Lunar New Year Content Ideas

Happy New Year! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 新年快乐! Make it a year of family, fortune and luck this Tuesday, February 1st. You will have the chance to celebrate Lunar New Year so go make a reservation at your favorite Asian restaurant to join in on the festivities (my go to is Din Tai Fung) Half the fun of Lunar New Year is reviving all the traditions around the holiday- it’s a time for family and friends to get together to ring in the new year. In this blog post, I will be sharing my Lunar New Year content and photo ideas along with some fun facts. I’m proud to share my culture with you all and gets you inspired to celebrate along with me!

Passing out red envelopes (紅包 / hóngbāo) is a classic tradition. These red envelopes are filled with money and symbolize good wishes and luck for the new year ahead. It’s every kid’s favorite part! For this photo, first have the camera focused on your face while you hold up a red envelope. The envelope should appear blurry giving you this effect. Next, throw around the rest of the red envelope to make it appear that it’s falling from the sky and ta da!

Easiest thing for you to participate in LNY? Wear new clothes, or at least something red. People believe wearing new clothes symbolize a fresh new start and a hopeful beginning. Avoid black and white. In my culture, the color red is associated with energy, happiness and good luck. Put on your favorite red lipstick and try on a traditional qípáo 旗袍, a traditional garment made with embroidered silk featuring a high collar and delicate buttons on the front. It comes in a variety of colors nowadays, but I prefer to stick to the traditional red. P.S The materials can be ordered through Amazon or better yet, head to your local Chinatown and you’ll be sure to get them for a steal!

The history of the Chinese fan dates back to over 3,000 years ago. The feather fan became popular among the aristocracy because it was extremely expensive to produce. Made of bird feathers, it was widely recognized as the symbol of wealth, authority, and wisdom.

 

I hope you’re hungry! It’s time for dumplings! Dumplings represent wealth because of their close appearance to Chinese gold ingots, which are oval, boat-shaped hunks of gold used as currency in imperial China. Some families will hide a coin in one of the dumplings, and whoever receives that dumpling is believed to have a prosperous year. Customizing my own dumplings is one of my favorite actives! Plus, you can pop them in ziplock bags in the freezer and they can last up to months! Super convenient for when you need a quick meal.

The Taiwanese have used lanterns not only as sources of light or simple paper decoration, but also they symbolize the wish for a bright future. You’ll find lanterns hanging in public spaces, shops, restaurants, and even used as street lights. Hanging lanterns are particularly common during festivals as they are said to bring good luck. During the Spring Festival, red lanterns are meant to scare the monster away.

Fun Fact: The 12 zodiac animals are, in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle. This year, we have the chance to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. According to predictions, if you’re born in the year of the Ox and Goat, you will be the luckiest zodiac signs in the year of 2022. For those born in the years of the Rat, Snake, Monkey, Pig and Dog, you will need to make comparatively more effort in order to make achievements. Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, and Rooster people are destined to enjoy a smooth life and good luck in making money this year. 

Cabra Castle Hotel

Growing up, I was raised on Disney films! I’d get dressed up in princess gowns & dreamed of staying in a castle one day. Well… that dream came to life in IRELAND! It took me 20 years to realize that these real historical castles are the original inspiration to all those films I watched. I can promise you that it is truly a bucket list worthy experience at Cabra Castle! The next time you visit Ireland, treat yourself & indulge in a majestical castle experience.  

Cabra Castle History

Cabra Castle is one of the best known 4 star castle hotels in Ireland! It dates back to 1699 with 100 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and parkland to the magnificent 19th century. You will be taken back to a castle only seen in fairytales as you enter the long sweeping drive inside the grounds. From the outside, you will admire the grandeur and design of the castle. The English Ivy that climbs the wall was a plus (especially during Fall peak season) When you step inside, it’s like you’re walking back hundreds of years with all the historical artifacts and history seeping through the walls. A perk to this hotel is that you will most certainly be greeted and surrounded by the 2 Irish Wolfhounds that roam freely on property.

I fully lived out my princess dreams here at Cabra Castle and here is my review!

LOCATION

Cabra Castle is situated in the north-east of Ireland. Located only 1 hour from Dublin, the castle stands on the borders of County Monaghan, County Meath and County Cavan.

Address: Carrickmacross Rd, Cormey, Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, A82 EC64, Ireland

PRICE 

Cabra rates are on the affordable end (for a 4 star castle…) It ranges from 150€ to 350€ per night. The price of the room will depend on the accommodation options- main rooms in the castle, courtyard lodges, or cottages. All 3 types of rooms are located inside the property, however courtyard lodges and cottages are NOT inside the main castle. We booked directly on their website, chose a night in the castle and the total was 260€. Click here to book a night!

BEDROOM

You do not get the option to choose which room you stay in, but from what I could see on the map of the grounds, we lucked out with a luxurious corner suite. Room 35 was tucked away in the corner with a separate mini staircase that leads up to the entrance. You get the privacy and seclusion you need, all while staying inside a magnificent castle.

Personally, I love that the bedroom was a blend of modern and royalty decor. There was a couch, desk, dining table, The bedroom had a cal king mattress and the sheets were unbelievably soft. There was a little walk in closet that reminded me of Harry Potter’s cupboard- it was a bit creepy in there.

Bathroom was shockingly spacious with a bathtub and waterfall shower. I treated myself to a bubble bath and it was a night of bliss!

The Courtroom Restaurant

At Cabra Castle, you can easily have the royal dining experience. You have 2 options for the dinner menu: 2 course (37.50 € ) or 5 course meal (46 € )

To be 100% honest with you, the meal was decent. Don’t expect Michelin stars, unique plating, quirky flavors in the dishes. You will get well cooked, traditional recipes that cater towards the older generations that stick to what they know and are comfortable with. Every single dish was appetizing and filling, bu my tastebuds weren’t impressed. The portion is very generous- my steak came in 2 huge pieces. It’s definitely an indulgence to book a meal here but personally, if I were to stay at the castle again, I’d be happy eating a cup ramen in my bedroom! 

