The Bucket List Trip: Ladycations Goes to Europe

Airport selfie

Sure, I already posted this. But that was two years ago, and I’m ready to relive the trip! So let’s go back to Europe as Olivia, Carey and I check multiple items off our Bucket Lists.

If you’ve been following Ladycations you know I love nature. I’m always down for camping and hiking, and generally escaping humanity for the serenity of the Great Outdoors. What you might not know is that I’m also a history nerd. I devour historical non-fiction, binge low-budget documentaries, and will randomly announce historical “fun facts” to people who then question whether I know what the word “fun” actually means. Going to Italy was my dream, like an historical pilgrimage for nerdy nerds. So, instead of getting my nature fix I decided to feed my history habit, and with at least six miles of walking a day, it was basically hiking with cuter shoes and better snacks (and considerably more people).

France was my daughter’s dream. She even minored in French in college. She worked her ass off throughout her entire education, has literally never gotten into trouble, and graduated summa cum laude from the Ohio State University in May. She’s smart, witty, kind, responsible, thoughtful, poised, driven. . . She’s amazing. So, being the proud, cool-ass mom that I am, I decided to make both our dreams come true and take Olivia and her best friend on a two week tour of Italy and France to celebrate their awesomeness.

Our adventure began in Cleveland with a flight to Rome, and we were prepared. We had our passports, my international drivers ID, we were vaccinated, Covid-tested, and equipped with KN-95 masks. But, because preparation can only do so much, an unwelcome surprise: our flight out of Cleveland was delayed by several hours, adding an additional layover in Frankfurt, Germany, and getting us into the city much later than we’d planned. Welcome to international air travel, folks! Between that and all the uncertainty associated with traveling during Covid, despite having all our documents in order, part of us wasn’t sure we were actually going to make it to Rome at all.

The Frankfurt airport is. . . off-putting. Very gray, very confusing and crowded, and not overly friendly, in our limited experience. We looked up reviews of the airport online to amuse ourselves. “Gray, gray, gray.” “Unsettling.” They’re not wrong. While I know logically that Germany would be a beautiful, super interesting place to visit, we won’t be doing that anytime soon. It’s like childbirth, we need time to forget the experience before trying again. On the bright side they did have smoking lounges, so I was able to smoke a couple cigarettes while we waited, which may have saved lives.

We arrived in Rome as the sun was starting to set, and I’m not sure I have the words to explain exactly how I was feeling. Years of dreaming and planning and reading and researching and pandemic-related apprehension, and here we were, in the back of a taxi, being driven maniacally through the ancient streets of Rome. We made it!

Our home for the first three nights of our trip was the FH55 Grand Hotel Palatino. I usually prefer to AirBnb or VRBO, but it was cheaper to book the hotel with the plane ticket, and I wanted to be within walking distance of all the major attractions. I also wanted rooms with balconies cause smokers gotta smoke, and a continental breakfast to simplify our mornings. The Grand Hotel Palatino checked every box, and we would definitely stay there again! Clean, perfectly situated near all the major attractions, with bright, spacious rooms and friendly, helpful staff. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

We needed food. We were dying for our first taste of real Italian pasta, and after traveling for more than 24 hours, our nerves needed the sedating effect of wine. It took us all of 5 minutes to find an adorable trattoria in a little piazza with everything we craved and charm to boot. Within 10 minutes of sitting down at the tiny outdoor table we were sipping our wine and nibbling fresh-baked bread. It was so European that the reality of the distance from home really started to sink in.

Before this trip I’d been to Windsor, Canada for a couple nights, and had stopped in Mexico and Jamaica on my honeymoon cruise, but I was always surrounded by English-speakers. I’ve never been so far from home that everyone around me was speaking another language, and it was such a strange feeling. It gives a sense of vulnerability, and anonymity. You know you’re not going to run into that annoying coworker, or your ex. In fact, you’ll neither know nor see anyone you encounter ever again, and no one will even remember you once you’re gone. Just another American tourist. That’s incredibly liberating. But we also had a keen sense of being at the mercy of others, relying on them to know our language because we never bothered to learn theirs. That’s mercilessly humbling, especially with the added risk of traveling during a pandemic.

When we heard a police car nearby with its siren blaring I felt even more detached from life in the US. So many sirens, and not the sirens I’m used to hearing in the American Midwest, but the sirens I’d only heard in movies. Sitting there, as I alternated between white wine and Prosecco (because, why choose just one?), and savored my to-die-for lasagna, I half expected to see Tom Hanks come flying into the Piazza with the Swiss Guard hot on his heels, like a scene from The Da Vinci Code.

It was getting late when we finished our (delicious) meal, and we were exhausted, but we weren’t ready to turn in, so we headed deeper into the Eternal City in search of gelato and the 18th Century Baroque masterpiece: the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). Talk about living up to the hype! The gelato was sublime, and the fountain was massive and stunningly beautiful. All lit up for the evening, the water was glowing blue, reflecting its light onto the faces of its many admirers. The intricate detail and enormous scale of the sculptures cannot be adequately captured on film, and we were in complete awe. So different from anything any of us had ever seen. I wasn’t sure if I was more amazed by the fountain or knowing it was only the first of fourteen days full of being amazed by Europe’s magnificent art and architecture.

After taking some pictures and making a wish as we tossed a coin into the fountain we slowly made our way back to the hotel. It had been a long day, with unforeseen delays and lots of frustration, but it ultimately ended exactly as I’d imagined it would: joyfully, my appetite satisfied with scrumptious pasta, my thirst satiated with crisp wine, and me blissfully smoking a cigarette on my private balcony. The travel stress had been entirely worth it.

Before Covid hit I’d been planning a solo trip to Italy for Spring of 2020. As disappointed as I’d been about having to cancel, as I sat on the balcony, listening to the sound of the revelry on the street below, I was immensely grateful to have my daughter and her friend sleeping in the room across the hall. It was my first time overseas, which was a little unnerving. I’d have been fine alone, but it certainly would’ve added an extra layer of anxiety. Mostly, though, it was just special to be able to experience it all with Olivia, seeing everything from my own perspective and through her eyes, as well.

I couldn’t wait for morning to explore more of Caesar’s ‘hood! But first, a shower and the soundest sleep I’d had in months. Next time my fellow Ladycationers and I set off for the main event in Rome: The Colosseum! Until then, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

The Story of Tonight: Freezing Walks & Hamilton on Broadway

We awoke on Saturday morning to gray skies with freezing rain and lots of wind. The perfect kind of day to sleep in and be lazy. Hearing the wind howling and the frozen rain drops hitting the windows was like a lullaby, encouraging us to stay in bed. Olivia’s cats, Cappuccino and Marbles, however, had other ideas, so before long we were up and slowly getting a start to the day. With only two things on our agenda, we weren’t in any kind of rush.

We made our way to the corner diner for a delicious, greasy breakfast late in the morning. When we’d finished, the wind was still blowing sleet all around outside the windows, and we had to angle our umbrellas just right lest the wind turn them inside out or carry them right out of our hands. It was cold and wet, but we were on a mission. For several minutes as we walked I was so focused on not losing my umbrella or getting pelted in the face with ice-rain bullets that I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. When we entered a more sheltered area I looked up to discover we were walking through the gorgeous campus of The City College of New York. Established in the mid 19th Century as the first free public school for higher education in the U.S., The City College campus is filled with old, stone buildings that are absolutely stunning. Given our destination, it felt appropriate to be passing though the architecturally impressive institution of higher education.

We were on our way to the former home of Founding Father, Revolutionary soldier, 1st U.S. Treasury Secretary, ladies man, and posthumous pop culture icon, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton Grange National Memorial, while not sitting in its original location, still resides on a piece of the original 32 acre plot Alexander purchased in 1801 to be his family’s country estate, and I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes!

I’d been devouring books on American historical figures for years. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson; the list goes on. So when Hamilton The Musical was released on Disney+ my brother invited me over to watch it, knowing it was right up my alley. My brother now regrets that day, cause he created a monster. My mind was blown. It’s absolutely brilliant! Lin Manuel Miranda is so talented I can’t even believe he’s human.

