A Semester in Prague: Spring Break

Despite the weather taking a major dip into the single digits, on Friday I jetted off to Holland to meet up with my parents and begin spring break! The freezing temperatures weren’t my ideal weather choice for spring break, but we made the most of it and headed up into the mountains to find some snow.

We spent the weekend in Holland visiting my grandmother and just having a bit of a relax before a solid week of roadtripping. We spent most of our time in Boxtel, where my family lives, but managed to drive north to Wassanar and Scheveningen for a day to enjoy the North Sea and visit my great aunt. We walked along the sandy shore, made our way up to the pier, and got caught in stand-still traffic trying to leave the beach.

After developing a lose plan on Sunday night, we jumped into the car on Monday and headed for Heidelburg, Germany. On the way we stopped in some smaller towns where the rivers intersected with the autobahn. Our first stop was Kobern on the Mosel River. Situated in a steep gorge lined with rows and rows of grapes, Kobern wasn’t much of a town, but had a castle, like every good European town should have. It has been transformed into a wedding venue and office spaces and was quaint and beautiful. Our next stop was Bingen on Rhine. Here we found yet another castle, and also stopped for a bit of German fast food: hamburgers, currywurst, and schnitzel. We explored the city for a bit, walked along the Rhine, and later trekked on to Heidelburg.

The next morning we drove into the town of Heidelburg after spending the night in the quiet countryside. We had a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee, then walked along the river in search of the schloss (castle) and the beautiful arched bridge at the foot of the castle. It was a bit hazy, but it only added to the fairytale-like effect of the older part of the city. After stretching our legs for quite a bit, we climbed back in the car and went even further south to Switzerland.

After about two hours of driving we made it to the Swiss boarder! We handed over our passports, got a highway pass and set off to St. Gallen. St Gallen is known as a university town, but also contains one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever witnessed. It was so ornately decorated in a way I had never seen before with rich purples, greens, and golds. The murals on the ceilings were stunning and really added to the overall effect of the interior. We lit a candle in honor of my grandfather and then headed across the street to the Chocolaterie am Klosterplatz to kill some time and grab a real Swiss hot chocolate. We headed back to the car and made our way up the mountain towards Trogen where we visited an old friend of my dad’s who he worked with at a camp in the US when he was my age. We spent the night gathered around their kitchen table as they all reminisced and shared old memories of camp and their travels afterward. It was fun to hear all of their stories and reminded me that all of these memories that I’m making on this study abroad trip will be memories that I’ll keep forever.

We made plans the morning to take a short walk up to see the mountains. At this point in our trip I was really itching to see some mountains, and seeing a snow covered landscape really tickled my soul. There really is just something about being up in the open air, surrounded by peaks that heals my heart. After a quick photo session on the mountain, we made our way back down and packed up to get on the road again. Our plans were taking us to the Neuschwanstein Castle back in Germany and I was oh so excited to fulfill a childhood dream. On our way to our next AirBnb we left Switzerland, drove through Austria and stopped in the small town of Lindenberg im Allgäu in Germany. We noticed as we were exploring the small town that my dad left his wallet back in Trogen, so we hopped back in the car and made a quick trip back through Austria, back into Switzerland to pick up his wallet. After a quick cup of coffee we finally headed off towards Fussen, Germany.

We arrived in Pfronten late at night in the snow, and after a bit of trouble finding our AirBnb, we finally made it into the warmth. We finished the night with a few card games and got ready to see the Neuschwanstein castle in the morning. When we woke up we were greeted by the most beautiful scenery of snow covered mountains. We then headed into Fussen to find breakfast and walk around the town for a bit. There was a large fortress in Fussen up on the hill, but we didn’t manage to get up there in order to save time. I was itching to see the castle at this point and all I could think about was the Disney-like castle only a few miles away.

I’ve seen a few castles in my time, but nothing has ever compared to the beauty of the Neuschwanstein castle. Granted, it may not be as old as other castles, but the restoration of the castle was beautiful and it was like stepping into a fairytale book. We got our tickets, and walked up to the castle, stopping along the way to grab a few pictures. I wasn’t able to take photos of the interior, but imagine the most lavish, decorative interior you can possibly think up and then add some more gold covered furniture, and bedazzled lamp posts. It was absolutely gorgeous although way to extravagant for my tastes. But still, there is something about being in a real-life castle that makes everything seem more magical. I found it hard not to imagine extravagant balls, large feasts, and lavish tea parties happening in all of the rooms. Plus, the view from the front of the castle was gorgeous, gazing onto Lake Alpsee surrounded by snow covered mountains: pure bliss.