Money Saving Tip: If you are on a tight budget or just want to be more money conscious, pack your own food to eat in the bedroom- instant noodles, oatmeal packet, etc

Indoor Fall Content Ideas

Fall is officially HERE! Fall brings so much nostalgia, moodiness and is the start of all the fun festivities. For those looking for some creative content ideas, this post is for you! I am going to show you how YOU can easily recreate these cozy feels in the comfort of your own HOME! I’m sure you’ve got your Fall/ Halloween decor sitting in a storage box somewhere, so go to your garage and bring them in to get started! If not, head over to your local Michaels, HomeGoods, Dollar Tree, Marshalls, Target, etc and invest in a couple items that you can reuse every single year. Let’s all get into the Fall spirit by lighting some pumpkin spice candles, baking warm apple pies, & creating Fall content together! Make sure to tag me on Instagram so I can see your recreations!

Oh My Gourd!

Grab all the pumpkins you have- fake or real (doesn’t matter) and pose with it! Tip: Best to use a variety of pumpkins- different shapes, sizes, colors & texture. First, you will take a picture of you with a pumpkin on your head and if that’s too difficult, just simply hold it! Next, take individual photos of just your arms holding out each pumpkin you want to feature- make sure you take them from different sides with both arms to get a variety of photos. Download the app PicArt (super useful for content creation) Next, go on PicsArt and select Cut Out. Use this to trace around your arm & pumpkins for each individual shot and save it as a Sticker on the App. After you’ve traced and saved all the individual arms, you want to open up the original photo of you in the center. Click on Sticker and find the arms and paste them around the image! And voila!

Pumpkin Spice And Everything Nice

We’ve all got a garland laying around somewhere. If not, head to your local Michaels and they’ve got tons at an affordable price! Tip: Go to Michaels after each holiday ends- everything will be on sale for at least 60%-80% and you can use it for the following year! Pick a garland that has some flexibility and wrap it around your body for a festive self portrait! Make sure the garland covers specific areas (if ya know what I mean haha) or you can wear a bralette underneath to not show too much skin.

My Blood Type Is Pumpkin Spice

I’m sure many of you have lined up your Autumn decor on the front porch already! Head out there with a warm cup of pumpkin spice latte and capture a shot from an aerial perspective! Feel free to wear Fall shades- orange, burgundy, red, any warm colors & preferably long sleeves (sweater, cardigan) so it can add an extra cozy element to the shot as you hold the cup of coffee out!

That Autumn Life

The colder weather usually has us spending more time indoor= more movie nights! Put on a pair of cozy socks, your favorite movie and bring in the warm and cozy feels. Fill a cup up with candy corn, light a yummy pumpkin scented candle, snack on butterscotch popcorn, turn on the fairy lights and set the perfect movie night mood! Fun fact: we watch the Harry Potter series every October to get us into the Halloween spirit! This scene on my laptop is from Harry Potter!

Leaves Are Falling, Autumn Is Calling

Grab a friend, partner, family member, pet and have them hold your hand! Use some autumn colored leaves (I used fake ones from Michaels because LA doesn’t have seasons… haha) Set up the leaves in a heart shape or whatever your preference is and snap a pic! As you take the picture, sprinkle some leaves down at the same time to create more dimension and depth in the photo! You don’t need a fancy camera or expensive products to create any of these shots- this was straight from the iPhone!

#SweaterWeather

Angles angles angles! This is an alternative shot you can take from your front porch set up! Go to the bottom of the steps and take it from a completely different angle! All you have to do is sit with the decorations and smile! Wear a sweater dress, overalls, or chunky knit sweater to make it look more “autumn like”. Easy peasy to shoot and you can leave the decorations out for the rest of the season for your neighbors to enjoy!

Creep It Real

I’m all a-BAT you! Ha, just ‘winging’ it with these puns 😉 For real, these are the cutest and most affordable Halloween decor and I had soooo much fun putting these bats up! $5 on Amazon, 2 day prime shipping and the easiest setup. The wings are bendable, which creates a 3D illusion and all you have to do is pop on a sticker. A really fun bonding activity to do with the kiddos and there’s no right or wrong way to do it!

Fall is my Second Favorite F Word

Not all of us has the luxury to travel and go leaf peeping up in the New England area, but we all have access to free photoshop apps and our imagination! Take a photo of you sitting in front of a mirror- any size will do! Google Fall foliage images, pick your FAV one and save the photo on your phone. Pull up the app PicsArt (I’m telling you, if you are aspiring to create/ a beginner, this app is a MUST!) Open up your self portrait of you sitting in front of the mirror, click on Add Photo, select the Fall Foliage image and make it fit directly into the mirror. You’ve just created your very own dreamy autumn scene!

THE ULTIMATE FLORENCE GUIDE

Firenze! One of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world. Founded in the first century BCE, the birthplace of Renaissance, this Italian city has an abundance of historical aesthetics and attractions, rich in culture, food, people and well preserved monuments. This quaint city attracts around 10 million tourists a year is a UNESCO World Heritage site and every inch of this city has a rustic aesthetic etched in the walls and cobblestone streets. Florence is a MUST when you are visiting Italy & I’ve got the perfect guide for you.

WHERE IS IT?

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Florence sits in north central Italy right in between Rome and Venice. It is a 1 hour and 30 min train ride from Rome and 2 hour train ride from Venice.

TRANSPORT ME HERE!

Florence is a relatively easy destination to get to. Because it is the most populous city in Tuscany, there are many ways to get here! 

FLY 

Amerigo Vespucci Airport is located directly in Florence- how convenient! From the airport, you can reach the main central station within 15 minutes by taking the T1 Tram. Average one-way ticket costs 1.5 EUR ($1.80) 

Galileo Galilei International Airport is located in Pisa. Flights into Pisa are less expensive, so this could be an option if you’re on a tight budget. A high speed train takes around 50 minutes from Pisa to get to Florence. 