I became instantly obsessed with all things Hamilton. I’ve watched the musical at least 25 times, listen to the soundtrack in my car constantly, and immediately devoured Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, which the musical is based on. A little more than a year later and there I was, walking up to the home he built for his beloved family.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial wasn’t open on this blustery day, which we knew before we left. Instead of going inside we walked around the outside, gazing up at the neoclassical yellow house and trying to imagine Eliza sipping tea on the porch while the kids ran around the yard, and Alexander sat at the desk in his study, writing letters as always. However, the picture in my mind was not historically accurate, as I was picturing Lin Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo instead of the actual Alexander and Eliza.

With the freezing rain and wind not letting up, we began to make our way back to Olivia’s apartment. That evening would be the grand finale of our Little Ladycation, but for the remainder of the afternoon Liv and I would veg-out on her couch watching Hulu. Not every moment of a trip needs to be filled with activity. Liv and I have always loved watching shows together, especially biopics. It was with Olivia that I watched Medici: Masters of Florence, and The Tudors. We were both obsessed with Game of Thrones during it’s reign as TV’s top program, and if it was released during COVID, Liv and I probably watched it together. So there we were, another Saturday with mother and daughter lounging on the couch, laughing and giving commentary as we watched the biopic about fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, staring Amanda Seyfried and Naveen Andrews (who will always be Sayid from LOST to me).

As the afternoon wore on we slowly started getting ourselves ready for dinner. We had reservations at Glass House Tavern near Times Square that evening before the main event. Mercifully, the rain stopped before we left Liv’s apartment and headed for the subway station. However, the wind had not died down, and it was still freezing cold. We made it to Midtown, emerged from the subway station, and began briskly walking towards the restaurant.

Something I found particularly magical about New York on this trip is that, since my last visit when Liv turned 16, the city had legalized cannabis. Not only could it be purchased in NYC, it could be smoked openly. So, when I saw a weed truck (like an ice cream truck for stoners) I couldn’t resist. I purchased the most ridiculously expensive joint I’ve ever purchased, and looked forward to smoking it for dessert.

Glass House Tavern was excellent. I ordered the filet mignon, one of my favorite meals, and it was cooked to perfection. Our cocktails were so good we had to drink more than one (oh darn), and the waiters were delightful. We had such a nice time, with delicious food and tasty cocktails, and were full and ready to rap our way through the next event, Hamilton on Broadway, when we finally paid our tab and headed towards the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Once we got outside I found a corner to shelter in long enough to light my joint, and we began making our way to the Theatre. Intellectually I knew smoking the joint as I walked through Times Square was totally legal, but there was a part of me that felt like I was going to be thrown in the paddy wagon and hauled off to jail. When we passed by a New York City police officer who didn’t even flinch as I exhaled a giant plume of Pineapple Express in his general direction I wondered if he’d had COVID and had lost his sense of smell. I’m just so used to hiding my cannabis use that it felt weird to be smoking it so openly and publicly. But I had the thought, I could get used to this.

We arrived at the Theatre before they’d opened the doors, and had to stand outside shivering with the other attendees until they let us in. It was so cold that by the time they opened up everyone was practically running inside. We stopped and bought “Hamiltinis” and a shot glass, then made our way inside the theatre to our seats.

I was beside myself. We both loved Hamilton, and neither of us had seen it live yet, and there we were staring at the stage I knew so well from watching it on Disney+. By the time the stage lights turned up and the house lights went down I was ready to burst. Olivia had told me ahead of time not to rap along to the show, but that was simply not a level of self-control I was capable of exercising, and I was pleased to discover I wasn’t the only one. It was very clear who had and hadn’t seen the show previously, cause half the audience was jamming just as hard as I was–including my daughter, who was singing along and chair-dancing right beside me.

The original cast is long gone, and I could sit here and review the differences between the casts, and compare the two, but that would be unfair. The bottom line is that every single person in that performance is more talented than I could ever hope to be, and they were all incredible. It was the same show I knew and loved, but they each made their characters their own in some small way, so it was like seeing it again for the first time. Magic.

Seeing it live was so different from watching it on TV. Instead of my eyes focusing on whatever the camera was focusing on in any particular scene, I was able to see the whole stage. I could watch the overall performance or hone in on some aspect I hadn’t seen before, but wherever I was looking, I was singing and chair-dancing and having the time of my life! By the time we left we were glowing. All I wanted to do was grab a hot dog from a vendor and watch it again. Instead, we essentially ran to the subway, no stopping for hot dogs which I regretted later, to get back to Liv’s apartment before we froze to death.

What an incredible weekend with my beautiful daughter! I would cry as I drove away the next morning, struggling with my new role as mom to an adult daughter who no longer needed her mama in the same way she once did. The truth was that I missed the living shit out of her, and seeing her waving in my rearview mirror was almost unbearable. I pulled myself together as I crossed the George Washington (“Here comes the General!”) Bridge, laughing when I saw the text she’d sent shortly after I departed, telling me I damn well better have been listening to Hamilton as I drove (of course I was). No matter how proud of and amazed by my kids as I am, there’s a part of me that will always see them as my babies and want to scoop them up and keep them with me and safe forever. It may as well have been a toddler in pigtails in my rearview mirror waving. I suspect those of you with kiddos of your own can relate to that.

Thanks for joining Olivia and me on our Little Ladycation! I hope you enjoyed the journey with us. Come back again for the latest tips, trips and tales, and until then, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

Raise A Glass To Freedom: New York for Nerds

We awoke to an absolutely beautiful Spring day in New York City. The sun was shining, the sky was blue; it was the perfect day to explore the Big Apple! Unlike most of my Ladycations, New York came with my very own, personal tour guide. If you’re reading this and you have children, ensure you raise them to want to live in cool places so you have somewhere fun to visit. Being that this adorable tour guide knows me so well, she’d planned a weekend full of nerd-friendly activities! Sure, New York is for the rich and powerful, the beautiful and fashionable, but forget all that. Let’s raise a glass to freedom as we explore the New York for nerds!

We took our time getting ready for our day. We had activities planned, but weren’t in any kind of rush. With the weather being so wonderful we decided our first stop wouldn’t be a stop at all, but a walk through Central Park. I don’t know how New Yorkers can stand to live in their concrete jungle of a city, but Central Park is pretty great. One minute you’re surrounded by traffic and buildings and noise and commotion. Then you enter the park and you’re surrounded by green. You can hear the birds singing, people are out walking their pups, joggers pass by on their daily runs, and in early March the trees were just starting to bud. It was absolutely glorious after the long, gray winter.

We meandered through the park and ended up where we’d been 6 years prior. Strawberry Fields is an area of Central Park right across the street from the Dakota, which is where John Lennon lived, and where he was shot and killed. John’s ashes were scattered in the area of Central Park now called Strawberry Fields (forever). We took some pictures and listened briefly to the street performer singing Imagine before deciding to head over to the Natural History Museum, my favorite museum in NYC.

New York’s Natural History Museum has so much to see. From the first creatures to roam this planet, to the first humans to cultivate its land, to the giant rock that’s been orbiting Earth through it all, the Natural History Museum has it covered. We took a selfie by the big blue whale, took turns chatting with a statue of Teddy Roosevelt (this history nerd loves Teddy! You didn’t think my nerdiness was limited to French and Italian history, did you?). But those were just bonuses, Liv and I were in search of the dinosaur bones, our favorite part. Given the size of the museum, it took a while for us to find what we were looking for, but ultimately we found ourselves surrounded by dinos and taking dorky pictures. Mission: Accomplished!

Once we finished clowning around we decided we were hungry and headed out in search of someplace to eat. We ended up at a pizza place nearby that wasn’t anywhere near as good as those we’d frequented in Italy, but it was delicious nonetheless. After we scarfed down our meal we paid our check and headed back out into the city.

We got back on the subway and made our way to Tribeca for our first super-nerd fan-girl stop of the day. There are a few things that Olivia is absolutely obsessed with. If you followed our European Ladycation you may remember that one of those things is cats. My girl is the youngest crazy cat lady you’ll ever meet. Her other obsession is Taylor Swift (fittingly, someone also obsessed with cats).

