View of Siena rooftops
Like pretty much every other person on the planet, we love Tuscany. Tuscany has everything going for it: architecture, scenery, food, wine, markets, and art. If you want to rave about narrow streets and yellowing buildings, you can do that. If you want to talk about churches that dazzle, you can do that. If you want to eat some of the best meals of your life ---- truffle flecked pasta, prosciutto with melon, pizza singed on coal burned ovens, fluorescent green olive oil and ciabatta --- you can do that. And, if you want to drink red wines that are earthy, smooth, fruity, or nutty, you can do that. Tuscany is amazing.
The funny thing is that, though we love Tuscany, it took us a long, long time to visit Siena, the second most important city. I think we expected it to be another Florence, another city overrun with tourists, where we wouldn't be able to see the charm through the throngs. But, we did.
The charms of Siena were almost immediately apparent in dull brick red and cobblestone streets, through the meandering alleys, over and across hills and stairs, and under bridges. The Duomo stunned in black and white.
It took us time to come to this city but, once we came, we came again and again.
October 23, 2013
Go With Oh Apartment in Vienna
It's been a while since we've done a giveaway on our blog which makes me sad because I love giving you guys free stuff from great companies. So, when Go With Oh contacted me to let me know about their new contests, I jumped at the chance to score you guys a free stay at one of their apartments. People, I love this company and you should, too.
I'll tell you more about why I think you should be using Go With Oh below but, if you're in a hurry, here's the scoop. There are three ways that you can win money to stay at a Go With Oh apartment in any of their ten European locations:
All of these contests end on October 31, 2013, so there are a lot of ways to win money in the next week.
A quick look at our Go With Oh Vienna apartment
Last year, we stayed with them for three days in Venice and for three days in Vienna. After a brief perusal through their website, I knew that we were going to love working with them.
You see, one of the strange things about traveling is that we never know exactly where we're going to live. When you buy a house or rent an apartment, ordinarily, you tour the place, you look around for lots of options, and you think about whether this is the exact spot you want to live. When we travel, on the other hand, we pick hotels or vacation homes based on often outdated pictures and web reviews. Until we get there, we never know exactly what we're going to get.
Sometimes, the new apartments work out really well. But, then again, there are the other times . . . . There were the two weeks in Prague where the bathroom continually filled with water. And the month in Istanbul with the kitchen that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years: my mom and I got down onto our hands and knees to clean it to make it moderately liveable. There was the hostel in Lampang, Thailand, where I was afraid to sleep in the bed because of the thick stains all across the sheets and the flock of spiders living in the ceiling fan above the bed.
Go With Oh floorplan
So, what I loved about the Go With Oh site is that every single one of their properties has professional pictures and a to scale floorplan included, plus places for people to write in reviews. A floorplan! Professional pictures! I didn't have to pore through murky underexposed photos to figure out whether the kitchen had a microwave and an oven or run Google Map searches to determine whether there was a park nearby. At last, I had found a vacation rental site that actually provided all of the information I needed to make a completely informed decision about their apartment in one place. Revolutionary!
And, in both Vienna and Venice, our apartments almost perfectly matched the website description. (The only problem we had in Vienna was that the laundry machine did not work but there was a nearby laundromat with great facilities.)
Standing outside the apartment
We were very happy with our stays in both Vienna and Venice and I think you will be, too. If you're still with me, here are the three ways that you can win a voucher to stay at one of the Oh properties:
September 12, 2013
Street in Prague
We don't often do black and white photography largely because I love color. I love the juxtaposition of bright against light, sky against tree, and strong against weak. One of my all time favorite photo spreads on our site is this one with the children and balloons, done in black and white, with pops of color, because the color almost springs out of the computer. And, our penchant for bright and vivid colors is the reason that we're constantly posting about flowers, trees, gardens, and flower festivals.
But, one of the biggest benefits of black and white photography is its timelessness. If you look at an old photo in color, you can easily determine the decade in which it was taken by the type of color and the use of the lens. But, the pictures we took recently in Prague in black and white could have been taken a decade ago or longer. In monochrome, our eyes aren't distracted by the newness or oldness of the camera technology or other camera distortions. (It's only a small part of the reason why Ansel Adams' gorgeous scenery photographs looks like it was taken yesterday.)
When I started going through our photography for Prague, I realized that I had to do a photo spread in black and white because Prague has this same sense of timelessness. Buildings and cobblestone streets are perfectly preserved, down to the ruts used for horse-drawn carriage in the Stare Mestro (Old Town). A little further away, the city becomes stark and square, with odd monuments built to celebrate Communism and the Communist regime. There are very few buildings (other than the famous Tancici Dum or Dancing Building) that embrace modern steel and glass. The city seems to have stood still, with parts of it squarely stuck in the 14th century and others in the pre-Cold War era.