A night on Ellis Island. Photo blog.

IMG_0576.JPG
The ride to the island:
This view made me smile as we were boarding the boat. Rocking back and forth, I thought the rough ride may scare me but I never noticed once I saw my surroundings.

IMG_0590.JPG

IMG_0583.JPG

IMG_0586.JPG

IMG_0578.JPG
Look around:
The view of the new tower from the water makes us proud to be American!
The Statue of Liberty is breathtaking as she towers over the boat as we pass.

IMG_0601.JPG

IMG_0597.JPG
Dinner in the Great Room:
I was able to find out, from my family in Italy, that my great grandfather came through here! I also found him in the online directory. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a book you could page through like in the movie Hitch! I really though that if Will Smith does it, it has to be real! I was wrong, it is an online directory, but it was still amazing!

IMG_0605.JPG

IMG_0606.JPG

IMG_0603.JPG

IMG_0607.JPG
Do some exploring:
I asked for permission and went upstairs and walked through any open door. I was in awe seeing the old objects, the writing on the wall and the view of the great room from above. Thinking about how many people came here to start a life in America amazed me! I don’t think I thought about it enough until I was there.

IMG_0609.JPG

IMG_0616.JPG
Taking it all in:
The view of NYC from Ellis Island.
The entrance on the island.

IMG_0629.JPG

IMG_0630.JPG

IMG_0633.JPG
A new view:
She looks different, and amazingly beautiful with the contrast of the black night sky behind her!

IMG_0636.JPG
Ending the night:
In awe of the Freedom Tower. It is larger than life and a strong and sentimental reminder of the buildings that stood before it.

I recommend Ellis Island, whether you have family history with it or not. To stand in the place and know that you are standing in a place with that kind of history is amazing.

https://www.facebook.com/FindingLauraBlog

** be sure to enter your email at findinglaura.com to keep up with new posts, or find me on Facebook and Twitter!

9/11 and NYC – a photo blog

IMG_2048.JPG
The pursuit of happiness continued in NYC this week. This is a photo blog because there are no words….

IMG_2051.JPG

IMG_2057.JPG

IMG_2049.JPG

IMG_2058.JPG

IMG_2061.JPG

IMG_2068.JPG

IMG_2071-0.JPG

IMG_2073.JPG

IMG_2075.JPG

IMG_2096.JPG

IMG_2087.JPG

IMG_2078.JPG

IMG_2090.JPG

IMG_2126.JPG

IMG_2128.JPG

IMG_2132.JPG

IMG_2105.JPG

IMG_2099.JPG

IMG_2141.JPG

IMG_2131.JPG

IMG_2138.JPG

IMG_2145.JPG

IMG_2146.JPG

IMG_2153.JPG

IMG_2163.JPG

IMG_2059-0.JPG

IMG_2156.JPG

IMG_2171.JPG

IMG_2164.JPG

IMG_2166.JPG
We were consumed with the museum. The audio, video, pictures and exhibits were breathtaking. The emotion in the museum was incredible but they made it educational and honestly, it felt more like a tribute to the lives of the lost rather than an incredibly sad experience. I was not sure how I would handle it from an emotional standpoint but I have been wanting to go for a long time. Every room gave me goosebumps and we completely lost track of time. We spent hours in there, and I would do it again….

** be sure to enter your email at findinglaura.com to keep up with new posts, or find me on Facebook and Twitter!

SUMMER TRAVEL

20140616-115214.jpg

It’s coming very fast….

The flights are booked.  So far, it looks like I will be staying in Philly until June 27.  First stop is Las Vegas to celebrate my almost-new sister in law.  There is a set itinerary that the girls set up and it looks like it will be a nice weekend getaway for us.  From there, I will head to Denver to work for a few days and then return to Philly.

I will spend the month of July gearing up for my August travels.  This is the plan so far:

July 30 – Flight to LAX in time for dinners and rehearsals for my brother’s wedding.  August 1 is the big day and then I will spend the weekend with family in Malibu.  From there I will hit San Diego, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles and then I will work my way up the state (by car), ending in the San Francisco area.  I will fly from there to Portland, OR and then Denver, CO.  I will return to Philly after 16 days of city hopping!

