Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. As such, some travelers think Hawaii is too touristy and over-crowded. While both of these observations are in many ways true, there are less touristy things to do in Hawaii. I grew up on Oahu and have experienced this island as both a child growing up and an adult returning home as a tourist. In truth, Oahu has changed and developed so much over the past several years that I barely know where to visit anymore.
One major item we had on our Italy wedding and honeymoon bucket list was to hike the famed Path of the Gods trail. Also known as Il Sentiero degli Dei in Italian, this hiking trail promises stunning scenery with magnificent views of the Amalfi Coast. With views like this, it's easy to see why the Path of the Gods is considered one of the best hikes in Italy. At 7.8 kilometers long, it's not terribly long or difficult, so it's a must-do when visiting the Amalfi Coast. Here's a quick guide on where to find the Path of the Gods and how to access it, along with hiking tips in Italy.
What is the Path of the Gods?
- Starts in the towns of either Agerola or Praiano
- Ends in the town of Nocelle (just above Positano)
- Length: About 7.8 kilometers; it will take about 2-3 hours depending on your pace. We were told it would take 3 hours long, but we easily completed the route in just under 2 hours.
- Difficulty: Moderate; experienced hikers will find this trail a breeze. Beginning or inexperienced hikers shouldn't have a hard time. Not recommended if you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights. Also, note that there are long flights of steep stairs at the end of this trail.
How to get to the trailhead
The typical route for the Path of the Gods begins in the town of Agerola. This is one of the only places along the trail where you can stock up on bottled water and food and use the restroom. From here on out, you'll have to wait until the hike's terminating point in Nocelle to find facilities.
You can reach Agerola by public bus or private taxi transfer. From Positano, take the bus to Amalfi, and then transfer to a bus to Agerola (this will take about 2 hours). A taxi ride is much faster but will cost a hefty amount. Given the popularity of this hike, it's often best to try and find other interested hikers staying in your hotel and share the cost of taking a private van to the trailhead.
Alternate starting point
There's also a way to start the Path of the Gods from the town of Praiano, but be warned. This route will start off with a long, steep set of stairs that will force you to climb 580 meters above sea level. If you choose to start in Praiano, climb the stairs until you reach the Colle Serra Pass, where the Path of the Gods begins (or terminates if you're coming from the opposite direction).
Hiking the Path of the Gods
Once you start your hike, follow the route's markers, which are red and white signs with the numbers 02 on them. The path is pretty straightforward without any big detours or forks. So it's relatively easy to stay on the right path as long as you keep your eyes open for the markers. Along the way, note the drastically changing scenery. From Agerola, the hike starts out with very rural, mountainous hills. You might find grazing sheep and goats along the way. Towards the end of the hike, the scenery shifts to a decidedly more Mediterranean seascape as you get closer to the beach view.
Speaking of the view, that iconic Positano view can be seen fairly early on in the hike once you start the ascent uphill. Once you spot the view, you'll have many more opportunities to snap photos of the view from different vantage points as the trail gets you closer and closer to Positano. In the sense of iconic photos, there's really only one main shot that you're looking for on this trail, and you'll see it sooner rather than later.
Ending the Path of the Gods
The path terminates in the town of Nocelle, in the upper part of Positano. From here, you'll have ample opportunities to buy food and refreshments to refuel and use the restroom. On your way out, you have several choices. You can walk the remaining 1,500 steps downhill to reach the center of Positano. Or you can walk just part of the staircase to a bus stop where you can bus to the towns of Positano or Amalfi.
This is a fairly easy hike, but you'll definitely want to come prepared. Proper hiking or walking shoes are recommended, as much of this path is unpaved. Since there are some steep staircases and tall rocks that you'll have to clamber over, hiking poles are helpful for those who need extra stability. These ultra-portable folding hiking poles are our favorites! Parts of this hike are also very hot and sunny with no places to rest in the shade. Be sure to wear ample sunscreen and a hiking hat. Also, pack plenty of water and snacks as there are no places to stop and refuel along the way.
Have you hiked the Path of the Gods or any other iconic hiking trails in Italy? Share your stories, tips, and photos in the comments below! Share this post with your friends or pin it on Pinterest for later.