TRAIN

Personally, it is the best form of transportation in Europe- comfortable & cost-effective! Opt for the train if you’re coming from other parts of Italy. The train will take you directly to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station, which is located in downtown Florence. It’s only a 2 hour ride from Rome or Venice. Book through Trenitalia or Italo for the best deals.

DRIVE

Driving into historic center Florence is a bit tricky for tourists. Not only are you driving on the opposite side of the car, but also there are restricted traffic zones, which means the center is closed to car traffic and ONLY residents, buses, & taxis can use the streets. Without a special permit, you could be fined for driving into zona a traffico limitato (ZTL) One option is to inform your hotel in advance so they can arrange a special permit for you!

GETTING AROUND FLORENCE

Easiest way is to walk! I promise you will easily get your 10,000 steps in by noon everyday. The cobblestone streets make it a bit more difficult, so wear a solid pair of walking shoes. There are buses that you can take, but Florence is truly a work of art in every corner- by walking  you’ll discover so much more in every little corners and streets. 

Avoid driving in Florence. Parking is hard to come by. Leave your car parked at the hotel and get your lazy butt up!  

SIGHTS TO SEE IN FLORENCE!


PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Address: Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ohhhhh you will want to come here every single day because the panoramic skyline of Florence is unreal! Highly recommend coming during sunrise to have the whole place to yourself & watch this historic city glow up! Check out the photoshoot we did here (if you recreate the same pose, be sure to tag me so I can give it some love on Instagram!)

It is around a 25 minute walk from city center. There is a steep hill you’ll have to climb (great butt exercise) If you’re feeling lazy, you can take a bus or drive to the top. Click here to find the right bus line that takes you here.

Giardino Delle Rose

Stop and smell the roses- take a moment to yourself & appreciate how lucky you are to be in Italy! This gorgeous rose garden is located right below Piazzale Michelangelo & it’s completely free! Who doesn’t love a free attraction? This garden was created in 1865 with over 400 varieties of roses.  

THE DUOMO & CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE

Address: Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

Did you really visit Florence if you didn’t get a photo in front of the Duomo? Hands down the most iconic landmark in Florence. The Duomo is part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore and dates all the way back to the 13th century. The dome is an architectural feat and built without scaffolding! Now take in the grandness here because it is considered one of the world’s marvel! 

Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore:

Free entrance. I highly recommend going in and exploring the underground area called The Crypt of Santa Reparata.

The Duomo

There is always a huge line that wraps around the corner so make sure to buy the Grande Museo Del Duomo ticket, which allows you to climb up the dome, bell tower, museum & Baptistery. You will get admission to all 5 monuments in Piazza Duomo. This must be reserved in advance online with a specific time slot. Time slot cannot be changed so choose wisely. Click here to buy your ticket- the pricing is 20 EUR ($24) for adults

Personally, I do not think it is worth paying a fee to climb up to the top of the Duomo. All you see from the top are terra cotta rooftops of the whole town, while Piazzale Micahengelo gives you a much better view for FREE. FYI there’s 463 steps… each way..

PONTE VECCHIO

Address: Ponte Vecchio, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, translation means the old bridge and actually the very first bridge to cross the Arno River. The bridge was once filled with butcher shops and they’d toss the unwanted  leftover meat into the river, but nowadays, it is home to souvenir/jewelry shops.

PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Address: P.za della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This L-shaped square in Florence has a reputation of being the center of political focus of the city since the 14th century! There are important buildings in this palazza- a fortress like city hall that dominates the square, the David statue by Michaelangelo was placed outside here as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici and Loggia Dei Lanzi, an open-air museum showcasing famou Renaissance sculptures. You will be sure to find lively events going on every night from beautiful orchestras, fashion shows, art installations or street performances. 

MERCATO CENTRALE 

Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy

Can’t decide what to eat? This is the place to go to! This central market has options galore! The first floor is an open marketplace where you can buy all your groceries. They have fresh meat, cheese, truffle, seasonings, anything you can think of! The second floor has SO many vendors that can whip up a quick bite for you. There’s sandwiches, pasta, ice cream, juices, salads, etc. Mercato Centrale can feel a bit overwhelming if I’m being completely honest. Sometimes when there’s too many options, it’s tough to make a decision. Avoid coming here right at peak lunch/dinner time!

PHOTOBOOTH

Address: Piazza della Stazione 56r Florence, ITA 50123 or Via dell’Agnolo & Via Giuseppe Verdi

You’ll see some old school photobooths spread out all over Florence (see if you can find all 5!) Hop in one to capture some silly memories with each other. B&W, 4 per strip, €2.00

PITTI PALACE & BOBOLI GARDENS

Address: Piazza de’ Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Pitti Palace

This palace was the symbol of the Medici Family’s power over Tuscany. Originally built in 1457, the famous Medici Family purchased it in 1549. This palace is divided into 4 museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes (ground floor), the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments (first floor), the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Costume and Fashion (second floor) 

Regular Ticket Fee: 16 € /  Closed on Mondays 

Boboli Garden

This garden sits behind the palace. It is a historical open air museum with tons of statues, fountains and lush landscaping. It has been said that Boboli is what inspired the gardens at Versailles Palace. As you explore, there is a space that houses a little pink building- from there, you can see a panoramic view of Florence and the countryside. You can also stop by the Grottos, which has sculptures and fresco painting amongst stalactites. It’s the perfect space to roam around and get lost in! 

Regular Ticket Fee: 10 €

UFFIZI GALLERY

Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This gallery is home to priceless works of art! It is the second largest museum in Italy and houses a large collection Renaissance art gifted by the Medici family on the condition that these pieces never leave Florence. The name Uffizi translates into ‘offices’ and the museum is actually housed in a 16th century government office. Buy tickets ahead of time to skip the long lines. Click here to buy your tickets online!

