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 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

A Semester in Prague: Week 2

My first week in Prague was mostly dedicated to the touristic side of Prague: the unique architecture, the beer culture, and the fascinating history of the city. My second week took us behind the scenes of Prague a bit more and showed us the alternative culture of Prague. We started the week with an “alternative tour” around Prague, showing us more of the up and coming culture, and the life of the younger generations. Since Prague has had a fairly rocky history, it is just now starting to boom with hipsters and a more art centered population. Having a tour guide that was heavily involved with the youth of Prague gave us such a good understanding of the ideas and movements that are emerging from Prague.

We started the tour by seeing the Invader installation on a side street in Prague. This kind of guerrilla art was all over the city. We then made our way to one of the many legal graffiti walls in Prague. The graffiti here was quite beautiful and the juxtaposition between the old historic buildings and the street art below was quite interesting. It was also cool to learn the street rules of graffiti, one of them being that you can’t paint over someone’s work that is better than your own. This way more respected and skilled artist’s work can have a longer lifespan.

We then walked to three very interesting “hipster” spots near our dorm. The first was was an old slaughterhouse that had been converted into a cafe and theater. They kept a lot of the authenticity of the slaughterhouse when the renovated it, and a good deal of the art inside was created from recycled materials. The second spot was a classic American hipster joint. There was coffee, clothing, artwork, and lots of exposed brick. The third spot was a bar, Cross Club, that was created by a bunch of steam punk artists. It was very cool, all recycled materials.

On Tuesday, we went to the theater and watched the movie Anthropoid. The movie highlighted the Operation Anthropoid, the code name for the mission to assassinate the third highest Nazi official (behind Hitler and Himmler), Reinhard Heydrich that took place here in Prague. It was carried out by Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two Czechoslovakian soldiers in exile in Great Britain who parachuted into the city. When the time came to complete the mission, Josef’s machine gun jammed, and Jan’s modified grenade didn’t get a direct hit, although did injure Heydrick. They fled to a nearby church, Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where they (and 5 other parachuters) hid in the crypt and took turns on lookout in the balcony. The Nazi troops stormed the church after a long manhunt (I’m really shortening the story) and had a fierce gun battle with the parachuters, who eventually committed suicide to avoid being captured.

After watching the movie, we were able to visit the church where the shootout happened, and stand in the crypt where the parachuters were hiding. It was a very surreal experience to be in a place where so much history had taken place, and amazing that it had been preserved so well. I was silenced at the sight of the bullet holes that are still present around the small window into the crypt. It was a piece of WWII history that I had never learned and to be able to experience it in such a unique and very real way was quite a memory. Its a very interesting story and although rather gruesome, I highly recommend WWII history buffs to give it a watch.

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When we exited the church we saw the famous Dancing House building just down the road, so we walked down to see it. Our tour guide from the Alternative Tour was telling us that the Czech people are very proud of any modern architecture that makes its way into the city. Everyone comes to Prague to see the historic architecture, but many people in Prague, especially the younger generation, take pride in their modern architecture because its new and exciting to them.

On Wednesday, we did a spray paint/graffiti/street art workshop with our tour guide from the Alternative Tour. We each got to cut out a stencil, and create our own spray paint masterpiece. It was a lot of fun, but so cold outside where we did it! On Thursday, we all gathered as a group and presented some photos that we took during that week and shared our graffiti with everyone.

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On Friday, we made our way to Salzburg, Austria where they filmed the Sound of Music. After quite an adventure of finding the bus station, we loaded up and set off on a 6 hour drive from Prague to Salzburg. I slept for most of the journey, but my waking moments were spent smiling about the completely white landscape (thanks snow!) and the gorgeous Alps. When we arrived we headed out on the town. We stayed in an AirBnB that was only about 15 minutes from the center of the town so we were able to walk to everything. We ended up walking on the main shopping street, popping into cute stores (my favorite being one that sold exclusively hand-decorated egg ornaments) and taking lots of pictures.

The next morning, we woke up fairly early and started planning out our day. We had watched The Sound of Music a few nights before and I was very excited to live out some of my childhood dreams. We made it into the center and just started wandering around. It was snowing off and on throughout the day which only made Salzburg more magical.

