newsworthy notes: make me this year’s St. Louis Summer Ambassador

I grew up in Kansas City, but I fell in love with a boy from St. Louis–& then I fell in love with the city.  I’ve thrown my hat in the ring for the coveted title of ‘St. Louis Summer Ambassador’ awarded by Explore St. Louis, ALIVE magazine, KSDK, & the Midwest Influencer Network.  Make me the next St. Louis city ambassador, & you can expect to get the inside scoop on how to be a tourist in your own town or trip guides to plan your getaway to the Gateway City.  Simply share this video on every social media outlet like it’s going out of style, & you just might see me making the rounds this summer as the next city ambassador!

If I win the Official Explore St. Louis Summer Ambassador Search, I will share how to spend a perfect day in the Lou, from talking an afternoon walk along the pretty pathways of the Missouri Botanical Gardens to a show at the ever-elegant Fabulous Fox Theater.  I’m a last-minute contender, so it’s too late to vote for me via, but the more you share my video, the better my chances will be at becoming your St. Louis ambassador.  The Top 5 contenders will be announced tomorrow.  & to learn if I make the cut & earn the title, come to the ‘Be a Tourist in Your Own Town’ event:

‘See for yourself why St. Louis is such a great place to visit during the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission’s annual Be a Tourist In Your Own Town event.  The region’s most popular attractions will exhibit with free refreshments, music, prizes and fun for everyone.  This event will take place from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. in Ballpark Village.”

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Thanks for your support, ladies & gents!

mapped it: best eats in Chicago, Illinois

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The Windy City has entertained us more than a few times. Yet, we still find new reasons to visit Chicago again & again. The birthplace of skyscrapers & deep-dish pizza tempts with high-end fashion & soaring buildings made for sight-seeing.

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Greg & I are making our way back to Chi-Town this spring for a psych conference.
We already have a few must-sees on our list based on successful excursions in the past to the Windy City.
& if there is one thing we’ve learned about this city, it is to bring an appetite.

Foodie destination No. 1: Orange Restaurant.

Fair warning, parking is an absolute nightmare in Chicago. Since we were in the city last for a concert, we opted to park at the venue for the day & walk the city blocks.  We were rewarded for our efforts as we stumbled across this original brunch spot.

Orange 4-jelly jam pancakes & steak salad

Ingredients from local sources, served up freshly-made, guaranteed we were in for a delicious dining experience.  The contemporary brunch menu includes a wide array of choices for smoothie combinations made from seasonal fruit, & we took advantage.  I chose mango, orange, & pineapple to create an intoxicating flavor.  We filled our bellies with homemade entrees, like the pancakes sandwich with a jelly-jam center, the chai tea french toast topped with carmelized apples, and the steak salad with big & tender meat portions.  We’re making this a must for our upcoming visit to see what other smoothie concoctions we can devise.

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Foodie destination No. 2: Uno Pizzeria & Grill.

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Bringing new meaning to a “pizza pie,” Uno’s launched the famous deep-dish style for which Chicago is well-known.  Baked in the oven for almost an hour, the thick pizza loaded with a cheesy layer is sinfully tasty.  Uno’s may be large to accommodate the steady stream of hungry customers, but it still very much has that pizza joint atmosphere with dark interior & tall booths.  The original location has hand-written messages all along the walls, making for entertaining reads as you dive into dinner.

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  As we countdown to our trip, I look forward to finding new restaurants to add to my best eats list.  Stop in soon to discover the must-see sites of the Windy City!

planned it: review of Hotel Ca’ Zose in Venice, Italy

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Venice, a town unlike any other, may appear to be overrun by tourists but you can find sanctuary here.  Sanctuary away from the modern world, away from the daily grind.  Slow down and immerse yourself in a place where it seems as if you have stepped back into another era.  Find out for yourself why no city can compare to the beauty of Venice.

When visiting this grand city, learn about the various neighborhoods beforehand to find the perfect place for your stay.  We chose the neighborhood of Dorsoduro because it is centrally located and is known as being more reasonably priced than the hotels found across the canal.  Formerly known for drawing artists to its’ area, Dorsoduro has turned into a peaceful neighborhood spotted with wonderful restaurants, including a gelato shop, and museums.  We chose to stay at Hotel Ca’ Zose for our visit to Venice.


