About Megan McDonough

Megan McDonough

Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.


Latest Posts by Megan McDonough

Finding Serenity in Panama’s San Blas Islands

July 7, 2015 by  

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The great thing about Panama is that city and country are never too far apart. Our drive from Panama City to the starting point of our San Blas islands adventure was only a two-hour car ride. That goes by pretty fast, making this an ideal day-trip or even a weekend getaway if you crave more quality time in the great outdoors.

What are the San Blas Islands?

Home to the native Guna Yala tribe, this archipelago is made up of small islands stretching towards Panama’s border with Colombia. We only visited one of these islands and as small as it appeared from shore, it was surprisingly large once we docked. Each island is set up like a mini city, with homes, schools and even a church all centrally located and easily explored on foot. Getting to and from the islands for the locals is as easy as a paddle boat ride. In total, there are 390 islands. This means that you could spend an entire year exploring an island a day and still not see them all. Don’t let that little factoid discourage you though. One is still better than none. Our group ultimately decided to visit the village called Carti Sugdup on Isla Cangrejo.

Travel Guide to San Blas

What to Expect

Many travelers head to San Blas to experience nature at its finest and for a glimpse into the life of the Kuna tribe. Life on the island is simple so don’t expect any luxuries. Electric power is limited by day and by night, the only light illuminating the sky is the moon and the stars. Many members of the tribe are used to tourists taking photos of them but they do generally expect a donation of about $1. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, it’s best to just take general shots of the scenery rather than the people. Like most islanders, the tribe primarily lives off the land, which means lots and lots of seafood. Lobsters are a particularly popular dish. You can even go snorkeling and see them underneath the surface before being caught and consumed.

Island Hopping in San Blas

Travel Tips

Probably the biggest travel tip for San Blas is to trust the experts. Sure, you can book a trip to the islands last-minute or with a large tour group but if this is the highlight of your trip, it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Panama Vacations opted to leave early in the morning to beat the crowds and to also allow time for unexpected delays for boat transfers to and from the islands. Our leader also knew the islands well enough to decide which beach to visit for our afternoon picnic. As a result, we enjoyed a packed picnic mostly to ourselves, save for a few other tourists and a 360 degree view of the sand and surf. Our group did San Blas as a day trip but you can certainly spend an entire weekend here or longer, whether focusing on water sports or visiting villages.

San Blas travel tips

What You’ll See

When visiting the villages, you’ll see a mix of Western clothes like t-shirts and jeans and more traditional garb. The women wear hand-stitched molas, scarves, and even beadwork worn on their arms and legs. Men tend to dress a little less traditionally, usually opting for polo shirts, baseball caps and the like. You’ll also see a bit of garbage strewn about but hopefully, with trash cans now dispersed throughout the islands, they will be put to good use. Nature-wise, the landscapes are just as diverse. Expect crystal, clear water, gentle waves (if any) and soft sand. Under the surface, you’ll see coral reefs of every size and color. In fact, coral reefs surround nearly every island here, so snorkeling is a must for any water-sport enthusiast. The beach island pictured here is Isla Agujas.

San Blas islands photography

When to Go

For many people, when to go greatly depends on when you can get time off from work and that in and of itself, can be a challenge. That said, from December to March is the windy season so just be prepared for high waves and a likely rocky boat ride to the islands. The San Blas islands themselves are generally calm, as they are protected by the reef. I visited in late April and I will say that our boat ride to and from the different islands was pretty bumpy but not at all uncomfortable. I like roller coasters though, so I may not be the best judge! Other than the wine, I found April to be a great time to visit. The weather was picturesque with sunny skies, and the water temperature was not too warm and not too cold. In a nutshell? Perfection.

when to visit the San Blas islands

Have you ever island hopped? If so, where? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Panama Vacations / NAMU Travel Group. All opinions are my own. 

 

 

A Cultural Snapshot of Panama & its People

July 6, 2015 by  

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I am reflecting on all the amazing people I met in Panama during my trip this Spring. In some cities, it’s the architecture that really blows me away and for others, it’s the food. In Panama, I fell in love with the people. Sure, the food was delicious, the buildings colorful and the culture vibrant, but ultimately, it’s the people that left the biggest and boldest impression on me. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots.

