A PERFECT SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

This Easter, Gareth and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks in South Africa. It was by far the most exciting and adventurous trip I’ve ever taken (I cried tears of happiness two different times!), as well as the farthest from home. We had 13 packed days in South Africa (and one day in Cairo!) and while it’s impossible to do everything in 13 days, I put hours and hours into researching the perfect South Africa itinerary — all that hard work paid off, because I think I did it!

In the coming weeks I’m going to post about each of the five sections of the trip in detail, but here I’m going to share the basic itinerary. Two weeks always means some things will have to be left off, but I think we fit in a great mix of things. Each of our five segments felt very different — because of that by the time we came back to London two weeks later, it felt like we had been gone for months and been on five completely different trips.

Our South Africa Itinerary

Cairo (Day 1)

We took a red eye from London to Cairo on Egypt Air. While there were cheaper options, this one allowed me to build in an 18 hour layover, which was enough time to do a great tour of the city. While one day is not nearly enough to cover Egypt, it did feel like we saw nearly every major tourist attraction in Cairo itself.

Kruger (Days 2 – 4)

Elephant, Kruger National Park

We landed in Johannesburg at 5:00 am on the second day of our trip. We’d booked ahead so there was a car rental ready, and drove straight to Crocodile Bridge Gate, which was right next to our camp (4.5 hours from Joburg airport). We did an evening game drive on day two, and sunrise and sunset tours days three and four. I have so many tips and recommendations about Kruger, including how to do it on a budget! All of that will be coming soon. I think this was the best part of our trip — it was so magical, and completely unlike anything else I’ve ever done. We had three nights and nearly three full days there, and while I would have loved to stay longer I didn’t feel rushed or like we didn’t have enough time to have a real safari experience.

Garden Route (Days 5 – 8)

Garden Route, South Africa

We left Kruger at 4:00 am day five and drove back to Joburg airport to catch our flight to Port Elizabeth. This started the Garden Route! The Garden Route runs from Storms River to Mossel Bay, and while we only stayed in Storms River and Knysna, we did activities in each of the towns along the way. We had four days and three nights for this part of the trip, and it was so fun to move from place to place, making each day its own adventure. During this trip we did one of the best hikes of my life, ziplined, kayaked, cliff jumped, ate some really good food, and drove through some astounding landscapes.

Franschhoek (Days 9 – 10)

Franschhoek, Wine Region

Wine region! During planning, we went back and forth on this — having lived so close to Santa Barbara and in La Rioja, I wasn’t sure taking a few days out of our trip to go on wine tastings would be worth it. I’m so so glad we went! We had planned on Stellenbosch, as I had heard the name thrown around much more often, but Franschhoek is like its cuter, smaller little sister and was an oasis in the mountains. Plus Franschhoek has a wine tram! Need I say more??

Cape Town (Days 10 – 14)

Bo Kaap Colors

Day ten was really just the journey from Franschhoek to Cape Town (we stopped in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins, and took a longer route along the coast which was so. worth. it).

Cape Town was incredible. We did so much — a walking tour of the city, climbed Table Mountain (it was so hard, but so worth it), explored Bo Kaap, ate at some amazing restaurants, went to the Waterfront, hung out in Company’s Gardens, shopped along Green Market Square, and had dinner in a Township. Cape Town was the first place we really had time to just wander and take everything day by day, and it was welcomed after the packed schedule we had leading up to it. It was the perfect, chilled end to an incredible trip.

Like it said, there’s no way to do absolutely everything, and there are some things not on this South Africa itinerary that others may not be willing to skip — we didn’t go shark diving because I don’t think after that I’d ever get in the water unless I was still in a cage. We didn’t to Addo or an Ostrich Park because we had seen so many elephants and ostriches along the way. But in the detailed posts I’ll explain where and how you can do these things and give as much information as I can!

How I got Italian Citizenship (and how you could too!)

Today is a year since I was notified my Italian citizenship application went through. I posted that it happened, but gave very little further detail. As it was a huge life moment, it’s beyond time I posted about how I became recognized Italian Citizen (and how potentially you could be too!).

I think perhaps the best way to start would be to go back to the beginning. It was 2010, I had just come back from studying in London, and was desperate to get back to Europe. It was my first time out of the country, and I had loved London, and my visits to France and Spain.

I did some research and quickly discovered I didn’t qualify for Irish citizenship, as my great grandmother was born there and it only allows you to go back to grandparent. (My mom, however, did qualify, and she’s in the process of applying as well!)

