A DAY IN PISA

Did you know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is in Italy? That’s why it is italicized! And aren’t you surprised the tower of Pisa hasn’t fallen over during the pandemic… without all those tourists helping hold it up! Ok all jokes aside, Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. Being less than 1 hour away from Florence, the city is a must-stop on your Italian itinerary. It was once a major seaport, but nowadays Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower. I would say 4-5 hours in Pisa is the perfect amount of time to spend here. Keep on reading to learn more about my recommendations!

GET ME HERE!

The train is the best way to get to Pisa. Train ticket from Florence is 8.70 € ($10) one way, with trains traveling every 20 minutes.

Fly into Galileo Galilei International Airport of Pisa– located only 1 kilometer southwards from the center of the city. The train between Pisa Airport and Pisa Centrale station takes just 5 mins. 

Buses are the cheapest of all transport options and many link the main Italian and Tuscan cities and towns to Pisa. There are three bus operators servicing the tourist platform of Pisa- Autolinee Lazzi, Compagnia Pisana Trasporti, CLAP.

GETTING AROUND PISA

Your best bet is to simply walk. Get your daily steps in! Another fun way to discover Pisa is by bike. Bikes are available for rent at Pisa Centrale where you also find a good luggage deposit service. There are buses available that takes you around the city- individual tickets are very affordable and can be bought from newsstands and ticket offices

SIGHTS TO SEE

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

Realistically, we are all only stopping in Pisa to see the leaning tower. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is a short walk away from the station and the route will take you directly through the city centre. Many tourists are surprised to see that the Leaning Tower is actually a part of a larger religious complex on the Square of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). Right next to the Tower, you’ll find an impressive cathedral and baptistery. Access to the square is FREE, but access to specific attractions is ticketed. Visit the inside of the tower and go all the way to the top to enjoy the view over Pisa. The climb is 251 steps up FYI. Book your ticket in advance here!

A bit of history… Construction began in August 1173 and eventually completed in the mid-1300s. It was originally built as a freestanding tower bell for the nearby cathedral 850 years ago and is now an attraction on its own. WHY does the tower lean? Thanks to the soft ground, it had begun to lean by the time its builders got to the third story in 1178. Shifting soil had destabilized the tower’s foundations. Over the next 800 years, it became clear the 55-metre tower wasn’t just leaning, but was actually falling at a rate of one to two millimeters per year. Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is more than five meters off perpendicular. Due to this flaw, it’s the reason why the city is so famous.

TIP: the large crowds here can be so overwhelming. Get here in the early mornings to have the place to yourself! Don’t forget to do a CHEESY, stereotypical tourist pose here!

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA

Construction on the cathedral started in 1063 and it boasts fascinating Pisan Romanesque architecture. It encapsulates diverse styles and highlights the international influence on the city- classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine and Islamic. The Duomo di Pisa is the largest building of the religious complex on this square and like the tower, has clearly sunken into the ground. The most impressive thing is the gold plated ceiling inside!The cathedral is FREE to visit IF you have bought a ticket to any of the other buildings of the complex (Leaning Tower or Baptistery and Camposanto)

ARNO RIVER

The Arno River, which also flows through the nearby city of Florence, cuts through Pisa and offers an incredibly stunning view. Lugarno are the roads along the banks of the river and this is a wonderful road to stroll along to bring you past some iconic sights in Pisa. Take some time to pop into charming cafes, bars or have a picnic alongside the river.

THE KNIGHTS’ SQUARE OF PISA / PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI

Piazza dei Cavalieri is a landmark in Pisa, Italy, and the second main square of the city. It was once used to be the heart of the city where everybody would gather around to discuss political/ everyday matters. The square was known as the Square of the seven streets (Piazza delle sette vie).

On the square, you’ll see the beautiful Palazzo della Carovana and the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The Order of the Knights of St. Stephen used the palace as headquarters. Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, founded this order to fight the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.

CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA SPINA

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina is a small 14th-century church in a Pisan Gothic style. The church’s name has a special history: ‘spina’ means ‘thorn’ and the church is said to have hosted one of the thorn of Jesus’ crown

WHERE TO EAT

Filter Coffee Lab: industrial style cafe with outdoor courtyard. Grab some delicious espresso and pastries in the morning before you start your exploration around Pisa!

I Porci Comodi: offer really awesome appetizer platters with a great local selection of meat, ham, sausages, cheese and bread. A popular spot so be ready for long queue and long waiting time

Il Ristoro della Pe’ : Authentic atmosphere, Italian cuisine food is cooked right in front of you , off the main tourist route

Ristorante Alle Bandierine:  very popular with the locals which is always a good sign! Portion size are quite large, fresh pasta & house wine that will leave you wanting more

L’ Ostellino: a tiny hole in the wall spot away from the tourist traps! Has a wide range of paninis prepared freshly and quickly. Also very reasonably priced!

