Group Trip #1, Joshua Tree, California

Luckily for us, we had two group trips planned with friends for the first 6 months of 2014! The first one took place about 1.5 weeks ago in Joshua Tree, California. 8 of us rented a house and staying right near Joshua Tree National Park. I had heard of the park before but had never been there so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. It was really amazingly beautiful and I would highly recommend it!!

We rented a house called the Joshua Tree Rock and Glass house that was even featured in a New York Times article in 2009. It was definitely one of the coolest places I have ever stayed. Here are a few pictures:

The huge couch

The huge couch

Bathroom #1

Bathroom #1

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Chillin in our room

Chillin in our room

The huge couch

The huge couch

We found random items around like handcuffs...

We found random items around like handcuffs…

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The pool

The pool

Check out the water cistern turned swing

Check out the water cistern turned swing

Heading up to the loft

Heading up to the loft

Flashlight chandelier

Flashlight chandelier

Besides spending time exploring our insane house, we also went on two awesome hikes. The first hike was to the top of Ryan Mountain. It was only about 3.5 miles round trip but it was all up-hill on the way there so it definitely got our blood pumping.

Starting the upward hike

Starting the upward hike

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Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain

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We made it

We made it

the top

the top

After our hike we decided to do a little bouldering/rock climbing!

Check out Gabe in the far background!!

Check out Gabe in the far background!!

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Making our way up

Making our way up

Bob at the bottom

Bob at the bottom

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Going down was equally scary

Going down was equally scary

The next (and last) day we decided to do a longer hike (7.2 miles) but it was completely flat which was a nice break. Luckily Aaron convinced me we needed more than 1L of water per person (which I thought was PLENTY) because it was gone by the end of the day. The scenery was really amazing and different from anything I’ve seen before.

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Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

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Picnic lunch

Picnic lunch

Ice even though it was probably 70 degrees!

Ice even though it was probably 70 degrees!

After lunch we had to do some more rock climbing.

Closeup of rock climbing

Closeup of rock climbing

And the zoomed out shot!

And the zoomed out shot!

Wonderland of Rocks

Wonderland of Rock

We had a nice quite evening back at the house (except for the mouse we saw which caused a bit of commotion!).

The whole group

The whole group

The girls

The girls

 

The last morning Gabe and I got up early to catch the sunrise before heading to the airport to fly back to freezing cold Chicago.

Earlier risers

Earlier risers

Last California sunrise

Last California sunrise

Overall it was a really great trip!

Ricky

As many of you know, our amazingly awesome kitty Ricky died over the holiday break. We are both very upset by it and are trying to be happy remembering him. Here is the story of Ricky.

One day, while working in Madison, WI, a co-worker of Gabe’s came in and announced that she had found a kitten out by her property and was wondering if anyone could take him. Gabe said yes right away and they became instant best buddies!

 

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One of my favorite stories about Ricky as a kitten happened right when Gabe first got him. We snuck him into our motel room in Milwaukee because we didn’t want to leave him alone overnight. After spending the day at Summerfest, we went back to the motel room and couldn’t find him anywhere. After 10 minutes of searching the room top to bottom we finally figured that a maid must have opened the door and he had run away. As we had just about given up hope of finding him, we heard a noise and say our tiny little kitten crawl out from inside one of the pillow cases on the bed. We are so happy we didn’t lose him that day and got to spend 9 great years with him.

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He grew up to be quite a big kitty and loved sitting on the cat tree Gabe built for him and Picasso.

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Here are some more of our favorite pictures of our little buddy.

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As you can see, he was GREAT at relaxing.

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 Picasso  is doing alright but keeps wandering around the house looking for him. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. We miss him so much and the house just doesn’t feel the same without him. :(

I’m BACK!

Ok I haven’t written any posts in a long time but its been a very busy summer for us! Here are a few of the highlights:

1. My dad and sister came to visit and we went to the Bean and Hot Dougs

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Summer12. Had fun at the Oakpark Microbrew review and celebrating friend Bill’s birthday

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3. Visited my friend Lauren (and went to the Midwest Microbial Pathogenesis Conference with the lab) in Columbus, OH

4. Visited Minneapolis for Labor Day (and Gabe’s birthday)

5. One of my best friends Hillary had a new baby girl

6. We finally visited Kuma’s Corner for the best burgers EVER with Brian, Lauren, Ryan, and Liz

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7. We had a fun weekend with my mom, step-dad, their best friends and their foreign exchange student eating our way through Chicago. That same weekend I saw Marky Mark Wahlberg while we were watching the filming of Transformers 4!

