Category Archives: Europe

The Dolomites, Italy

October 2022

The Dolomite Mountain range is the Italian region of the Alps. Being the hikers that we are, Dave was quick to put this on our itinerary once we had decided to visit Italy. I had never heard of this area before but as we researched and explored online, I was blown away. The pristine villages and striking peaks were unlike anything I had imagined seeing in Italy. We stayed in the village of Ortesei in the region of Val Gardena and had plenty to explore in the short 3 days we had there. It was everything I had hoped it would be and we left with tired legs and smiles on our faces before heading down to the Florence.

Getting there…

From our Venice apartment, we negotiated the water taxi system to the train station to get hop on a high-speed train headed north. It was fairly easy to get tickets at the station and we were off. The train was comfortable enough and had several stops along the way to our destination to Bolzano where we caught a bus to the village. The scenery was beautiful and became progressively greener as we travelled through Verona then north through Trento up to the mountains. We had views of the miles of vineyards and were able to catch glimpses of old castles. The roads to Ortisei were winding and narrow, but bus driver drove it with no hesitation whatsoever. There were multiple shops with carved wood offerings and religious souvenirs along the way. Our bus stop was a short walk to our hotel and though we were still a bit tired from the travel and lingering jet lag, the fresh mountain air was invigorating.

Castle sighting from the train.
Looking east from the village

Where we stayed…

We chose to stay at the lovely Chalet Hotel Hartmann during our stay in the Dolomites. We almost chose the Hotel Hell because, well, how often do you get to say you stayed in Hell, right?!? (FYI- it did look nice, so I’m not throwing any shade their way) Anyhow, Hotel Hartmann was about a mile walk into the village center, but there were really nice paths throughout the town to connect us. It was friendly, clean, quiet, and the breakfast spread was AMAZING. I’m not kidding. Everything was freshly made (baked goods, sliced meats and cheeses, spreads, some sort of to die for yogurt), your cappuccino was made to order as you sat down and there were views of the valley and mountains throughout the dining area. The concierge woman who greeted us gave us a list of restaurants to try that all turned out to be unique and delicious. I would stay here again without a second thought.

Roadside view of our accommodations.

What we did…

We hiked until the sun went down on both of the full days, we had in this magical place…and then we walked some more. It set the pace for the amount of walking we did on this trip. The weather was pleasant, and the trails were all clean, so it was no both to walk everywhere. There were ample bus stops available, but we opted to stay on our feet.

On day one we took a gondola ride (actually 2) up to Seneca and hiked through picturesque meadows and craggy peaks. It felt unreal. Literally there was a horn playing across the valley when we arrived, we were able to stop at these little huts (we stopped here at the end of the day) for beers and snacks, and there were only whisps of clouds in the sunny blue sky. I had a pang of feeling like we were cheating a bit by taking a lift up there but there were ample heights to be climbed still. I did like how it was accessible for those to enjoy the view but weren’t up for a climb. If you choose to hike in the afternoon, do note the time that the gondolas stop working. We arrived at the gondola to return us to our starting point just as it was closing. So, we had to ride down to the town of Santa Cristina and walk back to Ortisei, not a huge trek in general, but after covering 10+miles in the mountains, your legs are ready for a rest.

Lift up to Seceda
View when you first get off the lift….Can you imagine what the skiing is like?!?
Hidden trail up to Sass Rigais
Dave up with the birds
Bridge to Sass Rigais…site of where I almost had a panic attack 🙂
Hutte for post-hike treats

One day 2 we took the other gondola from the center of town up to the mountain plateau of Alpe di Siusi for another day of hiking. This is considered the sunniest area of the Dolomites, and we lucked out and had another epic day of walking under the blue skies. This was more walking trails that wander through pastures with view of the mountains, rather than climbing them like we had done the day prior. Personally, I was ok with this as my legs were rather like jello from the day before. That being said we still covered over 10 miles again. We saw horse-drawn carriages, more rocky peaks and enjoyed some local beer in the sun. It was as picturesque as it comes.

What we ate…

Much thanks to our host at Hotel Hartmann, we enjoyed a delicious variety of restaurants during our stay in Ortisei. It ranged from “Typical” cuisine (we learned that this means local) to pizza to a higher end modern restaurant. This stop on our trip got us primed up for the mass amounts of sliced meats that we would be consuming over the next weeks. If you were having a cocktail or beer, it was customary to be given chips, prosciutto, cheese, and pickles. You almost didn’t need dinner, but it was good to soak up drinks for sure. We also hit up a local salumeria in the village on day one for hike snacks and wine as well. Note to our future selves- grab a knife from the hotel prior to leaving for the day. Hard blocks of cheese aren’t meant to be eaten by biting off chunks.