Early in our walk around Salzburg, we stumbled upon the Salzburg Cathedral. We weren’t really looking for it, but when we found it, it was absolutely beautiful. The inside was absolutely stunning and beautifully ornate. I lit a candle for my Opa, a tradition that I learned from my Oma and try to keep going whenever I visit a Catholic church. I don’t personally have Catholic beliefs, but the sentimentality of lighting a candle always makes me a bit emotional.

On our way out of the Cathedral, we spotted a tram making its way up to the castle. Since we had given up on the idea of taking a gondola to the top of a nearby mountain, we splurged and took the tram to the castle. The view from the top was absolutely stunning. We were able to see the entire city and on the other side was the Alps. My heart was jumping up for joy at the sight of those mountains and I still think its the best view I’ve ever seen, sorry Roan Mountain.

We stared at the gorgeous view for quite some time before making our way into the castle walls. The castle was preserved as a museum and had a bunch of artifacts from the castle’s history. There were replicas of the grounds, gowns and garments from several time periods, and a whole room dedicated to WWII.

The last part of the day was spent ticking of Sound of Music bucket list items. We walked across the Mozart Bridge, sang the songs along the Salzach river, and jumped on the stairs at Mirabell Gardens. We headed back into the shopping street at the end of the day, and split up to save time. I stopped into a few souvenir shops and found a good collection of postcards for the family and playing cards for the collection.

We headed back to Prague on Sunday in the snowy, cold weather. We left with plenty of time to spare just incase there was a problem with the public transportation. We ended up getting to the bus station an hour early and had to wait out in the snow for the bus to arrive, which I think was a major contributor to my deep cough and stuffy nose. Oh well, it was well worth the sickness.

I’m still planning weekend trips and now that classes have started, I’ll be a bit busier during the week, but so far I’m loving this experience.

P.S. I’ll be 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.

When you travel with your sister

When you travel with your sister, you argue, you make up, and you come back stronger than ever.

I couldn’t imagine a better travel buddy than my sister. Although, I’m still surprised by how well we travel together. With two years between us, my sister and I have always been pretty close. Growing up, I would follow her every move, trying to be just like her — I can distinctively remember her rolling her eyes when I tried to convince her to wear a matching outfit. She has always been there for me, teaching me the ways of middle and high school, taking the brunt of responsibility, and being the person I could run to when things went wrong. Despite our different personalities, we are always there for each other.
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Our personalities perfectly balance out each other. She is a planner. She likes to know what time we’re leaving, where we’re going, how we’re getting there. I’m more impulsive. I see something interesting and its all I can keep my mind on, I just want to go… do. She is organized, and has all of our travel details written down, always available. I’m easy going and will go along with any plans that are made. I calm her down when we’re running a bit late, and she always knows what to say to cheer me up.

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We share an appreciation of experiencing a city like a local, and would rather get a coffee in a local cafe than get sucked into all of the tourist traps of a particular location. We know what each other like, and make sure that we both get what we want out of our trip. I know that she collects shot glasses, and I collect playing cards, and we have both accepted the fact that we will not leave a country until we have added to our collections.

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After traveling for two summers with my sister, I can say that we have never been closer. I understand and appreciate her more deeply that I ever have. I’ve learned to love all of the little things that used to annoy me, like how she hates going into grocery stores alone, or how silly and touchy-feely she gets with a few drinks in her. Together we’ve learned how to navigate in foreign countries, tried all sorts of local cuisine, and seen some incredible sights. These experiences, both good and bad, have pushed us together as we learned and figured things out with each other.

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Together we are a stronger travel team, and I’m so glad that I have her by my side, whether we’re rushing to catch a connecting flight, exploring a city for the first time, or shopping at the Albert Heijn in Boxtel. When you travel with your sister, you are reminded just how much you love her.