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8. We visited the East Coast again and had a great weekend with Shawn, Ang, and Ant

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9. We had a fun visit with Bob and Wendy and even petted some sting rays

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10. We trained and ran a 10K in Oak Park (even though I had a sprained ankle!)

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11. I traveled to San Diego for a great (and very productive) work trip and also got to visit with Meredith and the kiddos

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12. Just last weekend we went to a Cold War Kids concert

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13. This week while Gabe was in San Francisco for work my mom and I took a dayto do some shopping downtown.

Plus we’ve spent some great nights with friends here in Chicago and just overall had a great summer. Now that fall is officially here, we are trying to enjoy the fall colors and maybe take a few less plane rides (I have taken 6 round trip flights in the past 4 months).

We’re getting ready to have Angela, Shawn and Ant out to Chicago next weekend, traveling to southern New Mexico for a long Thanksgiving weekend and already getting ready for the Christmas season. Hopefully I’ll be a bit better about blogging in the coming weeks!

 

The Finger Lakes and Pub Crawl 2013

We have had a LOT of summer plans this year. In fact, between mid-June through mid-September we had all of one free weekend (where we chose to sleep in and watch movies). Two of our really fun weekends were traveling to the Finger Lakes region of New York with friends to visit and go to a wedding and Pub Crawl 2013.

We headed to the Finger Lakes to see some old friends (and my godson!) and to travel to the wedding of some new friends. We did some hiking and wine tasting and enjoyed the beautiful scenery (even though it was incredibly HOT). Here are a few of the highlights:

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Check out Angela’s blog for more pictures.

Then, just last weekend we headed back to the Twin Cities to do one of our favorite yearly activities, Rice Street Pub Crawl! This is the sixth annual Pub Crawl and it was a blast! Here are a few pictures of the day:

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Petra stopped by before the crawl with new baby Sommer

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The annual fishbowl before the crawl

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Waiting at the bus stop

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Heading to the first stop

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The 2013 crew. Usually we have matching shirts but this year is was “wear a shirt from the past year”.

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Freddy’s Tiki bar

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The lab girls minus Sara :(

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Yearly limbo challenge with the only participant, Gabe

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The boys

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Our stand-in for riding the Sinclair gas station dinosaur that was taken down a few years ago

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David always photo bombs us!

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Bob got to make some hashbrowns at Flameburger

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Team Red Shirt (from 2007)

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Team Black Shirt (from 2011)

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Team Green Shirt (from 2008)

Too many people were wearing the 2013 gopher shirt so I didn’t get a picture and I also didn’t grab the two 2009 blue shirt guys and 2010 was our year off.

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Pretending to fall off the Rice Street bridge isn’t the same now that they made it all safe!

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Overall it was a great pub crawl and I can’t wait for next year (because you will never cancel the crawl right Mandy ;) !! )

Thoughtful gifts and great friends

Well I turned 30 last month. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. It seems a little surreal that I’m officially in my 30′s even though most of my friends have been there for a while. One thing that I was thinking about this past month was how appreciative I am of my wonderful friends. I thought of this mostly because of two really thoughtful gifts I got for my birthday.

First off, I received a package from Nine West from my lab bffs Mandy, Sara, and Kristi. Those of you that know me know I’m a little obsessed with shoes (although I’ve gotten better over the last few years). At one point I had almost 100 pairs. At this point, I’ve sort of stopped spending money on shoes and tried to cut down my collection a little but I still love a great pair of heels so I was very excited to open my gift and when I did, I saw these:

IMG_20130708_170512_569I absolutely love them!! They are completely my style and something I would walk into the store and notice right away although I might not treat myself to them. It was such a great gift!

The weekend after my birthday we headed to New York to see some old friends and go to the wedding of some new ones. While there, my friend Angela gave me another amazing birthday gift. She knows how much I love to read so instead of signing me up for a book-of-the-month club, she made one of her own!

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She bought 12 books from used book stores (which we both love) and wrapped up one for every month of the year. July was Jonathan Livingtson Seagull which I have been meaning to read for a while. She even wrote down on the gift why she picked each one for each month. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever gotten! I’m definitely going to try my best to be patient and really open them only during the specific month!

Both of these gifts were so awesome but it was less about the gifts and more about the thought that really meant a lot to me. Getting people gifts (even very small gifts) can be a really great way to show how much the person means to you and how well you know and understand them. My lab girls know that I love to find fun and funky shoes and that it was a gift I wouldn’t necessarily treat myself too but would really love to have. Now that Angela and I don’t live near each other she thought of a great way to give me a gift that I would enjoy and would remind me of her all the time. I just love how sweet and thoughtful people can be and really appreciate my friends so much! Some of my other favorite meaningful gifts:

1. Gabe combined two of my favorite things, books and accessories when he designed me a book purse! I don’t have a picture of the actual purse but it was designed on this website. It was even made of my favorite book, War and Peace!