Look me in the eye

Here’s a close-up of one of the girls pictured above. I used to wear my hair the very same way, which of course, reminded me how different my childhood was from hers. I grew up in an upper-middle class home, attended private school and lived in a comfortable house with my own room. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, I couldn’t help but feel guilty after peeking into this girl’s home, because she doesn’t have the things that I did…that I do. Yet, she is happier than most people. I was really inspired by her natural confidence and her positive attitude. She really didn’t have to say much to convey her strength. It’s just there in her being.

The Beautiful People of Panama

Girls just want to have fun

Don’t we all?! I stumbled upon these lovely little ladies during our guided walk with Fortaleza Tours via Esperanza San Felipe, a program that invests in the development and entrepreneurial endeavors of Casco Viejo’s ex-gang members (more on this in a later post). What struck me about these girls is that they were so eager to interact with me and they absolutely loved posing for photos. After I’d snap a couple, they’d all huddle around me to see how the pictures turned out. I would have gladly spent all day with these rays of sunshine if I could. Friendship is such a special gift and I think these girls know how lucky they are to have found that in one another.

The Best Way to Tour Panama

Contagious smiles

After our tour with Fortaleza, we headed to a quiet little corner of town for an impromptu mojito party. While these two definitely aren’t of age (don’t worry, they didn’t drink!) they were the life of the party. I spent nearly an hour snapping photos of them, lending them my hat to model and all sorts of things to keep them entertained. I really loved how sweet these two acted with each other. While I’m sure they do fight from time to time, they treated each other with kindness and respect. It was very impressive, to be honest especially considering their age. I think that a lot of people could learn a thing or two from these two. Plus, those smiles are seriously contagious.

cute kids of Panama City

Future world model

Ok, I know this girl is young and that she’s just having fun, but does she not look like a model here? Usually I’m hesitant to take photos of locals, or really anyone to be frank. I’m naturally shy and I hate having my photo taken so I tend to assume that other people feel the same way. With kids, I’m especially sensitive because…well, they’re kids. Oddly enough, I’ve found through many of my travels that they are the most eager to be photographed. I remember learning in one of my childhood psychology class that children are most confident when they are about 5 years old and that they achieve that same confidence again until 18. I hope she never loses her spark, not even for a second.

happy kids in Panama

Baby blues

The great thing about booking a tour with Fortaleza is that the founders (who are also the ones leading the tours) know so many people in the local community. Mid-way through our tour of Casco Viejo, somebody recognized our guide and waved us all inside a small room. Turns out, a class was celebrating their graduation and they were inviting us to join in on the festivities. I found that surprising, because I don’t think that would be my first reaction to seeing a group of strangers but in Panama, it’s not even a question. Everyone is welcome and hospitality is just a way of life. I’ve noticed this throughout Latin America and I was very grateful to experience it in Panama as well.

local culture in Panama City

Culture in colors

The next three photographs were taken during out tour of the San Blas islands. Home to the native Guna Yala tribe, this archipelago is made up of a slew of small islands stretching towards Panama’s border with Colombia. It takes a bit of effort to get here but it’s definitely worth the extra time. I was particularly hesitant to take photos here, as the culture is different than in downtown Panama City but when I did, I tried capturing everyday moments. I didn’t want the people here to change anything about their daily routine just because our group was there. After all, we were visiting their home and not the other way around. I wanted to capture normalcy.

the islands of San Blas

Family ties

This was one of my more impromptu shots and I nearly missed it entirely. The homes and buildings on the islands of San Blas might not look so impressive at first but it’s amazing how much your eyes wander all around when in an environment so rich in culture and tradition. At least, that’s what happened for me. I felt like I was a fish in a fishbowl and that I needed to see everything from every possible angle, which is why I almost didn’t even notice this tender moment between a grandmother and her grandchildren (or so I assume). No matter where we come from and where we’re going, family love is one of the few strings that tie us all together.

touring the San Blas islands

Calm and chaos

I’m not entirely sure why, but something about this image stuck with me well after our trip to the islands of San Blas. Perhaps it’s the contrast between her well-tailored school uniform and the more chaotic bits of fabric hanging out to dry, but I feel like this girl could be so many different people. Many times when I walk through cities, especially sensory-overloaded ones like New York or Hong Kong, I feel like I’m floating in a world of my own and even though things are going on around me, I’m still focused on the daydreams in my head. Maybe I’m reaching a bit on this one, but I guess I identify on some small level with this girl whose face I never saw.

best day trips in Panama

Where did you meet super friendly locals? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by the Panama Vacations / NAMU Travel Group. All opinions are my own.

