1 Hour in Falls of Rough, Kentucky

Continuing our "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" adventures, John and I spent our Saturday afternoon having lunch at Grayson's Landing in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Hidden in a small corner of Rough River Lake, Grayson's Landing offers a beautiful panoramic lakeside view while you dine on a country-style buffet at the Rough River Dam State Resort Park. It's just an hour's flight north of Nashville, and you're tucked away in a wooded Kentucky oasis. A perfect afternoon getaway.

John Branam Photography

Similar to our previous adventures, the beauty of the "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" stop is the location. The brisket, old-fashioned macaroni 'n' cheese, and free-for-all soft-serve ice cream may spark feelings of nostalgia, but it's not what gets the R44's engines rumblin'. It's the view. John and I plan to return for an overnight stay in one of the state park's cabins. And maybe to eat more soft-serve...

72 Hours in Muscle Shoals, Alabama

A couple weeks back, John and I took part in American Songwriter Magazine's Live & In Person weekend getaway to Muscle Shoals. Since I work at the magazine, the decision to attend was easy. Regardless, three days in this Alabama oasis made it clear this was something that should not have been missed. Enjoy our recap of the first Live & In Person below.

John Branam Photography

After a scenic 2-hour drive from Nashville, our Friday evening began with a ride on the historic city-wide trolley to Florence's first craft brewery, Singin' River. I recommend tasting the Handy's Gold: a blonde ale based on the Munich Helles style but fermented with a classic British ale yeast. From there, we headed to the Billy Reid flagship store where we met three of the original Swampers. After feasting on Whole Hog Express BBQ with 30 other guests, we settled in for an intimate evening of songwriting and storytelling with Spooner Oldham, Jimmie Johnson and Will McFarlane. We also got our first taste of the cheerful and always darling Judy Hood, honorary "Swampette" and wife of Swampers bassist David Hood. This night alone could have quenched our thirst for a musical weekend, especially after hearing Will McFarlane's story about getting tattoos with Tom Waits.

Saturday began with a morning at the Alabama Chanin Factory, a "lifestyle company producing well-designed and thoughtfully-made goods." Designer Natalie Chanin curates a heavenly location with 100% organic cotton jersey fabric, hand-sewn masterpieces, kind-hearted workers, and sustainable quality. She also incorporates a Southern-style kitchen, sourcing only local and regional ingredients. The entire room agreed this was the best breakfast any of us had ever had. Hands down.

We happily dragged our full bellies back onto the trolley for a full day of Muscle Shoals history. Judy Hood took us deep inside the world so few had ever known before the famous 2013 documentary. We toured Fame Studios, where producer Rick Hall and his skilled team recorded hits by Etta James, Jimmy Hughes, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Candi Station and more. We stood inside 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where star musicians like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cher, Elton John, Paul Simon, and many others created some of the most memorable music to date. 

For our final stop, we peeked inside the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and met Rick Hall himself. His gold rings sparkled from a mile away. Shaking his hand really brought everything full circle. You hear about these places, and you know how important they are to American music. But, you can't understand how humble this beginning truly was until you stand on the same broken tiles as artists you admire. Judy even explained how seeing these locations in person has made grown men cry. I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

After heading back to the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, John and I met up with the guests for dinner at Odette, a "neighborhood eatery serving elevated American fare with southern and international influences. The menu features locally and sustainably-sourced ingredients in a contemporary, inviting and comfortable atmosphere." We started with tomato & chickpea toast with goat cheese and pickled turnips, followed by deviled farm eggs with red curry, white cheddar pimento cheese and bacon. Try the tortilla-crusted Alabama catfish with sea island red peas, smoked sweet potato relish and red mole. Don't leave a single morsel on your plate. You're welcome. Pictured is the toffee creme brûlée with dark chocolate-hazelnut toffee bark and brown sugar cheesecake with gingersnap and maple-roster pineapple compote.

Through the kitchen and out the back alley brought us to 116 E. Mobile. A musical weekend isn't complete without a concert, and Single Lock Records delivered. Single Lock is Florence's own independent record label owned and operated by Will Trapp, Ben Tanner, and John Paul White of the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars. Packed into the label's candlelit venue, we enjoyed the sounds of The Kernal, Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers, The Pollies, Belle Adair, and Dylan LeBlanc. Once again, this night could have sufficed for the entire trip. Donnie Fritz crooned with John Paul White, and I died happy somewhere in that room that night.

