I Love Italy // Io Amo L'Italia

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Ah, Italy. A place full of history, beauty, and charm at every turn. Where the carbs abound (hello, pasta, pizza, and gelato!) and the cappuccinos are mostly foam (Italians love their foam!) If you’re considering a trip there yourself, have been there before, or simply want to live vicariously through our trip - you’re in the right place!

When Josh and I decided to start saving for a trip to Europe, 3 years ago, we quickly decided that Italy was the place we wanted to visit most. After much research and polling all our friends who had been there before, we decided on 3 destinations: Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre. This turned out to be the perfect combination of historic landmarks, incredible food, breathtaking art, and some of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen.

While it may have been a little bit easier to purchase our trip through a third-party tour group, we decided to do all the planning ourselves to get the full experience. And I’m so glad we did! Planning this trip ourselves meant we were not only able to do whatever we wanted, when we wanted, but we learned so much in the process. From navigating the train system, to figuring out how to not stand in a line for hours to see the coliseum, we came home with some invaluable knowledge that we are excited to have in our pocket for future trips. And lucky you - I’m going to share it all here, too!

First Stop: Rome

 Treve Fountain

Treve Fountain

Having never been to Rome, (let alone Italy for that matter,) it was hard to know exactly where to stay for our trip. We did tons of research on the areas that would be centrally located to all we wanted to see, and in a safe area, and our research led us to Argentina Residenza. We snagged an awesome deal through Priceline, and were blown away by the beauty of this place — we would stay there again in a heartbeat! It was located within walking distance to the Pantheon, Treve Fountain, and Trastevere, and tucked away nicely off the street so we felt both secure, and not in the center of all the busyness.

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When in Rome, we did our best to take in the city by walking almost everywhere. From the historic sights, to the incredible food, we accomplished quite a bit in our few days there. Our first night in Rome, we decided to make our first stop coffee… because, have you met my husband?

 Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè

Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè

We found one of the more popular coffee bars in Rome, and were given a quick lesson in Italian coffee culture. One of the first things you’ll notice in Italy, is the people don’t really sit and sip their coffee. In fact, the only people you’ll see doing that are probably tourists. In Italy, you walk up to the bar, order your drink (which is almost always espresso or a cappuccino,) and drink it while standing at the bar. There are often tables available outside of the coffee shops, but if you want to sit there and have your coffee, you must make that clear when you order because it costs more to sit at the tables.

After we were properly fueled, we took a quick walk over to the Pantheon. This was our first of many experiences seeing ancient Roman architecture in person, and it was astounding. I will say it many times here, but the grand nature of everything you see in Rome will take your breath away!

 The Pantheon

The Pantheon

After a quick glance at Yelp, we decided to try a highly recommended restaurant, Pietro al Pantheon, for our first Italian meal. Nestled in a side street just steps from the Pantheon, this place was our first introduction to the classic Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe, and OH. MY. GOODNESS. I can’t say much more aside from you MUST try it!

 We hated it.

We hated it.

After dinner, we found one of the best gelato shops in Rome - Giolitti (Thanks again, Yelp!) This place has been making gelato for over 100 years, and they have got it DOWN! It was, by far, the best gelato I had while in Italy… And once we found this place, we may or may not have gone back 3 times…

Ok… We did.

 Gelato at Giolitti

Gelato at Giolitti

From the research we had done beforehand, we knew some of the most popular landmarks could have you waiting in line for hours if you didn’t purchase tickets in advance. So, with a little planning on our first night there, we purchased tickets and a tour of the Vatican for the next day, and tickets to the Forum & Coliseum for the following day. Once we arrived to each of these places, we quickly realized how important this step was! It only took a few moments, and we easily saved 2-3 hours of waiting in line at each place. Don’t miss this tip.

 The Vatican

The Vatican

Touring the Vatican was such an incredible experience. The history all throughout the museum and the the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica left us speechless at times. And, even though it took about 3 hours to tour the entire place, we loved having a tour guide to explain everything we were seeing - because there was so much!

