Venice, Italy

Today we are leaving Venice and headed for our third destination. We are currently sitting on a high speed train with very little AC, but we’re in Italy so we’re happy! After our very positive and calm experience with Varenna, we were a bit shocked when we first arrived in Venice. It is a weird city. Just like in pictures, buildings jut out of the water and their streets are narrow alleyways with no names or only small water canals that require a boat to access. The buildings are old and beautiful, with Middle Eastern influence and tourists were everywhere. We arrived in Venice around 3 pm and had not eaten lunch, were hot and sweaty, and very lost. These are the times we knew were inevitable when planning this trip and our safety mechanisms still failed us. We wandered through frustrating streets and crowds of people to hit dead end after dead end. After about 20-30 minutes of meandering (read: cursing google maps for not recognizing our location and snapping at each other as we were both interpreting the maps differently) we finally found our hotel and got a printed map that was much more useful.

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Once we got to our hotel, Albergo al Piave, in a quiet residential side street in the Castello neighborhood, we scrambled to find a café for an aperitivo. We used the Elizabeth Minchilli app, Eat Italy, to help us decide on Aciugheta. Bryan had Prosecco, I had some wine from the Veneto region (I didn’t care at this point), and we split bruschetta, meatballs, and cod fish crostini. We regrouped, freshened up, and began to wander with a little more purpose and sense of direction now that we had food in us. We found our way to St. Mark’s Square to people watch, fight off pigeons, and listen to the dueling orchestras that liven up the square each evening.

Day 2 we started at St. Mark’s Basilica to enjoy the magnificence of a building and place of worship that old and ornate. They were holding a worship service while we toured and that was a pretty cool thing to witness. We also bought tickets to visit the Frari Church, which was even more magnificent to view, in my opinion. It was less crowded and full of burial monuments that each had interesting stories to tell. We walked so much this day that we reached our 10,000 steps by 2 pm, and finished with 18,000 by the end of the day. We stopped in shops that caught our eye, took in the intricacies of masks that Venice is known for as well as their glass, and again admired the matrix of canals and alleys that made up this city. We navigated much better on our second day and even remembered how to get back to our hotel or to a piazza without a map on many occasions. We had our first Italian pizza of the trip at lunch, freshened up for dinner, aperitivo at a Michelin star restaurant where Bryan almost got attacked by a pigeon, and had dinner at another Minchilli recommendation, Wildner. The food in Venice was not our favorite. Even though I love seafood, it was a bit too fishy for me here. They love raw seafood, seafood with mayo spread, seafood in rich butter pasta sauces, etc. But our last dinner was a great dining experience. The service was phenomenal, right off the Grand Canal, full of locals and tourists alike. Venice is known for tiramisu, which we had both nights there, and we got a complimentary dessert wine at Wildner (we think because they could tell we appreciate wine – it was probably because they needed to get rid of their remaining wine for the night).

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We were typical tourists and splurged on a gondola ride after dinner. It was at night in the inner canals of the city, so very dark and quiet, but it was a little mysterious and a lot magical. Dusk may have been a better time because crowds have died down but you can see a little more. It was a very relaxing and romantic way to end our time in Venice.

 

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Varenna, Italy

While traveling, I’ll try to give quick updates on our trip as we go depending on the cooperation of our wifi. Only two pictures will upload now so there’s not much to see on this post. This will also help us remember what all we saw and did. After traveling approximately 20 hours by planes and trains, we made it to Varenna, Italy, one of the towns found on Lake Como. When I worked at a book store in college, an older man perusing the traveling section told me the most romantic place he had ever visited was Lake Como, Italy, and if I ever got the chance I should visit. That was one of my only requirements with the trip, that and that gelato or wine was a part of every day, and Bryan agreed.

 

We didn’t sleep much on the flight to Milan, so we weren’t on our “A game” when when we arrived at Milano Centrale Stazione (train station) to make our way to Varenna. We were having to take turns falling asleep on the train because someone had to watch our stuff. The views of Varenna, even after immediately stepping off the train, made it all worth it. Lake Como sits at the base of the Alps, there is a constant breeze, and the houses and hotels that line the lake are all wonderfully ornate with impeccable grounds. We checked into our amazing hotel that included a breathtaking view of the lake from our balcony. We ate lunch at our hotel and literally fell asleep at the table waiting for our check. We took a power nap in our hotel room, showered, and explored Varenna that evening. We settled on dinner with a view, which included wine and different kinds of risotto. Don’t worry, gelato quickly followed.

