Where to Take Photos in Santorini

We love photography and we took pictures most of our time in Santorini, more than any other activity. And I’m okay with that.

Knowing this, it’s only fitting that we were first inspired to go to Greece when my sister and I watched America’s Next Top Model 6 years ago. It was one of the most beautiful places we had ever seen and we knew we wanted to go there.

Fast forward to now, we would’ve never imagined we’d have the chance to visit Greece so soon. We also saw the reason why the studio chose Greece as their setting for the show. You could literally take photos anywhere, and it’d be an amazing shot.

Santorini is home of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history 3,600 years ago. You can see the remnants of the eruption within the lava enriched soil and the jagged edges of the cliffs surrounding the water-filled caldera. With great catastrophe, great beauty was born. From its volcanic time until now, Santorini has been built up to what it is known to be today: dramatic mountain edges strewn with white buildings in stark contrast to the dark lava rocks, magnificent turquoise waters surrounding the island, and blue topped churches alongside ancient ruins that make this island one of the top, picturesque luxury vacation destinations in the world.

We stayed in Imerovigli, the “Balcony of Santorini”. It has the most stunning view of the caldera on the island, and where you see majority of the photos taken of infinity pools overlooking the sea. Thanks to Instagram, we were inspired to stay here at On the Rocks Hotel and lucky to have the chance to enjoy that view firsthand.

It’s such a calm, quiet, gorgeous town, you literally feel like you’re walking in a dream especially with the light haze that surround the island. Imagine Themyscira island in Wonder Woman; an oasis hidden from the outside world and has the same fantasy-like characteristics, but in real life.

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I dream of Santorini

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9pXyF4j0Wx5AcDTpNNNkYj7hmpTkUKU4KzqkuJf-PTk=Sunset stroll in Imerovigli

The next day, we went rode our ATV to Oía (pronounced “Ee-ya”). Here, majority of the tourist magazine photos are taken, with good reason.

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America’s Next Top Model

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Last, we watched the sunset at Ammoudi Bay. The reds and oranges and yellows mixed perfectly with the haze, setting the fiery scene of the volcanic island. It was the perfect ending to our trip, as we rode off with the sun setting in our rear view mirror and Santorini dreams forever in our souls.

Important Notes:
○ Do not damage any archaeological sites while taking your photos. Respect the history and culture, and allow people to admire the sites for many more years to come.
○ Stay safe and use risk management; don’t take any unnecessary risks or compromise your safety for your photographs.
○ Take photos for your memories, but also know when to out the camera down so you can make the most out of the moment and fully take in the beauty that surrounds you. Those moments only last once, and can be best enjoyed not behind a screen.

What places did you love taking photos in? Share some of your photos in the comments below!

Love Always,
Liz Friday

Beautiful Chances in Zagarolo

“Best place to stay to train into Rome,” I typed into Google.

Train station; train station; where is the nearest train station?, I searched for with nearby hotels on Google Maps.

It was the week of the Italian road trip my family and I were about to set off on. More like the day before. We hadn’t booked any hotels at any of our main stops, and we weren’t sure if they’d accept us because we didn’t even know what time we were going to arrive at each city we were planning to stay overnight at.

“So you’re just going to wing it?” Chaplain C asked me.

“Yes sir, I am.” I assured him.

This whole trip my family was on to visit me was planned in a way contrary to what I’m used to, where this time, I didn’t plan a thing.

I had burnt myself out throughout my career trying to overplan things, even when it came to planning trips where everything was decided weeks out, by the hour, and we had to make every stop no matter what.

This time I told my family about how I was feeling and asked them to send me what they wanted to do. I wasn’t going to make a schedule, book hotels, no excel sheets, phone calls, no Google searches of the best places to take them where there’d be calculating of costs and figuring out if they were something they wanted to do. I offered that I would take care of transportation and that was it. And this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

It was a month out and my family hadn’t sent anything yet. They wanted to spend time with me and that was it. I love them and that’s what I wanted as well, but the planner in me felt this urgent need to want to show them Italy so they could see the most out of their time here. I had to restrain. And I’m thankful that I did.