Pasticceria Cioccorocolato : endless desserts and pastries!

Gelateria De’ Coltelli : Come here for gelato- they offer different flavors everyday and is an award winning place!

Looking for daily content? You can find me on Instagram @sophcation

BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIES

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!! If you know me, you know I love a good cheesy, predictable Christmas fairytale movie. I think it’s safe to say we ALL need some extra festive cheer this year (did ya forget were still in a pandemic??) and what a better way to get through the year by staying inside and watching holiday films. I’m sharing my Christmas movie guide of all of the favorites I have on repeat every year. It’s sorted by genre and I rank my top 5 in each category. Some of these films have sequels that are just as good (I didn’t list it, but recommend you to watch!) PLEASE let me know what other movies I should add to my list and check out my instagram @sophcation for more daily updates.

INSTAGRAMMABLE PCH

We finally had the chance to explore  our home state, California, from the comfort of our car. David and I both grew up in Santa Monica, CA and I lived in northern CA for 4 years (UC Davis for college), and we’ve done road trips here and there, but we’ve never taken the coast on Highway 1 the whole way. I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner because it was an epic adventure! So I’m super excited to share my guide with you and hope it encourages you to get out of the comfort of your home and explore the beauty the California coast has to offer. I will most definitely be doing this drive again in the future!

Find more photo inspo on my instagram @sophcation !

SANTA MONICA, CA

We left around 8am and started our drive on PCH. One thing I prefer with driving vs flying is that you can pack AS MUCH AS YOU WANT and it’s so accessible. It’s a long drive so I recommend bringing water, tea, snacks for the road and using the bathroom before you leave the house. No one enjoys peeing in a gas station bathroom… 

SANTA BARBARA, CA

Santa Barbara Courthouse

Our first stop! We’ve been here a couple times already, but here’s a few things you can do: munch on some seafood along the wharf, visit the old mission, go on a whale watching tour, etc . Santa Barbara hands down has the most beautiful courthouse, so this time we stopped by to admire the old Spanish architecture! 

SURF BEACH // LOMPOC, CA

Surf Beach

We turned off our GPS and made the wrong turn, but it led us to the most beautiful beach in CA….. I COULD NOT believe it. Growing up in SM, our beaches were always muddy and brown and I always thought I had to travel far to find serene, white sand, turquoise water beaches. I never realized that there was one this close! It reminded me of the beaches in Cape Town, South Africa. 

When you pull up, there is a small parking lot (maybe fits around 15 cars?) At first, we pulled over at this dead end to check our GPS, but something made me hop out the car and walk over to see what it was all about…. And when I walked past the parking lot over a slight hill, I looked down and saw the most precious and clean beach. I ran back to the car and told David that he HAD to come out and see it.

Surf Beach is a public beach located on Vandenberg Air Force Base. The areas north/south of Surf Beach are closed intermittently on March 1st-Sept 30 to protect the Snowy Plover bird nesting spots. If human violations reach over 50 times, the ENTIRE beach will be closed for the remainder of the nesting season. So be respectful, protect our wildlife/nature & don’t ever leave trash when visiting.. PLEASE.

ELEPHANT SEALS // SAN SIMEON, CA

Elephant Seals

This spot is located right off Highway 1 and is the ONLY elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible. I am all about conservation and I have so much respect for the state for fencing the whole area off to protect these animals. Observing and witnessing these beauties in nature is such a gift. 

The elephant seals birth and breed around December- March. There is a designated parking lot and a couple pathways for you to roam around. DO NOT throw food, taunt, disrespect, etc when you are visiting. The seals are protected by federal law so it is illegal to touch, throw things at them to cause a reaction…  Use common sense and enjoy the wildlife here. 

RAGGED POINT

The stretch of highway from San Simeon to Big Sur is so incredibly picturesque. There are jaw dropping views in every twist and turn. We couldn’t help it and stopped every 5 minutes to enjoy the scenery! There are a ton of turn offs for you to pull over to take a photo. Make sure to slow down and put your signals on so cars behind you can be alerted since cars are going pretty fast here. Don’t be an idiot and hop over the fence to get a shot- it’s not safe.

BIG SUR, CA

Now this stretch of the drive was so enchanting. Take your time and pull over whenever you see something you want to explore. We had the windows down, and I heard some running water so we decided to pull over to find out. We found the Big Sur Creek and it was so magical and lush. It’s as if you walked into Disney’s Snow White movie with massive redwood trees all around you. Dip your feet into the creek for a refreshing break! I promise you won’t regret it! (*use bug spray to avoid bites)

BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE // BIG SUR, CA

Bixby Creek Bridge

You HAVE to pull over at the northern turnout and hop out to admire the beauty of architectural beauty. This iconic bridge was completed in 1932 and is one of the tallest single- span concrete bridges in the whole world. 

