Travel TBT: Rome

I was 16 the first time I went to Rome, but it wasn’t until I went back at 23 (in 2012) that I was able to fully appreciate the Eternal City for all that it is and has been throughout history. Italy is one of my top three favorite countries for so many reasons, and Rome epitomizes each and every one of those reasons: the culture, beautiful people, history, gorgeous landscapes and architecture, and of course…the food. As a Croatian girl who loves herself some lamb and potatoes, I have no qualms about saying Italian food is my absolute favorite cuisine in the entire world. And where else to get your favorite food than where it all began?

Food

One of my favorite things about Rome is that you can walk into any random restaurant and have one of the best meals of your life without even planning it. I pride myself on eating healthy and taking good care of myself, but all bets are off when I’m in this magical city. The cheese, the bread, the prosciutto, and GELATO…it’s what dreams are made of. And if you’re the type that needs any sort of justification, just remember that the amount of walking you’ll be doing while exploring Rome practically requires you to carb load…so you might as well enjoy it!

Alfredo Alla Scrofa – World famous for their Fettuccine Alfredo. The first time I ate here was for dinner in 2006 while on a family vacation. We were at the restaurant in the middle of the World Cup final match between Italy and France, and the entire city erupted as soon as the Italians won. One of the coolest nights of my life. I returned to Alfredos on my most recent trip to Rome and it was just as good as I remembered. I can’t vouch for anything on the menu other than the Fettuccine Alfredo (and tiramisu!), but I imagine everything else is just as fantastic.

Roma Sparita – If you’re a No Reservations fan like me, you might be familiar with this little gem located in the heart of the city. Anthony Bourdain is pretty much always right, so if I were you I’d trust his advice and make this spot a must.

***More often than not I see people (especially Americans) complain about poor service in European restaurants. The service industry is not the same in Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter) because they don’t work for tips, so if you equate your entire experience to the service you receive you’re going to have a bad time. My advice is to enjoy the food and don’t take anything personally!

Hotel

Navona Palace – There’s nothing particularly special about this hotel, but the location is perfect, the rooms were super clean and fairly updated, and the included breakfast was pretty darn good. Most importantly, the price is hard to beat. I’m not into breaking the bank on hotels I’m hardly ever in while I travel, so if you’re the same you just might find Navona Palace perfect for you.

Sightseeing

Like I said earlier, you will be doing a LOT of walking, so get yourself a map and a good pair of shoes and get ready to rack up the mileage! You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the public transportation system in the city as not everything is within walking distance. If you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll definitely appreciate the following list of my favorite spots to hit:

Vatican City – You’ll want to give yourself AT LEAST a few hours, if not half a day, to explore both the Vatican and its museum. I took a guided tour on my first trip to the holy city, and I’m so glad I did because there is sooo much to learn and absorb. *Quick tip for the ladies: If you visit in summer you’ll want to bring along a scarf to cover up your shoulders and lower body. The heat is brutal so you can’t be expected to walk around Rome in long sleeves, but you won’t be allowed into the Vatican unless you’re covered. One last thing…if you’re petty like I am and are on a quest to visit as many countries as you can in your lifetime, you’ll be excited to know that the Holy See is technically its own country! Kinda feels like cheating, but whatever!

Colosseum – Audio tours recommended! Give yourself at least an hour or two here.

Piazza de Spagna – Great for shopping, especially for high end designers if you’re into that. If not, take a gelato break on the Spanish Steps instead.

Trevi Fountain – Especially beautiful at night. Bring some coins and make a wish!

Pantheon – Rome’s best preserved monument. Definitely worth a visit.

Piazza Navona – One of the most beautiful squares in the city. It’s the perfect place to stop for lunch (and gelato obviously) or people watch by the Fountain of Neptune.

Roman Forum – Home to a plethora of ancient ruins. Give yourself enough time to wander around and take it all in.

 

In all reality you probably need a month to experience all that the Città Eterna has to offer, but if you only have a few days you’ll have a solid itinerary with the above list. Some of the best advice I can give you is to make sure you don’t rush through your time here. At any given moment you could be standing in the same spot where some of the most significant events in our world’s history took place. We’re not talking hundreds of years ago…we’re talking thousands. Take a seat, order some prosciutto and mozzarella, and let that all soak in.