If you're looking for a hard hike on Oahu, look no further than Koko Crater Trail. This steep climb consists of 1,000+ steps along an abandoned railroad track that runs to the top of Koko Crater. It's a challenging hike that will challenge not only your leg strength but your will as well. Read on for tips on how to find and conquer this beast of a hike.
- Round trip distance: 1.8 miles
- Number of steps: 1,048
- Elevation gain: 820 feet
- Type of hike: out and back
- Difficulty level: difficult
- Generally very crowded with athletes, hikers, and tourists
About the Trail
Originally created during World War II at the same time as bunkers such as the Lanikai Pillbox, this railway was used to haul cargo and supplies to the mountaintop. Today, the abandoned railway is used as a hiking trail. It's considered a difficult hike, but you'll see all types of people attempting to get to the top. Some are athletes using the trail as their regular training route, while others range from experienced hikers to overly optimistic tourists. Not all will reach the top, but that's actually ok given the fact that you can get decent views from even part way up the trail.
The ascent is rather difficult and steep at times. It's made more challenging by the fact that most of the steps are much longer and taller than the usual steps that we are used to. But the reward is a stunning panorama with views of Hanauma Bay and Hawaii Kai. If you have any fear of heights, don't attempt this one, or come with an experienced friend who is willing to give you a helping hand. There are no ropes or handrails to help you up and down these stairs.
Where is Koko Crater Trail?
The trail is pretty easy to find and is visible in the distance. From Waikiki, drive south on H1 (Kalaianaoli Highway) and keep going until it turns into Highway 72. When you hit Hawaii Kai Shopping center, take a left on Lunalilo Home Road, then a right on Anapalau Street. Taka e left onto Koko Head District Park where you'll find parking lots and a trailhead.
More Oahu Hiking Guides
- Best Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/best-oahu-hikes
- Underrated Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/underrated-oahu-hikes
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike: http://bit.ly/lanikai-pillboxes
- Koko Crater Trail Hike: http://bit.ly/koko-crater-trail
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One of the most picturesque and rather easy hikes on Oahu is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, also known as Kaiwa Ridge Trail. It's located on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii and it offers stunning views of the beautiful Lanikai Beach, Kailua Beach, and the Mokulua Islands. If you're looking to do this hike, read on for directions to the trailhead and tips to make the most of your hike. Also, check out the hyperlapse video that shows you exactly what you're in for.
Can't see the video above? Click here.
What are the pillboxes?
This hike gets its name from the two military observation stations (pillboxes) from World War II that are located on this hiking trail path. Each pillbox offers a resting point for hikers as well as stunning panoramic views. Depending on your pace, you can reach the first pillbox in about 20 minutes or less. It's not unusual for most hikers to make it to the first and/or second pillbox and turn back from there. But if you're on the more adventurous side, you can go further down the path into the valley for more scenic views and generally smaller crowds. The whole hike itself usually takes about 1 hour to 90 minutes round trip.
Also worth noting is the best time of day to do this hike. Sunrise is best viewed from this side of the island, but sunset happens on the Waikiki side. Sunset can also be a trickier time of day since the mountains block the setting sun, causing the windward side of the island to get darker faster. Thus, sunrise is a good time of day for optimal photography lighting conditions, especially if you want to beat the mid-day heat. But sunset can also be great to enjoy after colors and a significantly less crowded hiking trail.
Getting to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The Lanikai Pillbox trailhead is located just off of Ka'elepupu Drive, directly across from the Mid-Pacific Country Club. It's a little nondescript that may or may not have the sign up (it wasn't there during our recent trip). But due to this hike's popularity, it can usually be marked by the handfuls of people heading to the trail. This hike is free and there technically are not set operating hours although it is best done in daylight.
Due to the location of this hike in a residential neighborhood, it's recommended that you drive or take a bus. It's about a 40-minute direct drive from Waikiki. Just be forewarned that there isn't a whole lot of parking in the area. Your best bet is to find parking near Lanikai Park and simply walk the few blocks over to the trailhead. Make sure to read traffic signs and park in designated parking zones as traffic police tend to patrol the area regularly.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike - Safety Tips
Although this hike is considered intermediate, plenty of beginners can handle the terrain if they come prepared. The hardest part is the 10-yard long steep hill you encounter at the very beginning. If you start off on the far right side of the trail, there's a rope that can help with your ascent or descent. But if you're an inexperienced hiker, we highly recommend bringing a walking stick such as these compact folding hiking poles that we bring with us on every hike.
