Study Abroad in Prague: Week 7

I’m starting to fall behind on these weekly blog posts, so I’ll try to make it short and include lots of photos. This whole trip is going by so quickly and its hard to keep up with everything. But, I’m having such a magnificent time over here and I’m not quite ready for it to end.

This week was a bit shorter than the rest as our school planned a trip to Berlin on Thursday, so classes were cancelled. On Tuesday, my cooking class met again and made chicken noodle soup, completely from scratch as well as a traditional Czech dessert, Frgály. The soup was delicious and it was new for me to make the stock (from the whole chicken) as well as the noodles all from scratch. The soup was perfect comfort food to soothe all of our sicknesses. And the Frgály was absolutely beautiful, and equally delicious.

On Thursday, we woke up bright and early to catch our train to Berlin. By noon we were in the middle of the city, with no plans for the rest of the day. My friends and I headed to a small market to find some lunch. After the most delicious burger I may have ever tasted, we walked around the city, just exploring and seeing what we could find. We wandered over to Museum island, went into a design book store and found a book written by one of our NC State Professors, found a very artistic hideaway covered in street art, and had quite an experience in the Monsterkabinett. We finished the night walking endlessly in search of a German restaurant, and landed in a asian-fusion restaurant that had my absolute favorite: bibimbap. What’re ya gunno do. Ha

The next morning, my entire class gathered at a group at 9 a.m. for a long day walking around the city. A cold front from Russia had pushed through Europe and we happened to be spending the entire day outside, so we bundled up as much as we could but nothing could prepare us for the face-aching cold we would be stuck in all day. We started the day with a Berlin-based startup: Eyeem and they gave a short presentation on their design process which was interesting. Then we headed over to the Markthalle Neun where we wandered around the booths, grabbed a delicious bbq sandwich, and escaped from the cold.

When we had finally warmed up again, we realized that we were only a short walk from the East Side Gallery, so my friends and I headed over there while we had a bit of free time for lunch. The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery where 105 amazing murals are painted directly on the remains of the Berlin Wall. Many of the murals are fairly politically charged and document a time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better, more free future for all people of the world.

After walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we met up as a large group again and headed to the Holocaust Memorial. On the way we found more Berlin Wall pieces, quite a few modern architectural pieces, and looked like a herd trying to cross the street. We stopped off at The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism, as well as the The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism before arriving at the block-sized Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was such a grave experience to walk through the memorial, and it felt as the world was flashing by before my eyes as I walked through.

Our next stop on our tour of Berlin was the Reichstag. On our way we stopped to see the Brandenburg Gate, but didn’t stay long since we were all so cold and just wanted to get inside. We made it to the top of the Reichstag just in time for sunset and sat at the top of the glass dome and enjoyed the sky as it faded from blue to orange to black.

Our last stop on the long tour through the city was to The Bunker. The Bunker is a former Nazi above-ground bunker constructed in 1943 that has been transformed into a contemporary art museum that contains the private Boros collection. While I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the art (I’m not super excited by contemporary art) it was crazy to be in such a historic building that had a real purpose during WWII. The bunker’s interior had been slightly modified to be better suited for artwork, but much of the authenticity was still there, including glow-in-the-dark paint that would provide a bit of light in the case that power was lost within the bunker.

The next day we went on an alternative tour of the city that highlighted the hipster and more artistic culture of Berlin, focusing mostly on street art. We also learned quite a bit of the history of Berlin during and after WWII, and how young activists really took over parts of the city and made it their own. We heard the stories of the Bethanien in Kreuzberg, learned about David Bowie’s affection for Berlin, and the incredible story of Osman Kalin’s Treehouse. When our tour was over, we headed straight back to our hostel to warm up and rest our feet. After a quick nap and a recharge of my personal battery, we went out and saw The Hunter at the Berlinale International Film Festival.

The next morning we had a few hours to explore before we had to head back to Prague. My friends and I decided to make the most of our time and went on an Underworld Bunker tour of an old air-raid shelter that was used during WWII. The tour was surprisingly educational and I left wanting to know even more about Berlin during the war. It was crazy to think that we were standing where thousands of others had stood as bombs shattered their city above. We had a few hours left to kill, so we hopped onto the subway and made our way to Checkpoint Charlie. I was slightly underwhelmed by Checkpoint Charlie, although I didn’t really know quite what to expect. We ended our time in Berlin desperately searching the city for a hipster place to find lunch, and stumbled upon a burger joint which was conveniently located only steps away from a cookie dough bar. We quickly enjoyed our burgers, making sure to leave time to grab some cookie dough before we had to rush back to the hostel to meet our group again.


