Italy is a great place to visit if you plan on vacationing abroad this summer. But what do you really know about it besides that it’s shaped like a boot and it’s the birthplace of pizza? We’re here to help with that. Italy is just full of beautiful places and wonderful people, with a long and rich history known throughout the world. To do it right, I suggest skipping the hotels and instead renting luxury homes in Italy.
There are so many great cities in Italy that are worth visiting, including Rome, Venice, Naples, Florence, and Milan, to name a few. Here are some of the top places and attractions that we recommend you should check out when you come to Italy:
You’ve seen Pompeii in the movies. It’s the famous Roman city that was buried under several feet of volcanic ash for nearly 1,700 years after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. It is a moment frozen in time. It’s a fascinating sight that you can’t witness anywhere else. Even though the excavation of Pompeii started in 1748, the site is still not yet totally unearthed today. You can walk along the ancient streets and actually see what remains of ancient businesses like bakeries and brothels. Don’t miss Pompeii.
When you think of Venice, what do you think of? I bet you think of gondola rides. A gondola ride at night in the city of Venice can be very romantic. This is one of those “must do” items. How often to you get to take a gondola ride throughout any city? In Venice it is a must. These are obviously big tourist attractions though, so the waters may or may not be crowded, but it will still be a sweet experience. especially if it is a gondola ride for newlyweds or others celebrating an anniversary.
The Last Supper
Why not visit the Last Supper? When in Rome, right? More specifically, in Milan. It is the only place where you can see Leonardo Davinci’s The Last Supper. Just be aware that they only let you spend 15-minutes with it. Just plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance. That way you can make it part of your schedule. How many people can say that they have seen a masterpiece by Leonardo Davinci in person?
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican museums are most definitely worth checking out. Whether you are a hardcore art historian nerd or just someone who wants to take in the culture, there is plenty to see and experience. The Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael, are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. Most tours will also give you a guided visit to St. Peter’s Basilica too. This will keep you busy and immersed in the culture all day long.
We have already mentioned pizza. What would a trip to Italy be if you didn’t stop to sample the local pizza? For that you want to go to Naples, the birthplace of pizza and one of the most vibrant cities in all of Italy. Take some time out from the museums and gondola rides and see what pizza tastes like from the source. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, and we suggest trying as many as you can while you’re there, because pizza doesn’t get any more authentic than this.
Sample The Local Gelato
Much like the pizza, this is where you will find authentic gelato, not the generic grocery store kind that you can buy at home. Take some time out of your busy schedule to sample how the locals make it. Don’t worry, you’ll find it all over Italy. But be warned, once you get a taste of this delicious Italian-style ice cream, you won’t be able to get enough of it!
Climb A Tower
Climb to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa. The freestanding bell tower is located on the grounds of a historic cathedral and is the third oldest landmark in the Pisa Cathedral Square in Italy. It was built in 1173, but due to an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight, it got it’s famous lean. The lean increased in the decades for years to come, until the tower was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the early 1990s. Visitors can take a tour, climb the staircase inside, and take photos as they pose to look like they’re either holding up or pushing over the tower.
Climb Mount Vesuvius
Remember Pompeii? What id I told you that you could actually climb Mount Vesuvius? You can. And don’t worry, these days Vesuvius is mostly considered safe to climb. Once you get up there you are going to be treated to a stunning view from the top. They say that when you reach the crater, it looks like the surface of the moon.
Stand On Juliet’s Balcony
Believe it or not, Verona has what is said to be the balcony of Juliet, from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Yeah, it’s just a tourist trap and not really her balcony, but still, this is a fun thing to visit if you are young and in love and you want a fun way to declare that love to one another. “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
And that is just the tip of Italy’s boot, so to speak. There is so much to see and do that you will have to come back again.
Who’s Ready To Set Sail On The Largest Cruise Ship In The World?
Back in October, we told you about Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest ship that would hold the distinction as the largest cruise ship in the world.
Now, after three years of construction, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas was recently delivered, and it couldn’t be any more enormous, standing 18-decks-high and weighing in at 228,081 tons. It’s the ultimate over-the-top cruise experience.