Regular Ticket Fee: 20 €

WHERE TO EAT

All’Antico Vinaio ($): craving a panini? Check this palace out! Those on a tight budget, this spot is for you- SO cheap. No seating-  I recommend taking it to your airbnb or find a bench and have a picnic!

Il Nutino ($): Cozy, 1950s venue with frescoed decor & wooden beams. I had the BEST Linguine Vongole (Spaghetti with clams) and I still crave this dish soooo much.

Trattoria Toscana Gozzi Sergio ($): a local’s favorite! If you want an inexpensive, authentic Tuscan meal, this place is for you! There is outdoor seating along the side of San Lorenzo Basilica. The pasta with ragu, Pepeso- slow cooked beef with pepper and red wine sauce here is unreal. They are only open for 3-5 hours everyday so I recommend getting there before opening to get a seat before it fills up.

La Prosciutteria Firenze ($): who doesn’t love wine and an epic cheese plate? Come here for an impressive charcuterie board and a cute vintage sidewalk set up.

 Trattoria Mario ($$): family run eatery with unique handwritten menu on the wall. Get in here before noon and be prepared to share a table with other parties. Popular order here is the Florentine Steak & you can always ask what they’d recommend or look around to see what other people are ordering

Trattoria Sostanza ($$$): The history of the Florentine steak is as old as the Italian city of Florence. The steak is cut from the veal loin and in Tuscany, the animal has to be a Chianina breed- the oldest breed used for heavy work by the Romans. Food here may be pricy, but cooked to perfection!

La Terrazza Rooftop Bar ($$$): I don’t think there is any other bar that can top this location- rooftop floor of the medieval Consorti tower surrounded by impeccable Tuscan views. You’re def paying for the view… its steep in prices

GROM – Il Gelato ($): One of the best chain gelaterias in the world. Endless mouthwatering flavors to choose from and high quality ingredients.

WHERE TO STAY 

Florence has an abundance of Airbnbs AND hotels to choose from. Luckily, a couple of the Airbnb’s even have epic rooftop views of The Duomo from the living room! I’ve listed the ones that are on my bucketlist for the next visit . There is a huge range in prices- you can easily find budget places for $50/ night to $500 luxury hotels. Depending on your budget, there is a space for everyone!

BALCONY DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN ARTSY AIRBNB ($)

ROMANTIC ITALIAN SPACE with PARTIAL DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN SPACE WITH DUOMO VIEW ($$)

LUXURY DUOMO VIEW ($$$)

DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE

Florence is an excellent city to use as a homebase. Feel free to go on epic day trips/ weekend getaways! Trains are so accessible in Italy and is the perfect transportation to take for day trips. Check out the list of day trip ideas!

PISA : Read my A Day In Pisa guide here!

CINQUE TERRE– I’ve got a whole guide on the 5 coastal towns here! You MUST visit here on your trip!! Click here!

TUSCANY: SO many Tuscan towns to choose from- I’ve listed my favorites that stand out!

  • SAN GIMIGNANO: the postcard village of the Tuscan hill towns! Whole town is surrounded by 13th century walls and in the heart of San Gimignano is filled with museums, churches, small local shops. Honestly, we came here for the world famous, award winning gelato shop: Gelateria Dondoli. It tasted like any other gelato in Italy… haha still very delicious! However, we stumbled upon the cutest meat and cheese shop with created by the most passionate & kind butcher! Despite the language barrier, he gave us an interactive one on one experience that was unforgettable!

Dine at Da I’ Mariani ( Address: Via di Quercecchio, 19, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy) The charcuterie board is absolute perfection here! Also, buy a bottle of Truffle Honey- it’s soooo worth it!

  • BOLOGNA: Only half an hour from Florence by train, Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Bologna, and it’s well worth taking a food tour  here. You can even tour a Gelato Museum and MAKE your own!!! HOW COOL. Piazza Maggiore is the main square and one of the top Bologna attractions. Here you’ll find the Basilica di San Petronio and a 16th-century Neptune Fountain built by Flemish sculptor Giambologna.
  • SIENA: This city is well known for its gorgeous architecture and beautiful main square – the Piazza del Campo. Explore the medieval streets and admire the premier examples of Gothic churches and palaces. You must see the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta that was constructed in the 13th century, Palazzo Pubblico, & Biblioteca Piccolomini. I personally had a blast at the Torture Museum ( Opening hours: everyday from 10 to 7om / Tickets: 10 € )

Dine at Ristorante Tar- Tufo- restaurant that specializes in TRUFFLE. Need I say more? If you’re going to splurge on one meal in Italy, this is the place to go for luxury dining. They put a lot of effort into the presentation of the dish, the flavors are on point and the lovely outdoor terrace has a beautiful view of Siena.

  • MODENA: Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar! Visit Acetaia di Giorgio, a family run business that’s been making vinegar for the past 130 years and the tradition is passed down each generation.

Dine at three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana– owned and run by chef Massimo Bottura. It has been named as one of the world’s best 50 restaurants! This restaurant has been featured in Chef’s Table and Somebody Feed Phil for those interested in seeing what they serve before making a reservation (Netflix shows!)

Follow me on instagram for more daily content!

XO, Soph

A DAY IN PISA

Did you know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is in Italy? That’s why it is italicized! And aren’t you surprised the tower of Pisa hasn’t fallen over during the pandemic… without all those tourists helping hold it up! Ok all jokes aside, Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. Being less than 1 hour away from Florence, the city is a must-stop on your Italian itinerary. It was once a major seaport, but nowadays Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower. I would say 4-5 hours in Pisa is the perfect amount of time to spend here. Keep on reading to learn more about my recommendations!

GET ME HERE!

The train is the best way to get to Pisa. Train ticket from Florence is 8.70 € ($10) one way, with trains traveling every 20 minutes.