It was my brother who ended up sending the list of things he wanted to do. “Get lost in Venice. Hike the Cinque Terre Trail. Eat pizza in Naples.” My father chimed in on the group chat and said, “See the Pope in Rome!”

And that’s how this amazing road trip got started.

So back to the day before, we still didn’t know where we were going to stay. My sister and I conversed and we decided that if we thought we were going to make it to a city in time for check-in, we would book a hotel the day of.

First overnight stay, Cinque Terre. We slept over at an Autogrill because we were projected to arrive at 3 a.m.

Second overnight stay, Rome. ‘Okay, I think we can make it by a reasonable time; we should book a hotel.’ I thought to myself.

We chose a place called Olive Tree Hill B&B in Zagarolo because it was one of the cities on the map on the outskirts of Rome that was near a train station. Public transportation was easy in Rome, so what better way than to train into Rome so that I didn’t have to pay expensive amounts for parking.

We also chose this B&B because of the heartfelt, personal reviews of the accommodation. “Ivano and Terhi made us feel welcomed.” “Ivano and Terhi gave us the real Italian experience.” “Best bed and breakfast near Rome and I would go back in a heartbeat.”

With these personal reviews, the B&B allowing us to have a later check-in than 3 p.m., and being close to the train station, we were sold.

Shortly after booking a room at the B&B, Ivano messaged me right away with a welcoming message offering directions to the B&B and to text him any time we needed help finding it or if our estimated time of arrival would change. We had a prompt exchange of information for the logistics, and we were set.

A sigh of relief. Cool, so we’re going to arrive by 10 p.m., sleep, and train into Rome in the morning.

Funny thing is that in life, things don’t always go to plan, but results in a way as if it was the grand plan all along.

We ended up arriving to the B&B at 1 a.m. instead of 10 p.m., conversing with Ivano the whole time as we neared the destination, and was welcomed by his wife Terhi who patiently waited for our arrival and helped us settle into our room with no complaints or strife. She let us know that they would be making free breakfast the next morning and that if it was okay with us, it would be at 8:30 a.m. because that was the time she was going to make breakfast for the other guests. With that and a hot shower, the one thing went to plan was that we slept, and we slept comfortably.

The next morning, we ended up not taking a train into Rome and decided that we were going to drive because the earliest train that was a 1 1/2 hour ride didn’t leave until 10:30 a.m. and we needed to be there by 11:30 a.m. to try to make the mass in Vatican City (which starts at 10:30 a.m. by the way; I misread the mass times).

Amidst the change of plans, what we did get to look forward to was free breakfast and getting to meet Ivano and Terhi who has been so warmly spoken of in all of the reviews.

We walked downstairs and we were greeted with warm smiles from Ivano and Terhi and the other guests. The table was all laid out with homemade food or fresh food from the town and we instantly felt a good feeling as we walked in.

We gathered together in the room and my mom, a friendly conversationalist in nature, started to talk to and get to know the other guests. Stacie and Paul, we found out, were two friends from Washington who had worked together previously at national news stations and was here in Italy to work on a video project with Ivano and Terhi. Stacie had found out about this B&B previously much like the way we did, and she wanted to come back to start a project that stemmed from Ivano and Terhi’s hospitality.

They wanted to capture the “unseen Italy” Ivano had introduced to them on personalized tours he brought them on. Walking around Rome at midnight after the city had cleared out, hikes to ancient Roman aqueducts invisible to the untrained eye, temples hundreds of people revered even before the Coliseum now standing quietly on its own in neighboring towns.

Terhi chimed in with even more amazing history that I was not aware of, beaming about the people who lived in the area of Rome even before the Romans, showed us books my family and I admired that illustrated how ancient ruins looked like in its prime, and showed us through her recollection of history that we’re all really connected if we look back far enough.