Ciao ciao!

xo, Ashley

Travel TBT: Croatia

I don’t even know where to start. I can give you enough advice to last you an entire summer, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to just a week or two. My mom was born in Croatia and moved to the states when she was 12. The rest of her family still lives there, so we travel back to visit practically every summer. Over the years, Croatia has become my second home. I want others to love it just as much as I do because I take it personal. This country is unbelievably gorgeous, but it’s so much more than that. The history and culture run incredibly deep, and to get the full experience you need to go all in. Don’t be that yacht week guy/girl. Eat the food, drink the pivo, sit at a cafe all day and get to know the locals. There will never be another place like the old country.

 

My family lives in a small mountain village about an hour outside of Split, so I’m really only qualified to give advice on the southern(ish) part of Croatia as I’ve spent very little time in the north. But like I said before, there’s so much to do that you’re going to have to make multiple trips to really get the full experience. The itinerary I’m giving you will include the cities I visit every summer as they are my favorite places in the world. The only thing I’m not going to include is my family’s village because the mountains are pretty much a no go zone for tourists and you’d probably be looked at like a freak if you somehow ended up there.

 

******Depending on how much traveling around you plan on doing within the country, I would recommend renting a car. There’s not really any public transportation other than those huge tour buses (which are horrible), so just make your life easier and rent a car. Just be careful while driving as the people drive like psychos and other than the new autobahn that doesn’t span the entire length of the country yet (yay developing countries!), your only option will be a two lane road along the coast that might or might not always have guard rails.

 

Makarska:

Fly into Split and drive an hour to Makarska, an adorable little beach town on the Adriatic. I’ve been coming here since I was little, and while people were slowly but surely discovering Croatia, Makarska was able to fly under the radar for a really long time. This is where the people from the mountains take their holidays, but over the last five or so years the tourism industry has taken over. When I’m in Makarska I literally do the same thing every single day for like a week and I freaking love it. I wake up late, head to the beach to bake in the sun for eight hours, go back to my room to take a nap, get ready for a late dinner, and then party all night until the sun comes up. Granted I’m getting older and the party all night thing is becoming more and more rare with every year, but it’s so easy and so fun to just pretend you’re 21 again while in this adorable little town.

Hotel Dalmacija: When I don’t feel like making the 30 minute drive from my grandma’s house to Makarska, I either stay at my aunt’s rental apartment or at Hotel Dalmacija. The hotel is nothing special. Like at all. But it’s cheap, the location is perfect, and you’re never going to be in the room anyway. There are several hotel/apartment options throughout town so you’ll never have any issues finding a place to stay, just make sure you pick a place within walking distance to the beach.

Buba Beach: One part of the super long beach is dedicated to this cool little beach bar that bumps awesome house music all day long. Keep in mind that the beaches in Croatia have rocks, not sand, so it’s totally worth spending the 20ish Kuna (~$4) to rent a lounge chair for the day. When you’re not dancing, drinking, napping, or swimming, take a walk down to the day market on the other side of the beach. The vendors sell a lot of cheesy knick knacks, but there are a lot of good gifts for your friends back home. One thing you should absolutely get is the tanning oil the little old ladies sell along the beach. It’s literally olive oil mixed with lavender, and it will get you the tannest you’ve ever been in your life. I swear by it. (If you’re like Truett and are borderline see through, avoid the oil (and the sun for that matter) and buy the strongest sunscreen you can find)

Cliff Jumping: While on your walk, ask one of the locals where the cliff jumping is. It’s a bit of a hike from the beach, but it’s so much fun and you get some pretty cool views/photo ops. There used to be this awesome little bar with glass floors built into the side of the cliff, but it has since been abandoned. My uncle and the owner used to get hammered together all the time so I’m going to go ahead and assume there was just nothing left for the customers.

Club Deep: Speaking of cliffs, this is where you’re going to want to spend your nights. This club is built into a cliff right across the water from the cliff jumping spot and is just so much fun. It’s not very big but the atmosphere is amazing. Another fun place to dance not too far from Deep is Petar Pan. Remember that in Europe people do not really go out until after midnight, so prepare to stay out until at least 6am. The best part is walking back to your room as the sun comes up just in time for the Pekara (bakery) to open.

