Travel: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Nashville

As you may know, mid-December, I took a 3-day trip to Nashville. My full 3-day itinerary post is coming up tomorrow, but today, I’m sharing a review of where I stayed – Loews Vanderbilt Nashville. I have never stayed at a Loews, so I was eager to see what it was like since I know it’s a high-end hotel with locations in many desirable cities.

Location

Hotel location is important for me when I travel because, especially when I’m a solo traveler, I want to be somewhere where I feel safe and where I can feel comfortable walking around during the day and at night. Although the Loews is located a few kilometers away from the downtown core – and touristy hot-spots – I felt at ease. I actually really liked staying away from the busyness of the Honky Tonk strip and closer to a place where I feel at home – a gorgeous university campus! 🙂

If you’re looking to stay within a stone’s throw from the honky tonks (bars) or from the Country Music Hall of Fame, the hotel’s distance might bother you. If you’re like me, and aren’t keen on the neon light district of the honky tonks and are eager to try out different areas, then stay at the Loews. The hotel is located across the street from Vanderbilt University, which meant that I was able to easily stroll around to check out the campus (beautiful! and big!). It’s also a short walk from the Parthenon – an amazing replica of the original Greek Parthenon. It was so amusing to turn a corner into Centennial Park from busy West End Avenue and see this amazing piece of architecture.

The Loews offers a shuttle service, too, if you’re going within a 3 mile direction. I used this transportation option a couple of times, and it was very convenient. I could have also texted the hotel if I was out and about and needed a ride back.

Room

If you know me, then you know that I love luxury hotels. Yes, I can certainly manage in a motel, hotel, or Holiday Inn, but I love getting spoiled in luxury hotels. The robes, the beds, the towels, the toiletries…I look at the quality of all of them! At the Loews, here’s what I experienced.

My king-sized bed was incredibly comfortable. I know I did a lot of walking during my vacation, but at the end of the day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The bed just embraced my tired body! I woke up one morning and noticed that the room service card was still displayed perfectly on one of the pillows, which meant that I barely moved during my sleep. This is a sign of an excellent sleep if you ask me!

The made-in-France towels were thick and plentiful. And the toiletries – from an NYC-based company – were made in Canada! Bonus! I didn’t love the conditioner, if I’m being honest, but everything else suited me well. I also appreciated the large(r) sized bottles since I always seem to run out of shampoo in the teeny tiny bottles I sometimes use in hotels.

In terms of the room’s design, the Loews team made an effort to draw in local goodness. The art featured concert tickets (music, music everywhere!) and letter blocks (to signal Hatch Show Print Company). I was spoiled with local treats, too, which made me feel welcome and well taken care of. I also appreciated the rock-star-studded detailing on the curtains.

The Loews team arranged for me to be in a room on a Club Level with a view of the downtown. This meant that I could go into the Club lounge for breakfast and cocktail hour each day and night of my stay. I took advantage of both and really enjoyed speaking to Loews staff who worked in the lounge. All staff, in fact, were very friendly and willing to help.

I’m not sure if it’s a Loews thing or a Nashville thing, but the food was delicious! I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautifully presented or interesting. But it was! I filled up on just about everything at breakfast (I love breakfast!). The evening appetizer selection included cheese and crackers and roasted vegetables. And wine, beer, and mixed drinks, too. Cheers!

Amenities

The Loews Vanderbilt lobby is modern and well-appointed. Frothy Monkey – a local coffee shop – has a location right inside the lobby, which is another nod to local culture. I really liked seeing how the hotel supported local flavour in multiple ways. I don’t think this is often the case with high-end, chain hotels. While I didn’t have a chance to try Mason’s – the hotel restaurant – it is apparently very good. When I came back to the hotel one afternoon after spending a day in the chilly city (weather ranged from about 3 to 10 degrees Celcius while I was there), a hot chocolate stand was all set-up. It was a perfect treat to warm me up while I took a rest before an evening out.

Note that the Loews Vanderbilt doesn’t have a pool. This didn’t bother me, but it may be something you need to consider before you book a stay.

Just look at the lobby decorated for Christmas? Isn’t it impressive? The lobby of the Loews Vanderbilt is beautifully decorated and there’s stylish and comfortable seating and workspace throughout. I lounged here a couple of times during my stay while I was waiting on an Uber or planning my day’s route.

I would definitely stay here again because I did enjoy the staff, treats, room comfort, and general amenities. I also appreciated the hospitality of every single staff member I encountered. Service goes a long way for me!

Thanks to Rachel P. and Loews Vanderbilt Nashville for arranging my stay. Thanks to Matthew M. and the Loews Vanderbilt Nashville staff for ensuring I had a pleasant stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Review

You know what’s great? Having a vacation-in-a-vacation. I discovered this last year, when I booked a stay at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota during my Floridian vacation. My friend and I absolutely loved our experience last year then that we opted to take another vacation-in-a-vacation this year. And the Ritz Carlton Sarasota did not disappoint.