Now, this short story has been titled “Beautiful Chances in Zagarolo” for a reason. Our short meeting together was a result of a series of perfectly timed chances. The chance that without planning it, Terhi from Finland had met Ivano who grew up here in Italy, got married, and grew their home and family in this country. The chance that Stacie found this home that was made into a B&B, and her deciding to come back to start this project. The chance that my family and I stayed at this B&B on this exact date, meeting everyone at this exact time. The chance that Ivano and Terhi were looking for travel bloggers, something I had been pursuing and looking for opportunities in, to expand on their project even further. The chance that we were all here together at the right place, at the right time, knowing that this would be a catalyst or turning point for all of us in our lives.

We got up getting ready to leave as Ivano and Terhi were preparing for a family party, and we were heading to Rome. We all exchanged contact information knowing that we would be in touch soon (which I can say we have been) and said goodbye to each other as if we were old friends with a complete sense of comfort that this moment was meant to happen.

“This was my favorite part of this trip,” my brother perfectly stated, filled with a warm familial feeling, in words that were on all of our minds as we settled into the car.

“Ours too,” we all agreed and we set off for the rest of our beautiful road trip through Italy.

Italy Road Trip!

3 1/2 days. One list of places to see. Endless memories.

I love my family and I am thankful they make time to travel with me everywhere I go around the world. They visited me in Italy and we decided to go on a road trip to see all the places on their list of what they wanted to see. Here is what blossomed from it all:

The List

o   Get lost in Venice
o   See an Italian soccer game
o   Hike the Cinque Terre Trail
o   Eat two scoops of gelato daily
o   Eat pizza in Naples
o   Go to a big mall

Itinerary

Friday

Afternoon
o   Got lost in Venice
o   Rode on a gondola with a gondolier who has worked in the business for 17 years and it has been in his family for hundreds more. The gondolier owns the beautiful gondola that has their Ferro family crest (can fit up to 6 people; 80€ total for the whole group during the day/100€ total at night)

Evening
o   Picked up my sister from the airport and drove to La Spezia for Cinque Terre (3 hrs 46 min)
o   Slept over at an Autogrill parking lot

Saturday

Morning
o   Ate breakfast at Autogrill

o   Parked at a paid parking spot (marked with blue lines) near the La Spezia train station (0.80€/hr)
o   Walked to the train station
o   Bought a 5 Terre Express pass (16€ each; covers train tickets for each town, free bathroom use in the five towns not including La Spezia, provides a WiFi password, and provides public transportation in each town)

Afternoon
o   Walked around and ate at Monterosso and Manarola
o   Spontaneously decided to swim at Manarola
o   Took the train back to La Spezia
o   Drove to Pisa (59 min)
o   Took our Pisa Pics

Evening
o   Drove to Rome through Tuscany (4 hrs 18 min)
o   Arrived in Zagarolo and stayed overnight at Olive Tree Hill B&B

Sunday

Morning
o   Beautiful chances in Zagarolo (Short Story Here)
o   Drove into the city of Rome (52 min)
o   Sightsaw St. Peter’s Basilica and Square (you’ll wait in line to enter, so drink a lot of water and bring snacks so you don’t overheat!)

Afternoon
o   Ate lunch at Egg Pasta Fresca near Vatican City (very tasty, affordable quick stop pasta)
o   Made reservations at Cul de Sac Enoteca for dinner (wine bar in a trendy hangout street full of restaurants, gelaterias, and bars with an expansive wine list and great meals)

Evening
o   Parked for free near the river in the paid parking stalls (free on Sundays!)
o   Walked over and ate at Cul de Sac with my sister’s friend and her family
o   Ate amazing chocolate shell covered gelato at La Gelateria Frigidarium

o   Walked to and took pictures at the Trevi Fountain
o   Drove by the Coliseum where my mom and brother took photos
o   Drove towards Naples
o   Slept for a few hours at an Autogrill parking lot

Monday

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Morning
o   Drove the rest of the way to Naples (2 hrs 14 min from Rome)
o   Dropped my sister off at the airport
o   Rested at a gas station (3 hrs)
o   Parked in Naples (driving in the city is not for the faint of heart!)
o   Ate pizza at Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples which is believed to be the world’s first pizzeria (best pizza I’ve ever had)

