Sunday, August 2, 2015

Czech me out: a love letter to Prague

Long time, no post. With June being the last month of my stay in Belgium, I decided to step away from the computer and enjoy the last month of my year abroad free from the computer screen. However, I do have one final trip to tell you about. For my final trip I went to Prague, Czech Republic. By myself. And it was the best trip of the entire year!

First and foremost, I decided to venture to Prague since my father's family is Czech and I wanted to see where my ancestors came from. I loved Ireland so much, which is where my mother's family is from, so I knew I needed to get back to my roots once again so to speak.

Even though I did not have a travel companion, that did not stop me from booking that Ryanair flight. Of course, I took more precautions while traveling alone than I normally would if I was with a friend. I took cabs to and from the airport and did not go out late at night by myself. Never once did I feel unsafe and I had a great time being able to do what I wanted when I wanted. I truly enjoyed the freedom and I regret not travelling more by myself throughout the year. Fear got the best of me and when I finally let that go, I found myself forced to meet new people and have a completely unique experience. I met travelers from all over the world and we spent the weekend together in Prague. Even though we just met, we all became fast friends. That is one of the joys of travelling: making new, fast friends all over the world.

Prague is a beautiful city that is completely walkable and very user friendly. Of course, almost every person I encountered spoke a bit of English, so the language barrier was never a problem. Of course, I hit many of the major tourist attractions including the Astronomical Tower, Prague Castle, and I climbed the Bell Tower at St.Vitus Cathedral. Not only was is beautiful, Prague is a very affordable city with a great exchange rate. One euro is roughly 27  Czech crowns and there were plenty of place to exchange currency. After visiting Prague, I wished I had spent more time in the surrounding countries due to the low prices and gorgeous scenery!

The view from the Town Square

View from Prague Castle

I went to a LOT of churches in 10 months and St. Vitus had the most-spectacular stained glass!

 A doorway in Prague's Jewish Quarter

Of course I loved every city I visited during my time abroad but Prague holds a special place in my heart and it always will. Prague will forever be the first place I traveled to alone. Never have I felt more independent and able, something that can be easily squashed by feelings of self doubt. Confidence washed over me in Prague. I made new friends and forced myself out of my comfort zone in a big way. After Prague, I felt more confident than ever. I knew nothing could stop me from having the time of my life and I put myself out there into the world headfirst. Prague, thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone.

With the famous John Lennon Wall

Thursday, May 28, 2015

9 months down, one to go: 9 small things I will miss about Leuven

Nine months ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Leuven after being here for one month. as of today, I have one month left in Leuven. Thirty days, that's it. Needless to say, ten months goes faster than I ever imagined. I remember writing that first post, finding it unbelievable that I had already been in Leuven for a month. Now, I cannot believe I have but four weeks left in Europe. My heart is heavy and the only adjective that can seen to capture my feelings is bittersweet. On one hand, I will miss Leuven deeply. I'll miss my friends, the Loyola International Nachbar Huis, and jetting all across Europe. On the other hand, I love home and I cannot wait to see my parents and my friends I haven't seen since Christmas. Plus, my siblings are coming home, so I have a lot to look forward to seeing when I return to the United States. Reflecting on having just thirty days left, I realize I will miss so many things. In honor of the nine months I have spent in Leuven, I decided to round up 9 random things I will miss about Leuven.

1. Really good coffee
I admit, before coming to Europe I really didn't drink much coffee. After this year, I grew to enjoy coffee quite a bit and Europe has some really great coffee shops. I am going to miss vanilla latte's from one particular cafe in Leuven. Not that America has bad coffee, but Europe's coffee is pretty spectacular.

2. Mandatory recycling and expensive garbage bags
Bet you didn't think garbage would end up on this list, did ya? Hear me out: I am so much more of the waste I generate when I have to buy garbage bags and I am required to recycle. Plus, the garbage bags for garbage that cannot be recycled is over two euros, so I never want to have garbage that goes into those bags due to their expense. I feel really great being able to recycle so much and I respect Belgium for making citizens recycle and compost food. It is eco-friendly and honestly, it is so simple.