Ritz Carlton Sarasota – The Entrance

Day 1

We learned from our trip last year and planned for an even better time this year. We left Madeira Beach around 7:30am so that we’d make it to the Ritz Sarasota on time for our 9am massages (stay tuned for an review post about our spa experiences).

a lovely welcome – we do love chocolate

By 11am or so, we were done our spa treatments, we were checked into our room (the Ritz was able to accommodate my early check-in request, and I was very thankful), and we were on the shuttle bus to the Beach Club. The Ritz Sarasota has two properties. The first is the hotel in downtown Sarasota. It’s on the water, but it’s not on a beach. The second property is the Beach Club at Lido Beach, which is about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The Ritz shuttle bus leaves on the hour from the hotel to go to the beach club.

just pretending (side note: I wore this Ralph Lauren t-shirt dress a lot while in Florida)

The beach club is amazing. The pool is large, the lounge chairs are comfortable, the towel service is perfect, and the poolside food options are excellent. Since the beach club is on the beach, seating and service is also available on the beach. We opted to park ourselves poolside so that we could enjoy the music and stay sand-free, but we did go for a walk on the beach, too. Lido Beach is lovely, but it’s not as beautiful as nearby Siesta Key or Madeira Beach (yes, I may be biased).

We stayed at the Beach Club for the full day – in the sun and in the shade. It. Was. Perfect. My poolside lunch consisted of a cheese quesadilla (good) and an ice cream sandwich (amazing). The ladies at the seats next to me all stared (in envy, I’m sure!) when I pulled out the ice cream treat from the container. Since calories don’t count on vacation, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic summertime treat. I strongly encourage you to order one if you go, and I won’t judge if you eat it all by yourself (like I did – yum!).

we spent hours at the Beach Club

happy Jordana

Our room was the same set-up as our room last year. The bathroom, the bed, the balcony, and the view are my favourite parts of the room. Way to narrow things down, right? The bathroom is so spacious and well-appointed. Towels are fluffy and the Asprey products are lovely. The beds are so comfortable; I had an exceptional sleep! I must say that it’s wise for waterfront hotels to have balconies so that guests can enjoy the outdoors while in their own rooms. Our view was over the restaurant’s patio, pool, and water. The decor reflects the sea, sun, and sand with its blue-beige colour palette, the curves on the headboards and chairs, and the artwork and pillow details.

The Ritz bed is extremely comfortable!

All the Asprey and marble! 

a sweet seating area

One of the other (of the many) things that I really like about about the Ritz Sarasota is the shuttle bus service. As I mentioned, the shuttle bus takes guests to the Beach Club. It also takes guests to St. Armand’s Circle – a hot destination for restaurants and shopping. We made a reservation at Shore after doing some research poolside earlier in the day. My friend and I were both pleased with our meals, and we’d definitely return. Because of the Ritz shuttle service, we didn’t have to worry about driving, directions, parking, etc. So darn easy! 

I had to! (at St. Armand’s Circle)

dinner at Shore at St. Armand’s Circle

And we ended the evening with an evening swim. So lovely!

the Ritz Carlton Sarasota – at night

Day 2

On day 2, we opted to stay in Sarasota rather than shuttling over to the beach club. This gave us the opportunity to wonder around town, stumble upon the weekly market, eat a French breakfast at C’est La Vie on Main St., and pop in and out of shops.

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Main St. Sarasota

a stop in at Sur La Table

mmm…a French breakfast in Florida…oui, oui!

After our morning stroll, we spent the day at the hotel pool. It was fantastic. Absolutely perfect. It was quieter than the beach club, and it offered a slightly different poolside menu. Since we wanted to stay at the Ritz for as long as they’d let us, we asked about using the pool beyond check-out. Here’s another great thing about the Ritz Sarasota – even after check-out, guests are still able to use the hotel’s amenities, including the pool. This made us thrilled!

the hotel pool

the well-manicured grounds of the Ritz Sarasota

For lunch, I snacked on the pita, veggie, and hummus dip. It was a light mid-day meal. When it’s so hot out, I really don’t feel like eating, and I was glad to see a variety of options on the hotel’s poolside menu. I mostly just feel like going from my lounge chair to the hammock to the pool.

that was fun!

We stayed until late afternoon and left right before the rain came. When our lounge chair neighbours predicted that a storm was about 7 miles away, we took it as a cue to pack up and leave.

Once again, I had a great time at the Ritz Sarasota and if all goes as planned, I’ll make another appearance there next year!

Enjoy the rest of your labour day long weekend, everyone!

Many thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for ensuring our stay was just perfect.

All photos are my own. See a few more photos at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz.

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Travel: Review of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Florida

At the end of July, my friend and I headed on down to Florida for our annual girls’ trip. We’ve been at it for 5 years or so already, and each year, we’ve managed to schedule a vacation-in-a-vacation while we’re away. One year, we went to Chicago; another year, we went to Miami. You get the idea.

This year, we didn’t want to go very far from where we stayed in Madeira Beach, but we were interested in exploring another part of the state. We had heard good things about Sarasota from several people (I’m looking at you Nick and Lana), and since it was only an hour or so away, we thought it might be a good option. And were we ever right!

