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January 9, 2020

Fancy Firenze

What a fancy week in Florence for Christmas! We were so lucky to get to spend this week with Marc's dad, Tom, too! I think we got a little maxed out on Italy after this week, but we made some great memories, nonetheless, and hope you enjoy these photos from our Christmas trip! 

Not pictured: watching Star Wars in the beautiful Odeon Theater, seeing the opera Carmen performed in St. Mark's Church, and a lot of food and aperitivo that we ate too fast to take pictures!

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December 31, 2019

Goodbye 2019, Plan for 2020

I don't usually describe my "year" via the typical 12-month calendar. It makes much more sense to me to describe a "year" from August to July, the school, or sport, calendar. In any case, I can say that the sport calendar year of 2018-2019 was a long one, culminating with a well-earned - but not necessarily wanted - volleyball championship.

The spring and summer off-season months were spent making tough decisions, investing in my coaching career, and continuing to grow my portfolio of travel and sport writings.

This fall of 2019 has been another kickstart into the next phase of my life, and I am enjoying the new rewards and challenges.

All that to say, I will be taking a break from up-to-date blogging in 2020.

This does not mean there won't be any posts; I've actually already written and scheduled at least one post per month for the entire year!

Each month there will be a different kind of "Top 10" highlight reel from my past nine years of blogging, like "Top 10 Paris Posts" and "Top 10 Spain Posts." I think digging back into the history of my time in Europe is good for me, but also good for you as the reader to remember and understand how we got to where we are.

The reason I am taking a hiatus from the blog is twofold; first, to be able to have the flexibility to invest in more volleyball time. The second reason is to use the time I would normally spend writing blog posts to instead write more content for my fiction novel. My novel probably won't be finished for several more years, but I want to spend more time with the characters and developing the plot lines. It is difficult to do that when I'm thinking about my next trips and how to best explain them every month!

Anytime I have taken a break from something in my life, it has always worked out for the best. I have returned with fresh perspective and renewed motivation, and I am certain the same cycle of rejuvenation will take place during 2020 for me. I am very much already looking forward to returning to normal blogging in 2021, which will be the tenth anniversary of when I first started this "What Up, Swags?!" journey back in January, 2011.

Thanks for reading, and may your 2020 be full of life, blessings, and adventures!!!

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December 27, 2019

Starter Day in Siena, Italy

Whether you have the chance to stay in Siena over an extended period of time, or you're just in town for the day, Siena has plenty to offer in sights, walks, and Italian history. I was able to spend a sunny early afternoon in Siena on a day trip from Florence during our Christmas trip this year.

*I would note that there are several articles on the internet about whether or not to take the bus or train from Florence to Siena. I decided to take the bus there, but after a crazy trip of winding roads and listening to a child vomit several times, I definitely opted to return to Florence by train. The price is only about €1 different, and the train had an easy and familiar comfortable cadence to it. If you take the train, then it's simple to take a Siena city center bus to the main square, or you can opt to use the extensive escalator system that lifts you from the train station at the bottom of the hill all the way up to the historical city center. I personally enjoyed walking downhill from the center and seeing a few extra sights on my way back to the train station.

Once you've made your way into the city center of Siena, there are lots of options of churches, museums, and piazzas to enjoy. Here is a great starter list for your first time in Siena to get to know the city.

Piazza Giacomo Matteoti

Most visits to Siena will start in this main transportation square. In December, there is a Christmas market, and several places to eat and have a coffee. Additionally, around the rectangular piazza are three churches to get you started: Santo Stefano alla Lizza, Chiesa di Sant'Andrea, and Chiesa di San Pellegrino alla Sapienza.

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena

Walking towards the town center, you'll pass by the courtyard of the historical bank of Siena. It's great for a photo backdrop or snacking on a cornetta and to-go cappucino!


There are several Nannini cafes around Siena, and it's the place to go for gelato. So whenever you see a Nannini, pop in for a quick fruity or chocolatey combo that you can walk with to...

Piazza del Campo

This is the main center square of Siena. Many say that it's one of the best squares in all of Europe. It's a very interesting clam shell shape, descending down to the large castle-like government building in the middle. All the restaurants on Il Campo are a bit pricey, but nothing is outrageous, and worth it to enjoy a snack, meal, or drink on one of the most fantastic areas to people watch in Italy. You can also climb lots of steps up the Torre del Mangia for a complete overview of the square and Siena.

Duomo di Siena

What a beautiful plaza and church! I didn't have the time to go inside, but all the photos and reviews say it's worth it and gorgeous. It's really different from most Tuscan churches, both on the outside and inside.

Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico

On another nearby hill, you can make your way to the huge basilica. Not only is the church great to explore, but the views of Siena from this hill are fabulous!

Fortezza Medicea

Another angle for great views, nice walking paths, and even a lovely area to jog in, is the massive fort downhill from the town. It can be tricky to find the ramp to get up to the ramparts, but just make your way to the north side of the fortress and head on up!

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