When I say she’s “obsessed” with Taylor Swift, I mean she’s obsessed! She knows the story behind every song on every album, every Easter egg in every music video, and even the story behind how Taylor came to adopt her cats (fun fact: Tay Tay has a cat she named Detective Olivia Benson after Mariska Hargitay’s SVU character. SVU came out shortly before my Olivia was born, and is the reason my daughter’s name is Olivia). My Liv is 100% Swiftie. So much so, in fact, that during pandemic lockdown, she even turned her rock-n-roller mom into a T-Swizzle super fan, her uncle into an admirer, and convinced her grandfather to watch the Taylor Swift documentary on Netflix.

So there we were, in Tribeca, Liv wearing the All Too Well hoodie I’d gotten her for Christmas, walking down Taylor Swift’s street. We didn’t see any sign of Taylor, but we did find out that she lives right around the corner from the Ghostbusters firehouse from the 1984 film, which is pretty awesome. What a neighborhood!

We stopped at Bubby’s for a drink before moving on. I ordered a mimosa, and it was delicious, but I was more focused on the people watching. New York City has the best people watching I’ve seen since Europe. Part of that is that New York has the most similar crowd to any European city we went to, simply because it has the most international tourists, and such a diverse population. I was enjoying watching the snobby group of thirty-something hipsters, and the girls in their early twenties trying so hard to look like a magazine cover, and the teenage skater boys who didn’t seem to have anywhere to be. Alas, we did not see Taylor Swift, and finally finished our cocktails and decided to head to the home of yet another boss-ass-New-York-bitch, though a fictional one: Carrie Bradshaw.

During the first year of the pandemic, when everyone was pretty much shut-up in their homes desperately trying to find new things to watch or read or play, my daughter discovered Sex and the City, a show and characters I’d loved for decades. She’d found it just in time for her big move to NYC, and I now found myself walking up to Carrie’s New York Brownstone with my New Yorker daughter. Such a fun nerd stop!

We headed back to Liv’s apartment to get ready for dinner. You know by now that I’m a history nerd. I left my bitch-baby nerd-tears all over Europe, but it’s not just European history that gets me fan-girling like my daughter on a Taylor Swift themed dinner cruise (yes, it’s a thing, and yes, she did that), I go hardcore nerd over American history, as well. In particular, I’m obsessed with the American Revolution, and New York City is filled with Revolutionary era history!

For dinner that evening we headed to the oldest building standing in New York City, Fraunces Tavern. In Lower Manhattan, Fraunces was built in 1719, and established as a tavern in 1762. During the Revolutionary period Fraunces held countless meetings and events for both Loyalists and Revolutionaries alike. On December 4, 1783, a little over a week after the last British troops left American soil, General George Washington gathered his officers at Fraunces for an emotional farewell. Some years later, the week before their duel, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr both attended a meeting there. Speaking of Hamilton, if you’re a fan of the musical, Fraunces is where the tavern scene in Lin Manuel Miranda’s brilliant play was supposed to have taken place. If walls could talk I might never leave Fraunces Tavern.

Sitting in this historic building gave me the same rush I got from exploring the Palazzo Medici, or seeing the place where Caesar was assassinated. Pretty difficult to get that feeling in the U.S. where few physical structures still stand that predate the 19th Century. We ordered wine and raised a glass to freedom as our Founders did, and as Lin made so catchy and beautiful on Broadway, and then ordered our dinner. Liv got fish and chips, I got a burger, and both were fantastic. Liv’s fish was, like, a whole fucking fish. It was huge, an entire family could’ve shared it. My burger was cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious. You really can’t make me much happier than good food, a glass of wine, in a place with awesome history, on vacation, with one of my favorite humans. That’s what life is all about, the moments that bring us pure joy, when you’re so happy and content you feel lighter. More moments like that, please.

We went back to Olivia’s apartment full and happy, and watched some TV before turning in for the night. I was having so much fun, and it struck me how crazy it felt to be staying at my adult daughter’s New York City apartment. We spend all those years teaching and guiding and protecting our kids so that they grow up and can make it on their own, and here my daughter was. Doing it. Killing it. I’m so proud of her. Hell, I’m so proud of me! I made that human from scratch, taught her how to be human, and look what an amazing job I did! If I knew what I did to make such incredible humans I’d write a book, get rich, and buy a house next to George and Amal in Italy, but I’ll settle for getting a front row seat to watch my kids kick the world’s ass, instead.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll swing back around for the next installment when instead of talking about history we watch it unfold before our very eyes, with singing and dancing and sick beats. Hamilton on Broadway, baby. Bucket List: checked. Till then, as always, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

New York: Big City, Little Ladycation

Standing under the 30 Rockefeller Plaza sign

I think it was the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s that started Olivia’s obsession with New York City. Even as a little girl she had sophisticated taste, preferring Audrey Hepburn over Miley Cyrus. Whatever sparked it, my daughter spent her entire childhood telling her father and me that she was going to live in New York City one day. And when Liv says she’s going to do something you’d be wise to get the hell out of her way and just watch the magic.

In 2015, when she turned 16 years old I took Olivia to New York on her first Ladycation. I had never seen the city myself, so I decided we’d explore it together. As you know, I take my Ladycations very seriously, so I planned the shit out of this Little Ladycation. We spent two nights in a fancy hotel room overlooking Times Square (then two nights in Brooklyn, staying with my stepsister), enjoyed her birthday dinner at a swanky steakhouse, celebrated our liberties at the Statue of Liberty, soaked in the view from the top of the Empire State Building, clowned around the Natural History Museum, and paid our respects to musical legend John Lennon at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. But the highlight was Wicked.

Olivia had wanted to see a Broadway show for almost as long as she’d wanted to live in New York. I did some research and spoke to my stepsisters, both of whom lived in NYC at the time, and decided to take her to Wicked. But, I didn’t just want to take her to the show. It was her Sweet 16, I wanted to do it right. I wanted front row center! I didn’t tell Olivia we’d have the best seats in the house. I told her the seats were very expensive (not a lie), and that we’d be near the back of the balcony. She said, “That’s okay, Mom, I’m just happy we get to go. I don’t care where we sit.” When we arrived at the theater and were being led closer to the stage Olivia looked at me, confused. “Oh, by the way, I lied. We’re front row, center. Happy Birthday.” She scolded me, but the smile creeping up on her face was all I needed to see to make the expensive charade worth it.

Both of us fell in love with Broadway that night. First of all, Wicked is spectacular. Such a great story, beautiful, with fun music, and the actors were fantastic and obscenely talented. We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we loved it. After the show we stood by the stage doors and waited for the actors to come out and sign autographs. We’d had such a wonderful night! Of course, nothing is perfect, so I accidentally led us about 8 blocks in the wrong direction (in heels) trying to find our hotel, despite Olivia telling me we were going the wrong way. She wanted to punch me in the face, but we laughed anyway. I’m fairly certain that trip cemented Olivia’s desire to live in New York City.

And so, when Olivia graduated college, after we returned from our epic European Ladycation, she and Carey loaded up a U-Haul and did exactly what she said she was going to do more than a decade earlier: they moved to New York City. Like I said, stay out of my girl’s way!

Having a daughter living in NYC is pretty great (fucking terrifying, but also great). What better place to be forced to visit than a city with endless things to see and do?! Thank god she didn’t move to North Dakota. So, a few months after she’d settled in, I hopped into Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my trusty Volkswagen, and road tripped to New York for a long weekend with my Number One gal! I got an early start so we wouldn’t be late for our first activity of the weekend, something that allowed me to check another item off my Bucket List: attending a live taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert!

Oh, how I adore Stephen Colbert! I’ve been a super-fan for more than a decade, and was so excited when he took over for the legendary David Letterman. In fact, when Olivia and I went to New York for her 16th birthday it was during the interval between Dave and Stephen. I was so overjoyed when I got tickets I almost ran around my office screaming like a teenage girl at a Harry Styles concert.