Sunday morning featured a filling hotel breakfast and storytelling session with legendary songwriter Gary Baker. We huddled on the hotel's porch to hear him sing snippets of internationally-renowned songs like "I Swear." Another morning with a bacon-filled stomach and music filling our ears woke us up just enough for the short drive home. On your way out of town, stop at Tom's Wall. This memorial to Tom Hendrix's great grandmother commemorates her emotional and inspiring journey. After her Native American tribe was forced to walk to Oklahoma from their Alabama home, one Yuchi girl could no longer hear the singing waters she had grown to love in Muscle Shoals. Her journals tell the difficult story of her 5-year walk back home, all to hear the music she held so dear. Tom created the largest un-mortared wall in the United States and the largest memorial to a Native American woman with stones from over 120 countries. It's not to be missed.

John Branam Photography

We hope to host another Live & In Person event in the coming months, furthering this intimate experience of music history with the American Songwriter audience. Stay tuned for updates and the announcement of the next location with American Songwriter Magazine.

Video by Mountain. Click here to see more photos and beautiful portraits by photographer Jason Myers.
Click here to learn more about American Songwriter's Live & In Person.

24 Hours in Oxford, Mississippi

When the sky is blue and an invitation arrives, a savvy girl cancels her plans and heads out of town.  John fired up the Robinson R44, and we turned our heads south for 24 hours in Oxford, Mississippi.  Home of Faulkner, Grisham, and Ole Miss football, Oxford has been named a Best Small Town in America - a great weekend getaway.

STAY:  Just a short walk off the historic Oxford square is an oasis of elegance and comfort.  The Z is a bed & breakfast run by Texas-native and Ole Miss alumni Annie Zeleskey.  Founded in 2010, The Z is enchanting.  We stayed in “Live,” one of three charming suites.  Annie's design style is inspired by a tobacco quilt hanging in her breakfast nook.  "Each little 4x6 segment used to be rolled up in tobacco tins..."  This rustic touch is a graceful balance with The Z's french antique style.  With freshly-pressed robes and cloud-like bedding, we were grateful for its beauty and gracious southern hospitality. 

SHOP:  Don’t miss the oldest department store in the South, Neilson's, celebrating its 175th anniversary.  I recommend Therapy on the Square for the girl who loves prints, Village Tailor for the high-end bag of your dreams, and Cicada for a prime selection of casualwear and flirty dresses.  Pop your head into Amelia Presents for adorable stationary and unique gifts.  As the sun sets, don’t forget Hinton & Hinton, a southern gentleman’s boutique.  John recommends their remarkable collection of bow ties.

DINNER:  A day in Oxford isn’t complete without a meal at James Beard award-winning chef John Currence’s City Grocery.  I recommend a glass of Trimbach and a quiet table near the bar.  Start with butter-poached shrimp and rosemary-braised lamb neck.  For entrees, don’t miss the grilled trout with roasted red pepper rouille or the peking duck with sweet potato risotto and asparagus.  Yum!  Let your kind waiter refill your coffee cup at least three times while you devour the brioche perdu with poached pears and cream cheese ice cream.

DRINK:  Even if you are as full as we were, waddle across the Square for an after-dinner drink at Currence’s upscale, down-home Bouré.  Find a table on the upstairs balcony and sip on signature cocktails, Hot Toddy or Planter’s Punch.  Next, visit Funkys, the daiquiri spot where Katy Perry jumped off the bar.  Hotty Toddy!  Don’t forget to join the local college students for a beer at The Library, followed by chicken-on-a-stick at the Chevron.  Don’t ask, just trust me.

BREAKFAST:  Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast is not to miss, but Annie’s breakfast at The Z quickly changed our minds.  Melt into her absolutely amazing homemade cinnamon rolls and maple frosting, with a side of local sausage and fresh oranges.  On your way out of town, grab a loaf of freshly-baked sourdough bread from The Bottletree Bakery for loved ones in Nashville and an iced chai from High Point Coffee for the trip home.

Like many others, Annie loved Oxford so much she never left.  "I have travelers from all over the world just passing through, wanting to see Oxford.  I love the wonderful reputation it has...for good reason, too!"  Although one day in Oxford isn't enough to experience all there is to offer, it's just a short 5-hour drive south of Nashville to music, arts, literature, dining, and sports, all packed into a charming Mississippi haven.

John Branam Photography

DRIVE: 4-5 hours by I-40W

PLANE: 30 minutes from BNA to MEM, then rent a car for final 90 minute drive.