 

An Interactive Food Experience in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna

July 3, 2015 by  

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North Italy Foodie Alert! Let’s face it, Italy is almost synonymous with food and that’s especially true in the Emilia-Romagna region. During the course of the week, I had the chance to get crafty and I enjoyed every minute of it. Below are five of my favorite interactive experiences that I recommend for any traveler heading to Northern Italy.

In a perfect world, I’d suggest spending three days in Bologna and then spending the remainder of the week driving through the region and staying at various agricultural spots, some of which I discuss below.

how to make ceramics

1) Learn the art of gelato-making

Did you know that there’s an actual Gelato University? Well, I sure didn’t and this was easily the coolest thing I learned that day. The Carpigiani Gelato University and accompanying museum (former factory)  is located just outside of Bologna so it’s a quick drive away. I popped into the museum to get a feel for how much effort actually goes into making and selling gelato.

Course-wise, there are a few options and the scheduling is fairly flexible. Students need 150 hours of training (90 hours in the classroom, 30 hours of hands-on practice and 30 hours in the on-site Gelateria), and this is usually done over the course of four weeks. Don’t speak Italian? Don’t worry. Classes are offered in English and French as well. Plus, most of the students come from abroad.

If you can’t commit for a month, you can do what we did, which is an hour demonstration. Recognize that bright-eyed girl behind the counter? That’s me in all my Gelateria glory! Ever wondered why gelato tastes so different (better) than regular ice-cream? It comes down to three main factors: fat, air and serving temperature. Gelato is served slightly warmer than ice-cream, therefore making the texture softer and lighter.

2) Make handmade pasta of every shape and size

If you’ve ever made handmade pasta, you know how much effort it requires and yet, during our class with Il Salotto Di Penelope, the time flew right by. The first thing I was surprised to learn is that you only need an egg and flower to make the dough for the noodles. Furthermore, depending on what region (in Italy) you are cooking, the percentage and type of flour varies. In Northern Italy, for example, more white flour is used plus an egg while in south and central Italy, water is used rather than an egg. semolina flour is rich with nutrients, which is why water can be a substitute.

Another thing I learned? Garlic was more common in the south of Italy because of the weather and therefore it was used as an antiseptic to keep veggies fresh for longer, whereas in north Italy, it was colder and not necessary. This is, of course, before refrigerators existed. Oh, and do you know the difference between tortellini and tortelloni? Tortellini is smaller in size and must be stuffed with meat while tortelloni is larger and has a cheese or vegetarian filling. Tortelloni is often served in a broth or cream sauce and tortelloni is served in a light butter or sage sauce.

Interested in taking the same class that I did? Their cooking school offers classes for 6-8 people maximum and if you have a smaller group, that works too. Bigger groups are also possible but just let the owners know this ahead of time. Run by two women, one from Milan and the other from Bologna, classes cost 80 Euros for the morning session (served lunch) and 85 Euros for lunch (served dinner). On the weekends, the price goes up to 90 Euros. Wine is also included and you eat exactly what you prepare in class. In our case, that was three different pasta dishes.

Getting Crafty in Emilia-Romagna

3) Savor the flavors of Piadina

Next up on our culinary tour was an afternoon cooking class at Azienda Agrituristica La Sabbiona with the fabulous Serena. Depending on how much time you have, it might be worth it to spend a night here. La Sabbiona serves as a small bed and breakfast built on vineyard and although I did not sleep here, the accommodations are simple and affordable and the scenery is peaceful.

Ok, onto our cooking class. We learned how to make Piadina, a thin flatbread that is very typical of the Emilia-Romagna region. The delicious bread is typically made with white flour, lard or olive oil, salt and water but Serena had her own take on the classic recipe. She also throws in milk, baking soda, cream of tarter and a splash of white wine. After our three-hour pasta class the day before, I felt more confident with my cooking abilities this time around. The Piadina doesn’t require much prep time and they are best eaten hot off the grill.

Serena suggests signing up for three lessons to learn different styles of Italian cooking but it’s also completely worth it just to do one.  Lessons are generally prepared for 6-16 people so that each student has ample one-on-one time learning from Serena. Another perk of taking a class here is that you can tour the vineyards as well and even sample some of their locally grown wines.

cooking classes in northern Italy

4) Visit a mosaics lab

Ravenna is home to a slew UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the San Vitale Basilica, Galla Placidia, Santa Apollinare Nuovo, not to mention beautiful byzantine mosaics. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the city is packed with art studios and shops like Koko Mosaico. Whether you want to shop for new art for your home or actually make a masterpiece yourself, both are possible here.