I recommend taking photos on the North side of the bridge.  The winds can get pretty strong here so please be careful and don’t get too close to the edge… Your life is more important than an epic photo on social media.. 

PEBBLE BEACH, CA

The Bench Restaurant. Located on 17 mile drive in Pebble Beach

The popular 17 mile drive…. We did this drive a couple years ago and you have to do this drive in your lifestime. Inside the 17 mile drive, there is a special restaurant we fell in love with. We dined at The Bench and lucked out with the best seats! Highly recommend this restaurant- can be a bit pricy… but the food was delicious!!! Tip: order seafood whenever you’re seaside- it will never disappoint.

MONTEREY, CA

I took a class in high school called California Literature and we studied John Steinbeck religiously (Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men). At the end of the year, our class took a road trip up the coast and spent some time here in Monterey. John Steinbeck is one of the best known American literary figures and you can tour the house that inspired him to write the character “Doc” in Cannery Row. Last time David and I visited Monterey Bay, we visited Monterey Bay Aquarium and walked around the quaint fisherman’s wharf.

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, CA

Lastly, we stayed in an eco friendly luxurious Airbnb tent at a working cattle ranch. The most chic way of “glamping” and honestly, the only way I could actually camp in a tent… haha don’t judge.  It is a solar powered tent with a mini kichenette, fireplace, and separate cabin for bathroom. When you’re out in nature, there’s bound to be bugs everywhere, but this place was maintained and cleaned VERY well. You should still bring bug spray with high amounts of deet (listen I’ve tried the organic “all natural” bug spray… it doesn’t work. I got eaten alive in Thailand bc of it.) The host goes above and beyond by preparing wine, chocolates, cheese plate, and adds excellent touches in every corner of the tent. The bed/ pillows were EXTREMELY comfortable and clean. The bathroom had an outdoor shower with all the amenities you’d need and truly every detail that went into this was intentional & thoughtful. We loved the starry night, epic sunset, and morning birds chirping. It was quite a spectacular getaway. We highly recommend it and can’t wait to return.

XOXO,

Soph

Instagrammable Paris

Paris! The city of love (very accurate considering I got engaged there 😉 ) It truly is the most aesthetically pleasing, romantic, and magical city in the world. Now if you didn’t know, it is also known as the city of lights because it was one of the first European cities to use gas street lamps in the 1860’s during the Age of Enlightenment. Everything in Paris, whether it’s the food, history, culture, language, etc is done with exquisite taste. 

Getting Around Paris: The city is quite large so it’s impossible to get all these shots in one day. I’d split each up based on which arrondissement you’ll be spending the day in. In the winter time, it is a lot more empty so sunrise is at 8:40am and there won’t be huge crowds. However, in the summertime, keep in mind that you’ll have to get to the popular locations around 6am to have the whole place to yourself. Every inch of the city is photogenic, so if you turn one corner and see something you find interesting, be spontaneous and do a photoshoot there! This was only my 2nd time in Paris and there’s still so much more to see each and every trip here. 

Below is my list of the obvious hot spots in Paris. If you found this useful or if I missed any hidden gems, please leave a comment below to let me know! For daily updates/ travel inspos, check out my IG @sophcation

Eiffel Tower Shot

Square Rapp (3 Square Rapp, 75007 Paris, France)

  • 7th Arrondissement, Rapp- La Bourdonnnais Metro Station (3 min walk) 
  • Google “square rapp”on maps, located between 33 and 35 Avenue Rapp. You will see a black iron gate in the front of a secluded impasse with a fountain in the middle
  • escape from the hustle and bustle of the typical eiffel tower shots

Rue de L’université (dead end between Rue de l’Universite and Avenue de la Bourdonnais )

  • 7th Arrondissement, Invalides Metro Stop (1 minute walk)
  • Quaint street with beautiful architecture, dead end to the base of the Eiffel Tower
  • Will have cars parked on the street 

Avenue de Camoëns (dead end)

  • 16th arrondissement, Passy Metro Station (4 minute walk)
  • Lovely view of the Eiffel Tower, short street; there is a stairwell that takes you down to a different street

Seine River 

  • 16th Arrondissement, Trocadero Metro Station
  • Unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower 
  • Take it from across the bridge/Eiffel Tower 
  • Walk along the river to capture any kind of shot

Trocadéro View Point (Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre)

  • 16th Arrondissement, Trocadero Metro Station 
  • The not-so-secret blogger spot
  • Stairs with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop
  • Carousel is located towards the base of the Eiffel Tower
  • Most likely to get crowded first so go during sunrise

Bir Hakeim Bridge  (Stations de métro Passy et Bir-Hakeim, Paris, France)