While near the Vatican, we found one of the only specialty coffee shops in Rome, Pergamino. Because specialty coffee isn’t much of a thing in Italy yet, this place was definitely one of a kind for Rome. But if you are a coffee connoisseur like us, it’s definitely worth trying! They make pour overs, Aeropress, syphons, and more… and they even let you choose from a wide selection of beans. This was one of our favorite coffee finds on the whole trip!

 Random hot Italian man, sipping coffee at Pergamino.

Random hot Italian man, sipping coffee at Pergamino.

The next day, we had tickets to see the Coliseum and Roman Forum. Talk about breathtaking! We were blown away by the scale of both monuments and how these were built thousands of years ago, before any of the technology we have today - and still standing! Walking through the Coliseum was such a surreal experience… knowing everything that went on there, and the millions of people who have walked through that place before us. And don’t even get me started on the Forum. Pictures don’t even begin to do these places justice. You just have to see them for yourself!

 The Coliseum.

The Coliseum.

Tip: When you walk through the Forum, there will be a place near the center where you can climb a bunch of stairs and get a bird’s eye view of the place. Definitely do that.

Before I move on to our next stop, here are a few more noteworthy mentions from Rome:

Emma Pizzeria - Amazing pizza, (the Prosciutto pizza is the bomb,) Cacio e Pepe, and deconstructed cannoli for dessert.

Roscioli Caffe - Great for breakfast, coffee, and pastries.

Cantina e Cucina - Great pizza and Cacio e Pepe!

Next Up: Cinque Terre

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After a busy few days in Rome, we made our way to Cinque Terre for a little change of pace, and stayed one night in Vernazza (one of the “five lands.”) I was worried one night wouldn’t be enough, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was plenty of time to take it all in. We took an early train from Rome and arrived in Vernazza by 10am. The city appeared to just be waking up, and we quickly learned just how small each of these villages truly are. We immediately booked a private boat tour (just walk down to the dock and book in person,) and had some of the best meals on our entire trip here (welcome to the birthplace of pesto and focaccia!) If you visit Vernazza specifically, you must eat at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre. (Order the Pesto Bruschetta, and the Pesto Ravioli... You’re welcome.)

 Pesto Ravioli at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre

Pesto Ravioli at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre

When late afternoon came, it was time to board our private boat tour - which was one of my favorite aspects of the entire trip! For just about 100 Euro, we were able to see all 5 lands from the water, with our own private tour guide. The entire tour was about an hour and a half, and worth every euro!

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 The Italian Riviera - water like you’ve never seen.

The Italian Riviera - water like you’ve never seen.

 Our awesome tour guide.

Our awesome tour guide.

After our boat tour, we made our way to Trattoria de Sandro for dinner, and had Pesto Lasagna for the first time ever - what?! Between the fresh pesto and the homemade focaccia we encountered while in Vernazza, Josh and I would both easily say we had some of our favorite meals in Cinque Terre. If you are visiting Italy and have an extra day to fill, don’t miss this beautiful place.

Tip: I was not entirely thrilled with the AirBnB we booked here, so I won’t share that info. But what I will say, is after visiting for ourselves, we both felt it would have easily been fine as a day trip from Florence. If you do decide to stay the night in one of the villages, be prepared for stairs - and LOTS of them!

And, finally: Florence!

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After the busyness of Rome, and the peaceful nature in Cinque Terre, Florence was the perfect way to tie a bow on our dream vacation. We left Vernazza on an early train, made a quick pitstop in Pisa (because… The Leaning Tower!) and arrived in Florence by early afternoon.

*Tip: if you want to see the Leaning Tower while traveling through Pisa, there is a place that will store your luggage for only 5 euro for the entire day. It is completely legit (requires your passport to drop off and pick up,) and will be a huge weight off your shoulders (literally) so you can enjoy the walk from the train station to the Leaning Tower.