Then I looked into Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by blood) and lo and behold – there was no generational limit! There were some other requirements though—my qualifying ancestor couldn’t have renounced his Italian citizenship (aka become American) before the next person in my lineage was born—otherwise he wouldn’t have had the citizenship to pass down to his child, my great grandfather. Yes, that’s right—I qualify because my great-great grandparents were born in Italy. It’s a tenuous claim, but a legal one nonetheless. Other technicalities include a woman not being able to pass on citizenship prior to 1948, however this is never upheld in court, so if you fight that you’ll win.

My first step was getting my great great-grandfather’s immigration paperwork from USCIS/NARA. It took quite a while to come, and wasn’t cheap, but when it finally arrived I had confirmation that I qualified for citizenship—Giovanni (my great great grandfather) declared his intent to naturalize in his 70s, but died before he could ever finish the process. Either way, my great grandfather was born well before the declaration of intent, and therefore the citizenship was passed, unbeknownst to us, “by blood” right down to me, born almost 150 years later.

Another requirement to note that is your ancestor must have been born after Italy became a country, which didn’t happen until 1861. My great-great grandfather came a bit close to this date, but was born in 1866. Lucky me! I’m the first generation that can really go back so many generations—my parents great great grandparents were all born before Italy existed—which I think confused the man who runs the Italian consulate in Boston. The first time I called, he told me I didn’t qualify and couldn’t go that far back. It wasn’t my favorite conversation, but obviously all worked out.

After getting the naturalization paperwork and confirming I was eligible, I began collecting documents. Exactly what you need varies from consulate to consulate, but I applied in LA and needed:

  • My great, great grandfather’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandmother’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great, great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My father’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My mother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My parent’s marriage certificate – from MA
  • My birth certificate – from MA

After collecting everything, I needed to get all the certificates not from Italy Apostilled and translated into Italian. Not exactly cheap!

At my appointment with the LA consulate in December of 2014 I was accepted, paid my fee, and was told to expect to hear back five months later, in May of 2015.

Many, many months passed, and finally I heard back in May of 2016 that I was retroactively rejected. To be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised—I had a lot of errors in my application. My great grandfather was called Secondino Negrotti, Secondo Negrotti, and Andrew Negrotti on different documents. My great, great grandfather went by Giovanni, Joseph, and John. Dates didn’t match, spellings changed. But, I had expected to be denied back in 2014, meaning I could begin working on corrections. Instead two years went by and suddenly I was back at square one. Only worse, because I was halfway through year two of a long distance relationship and beyond ready to move to Europe.

I hired a lawyer to make the changes. The case was rejected, my lawyer took a few months off from responding to my emails, and finally on Christmas day, 2016, I heard she’d gone back to court and had success! I had the changes I needed and a much stronger case. I sent the court order to the LA consulate and on March 21st at around 3:00 am Spain time, I saw an email with the subject: ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP.

It had happened!

For anyone who is also thinking about applying for recognition of their Italian Citizenship, please see my tips and advice below.

  • As soon as you decide to start the process, step number one should be making the appointment at the consulate. These appointments are a year+ out at nearly every consulate, and it would be incredibly rare for it to take more than a year to gather everything (unless you need to make amendments, which can take a while).
  • The next step should be getting the naturalization paperwork, as this can take a few months. I ordered through both NARA and USCIS, as I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, and they both sent me copies of the same documents, however NARA was much faster and the copies were much, much clearer. So in my experience, they are the better option.
  • At the same time, you should reach out to to your ancestors’ comune in Italy. There is a template you can use on the Facebook page, in case you don’t speak any Italian. I used that and google translate, and had a fantastic time with my comune. They sent me multiple copies of everything after I had some paperwork destroyed, each time for free.
  • A huge and costly mistake I made was getting all my vital records from city hall in my hometown. These versions aren’t accepted–they need to come from the state records (most people use Vitalchek to order them, but it’s quite expensive).
  • You can only have records Apostilled in the states they are from, another mistake I made. Give this a few weeks, as if you’re mailing it in it can take quite a while.
  • Make sure you use a translator that is approved by your consulate.
  • For more information about how to obtain Italian citizenship, go to your local consulate’s website. Additionally, there is a Facebook group which is an amazing resource—I don’t know how anyone could DIY it without them.

Please note  that this was just my experience from the requirements in LA. In 2015 they made me produce all my non-linear records, which weren’t required in 2014, though they didn’t need to be translated or Apostilled and could come from city hall. But requirements vary massively from consulate to consulate, and can change from one month to another.

