{Travel} Christmas in Italy - Bergamo!

As we prepare to travel back home to the States, I wanted to share the last leg of our Italian Christmas journey with you. This time, we stopped off in the city of Bergamo, near Milan, for several days. My husband worked most of the week in a smaller, nearby city and taxied the brief commute back and forth each morning and evening. That left me time to rest, relax and browse the various Christmas markets that seemed to pop up on every street corner. I love the festive holiday feel!

From top, clockwise: Two nighttime streets of Bergamo, just outside our hotel—the photo on the right depicts part of the Christmas markets in the left of the image under the lights; yours truly on the balcony of our hotel room before conquering the day; pedestrians enjoying the sunny Bergamo afternoon in the town centre; one of the city's many gorgeous buildings.

Though we were in Bergamo longest, I have to admit we did the least in this destination—especially since the husband was working and I was moving a little slow due to exhaustion and delayed jet lag, I suppose. But it didn't stop us from taking in the local culture as much as we could, and now we have our fill of Italia until next time!

From top, clockwise: A photo of Bergamo's city centre, above which lies the Old Town (on the hill); my husband's surprise dinner when he ordered the sea bass; devouring his fish like a champ!; another beautiful building; Italian pasta. 

Well, I hope you enjoyed our tour of Italy as much as we did and I'm so glad I got to share photos with you all! Now we're headed back to Texas just in time to celebrate Christmas with our families—always a busy but happy and enjoyable time. Have a fantastic holiday!


{Travel} Christmas in Italy - Verona!

Continuing on our Christmas journey to Italia, we departed Milan and headed in the direction of Venice, stopping just short of there. Arriving in the charming town of Verona, Italy was a sweet surprise in itself. The husband and I both loved this place—it felt authentic and very, very Italian. Our hotel certainly made a difference, as well, since it was very nice, perfectly located and had one of the largest rooms we've ever had in a European hotel in all our travels to date! There was even a bellhop to lug our suitcases up to the room, which we fleetingly admired before heading out to explore the town.

Left to right, from top: Our hotel off a bustling street in Verona; sweet treats after dinner!; beautiful Italian buildings in the square; myself and the husband in our hotel lobby before heading out to dinner; daytime street shot in Verona.

Verona is, perhaps, most famous as the setting for Shakespeare's well-known romantic saga, Romeo & Juliet. In fact, there's a home supposedly known as "Juliet's Home" where the legendary balcony is located (you know, the one from which she cried, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?"). There's also a statue of her and loads of love letters left behind by romantic-seeking individuals in search of their soul mate. The walls at the entrance to the home appear to be covered in gum and graffiti, but at closer glance it's merely thousands of signatures of folks who also wish to find their own slice of love.

Clockwise, from top: The sign marking the entrance to Juliet's home, already covered in signatures and markings; the husband and I with Juliet's statue; and him standing in front of the wall of "graffiti; a love letter left behind on the Christmas tree in the middle of the courtyard; a view of the balcony, attached to Juliet's home.

Left to right, from top: a piazza in Verona with a gorgeous fountain and Christmas lights; a bottle of wine we enjoyed at dinner one night, made locally; us next to the Adige River, which runs along nearly half of the city.

There are a few other amazing monuments that Verona is famous for, and I've taken a few notes from Wikipedia's entry on the city: Verona is famous for its Roman amphitheatre, the Arena found in the city's largest piazza, the Piazza Bra. Completed around 30 AD, it is the third largest in Italy after Rome's Colosseum and the arena at Capua. It measures 139 metres long and 110 metres wide, and could seat some 25,000 spectators in its 44 tiers of marble seats. Also: Sant'Anastasia is a huge and lofty church built from 1290–1481 by the Dominicans to hold the massive congregations attracted by their rousing fundamentalist sermons.

Left to right, from top: Myself in front of the Arena; a marble cathedral we stumbled upon while walking back to our hotel; nighttime shot of the streets of Verona; a candle we lit at the absolutely gorgeous Sant'Anastasia cathedral (right).

Next up: our last stop on our Italian tour, Bergamo!


{Travel} Christmas in Italy - Milan!

This year, my husband and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit Italy during Christmas time. He had to come over for a few days of work, so we both wiggled in a little extra vacation time and flew over early. It's been a full year since we vacationed—having returned from living in Scotland in August of 2010—and we took our first journey to Italia in June of 2010 for my birthday. It was wonderful in every way and we completely fell in love with the country and the culture.

Since then, we've been dying to go back and were thrilled when the opportunity came up! It was a last-minute trip (we had less than a week to find hotels, decided on a travel route, pack and square away the pets), but we made it work and 18 hours of travel time later we arrived in Milan. I'm writing this post from our hotel room in Bergamo, Italy but have managed to put together some photo boards and a post for each of our visits to the three cities—Milan, Verona and Bergamo—for your viewing pleasure!

Left to right, from top: the husband and I waiting on a taxi to the train station; typical transportation around Italia; the duomo in Milan's city centre; a Christmas market, including a large cheese booth, at the train station; our hotel in Milan; a street sign indicating the building's architect and date.

While Milan is certainly a tourist attraction on many accounts, it's not really the ideal place to soak in unrefined Italian culture and Tuscan countryside views. It's a hustling business centre and is the hub for many of Italy's famous high-end shopping meccas as well as the country's many corporate offices and headquarters. The husband and I realized this during our previous (and our first) visit to Milan. So upon returning this time, we mainly used it as our jumping off point—flying in and out of the city, stopping overnight for some rest, then hopping on a train out the next day. 