The AirBnB we stayed at while in Florence was a DREAM! It was everything I’d imagined an authentic Italian apartment to be, with a private patio, perfect for an afternoon painting sesh. Our hosts were so gracious, and gave us great tips on where to eat and what to do while in the city. I hope to go back one day just so we can stay in this lovely place again. But anyway, on to Florence!

 Pizza at Mamma Napoli

Pizza at Mamma Napoli

For our first meal in the city, we made our way to Mercato Centrale (Central Market,) where there are a bunch of shops and restaurants. We shared a pizza at Mamma Napoli (SO GOOD,) and spent the rest of the evening wandering the city. In our wandering, we stumbled upon the beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge (which is now one of my favorite sights IN THE WORLD,) and made our way across the bridge for some AMAZING gelato at Gelateria La Carraia.

 Ponte Vecchio Bridge

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

On the way back to our apartment, I found the sweetest hole-in-the-wall shop with some of the most beautiful olive wood pieces I’ve ever seen. The shop owner didn’t speak very much English, but certainly wasn’t lacking in kindness and hospitality. I got some of my favorite souvenirs and gifts here, and felt like I could’ve stayed for hours just browsing all the beautiful pieces. If you’re looking for authentic Italian souvenirs (that don’t feel like “souvenirs”,) please do yourself a favor and make a stop at La Bottega Del Chianti!

 La Bottega del Chianti

La Bottega del Chianti

While we’re on the topic of shopping… make sure you save shopping money for this city. Florence is known as a city of the arts, so you will find some of the most beautiful, authentic Italian keepsakes in this city. Hand painted ceramics, hand carved olive wood, genuine leather pieces… they are all beautiful here, and will make for some of the best souvenirs to remember your trip!

From the breathtaking architecture and plethora of artists and artisans lining each street, to the museums… oh the MUSEUMS! This place is every artists dream, and probably my favorite of all the places we visited. But of all our moments there, near the top of my list is seeing Michelangelo’s Statue of David, located at the Galleria dell'Accademia. It’s hard to put into words this experience, but it was a moment I can literally say took. my. breath. away. Don’t miss this!

 Shameless selfie with David…

Shameless selfie with David…

And if you’re a coffee lover, like me and the hubs, make your way to Ditta Artigianale for some of the best coffee you will find in Italy. There are two locations, but our favorite of the two was the location just south of the river. Also just south of the river, was our FAVORITE pizza in Italy! Gusta Pizza! The line can get a little crazy, but trust me when I say - it is WORTH THE WAIT for this one.

 Ditta Artigianale

Ditta Artigianale

And one of my favorite tips from a friend of ours (thanks, Kyle) was a tiny sandwich shop called Il Buffalo Trippone. O.M.G. You guys… just go there and order the Wild Boar Salami Truffle Sandwich… you’re welcome.

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While I feel like I could write a novel on the city of Florence, I’ve got to pull the reins back somewhere… just make sure it’s on your “must visit” list in Italy, and if you end up there, here are a few more spots you shouldn’t miss:

Piazzale Michelangelo - A bit of a climb, but worth it for the best view of Florence.

The Duomo - Pay attention to the dates this is closed, and make a reservation well in advance if you want to climb to the top!

Santa Croce - A beautiful church/museum where Michelangelo and Gallielo (among many others) are buried.

Uffizi Gallery - One of the best museums in Florence… So much art!

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*Tip: if you are planning to visit any museums while in Florence, I highly recommend getting a Firenzecard. This will not only save you money in the long run, but it often allows you to skip to the front of the line most places (and we all know TIME is a precious commodity when traveling.) Also pay attention to the dates certain places are closed, as each museum is closed on different days of the week.

