San Fran, man.

So we made it to San Francisco.

I’m here with my parents for a 5-day road trip down the coast, but like most of our attempts to arrange anything, it was up in the air until the last minute. I was always under the vague impression that my family was the planning type, but I don’t know where I got that from.

In any case – I got a huge kick out of my dad getting a huge kick out of Virgin America (“there’s mood lighting! And you can order food FROM THE T.V.!”) And we made it to the bright, airy terminal at SFO around 1 p.m. Pacific time.

I instantly got the huge, silly grin on my face that I’ve dubbed “the West Coast grin.” To my mother’s dismay, there’s something about this side of the country puts me in an inexplicably good mood. She’s said more than once that she refuses to move me in to any apartment further west than Washington, D.C.

But I digress. Upon arrival, we stuffed our faces with sushi and cupcakes and walked around Union Square (they’ve got a laughable skating rink in the middle of it — sorry, but the East coast wins on the charming-integration-of-ice-into-urban-landscapes). We checked in, I read SF weekly, and then we took the cable car up Nob hill to peek into all the sweet houses, which is one of my weird favorite pass times. We played in the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral and got dinner at a cozy Italian place (a “real local place,” as dad says).

We’re now fighting off jet lag in our hotel room. We’re headed to Alcatraz and City Lights and some other cool must-sees tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Love + fog.

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Things I’d Like 2011 To Include

Well, here I am, back at my personal blog’s drawing board.

I’m not planning an overhaul or anything here, nor am I making any sweeping claims to keep this updated more consistently (isn’t its inconsistency part of its charm, anyway?). I’m just looking to put a little bit of what doesn’t fall into the reporting/food/fashion writing parts of my life out here on the interwebs.

Recently, I’ve gotten a little itch to start keeping track of what’s buzzing in my brain somewhere other than my wonderful orange leather, thick-papered journal. It might be that I’m officially in Real World territory: I’m graduating in a little under five months, and that’s something that’s exhilarating, mind-blowing and scary depending on the day. Or it may be that my lists need a home other than my agenda. In either case, here’s my round-up of things I’d like to come into my life in 2011. Resolutions are silly, and I make enough of them on a daily basis, but here’s some stuff, big or small, that I’m hoping will find a place in this big year.

  1. Killer high heels: I’m a flats-and-boots-girl at heart, because to me, there’s nothing as sexy as someone who looks comfortable, but really, I’d like to find a pair of shoes that screams GIRL POWER with a four-inch heel that I can actually walk in. Ah, the quest.
  2. A Big Adventure: some girlfriends of mine and I have been tossing around the idea of documenting a dreamy month-long trek through Southeast Asia, but really, even a road trip or a spontaneous weekend getaway or two will cut it. As per the title of this blog, you can probably guess that I’m a traveller.
  3. Healthy, delicious, local, sustainable food — including, but not limited to: more natural cereals (this is the year I’m going to eat steal-cut oats for breakfast, I can feel it) and a mini-herb garden on my kitchen table. Less red meat (if I can get over my steak addiction), less processed food and sugar. You know, taking care of my body ’cause it takes care of me.
  4. Yoga: I’ve already got a committed, wonderful yoga buddy (Hannah, that’s you) — I just need to put it back into my weekly schedule.
  5. Dance: This is already jam-packed into my life, thankfully, but I really want to savor it and take advantage of all the dance opportunities I’ve gotten in college. I’m really going to miss my dance family, but I want to focus on enjoying it while I can.
  6. A sense of calm:  Abstract, yes, but as someone with a minor case of perfectionism and a tendency to jam-pack my schedule, I really want some breathing room for myself, at least internally. I’m always after the ability to shake off my type-A inclinations, and with all the big sea changes coming my way, I’m hoping I’ll be able to stay centered and take it all in stride.
  7. Being in the moment: This year is the year I’m going to start ignoring my phone and my other life obligations when I’m in the midst of something, be it reading a magazine or hanging out at Sweetwater, Emerson’s go-to drown-the-sorrows-of-the-school-day tavern and bar. I want to pay attention to life, one thing at a time (I’ve never been a good multitasker, anyway).
  8. My beautiful friends and family: They’re always a huge part of my existence (and keeping in touch with them totally fuels my text-messaging addiction) but I’ve met so many amazing people in the past few months that I just want to keep ‘em around — and keep meeting new people and connecting with them.