Fly into Galileo Galilei International Airport of Pisa– located only 1 kilometer southwards from the center of the city. The train between Pisa Airport and Pisa Centrale station takes just 5 mins. 

Buses are the cheapest of all transport options and many link the main Italian and Tuscan cities and towns to Pisa. There are three bus operators servicing the tourist platform of Pisa- Autolinee Lazzi, Compagnia Pisana Trasporti, CLAP.

GETTING AROUND PISA

Your best bet is to simply walk. Get your daily steps in! Another fun way to discover Pisa is by bike. Bikes are available for rent at Pisa Centrale where you also find a good luggage deposit service. There are buses available that takes you around the city- individual tickets are very affordable and can be bought from newsstands and ticket offices

SIGHTS TO SEE

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

Realistically, we are all only stopping in Pisa to see the leaning tower. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is a short walk away from the station and the route will take you directly through the city centre. Many tourists are surprised to see that the Leaning Tower is actually a part of a larger religious complex on the Square of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). Right next to the Tower, you’ll find an impressive cathedral and baptistery. Access to the square is FREE, but access to specific attractions is ticketed. Visit the inside of the tower and go all the way to the top to enjoy the view over Pisa. The climb is 251 steps up FYI. Book your ticket in advance here!

A bit of history… Construction began in August 1173 and eventually completed in the mid-1300s. It was originally built as a freestanding tower bell for the nearby cathedral 850 years ago and is now an attraction on its own. WHY does the tower lean? Thanks to the soft ground, it had begun to lean by the time its builders got to the third story in 1178. Shifting soil had destabilized the tower’s foundations. Over the next 800 years, it became clear the 55-metre tower wasn’t just leaning, but was actually falling at a rate of one to two millimeters per year. Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is more than five meters off perpendicular. Due to this flaw, it’s the reason why the city is so famous.

TIP: the large crowds here can be so overwhelming. Get here in the early mornings to have the place to yourself! Don’t forget to do a CHEESY, stereotypical tourist pose here!

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA

Construction on the cathedral started in 1063 and it boasts fascinating Pisan Romanesque architecture. It encapsulates diverse styles and highlights the international influence on the city- classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine and Islamic. The Duomo di Pisa is the largest building of the religious complex on this square and like the tower, has clearly sunken into the ground. The most impressive thing is the gold plated ceiling inside!The cathedral is FREE to visit IF you have bought a ticket to any of the other buildings of the complex (Leaning Tower or Baptistery and Camposanto)

ARNO RIVER

The Arno River, which also flows through the nearby city of Florence, cuts through Pisa and offers an incredibly stunning view. Lugarno are the roads along the banks of the river and this is a wonderful road to stroll along to bring you past some iconic sights in Pisa. Take some time to pop into charming cafes, bars or have a picnic alongside the river.

THE KNIGHTS’ SQUARE OF PISA / PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI

Piazza dei Cavalieri is a landmark in Pisa, Italy, and the second main square of the city. It was once used to be the heart of the city where everybody would gather around to discuss political/ everyday matters. The square was known as the Square of the seven streets (Piazza delle sette vie).

On the square, you’ll see the beautiful Palazzo della Carovana and the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The Order of the Knights of St. Stephen used the palace as headquarters. Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, founded this order to fight the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.

CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA SPINA

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina is a small 14th-century church in a Pisan Gothic style. The church’s name has a special history: ‘spina’ means ‘thorn’ and the church is said to have hosted one of the thorn of Jesus’ crown

WHERE TO EAT

Filter Coffee Lab: industrial style cafe with outdoor courtyard. Grab some delicious espresso and pastries in the morning before you start your exploration around Pisa!

I Porci Comodi: offer really awesome appetizer platters with a great local selection of meat, ham, sausages, cheese and bread. A popular spot so be ready for long queue and long waiting time

Il Ristoro della Pe’ : Authentic atmosphere, Italian cuisine food is cooked right in front of you , off the main tourist route

Ristorante Alle Bandierine:  very popular with the locals which is always a good sign! Portion size are quite large, fresh pasta & house wine that will leave you wanting more

L’ Ostellino: a tiny hole in the wall spot away from the tourist traps! Has a wide range of paninis prepared freshly and quickly. Also very reasonably priced!

Pasticceria Cioccorocolato : endless desserts and pastries!

Gelateria De’ Coltelli : Come here for gelato- they offer different flavors everyday and is an award winning place!

Looking for daily content? You can find me on Instagram @sophcation

CA Gold Rush

We’ve all heard of the 49ers right? No no, I’m not referring to the San Francisco football team… I’m talking about something else! The 49ers- a nickname given to the miners that took part in the 1849 California Gold Rush. 

Located in the Northeastern area in CA, the historic Highway 49 passes through the old mining communities that have been very well preserved. Go on a roadtrip through this highway to travel back in time to the sights of these mining towns! It’s perfect for families with kids as there are tons of interactive mining activities to experience, for history lovers that want to take a step back in time, for architectural lovers to admire different structures and couples looking to get a change of scenery. 

HISTORY

A glimpse of history… On Jan 24,1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter from NJ found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This moment instantly changed California- leading to the largest immigration in US history! Word got out worldwide- migrants from Chile, China, Peru, Brazil, Caribbeans etc spent their life savings to make the trek to CA to pursue their dream of gaining immense wealth! People dreamed of striking big and living a prosperous life and California experienced a huge rapid economic growth. Because of this event, a total of $2 billion worth of precious metals was extracted during the Gold Rush period.

AWARENESS

Although the Gold Rush was a significant event that has shaped our history, it is IMPORTANT we recognize the shameful parts of our past as it created dark devastation to the Native Americans community. The Gold Rush was a heinous chapter in CA history & I personally find it important to address and spread more awareness on the whole truth before we get to the fun sights and itinerary.

First, all the mining, specifically hydraulic mining, destroyed the regions landscape. It ruined fertile land for native farmers, choked the rivers with sediments, ultimately destroying crops, making it extremely difficult for Native Americans to survive and eventually became victims of starvation.