2. My wonderful girlfriends gave me a membership to the Art Institute for my birthday last year when I was moving to Chicago. My grandma Rachelle got me the same thing so now I have a two year membership. It was such a great gift and Gabe and I think of them everytime we go there!

There are SOO many other really thoughtful gifts and cards I have received over the years that really show how well my family and friends know me and how much they care. I hope they all know how meaningful they are to me!

Anyone else have any favorite gifts they’ve received over the years?

Italy part V – Last stop, ROMA!

I visited Rome for all of 8 hours about 10 years ago with some good friends but I really didn’t get a chance to experience much about the city so I was very excited to go there with Gabe. We wanted to make the most of our time there so we booked a Colosseum tour the night we arrived. We dropped off our bags and headed over to the Roman Fora. This was actually one of the first cloudy days of our trip but it ended up being really nice because we got to see a beautiful rainbow over the Forum. It almost looked like it was shooting out of the Colosseum!

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Rainbow over the Colosseum


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The tour started by going through the Roman Fora and walking around some of the surrounding monuments. During the tour it started POURING rain but the sun was still peeking through and it made for some really pretty views while we waited under a museum overhang.

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Vittorio Emmanuel Monument

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Rainbow over the ruins of the Roman Forum

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Sunshower

The rain finally stopped and we continued on to the Colosseum. 

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First full view of the Colosseum

The night tour started before the sun went down but it was after the Colosseum had closed to the general public. Ours was the first tour of the evening so we were the only 20 people in the building which was really cool! The tour was great, here are some shots of the building and the underground area where they kept the gladiators and the animals.

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After the tour we had one of the most delicious meals of the trip. I ordered lobster pasta and it basically had an entire lobster on top of it. So yummy!!

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The next day we had booked a full day (6 HOURS!) tour of Vatican City. We learned SO much at the tour and it was really great (although we were officially worn out by the end of the day).

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OMG, Sly Stallone!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfortunately we couldn’t take any pictures in the Sistine Chapel but it was really amazing. After the Vatican Museums, the tour continued at St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Michelangelo’s Pieta

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The body of a Pope

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Sending a postcard from another country (any guesses on who was the lucky recipient?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the tour we headed over to the Trevi Fountain and threw a coin in the fountain to ensure we will be back to Rome someday!

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Getting water at one of the MANY local fountains

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We decided to just wander around on our last day in Rome seeing the sights.

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Spanish Steps

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Spanish Steps

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Pantheon

The Pantheon was really cool, one of Gabe’s favorite places. The dome was amazing.

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Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon

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Gabe taking a 360 degree picture with his phone (this is try #3 of 5)

We spent our last evening eating out in the Trastevere neighborhood enjoying homemade pasta and wine (as we did almost every other night). Overall it was a really fabulous trip and I would love to go back someday!

Italy part IV – Cinque Terre

After a long day in Florence we took a train to the Cinque Terre. We stayed in Riomaggiore, the southern most of the five cities. We dropped off our bags and headed to dinner with a great view of the water.

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Basil gnocchi with clams, so good!

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The next morning we wanted to do some hiking so we grabbed a train to the northern-most city in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare. When we got there we were informed that three of the four hiking paths between the five cities were closed. Instead of hiking, we took a boat from Monterosso to Vernazza.

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Monterosso

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Monterosso

From Vernazza we were able to pick up the only open trail, Vernazza to Corniglia.

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Finding the path to Corniglia

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View of Vernazza from the path

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First view of Corniglia

After a path that included a LOT of steps, we made it to Corniglia where we stopped for one of our favorite meals of the trip! Gabe got arugula and shrimp pizza and I got trofie with pesto (best pesto ever!).

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From Corniglia we took the train back to Riomaggiore. Corniglia is the only city of the Cinque Terre that doesn’t have a harbor because it is set so high up on the cliffs. To get to the train station you have to take a lot of stairs and I was definitely glad I wasn’t carrying my bags up!

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Back in Riomaggiore we decided to walk out on some of the rocks around the harbor to get a nice view of the city and the sunset. Some of the rocks were actually just huge slabs of marble!

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We then headed up to get some prosecco and watch the rest of the sunset.