Here’s the timeline of our vacation-in-a-vacation (scroll down for photos and more info):

Day 1:

8 am: Depart Madeira Beach
10 am: Arrive at the Ellenton Outlet Mall (vacations in Florida always involve shopping)
4 pm: Arrive Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
5 pm: Arrive at the Spa, meet Andrea and Tammy, have a wonderful time sipping champagne while getting manicures
6 pm (or so): Enjoy the spa’s healing waters (jacuzzi, sauna, steam room)
8 pm: Walk over to Selva Grill for a delicious fish meal
11 pm: Snooze on luxurious pillows and beds in our Ritz Sarasota suite

Day 2:

8 am: Order room service and eat breakfast on our balcony
10 am: Hop on the Ritz’s shuttle bus to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota Beach Club at Lido Beach (about a 5-10 minute ride)
10 am – 1 pm: Lounge by the pool, walk on the beach, reapply sunscreen a bajillion times
1 pm: Enjoy a poolside lunch
5 pm: Depart the Beach Club
6 pm: Say goodbye to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
6:30 pm: Drive to Siesta Key for a short walk on the beach
8 pm: Depart Sarasota
9 pm: Arrive Madeira Beach

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota welcomed us warmly upon arrival, and we had absolutely nothing to worry about during our stay. From valet parking to check-in to restaurant reservations to info about the area – the staff knew how to look after us and answer all of our questions. It was so nice to not have to think about anything! (See some photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz)

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a substantial building in the city of SarasotaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-10

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the pool and marina view

Our suite was beautiful. Our room overlooked the pool, outdoor dining area, and the marina. The evening sunset was stunning (as most Florida beach sunsets are!). Our room had two comfortable queen beds, robes and slippers (loved ’em), a dining table, a balcony with another dining table, Asprey toiletries, and a pretty marble-clad bathroom.

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comfortable beds with soft linensWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-3

a small in-room dining areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-7

Asprey toiletries in the bathWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-6

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a muted colour palette in the large bathroom

From the concierge, I learned that every detail of the decor was well thought-out. The artwork, rug, and accessories were chosen and designed with Sarasota’s history and surroundings in mind. The beach flavour played a large role, naturally, but so did the Ringling Brothers. The hotel, in fact, was bought and developed by a Ringling – of the Ringling Brother Circus.

In our short time in Sarasota, we only managed to have one meal at the hotel – breakfast ordered from room service. Our meal was delicious and very filling!

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french toast with caramelized bananas + a stack of pancakesWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-9

breakfast with a view – and the hotel robe makes an appearance

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“white cabanas” at the hotel pool

The shuttle service to the beach club was easy and convenient. There’s a shuttle stop in St. Armands Circle for those passengers who would like to explore some unique stores. And a few kilometres down the road is the Beach Club at Lido Beach. I could have spent days and days lounging at the club. The white towels were freshly laid out on our chaises by hotel staff, and throughout the day, they restocked our ice bucket and water supply (we drank so much water!), took our lunch order, and raised our umbrella when we needed more shade. I felt so spoiled!

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plush towels at the Beach Club

I mentioned in the itinerary portion of this post that we took advantage of some of the spa services during our time at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Specifically, my friend and I enjoyed manicures with two friendly technicians. After being pampered with scrubs, creams, and bright polish, we grabbed our complimentary champagne and headed into the spa’s healing waters. We soaked in the hot tub, and sweated in the sauna and steam room. Oh, it was heavenly!

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pre-spa treatment (and another robe appearance)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-16

#iwokeuplikethis those nails! and the endless supply of branded water bottles! (oh, and a third appearance of the Ritz-Carlton robe!)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-17

manicure, palm trees, and sunshine = bliss

There you have it, dear readers, a peek into our vacation-in-a-vacation at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Would you believe me if I said that I’m eager to return? Yeah, I thought so!

Note: Just before I went to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, I heard from my sister who had just returned from a family trip to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Georgia. She let me know that their stay at the Ritz was top-of-the-top, and that the hotel staff treated them and their four kids (under the age of 7) so extremely well. They had a wonderful family vacation! Around the same time, I learned of the Bucket List Family’s YouTube channel, and they have said so many great things about the Ritz-Carlton hotels in which they’ve stayed (I’m looking at you, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and Ritz-Carlton Tokyo). The Ritz-Carlton seems to treat every guest – including the youngens – with such kindness and respect. Even though I don’t have kids, I do  appreciate that this high end hotel chain offers kid-friendly food, amenities, and activities.

Many thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for sponsoring this post. Thanks, Stacey, for making our arrangements. All opinions are my own.

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Travel: Things to Do and See in Florence

Oh, Florence. With help from the Expedia.ca team, I was lucky enough to spend just about 5 days in Florence in June, and it was a very special visit. My dad and I had the most incredible tour guide (Ciao Ivo!), and my cousin (Ciao Roby!) joined us for a couple of days, too. The four of us had a grand ol’ time, and I’ve been eager to share the highlights with you. Here we go!

See and Do

1. San Miniato al Monte

On our first day in Florence, Ivo drove us up to San Miniato al Monte. The church is an architectural masterpiece with carved stone floors, carved walls, intricate ceilings, and marble inlay everything. It’s beautiful.

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San Miniato al Monte

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Dad and il famoso Ivo – and Florence in the background

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the magnificent carved stone floorSan-Miniato-al-Monte-Florence-3

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always look up – the ceiling work was crazy good

Visitors can certainly walk (hike up to) the church, but going in the car was much easier on our feet and legs.