Berlin was completely different than the other cities I have been to in Europe. After being bombed and 90% flattened during WWII, the city has sprung back up much more modern than before. There is so much history in the city, and it feels like with every turn you take there is another story to learn.

Thank you for continuing to follow me on this journey. I’m about halfway through my time in Europe already and it is flying by! I’m having a blast and gaining so many new experiences and impressions of Europe. I have to continually thank my parents for whole-heartedly supporting my travels and letting me live out my traveling dreams. Mom and Dad, you have no idea how much this all means to me.

I’m updating this blog weekly (somewhat), but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 6

This week has felt like quite a turn around for Prague. Almost the entire week was filled with blue skies (although still quite cold) and the color looked good on the city. Its like Prague really comes to life with a bit of sunshine and bright blue skies, and I think I do too.

I managed to get out and enjoy the city solo on Tuesday before my cooking class, and wow, it put me in such a great mood. There were so many people out enjoying the weather, and so many street performers just doing there thing. Bubbles seem to be relatively popular here in Prague, so it was only natural to find a man making giant soap bubbles in the middle of the Old Town Square. I stood and admired the bubbles for a bit, then headed to my cooking class.

This week we made a bunch of bread. We started with a sourdough loaf which our teacher had prepared beforehand to let it rise for a bit, and then moved onto a yeast dough that we shaped into animals and braids. We also made a delicious mushroom soup topped with a poached egg and some dill. I was a bit unsure about the soup since I’m not the biggest fan of mushrooms or eggs, but it was absolutely delectable and the yolk from the egg added a richness to the soup. For dessert we made a cinnamon twist loaf that again was delicious.

The rest of the week went on as usual, until Friday when at 11:30 p.m. Marcie, Jack and I hopped on a bus to Budapest, Hungary. It was a roughly 7 hour bus ride and we drove through the night and arrived early that morning. It was too early to check into our AirBnB, so we dropped off our luggage in a closet they had for us and then went exploring for a bite to eat at STIKA which was cosy and delicious. We still had a few hours to kill so we wandered for a bit and ended up at the Central Market Hall to escape the cold and experience a bit of the local culture. We passed the Budapest Eye at the Erzsébet Square, and saw a bunch of incredible murals hidden on the sides of buildings.

After about an hour wandering around the market, we made our the House of Terror Museum which serves as a memorial to the victims of two terror regimes in Hungary. The museum presented a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times both under the power of fascism and communism, and the nations relationship with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

By this time we were exhausted from a rough night of sleep on the bus and walking around in the cold, so we went to check into our AirBnB. We all passed out as soon as we got there, but were ready and recharged to take on the evening. Jack found a very hip restaurant right near our AirBnB, so we went there for dinner and finished the night on the Budapest Eye.

We planned Saturday to be our main touring day, so we planned all the places we wanted to see and set out to check them off our list. Our AirBnB was conveniently located right next to the Basilica, so I snapped a quick photo on our way out the door and was ready to set off! Marcie had visited Budapest as a kid and had some adorable photos around the city, so with Jack’s detective work we found all the locations and recreated the photos. After we checked that off of our list we headed across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to see the Parliament building.

The Parliament Building was so grand and ornate and I probably could have stood there for an hour and still not have been satisfied with admiration. Unfortunately, it was freezing so we took a few pictures and set off again. We managed to find our way to a subway station and after some time and planning, we figured out how to get to the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion was probably my favorite sight of the entire trip. It was so gorgeous with its ornate white facade paired with the colorful tiled roof. After having lunch on top of the hill near the Fisherman’s Bastion we made our way back down, stopping quickly at the Buda Castle.

We headed back towards the center of the city and walked to the The Dohány Street Synagogue. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we were still able to walk around the outside and see the Holocaust Memorial known as the Tree of Life or the Emmanuel Tree. We called the night relatively early and just watched movies in our AirBnB until the next morning.

We woke up the next morning to a layer of thick, heavy snow. We decided to make the most of our next few hours in Budapest and went to Memento Park which is a collection of gigantic monuments from the communist dictatorship in Hungary. These statues were removed from the streets of Budapest and placed in a park outside of the city where they stand today.

Budapest was absolutely wonderful and quickly became one of my favorite European cities despite it being cold and grey for the majority of our visit. As we were getting on the tram to get to our bus the beautiful city waved farewell with a gorgeous blue sky.

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These weeks are going by so quickly, and its only a short time now until I get to see my parents and show them around Prague. I’m so glad I have them behind me encouraging me to take the most of this incredible opportunity, and I love them so much more for it. Thanks Mom and Dad for affording me this life-changing experience.