Second, violence, discrimination and genocide against Native Americans were carried out. Hundreds of Native Americans were enslaved and used as laborers and makeshift militia for James Marshall (the one who found flakes of gold) to defend his territory and expand his empire. Mass massacres wiped out tribal populations (9,000-16,000 were murdered in cold blood), children were forced to attend “Indian Assimilation School,” and people caught diseases that were brought in from overseas. 80% of Native Americans were wiped out 20 years later, specifically the Nisenan Maidu and Miwok tribes, and by 1870, only 30,000 Native Americans remained in CA, most of them on reservations WITHOUT access to their homelands. 

This part of the history shouldn’t be overlooked or avoided because ignoring our history doesn’t make the situation disappear. There can only be progress by confronting the truth, acknowledging these experiences, learning from the past so we can move forward. Keep that in mind as you explore these communities!  

Towns and developments were created to accommodate the gold miners and to this day, so many of them are still well maintained for historical preservation and tourism! You’ll have an array of Gold Rush towns to choose from, however not all of them are worth visiting. All the towns start to blend together, but there was one town that was memorable and stood out the most so I will be highlighting that one!

COLUMBIA, CA 

Columbia State Historic Park 

This area is the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush era structures! You can spend a whole day roaming around here- the streets are lined up with boutiques specializing in nineteenth century goods. You’ll see merchants dressed in 1850’s costumes, areas for you to pan for gold, museums & blacksmith shops. Fun fact- I was told by a local that the reason so many of these towns are at the bottom of hilly mountains is because of all the mining. The land use to be flat and because of the insane digging it created these huge pits.

P.S I applaud the town for its free admission, parking, and guides!! You can even bowl for free at an antique bowling alley.

Stop by a saloon to quench your thirst with a Sarsaparilla soda (tastes just like root beer!) This is a popular soda in Southeast Asia- I actually grew up drinking it and didn’t understand why it was so popular in these historical towns. I learned that the Native Americans used Sarsaparilla as a medicinal drink to cure blood problems. Sarsaparilla is produced from a vine and the beverage became popular in the US in the 19th century.

Other Gold Rush Towns to visit if you have extra time!

Jamestown: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park- offers seasonal excursion rides! Featured in a ton of films. 

Murphy: For wine lovers! A Charming town known for their vineyards & award winning wine- there are 25 wine tasting rooms along the main street.

Nevada City: Hike the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Sonora: Sonora, named after the miners from Sonora Mexico who settled the City in 1848. Visit the Tuolumne Museum  & History Center.

Sutter Creek: Visit Knight Fondry- a national historic mechanical Engineering Landmark

THE ULTIMATE SATURNIA GUIDE

HISTORY
INFORMATION
TRANSPORT
WHAT TO BRING
TIPS
WHERE TO STAY

Saturnia di Terme… also known as Cascate Del Mulino, the mythical landscape you’ve most likely seen in magazines wondering if it’s actually a real destination. I’m here to confirm that this natural Tuscan bath is very much a real spa town that does not disappoint and the pictures don’t do it justice!  

RUMOR HAS IT….

SATURN

This hotspot (see what I did there 😉 ) dates all the way back 3,000 years ago! According to the Etruscans and Romans, Terme di Saturnia was formed by lightning bolts thrown down by Jupiter. Two mythological deities were in the middle of a violent quarrel when Saturn had thrown bolts down and missed, causing the formations at this hot spring. 

A BIT OF HISTORY

Hot springs are heated by geothermal springs- heat from the Earth’s interior. The water in the ground comes into contact with hot rocks or magma and it seeps through the cracks/crevices of the Earth’s crust, which leads to hot springs like Saturnia!

So what is heating up Saturnia? Meet Amiata volcano, which also doubles as the tallest mountain in Tuscany. This volcano sits 80km south of Siena and is actually considered “extinct” because there has not been any recent activities in the past 200,000-300,000 years. 

INFORMATION

The best things in life are free: family, love, & SATURNIA’S NATURAL TUSCAN BATH! We all know how instagrammable spots have turned into huge money making businesses with entrance fees, life jackets, parking fees etc, but thankfully, this spot has remained generous and FREE all year round. You heard that right. Open 24 hours for 365 days!

WHERE IS SATURNIA?

Located in Tuscany, halfway in between Florence & Rome sits Saturnia. It is in the province of Grosseto, north central part of Italy.

Saturnia Di Terme coordinates: Latitude: 42.648; Longtitude: 11.513

TRANSPORT ME HERE

Easiest way to get here is by renting your own vehicle and driving through the hills of Tuscany. We rented from Hertz: started our trip in Florence and ended our road trip in Rome. The roads are well paved with clear markings and signs. Definitely use your GPS/ Google Maps to get around. Screenshot directions ahead of time because cell reception is a bit poor in some spots in Tuscany.

PARKING

As you approach the destination, you might see cars parked alongside the road, DO NOT stop or park there. You will get a ticket! 
Drive to the end of the road, make a right following the blue parking sign. The lot is pretty spacious & that is where you can park for free all day long. The area is safe, but don’t leave any valuables visible in the car- throw it in the trunk.

WHAT IS THAT SMELL?

Ever wondered why hotsprings smell like someone is cooking up dozens and dozens of hard boiled eggs? 

The water heats up due to the earth pressures and proximity to the core. As it comes through the surface, the warmth dissolves the rich mineral deposits (sulfur in the surrounding rocks/soil) and this chemical reaction creates that eggy smell. The hotter the water, the stronger it’ll be. The smell is actually caused by the bacterias eating up the sulfides in the water. The smell is pungent at first, but you get used to it. 

HEALTH IS WEALTH

The thermal waters have a temp of 37.5 °C and brings therapeutic and relaxing properties. The water helps with skin elasticity, psoriasis, relaxes the muscles/aches, rashes, circulation, supports respiratory and many more conditions! Nature truly heals!!!

