A Nerd Travels: Florence, Italy


So, you’ve seen some pictures from our time in Rome. Next, let’s head to Florence.

We took a high speed train from Rome to Florence. This is something that I really wish we had more of in the U.S. It cut what is usually a 3.5 hour drive down to only 1.5 hours.

Our first day in Florence, we did a lot of walking. Actually, we did a ton of walking each day we were there. I’m talking 20,000 steps a day without even trying.

We made our way to Ponte Vecchio, which literally means “old bridge.” It is, as the name might lead you to believe, an old bridge. It has shops (mostly pretty touristy stuff) along the bridge, which used to be common, but you don’t see it very often anymore. There we are, on the bridge. IMG_1370

The following picture is a view of Ponte Vecchio from atop another bridge further down the Arno River.

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Just like in Rome, there were lots of old, beautiful churches. This is Santa Maria Novella2017-03-11 17.04.29

And of course, we spent a lot of time in Piazza del Duomo. You can climb to the top of both the dome of the Duomo as well as Giotto’s Bell Tower, if you’re up for it. After some research and asking around, I found that the Bell Tower involves a slightly less claustrophobia-inducing climb. So we went that route.

You can see the dome of the Duomo in the picture below.


This is the Bell Tower. 414 steps will take you to the top.2017-03-11 16.52.57

This is the front of the Cattedrale di Santa Maira del Fiore, along with the Bell Tower (on the right).2017-03-11 16.40.51

Waiting in line, looking up and anticipating the climb.2017-03-11 14.58.39

The climb up to the top of the Bell Tower is narrow, and can make you feel pretty claustrophobic. The stairwell gets more narrow the higher you climb, and gets to the point that it’s pretty difficult to have folks going up and down the steps at the same time. I took this picture on one of the small landings while waiting for people to go up the steps before we could continue on our way back down.2017-03-11 15.33.05

One of the great things about climbing the Bell Tower is that you are afforded gorgeous views of the Duomo and pretty much all of Florence.2017-03-11 15.25.05-12017-03-11 15.09.14

Aside from sightseeing, we ate so much fantastic food. In fact, I would say that the best meal during our entire time in Italy was eaten in Florence. If you ever go, please seek out Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori. It’s a small restaurant (make a reservation!) with a handwritten menu that changes daily. I had pasta with zucchini flowers and a saffron ricotta cream sauce. Amazing.

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Of course, even in Italy, Sean had to find an Irish pub and have a Guinness. This was right after we climbed the Bell Tower.


A Nerd Travels: Rome, Italy

Yes! Sean and I went to Italy last month! If you follow me on Instagram or follow the blog’s page on Facebook, you have likely seen a few photos already.

One of the annual scientific conferences that I attend was in Florence this year. Sean came with (of course), and we we decided to make a proper vacation of it by tacking on a few extra days before and after the meting so we could do some sightseeing. Our itinerary went like this: Rome –> Florence (+ a day trip to Cinque Terre) –> Rome. I’ll be sharing photos from Florence and Cinque Terre soon, but let’s start with Rome.


One of the first things that we did was go see the Colosseum. We’re all more or less familiar with the Colosseum, right? I think it’s probably the most easily recognizable of the ancient landmarks in Rome.


When you get off of the Metro at the Colosseo stop, it’s right there. First thing you see when you walk up the steps and out of the metro station is the Colosseum. It’s just there, in the middle of modern day Rome.


It’s incredibly impressive, both in size and also in terms of how old it is. It was built between 70 and 80 AD. You can see that the skies were pretty overcast and dreary looking; this was the worst of the weather that we experienced the entire time that we were there. We were really lucky.


Speaking of the Roman Metro system, all of the train cars are tagged up like this. Really, a good bit of the city is covered in graffiti. I think that, in the U.S. at least, we tend to equate graffiti with a geographic area not being the nicest or safest. Broken windows theory, and all that. Not so in Rome. From what we saw, most buildings were tagged. And really, a lot of it was beautiful or at least interesting to look at.


We briefly visited the Trevi Fountain, which was super crowded but also beautiful.


We also visited quite a few old Catholic churches. They were, of course, very beautiful. The photo below was taken in The Basilica of Santa Sabina, which was completed in the year 432. I lit a candle and said a prayer there.IMG_1564

This wooden door was in the Church of San Saba (13th century). It was almost directly across the street from the Airbnb we stayed in during the 2nd portion of our stay in Rome.