 

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The first half of day 2 was spent in Bellagio, just a quick ferry ride across the lake. We booked kayak tours with Bellagio Water Sports, and the tour did not disappoint. The host was phenomenal, we met some great people from Australia and the UK, and the views were spectacular. Lunch in the bustling town center of touristy Bellagio included mozzarella caprese, ravioli for Bryan and tagliati pasta for me, with more wine of course. People watching during our meals is one of our favorite things to do, we’re learning.

 

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We caught a ferry back to Varenna, found a little “beach” near our hotel (really just any access to water) and went for a swim, a very cold swim. This may be my favorite activity of the time in Varenna. It was spontaneous and felt like such a vacation. We were surrounded by people speaking many languages, but the reaction to that cold water was the same for everyone and had everyone laughing. After showering and getting ready, we headed back out for aperitivo (drinks and snacks before dinner) in Varenna’s town center. We enjoyed brightly colored spritz and a meat and cheese tray. We watched the sunset at the lake and finished with another dinner with a view. We hop on our train to our next destination tomorrow, and I’ll update as I can.

 

Ciao,

Caitlin

Goodbye Gainesville

Monday we closed the door on our time in Gainesville, FL. Florida has been home for five years and wasn’t always the most welcomed of destinations. Moving to a new city with my new husband sounded exciting, and it was for the most part, but Gainesville also saw some rough times for the Tuckers. It was difficult to figure out how to live with someone else, start my career, learn to be an encourager and supporter through Bryan’s graduate school, to live 7 hours from family, to be one of the very few to leave our friend groups, and to learn that making friends as an adult is much harder than in college. I struggled to find deep friendships which led to loneliness and anxiety. We made friends and lost friends which was discouraging. I had plenty of acquaintances, but was really longing for the deep level friendship in person like I was experiencing over the phone with my long distance friends.

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Bryan got caught in a rain storm

Enter God. Once I got into the swing of things at work I was able to build some great friendships with some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. They helped me lighten up a bit and taught me how to be a Floridian. After trying a few churches and bible study groups, we landed on one that made serving others their focus. We joined a bible study that was the truest answer to almost two years of prayer. This group became our family, and I mean that. They loved us, welcomed us, and taught us so much. It showed us that we were not alone and that we weren’t long distance from family anymore. We shared holidays, loss, new life, weddings, and everyday celebrations with these people. The Lord knew when I could handle the loneliness no more and plopped us right in the middle of this well established group of people that would bring my heart so much joy. We also found true friendships in Bryan’s colleagues in graduate school. To have another group of people that knew exactly what we were experiencing was invaluable. To have spouses and significant others who knew the struggles of supporting a doctoral candidate helped me through the roughest years.

Bryan and I grew so much in our time in Florida as individuals, young working professionals, and as a couple. We learned that we don’t have to do everything on our own, despite our goals of being an independent couple (is that an oxymoron?). We learned how to handle our finances and that we are passionate about helping others with our blessings like so many have helped us in the past. We learned that a city is all about the friends that make it up and that we can essentially be happy anywhere we go as long as we dig in and find our community there. We learned that Bryan’s a better cook and that I don’t actually enjoy it that much. We learned how to love wine, how to train a puppy, how to miss family events, how to live with the basics, and how to prioritize our wants. We learned how to question our faith and still keep believing, how to love people who are different than us, how to say “I’m sorry”, how to struggle at work, and how to support one another through those times.

Gainesville, you have seen us through supposedly the most change we will experience in adult life (the twenties) and we have come out the other side better people. We have met incredible people who have taught us more about life than school ever could. Penny made her best friends in Gainesville and learned to be a socially acceptable dog, no thanks to us. And now, as we prepare to leave the Sunshine State for blizzards and Mid-Western accents, we feel ready to face our next chapter. We know that eventually we will make friends and have community again. We know that we still have our friends in Gainesville just a phone call away and cheering us on. We know we will be ok if we keep life in perspective and keep God at the center of it.

Our next chapter: We are moving to Cleveland, OH, mid June for a great career opportunity for Bryan. I also have a job lined up and will begin in July. We have already met people there who have welcomed us into their city and we are excited for this move. We will trade Southern hospitality for the Mid-Western way of living and will learn all about pirogies, lake-effect snow, and why they love the Browns so much. But we are not nervous or anxious because we have each other, we have support of family and friends all over the country, and we have the peace of God with us.