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Spring! This place attracts locals and tourists from all over the world. Summer crowds are often big and the weather is wayyyyy too warm to soak in a hot bath.

WHAT TO BRING

  • Water shoes/flip flops: the pebbles and sharp rocks sitting in the springs is no joke. Couldn’t handle the pain so I ended up having to wear my Birkenstocks (totally destroyed my shoes!)
  • Towels: dry yourself before you destroy the rental car with the eggy smell and get fined for it
  • Biodegradable Sunscreen: there’s minimal shade here so protect your skin and make sure the sunscreen ingredients won’t harm the mineral deposits here
  • Water: hot springs dehydrate you, so bring/ drink plenty of water
  • Camera: don’t forget to capture some memories here to look back on! 

TIPS

  • Visit during sunrise: you will have this magical place to yourself! 
  • No changing rooms: come dressed in your bathing suit 
  • Wear an OLD bathing suit: the eggy smell will linger even after MANY washes…. I made this mistake and wore a brand new bathing suit… 
  • Remove all jewelry: the sulfur can tarnish silver
  • No lifeguard on duty: although it is shallow, always be extra careful 
  • LEAVE NO TRACE: preserve the beautiful land and keep it clean

!WARNING!

Saturnia’s OG tenants- itty bitty red worms….. No one warned me about this- I learned the hard way. As I was relaxing, soaking my body in the springs, I noticed  little worms swimming around me & YES I freaked the fuck out! They’re actually harmless, but yuck! This is just an FYI so you don’t get scared. Still totally worth going in and I have no regrets! 

WHERE TO STAY

Luckily, there are plenty of options from luxury spa hotels nearby to authentic Tuscan style airbnbs. Below are my recommendations!

SATURNIA TUSCANY HOTEL 

TERME DI SATURNIA  RESORT

ELEGANT TUSCAN VILLA AIRBNB

FARMHOUSE AIRBNB

SUBSCRIBE DOWN BELOW FOR EMAIL UPDATES!

XO,

Soph

Menstrual Cup

Ladies!!! Let’s talk PERIODS. When that time of the month comes, do you instantly feel like there’s a cloud over your head? The first thought that pops to my head is UGH again???? It is such a hassle when you constantly run to the bathroom to change your pad and tampon, worry if there’s leaks and generally feel uncomfortable down there! Periods are EXHAUSTING. 

I heard so much about menstrual cups, but never had an interest in it for years. The more I read up on it, the more it kinda repulsed me…  But something changed and I was in an experimental mood to give menstrual cups a try! So today I’ll be sharing my unfiltered opinion and experience using it.

STORYTIME 

Taiwan Feminine Care Section

I’m a huge fan of buying pads in Taiwan. They feel more comfortable and super affordable. About 2 years ago, I stocked up and filled an entire checked luggage with pads to bring back to the states. Well, that stash has lasted me 2.5 years (& the pandemic has prevented me from restocking) so I finally ran out… I was forced to head to my local target to pick some pads and tampons up. I was SO shocked by how expensive feminine sanitary products have gotten. Let’s say you use 3-5 pads a day over a 5 day period, you’re likely to spend $4752 on pads ALONE in a lifetime… and that’s not even the organic prices. Insane! 

Did you know our vaginal walls are permeable so pretty much anything we put inside can be absorbed through the mucus membrane, then directly into the bloodstream. The cotton used in tampons/ pads? Guess what? They’re sprayed with pesticides, exposed to glypohsate, an herbicide used to kill weeds that contains carcinogens. Other chemicals included are dioxin and furans (from the chlorine bleaching process), which also links to cancer, disruption in the endocrine system and reproductive toxicity. There’s Toxic Shock Syndrome which is caused by an overgrowth of staph bacteria from using super absorbent tampons for long periods of time. Chronic exposure to these chemicals can increase our risk and disrupt our system contributing to more health issues in the future. So WHY in the world are we buying these products? After doing further research and gaining more knowledge on the reality of this industry, it has deterred me from ever wanting to use cotton products ever again! 

Another concern I had was the amount of waste produced every month. Every year, the US alone discards 12 billion pads / 7 billion tampons- this adds up. Tampon applicators are made out of plastic  that do not easily degrade and are often found in shorelines. Most women menstruate for 40 years in total= 2,400 days in the course of a lifetime= 6.5 years TOTAL! Imagine how much plastic accumulates over the years and can be found floating out in the ocean harming sea creatures.

Introducing, Organicup! It is an award winning menstrual cup that replaces pads and tampons! FDA registered, medical grade silicon, vegan & allergy certified! No more period undies. No more worrying about the string during summer season in a bikini. No more diapers. One small action can lead to big changes: 1 menstrual cup alone replaces 2 years of period products (528 pads/tampons) SO much better for the planet & yourself! 

Some thoughts prior to trying this because I had my doubts & fears. Is it going to hurt? What if it gets stuck? How does it fit inside without moving around? Will I get an allergic reaction? How do I pick one that fits my cervix? After doing my research, I went with Organicup. There are sooo many different kinds of menstrual cups out there and it seemed like the Organicup is less stiff and smaller, which I think fits my body type more and it felt a bit less intimidating to use. 

Because the menstrual cup is a vacuum seal and does not come into contact with air there is zero odor, ultra hygienic and antibacterial! Organicup only collects the blood so it eliminates dryness, irritation & keeps the natural pH intact . It can hold 3-5 times the amount of blood as a regular tampon and allows for 12 hour wear. This way you will not have period interruptions at work/school/ travel!

PURCHASE HERE!

Have I convinced you to give this a try? Hip hip hooray! I’ve linked it for you on my Amazon page- under Wellness Section. Click HERE to purchase!!! Plus, Amazon has a very simple return process if it doesn’t end up working out for you.

DIRECTIONS

Watch THIS video to visually understand how Organicup works! I promise it will help!