I’m updating this blog weekly (or trying to at least), but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 5

This week was a bit more relaxed than the rest. I didn’t make plans to travel over the weekend, and staying in Prague for a nice relaxed weekend sounded like a dream. This travel thing is exhausting, and while I love discovering new places and creating new memories, its also nice to take a step back and spend time in your host city.

The week went by as it always does: Tuesday being my favorite day. This week in our cooking class we made the most delicious sausage and sauerkraut soup, savory potato pancakes, and dessert of all desserts, a mixed-berry streusel. Everything we make in this class has been so easy and quick, despite the fact that we’re cooking for 12. We basically just throw some ingredients in a bow, usually no more than 5, and voilà, a delicious meal and some good conversation to go with it.

On Wednesday, my European Design History class took a little field trip to the nearby Dům U Černé Matky Boží (House of the Black Madonna) which is one of the most famous Czech Cubist buildings in Prague. Inside there is a permanent exhibition displaying the famous works of Czech cubists, ranging from the traditional paintings to furniture sets, ceramic works and glassware. It was interesting to see this movement which was predominately realized on paper take on a three dimensional form. The Czech Republic’s cubist movement is significant because Prague is the only place in the world where you can find the cubist ideology in the architecture of buildings.

After visiting the museum, we went on a quick 5 minute walk to find another cubist piece living on the streets of Prague. This cubist lamp post is tucked away in a quiet corner right off one of the most touristic locations in Prague (Wenceslas Square). This is a was designed by Emil Kralicek and is the only cubist lamp post in the world. Its pretty cool to think that all this cool architecture and design took place in a city I’m now living in. IMG_6394.jpg

The majority of my weekend was spent designing my portfolio website and trying to find all working files of previous projects of mine. My portfolio is almost done, its just a matter of me tweaking a few of my current projects to better reflect what I’m capable of— something I wish I had done right after I got comments and critiques from my professors.

On Saturday, I wandered into the city center and did a bit of window shopping, and just felt out the city while alone. I feel like I’m more able to fall in love with a place when I feel like I a comfortable and belong there. Walking around Prague definitely gave me the feeling that I’m no longer a tourist here and that I understand how the city functions on a deeper level, and that really excites me. Despite my family’s town in Holland, I’ve never felt like a real local in a foreign place and I’m so glad I have this experience to grow from. I was a bit nervous about feeling out of place in Prague and feeling like I didn’t belong but I’m glad I was wrong about my nerves.

On Sunday my friends and I pulled ourselves away from our computers and ventured out to IKEA. We had no real reason to go, but it seemed like a fun outing away from Prague’s center. We left with a few bits and pieces to make our lives more comfortable — kitchen knives and blankets, and somethings that we didn’t need — ziplock bags (IKEA is the only place in Prague that has them) and fake plants. We headed back and got burgers at a small restaurant tucked in the back streets of Prague. It was an American pin-up girl themed restaurant with live music and great burgers.

This chill week has left me well rested for the week ahead. I don’t have any real plans for next weekend, but I’m thinking it might be fun to travel down to Budapest. The week after my school is taking us to Berlin, and then the following weekend is the start of spring break! I’m so stoked for all this travel, but most excited to see my parents over spring break. I’m exited to show them around Prague and experience new parts of Prague with them that I have yet to explore.

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 4

Whoops, these posts are getting later and later in the week. Time is flying by here in Prague though! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month! I’ve never been outside of the US for this long and while I’m enjoying my time immensely, all the comforts of home are starting to creep up on me. Classes keep me somewhat busy and my weekend adventures definitely keep my traveling spirit alive.

Tuesdays are always my longest, yet most enjoyable day of the week for one simple reason — my culinary class. I’m a huge fan of cooking and signing up for a Czech culinary class might have been the best decision I have made thus far on my trip. Each week we make a three course dinner for each other, consisting of soup, an entree, and the most delicious desserts. I’m starting to think that I should dedicate an entire post each week to what we make in this class, sharing each recipe so that I can remember them in the future as well. This week we made roasted onion soup, sausage and sauerkraut strudel, and a classic apple strudel. Its so interesting to learn new techniques and to learn our teacher’s family recipes.

The rest of the week flew by and before I new it I was packing my bags and boarding a plane to Eindhoven. It was so refreshing to know that I was flying to a familiar place where they spoke a (somewhat) familiar language and seeing some of my favorite people— my Dutch family. I took four friends to the Netherlands with me and was well and prepared to be their official Dutch tour guide!

