Hi All! So if you follow me on social media you know that Mr. Stafford and I were soaking up the sun in St. John for the whole month of March. Can I just say this is what retirement is meant to be. We are incredibly blessed to be able to spend so much time in such a beautiful place, but this is the reason why we worked so hard all our lives. It is pure bliss!
We've been going to this beautiful island for over 18 years and every time we arrive we fall in love with it all over again. Each time we visit we end up deciding to extend our stay for the next year just a little bit longer. We always find it so difficult when its time to leave.
I’m sure that many of you know that the island of St. John went through a devastating time in 2017. The island was hit with two large hurricanes, back to back, in September of that year. The first storm, Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, hit on September 7th and pummeled the island leaving residents without electricity, water and fuel. On September 20th, Hurricane Maria landed as a Category 5 storm and destroyed what was left.
Since tourism is their main source of income, it has been a very difficult time for the residents on the island. Some people we know left and never came back. Homes and business were destroyed and their source of income was gone. Their schools were gone. Water was in short supply and what we were told was if you had ice, you were the man. Many of the residents had evacuated to Puerto Rico and we all know what happened there. How they survived all this and kept their heads up throughout everything says so much about the kind of people who live here.
When we arrived this year, we were unsure of what to expect. But here is one of the main reasons we keep coming back to St. John - the people. What they went through and the work that is still needed across the island is unimaginable. With everything that they have dealt with in the last year and a half, you could not meet a kinder, friendlier group of people. To say they make our vacation a great experience is an understatement. They consistently go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcome on this island. Most of these people worked on getting rental housing back up and running before they even started working on their own homes. The facts are that many are still without their own homes.
As you can see from the photos, it is a beautiful place to spend your time. The beaches are incredible, the food is outstanding, and the views are unreal. The quiet and peacefulness is exactly what we love about visiting St. John. It’s the perfect place to be able to get away, relax, and unplug. It’s not called “Love Island" for nothing!
In the mid-1950s Laurance Rockefeller donated his vast land holdings to the United States National Park Service. Due to this donation, 60% of the island is protected from further development. This also includes most of the beaches and coral reefs, which is another reason we love St. John so much. It’s not over-saturated, allowing the natural beauty of the island to remain as it is. The existing nature and ecosystem, which makes the island such a desired place to visit, will not be ruined by continued development. It lets you feel as if you are far away from the hustle and bustle and still having all the comforts of home.
Now, it is a chore to get from where we live in Vermont to basically anywhere, but St. John is quite the adventure. Our travel includes catching two planes, three shuttle rides, and even a water taxi to get to our final destination. Once we reach the actual island of St. John we then have to get our rental car and drive up the winding roads to get to our home.
Needless to say, this makes for a long travel day and that's only if you end up making every connection. Which this year, we did not do. Honestly, it seems like every year we deal with some kind of delay or change in plans. Everyone in our family says I jinx it by stressing too much. Note to self, you have no control over this. So I need to stop stressing about it. I need to try that next year.
This year really was the winner though for our most difficult experience of getting to St. John. To start, we woke up at 2 AM to drive an hour to Burlington to catch our first flight at 6 AM. The plane was delayed because a flight attendant called out sick. Which was okay, that kind of thing happens all the time. No big deal, right? This meant we could not catch our connecting flight in Charlotte, NC, so we had to spend the night, which was fine. We booked a hotel room, had a nice dinner and went to sleep early. The following day we woke up well rested for our flight to St. Thomas. Everything was going great, we boarded our plane and then we were told that due to mechanical problems with the plane everyone had to get off! So we were delayed another six hours while they found a new plane with a new crew. At this point, we were like “come on, really!” Once we landed we had to take a taxi to our water taxi. It was now 10 PM. So off we go in the boat, in the dark and in very rough seas. I was holding on for dear life. Finally, when we arrived our rental car wasn’t there, so we had to hunt down our driver who was so kind and stayed working so late to take care of us. By the time we got to our house, it was close to midnight. What a trip! It took us about 42 hours to get there, but no one said getting to paradise was easy!
Once we arrived Vince and I popped a bottle of champagne took in the warm island breeze and enjoyed that fresh ocean smell. Then we slept for about 10 hours!
Our winters are extremely long and very cold in Vermont. So by the time March rolls around, we are more than ready to leave the frigid cold of the East Coast and head somewhere warm and sunny. St. John is that place for us, and the strenuous travel is all worth it once we get there!
