ITALIA Day 10: Egnazia and Monopoli (I know, creativity abounds in this title)

Buon giorno, ragazzi! Today is a big day for IC. While this entry details our Day 10, we have a special edition entry coming shortly thereafter! And yes, as promised…it’s SAPPY! Sappy, happy, and thought-provoking. Most of all, I hope you’ll get something out of it.

We began the day with a 9-mile ride to and from the nearby Egnazia ruins. I have here a few pictures from Egnazia. It was pretty cool to see, and the ride over was BEAUTIFUL. Just take a look at that glittering sea!!:

The ruins date back to the Bronze age - as far back as 16th century BC. However, much of what is left dates back to the Roman era (2nd century BC).
The ruins date back to the Bronze age – as far back as 16th century BC. However, much of what is left dates back to the Roman era (starting around 2nd century BC).
The "Oriental Cults" buildings contained altars dedicated to priestesses and goddesses. And they even had a fish tank. Cool!
The “Oriental Cults” buildings contained altars dedicated to priestesses and goddesses. And they even had a fish tank. Cool!

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Here remains the floor of a porticoed square. Imagine an ancient Roman market happening up in this biz!
Here remains the floor of a porticoed square. Imagine an ancient Roman market happening up in this biz!
Ahhhh the ocean!
Ahhhh the ocean!
Fields at Egnazia
Fields at Egnazia
What remains of an old basilica
What remains of an old basilica

We broke up the day with facials (ah, girl stuff) and some poolside relaxation. Of course, “poolside relaxation” for me is more like slathering on SPF 100+ and sitting under an umbrella, but it’s still nice (have I mentioned that I’m a vampire?).

Dang it, water...stop looking so pretty and be warmer!
Dang it, water…stop looking so pretty and be warmer!

We then headed into the town of Monopoli again for a thoroughly amusing journey. My friends, I cannot emphasize enough that Italians eat late. When we got into town at around 6:00 pm, we were told by every single restaurant (and we looked at about 12) that they were not open until 8:00 pm and stared at us like we were pazze (crazy). It wasn’t long after venturing through town that we became local celebrities for our earlybird antics. By about an hour in, I had asked 6 people where the nearest ATM was (in Italian) and had earned the nickname “Bancomat!” by an elderly Italian gentleman sitting near the jewelry store. I also think we got to know every street in Monopoli by heart, because we straight up scoured the place. On the bright side, we were able to pass by a neighboring apartment and hear beautiful piano music! We even clapped after he finished his étude; he probably thought we were weird, which we totally are so it’s fine. But seriously, how “Italy” is walking up and hearing someone play piano in the open air?!??! 🙂

We finally found a place RIGHT where we had originally been dropped off. Not only were we let in 30 minutes early, but we received EXCELLENT service and wonderful food that we enjoyed every bite of. Should you find yourself in Monopoli, this is THE place to be. Check it below:

REVIEW – Locanda Indelli

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ambiance – Yes, were the first people in here at 7:30, followed by an older British couple at 8:00. Nobody else entered the restaurant until we were leaving at 9:00 for our taxi. That being said, it was quiet. As you can see above, it was also very upscale, and it almost felt like we were dining inside a beautiful museum. We were big fans of the candle holders covered in brown paper, too. (5/5)

service – Honestly, exquisite. We were let in early, treated like princesses, and comped a few items without even asking. Our waiter was a super nice dude who loved the U.S. and spoke very good English. His name is Andrea – I insist that you ask for him if you come here. (5+/5)

food – Like Ai 2 Ghiottoni of Bari, this place is known for its fresh fish, brought in daily from the ocean we were right next door to. We enjoyed sea bass and mussels, both of which were the best fish we’ve had in Italy, sadly knocking our beloved Homie G to numero due. Dispiace! We also had lightly fried vegetables, pettole (fried dough balls), salad, and fava bean puree (a Pugliese delicacy). And hey, what would all this be without a glass of primitivo? All was quite exquisite and we had no complaints whatsoever. (5/5)

cost – Ehhh, not cheap…but definitely worth it. Once again, we enjoyed quite the spread for a VERY reasonable price. ($$$/$$$$)

We ended our day with gelato out on the patio of our hotel room. I wish the below picture captured how cool our little patio is. The stars were out, the smell of jasmine lingered over us, and we were the only people outside.

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I’m not going to lie…it’s weird to be here without our Backroads group. I miss them all terribly. Oh man, I need to get my tissues out for today’s next entry…

Thought of the day: Good things do not necessarily come to an end. Sometimes they do for a while and just get reincarnated.