 

Dubrovnik:

After spending 2-3 days in Makarska, make the two hour drive along the coast down to Dubrovnik. I fell in love with this city when I was just a little girl, and it’s still my favorite place in the entire world. The wall surrounding Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Sight) is intimidatingly beautiful, and the views of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding mountains are equally as breathtaking. Dubrovnik isn’t just a pretty face though, it’s a history book with hundreds of thousands of pages. The mountains at the top of the city are said to still have mines and shell casings from the war. It’s very easy to be a tourist and appreciate Croatia’s beauty from a surface level perspective, but this country and its people have been through some shit. That very war is why my family came to America. So before I get back to the fun stuff, I just want to ask one thing of you: respect this country, respect the people, and enjoy all that it has to offer. Ok moving on…

Where To Stay: Most of the time I usually just do day trips to Dubrovnik, but on my last visit I decided to stay for a few days and stayed at this Airbnb. The owner is super sweet and the house can be rented as a whole, or you can rent individual rooms that all come with their own bathrooms. No matter where you stay, you want to make sure your hotel or airbnb is in Old Town, which is where you’ll be spending 98% of your time.

Things To Do:

-Walk the wall. Like I said before, the views are amazing. Take note that Croatian summers are HOT. Like hot enough to have given me heatstroke once. So keep water on you at all times. And when you’re at restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask for more ice. Croatians think you’re going to get pneumonia from cold drinks, but just ignore them and get your damn ice.

Game of Thrones Tour: If you’re a GOT fan like me, you’ll know that Old Town Dubrovnik serves as the setting for King’s Landing (where Cersei just recently f’d shit up last season). I’ve never done the tour, but it’s something to do if you feel like nerding out!

Buža Bar: One of the coolest parts of the city. This bar/cafe is built into the rocks on the outside of the wall. You’ll want to spend the better part of one of your days drinking/tanning/swimming/cliff jumping here. You’ll see it while walking along the wall, but It’s pretty hard to actually get to so you’re going to have to ask someone where the little entrance door is.

-Explore the city: walk around the little alleyways, peek into some of the 100+ churches within the city limits, window shop, eat an endless amount of sladoled (ice cream), and do like the Croats do and sit at cafes all day and silently judge tourists/people watch.

Nightlife: If you’re into the club scene, check out Club Revelin. Otherwise there are tons of bars and cafes in Old Town to choose from.

Food:

Avoid eating at any of the restaurants in the main squares as they’re tourist traps with subpar food. The best restaurants will be found within the millions of alleyways. Ragusa 2 is one of my favorites, as well as…

Taj Majal: Great for authentic cuisine. Order the Ćevapi (my favorite Croatian dish) and enjoy!

 

Hvar:

Take a ferry to Hvar from Dubrovnik and give yourself at least three nights here. The island is a dream and perfect for taking a few days to kick back and relax. If you don’t need to relax all day every day, there are tons of fun activities you can partake in both during the day and at night so you’ll get the best of both worlds. Most important of all, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Blue have been named honorary citizens of Hvar by the mayor himself. While Bey was pregnant with little Blue, the couple (supposedly) came across the Blue Ivy plant while on vacation in Hvar and were inspired to name their daughter after it. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a fact that Queen B and Hov both love Croatia, so you should too.

Amfora Hvar: Other than Dubrovnik (tourist central), Croatia is relatively inexpensive as a whole. Since I spend almost nothing on my trips back to the old country, I always splurge on a few nights at Amfora. The resort has an amazing pool that overlooks the Adriatic (both of which you’ll probably end up spending most of your time at), and is within walking distance to Hvar Town where the harbor and restaurants are located. There are plenty of other options for accommodations on the island if you don’t feel like spending the money, but I wouldn’t know because I choose to treat myself :).

Hvar Fortica Španjola: Wake up early one day and take a hike (more like a brisk walk) up to the fortress at the top of the island. The walk through the city and the alleyways that criss cross through it is fantastic and the views from the fortress are stunning. You’ll get a little history lesson if you actually go inside the castle, but make sure to bring a few Kuna just in case they charge a cover.