We arrived late at night and my uncle, Luc and cousin, Daan came to the airport to pick us up. A few minutes later we were “home” and settled. We had a few drinks in the blokhut, played some games, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning. It was a fun way for my cousin to meet my friends and they got a bit of a taste of my family as well.

The next morning my friends slept in while I made my way to Bergeijk to pick up my Dutch passport!! After the stressful fiasco that was trying to get a visa for the Czech Republic, I was so glad to officially be a part of the EU. Holding that passport was like a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders.

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The rest of the day was spent playing cards, exploring Boxtel and the Friday morning market, and visiting Oma. It was fun to show my friends around a town that I am so familiar with and I gained a new appreciation for Boxtel and the childhood days I spent there. I consider my Dutch heritage to be a huge part of who I am and it was fun to get to share that with my friends. We ended the evening with the typical Friday meal of frietjes and kroketten and a long night of endless card games.

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The next morning my friends and I woke up early to catch the train to Amsterdam. We only had a few hours in the city, so we did a bit of strategizing to get the most out of our short visit. We walked quickly through the Red Light District, stumbled upon Dam square, strolled along the canals, barely dodged quite a few bikers, and finally ended up at the Rijks Museum. The Rijks Museum is probably one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever been to, and its not as overwhelming as other art museums such as the Met.

We spent an hour or so wandering around and looking at some incredible artwork. I had been there before, but still managed to see artwork that I hadn’t seen during prior visits. After the Rijks Museum we spent some time being typical American tourists and took photos at the I amsterdam letters outside of the Rijks museum.

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After a quick lunch, we split up into two groups — two of us headed to the Van Gogh museum, and the other three to walk the streets of Amsterdam. I was a bit museumed-out so I guided the other two to Vondelpark, and then just through the streets to see the typical Amsterdam houses. In the two hours that we were walking around we got sunshine, clouds, and even a bit of rain.

We all met back up for dinner and made our way back to the train station for an early night back to Boxtel. We spent the rest of the night playing games, laughing lots, and building card towers.

The next morning I woke up early to have breakfast with Oma, and spend a bit of time with her before we went back to Prague. We headed back to Prague around noon, and spent the rest of the day getting ready for the week ahead.

It was so nice to see my family again, and to feel a bit of that comfort of home. I feel incredibly lucky to have them so close and its comforting to know that they’re only a short plane journey away.

I’m still loving this study abroad experience, and its giving me a serious case of the travel bug. I am making all sorts of plans to travel within Europe and I’m even thinking about some short trips I might take when I get back to the US. Next weekend I’m taking a bit of a break from the weekend trips and just having a chill weekend in Prague which should be nice a refreshing. I’ve seen quite a bit of Prague already and I’m getting relatively comfortable with the city, but there’s so much more to explore. Catch you next week for another update, and possibly another post dedicated entirely to my cooking class!

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

A Semester in Prague: Week 3

This week started early Monday morning with my first class of the semester. From Monday to Thursday, I spend a good majority of my day in class, often starting at 9 am and ending around 4. On Tuesday I have a cooking class which is a lot of fun. There are around 12 of us that all cook traditional Czech cuisine together and then have good conversation as we eat our meal. Having this cooking class along with a Czech language class is starting to give me a good grip on the culture here.

On Friday, two of my friends from Miss Halls School (Emma and Sandra) and I planned to meet up in Copenhagen for the weekend. I was very excited to see them again since it had been almost four years since the last time I had seen one of them! I spent quite a bit of time at the airport on Friday, but was so happy to see the girls again.

After making our way out of the airport and to our hostel, we headed out on the town in search of dinner. We walked to the center, near the City Hall and Tivoli Gardens. After dinner, we met up with an former counselor from camp, Jeppe, and he walked around with us for a while, showing us a bit of the city, and giving us advice and tips for seeing the most of Copenhagen. It was so good to catch up with him and meet his girlfriend.

The next morning, we decided to rent bikes from our hostel. This proved to be the best decision we would make during our whole trip. Copenhagen was a bit more spread out than I was imagining, so having the bikes made it so easy and fast to go from point A to point B. Our first stop on Saturday was to the stork fountain that we saw the night before. We had been told to use this as a landmark to get to Nyhavn, so from there we headed to the colorful houses.

Nyhavn was absolutely beautiful. Luckily we got some blue sky while we were there which just made the bright colors of the houses even brighter and warm. When I first thought about going to Copenhagen, this image of the colorful houses was on the top of my mind. I low-key thought all of Copenhagen looked like this, but made me appreciate it even more that it was just this small canal.