Afternoon
o   Drove back up north (8 hrs 3 min total)
o   Took a nap (45 min)
o   Drove up and stopped in the outskirts of Florence (mistook the big grocery store for the big mall :P)
o   Took an nap (1 hr)
o   Arrived back to our starting point

Total Costs

Transportation
Personal car (no rental costs)
Public Transportation/Train and Gondola: $176
Gas: $400 (1.53€ per liter/$6.50 per gallon, May 2017)
[Total road trip approx. 19 hrs 36 min/1900 km or 1181 miles]
Tolls and Parking ≈ $100

Lodging

$112

Food/Miscellaneous
≈  $250

Total ≈ $1,038 or $260/person

Key Takeaways

Best food experiences:
o   Food and wine was so fresh at any restaurant you went to in Cinque Terre
o   Pizza from Naples was the freshest, best pizza I’ve ever had
o   When you think gelato can’t get any better, dip it in chocolate and your whole world is changed

Where I would live in the future: Cinque Terre (lively, beautiful, near the sea)

Favorite moments: Talks with my family on the road and admiring the scenery and shooting stars. Our meaningful experience in Zagarolo and eating dinner with friends in Rome

Tips:

o   Autogrills are your best friends (big Autogrills have a gas station, restaurant, restrooms, showers, and free WiFi)
o   You don’t need to see everything at every place; choose key places you really want to see and do what is comfortable for you. We almost saw everything on the initial list, didn’t get to see some, but we wouldn’t change a thing
o   Take breaks in between driving and rest when you need to