Food & Fun:

Divino: My favorite restaurant in Croatia. The setting is beautiful and the food is amazing. Get there just before sunset so you can enjoy the views, and make sure to order at least one dish with black truffles because they’re to die for and are native to Croatia.

Butchery & Wine: Probably the only place in the entire country you can get a real steak (I’m probably lying). The food is delicious and the views of the yachts on the harbor are fantastic.

-Get some gelato after dinner and stroll along the harbor while gawking at all the impressively luxurious yachts you’ll never have the opportunity of stepping on. It’s actually fun…very little sarcasm here. I’m actually serious.

Carpe Diem: One of the tiny islands adjacent to Hvar is home to nothing but Carpe Diem, a beach bar that is accessible only by water taxi. I’ve never been during the day for the beach parties, but I have been to the club at night and to be completely honest it’s either a hit or miss. Remember that nothing good happens before 12am, so keep that in mind if you choose to take the 10ish minute boat ride from Hvar Town. It’s totally possible to have the time of your life here, in which case you can thank me later, but keep in mind that it’s equally as possible you’ll regret going (I sort of warned you). If you want to take the easy route and have a guaranteed good time, hop around the little bars along the harbour in town.

Once your stay in Hvar comes to an end, take the ferry from Hvar to Split instead of heading back to Dubrovnik. The trip is about an hour shorter and you’ll have ended up right where you started. In my opinion, Split isn’t exactly worth exploring (although some people feel differently), but go for it if you have an extra day before your flight leaves.

 

I hope you fall in love with Croatia just as I did so many years ago. If you need advice on any city not listed above, please feel free to reach out! Enjoy!
Xo, Ashley

Amsterdam

Travel TBT: 24 Hours in Amsterdam, a Quick Guide!

A few years ago, one of my best friends got married in Germany. Not wanting to waste a great excuse to travel in Europe, my friend and I managed to squeeze in 4 cities (London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Zurich) in 7 days before going to the wedding. We had roughly 24 hours in Amsterdam and we absolutely fell in love. I would recommend staying in the city longer, but if you’re pressed for time, here is a great little day.

Stay at The Flying Pig Downtown Hostel: We found this hostel by reading reviews and were blown away. We stayed in a private room (queen bed with its own bathroom) and it was heaven. Even with the private room, it was super affordable. The staff is really nice and they give you a really great map with lots of pictures (useful later in the day 😉 ). There is a bar (and a smoking room) right on the bottom floor of the hostel. It’s perfectly located downtown, walking distance from the red light district and only a few blocks from the train if you are arriving that way.

Go to the Barney’s Uptown for brunch:  I can’t lie to you, we stopped at the Barney’s Coffeeshop (FYI: “coffeeshops” are what shops that sell marijuana are called) across the street first. We bought a few pre-rolls and took them to Barney’s Cafe with us. We had a champagne brunch and lit up at the table. For two California girls, it was a surreal and amazing experience.

Go find the infamous i amsterdam letters: Chances are you’ve seen the i amsterdam letters on Instagram. They spell out “i amsterdam” in nearly 7 foot letters that span about 80 feet. It’s a tourist haven, but a photo-op you shouldn’t miss nonetheless. The letters are moved around to different parts of the city throughout the year, so they can be new even if you’ve seen them before.

Go to the red light district: As the official website says, the red light district “leaves nothing to the imagination”. You might be shocked. You’ll see women dancing in their shop windows to grab passersby, but it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss. And, don’t worry, plenty of people walk through without actually visiting a brothel. You’re perfectly safe!

Picasso Museum: We tried and failed to go to the Picasso Museum. We didn’t realize you need to reserve tickets in advance and the line for entry was several hours long. We heard it was amazing, but given how little time we had in the city we decided to just skip it. Plan ahead and add it to your day!

Wander: When your plans fall through, just walk! The great part about the location of our hostel was you could walk 30 minutes in any direction and see so much of Amsterdam: a cheese shop on every block (heaven!), tourist shops with adorable trinkets, and as many coffee shops as your heart desires. You really get a feeling of a city when you don’t make a plan and just go where your eyes take you.