This should make for some interesting blogging…

Arrivederci Italy

20140528-094614.jpg

It is over…

20140528-094727.jpg

But it is not.

20140528-094405.jpg

It has just started…

As I rode in the car to the airport and we passed the Colosseum, I decided that I would watch as many Roman Gladiator movies as I can find. It is so big…. just larger than life. I want to know more. I want to study. I want to learn. I am told to start with Spartacus.

20140528-094842.jpg

20140528-094852.jpg
While looking at the art in Florence, they mentioned a painting being returned and others that were still missing from when they were stolen. There is so much that I really don’t know. Now, I want to know more. This made me think of that movie that was out recently, The Monuments Men. I thought I should watch it. So, I just did, it was available on the plane. I wonder if everything portrayed in the movie was true. Part of me wishes I saw the movie before hearing about it in the tour but I know I would not have appreciated it.

I want to know more about Hitler in Italy, the art that was lost, the unification of Italy, the Roman Empire and more about how to enjoy life as much as I did in Italy. I want to sit and drink cappuccino, I want to watch the sunset, I want to stop and smell the roses, I want to spin and sing around the curves on country roads and I want to do so much more. I do not want to be ordinary. I know, I know, I already have that covered. However, I do want extraordinary! So, that may take some effort. It is a shame that we have to remind ourselves to stop and smell the roses.

20140528-095133.jpg
Sometimes, it just takes a little perspective to learn to appreciate things.

I have learned that beautiful places make me emotional. Apparently, after a tough decade, I needed that. I feel like my journey is just beginning and I feel like I understand and appreciate myself enough to start it now.

It is not really about Italy. In my case, Italy provided the landscape and environment for me to figure it out. Every stop provided something new. Palmoli was family and bonding, Verona was charming and magical, Venice was romantic and beautiful, Florence was fun and active, Tuscany was peaceful and magnificent, Chianti was delicious and insightful, Sienna was creative and full of life and Rome was a combination of old and new, chaos and calm, war and peace. I loved every minute of it. There were times of chaos and fears but I didn’t allow them to change my mood. It amazed me. Italy amazed me… and me in Italy amazed me….

Roma

20140527-112441.jpg

Rome was so different from everywhere else. I was also being stubborn. It’s so busy and the hustle and bustle of a big city always intimidates me.

We went out to dinner Saturday night and it ended with dancing and singing in this random restaurant with their staff. I couldn’t stop laughing as Karrie took over the dance floor! They loved her and we got to laugh. It was quite an experience.

Sunday night, I had dinner with my cousin’s Uncle and his daughter and her boyfriend. This was a nice surprise. He lives in Rome but I wasn’t planning to meet him. I am glad I did. He gave me a local’s perspective on Rome and took me to places I never would have found on my own.

20140527-112400.jpg

20140527-112416.jpg

20140527-112506.jpg
These were taken above the Spanish embassy. It was a beautiful view from above the chaos.

He made Rome interesting though and his English was great. Over dinner, I learned about the economy and politics in Italy and the challenges they are facing. I learned about them and their family and I tried amazing food. They ordered all the Roman dishes so I could get a taste of culture. We were in Trevestere (I think that is it) and it was a wonderful town that I really enjoyed. It started raining on our way out and his daughter put her umbrella up over both of us. I have felt so accepted by everyone in Italy, especially those who are related.

My last day in Rome, I was all alone again. Karrie and her mom took the early flight Sunday morning and I went to explore. I saw all of the main sights.

20140527-112922.jpg

20140527-112933.jpg

20140527-112944.jpg

20140527-112957.jpg

20140527-113017.jpg

20140527-113028.jpg

I knew the food on my last night was important. I found a hidden Italian gem, open since 1930 I think and run by the most charming Italian gentlemen.

20140527-113142.jpg

20140527-113149.jpg

20140527-113157.jpg
The food was simply magnificent and I savored every bite. The vino was wonderful, they kept me company and insisted on dessert. Tiramisu was homemade, like everything else and I just ate it so slowly hoping it would last longer. They laughed with me, talked about my trip and asked me to return soon. They brought me lemoncello on the house and thanked me for being there. I told them it was the perfect meal to end my trip and I thanked them many times.