Prepare and plan, but don’t overplan and stress. Live in the moment, share those moments with those you are surrounded by, and let life happen.

~~~

What do you think? What road trips are you interested in taking?

Love Always,
Liz Friday

My Go-To Spring & Fall Packing List!

I have a page in my bullet journal (http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/why-bullet-journaling-genius-idea) to refer to as my go-to packing list and I always have everything I need for a trip. It all fits in a backpack or a carry-on of your choosing, and it’s easy to carry around especially if you want to get somewhere quickly. If you ever need something to start with on what to pack for your next trip especially in the Spring or Fall, check out and customize my list below!

  • Cell phone
  • Charger 
  • International adapter
  • SIM card or international data plan
  • Passport
  • Important documents (visas, addresses/phone numbers, entry paperwork, etc.)
  • Check-in and booking confirmation
  • Purse or wallet
  • Fanny pack or SPIbelt 
  • Cash/Make a travel notification to your bank for debit/credit cards
  • Keys
  • Toothbrush and toiletries bag (toothpaste, brush, personal hygiene items, etc.)
  • Jacket
  • Sweaters
  • Shirts
  • Pants
  • Nice, going out outfit
  • Socks (thick & thin)
  • Top underwear
  • Bottom underwear
  • Boots or walking shoes
  • Scarf
  • Beanie
  • Gloves (light)
  • Travel pillow
  • Travel blanket
  • Leggings or thermal underwear
  • Swimsuit (Growing up on an island, you never know when you need one. More practically, you might see a spa or pool you want to go to and you can use it there)
  • Towel
  • Chapstick
  • Umbrella
  • Reusable bag
  • Slippers
  • Selfie stick/tripod
  • Glasses/sunglasses
  • TSA approved lock for backpack or carry-on
  • Adventure hat optional but encouraged

*All packed in a carry-on for easy travel

What are your go-to items for travel?

Love Always,
Liz Friday

Midnight in Paris: City of Lights, Love, and Pig Feet

We arrived at our final destination, the Tour Eiffel, and it was as beautiful, and magnificent, and even bigger than life than in the photos. I neared towards it and the whole time I was so thankful that my layover was at night to allow me to see her illuminate the sky. The twinkling of the lights layered over the tower like a well-fitted dress so the whole world can glamour over her beauty. Couples wandered by, vendors sold their light-up mini Eiffel Towers, and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” blasted from lit-up taxi bikes that passed by.

Paris was mixed with old and new, art museums and dance clubs, young and old walking the city streets at night. I passed by tourists like myself snapping photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and a rat scurrying by the path down to the river that made me briefly think of the movie “Ratatouille”. Watching it run, I imagined that it was racing to get to its restaurant as quickly as possible to make it in time to make a meal for the guests’ reservation that night.

The beautiful thing was that although by this time it was nearing 1 a.m., everyone who was walking around the city passed each other had their own stories they were crafting into the pages of the night so no one bothered one another, and we were just living out our lives.

I reached the Louvre right before the pyramid’s lights turned off for the night, enough to get a glimpse of its beauty before it went to sleep that night. A lot smaller than I imagined, I thought to myself, but it was beautiful and calming and peaceful nonetheless. I continued to walk down the streets and it was an odd and exciting sensation, being both the tourist and an observer at the same time, as if I was a person looking into the fish bowl that I swimming in as I caught a sight of how I fit into this picturesque night.

My last stop for this evening was a 24/7 restaurant in Les Halles, a district known for their food since before the 19th century. As a traveler whose destinations are driven by food majority of the time, I knew I wanted to eat here. It was called the Au Pied de Cochon known for its Parisian feel and its commitment to traditional French cuisine that locals often visited here after hours.

I knowingly ordered snails because I couldn’t leave Paris without trying their escargot, and unknowingly ordered pig’s feet labeled as “pig’s trotter” because it was under the restaurant’s specialties section. Oh now ‘trotter’ makes sense, as I looked down at the pig’s foot in hindsight.

Even though the meals I ordered were not of the ordinary, I appreciated the care that the French chefs had put into making these meals (over 15 hours of preparation), to be served even at 3 in the morning, and the very cordial waiter who made me feel welcomed from the very beginning (imagine Lumière from Beauty and the Beast but in real-life and nothing short of a gentleman).

After being filled with délicieux (a word my waiter taught me) French cuisine and wonderful memories of Paris, I grew tired and decided to take a bus back to the airport instead of the original plan on the metro, again passing locals and all walks of life simultaneously living out their masterpieces within every moment. I felt like I was a part of them, and we were wandering in the world together.

As I bid my surroundings adieu, I boarded the blue city bus, the lights that remained of the city dimmed, and I laid my head onto the seat; I then drifted into sleep and I knew that I would dream of Paris long after this night was over.

Getting Lost in Venice and Having a Great Time Under 40€!

Whoever coined the phrase to “get lost in Venice”, has got to have given the best advice ever.

Not only are you living in the moment of walking around the beautiful city, taking in all of the amazing sights, you also find unique hole in the walls far from tourist traps that can make your trip an affordable dream come true.

Getting lost and going where are feet took us led my friend and I to,

  • Train ticket to Venice – 6.60€ (Euro)
  • Espresso – 1.00€
  • Capuccino – 1.50€
  • Meal and drink (Chicken cutlet, fries, and water) – 10€
  • Gelato – 1.50€
  • Bottle of wine enjoyed at a dock on the Grand Canal – 10€ (There were some as low as 5€ and still very good!)
  • Awed at St. Marco’s Square – Free!
  • Bathroom – 1.50€ (Very clean!)
  • Saw royal cat paintings and art galleries – Free!
  • Got “lost” in the local neighborhoods – Free!
  • Spritz (Prosecco and Aperol) – 2.50€
  • Bathroom Part II – 1.00€ (Pro Tip: purchase espresso to use a cafe’s bathroom which is not busy and you get to enjoy coffee)
  • Train ticket leaving Venice – 6.60€
  • Getting lost in Venice finding some of the most beautiful hole-in-the-walls away from tourist spots and filled with locals – Priceless

All for a total under 40€ or $44!

Of course if riding a gondola is on your bucket list, it will increase your price, but 80 Euro total for as many as six people to split the cost to ride the gondola is not bad either.

All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to cost much to have a good time in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you can have the time of your life by simply living in the present.

What is one of your favorite hole-in-the walls where you’ve visited recently or where you live? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments so we can all visit there one day!

Love Always,
Liz Friday