  • 16th Arrondissement, Bir Hakeim Metro Station (1 minute walk)
  • The bridge frames the Eiffel Tower 
  • A scene from Inception was filmed here

Arc De Triomphe Shot (Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France)

  • 8th Arrondissement, Kléber Metro Station (7 minute walk)
  • Shoot from the center/middle of the road, please be careful here (crowded)
  • Shoot from an angle off to the side

Louvre Museum Shot (Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France)

  • 1st Arrondissement, Louvre Rivoli Metro Station (2 minute)
  • Most famous gallery, where Miss Mona Lisa lives 
  • Exterior is photogenic, shoot from any angle
  • Tickets must be purchased in advance: 17 (I recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in line)
  • First Saturday of each month, admission is free from 6-9:45pm

Palais Royal/ Les Deux Plateaux Shot (2 Rue de Montpensier, 75001)

  • 1st Arrondissement, Pyramides Metro Station (1 minute walk)
  • A blogger’s favorite.. You see the black and white striped columns all over IG/ Pinterest
  • Short walk from the Louvre
  • Free entrance 

Montmartre Shots (all located in 18th Arrondissement)

I Love You Wall / Le Mur des Je t’aime Square (Jehan Rictus, Place des Abbesses, 75018 Paris)

  • Abbesses Metro Station (1 minute walk)
  • Art installation: features the words I love you in over 250 languages 
  • Project seeks to unify people from around the world

Sacré Coeur Basilica (1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 75018 Paris)

  • Anvers Metro Station (13 minute walk)
  • Sits at the top of the hill
  • Panoramic view of the city
  • Shoot from the stairs or off to the side at the bottom of the stairwell

Sinking House

  • Anvers Metro Station (10 minute walk)
  • Building is an illusion where you angle your camera and use the hill to make it look that way
  • near the top of the steps to the Sacré Coeur Basilica (on the right side)
  • simply turn your camera at a 45 degree angle to capture the orange house

Moulin Rouge (82 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris)

  • Blanche Metro Station (1 minute walk)
  • Cabaret Bar, original windmill burned down in 1915
  • Birthplace of the Can Can dance 

Notre Dame  (6 Parvis Notre-Dame | Place Jean-Paul II, 75004)

  • 4th Arrondissement, Cité Metro Station (9 minute walk)
  • Popular landmark/ medieval catholic cathedral
  • Shoot from the center square
  • Due to the fire that damaged parts of the Cathedral, it will remain closed to tourists 

Pont Alexandre III (Pont Alexandre III | Quai d’Orsay, 75008)

  • Between 8th & 7th Arrondissement, Invalides Metro Station (4 minute walk)
  • Impressive sculptures on the bridge with gold elements

Disclaimer: Please be respectful. Be polite. Be educated. Be safe. Act with manners. Every city is special, ancient, historical, etc. So please do NOT climb on a monument, dress appropriately, don’t hog a spot if you see a bunch of people waiting to have a turn, don’t ride an elephant (harms the animal/not an industry you should support), trespass into private property, etc. You get the point…?

With Love,

Sophie

Same Same, But Different

You tend to hear the saying “New Year, New Me” around this time of year and with that, everyone starts setting their new goals. Now if you think Jan 1 is a good time to set your intentions for the year, then by all means! For me, I prefer to set my goals WHENEVER I have a desire, not just at the start of the new year. Coincidentally, I spent Nov/Dec getting these blog posts ready so that I can officially launch my new blog now!

SO… It’s the start of 12 new chapters. 365 chances. This is my first post on here and I’d like to start by saying that I’m thrilled to have my blog start back up. During college, back in 2013, I created a lifestyle blog/youtube channel during a time where I was bored (honestly, miserable) in college and it was a way to distract and keep myself busy. I stopped keeping up with it and went through a period during which I wanted to keep my information private.I struggled with opening up about my personal life in fear of judgement from others who don’t even know me. Though I loved sharing my experiences and knowledge, I was feeling lost and confused with how much access people had to me.

Fast forward a couple years later, and now, I have a full time job that I love with all my heart and feel grounded and fully connected with myself to continue sharing my passion. I’m more than ready and have gotten to a mental space where I feel confident to embrace who I really am and overcame the fear of judgement. With more time on my hands, I have set new goals/boundaries to expand my knowledge and experiences with you all! I will provide travel series, self growth tips, instagrammable spots, wellness recipes, holy grail beauty products, and all the tips & tricks that help me become the happiest version of myself!

I can’t wait to pick this back up and start on this enthralling new journey. I want to create a community that supports one another and empower you to find what makes you happy. I hope you join along and that this blog inspires you to dream big, create a life you love, and inspire you to get out of your comfort zone. 

Xoxo,

Soph

P.S. For daily updates, follow along on @sophcation! 😉