Here’s a highlighted list:

  • Turando– Upscale Pizzaria & bistro. The Crudo Gialla pizza was to die for and upon recommendation from our serve we had our first (but definitely not last) Amaro cocktail. Yum!!
  • Snetonstube This was the most “typical” style restaurant we visited. It seemed to be mostly locals celebrating occasion or another. The food and wine were great. We started with meats and cheese starter, and I ordered some sort of schnitzel type dish that felt authentic for the region. It was fun to feel the vibe of this place.
  • Adler Shop- Lively bar and cafe attached to the upscale Adler Hotel. We had the best gin and tonics I have ever drank. Both ingredients were local to the area.
  • Zicoria Brasserie– We enjoyed steak, pasta and wine at this upscale steak house that was near the base of the gondola on day 2. We were pretty tired from hiking and didn’t want to walk all the way back to the hotel before dinner, so we showed up a bit grubbier than what we normally go to a place like this and arrived before they opened. They were still kind and we sat at the bar before being sat. It was a really nice meal to end our stay in the Dolomites.
  • Hotel Hartmann- I have to give them a shout out, because as I said earlier, the breakfast included in the stay was next level.

I was off my game for food pictures so enjoy some mediocre pics of our bar food at Alder Shop and a very questionable hotel sign that cracked me up 🙂

What is really happening here?!?! In no world is my small child massaging me “family time”

Final thoughts….

The Dolomites is officially on my top favorite places in the world I have visited. Being with my love and hiking around majestic mountains in the autumn sunshine cannot be beat. I would go back here in a heartbeat and would enthusiastically recommend anyone give this place a visit if they find themselves in Northern Italy.

Venice, Italy

October 2022

We chose Venice as our first destination for a few reasons….. First, it really is so quintessentially Italy and felt that it would be a perfect place to set the tone and get into the spirit of being in the country. Second, it was the best our best option to see the Adriatic Sea and catch a high-speed train up to the mountains of the Italian Alps. People always swoon when the topic of Venice comes up if they have been there and rightly so! It was so unique and fun to explore. The canals and alleyways were nothing like I have ever seen. We only stayed in Venice for 2 nights and we significantly jet lagged when we arrived but I think we made the most of it.

Getting there…

Our flight from Heathrow to Venice landed around noon. It was disorienting to not sleep for an entire day and hit the ground running. We navigated our way out of the airport to find the water taxi station. This was no simple feat! The signs were easy enough to read but I swear we ended up going out through a service exit and had to back track more than a few times. We made it to the window to buy our tickets and got in line the long to zone out and wait for our taxi to get us over to the island of Venice. I wish I would have taken a video to capture the chaos of chopped up water and boats zooming in and out to pick up passengers barely avoiding collision. As busy as it was, all the boats efficiently made it in and out relatively on time like it was nothing. Once out on the open water it was captivating to see the boats and take in the little surrounding islands of Burano and Murano in anticipation of what Venice had in store. The Airbnb that we had booked ahead that was close to a drop off point, so we only had to rumble our suitcases over the bumpy cobblestone for a few minutes to meet our host.

Venice from the Sky.. you can see the water taxi freeway.
Rush hour on the water

Where we stayed…

D found us a quaint little stone wall apartment that was well located and well stocked. The host was friendly and had stocked the fridge with wine, pasta, cheeses and sauce. The bathroom had soap, shampoo AND conditioner. These may seem like a given for travel accommodations, but we quickly learned that in Italy (and likely Europe) you get the bare minimum when it comes to toiletries. On Venice and a few other of our stays, they need to document your name and passport as a visitor to the city. The photos online made the space and view seem a bit more spacious that what the reality was but it was clean and felt authentic. It was perfect for our short stay.

The hidden door to the apartment…fortunately the host and previous guest had given us plenty of clues, so we found it on the first try.