What are you guys hoping for in the New Year?

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Say It With Me Now: Montepulciano

More things I have developed an obsession with since arriving in Italy six days ago: bruschetta, cream gelato, and Montepulciano (mon-tay-pull-chee-a-no), a gorgeous little mountaintop city whose name my parents still cannot pronounce despite us making the half-hour trek from our hotel there twice in the past 24 hours.

After another 30k+ ride yesterday to the Bagno Vignoni, aka thermal baths, Mom, Mike and I took the day off to explore Pienza and sleep in past 8 a.m., our standard vacation wake-up time. The boys did another insane ride while I fell in love with a pair of short, mustard-yellow lace-up boots that were way out of my price range. The afternoon brought us back to our collective favorite town for delicious crunchy pizzas, coca-cola lights and Esta The, another italian obsession of mine and Rob’s.

Then, we hit Siena, where they’re hosting Il Palio, the most intense horse race I’ve ever heard of, on August 16th in the Piaza del Campo, the city’s huge main square (which is actually more of a circle, but I digress). Basically, the only rule is that you can’t pull on another jockey’s horse’s reins — other than that, you can literally do anything short of killing another racer, including (but I imagine not limited to) drugging, kidnapping, or tricking your opponent. Needless to say, we had some fun speculating about that. We then sat down to yet another beyond-amazing dinner (as Robert said, Europeans totally have my full permission to keep thinking they’re better than everyone else solely because of their food) at a local osteria of freshly made pasta, rare veal with garlic, oil and rosemary, and the latest winner in our unofficial quest for the best bruschetta in Italy (this one had a bit of melted mozzerella on top).

Of course, we HAD to stop at Brivido, which is supposedly the best gelato in Siena, though I have yet to meet a gelato I didn’t like. I got white chocolate and peach-mango…yep, it was as awesome as it sounds. We had a hilarious car ride back to our hotel, and are gearing up for a big day of climbing the vertigo-inducing Leaning Tower of Pisa and a stop in Lucca before heading south to the Amalfi coast.

I’ve been longingly looking into real estate offices trying to figure out how fast I can have a life crisis and move here to write my best-selling memoir. If you want to come, you’re totally invited.

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Tuscany, You Kicked My Ass (But I Still Love You).

The hills in Tuscany are absolutely stunning. Seriously, the paintings and pictures barely do them justice. But biking up them? Probably not my prettiest moment.

Let me backtrack. We left Florence yesterday afternoon after ducking into the Gallileo museum, windowshopping the Ponte Vecchio, and a quick stop at the leather market which included the pre-requisite being shuffled into a basement room in a back alley and thinking we were going to be abducted (but coming out with some sweet fall outerwear). Don’t worry, I’ve got a thorough photo diary in the works — including snapshots of my plate whenever I can stop falling in love with Italian food long enough to think of it.

We’re staying in this stunning little hotel in Pienza, one of the thousand beautiful, charming towns in Tuscany, which I’ve concluded is Vermont on steroids — terra-cotta, views-for-miles, cypress-tree-lined, oh-look-there’s-a-castle-no-big steroids. The pool and terasse of the restaurant both have a view that I have yet to be able to capture effectively on camera.

Last night we had an epic meal at the restaurant here – bruschetta, ravioli with pecorino and rosemary, and steak with cheese fondue and spinach. And of course, the now-usual post-meal gelato that will be responsible for my gaining 10 pounds and LOVING it. I’m still trying to narrow down my faovrite flavor — right now, caramel and lemon are pretty much tied. Oh, and don’t worry, because half of this town smells like awesome, fresh pecorino cheese (the local specialty). So I keep having to pinch myself so I don’t think I died and went to heaven.

Anyways, back to the ass-kicking I got today. The Ralphs (being the do-everything-together-all-the-time-especially-athletics type family that we are) rented bikes from this crazy, lean, tan Italian man who wears bike chains around his wrists and runs what seems to be the most legit biking company in Tuscany. We got outfitted there yesterday: Rob and my dad spent most of their time oogling his selection, and I made friends with his adorable mixed breed dog.