From top: Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a sort of galleria-type (and very high end) shopping center that kick-started the entire galleria mall concept; spaghetti bolognese for dinner at a local cafe; that's me stopping for a quick photo on a street in Milan as we walked back to our hotel; sidewalk cafes continue in full force despite the cold, adding heaters to their setup... this is the main mode of tourist-driven dining in much of Italy.

Our next train stop is Verona, Italy!


{Home Decor} Holiday Flair (Part II)!

At long last I'm back to show you a bit more of our holiday decorations at home, though I didn't get to take any photos of the beautiful poinsettia-studded garland along the foot of our bed frame or the mini Christmas tree in our room this year. Or a couple festive spots in my kitchen. In the meantime, here's my office decked out for the holiday...

You'll have to excuse the giant dog kennels - they all sleep in here at night! On rainy days, my office unfortunately takes on a big of eau de canine, but a candle usually clears that right up. ;)

I made the above wreath with all supplies from Hobby Lobby. It's snazzy, in my opinion, and a nice contrast to our usual holiday decor.

Below is the guest room, which doesn't have much—just a small tree and some white garland. In the future, I hope to have a more mature Pottery Barn-esque beach-themed guest retreat. For now, I'm just too tired to face painting and redecorating!

My mom and step-dad came to visit recently and I snapped this photo of my husband (toward the front) and my step-dad cozy in the reclining chairs by the fire watching the Cowboys play football. With candles lit, the tree twinkling and decorations abounding, it certainly feels like Christmas!


{Home Decor} Holiday Flair!

I'm so proud of my holiday decorations this year... they turned out great! I've divided them up into two posts, so as not to overwhelm you with the, uh, awesomeness. (Winky face.)

Let's start off with the front porch. Welcome to our home!

I love that we suspended oversized ornaments from the ceiling this year! Nearly everything is from Hobby Lobby (at 50% off), like the giant ornaments, plaid ribbon and garland. The wreath was a clearance buy from Michael's last year.

From the entry, we have a small foyer that leads into the living room:

Sometimes it's hard for me to find a place for everything, but this year I wanted to be sure and display all those small details that are important to us—like the Aggie snowglobe and some of our wedding photos on top of the piano.

The foyer table is a sort of rustic, Western theme with mini turquoise cross and brown jingle bell tree ornaments from Hobby Lobby, and a few other items we've acquired over the years. The photo frame is also from Hobby Lobby and I framed the picture that's on our Christmas cards this year.

Our Christmas tree is amazing! It's brand new, nine feet tall, pre-lit and almost looks real at a glance. We got it on sale at Garden Ridge for $259 and I absolutely love it. I didn't want to have to invest in another Christmas tree for a loooong time, and I wanted plenty of room to add more ornaments over the coming years. This was the perfect choice for us!

This hutch was a bargain find on Craig's List and is filled with our favorite whiskies, Spode Christmas dishes and our Spode Woodlands china settings. There's also our crystal decanters, bowls and other various items—including the sheep figurine we picked up as a memento of our sheep-laden year spent in Scotland.

Speaking of mementos, here's some of our ornaments that always stand-out when we decorate the tree:

One year, my husband said he'd love to have a pet penguin. He looked up all these random facts about them and even discovered you can order one and have it shipped to your door! Ever since, family and close friends occasionally give him penguin apparel or gifts for fun. I tend to pick up a penguin ornament every year or two for the tree. :)

This ornament was to remember our trip to Canada, where we visited Niagara Falls then took in a few sites in Toronto followed by a wine-soaked visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake in New York.

This is a new ornament for this year, from Hobby Lobby naturally, that goes perfectly with our style and decor. Rustic, beautiful and cozy.

This is another new ornament that depicts our flair for anything Texas. In the background is a piano ornament my older sister gave me when I was little, since I played the piano for six years.

Of course, no Aggie tree would be complete without said ornaments. We have a ton!

This ornament is another keepsake from our year spent in the UK—it even graced our tiny tree in our flat during Christmas 2009. We have so many fond memories of our days in Scotland and all the travels we took.

And here's another new addition to the tree in honor of my husband's avid hunting streak. Every year I gift him a new ornament—though wouldn't you know he only just realized that this year!?—and they're usually hunting-related. Figured a nice rack would make a good addition to the decorations this Christmas. Hardy har har.

I'll post the remainder of our Christmas decor next, along with some photos from our big Christmas party!! Hope you and yours are enjoying a very merry season.


Cozy by the Fire

It's been very chilly all day and when working from home without the heater cranked up, it can mean stiff icy fingers and freezing toes. Needless to say, I've had a fire roaring in the fireplace since noon and intend to keep it up well through the evening—when the husband comes home from work and we eat our leftover beef bourguignon.

Meanwhile, this furry little kitty has found the sweet spot for her mid-day napping:

Wonder what she's thinking while watching the flames dance? :)


{Daily Pics} Christmas is in the air!

From top to bottom:

1. A festive holiday centerpiece made of a vase within a vase. The sparkly red ball fillers are from Hobby Lobby.
2. Used extra sparkly balls to add some flair to the cinnamon-scented pinecones atop our coffee table, also resting on a wrapped box. I couldn't resist. :)
3. I may not have a real Christmas tree in the house, but it smells like I do! New Evergreen candle from Bath & Body Works in a snowflake candle sleeve.
4. Chicken and rice soup for lunch today in my new holiday mug from Hobby Lobby (currently 50% off!).

How are you gearing up for the holiday season?
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