What we did…

Our basic agenda for Venice and basically all of Italy was- explore, people watch, eat, drink, repeat. This city was so fun to wander around and see what was around the next corner. There is plenty of shopping near the Rialto bridge, but we aren’t really into that so much. It was a full moon while were visiting which made nighttime walks magical. I will let the photos tell the story…

Pointe di Rialto
Basilica di San Marco
The backside of San Marco
Expensive subpar snacks with a lovely view at San Marco Square
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo by moonlight
View of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from fancy water taxi en route to Cip’s Club
Beautiful sunset on our last night

What we ate…

Being our first stop in Italy, I was so very excited to start to experience local cuisine. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account local customs for dining times and how they would intersect with our arrive time and jet lagged brains. We set out for our first meal around 2pm and quickly realized that this was NOT when people dine around town. After being very directly denied by at least 3 small restaurants who had no interest in us ever coming back, we finally found a small bar with outdoor seating who were happy to let us sit a table for 2 (not one for 4, they made that very clear). We took in the gentle tourist traffic and enjoyed our first version of the Aperol Spritz (which was delicious), the little snacks that come with drinks (cicchetti,) and some tiny white bread sandwich triangle called tramezzini. After that, honestly, we struck out when it came to food…not great pizza, ok lasagna and snacks with beer and wine in the apartment. Pretty much all the things they the travel blog foodies tell you not to eat. When you get hungry and are tired, it’s survival rules, so we did our best. We did however, have the most amazing last dinner at a restaurant that came to us upon recommendation from a friend with fantastic taste in pretty much everything- Cip’s Club. The ambiance, quality of food and service of this upscale waterfront restaurant is hard to beat. It is attached to the beautiful, exclusive Hotel Cipriani. We took their private wooden boat water taxi to the hotel, walked the gardens, acted like we were supposed to be there and felt very fancy. We completely lucked out even getting a table at Cip’s because we arrived an hour before they opened (places don’t even think of serving before 7:30) and there was a cancellation for the first seating. Make a reservation well ahead of time if you want to experience this location. It was a treat for our last night.

Final thoughts….

Venice was a whirlwind of a visit but memorable to say the least. It was cleaner than I would have expected, it felt very safe and was super fun to explore. I do wish that we might have done a bit more research on what and where to eat, but overall, it was enjoyable. It is a unique experience to be in a place with no cars, you really don’t get that anywhere in North America. I can’t say that the people in the shops and cafes we ventured in and out of were all that friendly (with the exception of Cip’s) however we were new and there are all tourists so I suppose that could get annoying. I will always have fond memories of winding through the narrow alleyways and viewing the canals at night under the light of the huge full moon and the excitement of starting our adventure in Italy.


October 2022


I have longed to visit Europe for my entire adult life.  I was always intimidated by language barriers, long travel times, and just not knowing where to start.  I would get analysis paralysis when it came to planning such a trip and would end up just doing nothing.  Last year, when I made my 21k trail run goal, I also had made a goal that I wanted to get over and see Europe…no place specifically but at least the intention was set.  Well, I didn’t make the trip prior to my birthday, but with the extremely generous and thoughtful gift from my guy, my first trip to Italy was set in motion just after.  

After hemming and hawing a bit over it, I finally decided that I wanted to explore, taste, and drink in the beautiful region of Tuscany. So, this was our starting point and we went from there.  There really is a crazy amount to see in Italy.  Each region has its own unique culture and personality despite being grouped together under the umbrella name of “Italy”.  We didn’t want to do the tour group approach where you spend 1 day in a bunch of different locations, but we decided that staying 2-4 days in a variety of towns would allow us to cover a lot of ground within the 2 weeks. Once we scoped out the cities surrounding Tuscany, we decided that we would have to put off visiting the Southern and Eastern regions for another trip.  

Planning this trip was so fun. We had a great time coming up with our loose itinerary. Before leaving we put more attention into the first 2 stays so we could hit the ground running.  Between August and October, it was easy to let the excitement build without getting overwhelmed this way. I had lots of details to smooth out to prepare my kids and work to keep rolling without me around but it was all worth it.  By the time Canadian Thanksgiving came around we were all set to take off! 

Getting there…

To be honest, I did not arrange for the flights.  There were plenty of options from Seattle though connecting through other main hubs in Europe.  We ended up flying with British Airways with a layover in Heathrow en route to Venice.  Everything was timely and the flight crew was properly British. This was the longest flight I have ever taken.  It was like a time warp.  We had 2 meals, several drinks and many many movies. I don’t do well with sleeping upright on planes and maybe napped for a little while.  It was a strange combination of being tired from no sleep but not being tired because you are just sitting for hours on end and you have the excitement of a big adventure on the horizon. I actually didn’t find the long flight unpleasant but did experience some major spaciness the day we arrived.  It’s a good thing I am a pro at powering through 🙂  Our only hiccup getting to Italy was that our plane apparently had a fuel leak once we landed in London, so they parked us out in BFE and had to shuttle us back over to the terminal so we could catch our connecting flight.  It was a bit disturbing to think of a fuel leak and why we were parked so far away from our gate, but with virtually no sleep and the flight crew in no rush to evacuate the plane, it was fine.   We made it to Venice with ease and started our sampler platter of transportation.  It was interesting using so much public transport.  I have never even taken a bus in the US (that is kind of embarrassing but true) and experiencing transit in Italy was a trip!  It was chaotic but worked with relative timeliness and some form of order that was foreign to me. I will talk more on traveling around the different regions in the other blogs about each area we visited.  Overall, getting to Italy was easier than expected and made for a great start to our trip. 

