Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gift of Travel Past

They don’t know it yet, but one of my favorite Christmas gifts to give this season is a look down memory lane… I finally got around to putting together a photo album of the besties’ trip to Europe in May 2004 after graduating college. I know some may consider albums to be ancient, but I still like to flip through pages every once in a while and it was so fun to make (thanks to Snapfish)! Plus it gives me great reason to recap the best trip of my life thus far and to share the highlights from each place with you, my audience of five…

London – We saw a lot of sights here, all by way of the Big Bus and thus I remember it the most. The city is just as expensive and fun as New York, only with way better accents!

Paris – After being “lost in translation” for 99% of our time in the City of Love/Lights, Sara and I literally stumbled upon the original Moulin Rouge in Montmartre and I snapped this amazing photo.

French Riviera – We had a lovely time staying in Nice, especially exploring the Colline du Chateau, but my favorite moment was our night adventure to Cannes where we posed for the Film Festival red carpet and traded our American tourist gear for some H&M party clothes.

Venice – By far, my most treasured stop on our journey. From the gondolas, to the best Italian meal I’ve ever eaten (Spaghetti & Clams at Trattoria alla Madonna), to writing postcards daily at the foot of the Rialto, it felt like our own personal version of "Eat, Pray, Love"…well, the Eat part anyways!

Florence – Who knew that as we combed the streets on a quest we affectionately termed “Finding Duomo” after that year’s lovable clownfish star, we were actually looking for a church that had a small connection to my family’s original last name, Belfiore. Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral of the city known for its distinctive orange Renaissance dome. Its name ("Saint Mary of the Flower") refers to the lily, the symbol of the city.

Rome – All I can say is it would take an eternity to see all of the Eternal City! My advice – this should be one trip entirely on its own. Yet, we managed to see all of the “top 10” tourist attractions, with the Roman Colosseum definitely taking the cake for the hold-your-breath moment.

So, next time you decide to cross the Atlantic to visit what I consider to be some of the world’s greatest cities, give me a shout. I recorded every sight, meal and train ride in a little Penn State diary and would be happy to share its secrets. Buon Natale, besties!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tire Tracks vol. 2

Jason and I are headed down the I95-S stretch for yet another Christmas!  And this time we are channeling our inner-Griswolds as we sing along to Roadtrip Soundtrack compiled of my all-time favorite holiday songs.  Here are the top 10 and why I love them so...

1. The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole - The staple song for the beginning of any good Christmas CD, those first three bars can put anyone in the festive mood.

2. Baby It's Cold Outside, Rosemary Clooney & Johnny Mercer - While Elf the movie made me fall in love with this tune, I'm partial to the classic - makes me want to be somewhere in a snowbound cabin.

3. Christmastime is Here, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Peanuts Gang) - "I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love."  Makes my heart melt everytime.

4. O Holy Night, Celine Dion - Although I'm not a huge Celine fan, no one can belt like her and I am a sucker for the crescendoing chorus in the background.

5. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Bruce Springsteen - I so wish I was in the audience at this concert, rockin' out with the Boss and his E Street Band.  If anyone can bring the Man in Red to town, it's Bruce.

6. Silent Night, Boyz II Men - Christmas Interpretations was the first holiday album I actually purchased, rather than listening to my parents'.  Their acapella harmonies give me goosebumps.

7. All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey - And this was the second holiday album I purchased.  But it wasn't until Love Actually existed that I deemed this my absolute, most favorite sing-along Christmas tune. 
8. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee - Not only does it always remind me of Home Alone, but it brings me back to dancing around the family room with Dad while Mom decorated the tree.
9. Christmas Lights, Coldplay - Not really part of the top ten yet, but Jason and I love us some Coldplay and putting them together with my favorite Christmas decor (twinkle lights), how could I not include it?
10. Can you guess?

Wishing you a very, merry Christmas surrounded by family and friends.  Travel safe!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peoria, IL

This will be the first installment of a little section I like to call "Zoolander's Travels."  Jason (or Zoo to his buddies) travels all over the country to many cities outside the major ones with his job.  From time to time, we'll check in and give a little account of his adventures along the way!

Peoria (pee-or-ee-ah) is the largest city on the Illinois River.  A population of 372,487 in 2008 made it the third largest metropolis in the area after Chicago and St. Louis. And currently, it’s where Jason is opening the newest “burgers & fries” store.

While back home in the DC-Metro area this week, we’ve had our first “major” snow of the year at 1-2 inches and temps in the low 30s, Jason’s been battling highs in the 20s with a quarter or half inch of snow accumulation almost daily!

So, what’s there to do when he’s not staying bundled up in his hotel room or training the team on the grill? Here are just a few highlights I certainly hope he’ll take advantage of!

The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway unites more than 100 nature-based destinations throughout the Illinois River Valley.  The Byway guides through the Valley, showcasing great places to discover and experience the region, and some of Illinois’ most treasured, natural gems.

Housed in the Donald B. Cerf Center at Eureka College, the Ronald Reagan Museum features over 2,000 items from Reagan's student days at Eureka, movie and TV career, governorship of California and two terms as President of the U.S. The majority of artifacts were donated by Reagan himself. The Peace Garden located on the historic campus includes a bust of the 40th president and a section of the Berlin Wall. The garden commemorates Reagan's 1982 campus speech that initiated the "beginning of the end" of the Cold War by proposing the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons.

Light up the night at the East Peoria Festival of Lights (FOLEPI)! The 26th annual Festival of Lights is a one-of-a-kind holiday spectacular. Journey through the Winter Wonderland which features two miles of captivating beauty while driving through a glowing park with an electric bill of $50,000!
Now J, make sure to go out and get all of this done, but be on the lookout for any approaching snow storms! I need you home to me by December 22nd. “All I want for Christmas is youuu!” (Picture me in my favorite flannel PJs, belting at the top of my lungs.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the Season for Sightseeing

This time last year, Jason and I were able to be in NYC among the masses in Rockefeller Center celebrating the holiday season.  And yes, I actually cried when I saw that tree - for someone who is obsessed with "twinkle lights" it was just too beautiful to handle.

But, unfortunately, this year we won't be making the VaMoose bus trip up north and will need to find some local sights to get us in the spirit!  Here are just a few ideas...

Fifteen minutes down the road (without traffic), it might not be as grand as the Norway Spruce in Manhattan, but it comes with the Obamas!  Visit our National Christmas Tree to experience some DC cheer.  The lighting ceremony takes place this Thursday, December 9th.

A scenic hour-long drive towards Leesburg brings you to Oatlands Historic House & Gardens which is beautifully decorated for the season and offers Holiday Tea and Lamplight Tours.

Or venture two and a half hours south to start a new holiday tradition by enjoying some very old ones!  Colonial Williamsburg features a number of tours, musical performances, dining options and more.  I recently visited the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge who've both undergone renovations in the last few years, and I'd recommend an overnight stay in either of these graciously hospitable hotels.

And if you're too busy wrapping, baking or cocktail partying to venture out, just put on Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye and be whisked away to a White Christmas in Vermont!