ITALIA Day 8: Say “Formaggio”!

Ahhh, again, it saddens me to be departing the beautiful Masseria San Martino so swiftly! Nonetheless, we had another fun ride today, with gentle rolling hills, more trulli, and gorgeous little neighborhoods.

Because the day’s ride looked like a combination between Days 2 & 3, I’d have to say that the main event today was our lunch at Truddhi, a trulli-resort near Locorotondo. We got to watch Pasquale, an expert cheese-maker, make mozzarella cheese! Check this out:

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Pasquale explaining the process to us
Pasquale explaining the process to us

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Whooaaaaaaa!
Whooaaaaaaa!
Making an elephant out of cheese
Making an elephant out of cheese
End result. Eaten within 10 minutes.
End result. Eaten within 10 minutes.

Of course, then there was the actual food itself (including the mozzarella we saw before our eyes). I’m going to be boring again and say that it was AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING. The highlight? Orecchiete (ear-shaped) pasta with a decadent red sauce. Darn it, I should have taken a picture!

Oh, I also have a new best friend: Eddie! I think he’s the son of the people who own the place, and I know he’s the nephew of one of the gals who prepared our lunch. We climbed trees and played with Jeeps.:

"There's a snake up there!"
“There’s a snake up there!”
"I'm wearing my boots today!"
“I’m wearing my boots today!”

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Towards the end of the ride, we found ourselves RIGHT next to the coast!

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I’m sure I’ll have more pictures tomorrow, but it felt so good to feel the ocean air! We are near Torre Canne, a TINY town about 50 km from the port of Brindisi. Apparently there’s amazing gelato here. Update: finally tried gelato here, in the town of Monopoli (mentioned below). I think it has crack in it, because everyone on the trip either went for 2 or wanted 2. I could have had 8…though, I’m that way with food in general.

We arrived at our next hotel, Masseria San Domenico, at around 3:15 pm. Ummmm, is this just going to keep getting better and better?!? Mind you, these are just PART of the grounds:

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At 7:00, we headed out via shuttle for the town of Monopoli. It was bigger than I expected, and a little more touristy, too. But still, cute!

Our gorgeous guide, Stasa!
Our gorgeous guide, Stasa, on the shuttle to Monopoli!

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Since we were let go to have dinner on our own tonight, allow me to review our next restaurant!

REVIEW – Il Punto Cardinale, Monopoli (BR)

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ambiance – “Dinner on your own” is kind of a loose term, as I think about 2/3 of our group ended up coming here. It’s a tucked-away place and not terribly large, with a dark, trendy, yet casual decor. The coolest thing about the restaurant are the bathroom sinks, made of glass mosaic. (3.5/5)

service – If you’re looking for good English, our waitress spoke it perfectly, as did most of the other people in the restaurant. I was not too impressed with the slight impatience and curtness of our waitress, but I’m guessing she just has a different personality. (3.5/5)

food – We were brought an absolutely scrumptious appetizer of what appeared to be lightly fried pizza dough. After that, most of us ordered pizza and I order grilled vegetables and the salad bar. Other than the dough-things, the food was really not all that spectacular. But I won’t be too harsh; we ordered simply. (3.5/5 – gotta give the dough-things their due credit).

cost – Food in Puglia is remarkably cheap compared to that of Rome. If you order just a pizza, or just the salad bar, with maybe a side of grilled vegetables (as I did), you’re looking at a 10€ with coperto; not bad! ($-$$/$$$$)

Tomorrow brings another hill of epic proportions. Sleep and colazione will be my friend.

Thought of the day: The earlier you bring up a problem, the less of a problem it becomes. Is there a graph that shows this relationship?

ITALIA Day 4: Bari by the Mare

Buona serra! I’m back for another tall tale. Well, maybe not so much. Today was mostly a travel/get acquainted with a new place day, as we bid farewall to our beloved Roma and flew to Bari, a port city on the Adriatic Sea in the “heel of the boot”. This is where we will begin the second leg of our adventure, our biking trip through the Puglia region. Funny aside/Italy protip: whatever time it says your plane’s leaving at, add about 1 hour to that. Mi dispiace; I don’t mean to disrespect…you guys know I have nothing but LOVE for Italy and all its people. 🙂

Anyway, we arrived at the Grandhotel Leon d’Oro here in Bari at about 3:30. Honestly, this is one of the coolest little hotels I’ve ever seen! Sorta has a modern Scandinavian vibe to it with a sprinkle of old-world Italian charm. Take a look:

Space pod shower
Space pod shower

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We also got to walk around the city a little bit. As it has been in most of Southern Italy for the past few days, it was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. Eh, can’t complain. I’m freaking in Italy. And hey, the ocean even gave us the pleasure of a little rainbow today!:

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Pretty cool building found in the city...how would you describe the architectural style?