We will be traveling out of the country next week and will attempt to add a few updates here if we have time. Feel free to keep up with our travels. I will also do my best to keep up with our Cleveland move on the blog for anyone curious about The Land. Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this journey and our first five years of marriage. We honestly couldn’t have done it without you.

Denver, CO

A few weeks ago we traveled to Denver, CO, for a a little winter vacation. We’d been talking about visiting one of my best friends in Denver for almost a year, and finally made it happen this month. We had a few things to celebrate: my birthday, Bryan’s defense, a big move to the MidWest (more on that later!). That’s right, I’m now married to Bryan Tucker, PhD!! I’m so extremely proud of his hard work over the last 4 1/2 years of graduate school and it has all finally paid off. He defended the week before our trip, so it was perfect timing to take a break and enjoy some mountain views.

We started our trip at the New Belgium Brewery for some day drinking and tour. We both had to acclimate a little to the altitude and dry weather, so we took it very slow the first day.

We went to Avanti for dinner which is “A collective eatery” with many food truck-style restaurants to choose from. Genius! We were exhausted from traveling all day so we crashed after dinner, ready to explore the next day.

Day 2 we headed to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to do some milder “hiking”. We enjoyed a picnic in the back of Emily’s car (couldn’t find a picnic table) before starting the trail. To see those massive red/orange rocks high up in this bright blue sky was beautiful to take in. We handled the altitude well with no issues and got some pretty stunning pictures. Avett (Emily’s furry friend) stole the show while meeting tons of new people and posing so well for all of our obsessive pictures.

Dinner that night was at The Squeaky Bean which was a more upscale farm to table restaurant. There was no food left on our plates! After dinner, we got drinks and ice cream at Union Station, the train station with restaurants, shopping, and hotel all in one location. If you go upstairs, there’s a less-known bar with beautiful decor and a more intimate setting.

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Thanks Emily for dressing me all week!

Day 3 we made it out to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park where we reached our peak altitude for the trip. I finally got to see snow and it was absolutely gorgeous against the green trees and blue sky. We picnicked in the park right beside this rock slide-made waterfall; it was amazing to sit out in that 30/40 degree weather and actually still enjoy it. Those views are so breathtaking and I found myself overwhelmed by their size even in the distance. I couldn’t even begin to take pictures in some settings because a camera couldn’t capture enough.

That night we went to Steuben’s, which was my favorite dinner of the trip. It was a relaxed atmosphere with good cocktails and classic American dishes.

Breakfast on Day 4 was another highlight of the trip, and there’s no one better to brunch with than Emily. We speak the same love language of breakfast food. We found ourselves at the most charming Victorian house turned Louisiana-style restaurant, Sassafras. The menu boasted 9 choices of mimosas all served in cute mason jars. My mouth is literally watering right now as I reminisce over that jalapeño cheddar drop biscuit sandwich.

We had original plans to go back to the mountains that day, but our brunch coma left us highly unmotivated. After an easy afternoon, we took a very windy walk around Wash Park with Avett stealing the show again, enjoyed some beer and wings at Denver Beer Co., and eventually made our way to dinner: ramen at Bones. It’s safe to say the food on this trip did not disappoint!

Thank you Emily for being the best hostess! You planned everything just perfectly so there was flexibility but we didn’t have to make decisions, and I really appreciate that. It was the most relaxing week I’ve had in a really long time. You are the best!

We will definitely be returning to Colorado in the future!

My Christmas in July

This Fourth of July, Bryan and I crashed my parents vacation in St. Augustine, again. We ate seafood, sunbathed (read as: sunburned), took naps, and admired my dad’s wheezy laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed my time this weekend, but it is not the same holiday I celebrated as a child.

   
   
As Bryan and I drove back home Monday night, catching glimpses of the celebrations of other families and communities, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed thinking of what that holiday used to look like for me. It was my Mamaw’s Christmas, though she did that one up big too. This holiday was for her and my dad. They would prepare weeks in advance by taking a day trip to buy fireworks and planning the order for setting them all off. My dad grilled ribs and made his famous sauce every year. I loved waking up to the smell of his sauce and the sight of that old stained cookbook he used year after year.