All in it cost me about 3,000 — the application fee is 300 euros, and the documents, Apostilles, and legal fees were about 2,700 more. If your case is easy, with few documents and no errors, it could come to much less. If you apply within Italy using a service, it’ll be at least 1,000 more. Though at the time spending the money was incredibly stressful and felt quite risky, looking back I feel confident saying it was the best 3,000 I’ve ever spent in my life!

Pinchos: The five best in Logroño

La Rioja is well known for its wine, but did you know that a few years ago it was also voted the gastronomic capital of Spain? That’s right, the food is nearly as good as the wine — remind me again why I left?? The pinchos, as tapas are called in the north, are varied, delicious, and incredibly unique. And I’ve tracked down the best ones!

The main area for pinchos in Logroño is Calle Laurel. As I was lucky enough to live on Calle del Capitan Gallarza (literally the next street over), I was able to try most of them!

My top five

1. Paganos: iberico pinchos

We call this place the meat on a stick place, because two of its three meat pinchos come skewered on a wooden stick. This is, in my opinion, the absolute best pincho Logroño has to offer. Get the iberico, watch them put it on the fire, sprinkle it with salt, and then die of culinary happiness when you take your first bite. This was the first place I took my mom during her visit, and she went back every day. In Spain you generally “pincho hop,” where you move from place to place, dish to dish. Not my momma. She would order two or three ibericos and just be done with it. #Respect. Also a glass of wine is .80, and though that is common for Rioja, it’s still fun to point out. *I don’t have a photo of this one because it was literally so good I could never put off eating long enough to take a picture, but you can check it out here.

2. ribera: michy pinchos

Ribera is famous for its moro pincho, or pork cheek. I went my entire time in Logroño without trying it, because on my first night I found something that  was impossible to not order again and again. On my last night, I finally did try, and not gonna lie–it wasn’t as good my usual. Luckily, by then I was a Ribera regular, and noting my failure to immediately clear my plate as custom, the bartender quickly presented me with michy, which was my favorite. I don’t actually know what it is–once I passed someone eating the most delicious smelling thing I’d ever encountered, was told simply that it was michy and never questioned it again. Get the michy.

Pork Cheek

Pork Cheek

Michy

Michy

Can I just say, while I’d never argue Europe has anywhere near the customer service we get in the states, in general once they know you (or even when they don’t, as we discovered on our hikes), the staff are incredibly generous and go above and beyond–I’d imagine it’s because most places are independently owned and family run, so more pride is taken in the quality).

3. la Canilla: entrecot pinchos

I found this place from the young adventuress (also where I found my piso…), and I’m so glad I did. At about 5 euros, this is a bit more expensive than the others, but is super filling and just oh-so-delicious. This is entrecot cooked rare and flavored with sea salt (as are all the best meat dishes), with sides of red peppers and little crispy potatoes.  This one is lovely, and as it’s the next street over from Laurel, a great place to go if you’re not feeling the crowds.

entrecot

entrecot

4. Pulpería La Universidad: pulpo pinchos

PulperÍa is famous for its octopus, and once you try, you’ll understand why. It’s unique and delicious and not a place you want to miss. They also have great deals on bottles of white wine, which has led to me accidentally getting a bit drunk a few occasions.

pulpo - octopus

pulpo

5. bar cid: setas pinchos

Bar Cid has the best setas, or mushrooms in Logroño. A controversial statement, as anyone who has lived in Logroño can attest, the generally agreed upon best is Bar Angel. And those are good. These are just better. While the others come from champi mushrooms, these are oyster mushrooms, covered in a garlic/buttery goodness, and served up on a piece of bread. There is nothing to improve on.

setas - mushrooms

Setas

A map, to show just how close all these wonderful options are:

Basically, Logroño’s pinchos game is on point. Writing this post was so bittersweet–man oh man, do I miss all this food . Oh well, at least in London there is Chinese food and delivery.

Coming soon: the best pinchos for specific things: tortilla, patatas bravas, calamares, and even Italian food!

(*credit for the mushroom and octopus photos to Shaina who is much better at photographing her food than I am)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When I was younger, one of my aunts had businesses all over Europe, and visited them constantly. My dad would never let us go with her (thanks, dad), but she promised that when we turned 16, my sister and I could choose any city in the world and she’d take us. After reading a book called Postcards from No Man’s Land when I was 12, I fell madly in love with Amsterdam from afar, and knew this was where I would pick. And while a change in fortune prevented me from going when I was 16, I promised myself I’d make it there one day.