OUT: Oxford Bus Service - Click here for fares, routes, and schedule.

TAXI: Rock Star Taxi and Limo 662-701-7019, Rebel Taxi 662-832-7433, Oxford Taxi 662-701-7310

1 Hour in Stewart, Tennessee

A "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" is jargon I learned last year from John.  In the aviation community, this term refers to a short flight to nearby airfield to grab a quick meal, then a return trip home.  My first "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" was a Sunday afternoon spent at The Only Home of Throwed Rolls, Lambert's Cafe, located in Sikeston, Missouri.  As with other restaurants on the "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" list, the meal doesn't even remotely approach the cost of the fuel used to get there.  It's all in the fun.

John Branam Photography

Last week, the winter sky was crisp and perfect for a trip to another favorite destination eatery for pilots. Just a quick 45-minute flight from Nashville in John's Robinson R44 helicopter delivered us to a tiny runway surrounded by Tennessee's rolling hills.  A stroll across a country road and we arrived at a quaint mom and pop hideaway, Southernaire Restaurant & Motel.  John and I nestled ourselves in the quiet back room and were greeted by long-time waitress, Sandy.  Her favorite item on the menu?  Tater-tots.  We obliged.  I also crunched into freshly-caught fried catfish from neighboring Kentucky Lake, and John enjoyed a toasted ham & cheese sandwich.  Delicious.  Our lunch was perfect for warming the body and soul on a cold winter day.

The beauty of this particular "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" is the location. There we were on a quiet hillside in Stewart, Tennessee in a restaurant & motel obviously cared for with pride and love. Every corner of Southernaire has a framed family photo, a hand-written letter of gratitude, or a decorative detail unique to the individuals who call this place home. Its good, honest food was comfort for us miles away from home, a welcomed stop for the hungry stomach of passing aviators. 

SWEATER H&M (Men's) | JEANS Joe's Jeans c/o ShopBop | BAG Rebecca Minkoff | SUNNIES Ray-Ban | SHOES Steve Madden

Chicago, Illinois

Even I found it difficult to believe this past weekend’s adventure was my first trip to Chicago. I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far without visiting, but I truly fell in love.

There were obligatory shopping sprees, cocktail pit-stops, and wandering walks over our long weekend. I tried exciting tastes with dinner and wine at Rosebud on Rush, a breakfast feast at Eleven City Diner, teasing sopas at High Noon Saloon, frozen cappuccinos and Jennifer Lopez conversation at the Artist's Cafe, seared halibut and maybe too many glasses of wine at Folklore Argentine Grill, a refreshing watermelon cocktail at The Violet Hour, a goat cheese burger and sangria at Terzo Piano’s artistic rooftop view, a cold beer on Navy Pier, Avi’s Avocado Burger at Rafael’s, and a final unspoken late lunch.

We scurried from store to store, finding hidden gems in the shops of Wicker Park. Belmont ArmyStore B. VintageU.S. #1Rudys RoundupVintage Underground BoutiqueEskell, and others housed wall-to-wall, drool-worthy items. I left dreaming of a layered diamond and pearl necklace. Still thinking of you, little one. I also found a switch-blade comb at Uncle Fun. Don’t let the kiddies show you magic tricks.

Our main reason for visiting Chicago, besides obnoxiously large amounts of hours giggling over shoes, was to visit the “Impressionsim, Fashion & Modernity” Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a truly remarkable display of the relationship between fashion and art during the 1860s, with a specific focus on Paris and 75 impressionist painters. Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Tissot, and many more. I adored the exhibit’s delivery of comparison between the 24-foot paintings and the showcasing of intricately layered Parisian dresses. Besides the displayed corsets being the size of my thigh, I found myself floating from frame to frame, case to case, holding my heart as tiny silver shoes were displayed alongside feathered hats and lace fans. It was an absolutely beautiful and artistic moment to appreciate how fashion truly does impact art, atmosphere, and history.

Ons Island, Spain

Isla de Ons. I'll return one day...

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Even though it’s over, my dreams are filled with afternoons at beaches after class, screaming marches in the streets, cannon blasts in the distance, and five-foot-high bonfires. Markets of baked breads and fresh fruits, the blood of bulls spread across arena floors, old cathedrals and ancient violins. Strawberry fields and caboose rides with the engulfing winds, chocolate and churros, carnival rides and candy tents. Early morning classes and lazy afternoon lunches with my host family. Walking the Camino in reverse, counting golden seashells on the ground, parrots chirping on the terrace, laundry blowing on balconies in the sun. Galaxy globes, Galician octopus, broken tambourines and flamenco dancers, sea shell sand and angry sea gulls. Toldeo, Isla de Ons, Villagarcia, and more. 