Run by husband and wife team Luca Barberini and Arianna Gallo, the space is warm and inviting and not at all intimidating like the complex art of mosaics. Luca mainly works on his own commissioned work while Arianna teaches most of the classes. It’a a nice balance though, because you can watch Luca at work while learning the craft yourself. Below is an example of Luca’s modern aesthetic. Cool, right?

If you are interested in signing up for a course, there are a few options including classes for beginners, groups, families and more experienced artists. We were on a time crunch so we opted for the Mosaic Demonstration, which shows how a big block becomes a cluster of small and intricate pieces. If you can’t commit to a regular schedule, there are also half-day classes available so take your pick!

mosaics lab in Ravenna

5) Watch an artist in action

Emilia-Romagna, particularly Faenza, is also a great place to watch a ceramics artist in action. Similar to Koko Mosaico, this lab functions as both a studio and a shop. The space is large and broken up across two levels. The first level is a showroom of completed works while the downstairs area is where many of the crafts are made. There were a few artists working on different projects ranging from a stained-glass window to a hand-painted ceramic (seen below).

For beginners like me, there are a few things to know about making ceramics. There are several different methods to use, like wheel throwing or hand building or opting for the oven bake and air dry technique. They type of clay, whether it’s polymer or standard, matters as well. We watched an artist create a bowl using a wheel and it was pretty fascinating to see up close. He made it look easy but I’m sure it requires a lot of practice.

Looking to make your own DIY clay? I found a recipe that calls for a few basic ingredients: water, salt and cornstarch. If you’re not in the mood to get your hands dirty, these labs are still worth a visit, if for nothing else than to buy a local handcraft to adorn your home. Just remember to pack it really well before getting on your airplane. Looking for a general overview? Head straight to Museo Internaionale dell Ceramiche (MIC) for the rundown.

What’s the coolest craft you’ve made? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

This trip was hosted by the Emilia Romagna Region Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.

 

5 Great Things to do in Hong Kong

June 30, 2015 by  

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I’ll be living in Hong Kong for four months! I arrived in mid-may but about two days later, I was on a flight to the Philippines so it wasn’t until returning from that trip that I actually began exploring my new home.

What did I discover? Well, besides feeling a bit nostalgic for both New York and London, I realized how much there is to do in this crazy amazing city. Yet, I also found myself doing many peoples’ “bucket list” activities in the first week. Thus, here is my quick guide to touring Hong Kong like a boss.

Attend a “Junk”

A junk is a 10am-6ish boozy boat ride with great views. Boats take off from various starting points and once you’re on board, you have the whole afternoon and part of the evening to do as you please: eat, drink, swim and tan. Our boat was two levels and after about an hour of sailing, we docked for a few hours. The staff provides the alcohol and prepares lunch (albeit, this is part of the service) and it’s pretty much as relaxing as you might hope. If you do score a spot on the boat, make sure to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen.

Budget alternative: Junks are often dependent on who you know and if you’re only in town for a few days, this might be a gamble. There are other boat tours far more affordable though, like an evening harbour cruise or a Victoria Harbour cruise. It really depends on whether you want to see the city during the day or all glittery at night. For me, it’s a toss up, as the city lights are simply spectacular.

Take a Helicopter Ride

Again, this is the case of being in the right place at the right time. After posting on Facebook a few weeks ago that I’d be temporarily moving to Hong Kong, a fellow travel blogger commented that she was there too. Long story short, we met for coffee and she just happened to have an extra ticket for a helicopter ride all over Hong Kong. To say that I was ecstatic would be an understatement. We flew with Heliservices on a particularly clear day and essentially flew into China. Well, not quite but as the last flight of the day, we landed at their headquarters which are not too far from Shenzhen, at least according to my map. I was surprised to see so much lush greenery mixed with tall, urban buildings.

Budget alternative: Helicopter rides are often expensive and if you’re not quite ready to splurge on one (although I highly recommend it) there are plenty of other alternatives. The picture below is actually take at “The Peak,” which is accessible via trail or tram. You can pay an additional small fee to reach the very top or walk across to the Galleria for a free and equally fabulous view.