Where we stayed….

We decided that it was most important to have our first 2 destinations booked while we got used to being in Italy, then booked most of our accommodations a night or two before leaving for the next destination.  Overall, we had no issue finding nice places to stay by searching AirBnB and Google maps.  We also lucked out in that the Euro was at a low in October, so the exchange rate made for fair pricing on the accommodations we chose. Some people might find this way of travel stressful but it was fun focusing on one thing at a time and not getting all worked up trying to predict what we wanted for every location before arriving in Europe. It was off season (though much busier than expected thanks to the previous years of pandemic shut down) so we were able to have several viable options to choose from.  This might not be the approach to take during high travel times of year.  It is worthwhile to know that the European Hotel Star rating system is on a 4 star scale rather than 5 stars in the US and Canada.  Most hotels actually post it on their signage and they also usually indicate whether kids are welcome or not.  I found it funny while researching stays in St. Ortesei that many hotels strongly post “For Adults Only”, as it invoked the idea of some XXX adult club or something.  We found out quickly that this is a resort town that many families visit so there were family centric hotels and places that were less suited for hosting kids.  It was nice to know and we readily chose Adult Options. 

What we ate….

EVERYTHING…. When relying on eating out for virtually every meal you have the opportunity to sample a lot of food.  Plus, Italy is famous for it’s cuisine so it was a pleasure to have to sample and experiment with what each region had to offer.  Eating happens late in Europe and while recovering from jet lag, it took a few days to get used to.  We typically had late breakfasts or lunch, midday snacks and a later dinner.  Restaurant didn’t even open until 7:30pm.  We would find a local market to stock up on some sort of sliced meat and cheeses, crackers, beer and wine for the room.  We learned that most restaurants would serve a bit of a snack with each round of drinks you order.  This is a very smart strategy as day drinking is normal in Italy, at least it seemed to be if you were on vacation.  I did take a few cappuccinos at the coffee bars as the locals do.  The travel blogs I read prior to leaving were correct in that Italians do not sit and luxuriate over Vente sized coffees (ie Starbucks).  It’s in and out with a strong but delicious shot of espresso, cappuccino or macchiato.  The wine was amazing and we never tasted a house wine that was bad.  It seemed to be more economical to order a bottle than individual glasses, so many bottles we consumed over the course of this trip.  Each region was very specific in its food culture and I will expand on it in the other blogs.    Last note on food is that the service is not fast and when a server does bless you with their presence, be ready to order the whole meal.  We had a few times where we wanted to order appetizers and drinks while we browsed the menu, and the server just gave us a look like we were confused and the most annoying thing they had dealt with that day.  As a natural born people-pleaser myself, it was uncomfortable for me to feel like I was bothering someone by asking  to explain something extra or fumbling with hand signals and broken English to communicate.  After a while though, I came to appreciate the honesty of saying directly what I needed/wanted without a bunch of “I’m sorrys” and “whatever is easy for you” phrases.  Tipping isn’t like it is here, so they have no reason to kiss your ass.  That being said, we had ample wonderful and attentive servers in Italy, and dining out was one of the highlights of our trip.

What we did….

Walking, eating, people watching and marveling at architecture and art.  Repeat.  That pretty much sums it up. There is so much to see in Italy from nature and what has been made by man.  Each region had a new and exciting offering for us to take in. From the spectacular mountains in the Italian Alps to the excavation sites scattered about the busy city of Rome.  It was so fun to know you could just step out your door and immediately be taken aback by what was out there.  We intentionally stayed in central locations so we could easily reach restaurants and sites by foot. We did have at least one or two must-sees in each place we visited, then allowed time for wandering and seeing what came our way.  It was a really nice balance.  Much more details are to follow in the regional blogs.  

Parting thoughts…

This Italy trip was one that will forever be a sweet spot in my memory.   It met all of my expectations and gave flavor and color to how I had always imagined Italy to be.  I have such an appreciation now for the cultural diversity that can exist within one country and with each new region we explored I was left with wanting to see more.  My favorite spots were the Dolomites and Florence, but each spot we stayed had something that took my breath away or had something that I was seeing for the first time.  Italy is a place I absolutely want to visit again and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone craving a European adventure.