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Unfortunately we only had one more morning in the Cinque Terre. We spent it eating pesto focaccia and sitting on the rocks. We ended up running into a friend form the conference so she joined us.

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Overall the Cinque Terre was amazing but I definitely wish we had at least a few more days to spend lounging on the beaches!

Italy part III – Siena, Tuscan wine tasting, and Florence

For our second Italy location, Gabe and I decided to go to Siena for a few reasons. 1. I have never been there (I have been to the three other locations although its been a long time). 2. We couldn’t pass up wine tasting in Tuscany. 3. Our friends Lauren and Blake traveled to Siena two years ago and stayed a a place they absolutely loved so we decided to try it out.

We got to Siena around noon and grabbed a cab to our hotel. It wasn’t exactly a hotel but rather a working winery and small farm called Agriturismo Marciano. Lauren and Blake had gotten our expectations up and they were definitely right! The Agriturismo is located just outside the city of Siena on a beautiful vineyard. The grounds were so lovely, quiet and peaceful. We were greeted and immediately offered a glass of white wine from the owner’s vineyard.

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Our beautiful room

 

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View from our bedroom window (you can just barely see the top of Siena’s cathedral)

 

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Agriturismo grounds

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Agriturismo grounds

After we settled in and took a quick nap, we decided to take advantage of the free bikes at the hotel and ride into Siena to visit the cathedral. We got a little bit lost, it was very hot, and I’m not the best biker but we ended up making it to the old section of Siena at last.

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Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo is usually a large open piazza but twice a year, Palio takes place in the piazza. Its basically a huge horse race with a few trial races in the days leading up to it. The riders wear traditional colors and costumes of their region and ride bareback around the piazza while people watch from the surrounding bleachers and inner circle. That first night we witnessed some of the setting up. We then headed over to the cathedral which, I have to say, was probably one of my favorite cathedrals I’ve ever visited. The outside has a really cool striped pattern that is continued through the inside.

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We didn’t have as much time to spend in the church as we would have liked because we had to bike back to our hotel to take part in the dinner cooked by the owner, Nadia, and her assistant. Although we were a little sweaty, we made it back just in time for a quick vineyard and winery tour before dinner. All of the food was delicious! The olive oil used in almost every dish was freshly pressed from olives on the farm and most of the produce was also from the garden.

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This might sound odd since caprese salad is so simple but this was honestly the absolute BEST caprese salad I have tasted in my life

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Homemade pesto

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Just a few of the dinner options: cannelloni beans in olive oil, fried peppers, turkey rolls stuff with cheese, eggplant, fresh zucchini and parmesan, cabbage salad

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Cheese course

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Pouring the dessert wine

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The whole crew

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Dessert – Basically an awesome homemade ho-ho

It was not only a great meal (complete with wonderful wine from the winery for every course). I think the olive oil was one of my favorite parts of every course so we decided to buy a bottle to take home!

We only had one more full day in Siena so we decided to book a winery tour through Franco Fadda’s Wine Tours. The tour guide picked us up in the morning along with another couple from Seattle and took us on a driving tour of Tuscany including some stops in small Tuscan villages to walk around. We then headed to our first winery, Branchaia. We got a

tour of the facility and then did some tasting.

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Gabe trying some grappa

We bought one bottle of Chianti (since we were in the Chianti Classico region) but passed on the grappa, thats a bit too strong for me! We then stopped for lunch at a great place with a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside. 

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Homemade pasta with boar ragu

At our second winery, Castello d’Albola, we didn’t do another tour but after the tasting we were allowed to go into the cellars and check out old bottles of wine over 60 years old!

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After we finished our wine tours, we headed back to Siena and decided to go back into the old town area with Steve and Rebecca (our winery tour companions). It was the night before the big Palio race and it was the last trial race so the city was pretty packed. The entrances to the main square were mostly blocked off but we managed to find a way into the Piazza down a back alley. We were some of the last people allowed to enter before they closed everything off for the horses to enter so we got a great spot to view the action. It was amazing the number of people watching the race and it was a great experience!

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The guards before the race

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Gabe’s favorite race outfit

After dinner and another quick stop at the cathdral, we headed back to our hotel for a final night in Siena. The following day we did a quick day trip to Florence on our way to the Cinque Terre. We went to the Accademia to see Michaelangelo’s David (no photos in the museum sorry!) and then headed over to the famous The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo di Firenze) and walked to the top of the Belltower to get an amazing view of the city.

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The 500 steps may not look bad but with people coming both directions, they got pretty claustrophobic

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View from in the step

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We spent a little time walking around and through the cathedral before heading to our next stop.