Hiking sticks or poles will help you with your balance while going up and down steep terrain. Several other hikers on this trail saw our hiking poles and immediately commented on how they wished they had some too. Along the lines of gear, proper hiking shoes are recommended to protect your toes and give you a good grip. This hike has many rocks and dirt paths that can get slick and muddy. Be very careful if you do this hike right after a heavy rainfall.
Day Trip - What to Do in Lanikai After the Hike
If you're making your way out to Lanikai for the hike, spend the rest of your day in the area. On your way into Lanikai, you'll pass by the popular, ever-crowded Kailua Beach. Spend some time here if you're lucky to score a parking spot. Or if you park near Lanikai Park as suggested above, walk a few blocks towards the water and enjoy Lanikai Beach. Top your day off with a post-hike fresh juice or açai bowl at Lanikai Juice.
More Oahu Hiking Guides
- Best Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/best-oahu-hikes - Underrated Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/underrated-oahu-hikes - Lanikai Pillbox Hike: http://bit.ly/lanikai-pillboxes - Koko Crater Trail Hike: http://bit.ly/koko-crater-trail
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Photos
If you're traveling to Oahu with the goal of hiking in mind, you might end up disappointed. Many of the island's popular hiking trails are so crowded with tourists that they can be hard to enjoy. If you're seeking solitude and opportunities to really bond with Hawaii's unique nature, we recommend traveling off the beaten path. Explore some these underrated, lesser-known hiking trails that are more likely to be populated with locals, if anyone at all.
Popular Oahu Hikes
First, let's address some of those popular hiking trails that you might want to avoid if you want to dodge crowds:
Lesser Known Oahu Hiking Trails
Kaena Point Trail
Located along the westernmost point of Oahu, this trail will take you to the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve. This reserve is home to native plants and seabirds, namely albatross that come here to mate and hatch chicks. Hawaiian monk seals can also be seen here. It's a long-ish hike of about 5 miles roundtrip, but the terrain is very flat and relatively easy to walk on. Those seeking a hardcore hiking experience won't find this one a challenge in terms of terrain. There is no shade or protection from the sun, so sunscreen, hats, and plenty of water should be packed. The path winds along the coast offering beautiful ocean views, but high surf and winds can be treacherous, so mind any weather warnings. Pets are not allowed on this trail to ensure the safety of the seabirds at the nature reserve.
It's also important to note that Kaena Point Trail has two different starting points: the Waianae route and the Mokuleia route. The Waianae route can be accessed from Honolulu by taking the H1 freeway west until it turns into Farrington Highway (Route 93). Keep following the road until it terminates; park here and start your hike. From Mokuleia, drive on H-2 to Kaukonahua Road (Route 903) to Farrington Highway (Route 930). Following the road past Waialua and Camp Erdman; the trailhead begins where the paved road ends.
Makiki Valley Loop Trail
This hiking trail is probably lesser known because it doesn't offer any stunning views or particularly Instagram-worthy material. What it does offer is a chance to get your cardio on and also experience Hawaii nature in the raw. The Makiki Valley Loop starts at the Hawaii Nature Center, which also offers nature excursions and activities. But this loop can be done as a self-guided hike. The loop is comprised of three trails: Makiki Valley Trail, Kanealole Trail, and Maunalaha Trail. All in all, it's a 2.5-mile round trip that is fairly easy to navigate if you pay attention to trail markers. Pets are welcome on this trail.
Start at the Hawaii Nature Center and step onto the clearly marked Makiki Valley Loop Trail. From here, you have a choice. Hiking counterclockwise on the Maunalaha Trail gives you the challenge up front. This steep ascent is littered with lots of tree roots and rocks. It sounds challenging, but even inexperienced hikers can handle the terrain with some extra care and attention. Once you reach the top, there are benches that let you take a breather. From here, head down Kanealole Trail, which is significantly easier with nice sounds of chirping birds and a gently flowing stream.
Aiea Loop Trail
If you're looking for a simple, easy Oahu hike, Aiea Loop Trail is worth exploring. This 4.8-mile hike takes you along the west side of Halawa Valley, offering views of Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and the picturesque Ko'olau Mountains. It's also mostly shaded so you can stay relatively cool. Since the path is a loop, directions are easy once you get started, and you get unique views from every stop. This hike starts at the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, a 384-acre park with lots of parking and restrooms for a pit stop.