Outside the church, we saw the most beautiful magnolia trees and incredibly fragrant jasmine. Oh, readers, it was amazing!

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2. The Uffizi

The Uffizi Gallery in the centre of Florence houses some incredible art. It holds the largest collection of Italian masterpieces (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please). And some of the art you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The museum is home to pieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and da Vinci (basically all the Ninja Turtles…and then some!).

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Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Franceschi

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The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

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always look up – a gilded ceiling

If you decide to go, you may want to reserve your ticket in advance (easy to do in person) so that you can skip the long lines. Doing so will only cost you a few more Euros than the admission price.

3. Ponte Vecchio

It’s worth going to the Ponte Vecchio because (a) how could you miss it, (b) it’s one cool bridge, (c) the views of and from the bridge are pretty amazing. I, however, could avoid going here on future visits. It’s absolutely crowded with tourists, the shops of gold have very few customers in them, and it’s really just a place of chaos. It’s not for me.

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4. The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is a short walk away from the main crowded tourist areas, and it’s housed in an absolutely gorgeous building. You wouldn’t really know this from the outside, but once you’re in, you’ll notice beautiful tile work, grand ceilings, and artfully displayed pharmacy products in glass cases. It’s also a shop, so if you’re looking for beautiful soaps and toiletries, this is your place.

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always look up – a painted ceiling and a gorgeous chandelier

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classic apothecary

5. Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

Florence is the home of great fashion houses like Gucci and Ferragamo. And these two fashion houses each have a museum. I went to the Museo Ferragamo one day because I needed a break from the crowds and heat, and it was a small, approachable museum. Inside, I found gorgeous shoes, dresses, and artwork. Yes. It was worth a visit.

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6. Pitti Uomo

Okay. Even though Pitti Uomo invaded Florence while I was there, driving hotel prices up, up, and then even farther up (see my rant below), it was absolutely wonderful and inspiring to be in Florence during the expo. Buyers, designers, and the fashionable folk were in full force, and for us onlookers, it was a feast for our fashion senses! I have never seen so many beautifully dressed men. The suits, the colours, the shoes, the attitude…wow, wow, wow! Totally dandy!

Oh – and just about every store on Via De’Tornabuoni was having a party. Some were open to the public, so my cousin and I obviously stopped in and had a toast with the fashion set of Florence!

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7. Richard Ginori Shop

I was excited to see the Richard Ginori flagship. Richard Ginori is a well-known Italian porcelain brand that has recently been acquired by Gucci. The designs of these hand-painted fine china pieces are just incredible. Even if you don’t appreciate fine china, it’s worth a visit to the store. Both the building and the product displays are aesthetically stunning. Go.

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I happened to go on a day where one of the Ginori artists, Elisa Verniani, was painting away by the entry. I was mesmerized by the delicate movement of her paintbrush. She was also very pleasant and friendly and answered about a bajillion questions. (p.s. shout out also the kind couple who joined our chat and complimented me on my Italian. Grazie!)

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Elisa Verniani holding the image transfer paperwhite-Cabana-Florence-3

Ginori artist Elisa Verniani at work white-Cabana-Florence-5

the finished product (it takes about two weeks to complete)

8. Il Duomo

Il Duomo is yet another Florence landmark. It’s a stunning building, and no amount of photos can actually evoke the feeling you get when you’re near it, walking around it, touring inside of it. It’s magnificent.

We learned that there is an entrance fee to the Basillico. We managed to avoid the fee by working our Italian connection (long story for another day).

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I got my cousin jumping (blurry but fun!)

Stay

Florence is constantly busy with tourists, conferences, and events, but I think I booked my trip during the absolute busiest time of the year. You see, Pitti Uomo (the men’s fashion expo) was in town while I was there and the city was invaded by 30,000+ extra people. OMG. I had my first taste of the busyness when I was booking my hotel. Prices had sky-rocketed, and it was impossible (truly!) to get a hotel for less than $300.

Originally, I had booked an apartment via Expedia.ca, and I was so happy with this option because of my longer stay in the city. About a month or so before I left Canada, however, the apartment person contacted me and told me it was double booked for part of my stay, so although the lady offered an alternative stay for 2 nights, this was going to be rather inconvenient, so I opted to use Expedia.ca’s cancellation policy and start a new booking.

So, back to the drawing board. There were slim pickings in terms of hotel rooms and apartment options a month before Pitti Uomo (and my vacation), so I opted for the Hotel Curtatone near Santa Maria Novella, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. The nightly rate was $300+ during the week I was there (it’s around $150-$200 during non-Pitti Uomo days). It’s clean, but I wouldn’t stay there again.

It’s noted as a 3-star hotel, but it was miles behind the  3-star hotels I stayed at in Rimini and Bologna. The air conditioning didn’t work on the first night and we received some bu**s*** story about it. (This is when it really helps to know the local language so as to not be taken advantage of.) The room was clean, but not spectacular. The balcony in the second room I had (yes, I switched rooms during my stay) was definitely a nice addition. The breakfast was mediocre (as in, there was no Nutella and the croissants and toast bread wasn’t great; the yogurt was fine though). I did like the location as it was away from the main touristy areas, and after days of touring in noisy crowds, it was nice to sleep in a quiet area. Final point – I would not stay at this hotel again.