First step is to disinfect it by boiling it in hot water for 4-5 minutes. Make sure there is enough water in the pot to prevent the cup from burning. Always have clean hands before inserting and after every use, rinse it under hot water. Once your period cycle has ended, boil it again for 4-5 minutes and store it away for the month! 

TIPS

In the beginning, it can be difficult to put in, adjust or check to see if it’s sitting correctly. I’ve listed some tips to know before you give this a try! It may take a few period cycles to get the hang of it so I recommend using panty liners in case there’s leaks. When it is inserted correctly, the vacuum seal prevents ANY leaks, but it takes some time to get use to it! Personally, the benefits are out of this world. I don’t see myself going back to pads or tampons ever again! 

RELAX: when you are relaxed, the muscles are relaxed and that allows for easier insertion, placement, adjustments.

FOLDING TECHNIQUES: There are many ways to fold the cup that fits your body the best- Punch Down Fold, C fold, 7 fold . Watch this informative video on all the options- she demonstrate each technique with clear & helpful directions!

POSITION: Find a comfortable position for you to insert. I find bending my knees in a slight squat is the most comfortable way.

CHECK PLACEMENT: After it is inserted, use a finger to swoop around the base to ensure it is in place around the cervix and the cup has popped open inside with proper suction.

REMOVAL: Gently squeeze the base to release the suction BEFORE you pull out the cup. A great tip from a friend was to hop in the shower at the end of the day to empty it out- that way it prevents messes and you can easily rinse it!

AIR HOLES: Organicup has tiny little air holes at the top. Make sure those air holes are rinsed clean. If blood is caught in it you can gently blow it out. (a little TMI..)

CERVIX CHANGE: Your cervix changes throughout the cycle so every insertion may be slightly different. When it is inserted correctly, you should NOT feel it whatsoever.

CONS

  • Your fingers get bloody… It is messier than a tampon/pad. Not the easiest thing to use in a public restroom since I prefer to have a sink on standby. There are wipes you can buy to use when you’re on the go.
  • Slight pinching of the skin while I adjust the cup inside. It might just be because I’m a beginner though!
  • After many uses, your cup may look have discoloration and that is normal. To get rid of the stain, in a bowl, mix 1/2 water and 1/2 hydrogen peroxide, submerge the cup and leave it overnight in the mixture and clean it with boiling water afterwards.

Lavender Farm in SoCal

Ohhh we magically transported ourselves to Provence, France over the weekend! Juuuust kidding! No need to fly to Europe to see this when it’s right here in San Bernardino! 123 Farm celebrates lavender harvest season and it’s the largest organic lavender field in the state of CA.

Frolic through 20 acres of organic lavender (over 90 varieties of lavender too! Who knew?!) You can wander around yourself, participate in guided tours in an antique tractor, taste lavender inspired dishes, and learn about how essential oil is extracted. There’s rows of hundred year old Olive Trees with twinkle lights that transports you to Tuscany. You can take a break and chill in the small petting zoo filled with baby goats, sheep, chickens & dwarf pigs! There are even life size jenga blocks, chess pieces and a ping pong table in the woods for when you want to take a break from exploration. Obsessed with lavender products? There’s a shop for you to bring some goodies home with ya. 

The Lavender Festival season is only open from May 14-August 1. It’s closed on Mondays- make sure to check their online calendar to see if they are open. Admission fee is $15 IF you purchase online // $18 in person. However, there’s a separate parking fee $10 (boo i know, super annoying that parking isn’t included..) Click HERE to buy your tickets!

MUST KNOW TIPS

  • Cheaper to buy the tickets online ahead of time
  • Bees galore! Be mindful & don’t bother them.
  • Come on a weekday or right at opening to avoid crowds (10AM)
  • Heat: Weather there is dry and HOT so wear sunscreen

WHAT TO WEAR

Wear whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable! Keep in mind the weather gets pretty hot so go for the cottagecore boho vibes and wear a flowy dress! The easiest color to match is white or try a monochromatic look and wear any purple shade! Avoid jeans, leggings, tight clothing or sandals. Bring a HAT- the sun is pretty harsh out there. 

4th Of July Looks

Happy birthday America! I sure am proud to be an American! I will be celebrating 21 years of living out my dream life in this beautiful country! Thankful to all that have made sacrifices for our freedom in this country. My life would’ve looked very differently if my family hadn’t moved us halfway across the world for better opportunities. I am beyond grateful to be pursuing and living out the lifestyle I’ve always dreamed of!

What a better way to celebrate the holiday by being in theme! I know makeup can be tough to recreate so I’ve kept these looks very simple and easy to follow. Check out the 5 looks down below for inspiration and enjoy Independence Day weekend! Stay safe!

KEEP CALM AND SPARKLE ON

Grab a bottle of star shaped sequins or red/white/blue glitter, add a layer of lip gloss and drench your lips with it so that it sticks! You can find glitter and sequins at your local Michael’s for less than $4. 

RED, WINE & BLUE

Change up your usual natural eye makeup! Apply on your black eyeliner as the base and add another blue line on top for a subtle pop of color on your eyelids. This gives you a festive look without being over the top. Pair it with any red clothing and that’s it!

BORN TO SPARKLE

Go all out and cover yourself with sparkles!!! Perfect way to demonstrate your pride and love for our country! Dip the stars in a bit of eyelash glue (not too much) and pop the stars on your cheeks! 

U.S of YAY

Don’t want to go all out with makeup? I got you! Do your normal eye look with a natural lip and buy star shaped stickers and add a couple different sizes right next to your eyes and call it a day. Instantly makes you festive without any effort! How easy!!!

MADE IN THE USA

This look is for you if don’t want to be the center of attention. It’s a classic look that can be rocked for so many occasions. Pop on a bold red lip, put on a headband (you can find on Amazon, Claire’s or TJ Maxx) and you’re ready to party in the USA! My favorite red lipstick is by MAC in the color A10 Red with a Satin finish.