Want to toughen up the Aiea Loop Trail? Look for an S-shaped curve at the trail junction and head down the Kalauao Trail. It's a 4-mile, mostly downhill trail that leads to many swimming holes and a waterfall. Just prepare for the strenuous uphill hike back.
West Oahu Pillbox Hike (Pu'u O Hulu Kai)
You've probably heard of the popular Lanikai Pillbox hike on Oahu's windward side. If you want a similar, less crowded hike, head to the west side of Oahu and seek out the Pink Pillbox Hike (Pu'u O Hulu Kai). This short 2-mile hike takes you up a ridge between the Nanakuli and Maili suburbs. The trail starts at Kaukama Road after the 9th light pole on the ride side of the road. There are a couple of different route options that lead to the top.
The shortest route is also the most challenging as it is a steep ascent. Only attempt this if you're an experienced hiker up for a challenge. The other route is an easier but longer zigzag path. When you get to the top, be sure to mind the rocky edges.
Wondering what the Lanikai Pillbox hike is like? Check out this first-person hyperlapse video below that takes you through the trail!
Hiking Safety Tips
All of these hikes mentioned above are free without cost or the need for a permit or license. Many also do not have an official opening or closing times, but it's always best to finish your hike before sunset. In many cases, drastic weather such as heavy rains or high surf can affect the hiking trail terrain. Be sure to check local websites for any official closures or warning signs.
More Oahu Hiking Guides
- Best Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/best-oahu-hikes - Underrated Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/underrated-oahu-hikes - Lanikai Pillbox Hike: http://bit.ly/lanikai-pillboxes - Koko Crater Trail Hike: http://bit.ly/koko-crater-trail
Lesser-Known Oahu Hiking Trails Map
Earlier this year, we got our hands on the excellent Fujifilm 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 lens. After several months of shooting with it around Seattle and even during our wedding in Italy, all we can say is wow. Not only does this lens offer a versatile focal length perfect for landscape and travel photography, but it also has a great design consistent with Fujifilm's vintage appearance. Unlike most other Fujifilm telephoto zooms for APS-C cameras, this lens is made mostly of metal, giving it a solid feel. It also has a reasonably fast variable f-stop, making it decent for shooting in low lighting. All in all, we've loved this zoom while shooting with it attached to the Fujifilm X-Pro2. Below, you'll find a gallery of sample images shot with this lens. We also included a video that goes over more thoughts and a field test.
Fujifilm 55-200mm Sample Photos
*shot with a Fujifilm X-Pro2 camera
When winter hits the Pacific Northwest, we tend to scatter out to the mountains of Leavenworth to get that real Christmas feel. However, winter in Seattle is also an enchanting time thanks to two annual traditions that take place downtown: Sheraton Seattle's Gingerbread Village, and the Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic. Both hotels have been carrying on these traditions for over two decades. Even if you've seen them once before, a return visit is due as the designs vary by the year. But first, let's go into detail about each of these holiday spectacles.
Every year, the Sheraton Seattle invites some of the top architects, master builders, and culinary teams to create the most inventive gingerbread houses they can imagine. The theme changes each year. One year it was Star Wars, and yet another was Harry Potter. This year, the 25th anniversary, the theme encourages a celebration of Seattle. The results have been jaw-dropping. Some gingerbread houses pay homage to historic Seattle, while others imagine a sci-fi version that probably isn't far from reality.
Gingerbread Village typically takes place in the Sheraton's main lobby. This year it temporarily relocated across the street at City Centre. Entry is free, but donations are encouraged as proceeds benefit JDRF Northwest.
Location: City Centre (new location) 1420 Fifth Ave. Ste 450 Seattle, WA 98101
Dates: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - Monday, January 1, 2018
Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Teddy Bear Suite
A few blocks away, another grand Seattle hotel encourages you to swing by for holiday cheer. Every winter, the Fairmont Olympic takes one of its corner suites and fills it with teddy bears. The exact configuration changes every few years; the current iteration is a warm, cozy suite that's perfect for any teddy bear lover. Donations are encouraged as they benefit Seattle Children's Hospital.