So where would I stay? If I stayed in the centre of Florence again, I’d stay at the Hotel Lungarno. It’s white and beautiful. It’s right in the middle of the action and has gorgeous views of the river and Ponte Vecchio.

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Likely, though, I’d completely avoid the centre of the Florence at this time of year. I’d get completely out of the city and stay in a neighbouring small town like Fiesole. I would take the bus to Florence (or have a rental car), and experience the quieter side of the region.

Eat

Food in Florence, like elsewhere in Italy, is reasonably priced, and, really, you just can’t beat Italian food. I didn’t have one bad meal in my two weeks in the country. Not even a bad snack. Everything was just so yummy! Here are two of my foodie recommendations for you.

1. Venchi gelato

If you’re in Florence (or anywhere in Italy) during the warmer months, I challenge you to go even one day without eating gelato. It’s the best snack/treat/meal to eat while touring towns/cities/villages. The. Best. I miss it a lot. It’s also acceptable to eat gelato twice a day. Just as an FYI.

One of the popular gelaterias that began in Florence is Venchi. It’s a chocolate lovers’ heaven. The gelato is excellent, and I should know as I made several visits during my stay.

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And don’t worry if you can’t make it to Venchi, just eat gelato from whatever place inspires you. And try as many flavours as you possibly can because once you leave Italy, you won’t find the same gelato elsewhere.

2. All’Antico Venaio

This hole-in-the-wall panini place – All’Antico Venaio – is bustling. There’s always a line-up, the food is ridiculously fresh and delicious, and the street is lined with people sitting on the edge of the road eating paninis. Talk about un casino. There’s an All’Antico Venaio on either side of the street. One of them is a sit-down place, but I liked the hustle and bustle of the take-out only counter.

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my panini with a view of the osteria (sit-down) side of All’Antico Vinaio

So, there you have it, dear readers, a glimpse into my trip to Florence. Have you been? Would you go back?

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy, Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy, Things that Amuse Me about Italy

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Travel: Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy

After Rimini, I traveled solo to Bologna. Dad and I split ways here for a few days as I wanted to explore Bologna, and he was off enjoying la dolce vita in Florence with friends. Thanks to Expedia.ca for making this leg of my trip possible!

One of the first items on my agenda when I got to Bologna was to eat a delicious pasta bolognese. As I mentioned in my last post, each region in Italy is known for certain specialties, and Bologna is known for pasta bolognese. It’s also known for tortellini, prosciutto, and mortadella. In fact, Bologna has so many delicious foods that it’s known as La Grassa (The Fat One). Great, right?

So, as I was saying, my first main meal in Bologna was a pasta bolognese dish at the well-known Pappagallo (it means parrot) near il torre (the tower). I was very pleased with my meal. I ate calmly, people watched, and enjoyed a glass of wine on the outdoor patio. Dad wasn’t the only one who was enjoying la dolce vita!

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Besides the pasta bolognese, I enjoyed numerous gelati (plural of gelato). The gelato at the famous Cremeria Funivia was definitely one for the record books. Oh, jeez, was it every good!

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at Cremeria FuniviaWhite-Cabana-Bologna-Gelato

a gelato selfie

I also stopped into Caffè Zanarini one afternoon for a pizzetta and spremuta (juice). The outdoor dining set-up in the square was beautiful. Service was average. This was one of the few (or maybe even the only) places I visited where even though I spoke Italian, the servers responded in English only. They must be used to tourists.

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afternoon snack at Zanarini

A definite must-see (and must-eat) is Majani chocolates. The shop on Via de Carbonesi is charming with beautiful carrara marble countertops and dark wood shelves. The chocolate is superb. It should be considering the Majani chocolatiers have been in business for 200 years. I brought some chocolate back to Canada with me, and I’m just enjoying the last few pieces this week. The sales lady behind the counter was extremely kind and generous with her time. We had a great chat about Bologna, about my travel itinerary, about blogging, about the success of Majani, and, yes, about chocolate, too. She was also very kind to offer suggestions as to what I should see during my stay. One of her suggestions was the walk up to San Luca (see below). I did it, then went back to Majani to speak with her about it (and buy more chocolate). Like I said, she was so very kind.

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Do I still have your attention? Can I share a bit more food with you before moving on to other Bologna faves? Okay, great.

So, just off the Piazza Maggiore (main square) are a bunch of narrow streets that are open in the mornings for market time. Here’s when people can stock up on fresh fish, produce, fruit, and meats. The buzz around these streets (the area is known as the Quadrilatero) was awesome.

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Now that I have filled your stomachs with (virtual) Italian food, I’d like to show you some of the other highlights of my Bologna trip.

One of the reasons why I absolutely loved Bologna was because of its architecture. Bologna is a city of i portici (porticoes, vaulted walkways, arches, archways). It was a brilliant place to be because the sidewalks under the portici were wide, and some of the ceilings of the portici were beautifully painted. When it rains, there’s no need for an umbrella because you get anywhere in the city centre via these covered sidewalks. Just gorgeous.