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Okay, so it has a gritty side…but I don’t hate it.

Finally, we had, I kid you not, the MEAL OF OUR LIVES at a restaurant called Ai 2 Ghiottoni. It’s funny, because we thought that with the dishes upon dishes we were accumulating seemingly out of thin air, we would be charged some gratuitous amount characteristic of dopey, easily-swindled Americans. We could not have been more wrong. This, I must say, was the highlight of our day. Definitely the highlight of our food journey! See photos and my review below!

REVIEW – Ai 2 Ghiottoni

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ambiance – Classical, white tablecloths, definitely nice. Pre-opera dining destination for large, Italian families and affluent couples. Has fresh fish and meat on display at the front…and one HECK of a dessert table. (5/5)

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We were the first people here when the restaurant open at 7:30. LOLNOOBS

food – Best. Food. Ever. Seriously. We tried about a million different antipasti, mostly made of fish and vegetables, and had a plate full of shrimp, squid, and white fish cooked fresh for us. Best seafood I’ve ever had, period. Overall, it was spectacular and the city of Bari is worth a trip just to eat here. (5+/5)

service – At first, we weren’t sure. Admittedly, our servers were a bit pushy, and our hearts were dropping a bit with each new plate that came. We thought, “This is gonna be like a solid 500€, just watch”. As the next criterion would reveal, boy – were we in for a shock…(5/5)

cost – Don’t let the “$$$$” fool you. We had an unbelievably, astoundingly extravagant meal in a beautiful setting for 117€. Total. That included about 10 different types of appetizers, an enormous plate of fresh fish, a large salad, and, I kid you not, about 7 different desserts. While it was no pauper’s pittance, we were about as shocked by the reasonableness of the price as one could be. ($$$$/$$$$)

Needless to say, I’m happy to have fueled up so heartily. After all, we meet our biking group tomorrow and have our 15-mile “warm up” ride (pfft – I know, right?) to our next destination, the Il Melograno near the town of Monopoli (lololol). The exciteys are getting crazy. Alas, it is time for a calming episode of Futurama to close the day.

Thought of the Day: Family is EVERYTHING. Whether you’re born with them or “make” them, make sure you tell your family you love them at least once a day.

-H

ITALIA Day 3: The Borghe-see and Holy Sight-See

Good day, i miei amici! First, a few administrative announcements. As I have fixed the computer situation, I am able to go back to inserting a few of my favorite photos from the day directly into my posts. In addition, I will have a full score of photos up on Flickr when I get the chance. Admittedly, my motivation to do much in the way of blogging while on vacation is difficult to maintain…so hopefully I’ve not disappointed you thus far 🙂

Today brought two of Rome’s most important, historical sites: the Borghese Gallery and the Vatican. My brief descriptions, along with some selected photos from my phone, will follow:

Borghese Gallery – No amount of stress I had this morning (following a 30 minute ordeal to find a cornetto e cappuccino and an unexpected medical emergency) remained after seeing the splendor and beauty found within the Borghese Gallery, as well as the Borghese Villa itself. This vast, green garden houses an intimate but opulent museum with a decorative scheme that is just as impressive as the Classical and Baroque masterpieces it houses. Although we were not allowed to take photos within the Gallery itself, I was able to get a few of the Villa, which is just fine: the Villa is breathtaking. Reservations to the Gallery are MANDATORY and your visit is strictly limited to two hours. We booked about 3 weeks in advance, though I think you’re fine with one unless there’s a holiday coming up.

The first floor, which contains mostly sculpture, is the most interesting, although the Pinacoteca on the second floor contains some notable paintings (such as the famous Amor Sacro e Amor Profano) as well. I highly, highly recommend the audio tour as a supplement to your visit if you’re at all interested in the history of the museum or, in particular, the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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The Vatican – My first reaction upon seeing the line to the Vatican:

i3ZWA

Needless to say, we found a tour guide.

Of course, it was about 55 €/person and we did it with about 20 other people, but at least we skipped the main line. It was still extremely crowded in the museums (yes, the Musei Vaticani is composed of multiple mini-museums, rather than one big one) and the Sistine Chapel, while less so in St. Peter’s Basilica. I have a few pictures (below) of the museum’s pre-Sistine portion, but I’m honestly glad we weren’t allowed to photograph it. Truly, photos do not do it justice. No photograph can capture the visual inundation of figures, color, and beauty that is Michelangelo’s magnum opus. Our tour guide, Angelo, was especially knowledgeable of the life of Michelangelo and regaled us excerpts from his diary after completion of the Sistina. These insights into the mind of such a genius, in effect, helped make the tour.