How to Tour Hong Kong Like a Boss

Party in LKF

I opted to use a Flickr photo for this one because mine came out all blurry and I’m not sure they’d be too enticing. Lan Kwai Fong, otherwise known as LKF, is the ultimate entertainment district on Hong Kong Island. As it happens, my apartment is literally a thirty second walking commute away so it’s not all that surprising that I found myself here on my first Friday night in the city. I’m not going to hold back here…this is an ideal spot for a wild night. If you’re more inclined to have a low-key nightlife experience, skip to #4 on this list. I’d recommend wearing comfortable shoes as this part of town is very hilly and nothing too valuable because you’re likely to either get spilled on or spill on yourself.

Budget alternative: There’s a 7-11 on the corner and a lot of people (myself included) went there to booze up a bit before hitting the bars. It’s quite easy to do, as the party in the street is arguably more exciting than the bars and nightclubs flanking LKF on either side. It had been ages since I found myself in a 7-11 and to my surprise, I found all sorts of alcohol sold here. I opted for a mini bottle of wine.

nightlife in Hong KongImage: torbakhopper/Flickr

Hit up a Rooftop Bar

The day after experiencing LKF for the first time, I wasn’t exactly eager to repeat it the next night. But I couldn’t just stay in because well, Hong Kong is hypnotizing at night and I was hooked. So, instead of re-visting my days as a 22-year old who could drink anything and not have a hangover the next day, I reverted to my 28-year old self and hit up a rooftop. My friend and I opted for Sevva, which had an amazing view but was a tad expensive for my taste (I think I paid nearly $18 USD for a glass of wine…not even New York is that bad). To fair though, you’re paying for the view more than the cocktails and it really was spectacular to see the sunset and watch the “Symphony of Lights,” which is light and sound show at Victoria Harbour.

Budget alternative: If you can’t find it in you to splurge on a pricy cocktail, head to The Peak (mentioned above and pictured below) instead. I’d plan your visit between 5pm-8pm to see the day and night. If you stick to the Galleria, the views are free and if you do want to toast with a glass of wine, there are ample bars and restaurants located within the complex.

symphony of lights HK

Get out and meet people

This is probably the most important tip for Hong Kong because meeting people is the key to discovering the city. If I hadn’t met Sarah from Coffee with a Slice of Life, I wouldn’t have taken the helicopter ride or learned all the ins and outs of the city that took her months to learn. Just the other day, I was shopping for sandals in Zara and a woman complimented my shoes (not the Zara shoes but my beloved pair of BucketFeet). Even though I don’t think this has ever happened to me in New York, I was pleasantly surprised that it did. Bonding over shoes and travel, we exchanged emails and made plans to meet up for coffee the next week. I’ve since learned that this is not at all uncommon here.

My helicopter tour was comped by Heliservices Hong Kong. All other purchases and activities were on my own dime.

The post How to Tour Hong Kong Like a Boss appeared first on Bohemian Trails.

The Fresh Italian Food In & Around Bologna

June 17, 2015 by  

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How do I even begin to explain Bologna’s vibrant food scene in Italy? Seriously, I actually went clothing shopping pre-trip and bought an extra pair of jeans (in the next size up) and comfy stretchy pants because I knew I’d eat everything in sight upon arriving in Italy. In case you’re wondering if I succeeded in that goal, I most certainly did. However, I never felt bloated or lethargic after my meals and that’s probably because all the pastas, pizzas and breads I ate were handmade using local, organic ingredients. What’s even better? I actually cooked a few myself!

Pasta

To be perfectly honest, I could eat pasta everyday and when I learned that most Italian’s do, I wondered how this is even possible. After speaking with my guide, Paola, she explained that besides the fresh-aspect and opting for olive oil instead of butter, pasta should be served in a single “bundle,” which is a handful of noodles. This is good to know, as I have a bad habit of pouring an entire box of dried pasta into my pan at home.

During our pasta-making class with the lovely ladies of Il Salotto Di Penelope, we prepared Tagliatelle, Tortelloni and Gnocci plus three sauces to go with each plate. I was blown away by how much effort goes into making each type of pasta but moreso, by the passion both women have for the art of pasta-making. You really do need to put your heart into it I guess and that effort pays off tenfold come serving time.