“It is a proud and exhilarating moment to welcome a new member to the family. Symphony will take family vacationing to an all new level with energy and options never before found in one place,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley said during the ship’s delivery ceremony in France.
Symphony of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class of vessels, which are more than 30% larger than the next largest cruise ships under them. Symphony is about 1,188 feet long and has 2,774 cabins. It will hold 6,680 passengers. It’s basically the Titanic of today. I’m talking size, not tragedy here. The Titanic would be envious of this ship.
Passengers on the Symphony can look forward to things like laser tag, a new seafood concept, a live performance of the Broadway show Hairspray, a 10-story waterslide that spirals down the rear of the ship, numerous pools, lounges, bars, restaurants and much more. There’s also an ice-skating rink, two rock climbing walls, a basketball court, and seven “neighborhoods” with shops, bars (one with robot bartenders), and more.
If that’s not enough, there’s also the Ultimate Family Suite, which RC is billing as “the most spectacular family suite on land or sea.” This two-story family suite is a massive 1,346 square feet, and it’s chock full of family-friendly features, including a slide connecting the children’s room on the second level to the main living area below. Now that’s freaking cool.
As you can see, there’s something for everyone on Symphony, and you’ll likely need all week just to explore every nook and cranny of this mega ship.
The Symphony of the Seas began its first real voyage with passengers on March 31, sailing the Mediterranean before heading to Miami. I don’t know about you, but I think I know where I’m going on my next vacation. Who’s with me?
Photo credit: SBW-Photo
If You’re A Fan Of Jack Daniel’s, You’ve Got To Make The Pilgrimage To Lynchburg
Earlier this month, the folks at Jack Daniel’s flew us down to Lynchburg, Tennessee to visit the iconic Jack Daniel’s Distillery, where the world-famous Old No. 7 has been produced for over 150 years, to learn firsthand about how their Tennessee Whiskey is made.
As someone who’s been drinking Jack Daniel’s for the greater part of 20 years, I was excited to learn more about the brand’s history of making whiskey, and the man behind it.
Our journey began in Nashville, about an hour and a half north of Lynchburg. During our ride to the distillery, our guide gave us some history about Jasper Newton Daniel (Jack), and the interesting road that led him to start Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Born in 1849, Jack Daniel was the youngest of 10 children, with his mother dying shortly after his birth (likely due to complications from childbirth). A few years later, his father remarried and had another 3 children with his new wife. Jack leaves home at a very young age and he is taken in by Reverend Dan Call, where he works on the family farm. And on his farm, he had a still, which Jack quickly took interest in it.
It’s here where Jack learns the art of whiskey making from the preacher and his head distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green. In 1866, Call decides to focus on his calling as a minister, selling his whiskey business to Jack. Jack in turn hires Nearest as his Master Distiller. A few years later, they open the now-famous distillery in Lynchburg, and the rest is history.
A short while later, we arrived at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, and gathered together for a VIP tour hosted by none other than Assistant Master Distiller Chris Fletcher! As you can imagine, he’s got extensive knowledge of the whiskey making process, which he shared with us in great detail as he took us through the entire facility.
Not only that, but Fletcher is actually the grandson of retired Master Distiller Frank Bobo, the distillery’s fifth master distiller from 1966-89. Needless to say, whiskey is in his blood.
The first stop on our tour was Cave Spring Hollow, which houses Lynchburg’s greatest natural resource – clean, pure, spring water. The cave’s layers of limestone naturally impart a variety of minerals to the water which contribute to Jack Daniel’s character. More importantly, the limestone also removes iron (which is bad if you are making whiskey) from the water.
Did you know that every bottle of Jack Daniel’s sold around the world is made with water from this source? I actually got to take a drink from the spring, and it was perhaps the purest water that I’ve ever tasted.
From here, we made our way to the Rickyard, where they stack 5-foot tall pallets of hard super maple, douse them in raw, unaged whiskey, before setting the wood ablaze. The inferno peaks at over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit before burning down into smoldering embers. The resulting charcoal is used in the charcoal mellowing process.