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As you can see in this photo, Bologna is a pink city. Many of the walls of the buildings are in shades of rose, and even the rooftops are pretty shades of pink.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the University of Bologna. If you’re a long-time reader, then you already know that I’m passionate about education and I teach at a university. The University of Bologna is an extra special place because it was the first university and it’s the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1088. 1088! Pretty remarkable, eh? I was so happy to walk the grounds, visit the buildings, and see what the students were up to. I was amused by all the photocopy shops around the university, and of course there were several cafés to stop in for an espresso (I stopped in here.).

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Other things that I saw in Bologna were the Basilica in Piazza Maggiore:

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and le due torre (the two towers) in the city centre. I climbed the nearly 500 steps to the top for this view.White-Cabana-due torre-bologna

The last thing I’d like to share with you about Bologna is San Luca – or the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca. The trek to San Luca (walking under 600 portici!) was recommended by the lady I met at Majani chocolates. Of course, many websites and guides also recommend it, but it was the conversation that I had with the lady that pushed me to go for it. While you can walk from the historic centre all the way to the beginning of the path to San Luca, I’d recommend taking the city bus #20 to Villa Spada and then walk the 2km to the Basilica (note: you can buy bus tickets on the bus or at the tabacchi). Just look at the view from the top! (and all that marble!).

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Oh, I almost forgot to tell you where I stayed! I stayed at the Zanhotel Regina on via della Indipendenza in the historic centre (about $100CAD/night during my stay in June). The hotel is a 3 star hotel, but remember what I said about the hotel star rating system in Italy? The location was good, the bed was comfortable, the breakfast was decent, the people were very nice, but the bathroom was small and the decor was dated. The hotel, luckily, had WiFi and air conditioning, and I put both to good use! The hotel is close enough, but far enough, from the train station, and it’s only a short, enjoyable walk to Piazza Maggiore along via Indipendenza, a main shopping street. If I had an unlimited budget, I’d likely stay at the Grand Hotel Già Majestic (about $400/night in June).

Booking the Zanhotel Regina with Expedia.ca was straightforward and easy. After a few clicks, I had a place to stay! And while I’m talking about booking, I have to say that when I planned this trip, I purposefully booked hotels that offered free cancellation (without penalty). This was really important as I wanted my itinerary to be somewhat flexible in case other things came up during my trip. The free cancellation policy is top notch! Hotel prices in Italy vary greatly depending on the time of year, location, and local events, so I also recommend using the Scratchpad feature on Expedia.ca. With this feature, you can keep track of potential bookings and price changes.

So there you have it – a few items of interest in Bologna, Italy. Overall, the city impressed and surprised me. I would easily go back to Bologna…and not just for the pasta bolognese!

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA. Stay tuned for a couple more Italian posts in the weeks ahead.

Many many many thanks to Expedia.ca for sponsoring my trip. Grazie mille! All opinions are my own.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy

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Travel: Booking with Expedia.ca

Okay, dear readers, I have majorly fun news! Major! Ready? Are you sitting down? Okay. Here it is…

I’m going to Italy! In. One. Month.

For a traveler like me, this is really really really exciting. Italy is my jam. My people. My food. My fashion. I haven’t been in 5 or 6 years, so you can imagine how thrilled I am. In fact, there are even more reasons for my enthusiasm. I’m heading over with my dad who is going to reunite with his highschool friends once again (remember how he reconnected with them via Facebook after 50 years?). Now I get to reunite with them, too. It’s wild. Meeting people who knew my dad when he was 16? That’s nuts! Right?

And on top of all of this, the incredibly generous folks at Expedia.ca are sponsoring my trip! Yes! Yes! Yes! As in the Expedia.ca. The same Expedia.ca that I have been using for years to book my trips. The same Expedia.ca that finds me the best possible prices for flights, hotels, and cars. Yes, it’s that Expedia.ca!

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Me? Excited? Yeah, excited is an understatement. Going on this trip with my dad means so much, and the fact that Expedia.ca and I are collaborating is just the bees knees!

I’ll have many posts to share, so I hope you’re eager to follow along. I’ll share with you news of my trip planning, my packing list, my hotel stays, my city explorations, and, of course, I’ll give you the low down on what it’s like to go on a father-daughter trip (not our first, in fact)!

For now, I bet you’re curious about where I’ll actually be going.

Soon after I had learned about Expedia.ca‘s sponsorship, I got to work planning the vacation. My dad (let’s just call him Dad) had already booked his flight and sort of finalized his travel route with his friends, so I had to touch base with him to learn more about his itinerary.

First off, I researched flights, and I was able to get on the same flight as Dad had already booked. As anyone who has used Expedia.ca knows, the search function is pretty darn awesome, and you can limit your flight searching options in so many ways – by departure/arrival time, number of stops, and airlines, to name a few.

Normally, I search flights by number of stops and price. In this case, however, since I had my dad’s flight information, I searched by departure time and airline. I wanted to see if it was feasible to get on the same flight to Bologna that he was on. It was. Easy. Done. At the same time, I debated a few return options and saved them using the “My Scratchpad” feature while I thought about how long I could stay in Europe.