For me, there’s something seriously comforting about the fact that all Catholic churches smell the same. Even the really old ones, and ones that are 5,000 miles from home.

There’s an area in Rome called the Aventine Hill. It’s one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. It has orange gardens (below), and is where the Basilica of Santa Sabina (the church with the painted ceiling, above) is located. There’s also a really nice view of some of the city, as well as the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Unfortunately, I only brought my iPhone with me, and wasn’t able to take very clear photos of the view.


Also on Aventine Hill is The Aventine Keyhole. It’s literally a keyhole in a door. When you peer through it, you see a treelined path, and framed perfectly within the opening at the end is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I couldn’t get my phone to focus on the dome, but you get the idea.


We also took a rather abbreviated trip to Vatican City. We made it through a good bit of the Vatican museums, and saw the Sistine Chapel. However, I was battling bronchitis at the end of our trip, and was fading quickly. We saw the line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, and I knew that I just couldn’t make it. We turned around and went back to our Airbnb. I tell myself that we’ll just have to go back some day to finish what we started.

Our time in Rome was incredible. The city is large and bustling, the people friendly to American tourists, and the food and wine were delicious. I would love to go back some day to see things that we couldn’t squeeze in this time around.

Stay tuned for more photos from our time in Florence and Cinque Terre!


A Nerd Travels: Charleston, SC

I haven’t blogged about travel in a while.  Probably because I haven’t really gone anywhere since heading to Palm Springs for CPDD over the summer.  This is just now striking me as a little depressing.  At any rate…

Almost a month ago, Sean and I spent a long weekend in Charleston, SC.  Neither of us had ever been, and we were in desperate need of a trip that didn’t involve holiday-related travel.  Luckily Charleston is only about 4 hours away from Durham.  So, we used Airbnb (first time; definitely using it again!), hopped in the car with Maeby, and went.

The focus of the trip was on relaxation, so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do.  But we’ll be back.  While we were there, we ate a lot of amazing food and did some exploring.

We spent an afternoon at Folly Beach.  We ate a fantastic brunch (Lost Dog Cafe ftw), walked on the beach, and took a short hike out to the Morris Island Lighthouse.

A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

We had a small houseguest with us in the cute little bungalow we rented, too.  He hung out on the blinds, minding his own business, for two days.  I eventually scooped him up and set him outside.A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

After another delicious brunch at Fat Hen (thanks for the recommendation, Megan!), we also saw the Angel Oak: a big ass, super old tree.  It’s 500 years old!  It was beautiful and very impressive.A Nerd Travels | Charleston, SCA Nerd Travels | Charleston, SC

All in all, we had a really fun time.  The city is vibrant and charming, with beautiful architecture.  The food was pretty incredible.  We were able to recharge our batteries while exploring a new city.  We will definitely be back.

A Nerd Travels: Southern California 2016

Hey all!  Things have been a little slower than usual around here lately, I know.  We have multiple grant submission deadlines as well as work-related and personal travel to thank for that.

I also haven’t shared one of these posts in a while.  It’s not that I haven’t been traveling (Phoenix last June, Chicago in March, etc.), I guess I’ve just forgotten to take pictures.

At any rate, I was in Palm Springs, CA last month for an annual conference.  The conference was held at the La Quinta Resort.  I shared many of these on my Instagram account, so some of you may have seen them already.IMG_0563

The resort itself is pretty cool.  It’s kind of sprawling, has a bunch of pools, and is surrounded on 3 sides by these amazing jagged looking mountains.  I don’t have many photos of the resort itself, mostly because I had been there 4 years ago and wasn’t super concerned with taking pictures this time around.

We went hiking at Mount San Jacinto State Park.  You take a tram two and a half miles up the mountain. Once at the top, you’re at a height of 8,516 feet.  IMG_0561IMG_0562

Even though it’s like 100 degrees (not an exaggeration) in Palm Springs, because of the elevation it’s cool and very comfortable at the top of the mountain.  Perfect for hiking and not wanting to melt/die because of the heat.

Next up was Joshua Tree National Park.  It’s absolutely breathtaking.  So, so different than anything we have on the East coast.IMG_0559

Among the sand and rocks (many of which you can scramble on top of for really nice views), there are cacti and short scrubby sorts of plants, but also these gnarled, weathered trees that I couldn’t get enough of.


In the picture below, you’ll see some Joshua Trees.  They are, not surprisingly, everywhere within the park.IMG_0565

I have a serious soft spot in my heart for national parks.  I like to say that if I weren’t involved in science, that I’d love to work for the National Park Service.  Maybe if academia doesn’t pan out?