We got to take part in this process, and it was pretty wild, the heat getting so intense that you had to walk away after awhile or risk getting burned. How these guys manage to keep cool in the hot Tennessee summers is beyond me, but my hats off to them.
Afterwards, we walked down to the Distillery Building, where we got to learn more about the whiskey making process including the whiskey stills, the fermenting tanks and the charcoal-mellowing vats. That last part is perhaps the most important, filtering the 140-proof, unaged whiskey drop by drop through 10 feet of handcrafted charcoal.
It’s this extra step that imparts the distinctive smoothness you have come to expect from Jack Daniel’s, and it’s what makes this a Tennessee Whiskey and not a bourbon.
Next, this whiskey goes into American White Oak barrels that are hand-built at Jack Daniel’s Cooperage. Once assembled, the barrel’s interior is toasted and charred using a proprietary method to coax the wood’s natural sugars out and caramelize them. The whiskey enters the barrel colorless and raw, but during the maturation process, the whiskey draws all of its rich amber color and much of its distinctive flavor from the barrels.
As you can imagine, if Jack Daniel’s were to reuse their barrels, they’d get diminishing returns, as the first batch of whiskey already draws out most of the flavor from the barrel. That’s why they only use a barrel once, after which they sell them off to third-parties.
Interestingly enough, a number of variables determine how long a barrel of whiskey stays in the barrelhouse, including the barrel itself and where it’s located in the barrelhouse. Barrels located on the upper floors (where temperature changes are more extreme) tend to mature faster than barrels on the lower floors, where it’s generally cooler.
So rather than rely on age, a team of whiskey tasters sample each and every barrel to decide when they’re ready for bottling. Master Distiller Jeff Arnett showed us this process by bringing us to one of the barrelhouses and taking us up to the 6th floor, where he tapped into a couple of barrels and let us sample them right from the source. In a word.. incredible!
If that wasn’t enough, they also set up a tasting for us, where we got to sample every product in their portfolio, including Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Select, Rye, Honey, Fire, and more. I really enjoyed the Single Barrel Select, but Honey and Fire were also standouts for me, and I definitely need to pick up a few bottles of these for myself.
Overall, I had a great time visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery and seeing everything that they have to offer, and I’d highly recommend taking the tour if you’re coming through Tennessee, even if you’re not a whiskey drinker. There’s a ton of history here, and it’s sure to give you a newfound respect for Jack Daniel’s, and the man who started it all.
Who’s Ready To Stay In The World’s First Luxury Hotel.. In Space?
Sometimes you just need to get away. Sure, you could book a trip to the Bahamas, or Hawaii, or you could choose a destination that’s a little further out there. Like outer space. Imagine being able to play astronaut for a few days, while you unplug from your job and the daily grind. You’ll get your chance soon since a new luxury hotel is launching 200 miles above the Earth. It’s called Aurora Station.
Space tourism is all the rage right now, despite the fact that we can’t go to Mars and beyond just yet. Aurora Station is a project designed to let ordinary humans live out their Astronaut dreams above the Earth for 12 days. And even though you are off-planet, you’ll have all the luxuries of home, thanks to a luxury hotel in zero gravity.
The hotel aims to welcome its first guests by 2022, and who knows? Maybe one day it will be a gathering place for humans and aliens as they travel to and from the Earth. This is basically a mini space station that consists of a modular capsule that has enough room to accommodate four guests and two crew members at a time.
During your stay, you can participate in research experiments like growing food, experience virtual reality on an actual holodeck, and live-stream with those jealous humans back home. The company behind the project, Orion Span, will only charge you $9.5 million per person for your 12-day stay. That breaks down to $791,667 per night. That price tag leaves most of us Earthbound, but if you have the money this will be the ultimate experience.
A deposit of $80,000 will secure your reservation. You better be in good shape though, because you’ll have to undergo an intensive three-month astronaut certification program to train for launch, re-entry, and contingency scenarios. Guests will also be required to do exercise during their stay aboard Aurora.
Start saving your money and get ready for your trip to the final frontier.
Photo credit: Orion Span