Our Last Night

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When the time came for our trip to end, we began the trek back to Rome to be near the airport for our flight early the next morning. Because the airport is about a 30 minute train ride from the main city in Rome, we thought it best to stay at an AirBnb in Fiumicino (the city where the airport is located.) While this was nice the morning of our flight, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. There isn’t really much to do in Fiumicino, and because we arrived so early in the day, we ended up taking an Uber to the main city in Rome to enjoy our last day there. If we were to do it again, I think we would have chosen to stay in Rome for our last night instead; especially given that we were pros at the Italian train system by this time!

*Tip: when traveling by train, you will purchase a ticket to your destination with or without a specific time listed. If there is no time listed on your ticket, make sure you validate it at the machine just before boarding your train, to avoid heavy fines!

Ciao, Italia!

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All in all, we were extremely pleased with the trip we planned for ourselves. We saw it all, ate it all, and felt like we had an incredible Italian experience. If you’re planning a trip for yourself, be encouraged that you can do it. It takes some research and effort on the front side, but it will be worth it - I promise!

I hope this is helpful information for my fellow travelers! If you are headed on a trip there yourself, please let me know how you like some of our favorite spots in the comments below!

Ciao!

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Materials Matter

I remember the moment I dipped my first high quality watercolor brush in professional grade watercolor. Something was different. All I painted at the time was a simple color swatch, but in that moment my world changed; I fell in love with watercolor.

Now, if you’re at all like me, your biggest concern with taking the plunge and investing in high quality materials has more to do with the cost than anything — which I understand completely (trust me… I’m a pastor’s wife, and let’s just say, we aren’t in it for the money.) But we’re all familiar with the phrase “you get what you pay for,” and this is one of those things where the phrase definitely applies.

When I first started dabbling in watercolor painting, I purchased a cheap set of paint from Michaels, and equally cheap brushes and paper. Though I was enjoying myself, and quickly building my skills through practice, I noticed my work drying “chalky” and the paper warping with just the smallest amount of water. I was discouraged by looking online at all the artists I admired, whose work was so vibrant and flawless. I didn’t realize that it simply wasn’t possible to achieve the same look as the pros without the same tools as the pros.

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Don’t get me wrong, starting anywhere is better than nothing, but I had no idea how much more was possible with the right materials in my hands. And now that I have seen for myself, I feel responsible to share the same information with you!

So here are my “go-to” supplies, with links where they can be purchased. (These are the same materials that come in my watercolor starter kit — which I’ll talk more about at the end of this post!)