Food Guide to Northern Italy

Bread

As much as I love pasta, I find bread just as irresistible. In fact, I really have no self control when it comes to Italian food, hence the stretchy pants mentioned above. Similar to how things are done in the United States, we ordered this plate of bread before our main dishes. Unlike the states, however, this bread isn’t intended to simply tide us over until our pizza arrives. Instead, the combination of olive oil, marinara sauce and sprinkled herbs on top of the toasted bread was flavorful and light.

I tried a lot of different types of breads throughout the week and this was definitely one of my favorites. Since we were touring through northern Italy, certain breads like Lombardia, Veneto and Piemonte, are more common. The same is true of central Italy and south Italy so if you want to try them all, you better plan a cross-country train trip.

Eating My Way Through Bologna and Beyond

Pizza

A trip to Italy is not be complete without at least one slice of pizza and why stop there? We had a feast in Moderna and ordered up a few different pies. I kept things simple with the Margarita pie but also bit into everyone else’s food as well. I really liked how thin the bread is and that the tomato sauce is spread rather thin. That way, no flavor overpowered the others but rather, each ingredient complimented the next.

Since we were in the Emilia-Romagna region, several ingredients repeatedly popped up and this is not just true of pizza but pasta as well: ham (prosciutto), sausage (cotechino), tomatoes (Bolognese sauce or ragù), lots and lots of salami, truffles, grana and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we are prosciutto at nearly every meal. I’m not complaining though! I mean, just look at that beautiful pizza.

best pizza in Italy

Seafood

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this cleverly decorated plate. Not only is it a creation of Michelin-starred Chef Stefano Bartolini of La Buca in Cesenatico, but it showcases how important presentation is for Italians. The country is nearly fully surrounded by water, so it makes sense that chefs often take advantage of the sea. What made La Buca’s menu really stand out was the pairing of flavors.

Based on everything else I consumed in the days prior, I found many of his recipes daring and unlike anything I’d think to serve together. Then again, there’s a reason why he’s a chef and I’m merely a consumer. Purees, whether made from vegetables or fruit (see gelato a bit further down) were used in several dishes. In general though, in Romagna and along the Adriatic coast, cuisine can be very seafood-heavy…think along the lines of clams with balsamic vinegar. Yum!

gourmet Italian seafood

Gelato

When we arrived to the Carpigiani Gelato Museum for their official Ice Cream preparation Masterclass, I had no idea what to expect. I know that I’d be hopefully sampling every flavor, which I did, but I didn’t realize our class would be so amusing. First off, gelato translates to “frozen” in Italian. Once I sorted that out, I had “Let it Go” stuck in my head for hours.

The simplest recipe for gelato requires an egg custard, light cream or milk and puree made from fresh fruits. The reason it tastes different (better in my opinion) than ice-cream comes down to fat, air and serving temperature. It makes perfect sense too. The colder the temperature, the more solid it is while slightly warmer temperatures yield softer scoops and a looser texture. The other things that got me were the creative flavors. Pistachio (pictured top right) was the clear winner in my book.

how to make gelato

What’s your favorite foodie city? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

This trip was hosted by the Emilia Romagna Region Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.

The Mystical Serenity in Bologna’s Beautiful Countryside

May 30, 2015 by  

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During my week in Emilia-Romagna, I spent just as much time wandering through the cobbled city streets as I did basking outside in the countryside and that proved a perfect balance. This particular region really caters to travelers seeking interactive experiences, especially those relating to cuisine and crafts. Luckily, I got to explore both art and the art of food.

Opera02 Italy

As personable as each room is decorated, it is really the view that makes the biggest impression. The floor-to-ceiling windows literally look out onto fields and fields of vineyards. We arrived just as the sun was setting and while I only had a few minutes of daylight to snap some photos, the real magic was simply staring into the endless green and blue abyss of beauty. I still remember how clear and crisp the March air felt as I breathed it in and that’s saying something considering my nose was stuffed most of the week. I felt effortlessly at ease and I sat outside on my porch until dinner.

Relaxing in Bologna's Countryside

The next morning I woke up early and took advantage of the few hours I had left on the property. To be honest, I really do wish I had more time here. It’s such a nice compliment to the city and is only a short drive away. Since I very rarely rent a car when I travel, I asked the owner how someone might get from Bologna’s city center to the agricultural hotel and he said that they (a staff member) can and often do arrange that type of transport. I think a perfect combination would be to spend two or three days in Bologna and then another two (or more!) days here.

