Friday Five (of my travel tips)

Travel Tips

I’m stuck sitting on a runway waiting for a tech to reboot my plane’s computer system, so it’s only appropriate that today’s Friday Five is dedicated to summer vacation. I’m not a total pro, Up In The Air style, but I like to think I do OK.

1. Book It. Experts say the best time to book your flight is 50-100 days in advance. I like to start monitoring flight prices early, then book when I find a good deal. Remember that you have 24 hours after booking to cancel your purchase if you change your mind. I love Southwest, and if you’re loyal to a brand, definitely take advantage of any loyalty programs they have. My flight home ended up costing me $5 because of all the points I had racked up! I also rave about ITA Flight Matrix, which is owned by Google flights. ITA lets you customize your search more than any other travel site I’ve seen. It can be a little tough to use at first, but it’s definitely worth learning.

2. Plan ahead. I’ll admit, I’m a little overzealous on this. My boyfriend gets stressed out by my detailed Google doc itineraries. But I can’t stand being somewhere cool and wandering. I want a vacay bucket list–a list of cool places I can get to at a moment’s notice. Trip Advisor is great for this, as is Yelp. Research everything down to tour guide companies so you know who does the best ghost tour or which whale watching company the locals use.

3. Pack your bags. No, seriously.. Pack some bags. I stuff grocery bags, Ziplocs, a canvas tote and a collapsible duffel in my luggage. I can’t tell you how often I end up using them. Other packing tips: Keep at least one outfit in your carry-on in case of lost luggage; mini bottles of liquor are permitted through airport security (in your liquids Ziploc); photocopy your passport and other travel documents and keep separate from the originals; and alllwaaayyys have a few granola bars on hand.

4. Hit the app store. Make sure you have any apps that might help make the trip smoother. Download your airline’s app, your hotel’s, the destination’s, Yelp, etc. It makes looking things up so much simpler. In fact, I just helped my seatmate by looking up the flight status of her connecting flight.

5. Relax, enjoy, and don’t forget to take pix! I know I am probably making travel sound really stressful, but I guess my point is that by doing all this prep in advance, you should be better able to enjoy your trip. Don’t sweat the small stuff–a flight that’s two hours delayed and just got deboarded, for instance (grr)–and don’t be afraid to go rogue from your schedule. Have fun!

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Friday Five (best spots for Italian food in Baltimore)

pasta

Italian food is my absolute favorite. Is there anything more comforting and delicious than a bowl of fettuccine? Or arancini stuffed with gooey mozzarella and dipped in marinara? Or lasagna with a creamy béchamel? I think I am literally drooling right now just typing this. Luckily, Baltimore has a myriad of Italian restaurants (not just in Little Italy!) at varying levels of authenticity and price point. Today I’m going to share my five favorites:

1. Sotto Sopra 

Adam and I first went to Sotto Sopra during restaurant week where we each enjoyed three delectable courses. The grilled octopus salad and squid ink pasta were out of this world and on subsequent visits we confirmed that the duck and fish dishes are equally good. The crowd is a bit older, but the food is just so good and the service is formal without being stuffy. They also have opera night once a month with live performances in the restaurant!

Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon      Price: Entrees $25-$35

2. Birroteca 

A little bit off the beaten path in Hampden with it’s own parking lot (jackpot!), Birroteca is a fairly large, friendly restaurant with an appealing menu. I had the most fun sitting at the bar and ordering a few different appetizers/small plates before splitting a pizza, but they also have plenty of tables for larger groups. Tables are covered in butcher paper and pencils are provided for guests do doodle while they wait for their food. Framed table drawings cover the walls. The food feels a little less authentic Italian (read: pastas with duck liver, wild boar and rabbit), but most everything we’ve tried has been delicious. My faves are the Brussel sprouts, meatballs and the Duck Duck Goose pizza. They also have a decent variety of beers on tap.

Neighborhood: Hampden      Price: Entrees less than $20

3. Trinacria 

I have only been to the original market/deli, not the cafe that recently opened, but I’m hoping to check that out soon! Trinacria is THE place you want to hit up if you’re looking for cheap wine, huge/delicious/inexpensive sandwiches and olive oil, sauce, pasta and all of the makings for a homemade Italian feast. Adam first discovered this place when he was in law school and often walked over for one of their delicious sandwiches (my fave is the chicken parm, but they are quite literally all good – except be warned the tuna salad has olives) and now he frequently stops in to stock up on wine (think bottles for $5-7) and their frozen meals (thaw and pop in the oven for an easy week night dinner).