3. Ryanair
Alright, so flying on Ryanair isn't the most comfortable or glamorous, but I cannot complain when it gets me to Prague for 15 euro. I am so deeply going to miss cheap flights that allow me to explore the world on a random weekend. Dear USA, please get Ryanair!

4. Everything in walking (or biking) distance
Everything in Leuven is within walking distance or can be biked. I love being freed from cars and being self-sufficient by powering my transportation myself. Of course, it is ecological which is awesome, but it is also less expensive and honestly nicer than driving and it doesn't take much time at all. Since everything is withing walking distance, I can absolutely do everything I could possibly need to do. Not relying on a car is more convenient and easier and I will miss the simplicity of walking or riding my bike,

5. The farmer's market
On Sunday, nothing in Leuven is open, so the farmer's market becomes quite the event and a ritual I look forward to. I walk to the farmer's market in the morning and come home to cook a beautiful breakfast with my fresh produce before most of the world is even awake. I am sad this ritual will be ending at the end of next month. It is so peaceful and something I look forward to every weekend.

6. Zara down the street
I am obsessed with Zara and I will miss having one to pop into just up the road. My closet will be sad about that, but my wallet will be joyful.

7. The lack of textbooks
This year, I bought one book for college, setting me back a small fifteen euro. At home, I would easily spend ten times that. I will miss not having to buy textbooks and having to lug them around.

8. Cobblestone streets
Cobblestone streets are beautiful and serve as reminders that their were people on this earth before us who fashioned these pathways and there will be people after us who will use the same paths. Plus, walking along a cobblestone street just feels like you are a part of a fairy tale.

9. Dutch
I admit, I don' speak any Dutch but I will miss hearing it everyday. There is something beautiful about hearing another language that reminds me of being an outsider and for whatever reason, I like that. Plus, Dutch has grown on me and now I think it sounds cute when I hear it.

So, there you have it. 9 smalls things out of a million that I will miss about my European home. Can exams be over already so I can enjoy my last month here?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sentiments on the selfie stick

Confession: I used a selfie stick. I am somewhat proud of it.

Before I reunited with my parents in Rome, they passed a week in Paris. Since it was just the two of them, sometimes they struggled taking photographs with both of them in the frame, or there merely were not any people around to ask to snap a photo, something that has likely plagued travelers for years. In order to combat this, my dad succumbed to pressure, purchasing a selfie stick. For those of you who are unaware of this device, it is a pole that attaches to a cell phone that allows one to take a selfie from further away, allowing a larger frame. Through the duration of their travels, my dad continued using the selfie stick over and over. Soon, it became an obsession for him. In three weeks he took over 2,000 photographs. Don't worry, not all of them were selfies, but a lot of them certainly were! Even though it was incredibly embarrassing at times to use the selfie stick, it certainly had pros and cons and got me thinking about photography and life through a lens.

When my mom first told me they bought a selfie stick, I gasped. My parents tend to be the cool trendy parents; my mother wears purple-tone hair and my father bought overalls in Paris! My parents rock cooler-than-average parent status. When I think of the owners of selfie sticks, I imagine narcissistic teenage girls posting one-too-many selfies on Instagram, not trendy globe-trotting parents. After spending a few days with them and the selfie stick in action, I noted some of the appeal. It allowed my family to take pictures of ourselves in areas when we were the only people around.  As my father put it, he wants photos of himself with my mom or with me, not just photos of beautiful places with no one in them. To him, photos of beautiful landscapes aren't as special as ones containing people. This extendable phone arm allowed my parents the ability to have photos of all of us without having to ask others do help us. At first, using the selfie stick was a bit embarrassing, but after a while, I did not mind as much. I chose not to care what others thought and I decided to enjoy taking the photos so that I would have lasting souvenirs, making the fleeting embarrassment easier to bear.