After visiting the Teddy Bear Suite, head down to The Georgian restaurant and enjoy Holiday Tea. Or go down to the main lobby and enjoy the Fairmont's grand Christmas tree displays. Meanwhile, the ground floor has a new addition: a huge life-sized gingerbread house that you can actually walk through!
November 23 – December 26 Daily from 10am to 6pm Open on Christmas Day & Thanksgiving Day
Some of the best pears you'll ever eat come from Seattle's Metropolitan Market. Dubbed The Holiday Pear, these seasonal fruits come from the Rogue River Valley in Medford, Oregon. They've been grown there for three generations by the Meyers family. What makes them so special? It's mainly the climate of the Rogue Valley, which sees warm days and cool nights. The result is an incredibly soft, sweet pear that you can eat with a spoon. True to its name, you'll only find The Holiday Pear late in the year, starting November 15. Besides eating the pears straight up, there are also easy ways to dress them up as the perfect appetizer for your holiday get-together. If you've got an oven and a few extra ingredients, try out these two recipes. These recipes are very easy. Even if you're not a pro in the kitchen, they should be pretty straightforward. Check out the included video demos for a step-by-step presentation. Let me know what you think! If you have other favorite pear recipes to share, let me know in the comments below!
Baked Pears with Gorgonzola and Walnuts
3 large Holiday Pears
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese
1 cup chopped candied walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Wash pears and slice them in half. Cut out the seeds.
- Set the pear halves in an oven-friendly dish.
- Sprinkle dried thyme on the pear halves.
- Bake pears in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes, or until soft and golden brown.
- Pull pears out the oven. Sprinkle gorgonzola cheese and chopped walnuts on the pears.
- Let the pears cool for about 5 minutes. Enjoy them warm!
Baked Pear and Feta Biscuit Bites
1 can of Annie's Organic Flaky Biscuits
1/2 cup of sour creme (or creme fraiche)
2 large Holiday Pears
1/2 cup of feta cheese crumbles
1/2 cup of arugula
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Open the can of biscuits. Lay out individual biscuit dough pieces and cut in half.
- Smear sour creme (or creme fraiche) on each biscuit half.
- Slice Holiday Pears into long pieces and place them on raw biscuit dough.
- Sprinkle feta cheese crumbles on the biscuits.
- Bake biscuits in the oven at 350°F for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Pull biscuits out of the oven. Let cool for a few minutes.
- Place fresh arugula in the biscuit halves. Enjoy!
Arguably the best way to brew coffee is using a Chemex. At first glance, this glass container might look like it has nothing to do with coffee. But it's designed as a pour-over style coffeemaker with the intent of removing coffee oils. The result is a cup of coffee that tastes uniquely different. Learn more about our method below, including a video demonstration.
Best coffee for Chemex?
The Chemex brings out all the nuances of flavor in coffee, so it is very important to choose the best coffee. When selecting coffee, first consider the roast and then the country of origin. You'll probably have to experiment a bit before finding the best coffee that suits your taste. Personally, we prefer medium roast coffees, generally from Ethiopia as they tend to be more bitter almost like a dark chocolate.
What's most important is to buy your coffee as whole beans. Store it in an airtight container until it's ready for use. Buying ground coffee isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you'll get the best flavor and quality by using freshly ground coffee.
Using a Chemex
There are several different methods of brewing coffee with a Chemex. The main points that vary are the tools. Many prefer to use paper filters, while others (like us) prefer using a reusable metal filter. The difference is mainly in the resulting taste and flavor. We find that metal Kone filters allow just a bit of finely ground coffee sediment to seep through. The result is a cup of coffee with more body and a richer flavor, as opposed to the coffee produced with a paper filter.
Another optional tool is a gooseneck water kettle. A regular tea kettle can work, but the gooseneck gives you more precision as you pour water.
Tools You Need
Generally speaking, you need the following tools to properly brew coffee with a Chemex:
- whole bean coffee (we love this Stumptown roast)
- airtight coffee bean container
- a coffee grinder like the Capresso 560
- a Chemex
- Kone metal coffee filter (or paper filters)
- gooseneck water kettle
Video: How to Brew Coffee with Chemex
Check out this video we made on how to use a Chemex to make a perfect cup of coffee. Can't see the video below? Click here to view it on YouTube.