I arrived at Olivia’s apartment in the early afternoon, and after she gave me the tour of her adorable little pad, we got ready to head to Midtown to see Stephen, me grabbing a hot dog from a vendor on the way, cause I was famished. We were giddy as we waited in line. We received wristbands and were shuffled inside the lobby, and crammed in like sardines. It got rather stuffy, all pressed together and masked, but it was so worth it. When they opened the doors and we walked into the historic Ed Sullivan Theater I was in absolute awe. When Stephen came out I practically swooned.

Holy charisma, Batman. He was as charming, and warm, and funny, and beautiful as I knew he would be as he greeted the audience and interacted with his crew. When there were technical issues setting up for the musical guest Stephen came out, jumped up on his desk, and started taking audience questions. He didn’t have to do that, he could have sent his warmup comedian back out, or just made us sit there and wait, but he’s the real deal, folks. It was incredible. If his beautiful wife Evie had appeared I may have asked if they’d be interested in becoming a thruple.

We watched interviews with Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. This was shortly after Putin invaded Ukraine, and she came wearing her “Fuck Putin” bracelet, something she passes out to people who visit her office, which is just such a boss move. Then we saw Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live. As one would expect, she was hilarious, and though I didn’t know who she was when I arrived, I was a fan when I left.

Not ready to call it a night after the show, and me still hungry from consuming nothing but a street vendor hot dog all day, we stopped at Serafina for dinner. An Italian restaurant near the theater, Serafina serves Italian cuisine that’s better than the Olive Garden, but not by much. We enjoyed ourselves anyway, having a couple of cocktails and talking about Stephen’s amazingness. I loved that she, too, was fan-girling over my man, Colbert.

My Little Ladycation was off to a phenomenal start, and we still had two more full days of fun! We hopped on the subway to head back uptown to Liv’s apartment for the night. Between getting up at the ass-crack of dawn, the long drive, and the late hour, I was exhausted. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep to prepare for the remainder of our mother-daughter weekend.

Thanks for reading! Stop by next week to follow along as I go into history nerd mode as we explore more of The Big Apple! And don’t forget to subscribe to Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest travel tips, tricks and tales! Until then, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

13 Things to Pack for Europe (and What to Leave at Home)

Heading to Europe for the first time and don’t know what to pack? I hear you. I didn’t know where to begin when we started planning our first European Ladycation! The last thing you want to do is show up unprepared, but it’s equally as frustrating to arrive and realize you over-packed. Do you really want to be lugging stuff around Europe just for shits and giggles? Of course not, so here are a few tips to help you pack smarter. Knowledge is power, ladies!

1 – Power Adapter/Strip:

Did you know that European countries use a different electric voltage than the U.S.? While we use 110 volts here in The States, Europe uses 220 volts. Your electronic devices may or may not be compatible, but their plugs will most certainly not be. In addition to using a higher voltage, their plugs are shaped differently, so regardless of the voltage, you’ll need an adapter.

My best advice would be to buy a power strip you can plug multiple devices into that both converts the voltage and also adapts the plug. You can buy them on Amazon for anywhere from $20-$60. You could also choose to buy cheap, small ones if you want to have more portability. Think about the electronic devices you’ll be bringing and decide from there.

Speaking of things that need electricity, leave your blow dryer at home, gals. Seriously. Most hotels will have them, and many AirBnbs do, too, so there’s no sense lugging an extra, bulky item around. Save the room in your suitcase for something fun!

2 – Portable Battery Charger:

You’re going to be out and about all day, and you’re going to take a shit-ton of pictures. Your phone battery will deplete faster than you think. Get a portable charger to charge your phone on the go! If you’re taking your DSLR camera make sure you bring multiple batteries, and take the charger with you to plug into the battery pack. Lunch is a great time to put your devices on the charger so they’re refreshed and ready to go for the rest of your afternoon.

Since we’re talking about phones, be sure you check with your wireless supplier to find out what international options are available to you. You’ll need to add some type of international plan if you intend on calling or texting family and friends back home, or if you need to call anyone locally while abroad. They’re not cheap, but well worth it to stay connected.

3 – Solid Shampoo/Conditioner:

If you don’t want to check a bag, and for an easy space-saver, buy solid shampoo and conditioner. They’re like bars of soap, but for your hair, and can go in your carry-on. There are plenty of brands available, but I highly recommend Ethique. Their products are plastic-free, vegan, cruelty-free and eco-friendly, they leave your hair looking healthy and shiny, feeling soft, and smelling lovely. You can buy them on Amazon or by clicking the link to their website. They come in regular or trial sizes for all different types of hair, and even have body and lotion bars, too!

4 – Water Bottle:

There are plenty of places around Europe to refill water bottles, so save yourself the expense, and save the planet the single use plastics. Bring your own! The water in Europe is as safe as in the U.S. Besides, don’t you want to spend your money on wine instead?

5 – Travel Journal:

Oh, the memories you will make! You’re going to want to remember every moment. The good, the bad, the amazing, the magical, the hilarious, all of it. Taking a million pictures helps, but nothing can beat writing it down as it’s happening, when it’s fresh. Write down what you do, where you go, the funny, random moments and memorable exchanges with the people you meet, the smells and sounds. There’s so much to remember, and without some help, much of your trip will be lost to the ravages of time. You won’t regret bringing one, but you will regret not.

Leave the rest of your books at home. I’m old fashioned in that I like reading my books in book form. I’m not a fan of the Kindle or e-books in general. I like the feel and smell of an actual book, to turn the page when I’ve finished it, not scroll. Scrolling is for blogs and gossip columns. However, I’m even less a fan of lugging heavy shit around when I don’t have to. If you’re a big reader who usually takes several books on vacation this is the time you’re going to want to suck it up and switch to e-books for a while.

6 – Laundry Detergent:

If you’re going to be in Europe for more than a week you’ll need to do some laundry. Take some detergent with you, and research where you can do a load or two. You may alternately opt to hand wash your garments. If you’re staying in a hotel, check to see if they provide laundry service, or have machines on the premises for guest use. To save space in your luggage and eliminate the potential for spills or leaks, you can buy detergent sheets so small you could fit them in your pocket!

Pro Tip: Instead of sticking to hotels, I highly recommend working some AirBnbs into the mix. If you go this route, make sure you book a place with a washing machine. This will save you money, and also allow you to do laundry at your leisure and maximize your time spent exploring! Don’t look for a dryer, though. Europe isn’t real big on dryers. Embrace the European way and line dry!

7 – Sunscreen:

Most European cities have historic centers where most attractions are concentrated. This means spending more time outside walking from place to place as opposed to taking some kind of transportation. Add to that the number of attractions that are themselves outdoor destinations, and you’ll be spending a lot of time under the sun. Make sure you take sunscreen–and not just for your face. The last thing you want to deal with on your dream vacation is a damn sunburn.

8 – Umbrella:

Rain happens. Take an umbrella for the same reason you take sunscreen: the amount of time you’ll spend outside. Going to Europe prepared for any eventuality will greatly improve your experience!

9 – Tampons/Pads/Ibuprofen:

Ladies, we’ve all been there. We’re on vacation or out on a date and bam. There she is. That relentless bitch who arrives every month to shame us for not breeding. Do you really want to be searching for a tampon while exploring the Vatican? “Excuse me, Father?” No, I didn’t think so. Take some pad/tampons, and ibuprofen with you so that you’re ready for anything Mother Nature throws at you!

10 – Tennis Shoes & Socks:

You’ll be walking several miles every day. Blisters are the last thing you need. Even if you think your shoes are sufficient, take some tennis shoes and socks as a backup, just in case. Imagine putting on blister-inducing shoes for the 7th day in a row and walking 6 miles all over Paris. Sound like a good time? I assure you it’s not. Learn from my mistakes, take tennis shoes!

Leave your stilettos at home. I’m sure you have visions of looking like a sexy-bitch in your bangin’ outfit and spikey, 6 inch stilettos, but I’d like you for just a moment to shift your vision to how you’ll look when you roll your ankle and fall flat on your ass while trying to walk on 2000 year old cobblestones. European women have been walking on those uneven streets for their entire lives, you have not. There are plenty of ways to look sexy without breaking your ankle, and zero ways to look sexy while breaking your ankle. Just sayin’.