My father made a valid point about wanting to possess photographs with people in the frame. They make photos of beautiful places like the Eiffel Tower all the more personal. It is one thing to have a picture of a gorgeous location, but these places are made all the more beautiful through the inclusion of loved ones. He furthered his point by saying that if he wants a picture of a beautiful building, like the Colosseum, he can find a more stunning one from another source. The sentiment of my father is something I certainly agree with wholeheartedly. I much prefer having pictures containing people. For me, they help me remember the feelings I held in that particular place, reminding me of the energy of the moment. Often in my travels, I have found that the photographs I possess of  locations rarely make the cut for photo albums or scrapbooks. I choose people pictures over photos lacking subjects any day of the week.

After talking with my dad about his feelings on photographs, I thought about my own ideas on the topic. As I said, I agree that it is 100 times better to have photos with people in the frame. That goes without saying. I think my dad is right in expressing that if I want photographs of a certain landmark, it is incredibly easy to find better, higher quality pictures in gift shops on postcards, on the internet, in educational books, or magazines. There is no lack of beautiful pictures of famous landscapes at one's fingertips. As someone who takes all of their photographs on an iPhone (Full disclosure: all the pictures on my bog have come from the iPhone and I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed with the quality!), I completely understand that my pictures will not compare to anything a professional captures. I do not expect perfect pictures and I actually enjoy some of the imperfections; imperfection mirrors real life. However, If I want a stunning photo of St. Peter's Basilica, I can look to some incredible photographers to find a stunning photo that will remind me of that place. I have an incredible amount of respect for photographers. It is an art form about which I know very little of which I am completely in awe when I see stunning photos captured by professional eyes. With that in mind, I would prefer photos of people that I take and look to professional photographs for locations.

Looking to professional photographers brings me to another point I have mentioned on my blog; sometimes I do not like taking photographs in certain situations. Allow me to elaborate:in certain situations it is better to look and enjoy with the eyes rather than look at the world through a viewfinder. Do not get me wrong: Take photos. Take as many as you can within reason. But in museums, do you really need to take a picture of the art on the walls? If you want a picture of the "Mona Lisa," you will find a perfect one in the gift shop that will be infinitely better than anything you can take on your selfie stick. Maybe I am jaded-I got smacked in the face at the Louvre by a tourist with a long-lens camera taking photos of every single work of art in each and every room. Instead of really looking at the artwork, they look at the world through viewfinders. So much of life is spent looking but not really seeing. For me, it is about being present in the moment. Look with your eyes, not with the camera. Do yourself a favor and see the world fully.

Thinking about photographs, I know I truly love them. They are some of the best souvenirs, lasting a lifetime and taking up no room in that over-stuffed suitcase. So here's what I have learned about photographs: buy the selfie stick and take as many photographs as you can. With technology that holds thousands of pictures, click away and take as many as you can. You will never regret it. However, be selective of what you choose to snap. Remember that it is important to document the trip, but you will never look back at that picture of that random street in that random city with no one in the frame, but you will enjoy the pictures of your family and friends. If you want a beautiful picture of a famous place, support a photographer and buy prints that will remind you of the places you visited through a gorgeous piece of art.

Take photos and see the world! xoxo--C

Friday, May 8, 2015

Insta Recap #9

Well hello to my fabulous readers! I cannot believe I am already in my ninth month of living in Leuven! This past month of April, I posted up a storm and I have to say I love writing more! With that being said, I haven't done an Instagram recap in a loooong time! Without further ado, let's get into the recap!

Before my flight to Florence got choppy, I couldn't help but enjoy the view of the Swiss alps from my window seat! 

Parc Guell in Barcelona looked just like a gingerbread house in a surrealist version of "Hansel and Gretel!"

On a rainy Leuven Tuesday, I posted this mural from the Eastside Gallery Wall in Berlin for some much needed weekly motivation. "Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things that can alter teh face of the world."

I shared this photo in my post regarding the Big Splash in Leuven! Can you believe this is my library and this is a school sponsored event?