  1. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor – This stuff is so so good. I had no idea it was possible to achieve such vibrant color and consistency. You’ll never have an issue with “chalkiness” here, since there are no fillers added to professional grade watercolor. And they are about as vibrant as you’ll find, since the price is relative to the amount of true pigment that has been added to the paint. And even though the price is higher up front, you will notice these paints last much longer. It comes in a tube (rather than dried in a pan already,) and you can usually fill your palette a few times from just one tube. Even with the volume of painting I do, I still only have to refill my palette every few months, so you can imagine a tube can really last you a long time! The important thing is that you fill your palette the day before you’re ready to paint, so you don’t use too much pigment at once. Because the paint comes out of the tube wet, it is easy to pick up too much paint on your brush, and waste it. But when you allow it to set in the palette, all you have to do is “warm it up” with a little water, swish your brush around in the color a bit, and you’ll be ready to paint with vibrant, highly saturated pigments. So hands down, in my opinion, invest in professional grade watercolor. There are quite a few brands on the market, but W&N is my personal favorite. Feel free to shop around and try what works best for you — but just remember: PROFESSIONAL GRADE.
  2. Arches Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper – You can tell just by looking at it when watercolor paper has been made well, and this stuff fits the bill, for sure. The grit of the cold pressed paper is the most important, as that will hold your pigment in place, and allow you to use a good amount of water without it pooling up and drying strange. Be careful when purchasing watercolor paper, because there is hot pressed paper as well, which does not have the same grit and texture as cold pressed paper. Hot pressed paper is great if you’re doing illustrations or simple washes, but because of the texture of the paper, paint tends to dry much more quickly and it doesn’t hold layers as well. Cold pressed paper is most often used by watercolor artists, and the only way to go in my book! Another element to look for when purchasing watercolor paper is whether it is 100% cotton. This is important, as many cheaper brands will use fillers that make them less strong, and they will not hold your paint quite as well. Finally, when purchasing paper, you want to look at the weight. You do not want to work with anything less than 140lb./300gsm, to avoid warping paper. If you know your painting will require a heavy amount of water, you might want to invest in some 300lb. paper, which will hold a lot more water without warping. A few other brands I would recommend trying out include: Legion Stonehenge AquaFabriano Artistico,  Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper, and Global Fluid 100 (as a cheaper, yet still good, option.)
  3. Princeton Heritage Synthetic Sable Brushes – These are a little bit of an investment, so I actually recommend starting with their introductory “Snap!” brushes. If you are used to cheap watercolor brushes, switching to the Snap! brushes will be a HUGE upgrade. They will hold a lot of water and pigment, and you’ll be amazed at the versatility of the round brushes! Starting with sizes 6 and 16 is a great place to begin. After a few months of practicing with good paint, good paper, and good brushes, upgrading to the Heritage brushes and adding a smaller size round brush to your arsenal will give you the ability to add finer details, and now that you’re a pro, you’ll be able to notice the difference between the Snap! series and the Heritage series.
  4. Watercolor Palette – A palette with space for mixing is a must. Personally, I use this palette, as I have collected a lot of different pigments I regularly use. But beginning with something smaller, and just a few different pigments is where I began, and a great place to start if you’re budget conscious. It is important to remember that watercolor is meant to be mixed. So even if you start with only 8 paint colors, you have the potential for creating at least 64 different colors with those alone! As you paint more and more, you will start to recognize patterns, and colors that you gravitate toward mixing often. That is when I recommend starting to pick up new pigments. That way, they will be a little more vibrant, since they are pure colors, and less mixing work for you.
  5. Watercolor Pencil – Something I did not know when I first started using watercolor is that pencil cannot be erased once it has been painted over. So if you’re laying out a project, but don’t want to see the pencil marks afterward, a little trick I like to use is a watercolor pencil! I use a very light grey for most projects, just as a guide, and because it is watercolor, it basically dissolves into your painting as you add water. Just be careful not to write too dark with it. Since it is real pigment, it could change the color of your painting if you use too much.

So there you have it — my favorite supplies, and the WHY behind them. If you’re convinced, and ready to try out some of the “good stuff” for yourself, I have listed links for where each of these items can be individually purchased. However, if the idea of navigating it all for yourself is a little bit daunting, I have made it really easy for you with my Watercolor Starter Kit!

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The kit comes with a starter palette, already filled with my 7 favorite pigments, (which will last you at least 2-3 months of regular painting,) sheets of Arches cold pressed paper, and Fluid 100 cold pressed paper, a watercolor pencil, 2 Princeton Snap! round brushes (in sizes 6 and 16,) and an instructional booklet, (written by me,) with more details about the supplies you’ve received, an introduction to the basics of watercolor, and a step-by-step lesson in loose floral painting. With all the supplies you receive, and the instruction included in the booklet, this is a great investment!

More than anything, I hope you understand my passion for watercolor runs deep. This beautiful, therapeutic art has been healing to me in so many ways, but has also opened doors to opportunities I never thought possible. It wasn’t easy to start, and it didn’t come natural from the beginning, but with practice, and the right tools in my hands, I have come a long way (and believe you can, too!)

If you have any other questions about materials I didn’t cover in this post, please feel free to comment below!