Loconda Ca’ Zose has picture-perfect  Venetian style and offers a prime location for sight-seeing.  Practically across the way on the Grand Canal from the San Marco Piazza, Ca’ Zose is tucked away yet easy to find.

The Service

Fair warning though, if stairs aren’t your thing, this is not your place.  Personally, I found the absurd path to our room an entertaining journey.  The concierge, a chivalrous young man, took it upon himself to carry my bags up the long flights of stairs.  Greg was left to lug his bags up one flight of stairs, across a balcony, around a corner and up another couple flight of stairs, much to my amusement.  Even as we left and Greg teased me about having to carry my baggage finally, the gentleman popped out of the adjacent bedroom to offer his services yet again.

The  Room

The decor is charmingly inspired by the Italian Renaissance era with rich warm colors and ornate designs.  The room offers a comfortable bed and a window that opens up to allow the sounds of lapping water and romantic music (from a talented street musician located nearby) to serenade you to sleep.  There is one small issue with the room (and I do mean “small”): the shower is teeny tiny, ideal for a quick hop in before dashing out the door for some serious sight-seeing.  If you’re hoping to relax with a long hot shower however, you might be a tad disappointed.  The extremely helpful staff and ideal location just near the opening of the Grand Canal into larger water makes this place well worth a stay.  Plus, with an available boat landing, you can score a taxi right when you need it (as we did on the day of our departure when a water taxi strike commenced).

The Sites

Ca’ Zose is just a couple of blocks away from the famed Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia Gallery.  It is also within easy walking distance of the Rialto Bridge where you can score souvenirs aplenty.  Or you can head in the opposite direction and discover the beautiful church known as Santa Maria della Salute (see below).  We were within easy walking distance of most things and a simply taxi ride across the Grand Canal to the San Marco Piazza where you can find the best views of the city from the clock tower.

Book It

Rates are based off of high season for 2015: Rooms start at $160-$305
Rooms include: wi-fi, air conditioning & continental breakfast
Visit here to book your room or learn more:

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planned it: experience agriturismo in Tuscany

IMG_8174The fertile land of Tuscany offers such picturesque scenery & you can experience it firsthand.  Agriturismo gives tourists the chance to live the luxe life on a farmhouse turned resort in the middle of the beautiful Italian countryside.  These lavish homes are set next to crops of sunflowers, grapes or olive trees to provide you a taste of the country life.  Meals are typically provided from items grown on the property or locally, which means you are guaranteed to have  a scrumptious home-cooked meal at some point.  Plus, if you choose to, there are often opportunities to take part in activities around the farm.  We went with a beautiful farmhouse just outside of Montepulciano that offered the rustic charm of the countryside along with a jacuzzi & a  pool.  Ahh…yes, the sweet life…  Allow me to introduce you to Agriturismo Casa al Bosco:

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This eighteenth-century farmhouse is operated by the lovely Cassioli family.  Constanza (the only English speaker of the family) & her father (who couldn’t speak an ounce of English) were absolutely delightful hosts.  In our failed attempt to understand the bus routes, we relied heavily on a taxi to get us back & forth from the town centre of Montepulciano.  (Read my guide to Montepulciano here.)  That was an unfortunate alternative for two reasons: evidently, there is only one taxi driver in all of Montepulciano (an energetic, charismatic man who drove maybe a bit too fast but always left us with a smile & a friendly wave), which often meant 1) we had long waits for his arrival, & 2) it was rather expensive fare.  However, as soon as the father heard of us taking the taxi to arrive at his abode, he insisted on driving us himself so we could save our money.  Can you believe that generosity?  As if the lavish establishment wasn’t enough to win us over, the hospitality of the owners certainly floored us!

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Our inviting room complete with jacuzzi tub.