Visiting Rome is a must-do whenever you're traveling to Italy. This city is so full of history that you can easily fill a day or two simply walking around and taking in the sights. This self-guided walking tour of Rome will take you to many of the highlights that you absolutely must see. We also included our recommendation for the best gelato in Rome! Traveling tip: We found that the best way to do a walking tour of a city is to break it into at least two chunks. Start early in the morning, and take a break (or nap!) after lunch. This is when most businesses also take their mid-day siestas anyway. Head out for round two in the late afternoon to catch sunset and experience a bit of the nightlife. The key to making this all work smoothly is also to have your accommodations as close to the city core as possible, so plan accordingly.
Rome Walking Tour Map
A former Roman temple, the Pantheon is now a church in the heart of Rome. Our Airbnb was a 5-minute walk away from the Pantheon, so this is where our walking tour begins. It is the largest unsupported dome in the world. Perhaps its most fascinating design aspect is the large hole in the middle of the dome. The Pantheon is said to be the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings. Entry is free.
2. Trevi Fountain
The next stop is the Trevi fountain, one of the most famous water fountains in the world. It is also the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and it is very impressive to see in person. Expect a big gaggle of crowds at the fountain at just about any time of the day. If you manage to make your way to the water, throw a coin over your shoulder. It is said that doing so will ensure your return to Rome.
3. Spanish Steps
Up next are a set of impressive steps that connect Piazza Trinià dei Monti with the Trinità dei Monti church at the very top. There are 135 steps in this staircase. As for its name, these steps were originally created to connect the aforementioned church (owned by the French) with the Piazza di Spagna (owned by the Spanish). Since the Spanish Steps are public, they're open pretty much anytime unless they're undergoing maintenance. Heading here around sunset or evening time is great for photos.
4. Vatican City
This is a place that needs no introduction. Vatican City is home to the Pope and much of Rome's iconic artwork and architecture. Saint Peter's Basilica is the Italian Renaissance church pictured below. It's free to enter during daytime opening hours, but the lines will be long. Don't miss the Vatican Museum where Michelangelo's famous ceiling artwork of the Sistine Chapel can be visited. Note that the Vatican Museum does have a cost to enter, but you can make ticket reservations online.
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum is another iconic structure in Rome that can't be missed. Originally built as a 50,000-seat arena for hosting Rome's great gladiator games, the Colosseum still draws many tourists today. When visiting, you can walk around the impressive structure's exterior, or take a guided tour of its complex interior. This is another great place to be during sunset.
6. Roman Forum
Not far from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. This sprawl of ruins once consisted of fancy temples, basilicas, and public spaces. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Forum also fell into disrepair. Today, much of its remains such as Platine Hill and the Temple of Caesar can be toured during your visit. Since it's a rather large structure, check out more details on the Roman Forum.
What to Eat in Rome
During our long weekend in Rome, we had our fair share of food whenever we could. Here are some of the typical Roman dishes we definitely recommend trying.
Cacio e Pepe
This dish is incredibly simple consisting of pasta, pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh black pepper. You'll see this dish on menus all over Italy, but it's definitely worth trying it in its place of origin: Rome.
Another popular pasta dish from Rome is Carbonara. It takes the base of Cacio e Pepe and adds egg and Guanciale (cured pork jowl). This is the classic Roman version of Carbonara; other variations substitute Guanciale for bacon and might add peas, mushrooms, and cream.
Best Gelato in Rome
There's a lot of gelato in Rome, but this by far was our very favorite. Funny enough, it was also located right next to our Airbnb, which is how we stumbled upon it. The flavors are fresh and delicious, and you can even see the gelato being made in the window. We really appreciated the natural flavoring of this gelato. Nothing tasted artificial.
More Photos of Rome
One of our favorite photography apps just became our all-time favorite. Google Photos is a free photo sharing and backup service that we've been using ever since its inception in May 2015. Besides giving us free, unlimited storage of images and videos, Google Photos has some amazing artificial intelligence that analyzes photos. It will automatically pick out and edit your best photo from an album (and it's often right at picking out the best), and it will even create short movies or GIFs of images that it detects are part of a series. This latter feature has always been a fun feature that recently came in super helpful when Google Photos essentially created a wedding video for us. Seriously--the video is below. Here's how it came together.
What is Google Photos?