This morning, we woke up to an awesome continental breakfast and my mother hyperventilating. Of all of us, she’s probably the most nervous biker, especially when the roads are windy and shoulder-less a la Toscana. I probably should have been hyperventilating too, but I’m always up for a good workout…especially after eating everything I’ve laid eyes on so far.

We set out around 9 and promptly got lost, and then promptly reoriented ourselves to coast down one of said breathtakingly gorgeous hills for 25 minutes. But of course, what goes down must go up. And by up, I mean 2 hours later, 8 kilometers of a 10% grade incline up. To a fortress. So we’re talking really high up. Thank the biking gods for my slighly insane cyclist of a brother, who pushed a sweating, cursing-in-every-language-I-could-think-of me up a good 3k of it.

All to say that there was an awesome meal at a tiny cave of a restaurant called La Grotta and about 6 bottles of water waiting  at the top, and mom, Mike and I promptly found a parkand took a nap while my crazy ridiculously fit brother and father went the last 30  kilometers back to our car to come get us. It was an adventure, to say the least.

I have decided I need to do about 50 laps in the pool tomorrow morning just to chill out my poor muscles, and maybe find a half-ironman to train for to get myself into hardcore physical condition — for when I live here and ride my bike to the market for fresh pecorino and tomatoes, of course.

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Be Italian

A magical rarity happened on the way from Montreal to Rome: I slept.

As non-fussy of a traveler as I consider myself to be (excuse that fussy sentence construction, I’m still getting used to this European keyboard/time change) I have never had any luck falling asleep in an upright position. I’ve passed out on dirt, concrete, airport floors, back seats and benches — as long as I’m horizontal, I’m good — but the whole overnight flight thing never goes well for me.

However, 20 minutes into my attempt at finally watching Wall Street (Michael Douglas, you KILL me in those suspenders, and also make me kind of want a pair) I conked out for a solid 4 hours. It must be Italy working its charm already.

Right off the plane (my dad and I flew direct to Rome, mom and the bros had a layover in Frankfurt) I had one thing on my brain: pizza. Apparently, its completely acceptable breakfast food here, so Earl — the man whose genes I hold responsible for my often mind-bogglingly large appetite — and I chowed down on two heavenly pieces of sourdough-y margharita. A solid start.

We picked up our car, a clunky Toueran (ah, the minivan of Europe) from an adorable Italian woman at the Avis counter who reminded me of my mom in the 70s (especially with her Farrah Fawcett layers) and camped out at Arrivals to wait for the rest of the clan. I tore through Vogue’s Age issue, which sometimes disappoints me with its overt focus on plastic surgery but was FANTASTIC and chock-full of rip-out-and-save-for-inspiration profiles. A few more naps at the airport cafe and the remaining Ralphs were in Rome.

Fact about my family: we love driving. Like, probably more than is reasonable. Our 2-hour weekend trek to Vermont feels like nothing to any of us, so we tend to be gung-ho about roadtripping. Hence the bright idea to drive through most of Italy, starting with a 3-hour jaunt from Rome to Florence, which I’m sure was scenic, but was also missed by all of us except dad. Yeah, you guessed it — more naps. What I did see of Tuscany made me very excited/nervous for our bike tour there in a few days. Rolling hills are pretty from a car, but I’m sure the dinner I just ate (two kinds of pasta, risotto, stewed beef, grilled pork chops, and oh yeah, fried rabbit and zucchini flowers) are not going to help me climb up those.

Anyways, I’m off for an early bedtime. We’ve got a meeting with the David tomorrow at 9:30, and my dad keeps pretending to be Oprah and telling us that we’re all getting leather jackets (I’ll let you know how that hefty promise pans out). Plus, there’s a heck of a lot of gelato ground to cover.

Buena notte, bellas! More from me if the Hotel Belvedere internet ever speeds up.

