17 Aug

Through my Lens: Jenna from That Wife.

Posted in through my lens, travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey guys! I was so excited when Jenna agreed to write up this guest post for Through my Lens, because I’ve always been jealous of her travels. I guess when you marry someone who is from Europe, you’re bound to end up well-traveled! Even if you’re not heading off to Europe anytime soon, these tips are pretty universal and useful for any trip. Thanks for posting, Jenna! Enjoy your upcoming trip!

Ciao! I’m Jenna, the author of That Wife. I like writing on my blog, taking pictures, and pretending like I speak Italian/ I have a son who is about 1 1/2, and a husband currently undergoing the MBA program at the University of Chicago. Anni and I have actually met a few times in real life, she let me practice my boudoir photography on her, and we’ve met up to eat few times, including a picnic in the park this spring.

Anni asked me to write a post on travel, and she let me pick the exact topic, so I chose to go in a direction that I am hesitant to label myself any kind of expert in this area. Though I might seem like a well-seasoned traveler (I’ve been to Europe 3 times in the last 3 years and am headed back on August 30th) it’s really a combination of a little luck and a good marriage (I married a Pole). What I wanted to do is share some of my theories about good vacation planning. If you love reading blog posts on people’s travels, you can read the 12 day journal I wrote up detailing my first trip to Italy and Poland in 2008, my blogspot blog updated via my phone whenever we go on big trips where access to a computer is limited, or my posts tagged with the word Travel on That Wife.

I feel like I got a taste of the unconventional vacation experience last year when we went to Vienna. We went at our own pace, we saw lots of famous things, but we also experienced some things that my friends on Twitter didn’t know to recommend. We felt like locals a few times, though I’m sure the maps and American accents gave us away immediately. We’re going to be spending 10 glorious baby-free days in Italy in September with an itinerary that includes Bologna, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Lake Garda. I’m looking forward to squeaking out some Italian (I took three semesters in college) and eating gelato every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. The itinerary though, isn’t anything like I’ve heard from anyone else, and I like it that way!

My tips for planning an unconventional vacation, along with some pictures I’ve taken during my time in Europe.

1. Research and Network

Of course you can go to Rome or Paris or London and have a great time doing exactly what the guidebooks say you should do, but where’s the fun in that? I like trying to strike a balance between seeing the magnificence of the city and attempting to experience the area as a local might. If you want to make this happen, you need to spend lots of time reading forums, blog posts, travel guides, random books from the library, and pretty much everything else you have time for. You will start to hate this vacation you are planning. Then you will actually go on said vacation and love it so much you’ll decide to do it all over again!

Networking via the internet is an awesome way to learn more about a given area. I have an awesome readership that seems to include at least who has done pretty much everything I want to do in life, so I love turning to them. Twitter and Facebook are great places to put the word out and find people who have been where you are going. I’m in the middle of planning our Italy trip and I happened to connect with a girl who lives in Italy. When I emailed her and asked for her she went above and beyond with her suggestions, even making me a spreadsheet with a cautious itinerary.

2. Tripadvisor

I loooooooove Tripadvisor. I know there are all sorts of other great sites, but this one is so massive that I can find a hotel in just about every city. I like the layout, the way the ratings work, and that I can find either a hotel or a b&b if I so choose. I’ve really enjoyed searching through the forums as well, that’s how I learned that Lake Garda has a hot spring that’s in a cave!

3. New York Times Travel Guides

My very favorite vacation planning resource is The New York Times (an odd choice I know) because they have these really fantastic travel guides. I used one to map out our awesome trip in Vienna, and I still need to comb through the guides for Florence, Cinque Terre, and Bologna. They have one for Boston, and I’m kicking myself because I didn’t consult it before I went a few weeks ago!

If you’re heading to say, Milan, you can visit the NYT page for Milan and they even have suggestions for where to stay, what to eat, and what to do. I like sticking with the editor’s picks in this area.

4. Give Up On the Idea You Can See and Do Everything

It’s not possible. Let yourself sleep in, eat long dinners, relax.

5. Decide On a Priority

Our priority when we travel is food. I’m crazy about food, and when we go somewhere I want to eat the best of everything. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to eat at the most expensive places either. I want the best roadside stands, the best gelato, the best fancy dinners, and the best simple lunches. Maybe your priority is getting really cool pictures? Or touring lots of museums? Or staying up late and experiencing the local nightlife? Whatever it is, make your priority one of the main focuses of your vacation planning.

6. Set a Basic Schedule

Remember all that research you did? If you don’t write your notes down somewhere, and take said notes with you on your vacation, it’s all for naught. In my opinion the best way to enjoy your vacation is to prepare adequately beforehand, and for me that includes Excel spreadhseets with estimated costs, ideas for daily activities, how we will transport ourselves from one point to another, where we will be staying, etc. I keep everything on Google calendar as well, that way I can access the information on my phone whenever I need it.

One word of caution though? Have your schedule and your research and your planning, but be flexible! Sometimes you want to linger at Point A, and you’ll miss Point B. That’s okay! As I pointed out above, you can’t do it all. Live in the moment and enjoy what you are currently experiencing. Going on vacation shouldn’t be about checking things off your list (Vatican? Check. Eiffel Tower? Check. Big Ben? Check.), it’s about experiencing and immersing yourself in a new culture.

And if I can give you one last piece of advice: Keep a travel journal of some sort. Even if it’s just basic notes. I really value the picture I have from our trips, but you can’t take a picture of everything, and sometimes there are stories that need to be written down so they aren’t forgotten. Like the time my mom was told by the airline attendant that she had to buckle her coat into the seat next to her if she wanted to set it down. Or the time she accidentally brought a knife through security while leaving Poland. Those are the kind of stories that need to be remembered and laughed at, you know?