When installed as a smartphone app or desktop app, Google Photos can be set to automatically backup photos or videos to the cloud. Every account has free, unlimited storage of media. But there's a catch. Google Photos only keeps photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution. If you want to store higher resolution photos or even RAW files, you'll have to pay a monthly fee to do so. Still, Google Photos offers a pretty neat photo backup alternative.
We have Google Photos installed and active on our Android phones and Mac computers. It's astonishingly fast at uploading new content to the cloud. Once on the cloud, that content can be accessed across all of our devices. We also take advantage of shared albums so that we can contribute to the same album.
How Google Photos made us a wedding video
Our wedding photographer in Tuscany did the unexpected and sent us not only his edited image selects. He also sent us the full take of unedited images shot during our wedding, along with permission to choose and edit our own images to our liking. I'm not sure if he does that for all clients, or because he knew that both Martin and I are photographers. Either way, it's very special to be able to go through the extra images and make our own edits.
While copying the full take of photos to our hard drives, Google Photos automatically backed up all of those images to the cloud. It then started automatically generating GIFs for us. The first few were cute and entertaining, but before long, we had a total of 60 GIFs from Google. When going through the full take, it was easy to see how those GIFs got generated. Many photographers, myself included, will often take a series of 3-5 images at a time, just to make sure we capture the key moment as it unfolds. Our wedding photographer did this during our entire wedding ceremony, and thanks to Google Photos, we have a whole series of GIFs that recreate the whole evening.
After organizing the GIFs, it just took an hour of video editing in Final Cut Pro to make a full video. We also decided to meld some drone footage that we had captured ourselves during the ceremony.
Here's the video
This is the final video that we made. Due to the choppy nature of GIFs, it isn't completely smooth. But it does an excellent job of showcasing the day almost exactly as it happened.
Washington state is home to some of the best natural displays of fall color in the world. Around mid to late October, the trees begin to turn vivid shades of yellow, orange, and red. It's a photographer's paradise! While there are many places to see fall color around downtown Seattle, you can also take a day trip and see even more impressive displays of fall foliage. A few weekends ago, we took a road trip to Olympia to see their autumn trees. This past weekend, we decided to go east toward Wenatchee to see the fall colors of the mountains. Our route started in Seattle and followed Highway 2 out to Index, past Steven's Pass, and on to Leavenworth. Along the way, there were plenty of places to stop and admire the beauty, particularly at the Tumwater Dam. We then continued on to Peshastin, taking small country roads through the many apple and pear orchards and grape vineyards. On a whim, we stopped by Wedge Mountain Winery to taste some wine. We ended up taking home a bottle of their delicious 2014 Estate Lemberger wine (highly recommend!) and were delighted when owners were kind enough to let us explore their apple orchard and even take a bag of freshly picked fruits home with us. From Peshastin, we went a bit further to Dryden before heading back to Seattle via Highway 2.
We snapped many photos along the way and even created a video of our trip. Check out the photos and video below, and see our whole driving route.
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Fall Colors in Washington
Many brides have the lifelong dream to get married in the fairytale setting of Tuscany, Italy. While it wasn't exactly a lifelong dream of ours, we jumped at the idea when it presented itself. So a week after our courthouse wedding in Seattle, we packed our bags and found ourselves on the other side of the world in Italy. This was where our more ceremonial wedding would take place. All photos below were taken by Studio Bastianoni. Neither Martin nor I are "wedding people." In our eyes, a wedding is to celebrate the unification of families, so that was the only audience we wished to have. The mere idea of a having a large wedding with lots of people made us want to elope. Not to mention, this would be the first time that our immediate family met in person, so we wanted it to happen in an enchanting place that everyone in the group had never visited.
Planning a Wedding Italy
As you might imagine, planning a destination wedding in a foreign country has its challenges. We found it hard enough to plan for a wedding of 7 people and don't even want to think about how a larger wedding would fare. In terms of wedding planning, we did a fair amount of it ourselves. Thus, it was hard to justify hiring a wedding planner as many in Italy insist on planning your entire wedding, from transportation and accommodations to the whole ceremony and reception. To us, a wedding planner is ideal for large destination weddings, but not for small, intimate weddings.
