Your Dinner Tonight: Il Pizzaiuolo

Picking pizza is as personal a decision as what you wear, and worldwide the choices abound. Even in Italy there are different kinds according to region, but I have to admit that despite never having been to Naples, Neopolitan pizza takes the cake for me. I’ve been hooked on the chewy crust ever since I ventured into 2 Amy’s in D.C. during my freshman year of college, and since then I’ve eaten at several different Neopolitan pizza inspired restaurants. A few weeks ago some friends and I headed out for pizza and ended up at a Neopolitan eatery in Florence just off of Sant’Ambrogio.

If you’re a weekly reader, you’ll remember that in the mornings the area has a great food market, so any restaurant in the vicinity surely can’t disappoint, right? Il Pizzaiuolo is definitely a winner. Packed out on a Friday night, we were glad we had called and gotten reservations for 9 pm after we had finished watching the Olympics opening ceremony. While there were small groups waiting in the drizzle outside for a table, we were shown right in and had a table quite near to the open over, which was both entertaining and warm, nice on a cold and rainy winter night.

The options seem to be endless, and we each got something different. My pizza had mushrooms, prosciutto, baby artichokes and olives, and was super tasty.

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We all agreed that we are definitely going back to get an appetizer we saw another table order– a massive ball of mozzarella cheese with accompaniments. Yum! If you’re looking for good pizza in Florence, this is definitely the place. Fresh, simple ingredients plus a location off the tourist track means that you’re getting serious quality for a reasonable price– and the couple at the next table is probably Italian.

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Where the Wild Things Are

The zoo is one of the best free things to do in D.C., particularly for families. While most of the museums in the D.C. area are free (the ones run by the Smithsonian, at least… the other museums cost an absurd amount of money, as if they have to make up the difference), few hold kids’ interest as much as the zoo. And personally, it’s one of my absolute favorite places to visit, and I always stop by when I’m in the city. Some people I know knock the zoo, saying it’s not a very good one. Well, sure, it’s not Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, but you don’t have to pay $20 for admission, now, either! Which makes it a sweet place you can go again, and again, and again.

The zoo is constantly evolving, and recently has been undergoing some dramatic updates. When I left D.C. a year and a half ago upon graduating college, the zoo had recently opened the new outdoor Elephant Enclosure, was working on the Elephant House, and was also developing a new American Trail, with new enclosures for animals like seals and sea lions. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to go back to the zoo since they undertook that phase of construction, and they’ve made great progress.

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Above you can see the new American Trail. When I went recently it was pretty chilly so most animals were indoors, but I’m looking forward to checking it out again when I’m back in the city in less than a month. There was actually still snow on the ground, so my pictures turned out pretty nice!

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Above, cheetahs. Below, the lion. A year and a half ago there were tons of baby lion cubs at the zoo; most have now moved on to new zoo homes. Such a remarkable story! The zoo is actually in the process of introducing two tigers, so maybe there will be tiger cubs in the not-too-distant future!

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The zoo is one of my favorite places, and I hope that you choose to check it out if you are in D.C.! It’s such a wonderful place. I’ll leave you with some of my top tips for visiting.

Tips:

1. Take the Metro! Unless you have six kids with you (which personally I wouldn’t want to keep up with), it’s INFINITELY easier to take the Metro. You can walk from Cleveland Park or Woodley Park-Zoo on the Red Line.

2. Check the website before you go! The official zoo site is http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ and not only can you find hours and info on there, there is also a schedule showing what’s going on by day of the week, so if you really want to see a feeding or zoo talk, you can plan for it.

3. Bring your own food. The zoo is really chill about this and it’s so much cheaper. My personal plan of attack is grabbing Starbucks across the street and taking it in with me, but to each his own…

Coffee Break: Buzz Bakery

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This neighborhood coffee shop is a hot spot for meeting up with friends and coworkers, the mid-morning rush a testament to its lasting power past just the caffeine fix for the morning work crowd. Small tables are crammed together to accommodate as many guests as possible, but the rustling of newspapers and cheery chatter will all fade in the face of the excellent espresso-based drinks and variety of tempting baked goods. The quiches and popovers offer egg-based options for a more substantial breakfast, or choose a cinnamon roll or one of the many cupcakes for a sweet treat. In the summer, fight for one of the few tables scattered in front of the restaurant for brunch en plein air. For moms looking for a kid-friendly outing to coworkers looking to have a quick business lunch, Buzz offers good eats and pick-me-ups in the form of caffeine and chocolate.

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Where’s Waldo?

See this photo? Grab a partner real quick. Whoever finds the Washington Monument first wins.

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Say what? You can’t find it?

Oh wait, it must be the fog that’s obscuring your view across the harbor.

But trust me. It’s there.

Welcome to the bizarre weather that DC has been subjected to over the past few years. Snowpocalypse. The earthquake. Sandy. And now, some super-thick fog. (For the record, the Washington Monument is still closed to tourists).

I visited Old Downtown Alexandria for the first time on this trip to DC with a local friend as my host. The area is cute and quaint, mixed shopping and dining, plus the incredible views across the river to downtown DC, where normally you would be able to look across the water and view the city’s skyline, monuments and all. Still, we weren’t about to let the weather get us down, so we wandered and shopped for a while after grabbing brunch, picking up some cards at Papyrus and some tea at a local store.

Old Town Alexandria is accessible via the King Street Metro Station, as well as by car, with a mix of metered and free spots, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. Check store hours if you are planning to shop, to avoid getting there too early/ late to take advantage.

Old Town is definitely worth a look, and if you can plan a visit around Restaurant Week, all the better! It’s a cute spot to wander for a few hours, with more locals than tourists, unlike other shopping areas like Georgetown.

Packing for a Quasi-Business Trip

When packing for a combined business/ pleasure trip, there’s a few key things to keep in mind, the most important one being: space. Who wants to have to check a bag for a two week trip? Solely carrying on, however, creates its own set of issues as you have a very limited amount of packing room and must thus pack strategically to avoid taking any excess. This was definitely the most strategic packing I have ever had for a trip: I headed to D.C. for a combined vacation/ business trip with about 9 working days plus two weekends for fun. Before I even started pulling clothes out of the closet I looked at my dress code for the conference I would be working, analyzing how many of each outfit (professional, relaxed professional, snappy casual) I would need and when it might be appropriate to repeat outfits. From there I was able to determine what I really needed to take. I hung outfits together to see what they would look like (see below) and planned every outfit to coordinate with black shoes, black blazer, and black coat, to minimize what I would need to bring.

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From there I laid everything out on my bed for packing purposes, to be able to make sure I had everything I would need and to visually see it:

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And then eventually it all made it into the suitcase, fitting perfectly:

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Above you can see the final result… everything coordinated into the suitcase, plus the books and liquids I put in my purse for easy access and the outfit I was planning to wear the next day on the plane.

Believe me, normally packing is not this planned out for me. Typically I tend to just take a bunch of things that I like, and hope it all works out. But for a trip where you have multiple needs and limited space, planning out what you are thinking about wearing is extremely helpful in terms of conserving space. Happy packing!