So our days were filled with early mornins at the beach, Trunk Bay being one of our favorite this year. Getting there at 8:30 AM and having that beautiful beach all to ourselves was amazing. Lazy mornings were filled with swimming in that magnificent ocean, reading, walking the beach and just relaxing. If you are able to wake up early that is the best time for the beach. You feel as if you are on your own private island. I know waking up on vacation is not what most people like to do, but that’s why God invented naps, which we did a lot. That sun and relaxing beach smell just puts you right to sleep.
Maho Bay is the beach we normally would go to in previous years. This year when we got our first look, we couldn’t believe the destruction. All of the lush greenery and foliage that were on the beach was completely gone. The beautiful palm trees that hung over the beach were no more. It was heartbreaking. This beach is wonderful for snorkeling with turtles and the water is shallow and calm. It’s also one of the favorite beaches for the locals. Hopefully next year Maho will be looking healthier.
Driving in St. John is, well, different. They drive on the left side of the road and that can be tricky to get use to. Also, all roads are one way in each direction and they can be quite narrow and very hilly. I'm just going to say it, Vince does all the driving!
Having time alone is so important for us. No phones, no TV, and just a few good books that we passed back and forth was all we needed. When we vacation, we're not the type that plans activities each day and just go, go, go. We like to relax, take each day as it comes and just go with the flow. We both like to come home from vacation well rested and ready to get back to the all that needs doing in the real world!
Now for the food. Obviously there is an abundance of fresh fish. This year we went out for lunch/dinner more often than we usually do. We found three restaurants that we fell in love with, each with their own special style. I'll put the links for these restaurants below. This year from what we were told, those living and working on the island were very surprised and incredibly happy with the amount of tourist that arrived. That being the case, I don't think the food markets were ready for the crowd. As soon as food was stacked on the shelves, it was gone just as fast. This made us try more local restaurants and we were so happy that we did. Here are a few of our favorites places to dine.
First, the Greengos Cantina was by far our favorite restaurants. It was great for a late lunch after spending the morning at the beach. It also has outdoor seating and is in a central location with parking, which is hard to come by in St. John. Yes, the food was to die for! So fresh, so good, it was fabulous! The freshest nachos, the tastiest shrimp tacos, and Cadillac Margaritas were our go to. I also highly recommend their MexicanStreet Corn, Mango Chili Shrimp, and their freshly made guacamole & salsa. I’m not exaggerating when I say we ate there almost daily. It was that good. Honestly, I could go for that shrimp taco right about now!
The Extra Virgin Bistro was another spot that we enjoyed several times on this trip. With an Italian menu and their own roof top garden this was a wonderful place to spend a few hours and enjoy some incredible food. The “catch of the day” was often our first choice to order. Their crab cakes and appetizers were also wonderful. I'm so hungry right now!
The Terrace restaurant was another one of our favorites. The location is stunning and outdoor seating gives you some of the best views and sunsets you could ask for. This is a French influenced restaurant and again, fish was in abundance on the menu. Whatever the daily catch was, that's what we ordered.
So where do we stay in St. John? Right now a few of the larger resorts are still closed or just partially open. Caneel Bay is unfortunately still very devastated. The Westin is open but they are still doing construction and maintenance from the storm.
We have always rented a home through a company called “Catered To”. They have a great selection of villas for rent. They have been in this business for a long time, so they know how to make our stay very easy and special! There is nothing too small or too big for them to take care of. Tyler, who owns “Catered To” and his staff are incredible. Their company name is perfect because they really do cater to your every need. They can setup a chef made a meal delivery service. You can request certain meals you want before you arrive and they will bring it right to your house. Meals are freshly made and well prepared just for you. It is nowhere close to takeout. They can also stock your refrigerator with food for your arrival, which came in very handy this year! Since we have used “Catered To” for planning all of our trips to St. John for the past 18 years, it feels like going home and seeing family.
St. John is one of the most amazing places to visit. But even with all this beauty, sunshine, relaxation, and great people we are always homesick toward the end of vacation. That's a good thing though! Paradise is wonderful, but eventually home is where you want to be. We missed our dog Buddy, sleeping in our own bed, and our girls. But mostly, we missed Buddy!
Like Dorothy Gale says "There's no place like home".