11 – Shawl/Wrap:

Churches in Europe, like Catholic schools in The States, have a dress code. Make sure you cover your knees, and if it’s summer and you’re in a sleeveless or low cut top you’ll want to have a wrap to put on when you go into a church. You will be flat-out denied entry if they think you look too sexy for Jesus. And by sexy I mean those scandalously naked, seductive shoulders or any hint that you might be hiding nipples beneath that top. Cover it up, you little sex kitten, you.

Since we’re talking about what articles of clothing you should bring, here are some that you absolutely should not bring: Hoodies and Crocs. If you walk around Europe in a hoodie and/or Crocs you’ll stand out like Shaquille O’Neal in a crowd of kindergarteners.

12 – Extra (empty) Bag:

If you plan to do any shopping while you’re in Europe you’ll need a way to bring everything home. It’s always a good idea to bring an extra bag with you that you could fill with souvenirs to take home with you. We’ve all been there. Either you bought so many souvenirs you don’t know how you’ll get it all home, or your original packing was on Master Tetris level, and you have no idea how you’ll fit it all back in to get home. Take an extra bag with you and you’ll always have room!

13 – Sense of Adventure:

It’s Europe. Thousands of years of documented and still-standing history, hundreds of museums filled with culture and the world’s most famous artwork, cuisine to make your mouth orgasm for days, and warm, welcoming people. It’s not like the United States, and you’re a guest in their country. Drop your American entitlement and open yourself to possibility. Recognize the adventure of the experience, appreciate the wonder, be curious and inquisitive. You’ll get more out of your trip, and you’ll be better able to roll with the punches when hiccups inevitably happen. If you’re prepared and take your sense of adventure, you’ll have the time of your life!

7 Loire Valley Travel Tips for First Timers

The Loire Valley in France is Castle Paradise. No matter which one(s) you visit you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a fairytale. But the area isn’t just rich in castles, it’s rich in charming towns where time seems to stand still, and in wineries and vineyards serving some of the most refreshing vin that will ever touch your lips. Whatever your reasons for visiting France, a road trip through the Loire Valley should definitely be added to your itinerary! Here are my tips for exploring this enchanting region of France.

1 – Rent a car:

There is no better way to explore the Loire Valley and all of its amazing towns, castles and vineyards than renting a car. With everything being spread out over such a large area, you’ll want the freedom to choose where to go, and go at your own pace. I recommend at least two – three days in the Loire Valley to allow yourself enough time to get to know the area. You’ll never regret staying an extra day, but you’ll be very sad if you don’t feel you had enough time.

Be aware that renting a car with an automatic transmission in Europe is going to cost you a pretty penny. Unless you select that option and pay big bucks for it, you will be driving a stick shift. If it’s been a while and you want a refresher, ask your friends. Someone is likely to have a car with a manual transmission that you can practice on before hitting the French streets.

2 – Research Before You Go:

This is as important to the success of your road trip as renting a car. Research! As I’ve mentioned above, there is so much to see! Which castles do you want to visit? Which vineyards? Which towns? Where will you stay? How long is the driving distance between attractions? Where will you stop to eat during your adventure? All these questions can be answered before you even leave your American couch with a little research (if research isn’t your thing, consider hiring an expert to handle the logistics! Go to and request your free consultation today!).

You’re going to want to know which specific castles and vineyards you’ll be visiting in advance, and make reservations where applicable. You’ll also want to map out everyplace you’d like to visit and determine the best route to maximize your sightseeing time and minimize drive-times and backtracking. Don’t forget to make time for lunch!

Don’t decide where you’ll stay until you know where you’re going. You aren’t going to want to drive two hours to your lodging after a busy, long day of sightseeing.

3 – Don’t Over-Plan:

When you realize just how many incredible places there are to visit in and around the Loire Valley you may feel overwhelmed and try to cram as much as possible into each day. Don’t. You want to account for drive time, stops for meals or photo opportunities, and allow enough time at each place to be able to explore at a leisurely pace and not feel rushed. I suggest planning no more than 2 – 3 activities per day, and 3 may be pushing it depending on which ones you choose. Allow at least 2 hours at each castle, ideally longer, especially for the larger castles like the Chateau de Chambord. The castle itself is gargantuan, and the grounds are not to be missed.

One of the things I was most grateful for during our Loire Valley road trip was that we hadn’t over-planned. We had enough time to stop when we saw something we wanted to check out, explore the towns outside the castles, and even have an adventure in Tours when we ended up in the least touristy area of town trying to find snacks.

Pro Tip: Prepare for snack cravings! It’s more difficult to find snacks in the more rural areas of France, just like in the U.S. And remember that basically nothing in those small towns is open on Sunday. You’ll need to find a larger town like Tours or Le Mans.

4 – Find Unique Accommodations:

There are so many incredible places to stay in the Loire Valley to add some local flavor to your trip! The last thing you want to do in an area with so many historic buildings and castles is stay at something akin to a Holiday Inn. I recommend checking out three booking engines: AirBnb, VRBO, and Booking. Just a few of the unique opportunities you’ll find are castles, windmills, watermills, farm stays, private rooms in country estates, and countless small properties with more charm and beauty than you could even imagine. It’s such a gorgeous area, don’t do yourself the disservice of staying in some lame-ass hotel!

Pro Tip: If you want a truly authentic French experience find lodging that also offers a home-cooked dinner. There are lots of farm stays and other accommodations where the hosts will make you dinner, generally with local ingredients and a family recipe. Don’t pass up this opportunity! You’ll get a taste of real French cuisine, it’s usually less expensive than going to a restaurant, and what could be better after a day of sightseeing than having dinner waiting when you’re done?! Click here to view our AirBnb in the Loire Valley that includes breakfast and an optional (and exceptional) home-cooked meal by the host, who happens to be an award-winning chef!

5 – Go Wine Tasting:

There are so many vineyards in the Loire Valley, many of them occupying ancient estates with charming chateau. If you go to a country known for its exceptional wine and don’t go wine tasting, you’re Francing wrong. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or a suburban wineo, a wine tasting is not to be missed. The region has varied climates and types of soil, creating a different wine in the differing regions within the valley.

I highly recommend the Chateau de Miniere for at least one of your tastings. Set in an old chateau where you can stay or even host a wedding, you can’t ask for more picturesque surroundings to sample their spectacular wines. Bring your credit card. You’re going to want to ship cases of the stuff back home. It’s that good.

6 – Explore Random Towns:

There are little towns dotting the landscape all over the Loire Valley and they absolutely drip charm and character. Make sure you leave enough time in your itinerary to allow for impromptu exploring each day. You’ll pass through and by so many picturesque little places, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to ignore them. Be advised, however, that English is not as prevalent in the smaller towns, so brush up on a few words in French, do the best you can, and enjoy the experience. Remember, being uncomfortable and vulnerable builds character and makes for some pretty great vacation stories to take home, which are more priceless than any souvenir (though maybe not more priceless than the 1996 vintage at Chateau de Miniere, cause OMG it is orgasmic).

7 – Be a Fancy Bitch:

There are times to get all dolled up and cute, and this is one of them. The photo opportunities in the Loire Valley have no end, and you will regret it if you look like a frumpy American on a road trip. You’ll be exploring places as refined and elegant as you could possibly imagine, and if you haven’t dressed the part of the refined, elegant, regal, boss-ass-bitch you are, you’re going to wish you had. Besides, when will you have another opportunity for a photoshoot in front of a fairytale castle?! Have fun with it!

9 Florence Travel Tips for First Timers

Picture in front of the Duomo of Florence

Florence, the Birthplace of the Renaissance. I was obsessed with The City of Lilies before I ever stepped foot on her cobblestone streets, and my obsession only deepened with each day I spent there. On one side of the Arno River lies the historic center of the city, filled with museums and basilicas, and completely saturated in culture and history. On the other side of the Arno you’ll find charming neighborhoods with flower shops, gardens, and even more history. Wherever you’re exploring, you’ll want to be prepared. Here are 9 Tips to make your first trip to Florence a success!