Finding Florence

Friday morning, we got up super early to get to Florence for tours. We toured the Uffizi gallery and saw the Ponte Vecchio and I just admired the art. Sometimes it all kind of runs together because there is so much to see and everything is beautiful. Here, I really enjoyed seeing how the art and styles have changed over time.

20140526-211139.jpg

20140526-211546.jpg
We had breakfast on the terrace, toured some more and then made our way to a square for lunch. The squares are one of my favorite parts of Italy. Eating outside, the open space, the people watching… It was all great. It was raining but it was alright. I ate wonderful vegetable soup and then we headed to the Duomo. We had tickets to tour the Duomo with the option to climb to the top. Well, that is what I thought anyway. When we got there, I found out that the tour IS climbing the steps, 463 to be exact. The first thing I thought was, where is my inhaler?

20140526-211731.jpg
When we got there, I walked in with everyone else but immediately felt that the air was stale in there and it was a very small space. I just knew this was going to be a problem but I was going to do it anyway. Karrie just kept saying “you can do it,” in her special encouraging way. As the passages got smaller and the number of people increased, I really knew this was going to be a problem. We stopped at some point and went in to an inside balcony where we could see the paintings inside the dome. We were so high up but I knew we were still going higher. Ah!

20140526-212307.jpg

20140526-212324.jpg

20140526-212406.jpg
At one point, Linda looked at me and asked if I was okay. I replied with yes. She said, “okay, it just looks like panic in your face.” I said, “because I’m panicking.” That got a good laugh after it was all over. We kept climbing though and finally reached the top.

Now, I am scared of heights. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get over it so I went to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, I did a zip lining adventure in PA and I went parasailing in Key West.

20140526-212618.jpg
You can see how thrilled I was to do it but when I’m determined, I just jump in!

Anyway, those things helped with my fear of heights but here I am on top of this huge dome in Italy and I can’t believe I made it. It was not the best weather but the views were amazing.

20140526-212806.jpg

20140526-212825.jpg

20140526-212849.jpg

20140526-213023.jpg
I hope that after this trip, fears won’t be as big to me anymore because I sure do feel like I can do anything. That is a good thing at this point because it will prepare me for what came next.

I had made dinner plans with my aunt and uncle and their friends who were on their way to Florence. When I made it back to the bottom of the duomo steps, it was time to go. I asked Karrie where the parking garage was where we parked the car so I could get my bag. We didn’t have any information except the name of a restaurant on the corner nor did we have a ticket for the car. We discussed and debated for a while and I just said I would find it.

Well, I found the train station. How did I end up at the train station? I didn’t have my gps set up but I went ahead and did it now, but my phone battery was already down to 40%. That isn’t good.

So, I just got in the taxi line and got in a cab. When I told the cabdriver that I needed to go to a restaurant, he looked at me and said something like, do you know how many restaurants are here? Okay, so that was pretty stupid. So, I googled and my battery was already down to 20% and going fast. He ended up being very nice and agreed to take me to the parking garage and wait for me, and then take me to my aunt and uncle’s hotel. We found the restaurant, and then found the parking garage, and that’s when it gets funny. Remember, Karrie told me she didn’t have the ticket. So, I walk into the parking garage like they’re just going to give me the key to the car without it. The guy starts yelling at me in Italian and then finally says that I need to at least have a ticket number. I can tell the cabdriver is trying not to laugh and I am just arguing with this parking garage attendant because I am desperate. So, he asks me what kind of car we have. My response is, “I don’t know.”

Naturally, he starts yelling in Italian again. I am just standing there completely defeated not knowing what to do next. Then, I remember that the day before we had taken a picture in front of the rental car. I got so excited and pulled the picture up and showed him so he could see what kind of car it was.

20140526-213514.jpg
I think he just wanted me gone at this point so he took me into the basement of the parking garage and we looked around every car. It was not there. I started to think that I was in the wrong garage but surely I wasn’t because I found that restaurant. When we came back upstairs, the cabdriver was just leaning against his car with a smirk on his face. I didn’t mind providing him entertainment because he was still waiting for me, so I said, “go ahead, laugh, it’s funny,” and he did. We finally found the car and I grabbed my bag, put a pair of boots on and pulled my phone charger to put in my purse. I only had the chord so I would have to find a plug and converter but anything is possible when you believe, right?