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11 Aug

Through my Lens: Nicaragua

Posted in through my lens, travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so excited that Maria’s post is kicking off our round of guest posts for Through my Lens. Not only does it come with stunning photos, but I’m ashamed to admit that I knew nothing (save the kick ass coffee) about Nicaragua beforehand. Now it’s definitely another place on my big list of travel musts. Thanks, Maria, for such an awesome post!

Hey kids! Maria here, from Procrastination Station, stopping by to say hola to the A Room with a View crew!

When I heard Anni was getting ready for a travel series, I eagerly and quickly typed up an email asking, “please, please, can I contribute? Pleeeeeease!!!” like the obnoxious kid at the front the classroom that you love to roll your eyes at.

ANYWAY…today I wanted to expose you to the land of my peoples, the land of lakes and volcanoes, a place more commonly known as Nicaragua. Nicaragua is situated smack dab in the middle of Latin America and is most recognized for its coffee and surfing.

I made a trek back to the homeland of my relatives in the summer of 2008. In trying to see as many family members as possible, my parents, sister and I got to spend some quality time in the mountains as well as the shore.  I apologize in advance for the quality of these pics as they were taken with my less than stellar point and shoot..coupled with the fact I know nothing about photography in general, haha.

First, let me introduce you to Jinotega, the land of coffee, the city of mists. My grandma once said that Tuscany’s rolling hills reminded her of home and I’m sure you can see why:

The first two are the views from my room at La Perrera, my mom’s cousin’s hotel and restaurant, right on the outskirts of town. The last picture is of the property itself. Surprisingly, it gets a little chilly, up there in the mountains and I found myself grateful to the fact I packed a sweatshirt, much to the dismay of my father who always joked that Jinotegans didn’t know the meaning of the word “cold!” According to my dad, it was never cold in Nicaragua! The thermostat that read 4′C (40′F) in the misty morning, begged to differ.

Our visit to Jinotega was parked between two trips to the shore.

It was at Poneloya where we caught a glimpse of surfers catching some gnarly waves:

while it was at Montelimar that we took the time to enjoy some rest and relaxation at an all inclusive resort before finally heading home:

 

Sigh:::What I wouldn’t give to sit back in that hammock to enjoy a piña colada made with Flor de Caña (bet ya didn’t know Nicaragua made some awesome rum!)

In any case, thank you Anni for allowing me the pleasure to share my ancestral homeland with you and your lovely readers! And thank you readers for putting up with me today!  Hasta luego amigos!


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05 Aug

Through my lens: Chicago eats.

Posted in Chicago life, through my lens, travel, vegan

 

I’m excited to introduce my ongoing travel series (with authors much more well-traveled than me coming up, I promise!) with the first post on my hometown of Chicago. I’m really proud of this city, and I love showing it off. And eating and drinking are two of my absolute favorite things to do here! I thought this was a great way to start the series off, because so many people equate Chicago with pizza and hot dogs. But trust me, if that’s what you go for when you visit Chicago, you’re missing out on a lot!

My number one tip when it comes to eating here is to get away from the Gold Coast/Mag Mile area. Sure, there are some good places there but it’s made of of many chains and sub-par restaurants. You can get a much more interesting experience if you venture elsewhere (and don’t buy for a second that Taste of Chicago is really… well, a taste of Chicago.)

Small, unsuspecting places can be amazing. Take 90 Miles, a cute little Cuban cafe. There are a few locations, but my favorite is the Logan Square one.

 

90 Miles has a year-round, all-weather patio, and an open-air one for summer. It’s BYOB, but they also have sangria and mojito makings. And the food… so worth it. The wait staff is made up of laid-back, friendly people who go above and beyond. Try the empanadas, seriously. Now.

And if that’s not enough drink, nearby Wicker Park is home to my favorite bar in the city, Violet Hour. It’s not exactly a secret, even if the front is unmarked in good-old speakeasy fashion (there may be a dim hallway and heavy curtains involved, too.) And yeah, you can probably expect a wait on weekends. But the atmosphere and the drinks are well worth it. I have yet to order something I disliked here, and it’s an experience that is well worth it. Probably too intimate for a first date, but just right for a romantic evening.

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I’ll admit, the third place on my list in somewhere I have yet to go. But Alinea (in Lincoln Park) has a reputation that precedes it, and proves that Chicago truly does have fine dining. I’ve read so many accounts of customized vegan experiences here that Alinea is on my must list for sure.

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Other places that I consider great choices – Karyn’s on Green in the West Loop, which is all vegan and has an amazing brunch. Avec, a wonderful wine bar and restaurant, Longman and Eagle in Logan Square which doubles as a small hotel, Big Star which is fun for a night of margaritas and tacos, Tepatulco – a Mexican restaurant in Lincoln Park with a heavenly patio out back, and the Roof at the Wit, which is more worth it for the view than the drinks themselves.

Ross and I go out as often as possible, but we still feel like we’re discovering our city. There is so much to see and do here, and if you’re visiting for a short time I highly recommend you leave the traditionally “touristy” places and try out the local cuisine in nearby neighborhoods. The places I’ve mentioned are all easily accessible by our train lines (blue line for 90 Miles, Violet Hour, Big Star, Karyn’s, and Longman and Eagle, and red, purple, or brown for almost anywhere else I mentioned) or a cab.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite coffee, Intelligentsia, which was founded here in Chicago and has definitively ruined Starbucks and the like for me. Stop in to my personal favorite location, the original on Broadway in Lakeview.

My Chicago posts will be interspersed with other posts from guest writers, as well as my posts about our upcoming trip to New York – speaking of which, session still available! Let me know if you know anyone who’s interested. Right now I plan to write more about where to stay and what to do here, but let me know if there’s anything you’re interested in hearing about!

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