Our last stop on our Spring Break road trip was Prague. It was such a fun experience to show my parents around the city that I’ve been exploring for the past two months especially since neither of them had been there before. We walked to the castle, went inside the church, had a mid-afternoon dessert on a floating restaurant, visited the Jewish Museum, saw the Old Town Square amongst all the tourists, and ate dinner on top of the Dancing House building. Having them here really lifted my spirits and gave me the energy to finish out the last six weeks. Being so far away from home for such a long time is very different emotionally than I thought it would be. While I’m having the time of my life here and making so many amazing memories, I can’t help but long for some comforts of being back in the U.S. I’m sure that as soon as I’m back I’ll want to be traveling Europe again. I guess we always want what we can’t have.

Thank you Mom and Dad for such an amazing spring break. It was so fun touring Europe with you, seeing things I never would have by myself. Thank you for passing this travel bug gene onto me and encouraging me to go where ever my heart desires. I love you two to the moon and back.

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

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.

Mini NC Adventure: Upper Creek Falls

This spring break lead me to a wonderful new hike to another gorgeous waterfall in North Carolina. After two long months in Raleigh, I was ready to get outdoors, in the mountains, and surround myself with nature for a bit. After searching around the interwebs for some new hikes, I found this hike and immediately had the urge to go. The hike in and out wasn’t long and I can’t wait to go back in the summer and possibly swim in the smaller falls.

The falls are located in the Pisgah National Forest along NC Highway 181 near the small community of Jonas Ridge. I was driving to the falls from Pineola and found the trailhead on my left after driving for about 7.5 miles. You can see a Pisgah National Forest sign from the road, that leads you to a pretty decent size parking lot.

 

The hike was a loop hike, and you could choose to see the lower or the upper falls individually as well. I started with the upper falls, (although, for a less strenuous hike, I would recommend starting with the lower falls). The hike down to the upper falls was not too bad. Despite it being so close to the highway, I found that after a few minutes of hiking, you felt completely immersed in the Pisgah National Forest. The trail is full of rocks and roots, so be careful of your footing on your way down.

Once you have made it down to Upper Creek, you will find a wooden bridge that leads you down to creek. I wandered around for a bit trying to see what I could at the upper falls. To get across the creek you have to rock hop, but I found that the hop-able rocks were easy to get across. When you get to the other side you can walk out to the top of the falls and try to get a glimpse over the falls. I would not suggest getting too close to the edge, especially if the rocks are wet or you don’t feel sturdy on your own two feet. One slip, and the fall would be lethal. But the large open rocks would be perfect picnic spots on a sunny afternoon.

After crossing the creek, you will find a campsite with a trail leading you to the lower falls. There are a few other herd paths that lead you further up the creek, but it is obvious which one leads you to the bottom of the falls. There are several different herd paths that lead to the bottom of the falls, and after viewing several other photos from the falls, I’m not sure if I took the right one, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

After spending a few minutes chilling at the bottom of the falls, I hiked back up and out of the gorge. Again, you have to rock hop across the creek, but then its up, up, up to the parking lot. I am not the biggest fan of switchbacks, and found the hike out tiresome, but well worth the waterfall. As you hike back up to the parking lot, you will find a large boulder jutting out of the ground and it looked like climbers had already put anchors on the rock. If I could boulder, I definitely would have stopped here and had a little climb before finishing the hike out. You can also climb onto the top of the boulder from the back and find a slightly terrifying view of the creek below.

The hike was not too long, about 1.7 miles, and perfect for a warm afternoon. Since you’re hiking down a gorge to the waterfall there is a loss (then gain) of about 500 feet.  The majority hike consists of switchbacks so its not too steep, but your calfs will still be burning on the way up. I can’t wait to go back and visit in the summer months and hopefully take a dip in the upper falls.

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.

 

Arizona

Hello again readers!

It’s been a while. Well, since I have been gone, I’ve travelled all the way across the country and back. Yes, that’s right! I went to Arizona with my mom over long weekend! We had such a lovely time and the best part was getting to see my mom again.