A Nerd Travels: Clarington, PA

My family has a log cabin in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania.  We’ve been spending time in the area since 1992, when my parents bought a piece of land that had a bright orange trailer sitting on it. That trailer has since been torn down, and replaced with a beautiful log cabin that my dad built himself, now known as Camp Maxwell House.

Camp Maxwell House | A Nerd Cooks

Even though it’s a bit of a haul from where we live now, Sean, friends, and I try to make it a point to spend a long weekend at camp every few months or so.  We usually spend the time playing cards, drinking beer, and going for walks in the woods: in sum, just spending time together.  I have such wonderful memories of all the time spent there while growing up; It makes me so happy that Sean and our friends enjoy spending time there now, too. 

One of the best things about spending time at camp is that it forces you to unplug.  We do have a landline phone, for safety reasons, but no internet.  Cell service is spotty, at best, so it’s wise to just shut your phone off.  You get to really disconnect from daily life, and just enjoy your surroundings and spending time with family and friends.


You can expect to see multiple travel posts about our visits to camp, but here’s something to get you started.  The snowy photos were taken in January, and the black and white ones were taken over a year ago.

 006My dad likes to fill this feeder up with corn for the deer, black bears, and the other animals that come into the back yard. 007Assorted antlers, either found in the woods or from deer that he or I have harvested. 008The fresh snow was clinging to everything in the woods so perfectly when we were there last. 005Fresh snow on logs that had fallen across the creek.




A Nerd Travels: Canoeing on the Potomac River

Canoeing on the Potomac | A Nerd Cooks

While I was editing these photos a bit, I realized that they were taken not this past summer, but the summer before (2013).  It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been so long.

Sean and I went canoeing on the Potomac River in Maryland with our friends, Melissa and Kevin.  The weather was perfect, and we had a blast.

Canoeing on the Potomac | A Nerd Cooks

I took these pictures with my little Canon PowerShot S95, which now that I think about it, gets pretty neglected since I got my DSLR.  I’m honestly not sure if they even make it anymore, but it’s a great little camera.

Canoeing on the Potomac | A Nerd CooksIf you’re in the area, and are into outdoorsy kinds of things, I’d totally recommend paddling down the Potomac.


A Nerd Travels: Wildwood, NJ 2014

I’d like to introduce a new section of my blog: one that showcases some of the photos I take during my travels.  I’ve been on a mission to take more photos, as well as more quality photos, of late.  That applies to food and non-food photography alike.  In the past, I’ve interspersed travel photos into my food posts.  I may end up doing a bit of that going forward, but I’d mostly like to give them their own space on my blog.

I have some photos from the past year or so that I haven’t talked about (or at least haven’t talked about extensively) on the blog, so I’ll be going back into my archives and talking about those trips, along with any new ones I go on.

This past summer, as we’ve been doing for the past few years, we went to Wildwood Crest, NJ with Sean’s family.  We stayed for 4 days and hung out with his family.  The weather was mostly dry, but was overcast and kind of gray for the bulk of the time we were there.  It gave the beach kind of a weird, washed out look.
 Wildwood Crest, NJ | A Nerd Cooks  Wildwood Crest, NJ | A Nerd CooksThe house we rented was also across the street from a lake, Sunset Lake, named for the beautiful sunsets that can be viewed there.  Unfortunately for us, it remained pretty overcast at sunset every day we were there.  Not that that stopped me from heading out and taking some photos.

 Wildwood Crest, NJ | A Nerd Cooks  Wildwood Crest, NJ | A Nerd CooksWe generally stick to the same set of activities: beach, dinners out, visits to Cape May, walking up and down the boardwalk, etc.  But this time around we decided to visit Cape May Brewing Company for a tasting and tour.  They had hops growing up a sort of trellis outside their front door.

Cape May Brewing Co. | A Nerd CooksFor $10 you could sample 4 4oz. beers, get to keep your tasting glass, and take a look around the brewing room.

I ended up sampling The Bog (twice!), which is a cranberry wheat beer mixed with lemonade.  I also had Tower 23, which is a German style Berliner Weisse.  Tower 23 is also a sour beer.  It was really strangely refreshing.  Then I also tried their Saison, which was, well, a saison.

Though we won’t be going back this coming summer (Sean’s older sister is having a baby (!!) around the time we usually go), we’re looking forward to stopping by the brewery to pick up 1/6 kegs for our kegerator.