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Day Seven: Santa Fe, NM to Kingsman, AZ (Playing catch-up)

So a few days have flown by since the last post – I’ve been more diligent about my paper journal than this blog, but I’ll pull you guys up to speed.
Our trek to New Orleans and down the bayou, which was FREEZING cold and kind of dismal, since the streets were almost empty. We got to meet up with Joebear and John at the BEAUTIFUL hotel they booked for us for an awesome price – it was all exposed brick and high ceiling and antique southern furniture. We wandered through most of the French quarter, got cafe au laits and delicious warm beignets heaped with powdered sugar at cafe du monde, and ate enough delicious jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, po’ boys and crawfish for 10 people, easy. We also strolled down Bourbon street to hear the jazz pouring out of the bars – and see some pretty awful strip clubs and seedy establishments. While I’m happy we got to see it, I’m not sure I’d go back.
Then, it was off to Austin, Texas, which was another love at first sight scenario. Liv’s old friend Erin showed us around, and we had a GREAT time scouring the goodwills (I got a sweet rainbow plaid jacket I’m dying to rock in Boston), devouring barbecue at Stubbs, and bar-hopping on East 6th Street. We were right in the thick of free music week, and caught a great Frontier Brothers/Bright Light Social Hour show at the recently renovated Parish.
After a wonderfully entertaining breakfast of apple wheat pancakes and migas at Kirbey Lane Cafe, we started Day 6, aka the forever day. West Texas took us 7 hours to get through, and 5 of those hours were void of anything but cows grazing and oil rigs see-sawing up and down. Picturesque, perhaps, but not when you are three deliriously hungry girls who are coming up on their 12th hour of being confined in a Toyota Matrix. We FINALLY found a beacon of hope: a serious Mexican restaurant with spanish soap operas on TV and a bunch of hispanic families having their leisurely sunday dinners. I’m pretty sure they had never seen three people DEVOUR food so fast in their life. It was pretty great. We finally got in to Santa Fe, exhausted and suffering of highway hypnosis, thrilled to have gained an hour of sleep (and to have found another La Quinta).
Today, after a wonderful break I took the wheel through New Mexico. They don’t call it the land of enchantment for nothing – its absolutely gorgeous there. We took endless pictures of the plateaus and deserts, and drove through the Zuni reservation, which was at turns picturesque and pretty devastating to see. Now, we’re somewhere in the Painted Desert in Arizona, closing in on L.A. Its been a pretty crazy, chilly adventure, and I’m both excited to be in California again and slightly devastated to see the whole trip come to an end. I will keep you guys posted on the next four days in the city of angels: we’re going to stake out some Ethiopian food, hang in Venice Beach, and maybe be brave enough to dip our toes in the Pacific.
Till then, amigos, much love and green chiles.

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Day Four: Savannah, GA to Montgomery, AL (Georgia’s on my mind)

Oh my god, SAVANNAH. It only got more magical as we wandered around. Michael was an excellent tour guide, and I know I fell head over heels for its Southern charm. The whole city is set up as a grid, dotted with parks every three or four blocks each way. We ate a delicious breakfast at J. Christophers, which had super cool artwork on its tangerine walls and a mean turkey avocado skillet. It was also the site of our first run-in with grits, which we deemed “just okay.”
Then, we started our whirlwind tour at Bonaventure Cemetary, a gorgeous old cemetary right on the river where lots of famous southerners and creepy little girls named Gracie are buried. We wandered around there for a couple hours taking pictures and collecting pieces of old broken graves from along the riverbank and debating the hot issue of burial vs. Cremation. We saw egrets and pelicans and old school taco bell signs on our way to the uber-touristy River Street. The highlight was walking around a beautiful old 50 foot sailboat, The Peacemaker.
We finished off the day poking around the shopSCAD store, where alumni and students sell their awesome but slightly overpriced creations. I could have dropped serious bank there if I had any, but we just admired the wares and then made our way to Forsyth park, Savannah’s loveliest stretch of green space. We stopped at a heath food store for some healthy snacks to supplement our diet of fried chicken, bbq, and potatoes, and got 7 dollar sushi near SCAD before saying goodbye to Michael and my favorite dog in the south, Cayo.
We crossed our first time zone and got to Montogomery around 10p.m. Central time, when we proceeded to become the biggest fans La Quinta Inn and Suites has ever had. SUCH COZY BEDS. SUCH GOOD WAFFLES. Anyways folks, we’re on our way to N’awlins to meet up with Joebear and John as we speak. I’ll let you know how our stay in the big easy goes: we’re planning on eating everything in site and testing out Joe’s assertion that “Bourbon Street is P-town on crack.”
Much love and crawfish!

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