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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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I’m such a “Look at the moon” person

I’ve lived my whole life tucked away in a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent my childhood knee deep in rivers and creeks, hands covered in mud, and head full of imaginary creatures such as fairies and unicorns. More often than not you could find me in the small patch of woods at the back corner of our home building fairy houses out of twigs, soft green moss, and delicate flowers. I had a wild imagination that took me on magical adventures everyday. But, somewhere along the way of growing up, I lost that imagination in the jumble of school, friends, and technology.

For a good portion of my middle school and high school years I was sucked into the teenage lifestyle. I was much more interested in messaging my friends and playing Farmville on Facebook than building fairy houses or playing pirates in our tree house. I grew out of my imagination “phase” and let the current of social media consume my life. I was obsessed with likes and my online presence. I felt lost without my phone in my right hand, awaiting the ding of text messages, followers, and snaps. My biggest dream was moving to a far off city surrounded my noise and lights and being consumed by the hurry of people.

Then two summers ago, I went on an overnight camping trip with the senior campers at Camp Spring Creek and my life was changed. When offered a chance to go on the trip I was a bit hesitant, but at the last minute I agreed and packed my backpack. I figured I was comfortable in the wilderness and viewed it as a time to bond with some of the senior campers. Little did I know that in those two and a half days spent dirty and cold in the Black Mountain Range I would regained my desire to explore and my imagination would come back to life.

Now I live in a far off city surrounded by noise and light and a hurry of people (sure, Raleigh is no NYC or LA, but its definitely bigger than my hometown) and all I can think about is going back to the mountains. I yearn for even the shortest of breaks from school to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and find peace on the curvy roads surrounded by trees and rivers and dirt and mud. I spend almost every free minute at home driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, awing at the marvelous Appalachian Mountains. I now feel so connected to the place that I live and the feeling of clean fresh air, winding country roads, and high mountain peaks. I would rather spend my evenings enjoying a beautiful sunset than at a party with some friends or trapped behind my computer screen.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still often find me with my phone in my hand or back pocket, but the urgency to view and reply to messages has since dissipated. My camera roll is now filled with photos from the stunning places I’ve been and my mind is filled with places I wish to go. The gratification I receive from likes and comments on my photos is now a happiness I am able to share the beauty that I find in the world with my friends and family. I want to be able to share those moments when I reach the top of a mountain and can just stare in pure amazement at the wonderful world that we live in.

So yes, I do get overly excited at the sight of stars and I will most definitely pull over on the side of the road to just take a minute to enjoy the color of the changing leaves. If you spend time with me you will definitely hear me say “Look at the moon!” more than once, and you’ll have to be patient with me as I take a few extra minutes to awe at the color of distant mountains or rolling waves. I like the feeling of grass between my toes and cold river water rushing on my hands and you would find me clutching a salamander or toad before you would find me using a clutch. I would gladly wear the smell of a campfire over expensive perfume and I am more comfortable in a t-shirt than I will ever be in designer clothing.

I will never underestimate the power of adventure any longer. Because if one trip could help me re-establish my connection with nature, who knows what the rest of my life will bring.

 

My Green Obsession

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This is Elmer. He is growing oh so strong.

It all started about a year ago when I purchased my first succulent. It was my prized possession, my beautiful baby. I can’t explain my love to you because I still don’t quite understand it myself. After a few months, the collection grew and I now have eight babies. They instantly cheer me up when I look over to my window sill. So, I thought I would introduce you too them. Its about time, am I right?!

Firstly, before I introduce you to the rest, I would like to take a short minute to pay tribute to my lost warriors. Two of my succulents died recently and I was unable to bring them back to health. I miss them tremendously.

So now you’ve met my cute succulent babies. I also have a few leaves that I am trying to propagate. So far, all of Elmers leaves are doing well, some of the others are a bit further away from being plants, but have started to root. I’m hoping to get a few more, but I’ve got to wait until I have some more pots to transfer them into… and maybe some more window space.

Anywhoooo, if you have any questions, comments, or tips on growing succulents let me know in the comments! I would love to hear any feedback. I hope you are having a spectacular Saturday (I’m currently in Wilmington, NC visiting my sister with the whole gang) and the sun coming off the ocean and into the room is making me oh so happy. Its a beautiful day world!

Peace out, enjoy life, and live the adventure!