Did I mention there are animals here? I guess that’s to be expected, seeing as it is a working vineyard. Opera02 covers a lot of ground and yet feels very intimate. On one side of the property is an entirely organic cultivated area and on the other is the B&B and restaurant. As mentioned above, decor within the rooms varies, but the focus of Opera02 is very much rooted in an appreciation for nature, preservation of traditions and a focus on new technologies. Location-wise, Bologna is nearby, as are the cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

organic farms in Italy

Perhaps the coolest design choice of the property is the window view of the Balsamic vinegar barrels. The long hall that houses all eight rooms has a dimly lit view of the barrels. This might be a good time to mention that Opera02 makes and sells their own Balsamic vinegar and even if you don’t splurge on a bottle, you’ll likely taste it on several dishes at the restaurant. Naturally, they harvest and sell their own organic wine as well and make a point of using the most modern techniques available. The taste of the wines varies year to year depending on the climate.

best places to relax in Northern Italy

Ok, now comes the fun part. What does this amazing place cost and can I afford it? The good news is, yes! The owner quoted rates at 140 Euros per night (per room, not per person) and this includes breakfast, access to the on-site spa and swimming pool that also overlooks the vineyards. If you opt for an off-season visit, nightly rates lower to 110 Euros per night. Considering all the amenities and interactive experiences you can have here, I personally think this is a steal. In fact, I almost booked another night here (no joke).

Are you a fan of the countryside? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by the Emilia Romagna Region Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.  

Colorful Italy: From Bologna & Modena to Fishing Villages

May 18, 2015 by  

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Even though I spent the bulk of my time in Italy eating glorious handmade pasta and sipping on Sangiovese, I had to walk all of this deliciousness off somehow, right? A few of my favorites, along with some city shots, are below.

Ravenna city guide

Bologna

Bologna was the first stop on my week-long Italian adventure. The city is known for it’s creative food scene and for a slew of top-tier universities. It’s easy to walk around the city center and several of the streets are pedestrian-only. From Hotel Commercianti Art Hotel, all the main attractions were within five minutes walking distance and the train station was a slightly longer stroll at 20 minutes but nothing a city-slicker can’t handle. In fact, it’s quite easy to take a day trip from Bologna to several other northern Italian cities like Modena and Ravenna.

Cities to visit in Northern Italy

I snapped this next photo right in front of our interactive pasta-making class with Il Salotto Di Penelope. Their little joint is just off a main road and the change from bustling Bologna to the quietly nestled kitchen is a welcome one. Laundry lines strung from window to window above my head and pretty bikes rested quietly against colorful house walls. Our cooking class lasted about three hours so it was really refreshing to actually feel like I’m in someone’s home rather than a commercial building.

Beautiful Bikes and Pretty Italian Streets

Terra di Brisighella

Next up was an afternoon visit to the small town of Brisighella where our group went to CAB for a DOGG Olive Oil Tasting. I loved seeing the old yet vibrant homes and buildings clustered close together on the main drag. Even better, was getting sampling different types of local olive oil. Terra di Brisighella is a vine-growers Association that dates back to 1962. Today, there are 300 olive oil towers in total and about 70,000 olive trees. Even though I wish these bottles were more accessible outside of Italy, I appreciate getting to taste the “real” thing so to speak.

Terra di Brisighella

Ravenna

I went a little camera crazy in Ravenna but can you really blame me? There were so many secret side streets and quirky bikes just waiting for me to snap a photo. Just for a little history lesson, Ravenna was once the capital city of the Western Roman Empire (from 402 until 476). If you make it to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Ravenna is a must, even if only for a day. Much like Bologna is a hub for foodies, Ravenna is the same for art connoisseurs. There are many shops that double as schools where you can learn how to make a mosaic, for example.

Even in the rain, Ravenna is beautiful. Naturally, I gravitated toward streets and storefronts where bikes were present but after awhile, I put my camera away. Sometimes you just need to experience a place and not stress over capturing the moment on film. Attractions-wise, there’s a lot to do here. Check off a few UNESCO World Heritage items off your bucket list like the San Vitale Basilica, Galla Placidia, Santa Apollinare Nuovo and of course, the beautiful byzantine mosaics. Admission is free. Come to think of it, Ravenna might be the best place to spend any day, rain or shine.

things to do in Ravenna

Cesenatico

One of my favorite stops was Cesenatico, the little fishermen village where Maestro Leonardo da Vinci designed the colorful canal. I soon learned that Cesenatico is full of surprises. The biggest shock was that in this tiny town there is actually a Michelin-starred restaurant called La Buca. Things took an interesting turn when we had the chance to watch famed Chef Stefano Bartolini prepare a few of the dishes we would eat a few hours later. If you’re not ready to splurge on a Michelin meal, swing by their more casual sister restaurant next door.