Our Wedding Villa in Tuscany
Tuscany itself is a large region of Italy, and there are many towns to make your home base. After some online research, we chose the town of Cortona as our wedding home base. The main reason was proximity to other major towns in Tuscany that we wanted to visit. It wasn't until much later that we realized Cortona was of Under the Tuscan Sun fame. Our villa in Creti (a town just outside of Cortona) was found on Airbnb. We rented out this beautiful villa that was modern with classic designs. Our particular unit offered 4 bedrooms, each with a private bathroom, and many gathering spaces. There were nearby villas in the complex that had more rooms for bigger parties. In fact, we spied at least one other wedding taking place in the villa while we were there.
Renting a Car in Italy
Since we all landed and met at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, we simply picked up our rental cars there and drove about two hours directly to our villa in Creti. We used an American car company, Hertz, to rent our car and made reservations online. It was reasonably easy to locate the car rental area in Fiumicino Airport. A few things to note about renting a car in Italy online:
- Note whether the car you're looking at is a Manual or Automatic. We were initially going to rent a Fiat and quickly discovered it was a Manual. Needing an Automatic transmission (and deciding to treat ourselves), we rented a 4-door Mercedes Benz C-Class Sedan. That ended up having its own challenges.
- Legally, you need an international driving permit to operate a vehicle abroad. These permits can be very easily and quickly obtained in the United States for a reasonable fee. Both Martin and I got our driving permits, but never once had to show them to anyone while in Italy. We still recommend getting one anyway, just in case.
- Many car brands and styles offered in Europe differ from those in America. For one, many take diesel rather than gasoline. Also, luxury vehicles like our Mercedes Benz operate very differently from our Subaru Impreza. It took a few days to figure out where all the buttons were.
- Finally, be sure to choose a vehicle with large enough storage space. For the first time in our travels together, Martin and I each brought large luggage . We had much more clothing and gifts to pack and couldn't just bring carry-ons as we did in Hong Kong and Belize. The problem was that these suitcases barely fit into our trunk, especially when we had to fit similarly sized luggage from our parents. We barely made everything fit by sharing trunk space with Martin's brother's car rental (a Fiat).
Finding Wedding Vendors in Italy: the Officiant
Even though we decided to forgo a wedding planner, we still needed to hire two vendors. The first was an officiant to conduct our wedding ceremony. After much research, we chose to hold our legal wedding ceremony in Seattle. There were too many horror stories online about trying to coordinate legal wedding paperwork abroad. But we still needed someone to lead our formal wedding ceremony. We ended up working with Jo and Sofia of Tuscan Pledges and highly recommend them. They did a wonderful job leading our symbolic wedding ceremony, and we appreciated their quick communication via email and Skype.
Finding Wedding Vendors in Italy: the Photographer
The final piece of the puzzle was finding an Italian wedding photographer. Since we are photographers, this was an easy process. Essentially, we wanted a local Italian photographer since they would be familiar with the area and style of "Tuscan wedding photography" that we were seeking. From there, it was a matter of doing a Google search for "Tuscany wedding photographer" and clicking through as many online portfolios as we could. After evaluating and eliminating about 20 photographers, we chose Studio Bastianoni. We loved David Bastianoni's use of light and his overall style of wedding photography, and his WPPI accolades certainly helped. David himself was unavailable, but we worked with one of his associates (for a lower price!) and love the results. Looking at our wedding photos evokes the feeling and memory of the day as it unfolded, and that was exactly what we were hoping to achieve.
Beyond the two wedding vendors we hired, the rest was DIY. I bought my dress and shoes on Amazon, and Martin got his suit and accessories at Nordstrom. We purchased wedding flowers at a local market and our parents handled the lovely floral arrangements. The wedding venue was our own villa. Pro tip, be sure to check with your host before planning a wedding on private property. Finally, our reception was held in the nearby town of Cortona at Osteria del Teatro restaurant. We simply took a walking tour of the town earlier in the week and made in-person dinner reservations at the restaurant we liked the most. The wedding dinner was delicious, and we were even seated in a nice semi-private dining area.
In the End
At the end of the day, our special wedding day of September 7, 2017 was flawless. We were surrounded by some (but not all) of the most important people in the world to us and we were able to happily celebrate the unification of our families. And to our delight, our wedding photos beautifully capture the magic of our fairytale day. Want to see more from our trip to Italy? Check out our travel photos from Italy, or see our honeymoon photos from Milan.
Are you or someone you know planning a Tuscany wedding? Hopefully, you found this post helpful. Feel free to contact us with questions! We're happy to help however we can.
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