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The Basilica is also a wonder, and probably the most grandiose thing I’ve ever seen in mah lyfe. Indeed, it is the biggest church in the world, and, to no one’s surprise, has effectively been under construction for 500 years. The most beautiful and impressive part, in my opinion, is the High Altar, seen below:

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While some people think the main event here is the statue of St. Peter, I find the above wayyyy sicker. Not that I don’t love mushy feet.

We had lunch after the Vatican at a nondescript trattoria (do not eat near the Vatican…that is all). However, our dinner was delicious and sooo much fun. My review of our restaurant is below.

REVIEW – Antica Enoteca

ambiance – dark, cavey, with an almost medieval quality, but at the same time upscale. Focal point is the bar, for sure. Kinda crowded, but not uncomfortably so. Mostly locals. (5/5)

food – sorry to be boring, but everything was delicious! My eggplant parmesan was to die for, as was the vegetarian pizza my mom ordered. Bruschette, which we’ve ordered at every restaurant thus far, was fairly standard…which means it was freaking delicious. My mom’s salad looked slightly boring, but I’m sure it tasted fresh and good regardless. (4.75/5)

service – Pretty dang good! Our waiter was prompt and a very nice guy. And he (rightfully) complimented mia bella mamma! 🙂 (4/5)

cost – Probably nice for drinks or a casual dinner. ($$/$$$$)

That’s it for tonight, folks! Tomorrow we depart for Bari, the boot-heel port town of our Adventure Part Deux, and tonight I will convince my mom to let me go to the Jewish Ghetto tomorrow…or at least the Missoni down the Spanish Steps.

Okay, fine. Zara it is. 😉

Thought of the day: Don’t be afraid to have a sense of humor. That’s the key to life.

– H

ITALIA day 2: Rome in a day…ish

Amici, where do I even begin with this day?! I mean that in the best way possible, of course. Now, I must add that due to a rather egregious derp on my part, I know longer have my computer to blog with and my entries with hereafter be a bit curt. In addition, I am probably gonna have to redirect your guys to my instagram (imcoolandawesome) for photos. 🙁 Sad!! My new best friend is the business center in our hotel, though, so it ain’t half bad.

UPDATE: I have my computer back! Select photos have been inserted.

We had a long, exhausting, and unbelievably fun-filled day today! I will just briefly go through the sights we saw and do a quick review of the restaurants we dined at (although, spoiler alert: they were both exquisite):

Coliseum – fun, breathtaking, but can be seen within about 30 minutes. It’s the history behind it that’s most fascinating. Do the audio tour and skip the lines. The ticket you buy here covers both the Coliseum and the Forum, so yay!

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Forum/Pallatine Hill – unexpectedly expansive, GREEN, and beautiful. Lots of mini-sites and a small museum filled mostly with sculptures. Worth seeing, the archaeological grounds can be covered in an hour or two.

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Pantheon – Can be covered in its entirety within 15 minutes, but truly a marvel to see, especially on the outside. It’s also free.

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Chiesa di S. Maria sopra Minerva – One of the few (if only?) Gothic churches in Rome, it’s main feature is a dope pipe organ that you can see below:

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Chiesa di S. Ignazio di Loyola – Again, another lesser-known treat. Absolutely stunning ceiling frescos make this place worth any journey. Both churches listed here are free.

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National Museum of Rome – PERFECT for a mini-overview of all things Roman history from an art perspective. I have to say, I found some truly hilarious pieces of art here as well.

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS
THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS
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“…really?”
"...Just sayin'!"
“…Just sayin’!”

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Trevi Fountain – We ended our night with this beautiful sight, which looks like it came straight out of an underwater kingdom. Mind the plethora of creepers that patrol the area and you’ll be juzzzz fine.

