Ease into Italy: Varenna, Lake Como and Bellagio in Pictures!

The best way to start an international trip is to ease into it.  Eaaaasssseee into it. After 12 hours plus of traveling, bad connections,  and sleeping in somewhat cramped quarters ....upright  (unless you livin' that first class life) who wants to hit the ground running? When you arrive in a new country I say take your time and see if you can find a more mellow activities to kick off your travel adventure. Therefore, when I arrived in Milano I took the advice of my trusted travel advisor Rick (as in Steves). Instead of running all over Milan checking things off a crazy "bucket list" like a maniac (a. Santa Maria Grazie, b. La Scala Opera House, c.Duomo, check, check, check!) I arrived in the big city and escaped the big city by cruising Lake Como and spending my first full day in Italy in Bellagio. See how i eased into my journey! Cruising Lake Como and Bellagio in pictures. 

Took the train from Milano to Varenna so I could cruise Lake Como on my way to Bellagio

Took the train from Milano to Varenna so I could cruise Lake Como on my way to Bellagio

Venezia (Venice) in Pictures

Foto dal mio viaggio a Venezia.......Photos from my trip to Venice

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

Venice in a few words: Canals, bridges, pizza, vino and art!

To quote Jay- Z "In a villa in Venice sippin' vino"

Roman Holiday

The Roman leg of my tour was kicked off the Italian way.....on the back of a vintage Vespa hanging on for dear life as my tour guide/Italian firefighter, Georgio showed me the best of Rome.  For a few hours I was Audrey Hepburn and Georgio was Gregory Peck. Zipping in and out of Rome's traffic.....up to St Peter's Square, stopped by the Mouth of Truth, around and around the colosseum and even grabbed a quick bite in Trastevere! This was probably one of the best city tours I've been on as I was really part of the city and I got to experience so much more than I would on a hop on hop off bus or even a car. Traveling via Vespa allowed us to get up close and personal to all of the sights with little hassle. It amazes me how I basically entrusted my life to a complete stranger in a foreign country. Honestly, I felt a pang of guilt as I had a boyfriend back home and this felt kinda like a date. An exhilarating, spur of the moment hot date in a romantic city with a perfect stranger. Well as they say....."While in Rome......"Ahhhh la vita dolce! 

If you are preparing for your first journey to Roma, I'm sure you are planning to visit the Roman Greats such as the Colosseum, the ruins, the Pantheon and the Vatican. However, I have a  few additional suggestions for you to consider...

Accommodations: If you are going to be there longer than 3 days, I suggest renting an apartment. Having an apartment allows you to "travel like a local" a bit more and really immerse yourself in the culture. I rented an apartment in the Prati area walking distance from the Vatican. Renting an apartment really enhanced my experience. I rented my apartment via Homeaway.com. I suggest renting an apartment that has plenty of reviews. 

What to eat: Eat in the Jewish Quarters! I was lucky enough to be in Rome during artichoke season so I was able to experience fried artichokes. My favorite restaurant was located in "my neighborhood", Prati. It is called Cacio e Pepe and it is FANTASTIC! The carbonara was incredible! Good service, reasonable prices and a wonderful local vibe! Via Giuseppe Avezzana, 11, 00195 Roma, Italy


Where to shop: Tons of places to shop of course. I enjoyed the selection of shops near the Spanish steps.

Must do tour: If you are staying in Rome more than a few days I suggest taking a break from the big city and booking a "Day Trip to Tuscany". I booked my tour through Viator but I'm sure there are other options. On this tour we took a plush coach to the Tuscany countryside. We had walking tours in at least two small Tuscan towns, visited a church where we were lucky enough to witness the monks doing their afternoon prayers and finally we had lunch and wine tasting on a Tuscan farm. This tour was another highlight on my Italian tour. I even ordered wine to be shipped after the tasting. It's pricey but worth it and makes great gifts for people back home. 

Coffee Culture: When you are leaving the Pantheon, you may want a little caffeinated pick me up. I suggest caffé Tazza D'oro! Best espresso I had in Roma!

 Beware: I didn't have any issues with being a victim of crime but keep your wits about you like you would in any large metropolitan city. 


La Boca Della Verita` (the mouth of truth)

Solo Travel Roadmap: Baby Steps to Adventure!

One day you will wake up and there won’t be anymore time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Do it now!
— Paulo Coehlo
Roma 2014- Castel Sant' Angelo

Roma 2014- Castel Sant' Angelo

Lately there has been a lot of discussions about solo travel and female solo travel in particular. It is almost as if it's becoming a movement. I have been traveling solo for several years now and honestly I've had so many questions about my adventures.  I started to feel I should .....I don't know......blog about it. So Cultured Americana was born! I would like to share with you my thoughts and experiences with traveling on my own. I prefer these blog post to be quick reads because people generally have short attention spans .This is an interesting topic that may result in several blog post.  So post #1 will be how I started this enthralling journey of traveling solo!