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We walked to the Uffizi Gallery, one  of the most famous art museums in the world and stopped for a picture by the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

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The Uffizi was wondeful and by the time we’d walked through the ENTIRE museum and headed to the train station we were absolutely beat. Next stop…the Cinque Terre!

Italy part II – Venice

When I was in middle school my family went on a trip to Europe. For some reason I was instantly drawn to Venice and since then I’ve always said it was my favorite city in the world. I was actually a little bit nervous about going back to Venice and not having it live up to my expectations and the hype I’d built up for Gabe. After the conference was over, two girls from the lab and I took the 4 hour train ride to Venice to meet up with Gabe who had arrived a few hours prior. We checked into our hotel and immediately started exploring.

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Our Dorsoduro neighborhood

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Our first view of the Grand Canal

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The Doge’s Palace
The Doge's Palace

The Doge’s Palace

We were all pretty beat so we grabbed dinner and headed to our apartment to get some sleep. The next morning we decided to take a boat over to Piazza San Marco and start exploring.

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On the Vaporetto

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The Bridge of Sighs

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Bellini and Pizza for lunch at a place called Happy Pizza

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The Rialto Bridge (yes there are a lot of bridges)

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In case of revolution…

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Santa Maria della Salute


We stopped at some shops and did some sightseeing and really just explored and got lost in Venice. It was a really nice (although tiring!) day.

The following day we got up and headed over to the Rialto Bridge fish market. The variety of fish and seafood was so cool. I would love to have a market like that around here (although I don’t think you want to eat the Bass you catch in the Chicago river…).

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Cuddlefish that they use to make the black ink pasta (very tasty)

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After the market we said goodbye to our travel companions Breah and Yana.

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We decided to head back over to Piazza San Marco and head to the top of the Campanile (Bell Tower). The view of Venice was absolutely amazing!! Its such a gorgeous city and it was beautiful to see it from above.

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I took a lot of pictures of Gabe taking pictures on this trip

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After the Campanile, we got tickets for the “Itinerari Segreti” or Secret Tour of the Doge’s palace. A few times a day they have tours that take you into the prisons of the Doge’s Palace and show you the torture room as well as the prison cell Casanova famously escaped from. Sorry no pictures of those but it was definitely an interesting tour! After the tour we walked through the rest of the palace and then over the Bridge of Sighs. For those who don’t know the story, its called the Bridge of Sighs because prisoners would be walked from the courts into the Palace prisons and would get their last glimpse of beautiful Venice and sigh because they would never see it again. It was a lot of fun crossing the bridge and watching all the tourists taking pictures of it.

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The Bridge of Sighs

After spending another couple hours just walking the streets, we took a nap before heading out to find dinner at a nice little restaurant on the water in Dorsoduro.

IMG_1156We decided that on our last night in Venice we had to go on a gondola ride (even if they are a little cliche). We ended up getting a great boat driver (Fabio) who took us down into all the little back canals of Venice. After the hoards of tourists earlier in the day, I absolutely couldn’t believe we were in the same place. We couldn’t even hear a sound other than the water lapping on the boat. It was a really great experience and one of our favorite moments of the trip.

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I would say that our trip to Venice was definitely a success. I remember why I loved the city so much. Even though it gets hot and packed and you can’t ever find your way around, it doesn’t really matter because the uniqueness and beauty of the city make up for everything. I think Venice might be one of the only places in the world where someone could be dropped off and recognize where they are within 2 minutes. As I travel more in my life I don’t  know if its my “favorite” city but its definitely at the top of the list.

 

Italy Part I – The conference and Montecatini Terme

We have had a pretty crazy summer already (and its not going to get any less so)! We just got back from Italy last weekend and had a wonderful time. Here is a bit of a recap:

I headed to Italy about 5 days before Gabe to go to a conference for work. The conference, in Montecatini Terme outside of Florence, was really great. I got to see a lot of interesting talks and meet some new people who I will hopefully be able to work with in the future. Three of my colleagues were at the conference with me and we decided to make the most of our time in Italy and went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa the morning after the opening ceremony.

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Chaitanya getting a little rest on the train

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Our first view of the Leaning Tower

 

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Heading to the top

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View from the top

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Taking some pictures

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Have to get pics of pushing it down or holding it up!


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One of the free nights during the conference we took the funicular up to the top of a nearby hill to reach Montecatini Alto where we had a great dinner with a wonderful view!

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Great picture of going up the funicular by Chaitanya Aggarwal

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The conference was definitely a success and I’m so grateful I was able to go. Next up, Breah, Yana and I head to Venice to meet up with Gabe and start our vacation!