That day ended up being last December, in between Berlin and Poland. Gareth wanted to wait until the Spring, but I l’d already waited over ten years, so off we went.

that is me between the red hat and red scarf. I love wine and all wine colored things.

We arrived (barely) after a ten hour bus journey from Berlin, and from the moment we stepped off the bus we were already excitedly talking about how this is where we want to live. I still feel that way. Amsterdam felt alive and inspiring and immediately like home. I spent all our down time researching the logistics of a move to Amsterdam, and it’s still probably the number one place in Europe I’d like to live. I really hope it happens one day!

We only had two days in the city, and missed out on some vital stuff. We’d already said we’d go back in the spring to see the tulips, and will know to book ahead to see the Anne Frank house. But I wouldn’t trade our winter trip for anything. The city wasn’t very crowded, we got to pop in for a mulled wine whenever it got too cold, and spent an evening ice skating next to the Van Gogh Museum. That said, there was a shocking lack of Christmas markets in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t expected. However they did have ice skating and mulled wine, which are the best parts of Christmas anyway.

We didn’t do the “other side” of Amsterdam at all. We accidentally walked through the red-light district for about a minute, but didn’t see anything other than some literally red lights.

Things I’d recommend:

The Van Gogh museum is worth it. The collection is huge, and it’s not just his art but history of his life, personal items and letters. I remember being in second grade and learning about the crazy guy who cut off his ear. It seemed so insane back then, far away and from a different world. I loved being able to see his things, look at his writing, view his work.

We went to Omlegg for breakfast both days. I know you’re supposed to try new places, but we’d already found the perfect spot and were happy sticking with it.

We decided early on that after the Van Gogh museum we’d try to spend as much of our time as possible outside. We took a long walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other, which I’d highly recommend copying. Omlegg is in De Pijp, which was imo the coolest neighborhood in the city. It’s easy to go from there to the Albert Cuyp Market (largest market in Europe, open 9-5 every day of the week except Sunday). Then take a stroll through Museumplein Park, and along the river.

We saw so much of the city just by wandering around, popping in the shops, chatting with the servers, and got to know the city beyond just its tourist attractions. End the walk at Arendsnest to try the local beer brews. This was a highlight of the trip, even for a wine drinker like me. Honestly, this place is incredible.

There are a lot of bookstores around, and we had so much fun stopping in them (or maybe I just loved it enough for us both). Like I said earlier, the city felt very creative and young, and the bookstores were no different. I got this book, and it was SO good. I learned so much about the history of Amsterdam and it was so well written, I flew through it in just a few days.

Amsterdam is hard to capture in just a post. The bikes, the young population, the crisp air. The whole time I was there all I wanted to do was read and write and explore, and that feeling is basically what I’m looking for when I travel. I don’t know when or how we’d live there, but it’s still something I’d really, really like to do at some point.

(feature image photo cred to The Telegraph)

Lake Bled, Slovenia

About five years ago I saw a picture of what looked like a fairy tale brought to life. It was of a gorgeous lake, surrounded by towering mountains, with a tiny island in the middle with an old church on it. I wasn’t sure if it was real, but eventually tracked it down: Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Slovenia. It sounded remote and was definitely not a place I already had on my list. But after seeing that photo, up it went, and I am so incredibly glad I was able to go last Semana Santa, in between Italy and Croatia.

I made friends with a few people from my hostel, and we decided to spend the day in Bled together. Getting there from Ljubljana is really easy. The bus leaves right from the main station, and drops you off right at the lake about and hour and fifteen minutes later. They depart hourly, and are 7 euros each way. Some buses even continue on to Bohinj, which is another gorgeous looking lake. You can also go by train, which is faster but the stop is a few miles away from the lake so unless you feel like a walk, you’d have to then catch the bus or take a cab.

It was as stunning in person as it is in photos, which isn’t always the case, and even though it was Easter we only had to share the lake with about ten other people. We spent a few hours walking the loop, and at about the midpoint found a little shop that had groceries–we picked up some wine and the makings for a picnic. There’s a trail almost directly across from where you first enter that leads to the most incredible view point. It was a lot more steep and rocky than I had expected, but WOW were the views worth it. We stayed up there for about an hour, picnicking, and soaking in the beauty. There are hostels nearby if you want to stay for the night, but unless you’re planning on going to Bohinj the next day, there’s not much to do in the area once you’ve done the lake. It’s a perfect as a day trip from Ljubljana, and such a perfect way to cap off any trip to Slovenia.