I’ve learned how the people of Spain aren’t afraid to scream from the depths of their lungs, and they aren’t afraid to notice when something is wrong. They’re willing to sit on cobblestones for hours on end, raising their hands and souls to a higher worth. I’ve learned that in Spain, love is nothing to be ashamed of, hide from, keep secret. It doesn’t matter if it’s your family or a brother or a mother, love is love. It should be shared and enjoyed. I want to go back to ancient cemeteries and lighthouses, giant painted compasses and rocky cliffs. The end of the world and the end of the Camino. Train rides and park benches, giant boulders covered in cacti, sardine floors and bonfire long jumps, a side of popcorn with mojitos and boxed wine. I’ll miss it all. It’s been too fast. If I could go back, I happily would. But then again, it’s definitely time to begin another summer in the heat of the dirty South, soaking up the humidity and remembering how feelings of truth can be applied. Things have only just begun.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid was Hotel Opera, Mercado de San Miguel, Puetro Del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and watching the revolution of the Spanish people rise. Tent after tent, sign after sign, shout after shout. Sangria, Madrid’s National Library and Museum, and Plaza del Toros for bullfights. It’s interesting partaking in such an ancient tradition, watching the energy from a muscular bull slowly drain as the blood drips and pours onto the sand beneath their hooves. It’s sad, but because it’s such a part of Spanish culture, being involved was remarkable. The mannerisms portrayed that day were inspiring beyond anything else, the way a certain confidence can be laid out before a bull’s eyes and the reactions given are like nothing else. Dancing with old French painters in the early hours of the morning, Madrid’s National Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and the largest selection of street performers I’ve ever seen. Flamenco dancers at Carmen and the beginning of a life I’ve never known.

It was visiting Aran Juez for the Royal Palace and fresh strawberries on an antique wooden train. It was visits to Toledo for a mix of old and new. Cobblestone streets and fisherman, birds making nests on the inside of old arches, cartwheels on the edge of the world, and silent moments of reflecting on the fact I was a million miles away from anything. It’s been five course meals with a group of strangers, chocolate con churros, Museo del Prado for Rubens, and the making of the Milky Way. Ancient wedding dresses, royal cribs made of blue silk, and feather caps. Protests meeting in the silent corners of the city, crusty feet and painted chests for a cause. It’s a revolution of street performers and beating hearts that scream from the pits of their tents. I’ve never met more passionate people in my life.

Toledo + Costa da Morte, Spain

From the old, to even older...

Isle of Man

Isle of Man. A 15-mile hike across the Heritage Trail, guys & dolls nightlife, bike-racing cab drivers, basking sharks, tender rides to shore and back, and Peel Castle. Sleeping ducks and empty streets for nothing but wandering back and forth. Not a care in the world.

Liverpool, England

Liverbirds and graffiti scraps, technicolor coffee shops and Castle Street festivals. Helter skelter children slides and bubble pop electric bows in every shoe and color. Luxury at its finest. Nights at Lloyd's and Modo, banana lamps and pigeon love. The yellow duckmarine, Albert Dock, and the revolution. Stumbling across the Tate Museum featuring Picasso: Peace+Freedom and DLA Piper series: This Is A Sculpture. Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, the condition of a woman, and castration from a little killing machine. Liverpool Cathedral, and our very own ratatat Banksy. Getting lost between silent streets with nothing but the echo of bouncing ball. George’s first guitar. Beginner Beatles drums. Posters, charts, records, Beatles pantyhose, lunchboxes, and certificates. Abbey Road recording tapes, George’s amp, John's mohair suit, and screaming girls. Airport seats ripped from their cabin, the Eleanor Rigby grave, contracts and signatures and glasses.


Edinburgh, Scotland

Bus rides and ship yards and train tunnels. The Counting House dinners with the longest bar in the world. Tiny little sailing boats resting atop domed roofs. Crowded Edinburgh streets, quilted men with dreadlocks, and screaming lines of policemen. Marching bagpipe bands, polish trumpets that rattle your bones, and the citadel military band bringing back the funk. Furry hats and stunted growth, military motorcycle stunts, and entirely too many fireworks. All at the Military Tattoo. Hiding in telephone booths for warmth while ringing out the pom-poms on your jacket, and a walk back in the refreshing Scottish mist in the early morning light.