I find the “My Scratchpad” quite a handy addition to Expedia.ca. It basically houses a record of your searches, and when prices change, you can request to be notified. I think that’s pretty darn magical. I think you have to be logged in so that things are saved, so be sure to do that first.

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You can see that I took this screenshot after I had booked my flight because of the extra ticker line advertising up to 51% off hotels in Bologna!

You can also see up my the Expedia.ca logo that I’m currently sitting at “blue” status in terms of the Expedia loyalty program. As a blue member, I am eligible for things like member-only pricing, extended price-match guarantee, and earning 2 points for ever $1 spent. I have a few sleeps in hotels to go before I reach the next status level (silver). Read more about Expedia.ca rewards if you’re interested.

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Are you waiting to learn more about our travel itinerary? Well, let me tell you, it’s a good one!

Dad and I have arranged our trip so that he can visit with his highschool friends in various parts of the country. We will fly into Bologna, then we train it to the beach town of Rimini for a couple of nights, attend his yearly highschool reunion lunch (I’ll have to brush up on my Italian between now and then), drive to Bologna for a few nights, drive to Florence for a few nights, and then visit my relatives for a few nights in a small town near Milan. After this, Dad will travel back to Toronto, and I’ll be heading for a little weekend getaway in Copenhagen. #IFeelSoDarnLucky

Seems like a pretty good route, doesn’t it? Dad is pretty excited, too, since he’ll get to introduce me to his highschool friends, and he’ll get to treat me to gelato (many, many times!).

If you have any recommendations or post requests, let me know!

Many thanks to Expedia.ca for sponsoring this trip. I am thrilled to be working with such a well-respected company. That said, all opinions are my own, and I am committed to writing honest reviews.

The Friday Five: Orlando Edition

While my friend Shannon and I were in Florida last month, we decided to take a day trip to Orlando. We avoided all amusement parks and opted to try some of the recommendations on Design*Sponge’s 24 hours in Orlando guide written by Jessica Bennett.

Orlando-hwy-signMy TomTom directed every step of the way, and we were very thankful that we had it! We punched in the various addresses, and off we went. Freedom!

Here are five of the stops we made:

One: Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets
Our first stop was the Vineland outlet mall on the southern end of Orlando. It was on our way to the centre of the city, so we thought we might as well stop in to see what it had to offer. Well, it offered us quite a bit. The mall has high-end designer outlets like Fendi and Burberry as well as more mainstream outlets like JCrew, Banana Republic, and the Gap. We were surprised to see a Lululemon outlet at this mall, and we picked up some goodies at Barneys NY and Kate Spade.

Vineland-Outlet-Orlando-1Vineland-Outlet-Orlando-2Two: Prato
After a couple several hours at Vineland, we needed some food. When we learned that we had missed the opening hours of The Strand, we drove straight to Prato in the Winter Park district. We sort of missed the opening hours there, too, but luckily the restaurant was still serving a limited menu, so we were in luck. We were hungry! We ordered a couple of cocktails (to celebrate a successful shopping excursion, of course!) and pizzas. I went for the Fiorentina and Shannon ordered the Widowmaker, and we were both very happy with our meals.

Besides the food, Prato is a feast for the designer’s eyes. It is beautifully designed, and its front black-framed windows are gorgeous.

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I quickly fell in love with the Winter Park district, and I was surprised to see such a quaint and historic neighbourhood in Orlando. Why does everyone talk about Mickey when there’s Winter Park? Beautiful trees, cobble stone roads, and plenty of sweet stores and restaurants to explore, this is an area worth visiting!

From Prato, we lazily walked around, following as much of the guide as we could. The guide led us to Hannibal Square which included a huge Jenga-style game under this (apparently slanted) structure.

Hannibal-Square-WinterPark-Orlando-2Hannibal-Square-WinterPark-Orlando-1 Hannibal-Square-WinterPark-Orlando-4 Hannibal-Square-WinterPark-Orlando-3Four: Rifle Paper Co.
We knew Rifle Paper Co. was in Winter Park, but we almost missed it! Thankfully, we turned a corner, and there it was. It was our lucky day because Rifle was having a sidewalk sale. Ah-mazing! We were thrilled! Each of us stocked up on cards and artwork. I scooped up a few Garance Doré prints as well as this super bright and happy print for my work office.I was so impressed to learn that Rifle Paper Co. items are made in the USA and assembled right in Winter Park. Just so awesome.

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Rifle-Paper-Co-4As if the sidewalk sale wasn’t enough, Nick from Mama’s Sauce was at Rifle screen-printing his heart out! Meeting Nick was so fun and unexpected. In addition to all of his design and printing work, Nick is an avid traveller, and he gave us great advice about where to go, what to do, and what to see in various parts of Florida. He spoke so highly of Winter Park, Orlando, and Florida in general, and I just love it when people appreciate where they live so much! The fact that Nick time out of his busy day to chat with us completely impressed me (Thanks, Nick!).

Rifle-Paper-Co-2And beyond the sale and screen-printing excitement, on our way out the door with our hands full of gorgeous letterpress art, we met the very friendly Stephen (The Hyppo and Cousteau Waffle & Milkshake Bar) and Ryan (MC Pressure). They served us up some delicious popsicles which was a very welcome treat considering the fact that we (a) didn’t have dessert at Prato, and (b) it was ridiculously hot! I had the blueberry-lavender-lemonade popsicle, and it was so absolutely delicious. A month later, and I’m still thinking about how great it tasted!