Cesenatico restaurants

La Buca aside, Cesenatico is simply lovely. Located in the region of Emilia-Romagna, within the province of Forlì-Cesena, and founded in 1302, the port town only has 20,000 inhabitants. The canal came along in 1500 and remains a major draw for many tourists. The town was mostly deserted during our late March visit but I can only imagine how crowded it must get in the summer months, as it’s a popular resort town. An advocate for off-season myself, I definitely see the perks of visiting Cesenatico just before high-season.

things to do in Cesenatico

Modena

Modena is a special place. The first thing I noticed is that there are a lot of independent designer boutiques here and while I desperately wanted to try on some dresses and tops, I just didn’t have enough time. On the flip side, in and around Modena are a slew of car museums and factories like the Museum Casa Enzo Ferrari we toured. If you’re on a time crunch, swing by the UNESCO site Modena Cathedral. Along with Ghirlandina Tower and Piazza Grande, it’s one of the most important symbols in Romanic Art in Europe. I also recommend the food market.

Modena city guide

What’s your favorite Italian city? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by the Emilia Romagna Region Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.

San Francisco’s Artistic & Ever So Funky Clarion Alley

March 24, 2015 by  

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As great as the weather is in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been missing the street art that I got so used to seeing near my apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. With that in mind, I headed to the trendy Mission District for a stroll through the mural-packed Clarion Alley, located between Valencia and Mission Streets.

best street art in San Francisco

The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) reminds me a little of the Bushwick Collective, another great street art initiative. Formed in 1992 by six North Mission residents, all volunteers, artists have traveled from across the globe to leave their mark along the walls of Clarion Alley and the surrounding streets.

Street Art Guide to Clarion Alley

Despite traveling to San Francisco countless times, I was surprised that I never made it to Clarion Alley. I expected the street to be packed with tourists, especially since I was visiting in the late afternoon/early evening, but it was pretty desolate. Normally, this might creep me out but with so many colors adorning the walls, I actually really liked having the entire alley to myself.

graffiti in the Mission

I decided to pass through the alley before arriving to my next meeting so I only have my iPhone with me. Luckily, the murals are so vibrant that the pictures came out fairly well. One of the great things about Clarion Alley is that different cultures are represented. CAMP makes it a point to collaborate with talented artists from all walks of life—from folk-inspired murals to spray-can pieces.

Where to find street art in the Mission

There are definitely a few notable murals that reflect Indonesia culture. After researching this after I got back home, I learned that CAMP collaborated with an artists collective in Indonesia and Intersection for the Arts on a project that hopes to increase understanding of both Muslim and non-Muslim cultures.

best murals in San Francisco

Neighborhood-wise, The Mission is the perfect place for the collective to set up camp (no pun intended)! Like most revamped neighborhoods, the Mission wasn’t always the hotspot it is today. That being said, it’s perhaps the best area in San Francisco to sample Mexican and other Latin food, as many immigrants from Central and South America flocked here during the 1980s and 1990s.

creative artists in SF

While The Mission has certainly cleaned up its act over the years, there is still a ton of gritty graffiti lining many of the buildings and the neighborhood as a while is still a hub for artists. The main street is Mission Street but I quite prefer Valencia Street, which runs parallel. Both streets are crowded but Valencia looks a little cleaner and there are a slew of cute coffee shops and independent designer boutiques in between the dive bars and Mexican taco joints.

street art guide to The Mission

For even more street art in The Mission, head over to Balmy Alley, located between 24th Street and Garfield Square. From Clarion Alley, it’s about a twenty-five minute walk, serving as a great reminder just how spacious the neighborhood is compared to some. If you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend opting for Clarion Alley, grabbing some tacos on-the-go and watching the sunset from Mission Dolores Park.

Clarion Alley's best graffiti

What’s the coolest art discovery you’ve made while traveling? Tell me in the comments below!

 

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