Good luck on your own watercolor journey,

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A Few of My Favorite {Wedding Stationery} Things

It’s 2017 (which I still find hard to believe) and just like every other year, our refrigerators have begun to fill with save-the-dates and invitations to witness one of the most beautiful moments in life. Two people professing their love for each other, and a commitment to share their lives together, forever. In my mind, there are few things more captivating than the look on a groom’s face when he catches that first glimpse of his bride in her wedding gown.

As a calligrapher, I’ve felt the impending wedding season since the beginning of January, as custom requests began to flood in, and clients began to check my availability for April (a very popular wedding month this year.) And in the midst of all the preparing and brainstorming to help make their dreams a reality, I have noticed a few trends that I wish I had known about when I got married – because they are absolutely gorgeous ways to make your invitations more unique. And don’t worry if you’re on a tight budget (because who isn’t?) Simply adding one or two of these special elements can make a big difference.

So get ready to have some serious stationery envy — here are five of my favorite wedding stationery trends, that can take your invitations to the next level:

1. Vellum Envelopes – This is one of my favorite trends at the moment, possibly because of how fun it is to write on vellum, but also because it is just so stunning. Almost any ink color stands out beautifully on these envelopes, and the see-through nature of vellum gives a little teaser to what is inside, without totally giving away the surprise. This is an “upgrade” that does not add to much to your overall cost, but provides a huge “wow factor.”

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2. Handmade Paper – Fundamentally speaking, your invitations will only be as beautiful as the paper you use. And from the moment your guests open their hand-addressed envelope, they will no doubt be taken aback by the unique look and feel of handmade paper.

 Handmade Paper by  Share Studios . A paper company featuring the work of Maker, Stephanie Hare. Located in the state of Maine, Stephanie produces beautiful, handmade paper from Kozo fibers (bark harvested from the Paper Mulberry Tree.)

Handmade Paper by Share Studios. A paper company featuring the work of Maker, Stephanie Hare. Located in the state of Maine, Stephanie produces beautiful, handmade paper from Kozo fibers (bark harvested from the Paper Mulberry Tree.)

3. Wax Seal –  The next design element I’d recommend (which I am pretty obsessed with these days) is a wax seal. This is another great way to make a big impact, with an element that can still be used for things like Christmas cards and baby announcements, once the wedding festivities have ended. In my mind, this one is a no-brainer because it is both stunning and cost effective. Personally, I find myself sending more “snail mail” simply for the opportunity to use my wax seal, and I’m sure you’ll do the same.

  Get Marked  offers a wide variety of wedding themed wax seals (their “carriage stamp” shown above.) They also offer the opportunity to submit your own design for a custom wax seal. 

Get Marked offers a wide variety of wedding themed wax seals (their “carriage stamp” shown above.) They also offer the opportunity to submit your own design for a custom wax seal. 

4. Custom Watercolor Illustration – Another way to add a little bit more of a unique touch to your invitations is by adding a few custom watercolor elements. From envelope liners, to custom crests, and illustrated maps or venues, adding a few touches of custom watercolor illustration will mean your invitations are not just unique to you, but they truly reflect you as a couple, and what guests can expect for your special day.

 Venue card designed and painted by Aria Paperie.

Venue card designed and painted by Aria Paperie.

5. Silk ribbon – And now, since you have taken such care in each individual element, it’s only necessary that you bring it together with the same level of care – and silk ribbon is, no doubt, the way to go.

  Honey Silks Co.  is a creative silk ribbon company, offering a beautiful assortment of hand-dyed silk ribbon.

Honey Silks Co. is a creative silk ribbon company, offering a beautiful assortment of hand-dyed silk ribbon.

So there you have it, my friends. Five of my favorite trends in stationery, that are sure to bring the “wow factor” to your invitations.

If you’re currently in the midst of planning your wedding, do your best to enjoy it!  It really can be a fun process if you don’t get too carried away. Because the truth is, even if everything goes wrong, the most important thing at the end of your big day is that you will be married and you get to share life together, forever.

Much love

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