Whitehaven, England

Owl stare downs at the World Owl Center, silent moments in the haunted Muncaster Castle, and medieval feasts. Singing with harp players and piano jockeys, sailing back and forth from the ship to shore. Street festivals, made-to-eat hot dogs, taxi drivers, and sheep-covered hillsides. Strawberry sugar tarts, tendor rides, and swimming bike racks made for boats. Tom Foolery's tree, little boys screaming in the stocks, and blanket-covered nights on Bali beds with new friends. Locks and docks and fuzzy pups. An ancient library that goes on for days. Baby owlets begging for attention and minstrel orchestras. Just the smell of Whitehaven alone makes your ringlets return. A few beautiful days in a tiny ocean-side town dips your mind back into the sea and leaves your ability to create thoughts behind.

Cobh, Ireland

Cobh and a day in Killarney. Big-butted boats, yellow ticky-tacky houses in a row, pavilion parks by the sea, and empty beer kegs lining the back roads. Roaming dogs and apple tarts, tire swings and blue balcony views. Drinks at a regatta bar, stairs straight to water, St. Coleman’s Cathedral, FOTA Gardens and Plantation, and finding clean feathers in Irish mud. Broken towers and nights at Kelly’s Bar. Muckross House with albino crows, extinct moose, and child-height staircases. Windy mountain gaps and calling sheep, deserted towers and railroad houses. A leap of complete joy. Days of nothing but throwing your arms up into the air, laughing at the sun.

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin was filled with days of colorful doors and uneven ground, brilliant moments in and out of Fitz Simon's rooftop, evenings at The National Gallery and ballrooms with opera-singing waiters. Aga Khan Horse show-jumping events with equestrian markets, Caravaggio's "Taking of the Christ." A private Riverdance performance, big hats and bag pipes. Cranberry trees and scribbling on bridges. Flatbread pizzas and apple smoothies, feeding the leftovers to king swans. Marble slabs made for outdoor napping and sparkling boxes made for nothing but peeking. Bali bed adventures at 4am to the sounds of ship yard clanking, boat horns, and seagull calls. Screaming horses, leather backpacks, and warped mirrors.

Grafton Street shopping, more nights on the Bali beds, and floral gardens. Street performing showcasing sand sculpting, puppet dancing, singing Elton John, white faced monks, and lollipop vendors. Harp players and artists sketching murals on the sidewalk. Taxi rides and three course meals. Traditional 3-piece Irish band and tiny little dancers. A tugboat out to sea to finish.

Rome, Italy

A 10 hour flight, sleeping like three little ducklings the whole way, a bumpy taxi ride, and a dropped jaw later, we arrived in Roma, Italia last Monday.  Beautiful mushroom-shaped tree tops, weaving cobble-stone streets, seagulls flying in circles, and the greatest roof-top hotel apartment in Albergo Santa Chiara. An orange stucco terrace, dark wooden angles in ancient corners, sun roof ceilings, mumbled Italian commercials from a quiet television, open windows and open doors.

Day 1: Breakfast of apricot croissants, learning how to properly eat a kiwi, fresh meats and cheeses. Side streets led to the ruins where Julius Caesar was killed...which are now home to 250 cats. Crossing the Tiber River, we traced our fingers over the Caesar engravings in the walking bridge and found a local flea market. After an afternoon of shopping, we began our daily ritual of stopping by the corner market picking up wine, cheese, and bread to eat on our terrace every afternoon. This repeats for the next 6 days, followed by the nap of those who are tired. A conversation in metal chairs with all the windows and doors wide, the wind blowing papers, the seagulls squawking to the pulse of sleeping snores. Out for dinner and more walking. We snagged a quick tour of The Pantheon from the man with a broken yellow umbrella and enjoyed the sounds from a boy playing the hang drum. Dinner at Insalata de Ricca.