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REVIEW – Osteria da Mario (lunch)

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ambience – Homey, mom-and-popish, and classic red checkered tables. All local business people around us. No brown nosing, obnoxious tourist trapping. SMELLS AMAZING. (5/5)

food – Had vegetables and soup. Nonetheless, they were the best dang vegetables and soup I’ve had in a while. (5/5)

service – See above. The servers don’t mess around and service is EXTREMELY prompt (5/5)

cost – ($$/$$$$)

REVIEW – Ristorante il Gabriello (dinner)

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ambience – Underground, chic-modern, stone floors and white walls and an apparent Marilyn Monroe photo fetish. Locals and savvy travelers abound. Love it.  (5/5)

food – Had minestrone soup, swordfish, and tiramisù. Main food was the booooommmbbb; dessert forgettable (but I’d go back and try their others any day) (4.5/5)

service – Servers are kind, helpful, and quite multilingual! Hosts are jovial and welcoming. Our waitress spoke Spanish, Italian, French, and English. They also sat us way early. Coolio! (5/5)

cost – ($$$/$$$$)

Tomorrow brings the Vatican and the Borghese Gallery; tonight brings sleep. And lots of it. I promise to add more information and pictures when I get home…thanks for reading!

Thought of the day: Exercise can actually make you less tired…yeah, give me some time to get creative again, sorry 😉

-H

ITALIA DAY 1: Ready, Set, Go-go-go!

Nothing like a nice, long, multi-timezone, day, am I right? Well, we departed LAX (I misspoke when I said OC, sorry) at 7:00 pm and arrived in Frankfurt after a cozy 11-hour flight in business class (I know, hashtagspoiled…but ’twas but a one-time thing). I read most of the way, slept for 4 hours, and watched TV once for this documentary about Whales. Interesting facts about whales…:

  • Whales migrate using the Earth’s magnetic field, as they apparently have iron oxide particles in their bodies. Might I have some of those? My sense of direction is abysmal at best.
  • The average humpback whale eats about 5,000 pounds of krill per day. I’ll remember that the next time I eat two 4x4s so I don’t feel so bad.
  • The white markings on whales are as unique to each whale as fingerprints are to us. Pretty cool!

I read a large chunk of my copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I highly recommend if you are at all interested in world mythology, Americana, or dark humor. A perfectly random mix that makes for an adventure as tumultuous and trippy as they come.

I accidentally managed to convince the flight attendant that I was German with the limited Deutsche I know, until I forgot the word for tea (it’s “Tee”, by the way).

We had a short layover in Frankfurt, which proved to be a mini-adventure in and of itself. The airport in Frankfurt is nice, if not a bit sterile.

Then, as if things weren’t rad enough already, we arrived in Roma at around 6:30 pm. After a minor luggage-finding snafu, we made our way to the Westin Excelsior and freshened up for a night on the town. We walked from our hotel and down the beautiful Spanish steps:

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In the Italian tradition, we began dining around 9:00 pm and did so at a restaurant on Campo de Fiori called RJ Numbs; my review follows.

REVIEW – RJ Numbs Restaurant – Campo de Fiori 28/29, 00186 Roma, Italia

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*All restaurant reviews rate the restaurant on four criteria: ambiance, service, and food preceded by a brief, general description.
We stumbled upon RJ Numbs after finding ourselves sitting on an hour-long waitlist at nearby Il Gabriello. We were both famished and cherished the modern-looking, busy environment that seemed to invite us in readily. The place has characteristics that are typical of most European cafes, with a nod to American culture via Roman Holiday stills placed against red walls inside.
ambiance – Like I said, it’s cute, chic, and clean place that certainly attracted a lot of customers. We sat outside and had Americans on both sides, which didn’t bother us too much. But be warned, this does appear to be a bit of a tourist-y place. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to be at night for a casual dinner. (3/5)
service – It took a while for us to get seated, but I chalked it up to it being prime dinner time for the locals. Service was nothing spectacular, but certainly good for a busy, European restaurant. (4/5)
food – We ordered a tomato and basil bruschetta, a porcini mushroom crostini, roasted vegetables, and two salads. Sounds like a lot of food, but was extremely reasonable in terms of portion size; to be expected in Europe. Everything was fabulous except for my Greek salad, which was certainly edible and fresh, but pale in comparison to the creamy, richly umami crostini. (4.5/5)
cost – You’re looking at a minimum of 15€/person if you want to split an appetizer and get an insalate or cheap secondi. As with the United States, sit-down restaurants are going to be markedly more expensive than an osteria or tavola calda. Italy Protip: Wait staff are generally not tipped unless you’re spending upwards of 50€/person. However, there is a small tip already included in the bill for many restaurants, called the pane e coperto (“bread and cover” charge). ($$/$$$$)
I will see you all tomorrow, hopefully with pictures that are NOT simply iPhone shots. Hahaha. Bear with me now…this will pay off! Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow!
Thought of the day: When you’re having an off moment: close your eyes, look up at the sky, and think about all the great things you have.
-H