Our apartments in Milan, La Spezia, and Florence were all functional yet cozy, giving us a true sense of European living. Venice was a different story. As soon as my sister told me that she had killed a bug on the bed, I was packing up my suitcase and rolling it down the cobblestone streets. Only one towel (that could barely pass as more than an extra-large hand towel) was provided for four of us, the apartment was visibly dirty, it appeared as if no one had stayed there in months, and it wasn’t even the same place we originally rented. I can handle an uncomfortable bed and even a shower with no tub, but bugs in the bed? Not gonna happen.

On our third try, we finally found a nearby hotel that could accommodate us and offered a clean room. Maybe it was the bad start, or maybe it was the smell that engulfed Venice, but we still couldn’t leave the city fast enough. I’ve been told that you’re missing “it” if you don’t wander and get lost, so maybe you can’t discover the hidden gems in less than 24 hours. Or maybe you need a significant other and a destination wedding planned at the Aman Canal Grande. George Clooney wouldn’t steer us wrong, right?

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Florence Travel Diary

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It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Florence. Everything about it was mesmerizing–the shopping, the people, and the city streets were all charming. We arrived in the rain, but it didn’t stop us from exploring the city to its fullest potential. I’m already anxious to return…three days just wasn’t enough!

EXPLORE

Uffizi Gallery // You can’t go to Florence and not visit the Uffizi Gallery. We spent three hours in the museum, but we easily could have dedicated an entire day to studying the work of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and da Vinci, just to name a few.

Piazza del Duomo // We passed by the cathedral several times a day, yet it still remained one of the most striking sights. Go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds while getting a close look at the Gothic architecture.

Piazzale Michelangelo // Watching the sun set is one of my favorite things to do, especially in a new location. Piazzale Michelangelo offers one of the best views of Florence, so we made the hike about 30 minutes before sunset to grab a beer and enjoy the live music. Buy a bottle of wine on your way up, and snag a seat on the steps for an unforgettable memory.

Ponte Vecchio // The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, spanning across the Arno River. Stores line the entirety of the bridge, so take a stroll and go shopping for an authentic experience.

San Lorenzo Market // The San Lorenzo Market is an indoor and outdoor market with vendors selling everything from leather goods to truffle oil. If you have the time, get lost wandering the streets until you find the perfect handbag.

The Boboli Gardens // We visited the Boboli Gardens on a sunny afternoon, and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. The gardens are situated behind Pitti Palace, displaying antique and Renaissance sculptures.

Wine Tasting in Tuscany // Wine tasting is pretty much synonymous with Tuscany. We booked a half-day tour to the Chianti region and had such a fun experience. Our group was a blast, and by the time we finished the tasting at the second winery, everyone was sharing (and laughing at) their most American moment while abroad.

WEAR

The style in Florence can vary quite a bit, mostly because you’ll see so many American students walking to class or stopping at one of the many cute cafes for coffee. It seems like the ‘college girl uniform’ is universal–North Face jacket, Longchamp bag, leggings, and riding boots. Just because you don’t have a fanny pack doesn’t mean you don’t stick out among the effortlessly cool locals. Comfort is always a concern when traveling, but I tried to wear pieces that didn’t scream tourist. A pair of distressed boyfriend jeans and a silk blouse was casual enough for a morning of museum hopping followed by an afternoon bike ride. Shoes are always key, which is why I religiously wore low-heeled booties. I bought these a few days before the trip and didn’t even need to break them in. A felt fedora and a coral lip pulled the look together.

EAT

Vini e Vecchi Sapori // Run by a couple and their son, Vini e Vecchi Sapori is a tiny restaurant tucked in a quiet side street. When a friend said she would travel nine hours just to eat there, I knew we had to try it. My meal ended up being my favorite pasta dish–tagliatelle with black cabbage and bacon–in all of Italy, and we loved their housemade wine so much that we asked to buy a decanter of it (unfortunately the wine wasn’t available to purchase!).

Gusta Pizza // I can’t tell you how many times Gusta Pizza was recommended to us by both friends and strangers. We almost skipped it because of the hype, but we eventually made our way there on our last day. It was difficult to find even with a map, so we made one final attempt by spotting a group of American students and banking on them going to the pizzeria. Beware; it’s messy and requirs a fork and knife, but it’s so fresh and flavorful.

Acqua Al 2 // With locations in San Diego and Washington, D.C., we’ve heard many good things about Acqua Al 2 though never dined at the restaurant. A travel agent based in D.C. suggested that we visit the original location and try the tasting menu. We sampled six different pasta dishes and three different filet mignon presentations–the blueberry reduction sauce was so delicious!

Vecchio Forno // We stumbled upon Vecchio Forno on our last morning in the city, ordering an array of freshly baked pastries. I loved the fruit tart! Our only regret was that we hadn’t found the bakery sooner.

Edoardo Gelateria // Hands-down the best gelato we had throughout the week. Edoardo only uses organic ingredients and is free of additives and coloring. We also learned to never eat gelato from a tin (only a canister!) because that’s usually an indicator that the ice cream isn’t authentic.

Mercato Centrale // The open-air market is the perfect place for a quick bite to eat. We stopped in a couple of times since it was close to our apartment and had a wide selection.

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