1 – Brush Up on Your Renaissance History:

Florence is the heart of the Italian Renaissance, and if you don’t have a rudimentary knowledge of that history you’ll miss out on a lot. Botticelli, Michelangelo, the Medici family, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, the Catholic Church, the Bonfire of the Vanities–Florence is so saturated in history you can almost taste it. Going to Florence without knowing her history is like going to a Michelin starred restaurant and asking if they have mozzarella sticks. There’s nothing wrong with mozzarella sticks, I could actually smash some right now, but that would be missing out on the opportunity to try some world-class cuisine, and that’s just criminal. If you’re going all that way, do it right!

The folks at The Culture Trip have compiled a list of 8 books to read before your trip to Florence. Even reading one or two of these books will enhance your experience exponentially!

2 – Screw Fashion, Wear Comfortable Shoes:

I truly cannot stress this enough. Save your sexy shoes for dinner time, and wear something comfortable during the day. Florence is one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring, but the keyword there is walking, and you’re going to be doing a lot of it (several miles per day). I can’t tell you how badly I wished I had a pair of tennis shoes in Florence. I know, I know, you want to be stylish in Europe. I get it. So buy some bangin’ tennis shoes and enjoy not having to spend your money on Band-aids to bandage up your blisters.

3 – Florence is Smaller Than You Might Think:

Florence is a relatively small city, and is centered around the Duomo. Just about everything is walkable, and certainly the main attractions are. I generally recommend staying in the historic center of the city, simply to be close to everything you plan to see and do. However, due to Florence’s smaller size, you may consider staying across the Arno in the Oltrarno neighborhood. It tends to be a bit quieter and the views of the Duomo across the river can’t be beat. You will have a longer walk or need transportation if you go this route, however.

If you want to see the streets of Florence without the crowds, channel your inner early bird! Head out around 7:00 in the morning and you’ll have most of the city to yourself.

4 – Cover Up, Sinners:

If you plan on visiting any of the magnificent churches in Florence, be prepared to cover your legs and shoulders. Dress codes are generally enforced, though some more strictly than others, and it’s best to be prepared. If you’re wearing a tank top be sure to have a wrap with you, and avoid shorts if possible. Jesus just can’t handle your sexiness.

5 – Get Out of the City and Explore Tuscany:

You’re in Tuscany, go explore it! The best way to do that is either by renting a car or by taking a tour (if you’re in excellent shape you could also explore the area surrounding Florence on a bicycle). Renting a car gives you more flexibility, but can be challenging or intimidating depending on your driving experience. Taking a tour eliminates the stress of driving on your own, but limits you to their itinerary and timeline. There’s no right answer here, it just depends on what’s right for you. There are wineries, medieval hilltop towns, natural hot springs, and so much more to explore outside Florence.

6 – Get the Firenze Card:

If you’ll be in the city at least three days and plan to visit several of the top sights, the Firenze Card is the way to go. The Firenze Card is good for 72 hours and costs €85 (you can also add extra days for a fee). It allows free, skip-the-line admission to most of Florence’s many museums and attractions. Keep in mind the Uffizi Gallery alone is €25, so it won’t take long for the Firenze Card to start saving you money. Be sure to check with each museum you plan to attend to see if a scheduled entry time is required.

If your time is short and you’ll only have time for a couple museums, you’ll want to make sure you book your tickets well in advance. Top attractions can sell out weeks ahead of time, and lines can take hours to get through. To book tickets to individual museums, click the links below:

  1. Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo)
  2. Uffizi Gallery
  3. Galleria Dell’Accademia
  4. Bargello Museum
  5. Palazzo Vecchio
  6. Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens

7 – Buy Yourself Some Leather:

Florentine leather is famous, and there are leather shops all over the city. Whether you’re just grabbing a wallet, or you want a new leather jacket, they’ve got it in Florence! In the smaller shops filled primarily with purses and wallets that are on seemingly every street, make sure you haggle on the price. I got a wallet for €20 that he initially wanted to charge me €50 for.

8 – Embrace the Italian Dinner Experience

  • Italians don’t rush through dinner, it’s sacred, an event, and is meant to be savored. Take your time, enjoy every course, reminisce about your day, just relax. The waiters will not be pestering you to leave.
  • Dinner begins no earlier than 8:00 – 8:30 in the evening, and they stop seating around 11:00 – 11:30.
  • You’ll never be interrupted by annoying waiters asking how your meal is or if you’d like another refill, it’s considered rude to interrupt someone’s meal. But don’t worry, whenever you need something, the waiters are always nearby, ready to help without being intrusive.
  • Tipping isn’t necessary, but small amounts are appreciated! Every time you sit at a table you’re charged, usually per person. It’s called a coperto, and it’s essentially a cover charge. Although tipping is not customary in Italy, rounding up or giving an extra 5-10% is appreciated for exceptional service.
  • Coffee is basically a shot. Italians don’t sit in coffee shops sipping giant mugs of coffee. They buy their coffee at the counter, chug it, and go. If you want to sit down with your brew you’ll have to pay a coperto. And don’t ask for milk with it in the afternoon, that’s just not how they roll.
  • Your pizza will not be cut when they give it to you. This is more of a side note than a tip, really, but it confused the hell out of me, so I’m sharing it with you. They do not slice pizza, they just give you the whole pie with regular silverware and then you’re on your own. Totally worth it, that pizza is amazing.
  • If you want the most authentic experience and best food, avoid eating in high-tourist areas. Generally, you’ll want to walk at least a few blocks away. The best places to eat will have a smaller menu with no food pictures, and prices will be listed. It never hurts to ask some of the locals where their favorite places to eat are! They know best!
Toast in Florence Italy

9 – Spend Wisely and Come Prepared:

You’ll want a variety of options when going to Florence. Make sure any credit cards you bring have a PIN, as those without may not be accepted at many locations. ATMs are everywhere, but you’ll want to get some euros from your bank before you go. Be sure to allow a few days for the bank to receive the funds. While you’re at the bank, ask which ATMs will incur the lowest fees, and notify them (and any other credit card companies) of your travel dates so they don’t think your card has been stolen when it starts making purchases in Italy.

While in Florence, always pay in local currency. Sometimes you’ll be offered the option to pay in U.S. currency, and it’s usually presented as a benefit for you. It’s not, it’s a scam. It allows the vendor to set the exchange rate and fees, and will always be higher than the rate your bank will charge.

Ladycations LLC: Take a Vacation, Save Humanity

Those of you who have been following Ladycations (thank you so much!) know how passionate I am about traveling and exploring. We women are natural caretakers, but we often neglect to care for ourselves. We get lost in our routines, attending to everyone else’s needs and desires first, often running ourselves into exhaustion and burnout. Taking a step back, getting a break from the day-to-day routine, afforded me the distance necessary to separate my authentic, genuine self, my own dreams and passions and goals, from the role I play as mom, daughter, sister, friend, and worker. My Ladycations leave me emotionally and mentally detoxed and ready to tackle life with a renewed spirit and sense of purpose. Prioritizing these experiences has enriched my life immeasurably, and made me a better mom, daughter, sister, friend, and worker. It’s the ultimate form of self-care.

The other piece of travel that brings me joy, and is perhaps now more important than ever, is simply stepping out of our bubbles for a little while. We all live in one. Whether it’s a mom bubble, or a political bubble, an internet bubble, we’re all limited by the same thing: our own perspective. It’s easy to sit behind our computer screens or smart phones and think we know everything about everything, mistaking information for knowledge. We pass judgement, we pick sides, we surround ourselves with people and ideas that reinforce our preconceived opinions, and avoid anything that makes us uncomfortable. Technology has provided a lot of advantages, but it’s leaving us all at a disadvantage when we replace actual human experience with cyber-experience.