Day 2: The Colosseum stopped sound. Layers of rock, broken down stairs and seats. The floor where the bloody battles played out is no more, but what you can see is down into the cells where men and lions were kept, waiting for their fate. Every crumbling piece, so disheveled and broken, seemed so strong. A giant sleeping bear just lying in the middle of Rome, nothing large enough to wake it. From there, we gazed at the Arc of Constantine and continued onward.  We ran all over Palatine Hill, through the house of Augustus Caesar, and paused at the location of the home of Romulus and Remus. We continued onto the Roman Forum, the common ground between Rome’s seven hills and the home of all things government and ancient.  Right before our feet were about to implode on themselves, we passed by the ashes of Julius Caesar. A humble place to rest... We stopped by a cafe with a golden-eyed cat, bread, more wine, and grilled eggplant and zucchini. Dinner at Cul de Sac. We squished into small benches and munched on fresh ravioli with duck ragout and sweet & sour boar.

Day 3: Less than 200 people a year are allowed under St. Peter’s Basilica and inside the excavated area surrounding St. Peter’s Tomb.  Original stone tombs of bishops with bodies still inside, never touched. We walked down original streets of ancient Rome, preserved over many years by soil. Tiled mosaics of Apollo, pots with the cremated ashes of pagans, 16th Century chapels that have been in use for 100,400 days. We actually saw the bones of those buried next to Saint Peter, the approximate place where Saint Peter's body lay rest, the marble cube put in place to protect the area before building the Basilica above. This was one of the coolest adventures I have ever done in my entire life, hands down. We then ascended to St. Peter's Basilica. You feel like a tiny ant, consumed with the power around you. On the way out the door, we stopped to gaze on Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” his only signed work. Dinner at Miscellanea, a college kid-filled place with monstrous bread platters, ham, cheese, red wine, and carbonara pasta. On our way back around the corner, we stopped by the church of St. Mary above Minerva.

Day 4: We awoke to a sunnier day than the one before, walked up through the hills, up Corso, and past the home of Lord Byron, the Keats-Shelley Museum, and the drowning boat fountain. We stopped to gaze up the Spanish Steps before climbing them, a well-known area in Rome with one of the most spectacular views of the city. We ventured on another long walk to find the Borghese Estate.  Gardens, villa, museum...a very rich family had an astounding art collection. Besides all of the art by Raphael and Caravaggio and sculptures you've only ever seen in books, the ceilings were my favorite. Battles spilling down onto the walls, gold details on the framing. Simply breathtaking. We heard the rush of water in our search for Trevi Fountain and low and behold, as you turn the corner, BAM. A monstrous project with majestic nature flowing from its every drain and spout. We turned our backs and threw in coins. This may have been one of the most important moments of the trip, wishing to come back. Dinner at Pizzeria da Baffetto to munch on prosciutto and salami pizzas with red wine. A stop for gelato at the Frigidaire next door.

Day 5A slow morning, enjoying the terrace while pretending to remember how to speak a handful of Italian phrases. A walk through the market place, filled with meat vendors and vegetables, flowers and melon liquors. A taxi ride over to The Vatican, standing in between rain drops and eating chocolate gelato under umbrellas. After walking around the back side, you're inside a building stretching nine miles long. Hallways of maps, tapestries, and sculptures. If you spent 3 seconds on every single piece of artwork in The Vatican, you would be there for twelve years. Once you've seen all the art you can stand, the Sistine Chapel is the next stop. Pictures were not allowed, and speaking was held to a minimum. But standing in the open area, looking at this monumental painting by Michelangelo, we stood in complete awe. Then, my mother handed us each an envelope. Inside was an invitation, to joyously share the reaffirmation of their vows after 25 years. Sistine Chapel, Rome, 2010. And right there, my parents renewed their wedding vows in the corner of the Sistine Chapel. A testament to the blessing of their driving force as my parents. After taking in all that we could, we walked down the tilted spiral staircase and back into the sunshine. Dinner at Ristorante da Fortunata. The wine arrived with smoked speck, penne arabiata with tomato and basil, and ricotta cheesecake. Another night to toast the anniversary of my parents and their 25 years together.

Day 6: Today was for shopping. We found ourselves swimming down Via del Corso. Lab shoes, H&M, Mango, boutiques, and gelato at a small cafe. We ended the day purchasing entirely too many leather gloves at Alberta’s Glove Shop. The elderly woman inside had been making gloves since she was 19 years old. She had taken the shop over from her grandmother and knew very little English, enough to sell her masterpiece gloves. A huge smile, a waddling shuffle, a matching light blue scarf, suit, and hat. Dinner at Pizzeria Monte Carlo. The original peperone, funghi, and Monte Carlo with wine and zucchini flowers. We ended the evening with a walk back through Piazza Navona. We had gelato one more time next to the fountains while fire dancers flipped their strings of fury. Music echoed off the cornered buildings.

Home again.