Rifle-Paper-Co-3Five: P is for Pie Bake Shop
Our last stop before we left Orlando was P if for Pie Bake Shop. We opted to get mini pies to go (banana pie and chocolate peanut butter pie), and enjoyed them back home in Madeira Beach (yum!).

P-is-for-Pie-Orlando-1P-is-for-Pie-Orlando-2As you may have gathered, we had a great day trip in Orlando. I would definitely like to go back and spend some more time around the city (especially Winter Park since it was so pretty). I’m glad the Design*Sponge 24-hours in Orlando guide worked out, and I’m extra glad that my TomTom directed us for the day.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

I’d like to thank Meaghan B. and TomTom again for providing me with the GO 500. It is proving to be very useful and dependable!

Travel: Marriott’s Tampa Renaissance

I have to share a recent positive experience I had with the Marriott. I was not in any way compensated for this review, but since I received such incredible service, I feel like sharing. There are good people out there who really seem to love their job, and when I meet people like this (who also treat me so well), I do what I can to recognize them and spread the word. So, here we go.

First, a bit of a lead up…

On my way back from Florida a couple of weeks ago, after sitting around the Tampa airport for 6 hours, my flight (via WestJet) was cancelled (due to weather). The passengers were definitely ticked off (I felt bad for those traveling with kids and those who were needing to make connecting flights). I, too, was disappointed. The fact that the flight was cancelled was definitely annoying, but the way WestJet handled the communication and service really irked me.

So when we learned that our flight was cancelled, we were also informed that we needed to go to baggage claim immediately to retrieve our luggage and that all hotel and incidental expenses were the passengers’ responsibility. (Not to get into the whole WestJet debacle…but we were all going to be booked onto another flight the next day.)

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By the time I got around to calling the “hotel accommodations when flights are cancelled” number provided by WestJet, all the “discounted” hotels that were reserved for cancelled flights were full. My annoyance level grew instantly (service like this drives me absolutely nuts).

Trying to make the best out of a crummy situation, I got online and looked up hotels close to the airport. The first call I made was to the Marriott Tampa Renaissance reservation department. The Renaissance is definitely a luxury hotel, but I crossed my fingers that there would be a room available on such short notice (with a decent rate, of course! pushing my luck, right?).

Well, Ms. Emily over in the reservation department was on the other end of the phone, and she was incredibly friendly and understanding of my situation. When I asked for the “my flight is cancelled and I really would love to stay in a fabulous hotel with a great bed for an evening in Tampa,” she laughed and assured me that she would find the best possible rate for me. She called me by name (I always like this), persisted, and was extremely polite. She booked me into a room at the Renaissance within minutes and gave me a competitive rate. I was pumped! She honestly brightened by afternoon!

And now, here’s what I thought about the Marriott’s Tampa Renaissance.

The lobby is grand with welcoming and modern seating arrangements.

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There is a bit of Italian signage on the room floors, which makes me happy. Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-3

The artwork around the hotel is lovely, but it is this simple drawing that was hung in my room that I really liked. Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-2

My Tuscan-inspired room was very well-appointed. My king size bed was ridiculously comfortable (how do hotels do it!?), and the terry robe is one that I think I just have to purchase. It was perfect. Aveda products fill the large bathroom. My room faced the pretty courtyard, and the pool and gym are added conveniences (too bad it rained).Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-1Finally, the hotel is attached to one of Tampa’s great malls – the International Plaza – awesome!

My day ended up being much (much!) better than how it started, and I definitely owe Ms. Emily a thank you for helping to turn things around for me!

Travel: My Waterloo City Guide on Design*Sponge

Another blogging/writing/publishing dream came true for me a couple of weeks ago, and I’m so excited to share it with all of you.

I have been reading Design*Sponge since its creator, Grace Bonney, began publishing posts 10 years ago. Ten! She has been such a leader in the blogging world, and like many of her readers, I find so much inspiration on the pages of her blog (and her book, interviews, etc.).

DesignSponge-headerOne of my most favourite areas on Design*Sponge is the city guide section. These guides are written by travel enthusiasts who want to share the top-of-the-top that their cities have to offer.  In the past, I have used the Paris guide, the New Orleans guide, the Tampa guide, the Pittsburgh guide, the Dallas guide, the Halifax guide, and, most recently, the Orlando 24-hour guide. I totally put my trust into these guides, and they have yet to let me down!

DS-4Well, a few months ago, I wrote and submitted a Waterloo region guide for Design*Sponge, and it was published last Tuesday! (Insert shrieks and jumps for joy!) You can read my Waterloo guide right here. I am so proud of this article. I moved to Waterloo two years ago, and I have enjoyed living here ever since. I was very excited to share news of the region with Design*Sponge readers.

waterloo_cityguidetemplateI was beyond excited to see that Grace shared my article on Twitter and favourited related tweets, too. Eeek!

DS-2     DS-1Thanks to those of you who have read my Waterloo city guide and for those who have added their favourite spots in the comment section, too.