From Nyhavn, we rode our bikes to Christiania. Christiania is self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district that is most well known my tourists for cannabis. We weren’t interested in that aspect of Christiania, but it was interesting and eye-opening to see this community of people just doing there own thing in the center of Copenhagen.

After being a bit intimidated by the atmosphere in Christiania, we quickly headed to to the Amalienborg Palace (the home of the royal family), to witness the changing of the guards. It was a traditional ceremony of the new guards marching down the street and taking the place of the others. It lasted quite a bit longer than I was expecting, but afterwards the square in the middle cleared out and we were able to get some pictures.

We started to get a bit hungry, and decided to meet up with one of Emma’s friends for a late lunch. We hopped onto our bikes and rode out of the center to a very cute cafe called Mad & Kaffe. It felt very cozy, or as the Danes say, hygge, and the food was absolutely delicious. After sitting and chilling for a bit, we asked for some recommendations on what we should do next and planned to see Copenhagen from above.

We rode our bikes to the Christiansborg Palace which is the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and the home of the Danish parliament. Since the tower is free to enter, there was quite a long line, but after about an hour of waiting, we finally made our way to the top of the tower. The sun had just set and the views were gorgeous.

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After visiting the tower, we headed back to our hostel to hang out for a minute and get ready for dinner. Earlier that day, we discovered that we had another friend from Miss Halls who was studying in Copenhagen for the semester and decided to meet up with her for dinner. We went back to the center to meet up with her and had dinner at the Tivoli food hall. It was nice to catch up with her and meet some of her friends who she met while in Copenhagen, but Emma, Sandra and I were completely exhausted from a full day of touring the city.

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The next morning we checked out of the hostel and headed towards the water to tick off the last item on our Copenhagen bucket list: The Little Mermaid. We walked for about an hour to this relatively small sculpture, which we were told would be slightly disappointing. The sculpture is a Copenhagen icon and is based on the story by the Hans Christian Anderson. I’m glad we made the trip out to see it, but I probably won’t go back if I venture to Copenhagen again.

After visiting the mermaid we walked with our suitcases back into the center to the central train station. After some advice from Jeppe to take the train rather than a taxi, we all agreed that we’d rather save a few bucks and walk for a bit than shell out some cash for a taxi. The train was super cheap and relatively easy and I’m glad we made that choice.

My flight didn’t take off until around 9 pm, so I had a lot of time to chill in the airport, but I enjoy both my own company and airports, so I was content. I shopped around for a bit, found a deck of cards to add to my collection, and watched a few movies before my flight took off. Then I was back in Prague, making my way back to my housing all by myself on public transport. I’m really starting to get this city living thing down. Mom, you’d be proud.

This weekend I’m heading to The Netherlands to visit my family and to show my friends around Amsterdam. I’m super excited to see some friendly faces and to finally hold my Dutch passport in my hands! Its gonna be a good few days.

Sorry that this post was a bit late, it was another great week in the books! I’m starting to count the weeks until my parents come and I get to show them around Prague. This whole experience is going by so quickly!

P.S. I’m updating this blog weekly, but you can follow my day-to-day adventures on Instagram: @aninavdv

Amalfi Coast

When you google search “Italy” you are greeted with thousands of images of Rome, Venice, and a stretch of coastline called the Amalfi Coast. Just seeing the photos made my travelers itch grow intensely strong, and I knew we wouldn’t be going to Italy without visiting this paradise. It was a love at first sight sort of experience, and the pictures just don’t do it justice.

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In this beautiful landscape mountains plunge straight down into crystal clear bright blue waters, pastel houses hang onto the sides of sheer cliffs, and a sweet lemon fragrance follows your every footstep. The beaches are filled with rows of brightly colored chairs that so beautifully compliment the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The cobblestone streets lined with small boutiques, secret hidden stairwells, and constant chatter of voices gave me an immediate sense of belonging… like this was where I was meant to be.

Because of time constraints, we opted for a day tour of the four major cities along the coastline, Ravello, Amalfi, Positano, and Sorrento. We left Pompeii early in the morning, and weren’t home till late that evening, and it was incredible how much we were able to see that day. It was quite a bit of driving on winding, sides of cliffs types of roads, but the views were well worth it. We stopped several times along the way and between towns to get photos and our driver was very eager to slow down for us to really enjoy the scenery.

Our first stop was Ravello, a small town perched on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast. The town was essentially just a few streets centered around a cathedral and a large open square to wander. It was the only town we visited that was perched on the top of the mountains and it felt as though we were on our own beautiful planet.