 

Ignore the awkwardness that defined my middle school years

 
  
Those fireworks brought back such vivid memories of lawn chairs and fireworks in the backyard, writing our names with sparklers in the air, eating homemade ice cream, laughing till I couldn’t breathe. Mamaw and Dad lit up on this day and you couldn’t help but do the same when you were around them. I did my best to explain this emotional nostalgia to Bryan on our ride home, how the turmoil of bittersweetness filled my insides, when he gently and perfectly suggested that maybe this can be my dad’s holiday with our kids one day. I love that I have these memories and that even almost ten years after the last celebration of its kind it is still defined by the greatest woman I’ve ever met.

Flying Solo

I never imagined as a nurse that I would get opportunities to travel for work, but in my new role as a research nurse I’ve been able to see a whole different side of my profession. Usually, my trips are full of meetings and dinners with no free time for exploring, but this week in Dallas I had a free evening to do a little bit of lone traveling. I didn’t do it very well, but maybe I’ve learned I’m not quite as socially inept as once thought and can handle my own sometimes.

I managed to maneuver through two very busy airports on my own, network on my flights, not hyperventilate while up in the air, and find my way to a driver and my hotel. I was very tempted to stay in my room and order room service, you know minimize the potential awkward socializing, but instead utilized concierge to find a restaurant within walking distance. I made my way to a Tex-Mex bar where I indulged in a delicious margarita and an entire bowl of chips and salsa all to myself.   I tried not to look too awkward while I ate alone at a bar that was too tall for the stool I was given, but I’m sure I didn’t pull that off. I quickly made my way back to the hotel and stayed in the rest of the night. So adventurous! But really, that’s more than I usually do. I heard later that we were within walking distance from The Sixth Floor Museum that walks you through the assassination of JFK and could kick myself for not looking into more possibilities than I did. This was a great trip to prove I can be alone and not combust, and may motivate me to be more adventurous in the future.    At the hosted dinners, it’s also easy to eat and leave quickly after you’ve finished your meal, but I made a conscious effort during this trip to talk with the other study coordinators around me. I love hearing about life all over the country and getting to brag about the South a little. The other attendees also took this time to share ghost stories as our hotel was apparently haunted. We stayed at the Adolphus hotel downtown, where the 19th floor is haunted by a guest who hung herself back in the 1930s after being left at the alter. You can imagine how well everyone slept.

It doesn’t help that you feel as if you’re stepping back into the 1930s. The hotel is very ornate in the lobby with old wood panels, grand chandeliers, intricately painted ballrooms, and creepy wood and mirrored elevators. They also serve afternoon tea each day. The rooms, however, were very modern, maybe if only to help the guests put the ghost stories out of mind at night.      I am grateful for these opportunities to see other parts of the country, and think it is just the right amount of professional traveling for me. It’s pushing me out of comfort zones and allowing me to grow individually and professionally.

Sister, sister

I don’t have any other siblings to compare to, but having a sister has to be the best thing someone can have forced upon them. You get an instant best friend, unsolicited honesty, constant laughter, free beauty and fashion tips, and someone to talk about your parents with. I just got to spend a few, long overdue, days with my sister and the aftermath emotions are starting to settle in, right on schedule.

We live almost 7 hours apart and she is very busy with work and school so it’s difficult to even talk, much less hang out. Even when we visit for the holidays, we are sharing time with other family members (which is also much needed and enjoyed) and don’t have much time for filling each other in on our life drama.

I wouldn’t trade sharing my life now with my husband for anything, but occasionally it’s nice to have weekends of teenage flashbacks with your sister: fighting over mirror space while getting ready, modeling several outfits for the night, sitting cross-legged on the bed giggling about boys, having someone to fix the part of your hair that just won’t cooperate. It’s nice to not have to beg to take a picture together out in public (ahem, men!), instead we just naturally gravitate to a photographic pose and wait for our guys to capture the moment (you can thank our Dad for this one!).

I so enjoyed having you in my home. I love hearing the adventures of your life, witnessing the evolution of your maturity, getting to know the guy who’s making you so happy, and just being in the presence of your bubbly self. I’ll always struggle with the big sister complex, but I think I am beginning to enjoy hearing your opinions and taking your advice more as we grow into our adult sisterhood.

Thanks for spending your vacation days on me! I love you little sssissster!!