Traveling to new places forces us out of our comfort zones, out of those bubbles that keep us ignorant, and often challenges our way of thinking or viewing the world. It opens our minds and our hearts to new possibilities; broadens perspective by putting us in unfamiliar, new places; and gives us a sense of the wider, global community to which we all belong. Personal growth doesn’t stop just cause we’re adults (or it sure as hell shouldn’t), and growth doesn’t happen in stagnation. If we all took more vacations, caring for ourselves and our world just that little bit more, we’d create a wiser, kinder, more cohesive people. Taking that vacation you’ve been putting off could literally save humanity, sister.

Most of us push travel off, viewing it as a luxury as opposed to a necessity. If a several-year global pandemic taught me anything (alright, it actually taught me a lot of things) it’s that travel is necessary. It’s good for our mental health, our spiritual health, and that makes it good for our physical health. The question shouldn’t be, “Can I afford to take a vacation?” it should be, “Can I afford not to?” The answer is no, you cannot.

Obviously, not everyone has the time or desire to spend hours researching and planning a vacation. I find it fun, others would rather have a root canal. While I can’t solve the world’s problems, and I can’t make the responsibilities and obligations weighing you down disappear, I can plan the hell out of a vacation! And with that, the announcement: Ladycations LLC, the sister to Ladycations, will open on April 17th as a full service independent travel agency in the Avoya Travel Network! I’ve been studying and learning how best to serve my amazing future clients and am so excited to start helping all you badass women explore our amazing world! Travel, my sisters, travel!

Don’t have time to plan? I got you. Want to travel, but don’t know where to begin? That’s my jam. Just need someone to handle the logistics? Yep, on it. Want to ensure you’re getting the best deal and exclusive travel perks? You’ve come to the right place! Whatever kind of trip you’re dreaming of taking, Ladycations has you covered. A wellness retreat, a tropical resort, a wilderness adventure, a cruise, a road trip, from solo travel to group trips, extended vacations and sabbaticals to weekend getaways, you name it! I will cultivate a custom itinerary and take care of all the arrangements to give you an experience focused on your passions, your goals, your dreams, so all you’ll have to pack your bags.

Need dinner reservations? Tickets to a show? Hiking suggestions? Yep, Ladycations LLC does that, too. When you plan your trip with Ladycations you’ll receive personalized service and recommendations, and know that every moment of your trip was carefully created just for you. You work your tail off taking care of everyone all year. Let Ladycations take care of you. Let’s start planning your dream getaway today!

Ladycations LLC is an independent travel agency in the Avoya Travel Network, a member of the American Society of Travel Advisors and the Cruise Line International Association. I have obtained TAP certification with The Travel Institute, a Master’s from Norwegian Cruise Line University, achieved Commodore Rank from Princess Cruise Line Academy specializing in Alaskan and European Cruises! Click here or go to if you’d like more information on available services, or to request a consultation. In the meantime, where are you dreaming of going? What’s your ideal Ladycation? Leave your answers in the comments below!

9 Paris Travel Tips for First Timers

Paris is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s beautiful, romantic, and filled with culture and history just begging to be explored. As with most big cities in Europe (and beyond, really) you’ll want to watch out for pickpockets in high tourist areas, and use the Metro to get around if possible. But if you’re heading to Paris for the first time, you want to make the most of your experience. No one wants to make rookie mistakes, so check out these 9 travel tips to help make your trip a success!

1 – Stay in the City Center:

If you’re a budget-conscious traveler you may be considering staying outside the main city center to save on lodging. I’m here to tell you that’s a terrible idea and you’ll regret it tremendously. I did the same thing. We stayed outside the city, and even had a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, but the time and money we spent just getting into the city was absolutely not worth it. In addition to the wasted time, figuring out the train ticketing is a lot more complicated when you have to switch lines outside the city center.

Paris is very spread out, and has many different neighborhoods, or arrondissements, so map out what you want to see in advance, and try to stay someplace near the middle. Plan what you want to see each day to minimize walking and backtracking. You’ll never run out of things to see and do, no matter where in Paris you explore!

2 – Visit the Eiffel Tower at Night:

Regardless of what time of day you decide to actually go into the Eiffel Tower, make sure you stop by at night to watch the Twinkle Show. Beginning at nightfall and continuing once per hour for five minutes until 1:00am tens of thousands of lights dance and make the whole tower twinkle. It’s magical. You can see it from many locations in the city, but it’s fun to take a bottle of wine and watch it up close and personal. Just beware the people obnoxiously selling overpriced beverages and souvenirs.

3 – Wear Comfortable Shoes:

Alright, I know this is on all the lists out there, but it bears repeating. It really is important to wear comfy shoes, even though you might be wanting to opt for fashion over function in one of the fashion capitals of the world. Save your sexy shoes for the evening, and wear something comfortable during the day. You’ll be doing a lot of walking (we averaged about 5-6 miles per day). Don’t ruin your experience with improper footwear. I can’t tell you how much I wished I’d brought a pair of tennis shoes with me.

4 – Spend Wisely and Come Prepared:

You’ll want a variety of options when going to Paris. Make sure any credit cards you bring have a PIN, as those without may not be accepted at many locations. ATMs are everywhere, but you’ll want to get some euros from your bank before you go. Be sure to allow a few days for the bank to receive the funds. While you’re at the bank, ask which ATMs will incur the lowest fees, and notify them (and any other credit card companies) of your travel dates so they don’t think your card has been stolen when it starts making purchases in France.

While in Paris, always pay in local currency. Sometimes you’ll be offered the option to pay in U.S. currency, and it’s usually presented as a benefit for you. It’s not, it’s a scam. It allows the vendor to set the exchange rate and fees, and will always be higher than the rate your bank will charge.

5 – Go Antiquing or Thrifting:

Thrifting and antiquing are extra fun in Paris. Each shop is filled with pieces of the city’s history, each object has a story, and you can get much cooler, more authentic souvenirs than any of the tourist shops! One of my biggest regrets is not buying one of the antique silver spoons I found in a little antique shop near Versailles. Plus, you’re supporting the locals, not giant corporations!

6 – Have a Splurge Day:

It’s Paris. I don’t care how budget-conscious you are, if you’re not budgeting for one day/evening to treat yourself, you’re not doing Paris right. Eat at a Michelin star restaurant, or take a dinner cruise. Take in an opera or ballet. Don’t go to Paris without being a fancy bitch at least once! We did two fancy nights in Paris and they were worth every penny. When we went to the Bar Hemingway at the Hotel Ritz we intended to have a single drink. We were having so much fun we each had a second drink, and we stayed for several hours. It was my favorite night in Paris. So treat yourself, woman! You deserve it!

7 – Buy the Paris Museum Pass:

If you’re there to see Paris’s many museums, get the Paris Museum Pass to save time and money. You can pick from a Pass that’s valid for 2, 4 or 6 days, which allow free entry to most of the top attractions in and around Paris (except the Eiffel Tower). For example, we saw the Musee d’Orsay, Musee de l’Orangerie, the Louvre, Versailles, and the Musee de l’Armee. Individually that would have cost each of us €81.50. Instead, we bought the Paris Pass for €70 a piece. Had we stayed in the city center and been able to see more places we’d have saved more. Definitely worth it. Most museums allow skip-the-line access to Paris Pass holders, but check with each one to see if you need to reserve a time to enter.

8 – Leave Time for Exploring:

A certain level of planning is necessary to make your trip to Paris a success, but don’t over-plan every day. Leave time in your day to just explore. Aimlessly wander the Montmatre neighborhood, walk into every random church you pass by, stop by that cute cafe you see, peruse a little boutique, rest in the Tuileries Gardens with a picnic. There’s so much to see and do in Paris, you’ll want to leave time to just explore it!

Want to explore without the massive crowds? The early bird gets the worm on that front. Wake up with the sun and go walking the streets before 7:00am and you’ll have them mostly to yourself. You can always take a rest or break at your hotel in the afternoon when the top attractions are busiest.

9 – Watch the Sunset From Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur is a church on top of a hill in Montmatre. It overlooks the whole city. Pack a picnic and a bottle of wine and watch the sunset over Paris. It’s a great place for people watching and the view can’t be beat (except maybe from the top of the Eiffel Tower)!