Neighborhood: Seton Hill       Price: $6 sandwiches!

4. Bottega 

botega

Bottega is a tiny little BYOB gem tucked into a fairly empty block near the Charles Theater. Reservations are required and hard to come by on the weekend so I suggest you make yours NOW. Their menu is frequently changing based on season and availability of fresh ingredients. If it’s available, definitely get the malfatti, spinach ricotta dumpling balls in sage butter sauce. Very rich and so good! It’s cozy and romantic and makes a great date night spot.

Neighborhood: Station North     Price: Entrees $25-30

5. Aldo’s

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a restaurant in Baltimore’s lively Little Italy neighborhood. To me, Aldo’s is the cream of the crop and a great place to go when your parents are footing the bill. I’m all about the pasta and they have a fantastic bolognese and a fettuccine with tomato cream sauce and lobster tail – delizioso! And do yourself a favor, start with the shrimp bisque.

Neighborhood: Little Italy      Price:  Entrees $30-40

Hooking up with Heather for Friday Favorites! 

What’s your favorite spot for Italian food in Baltimore or where you live? What’s your favorite Italian dish?


Friday Five (things I can’t wait to do this summer in Baltimore)!

Happy Friday, Baltimore! After a few days of gloomy, chilly, overcast weather things are starting to look more like summer today just in time for the weekend. To that end, here is our first Friday Five post with my favorite activities to do in Baltimore this summer.

1. Orioles Games

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This is an obvious one as nothing says summer in Baltimore like a day at the yard. We live just a few blocks from the ballpark so pre-game drinks on our rooftop are usually a must, though you also can’t go wrong with a stop at Pickles! I’ve been to three games so far this spring and can’t wait for many more this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Drinks on the Water

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Ahhh is anything more relaxing than drinks on the water? Whether it’s Baltimore’s beloved orange crush or a more traditional cocktail, I am a big fan of beverages with a view. Actually, that would probably make a great Friday Five post of it’s own with our favorite places for drinks on the water! Jeanette – I’m leaving that one to you. I plan to spend quite a few Sundays day drinking by the harbor and since I’m still young(ish), I hopefully won’t be battling a hangover come Monday morning.

 

 

 

3. Farmer’s Markets

Farmers market

The market under the JFX, open every Sunday from April 5-Dec 20, is huge and I love strolling down every aisle checking out the fresh produce, cheese, jams, pastries and everything else that is for sale. The market opens at 7am and people definitely go early to get the best goods. We usually plan on getting breakfast or lunch there since they have so many amazing vendors cooking up everything from omelettes to beef sandwiches to fried fish to mushroom crepes. Mmm just writing this is making me hungry…is it Sunday yet?

 

4. Outdoor Movies

screen on the green

Outdoor movies have been a summer favorite since growing up in Fairfax, VA (holler Movies Under the Moon!) and Jeanette and I frequented Screen on the Green on the National Mall back when we lived in the ‘burbs of DC so I was excited to see this list with tons of awesome outdoor movie options in Baltimore. My friends have always raved about the ridiculous trippy David Bowie puppet movie that is Labyrinth so I’m hoping to check that out at the AVAM and I love the line up of classic favorites showing in Little Italy.

5. Crabs

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Can there even be a list of Baltimore summer activities without mentioning our favorite crustacean? Gimme a mallet and some steamed crabs covered in Old Bay and I am one happy camper. I don’t have a favorite place to get them, but my father-in-law RAVES about the size of the crabs at Chris’s Seafood in Canton.

 

 

 

 

What are your favorite summer activities? 

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say HAPPY DOUGHNUT DAY to all! I swung by Dunkin’ this morning for an iced coffee and a free glazed donut. I’d say Friday is off to a great start.

Linking up with Life in Leggings for Friday Favorites! Check out what the blogosphere is loving this week. And linking up with Eat Pray Run DC to talk all about summer activities! Nothing like a little Nats/O’s rivalry 🙂