We then visited Amalfi, the main town on the coast. We spent the majority of our time on the piers that jutted out into the water, looking back at the gorgeous town. It was such an incredible day, and we managed to sneak in a impromptu photoshoot before wandering into a very mediterranean cafe and ordering frozen lemonades (an absolute must if you are ever in the area). We only had an hour or so in the town, so we didn’t manage to make our way into the center, but the views from the water were just to good to pass up.

As we travelled on to the next town, we stopped along the way to see the Emerald Grotto, a beautiful cave named for the color reflected in the water through a small opening to the sea. I couldn’t manage to get any decent photos of the light, but it was quite magical, and the commentary after we explained that we were American was hilarious.

 

After our short boat ride around the cave came to an end, we stopped for lunch at one of the most gorgeous restaurants I have ever been to. Clinging to the side of the cliffs, we had a front row seat to the beautiful coastline.

After a bit more driving, we found our way into Positano which much like the other towns on the Amalfi coast clings tightly onto the side of the cliff and falls straight into the turquoise waters below. A healthy set of stairs and narrow paths lined with boutiques led us to the seaside where we sat on the pebble beach and soaked up the sun. I stuck my feet in the water (not wanting to be wet and salty for the rest of the afternoon) and searched for sea glass while my siblings escaped to the water.

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The last stop on our day trip to the Amalfi Coast was Sorrento, the birthplace of Limoncello liqueur. At this point in the day, we were all worn out, and I didn’t manage to take any photos of the town despite carrying my camera around my neck the entire time. We wandered the streets of the town, stopped in a few shops to try Limoncello and other fruit flavored liqueurs, and saw lemons on practically everything in sight. It was a lovely town, but we were all wishing that we would have been able to spend more time in Amalfi or Positano. Maybe it was because we had already seen so much, but Sorrento didn’t really impress me.

As the day came to an end, we headed back to Pompeii where we would stay one last night before heading off to Venice. We didn’t plan appropriately, or anticipate how much we would all fall in love with the Amalfi Coast, and quickly realized that a one day tour was far too short. Since the rest of our trip was already booked, we could not extend our stay, but it would be safe to say that we will be back soon. I’m already looking forward to spending more time exploring and hiking the quaint Italian towns on this coastline.

I made a short video documenting our tour through Italy that you can watch here.

Barcelona, Spain

The second city on our Europe tour was Barcelona, one of my new favorite cities. We had a little bit more time in Barcelona, and I feel like both the addition of half a day and a bit more planning lead to a much better experience in Barcelona.

We were staying with a family friend, and they gave us a few suggestions on places to go, and things to see. The first day we got there we wandered down to Las Ramblas in attempt to go down to the beach. Las Ramblas were fairly crowded, so we walked quickly down to the bottom and grabbed an ice cream before walking for a bit on the boardwalk. About halfway on our walk to the beach it started to rain, so we turned back to head home.

The next day, we booked our tickets to go see La Sagrada Familia. We had the morning to explore more of Barcelona, so we headed out to the streets with a basic idea of what to see per suggestion of our family friends. We explored the Gothic Quarter and finished at the Barcelona Cathedral. The architecture was absolutely stunning in the Gothic Quarter, and there were decorative details at every turn.

When we were getting closer to our ticket time for La Sagrada Familia, we hopped in a taxi and drove across town. We made sure we got there with some time to spare so that we could view the outside and take some time to admire the architecture before we went inside. We walked all the way around the building, which is still under construction after 131 years. The exterior of the basilica is stunning, but I was not at all prepared for the design and scale of the interior. It was absolutely breath taking, and I was completely mesmerized by the stained glass windows.

After visiting La Sagrada Familia, we hoped in a taxi again and headed to another of Gaudi’s most famous works: Park Güell. We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the park, and admiring the architecture and the views. The park was a nice escape from city life, and was beautifully landscaped.

While we didn’t spend the money to venture onto the terrace, we didn’t find it necessary with the amount of land to cover. We hiked all the way to the top of the steep hillside and back down again making a full circle around the park. The sunshine and warm weather definitely made the experience that much better.

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On our last night, we took the kids out for dinner. We also met up with one of Marguerite’s friends from college who had been living in Barcelona. We had a lovely night and spent a lot of good time catching up.

I fell in love with Barcelona and I honestly can’t wait to go visit again. There was just something about the bright positivity of the city that I can’t resist. I highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance.

Madrid, Spain

Beginning last November, my sister (Marguerite) and I started planning our yearly trip to Europe with two new additions to our group. My brother (Olson) and his girlfriend (Sam) decided to join us this summer, only to add more fun to our adventures. For the past few summers, my sister and I have traveled to the Netherlands in the short time period between school and summer camp to visit our family. As we’ve gotten older and more adventurous we have added countries to our trips, always experiencing new things and visiting friends abroad. This summer, we all decided to check Spain and Italy off our travel bucket lists. We had about a week and a half of travel, so we found four cities that piqued our interest the most, and started planning.