Hi Everyone! So I decided to write about our trip to Italy. If you follow me on social media you probably saw the pictures and stories of our travels. I’ll share some of them within this post. We just returned a few weeks ago from our two-week vacation in Florence, Italy. And let me tell you it is an absolute dream there. I highly suggest everyone try and make it there at least once in your life. The people, food, architecture, and of course the River Arno are all just beyond beautiful.
We’ve been going to Florence every September for quite a few years now, and we absolutely love it! Except for the last two years, we were unable to go due to life getting in the way. So that made our trip this year and returning to the Lungarno, all the more special. We got back home just in time for peak foliage, which was really lucky for us. This year the foliage was stunning with brilliant colors rolling over the mountains. What a sight to come home to. But, I digress. Back to our Italy vacation.
First, traveling from Vermont to Italy is no easy journey. Actually, traveling anywhere from Vermont is always difficult, because our airport is so small. We start off by driving an hour from our home in Stowe to the Burlington airport. We then have a short one hour flight to Philadelphia. Then we have the long hall of the eight-hour flight to Rome, Italy. Finally, once we arrive in Rome we have a car service drive us to Florence and our ultimate destination, Hotel Lungarno! Wow, after all of that, a shower and a meal are in order.
We always stay at Hotel Lungarno. It’s a beautiful boutique hotel located directly on the River Arno. Each year when we arrive we find the same familiar faces welcoming us back. The staff is so special that it feels like coming home. The hotel is owned by the Ferragamo family. The attention to detail and making you feel comfortable is incredible. When we arrive at the hotel Champagne, caviar, chocolates, along with fresh flowers are waiting for us in our room. So nice! Since it is a smaller hotel you don’t get lost in the crowd. Everyone who works there knows your name. They remember the small things that you like, which make staying there one of the best parts of our vacation. They even remember the funny things that have happened on past trips. Like the one time, we were stuck at a restaurant during a cab strike and had no way to get back to the hotel. In between the time we arrived at the restaurant and the time we were finished eating our meal, the strike happened! The hotel had to send a small truck to pick us up and we were squeezed into the tiny front seat with me sitting on Vince’s lap and half my body out the window. We laughed so hard we cried all the way back to the hotel! The staff still remembers that ride till this day! Throughout our stay, we’ll come back to the room to find a great Tuscan wine or fresh flowers with a note waiting for us. I always save the notes!
So, unlike most people, we like to stay in one place through our whole vacation. Believe me, I am not a light traveler. I always overpack! So packing up every few days and traveling to a different area is just not for us. I know some people might think that is strange since we are close to so many historically beautiful cities. Our daughters are always telling us we should go to new places in Italy instead of staying in one spot. But we like what we like, and we like what we know.
We love Florence for the people, the food, the sites, and oh let’s not forget the shopping!! Since we stay at Hotel Lungarno we get a 10% discount at Ferragamo, which is always appreciated. Traveling to Europe is a great experience but one of my favorite parts is seeing the street style of the women there. We saw some beautiful fashion trends in major fashion houses like Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, along with small boutiques. This year animal prints were being featured in everything including bags, shoes, coats, dresses, gloves, and hats. Basically, anything you can wear or carry! Also, it wasn’t just the typical animal print. They came in all different kinds of colors such as yellow, pink, lavender, green, blue, just stunning! Of course, I could not pass up on the animal prints so I bought a bag in haircalf and a pink coat that I wore in many of my photos, which checked that box. I love shopping in Florence because you see things that you don’t get to see in the States. Even in the large fashion houses, the choices are different so I always come home with something very unique. This year I was looking for a green bag, and I ended up finding two. One from D&G and the other one from Ferragamo in beautiful luxe materials of suede and leather. Of course, I got both of them!
Enough about shopping, on to the food. Most of the restaurants we go to are family owned, inexpensive, and amazing. How do they make pasta that light and delicious? Osteria del Pavone is one of our all-time favorite restaurants. It is owned by the family that runs Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, which we equally love. The Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco has been in Florence for 35 years. When we are being seated we walk through the kitchen to get to our table, it definitely gives me Goodfellow vibes. They do have another entrance but that’s my favorite way to go! Our must-haves on the menu are the Fritto Misto, which one night they made special for us upon request. Also, the steak tartare is so fresh and tasty, plus it's made at the table by the chef himself. My all-time favorite is Pappardelle pasta in boar sauce, I die!!! We love everyone at this restaurant. Above is a photo of Vince with all the guys just having too much fun!