Wine, Cats, and Panic Attacks: Our Farewell to Europe

We awoke in Florence on our last day of vacation with mixed feelings. We were so sad to be leaving Florence, and even sadder to be leaving Europe in a day, but we were also excited for the final adventure of our trip. We were up early, packed and waiting for our taxi before most of the city was stirring. We’d spend our final day of the trip exploring the rest of Tuscany, so off we went to pick up our rental car and embark on the second road trip of our epic Ladycation, as we began to bid a sad farewell to Europe.

We arrived at Sicily By Car right on time, but ended up waiting over an hour for them to bring our car down. We had a reservation at a vineyard that afternoon, so the delay meant giving up one of the two towns we’d planned to explore in between. I was not pleased. The girls had been looking forward to seeing Volterra since I first told them we were going there, and I didn’t want to let them down, so I decided we would skip San Gimignano, which was on my bucket list, and was the primary reason I wanted to do a Tuscan road trip. Another reason I’ll just have to go back.

When we got to Volterra I received my first reality check about Tuscany’s “rolling hills.” They may look like gentle, mild slopes in pictures, but that is not the case when you’re trying to get up to a hilltop town. It was hot and humid and we were staring up at Volterra from the parking area halfway down the hill. By this time, my feet were so sore and swollen I was having a hard time walking and wearing shoes (this turned out to be due to a more serious medical problem than I knew at the time, but that’s another story, and it ends with, I’m fine now). The last thing on the planet that I wanted to do was to climb a goddamn hill, but fuck my feet, I went anyway, cause I’m a boss-ass bitch, not a whiny quitter.

Volterra was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. A medieval, walled town with a fortress, and every building dating back centuries. After the fall of the Republic of Florence in 1530 Volterra had come under Medici control. As we walked I realized I may have missed out on seeing San Gimignano, but I got one last taste of Medici history for the road. Grazie mille, Italia!

We needed lunch, so we found a place to grab a bite in the main piazza. The girls had been looking forward to Volterra not because of its Medici history or architecture, but because of its movie history. Volterra was basically vampire headquarters in the Twilight series, and both Liv and Carey grew up in the Team-Edward-or-Team-Jacob generation. As we waited for our food to arrive, the girls hilariously reenacted a scene from Twilight: New Moon, much to the confusion of everyone else in the piazza. Another bonus to picking Volterra as our one Tuscan town: watching my daughter gleefully nerd-out over sparkly vampire movies. Just as priceless as a check mark on my bucket list.

After we ate lunch, we bid Volterra farewell and hopped back in our rental car to continue on our Tuscan Road Trip. Tuscany, with the rolling hills dotted with cypress trees, olive groves, and row upon row of grapevine was even more stunning in person than the pictures would suggest. The hills and the atmosphere play with the light in such a way as to make the entire landscape almost look like it’s glowing.

We drove over, and around, up and down, to our next stop at the Montemercurio Winery just outside Montepulciano. Montemercurio is a family owned winery and vineyard with a very small, intimate staff, and exceptional wines, set on a hilltop overlooking the picturesque Tuscan countryside. Two cats formed the welcome committee when we arrived, and Olivia was instantly overjoyed. Across the hills I could see a rainstorm slowly making its way across the landscape, and as I stood there I just couldn’t fathom how we were supposed to walk away from someplace so spectacular in less than 24 hours.

We went inside and were greeted by the lovely Irene, who would guide us through our tasting. She was friendly, had a great sense of humor, and she knew her shit. We tried 7 varieties of wine, plus some Grapa, which is essentially Italian moonshine. Every single one was better than the last, and we were in absolute heaven.

Once we’d sampled each of their magnificent wines I stepped outside for a cigarette and to take a few more photos. Olivia and Carey stayed inside talking with Irene, and at one point I heard her say I didn’t look old enough to be Liv’s mom, which cemented her place in my heart as my very favorite Italian.

Everywhere I looked was postcard-perfect. The puffy clouds in the blue sky, the greens and tans of the rolling Tuscan hills, the table under the lights just begging a family to sit down for a meal, and the little old lady who appeared on a balcony as I was snapping pictures. I didn’t understand a word she said, but I felt certain it was along the lines of, “How can you leave this paradise, you stupid American?!” I don’t know, nonna. I don’t like it either.

I went back inside as the girls were finalizing their purchase, and purchased a couple bottles to take home, myself. Irene was even more horrified than we were to learn we only had one day in Tuscany. We talked a little bit about what it was like to work there, and she ended up offering me a job. I’m sure she jokingly offers jobs to all the tourists who gush over how badly they want to stay, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me pause. Yes, yes I would like to move to Tuscany and handle the administrative work for this little hilltop vineyard with the friendly cats, charming employees, stunning views, and endless supply of bomb-ass wine, but I have to get back to my responsibilities in Merica. I wanted to cry… Again…

As if we didn’t love her enough already, Irene asked where we were staying and suggested a restaurant. She even called the restaurant and made us a reservation, so all we had to do was show up. Irene was the embodiment of the warmth and charm of Tuscany. She was fantastica. Grazie mille, Irene and Montemercurio!

We were settling into our AirBnb as the sun began to set. The actual apartment is something of a blur. We spent less than 12 hours physically inside it, most of which were spent sleeping. What I do remember is that it was a very old, charming building in a tiny town, it was decorated nicely, had a large patio, snacks, and lots of barking dogs in the neighboring yard. It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and comfortable and so very Italian.

Driving in the dark on the twisting, turning roads of Tuscany is not exactly my favorite thing. The locals, who are used to those narrow, winding roads, fly around the corners like they’re playing Mario Kart, and I was still struggling to figure out which gear I needed to be in. By the time we hit the switchbacks leading up to Montepulciano where our restaurant awaited I was actively fighting off a full-blown panic attack. When we finally parked the car I was shaking so badly I could hardly open the car door, and I immediately burst into tears. “Mom, it’s okay, you did it! We made it! We’re alive!” Olivia reassured me as we started walking towards the restaurant.

Once again, everything was delicious. Since it was our last real meal in Europe, we did it right. Wine, dessert, the whole thing. Were it not so chilly outside we may have stayed longer, but ultimately we decided to head back to the AirBnb, as we had to get an early start in the morning.

When we woke up none of us had the spark of joy and energy we’d had each previous day. We showered and got dressed, did a final check to ensure we weren’t forgetting anything, loaded up the rental car, and started driving towards Rome. It was a couple hours until we reached Leonardo da Vinci Airport, and I’d smoked my last cigarette early that morning. By the time we got there I was already craving one, but still had about 12 hours of traveling to do before I’d be able to satisfy that urge (though I did save a couple butts that I smoked in the smoking lounge at the airport, cause desperate times and all that…).

We’d purchased the cheapest airfare available, and we paid for it on the way home when we were all separated, each of us in a different middle seat. I spent 8 hours sandwiched between two enormous men, both of whom hogged the armrests to the point they were elbowing me in the side, and I spent 7 of those hours trying to control my nicotine-withdrawal-fueled rage with my arms folded across my chest. The last hour I’d had it and I aggressively pushed their elbows off the armrests and claimed both for myself, cause fuck those guys. I was, by this point, ready to be home, though I still wished my home were in Italy.

We ultimately landed safely in Cleveland, and although I was strangely surprised the gas station attendant by my house spoke such excellent English, I got my cigarettes and was sufficiently nicotined and snuggling my lonely cats in no time. It felt weird to be home, familiarity itself felt unfamiliar. It would take a few days to get used to, but eventually we settled back into our American routines. A year and a half later, we’ve all even eaten at Olive Garden again, something we swore we’d never do again while actually in Italy. I’d be ashamed, but damn that Alfredo sauce and breadsticks are delicious. Not Italian, but fucking delicious.

Thank you for joining us on our first International Ladycation! I hope you enjoyed following along with our journey, and that you’ll come back to see where we go next! One thing’s for sure, this wasn’t our last overseas trip. Our epic European Ladycation might have created Euro-travel junkies out of all three of us.

Don’t forget to subscribe to stay up to date on the latest travel tips, trips and tales! Till next time, stay chill, and keep hiking, my friends! Ciao, bellas.