How did I start on this solo travel path? I've always had people in my life who would say "one day I'm gonna...one day I should" and sadly "one day" or "some day" never came. Or perhaps it came and went. No disrespect but I don't want that to be my life. I say "don't talk about it be about it! You are the architect of your life. Turn your dreams into a plan and then execute! Collect Experiences!!!"  OK off my soap box. I quickly learned that a lot of people deprive themselves of life's beautiful experiences; whether it be something as simple as going to the movies or taking an international trip because they don't have a companion to share the experience. I couldn't let this be my life! I value shared experiences with loved ones but if they aren't ready I can't wait around as life quickly marches on. Ya feel me?? Carpe Diem ya'll! 

So once I mustered up the courage to live life on my own terms and venture alone...How did I go about it? I took baby steps. If you are reading this and you are interested in traveling solo but intimidated, I suggest you take baby steps as well. You can do this!! I didn't just wake up and take a big trip to Europe by myself. My progression plan was as follows:

2008- I went to NYC to visit a friend. Now technically this isn't a solo trip but since my friend worked in the day I was left alone to explore a big city on my own. One small step in the West Village would lead to one large leap into Rome one day! I realized it's no different then exploring my own city solo.  No big deal. 

2009- My bravery grew so I went on a Caribbean Cruise (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Martin). This was actually a singles cruise! So I went alone but once on the cruise I was part of a group. Now let me share with you the genius of this. I was with a group but on my own since I didn't come with anyone. Therefore,  I wasn't responsible for anyone but myself. Most people bring a single buddy on cruises like that. After a few days on the cruise people that had brought friends would tell me "you are soooo smart coming alone!"  I was also forced to put myself out there and make friends. And believe you me... I made a lot of friends! I'm still friends with some of the people I met on that trip. Solo (or semi-solo ) travel success! This was another baby step.....but a bit bigger. 

2010- My first REAL solo trip.....Domestic but still all alone in our Nation's capital, Washington D.C. On this trip I started to learn a little bit on how to travel solo but not be totally alone. I would sit at the chef's table at restaurants and chat up the culinary talent. I also became chummy with the concierge at the hotel when I suspected he was Ghanaian (I'm half Ghanaian). Once it was confirmed we had the African connection, he sent complimentary wine and cheese to my room and suggested a great tour. I already had done a "bike the sights" tour from a company I found online. However, the concierge suggested Chocolate City Tours.  This was a private tour where I saw the sights via segwey and learn about African-American history in Washington D.C. This didn't feel like a traditional tour. Instead it felt like my tour guide, Corey was an old friend who was showing me his city and he happened to be a African-American History major. He was fun and provided great insight and education. Additionally, he doubled as my personal photographer! 

2012- Big Leap Ya'll!! My First solo international trip: London and Paris! This is a good route to take to ease oneself into traveling abroad solo. London is great because it's foreign, it's European.....but they still speak English. I spent a few days there and got my feet wet being in a foreign land on my own. I then took the Eurostar to Paris. France was an amazing shock and gave me an opportunity to stare my solo travel fear dead in the eyes. I was afraid of going to a country where English was not the national language. I loved Paris! Who doesn't love Paris! I struggled to communicate because I knew very little French. However, I learned a lot during this stretch of my journey. Two key lessons learnt: 1) I learned to sympathize more with people who move to the United States who don't speak a lick of English. The shoe was on the other foot now. I just wanted to be understood and yearned for a little patience (by the way, the French weren't rude when they realized I couldn't speak French contrary to popular belief). I went home having a lot more compassion for foreigners. Now isn't that the point of travel....to gain perspective and perhaps a new point of view?? 2) I also learned that if one is going to go to another country where their home language isn't the national language, they will have a more enriched, meaningful experience if they learn the language and learn as much about the culture as possible!


2014- Italia! This was my best wanderlust adventure to date. Italy was my longest international solo trip and my second trip to a place where English was not the national language.  I was better prepared this time around. I studied Italian for three months and became obsessed with Italian culture months before my trip. I also discovered great podcast and travel books to prepare myself for the journey. I highly recommend Rick Steves' books, TV shows and podcast. To date, I have written two blog post about Italy and I have a couple of more up my sleeve. This trip changed me!

 2015- Now, I am planning a solo trip to España (Spain)! I hope to collect fantastic experiences to share with you later this year. 

Stay tuned for more blog post about solo travel which will include more lessons learnt, tips, and other discoveries. There are also tons of blogs out there about solo travel so just immerse yourself in the possibilities and take a leap of faith. Let me know if you have any questions. I'd love to hear from you! Ciao!

----The Cultured Americana