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I highly recommend experiencing agriturismo for yourself.  It is a true getaway from the everyday & Agriturismo Casa al Bosco is the perfect place for you to try out this brand of tourism.  Come back on Wednesday for a look at our Halloween party from this past weekend!  Until then, arrivederci!

mapped it: Top 3 Things To Do in Montepulciano of Tuscany, Italy


Bonjourno!  Welcome to the splendid countryside familiar to all as Tuscany.  Truly, you will find the hills unroll to reveal vineyards & rows of sunflowers for you, winding & dipping & spilling over with beauty.  Montepulciano works well as a home base for you to explore the vast Tuscan countryside, including Florence & Siena.  As our time was limited, we chose to simply ramble through this charming Renaissance town.  Here’s my Top 3 Must-Do items when in Montepulciano:

1. Eat authentic Italian pizza.

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So maybe this doesn’t necessarily fall under a totally Tuscan absolute, but seriously, you better devour some pizza when in Italy.  We just happened to take part in this pleasurable experience while in Montepulciano.  The crust is thin & fluffy (not like the cracker type offered in St. Louis) & the cheese is rich in flavor while the sauce is the freshest I’ve ever tried.  I struggle with finding homeland pizza that stands up to it.

2. Sample the wine of Tuscany.

IMG_8302Vino Nobile is the pride of Tuscan wine.  The deep reds featured here are all DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which means they come from a protected geographical location & are produced with the highest level of quality.  In other words, these wines are 100% authentic in origin.  The wine is aged in oak barrels for a couple of years (or more, if it is a reserve).  Sign up for a sample session & you’ll get 6 samples, including a few from reserve bottles.  Soon, you too will understand the many awards lining the walls of this tavern-like building.

3. Put on your best pair of walking shoes & stroll the streets of the walled medieval city, Montepulciano.

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The stony streets of this Tuscan town are utterly gorgeous, from the narrow alleyways that provide a peek of the rolling hills just beyond to the grand churches & colorful shops.  Stop off at the Piazza Grande a Montepulciano for excellent cuisine, wine (featured above) & beautiful historical sites to explore.  It truly is easy to imagine living la dolce vita in a place like this.  Can’t you just see Sophia Loren leaning out one of these flowered windows or balconies?

The sun-baked Tuscan town of Montepulciano is one to add to your wanderlust wish list.  Come back Monday to learn about the historic farmhouse we stayed in & highly recommend!  Till then, ciao!

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mapped it: Monterosso al Mare of the Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque TerreBonjourno!  Welcome to our first stop in Italy: Monterosso, the largest of the five seaside villages built into the cliffs along the Italian Riviera.  This particular town has a lovely beach that lends to its resort rep.  Add to that some Old World charm & it is all too easy to relax & set your worries aside.

When we first arrived by train to the darling town of Monterosso, Greg & I had grand plans of using this as our launch point for exploring all five postcard-worthy villages.  The hiking trails between the villages are known for their spectacular views & each town has its own unique lifestyle to enthrall you.  Well, supposedly.  I might be able to confirm this for you had a storm not rolled in from the Ligurian Sea to disrupt us.

The storm lasted all three days of our stay, deciding finally to relent as we headed for the train station on our final day.  I scored the above snapshot as we grabbed lunch just before leaving town.  You may think a little storm couldn’t rain on our parade, but the hiking trails are shut down during inclement weather for safety reasons.  So we made the best of being stuck in this Italian seaside village, & that certainly wasn’t hard to do.



We strolled through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, stopping off at little shops full of delightful handmade goods & any beautiful building that caught our eye.  The Church of St. John Baptist (Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista) is striking with a large rose window & striped serpentine decor.  The church, originally built at the very beginning of the 14th century, was recovering from a devastating flood in 2011.  You could see the flood lines along the wall but that certainly didn’t take away from the beauty of this historic building.

IMG_8105 (2)We stayed just off the main road alongside the sea at the 5 Terre Hotel.  We instantly loved the warmth of the hotel staff & felt right at home when greeted by the resident calico cat (it reminded us of our sweet Chelsea cat).  Our floor-length windows opened up above the garden, which smelled delightfully fresh from the abundant rain.  Greg & I spent most of our time finding keepsakes for our loved ones & sampling the wine of the region: a drier white made from a combination of grapes & the sticky-sweet wine called sciacchetrà produced out of the late harvest.  Only white wine can be produced in the Cinque Terre soil, but as I tend to go for the whites, that was quite fine by me.  The sciacchetrà proved to be too sweet even for me (I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, seriously), but the biscotti paired with it tasted lovely dipped in the dessert wine.

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Stop in next week to learn about the unique food presentation we experienced here in the Cinque Terre.  Till then, ciao!