Our first city was Madrid, Spain. One of my best friends from boarding school lives there, so I used our trip as an excuse to go see her. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan our trip very well and we came right in the middle of her final exams, but we did get to see her for a bit. We didn’t do a whole lot of planning for Madrid, and weren’t really sure what we should be going to see. So a lot of our time was spent just wandering the streets.

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On our first night, after a bit of miscommunication and confusion with our AirBnB hosts, we finally arrived at our AirBnB and were ready for dinner. We were not fully acquainted with the cultural differences in Spain, and when we arrived at this restaurant at nearly 8 p.m. we were shocked to find out that they were not serving dinner yet. Luckily they opened just a few minutes later and we were able to have our first true Spanish meal. This place was recommended by our AirBnB hosts, and it was absolutely delicious, plus who couldn’t turn down a restaurant with such an appealing look! We ended the night with a stroll around and a first taste of Madrid, as well as a cone of gelato before making our way back to the apartment.

 

The next morning, after a bit of research, we decided to visit the train station, the The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Plaza Mayor. These things were all relatively close to our apartment, and we were able to knock out all of these sights before noon.

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We were starting to get a bit hungry and were looking for a place to rest for a minute. Knowing that Spain is known for its churros, we found the Chocolatería San Ginés which just happens to be one of the most famous spots for churros in Madrid! I definitely recommend stopping by and getting yourself some churros here. Also, the hot chocolate is a necessity for the churros, and no, it isn’t like American hot chocolate. Haha.

 

After a quick churros break, we headed back onto the streets, looking for Puerta De Sol. I think we were all a bit overwhelmed by the crowds (we are used to the quiet Appalachian mountains) to fully enjoy Puerta de Sol, and we decided to do a little shopping on the back streets of Madrid after that.

After some shopping and walking around all day, we were tired so we headed back to our AirBnB to take a quick rest before having dinner with my friend Sandra.

 

At around 8, we met up with Sandra, and had tapas at a restaurant I can no longer remember the name of. It was so nice getting to see her again after two years, and having someone who actually spoke Spanish to be our translator. Our limited Spanish was getting us by, but it was nice to have that person to actually know what was going on.

We realized after expressing our disappointment with Madrid with her, that we had not gotten a true experience of Madrid. I am definitely eager to go back and visit the city with a bit more knowledge and preparation. I would say that one day is definitely not enough time to truly experience a city, and I will definitely be making another trip.

The next morning though we were hopping on a train to Barcelona and our time in Madrid had come to an end. If you are planning on taking a trip to Madrid, definitely plan to have a few days to explore the city. We only saw a small section of the city, and unfortunately that section of the city wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

Here’s to Strong Women

This post was meant to go up yesterday, but a little bit of prolonged International Women’s Day celebration wont hurt anyone, right! I am so proud to live in a time when more and more women are stepping into the spotlight and breaking down barriers hundreds of years tall. I also feel incredibly lucky to know so many of these strong women.

I have been surrounded by wonderful and powerful women my whole life, and so many of these women have shaped me into who I am today. They have shown me that I can be anything I want to be and that I can do anything that I set my mind to. They have taught me that real women don’t drag each other down, but rather build each other up. They have taught me that there is no shame in standing up for myself or my beliefs, and that I should always be proud of the woman I am.

My Mom

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So much of who I am, I can thank my mother for. I don’t even know where to begin with how she has inspired me as a woman. She always pushed me to be the best I could be and believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. She has shown me the power of an open mind and an open heart, and taught me to always lend a hand when I had a hand to lend. She has changed so many lives, and her passion for literacy has inspired me greatly. Thank you mom for being such an incredible, strong, independent, and compassionate female role model. I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.

Diana King

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Diana King has been like a second grandmother to me. She is a powerhouse and all around bad ass. At 89 years old, she is still chugging away like steam engine, doing crazy shenanigans like parasailing in Costa Rica and getting full shoulder tattoos. She has taught me to fearlessly pursue my passions, and always take time to enjoy the little things like the sounds of the birds singing, or the last few moments of a glorious sunrise. She has taught me that I can climb any mountain I have the nerve to climb.

My Oma

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My Oma has taught me how to be gentle and kind. She has taught me how to love unconditionally and to treat even the smallest of creatures with respect and care. She has the biggest heart of anyone I know, and I’m thankful to have a heart like hers in my life.