Well, on Saturday we woke up bright and early (well, we woke up before the sun, so it wasn’t all that bright) and drove to Innisfree (http://www.innisfreegarden.org/) to watch the sun rise. The garden was open specially for photographers, so I brought my camera and took a few pictures. It was incredibly beautiful, but also bitterly cold. It’s a good think I was somewhat bundled up! Here are a few of the photos that I took.

After that we had breakfast at a small local bakery and then drove to the airport to catch our first flight of two. Our first flight was to Detroit. When we got there it was snowing. Yes, you heard me. SNOWING! It didn’t stick and we still got into the air with no troubles. We had a long flight to Arizona, but the warm weather was refreshing once we got there. It is strange, yet interesting, how diverse the climate are in the United States. We drove two hours to Sedona and almost immediately fell asleep when we got to our hotel. That next morning we woke up and had a very relaxing morning. We went to a beautiful resort hidden away in the red rocks for a cup of coffee for my mom and a smoothie for me. We wandered around the resort and I snapped a few shots of the red rocks. At around 10:30 we went to visit family at their house in Sedona. We went out and wandered in the shops and galleries of Sedona until dinner time. We came back to their house for pizza and ice cream, but I did not make it for the ice cream. I was drifting off to sleep, so my mother took me back to the hotel and we went to bed!

The next morning we woke up bright and early (again, not so bright because it was before the sun had risen) to watch the sun rise from the top of the Vortex. The Vortex was a small rock formation that had a lovely view of the town of Sedona and the famous red rocks. Once the sun had risen we went back to the hotel for breakfast. Then we got all geared up to go to Oak Creek Canyon. No, this is nothing like the Grand Canyon, but it was still beautiful. We drove for about 30 minutes (after getting somewhat lost and having to turn around… then we found out that we had actually been going in the right direction so we turned back around) to the top of huge canyon. It was breathtaking! The sheer cliffs made me feel like I was on top of the world! After we had spent a little while on the canyon taking pictures (and putting makeup on… Mom) we drove back down the mountain and joined our family for marguerites (mine had no alcohol of course) and Mexican. Then we went to some more shops and wandered some more. Once we were worn out from shopping, we headed back to our family’s house and watched Letter’s to Juliet. The wife has not had the pleasure of raising girls, so we spoiled her with a chick flick. When the movie was over, we bid our farewells because we had to wake up early the next morning to catch our flight. We stopped for fro-yo (or yo-fro as my mother likes to say) on the way back to our hotel. Nutella frozen yogurt with nutella in it. Such bliss!

The next morning we woke up and got ready for our flight back to the east coast. It was a busy day of flying and driving. I would just like to take this last little blurb to thank my mother for taking me on this trip and for thanking the Oliphants for having us and everything else they did/are doing for us. Also a big thank you to Diana King for letting us stay in her house in Connecticut and for talking my mother and I to Innisfree. I don’t know if you guys are reading this, but thank you so much for everything!

Crazy Weekend!

So, another week down and only one week away from Fall Family Weekend!!! WOOO! 

This weekend was crazy and I actually got off campus both Saturday AND Sunday! Lets start with Friday though, because all good things start with Friday. Okay, so on Friday Andy Suzuki & The Method came to Miss Hall’s and had a special performance just for us. Now, I had never heard of this band before Friday night, and I now proudly have every single song of theirs on my iTunes. They were great. If you want to check them out (which I strongly encourage) here is their website: http://andysuzukimusic.com/. 

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So, that was Friday. Now onto Saturday. Saturday morning was very much a chill day. I got some of my homework done, watched YouTube videos, and listened to music (mostly Andy Suzuki & The Method). Saturday night I went to the town of Great Barrington and saw Pilobolus perform. They were amazing. For anyone who doesn’t know, Pilobolus is a modern dance company who perform all over the world. One interesting thing about them is that Pilobolus is named after a phototropic fungus. The second half of their performance was some of the original company’s pieces. I don’t have many pictures of this just because “photography is strictly prohibited during the performance,” but you can google them or look on their website: http://www.pilobolus.com/home.jsp.

Sunday… Today… I went apple picking! Now, I didn’t actually pick apples, because why go to an apple orchard and actually pick apples! Nope. I got out my camera and my new macro lens and shot until I dropped (not literally of course). I got tons of pictures and why not. I’ll share them with you 😛

 

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