We took a day trip to Tuscany, about a two-hour drive from our hotel. We went to a small little town called Monteggiori. Monteggiori is a charming village in the Camaiore area that was first mentioned existing in the year 1224. To arrive into the town you must walk, there is no access for cars. It's medieval fortress still stands and the village itself is like going back in time. The winding roads are just beautiful to walk through. The peacefulness of the village is wonderful, there are a few small shops and one restaurant. In exploring we kept coming upon stray cats everywhere. Certainly more cats than residents! This village is all about the stunning views and walking the same steps that people walked almost 800 years ago.
After leaving Monteggiori our driver took us to a beautiful vineyard lined with hundreds of cypress trees. Here we got to capture some great photos. The landscape was stunning and again the quiet and beauty of the area was wonderful. Rose bushes were lined throughout the vineyard making it even more pretty and romantic.
We went on to Chianti and the vineyard called Famiglia Mazzarrini for lunch and wine tastings. Our wines included both white and red and were paired with a traditional Tuscan menu. Handmade egg pasta from eggs collected in their hen house, truffles (one of my favorites), vegetables from their organic garden, and simple desserts. It was a great way to spend an afternoon. After all that we had the beautiful two-hour scenic drive back to Florence. When we got back to our room we sat on our balcony and enjoyed a Super Tuscan wine and watched the world go by.
So with all that pasta, pizza, and wine, I ended up only gaining about two pounds. Why is that you may ask? Well, it's because we walked everywhere. We would wake up, eat breakfast, and hit the streets running. Florence is such an easy city to walk. We would be out for hours just enjoying the sites and the wonderful weather. So along with my high heels, it’s a major must to pack some good walking shoes. The Ponte Vecchio, which is one of the big tourist sites, is right next to our hotel. Our balcony has a wonderful view of it. Most days it is wall to wall of people. The shops consist of jewelry stores with the most incredible custom jewelry that you’ve ever seen. As you go further down there are art dealers, restaurants, and a huge open market that sells everything and anything you can think of.
One morning we woke up at 5 AM to get ready to go to the bridge. We wanted to take some photos and not have to deal with so many tourists. Remember how I said the streets were filled with tourists see photos below for the comparison.
We have never seen it like that before! It was just us and a few coffee shops that were beginning to open up. The streets were empty and peacefully quiet! It was worth waking up so early up for. This year Vince had the task of taking all photos for the blog. This was new for Vince. He has never been a great photographer, and it had actually become an ongoing joke within our family. Most of the pictures he would take have his thumb covering half the lens, or they would just come out blurry. I've got to say he proved us all wrong on this trip because his photos turned out so well. We got some great shots! Vince is thinking about a whole other career now! It also added another fun thing for us to do on this vacation. We got a lot of laughs doing it. Vince had no qualms about telling people to move out of the way. He actually went up to one group of tourists and told them they had to move because they had been in that spot long enough. Oh, that man of mine!
One of our best days was when it rained all day. We slept late and read a bit in the morning. Then we got dressed and went to the lounge to graze on some tomatoes and burrata, great cheese, and of course wine. It was a perfect day for relaxing and just enjoying time together.
Vince and I love to just chill and spend time together on our vacations. It's just great for us to get away together to unplug. No phones, computers, dogs, kids, it's just the two of us. We loved coming back to our room in the afternoon after seeing the city, or evenings after dinner, and sitting on our balcony. We would people watch and just enjoy the beauty of the area. It gives us time to recharge, sleep in, read a book, and just enjoy each other's company. It's so important to unplug and get away from some the of stresses of life.
We also met so many people from all over. It's so easy to start up a conversation in a restaurant or at the hotel lounge. The best group of people we met and chatted with were, believed or not, from Vermont! They had actually lived in Philadelphia before they moved to Vermont. Kind of unreal! The world seems to be getting smaller and smaller. We had a great conversation so we traded emails and now we have some new friends.
So packing up and leaving was tough. The trip home is always a killer. We wake at 3:30 AM to be on the road to Rome by 4:30 AM. Do the entire trip back to Philly and then the killer, a five-hour layover before our flight back to Vermont. It is the worst. We then fly to Vermont, drive to Stowe. When we finally get home, we get right into our bed, after saying hello to our Buddy, for a long, well-needed sleep.
Next year we’ll get to do it all over again. Maybe with less luggage next time (HA!). So, for now, Ciao Florence!