I got to the hotel (which I literally walked right by before I got to the train station and didn’t notice) and had a good laugh with the cab driver, gave him a substantial tip and went on my way. My uncle text me that he was waiting for me in the lobby but I’m in the lobby and he’s not here. I showed the woman at the desk the hotel name and address information to confirm that I was at the right hotel and she said yes. So, I paced and I waited and then I text him. He said he was in the lobby. “But I’m in the lobby,” I said out loud.

Long story short, I went to the wrong hotel and now, figuring that out took me to 6% battery. He told me the name of the right hotel and as I walked out to the Square to find a taxi, my phone died. I just kept saying the name of the hotel over and over and over again so I didn’t forget it. But my mind was fighting it with another thought:
I am lost in Florence, Italy and I don’t have anyone’s phone number and no one knows where I am.
Then came:
Do not freak out, don’t freak out, do not freak out, DO NOT FREAK OUT. OH MY GOSH, I’M FREAKING OUT. DON’T FREAK OUT. Think of the hotel. Don’t forget the hotel. Okay, there’s a taxi.

He was letting people out at the hotel. So I asked him to take me and he said no.

Me: “what?”
Driver: “no local.”
Me: “please take me to hotel”
Driver: “no. No local”
Me: “what?”

Part of me didn’t understand, and the other part did not want to accept it. I still do not understand what he meant by no local, but he was saying that I couldn’t get in his car and had to go to a taxi stand. Finally, I ask where the taxi stand is and he pointed down the street so I run (remember that I put on my boots so I now have heels on). I am running through the streets of Florence with a backpack full of clothes and shoes, and a bottle of wine I got from Chianti for my aunt and uncle. I am still trying to calm myself down when I get to the taxi stand and then I realized that the taxis pick up on the other side of the street. “That is my taxi,” I’m saying as the man gets in it.

“Okay… remember the hotel,” I say to myself… But I forget the hotel. My phone is dead, I don’t know where I am, I just ran and it is so hot and I forget the hotel. The woman driving the cab was so helpful, and after her naming all of the hotels in the area, I finally recognized the one when she said it. She also got a substantial tip.

I was so happy to see everyone when I finally got there. I was a sweaty mess but my aunt assured me that I looked fine. I needed that! They wanted to find a few stores so we walked for a while. My poor feet! My legs felt like jelly from the duomo steps and the cross country run to the taxi stand (it was only about a block in reality) and then we walked so far! I was so glad to sit down for dinner when we made it. I absolutely loved getting to spend time with them in Italy. My uncle and I share about our love for cooking and our love for vino so it was perfect for us to (unintentionally) end up in Italy at the same time.

I do not want to relive the debacle of getting back to the parking garage to meet Karrie and Linda but when we got home, I quickly realized that there were no heels left on my boots. I wore them completely off! It was worth it for that special time with all four of them though!

Saturday morning, we had to get up very early to get back to Florence to catch the train. I was so sad and trying to think of any way to stay in Tuscany. I literally had to say goodbye to my hammock.

The train was a challenge as expected but we made it to Rome, found the hotel and I went to sleep.

DELIZIOSO #2

The food in Italy has been wonderful. I keep forgetting to take pictures of it but that is what people have asked for the most. Here are some:

20140526-010313.jpg

20140526-010332.jpg
I liked the little sandwiches in the cafe in Venice.

20140526-010500.jpg

20140526-010522.jpg

20140526-010534.jpg

20140526-010550.jpg
The food in this local restaurant in Chianti was phenomenal. We all absolutely loved it.

20140526-010714.jpg

20140526-010727.jpg

20140526-010739.jpg
Lunch in Sienna was perfect.

20140526-010902.jpg

20140526-010913.jpg
Dinner from the sweet woman who ran the apartments we were in.

20140526-011042.jpg

20140526-011055.jpg
A cafe in Rome.

20140526-011142.jpg

20140526-011151.jpg

20140526-011159.jpg
This local place in Rome made me fall in love with Ricotta.

20140526-011306.jpg
Trastevere in Rome provided all the Roman traditions. I tried three kinds of cheeses and three kinds of pasta. I can’t move!