My Girls

I’ve got such an amazing group of girls in my life that have inspired me and continue to inspire me every day. They are all so passionate about their interests and always have the best advice, even when they may know its not what I want to hear. They all share such a love for life that is infectious, and I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without you all by my side. (Special shout out to Jasmin G., Sandra H., Hannah M., Michelle L., Keikichi L., Kaela R., and Marianna V.)

J Ro

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When I think of strong, inspiring women, JRo is one of the first women I think of. She was so much more than an art teacher to me and I am so thankful for this teacher-turned-friend. She always encouraged me and supported me not only in my projects, but in my life as well. She has taught me to live without fear of other’s opinions, and to always be myself. She has shown me the power of an open mind and that our differences only make us stronger.

Ishani

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I have met Ishani quite recently, but already, her bubbly personality, and unmatchable love for life has inspired me greatly. In the year that I have known her, she has already taught me to be myself unapologetically and to never be ashamed of the things that excite me. She has shown me that you are only as old as you feel. Her simple love for the little things in life is infectious, and I couldn’t imagine a better partner for Roan Mountain sunrises.

Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres is someone that I have been watching for years, and she never fails to bring a smile to my face. She has such an incredible and kind heart and her motto, “Be kind to one another” has played a huge role in my life. She is definitely making a difference for women everywhere, and showing all of us how to lift each other up and live a life full of empathy. (Maybe one day I’ll have a photo with her.)

This is just a short list of all of the incredible women that inspire me each and every day. I hope that one day I will be as strong and independent as all of these women. I encourage you to take some time to think about all of the women who have had an impact on your life and thank them for being fearlessly themselves.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May be them. May we raise them.”

A Perfectly Magical Winter Break

I’ve been back in school for a week now, and I’m already hardcore missing winter break. It may have something to do with leaving the mountains, or returning to school work, or the fact that it is way to warm in Raleigh to feel at all like winter. I also had quite a long winter break (over a month!) since I didn’t have any final exams (perks of design school) so getting back into the daily grind and constant work work work has been a bit tricky.

So while I should be writing code, learning about shape grammars, and researching inclusive design, I’ll take a minute to share my winter break with all of you.

My whole goal of winter break was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Since the full effect of cold winter weather hadn’t fully settled in yet, I found myself on the Blue Ridge Parkway almost once a day. Since both my siblings were still in school and I didn’t have my usual hiking buddies, I spent a lot of time alone which was actually super refreshing. I’m the kind of person who actually enjoys spending time by myself so having afternoons on the trails with only my camera and my thoughts was nice after a long grueling semester.

I’m realizing it now as I look through the pictures that I took over break and realized that I didn’t actually take too many photos. I found myself leaving behind my camera on several occasions and just going off for a drive and stumbling upon a trail to explore. It was a challenge to try to get nice shots on my phone, but I made do with what I had available.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hiking and outdoors stuff I managed to drive over to Nashville, Tennessee. My best friend is currently part of Nashville Ballet’s second company, and was performing in the Nutcracker. I haven’t missed one of his Nutcracker performances since we became friends, so the five hour drive surely wasn’t going to stop me now. Looking through my phone, I realized that I have absolutely no photos of Nashville, which sort of upsets me. Ah, oh well. I’ll just make him dress up like the grandfather when he’s home again and get a photo with him. Peyton, you down with that?

I also went exploring with the fam-bam and we all shared some of our favorite hikes with each other. While I enjoy the solitude of an hour on the trails, its nice to share the scenery with other people and discover new places in the process.

We all have a major love for snow skiing, so we made a ski trip a priority on our winter break list. We met up with an old family friend (not in this photograph) and had a fun filled weekend of snow tubing, decorating Christmas cookies (which we’ve been doing since I can remember), kids vs. parents games of Heads Up, and a day of skiing. It was a perfect day of skiing with 50 degree temperatures and sunny blue skies.

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Probably the most exciting part of winter break was having the company of my aunt, uncle, and Oma for Christmas. They made a last minute trip to North Carolina to spend the holidays with us. It was such a treat to have them here for a few days. It was Oma’s first time to North Carolina in roughly ten years. It was like a true family Christmas.

During the last few days of my winter break, North Carolina got a mini monster of a snow storm. It started on Friday morning and by the time I woke up on Saturday morning we had a good 6 inches on the ground. On Sunday, the snow still hadn’t melted but I packed my car up and got ready to go back to Raleigh. I had just hit the road to go back to school when I got a text informing me that my first day of classes had been cancelled, so I got one extra day of break. It was a nice little surprise to have one last home cooked meal and a few hours more with the parents.

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