Friday was May 1st, Labor Day in Europe, making it a holiday so everything was closed. As such, I went for a long walk around Leuven and I spent time in the Groot Begijnhof and I fell in love with these gorgeous lion heads.

 I cannot believe that I only have two more months left in Leuven-time is flying fast. I hope you all enjoy my surge in posting and I hope to continue this streak!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Never Tacky, Just Gaudi

When my parents came to Europe, they didn't plan the entire trip; they played a lot of it by ear. This meant coming to Rome earlier than they imagined and they did not plan what they wanted to do after we finished with the Loyola group in Rome. Endless travel plans danced through our heads. Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Venice. This list was endless. We had the world at our feet. Our second to last night in Rome, we knew it was time to pick a new location. Somehow, we settled on sunny and warm Barcelona! A few clicks later, the arrangements were made.

In Barcelona, we spent quite a bit of time exploring the city which meant one thing: looking at the artwork of Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi is a Spanish artist responsible for the gorgeous Sagrada Familia. The detailing of Gaudi's work includes soft, curved lines, wrought iron, and splashy stained glass windows. The architecture is incredibly unique and once you see the style of Gaudi, it is simple to identify even more of his work. As luck would have it, much of Gaudi's work is scattered around Barcelona. The work of Gaudi has become symbolic of Barcelona and this unique style of architecture is certainly a sight to behold!

Our first Gaudi was La Pedrera during a long night walk in search of tapas. La Pedrera is a residential building and a UNSECO world heritage site as well! Very few architects have the style of Gaudi and it was stunning to see in person. Just down the street is another Guell masterpiece La Casa Batlo. It is another residential building with the gorgeous curved architecture and colors reminiscent of the other Gaudi buildings. Unfortunately, we were only able to see these two buildings at night, so I am sure that it is a different experience during the day. I found La Casa Batlo to be stunning at night, so I highly recommend checking it out at night when it is all lit up!
La Pedrera

Casa Batlo

The next morning, we climbed the Parc Guell. This park is at the top of a gigantic hill; so large, in fact, they have escalators to help people to the top. Needless to say, we needed all the help we could get in making it to the top.  As the name sounds, it is a gorgeous park where we hiked and saw amazing cacti and the natural foliage of Barcelona. Being so high above the city, it offers a breath-taking view of Barcelona; we could even see La Sagrada Familia from the hills. After wandering the natural side of the park, we stepped into Gaudi's masterpiece. So much of the park is full of gorgeous candy-colored mosaics, curved lines, and buildings reminiscent of gingerbread houses. In the sunshine, the buildings sparkled. After walking and hiking around this gorgeous park, we made our way to have a Spanish lunch!

The view from Parc Guell

Inside the Parc

A gorgeous mosaic

Gorgeous Gaudi

Our final Gaudi work came in arguably the most famous building in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. It is a stunning church that I have seen over the internet and in other study abroad pictures, so I knew we must see it when we were there. Unfortunately, the façade was undergoing maintenance while we were there, so the view from the ground was less spectacular than it could have been had it not been covered in plastic and scaffolding. Either way, the steeple of the church reminded me of the piles of wet sand I used to drip onto sandcastles. (Due to the plastic on the façade, I chose not to take pictures and bought a postcard instead with the façade uncovered.)

When it comes to Barcelona, checking out the Gaudi architecture is highly recommended by me! WE had a wonderful time seeing buildings so typical of Barcelona. Seeing many of these buildings allowed us to compare one with another, which allowed us to notice the nuances in each building. If you get a chance, be sure to visit some of the Gaudi building in Barcelona! Stay tuned for upcoming posts!

Doesn't it look like a gingerbread house?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sometimes you have to make a BIG SPALSH

Wow wow wow. I lived in Leuven for 8 entire months with less than 2 left! Where did my junior year go? This week, elections are being held at KU Leuven for each faculty for the equivalent of student government elections. Instead of having the usual debates or posters promoting candidates, KU Leuven has a carnival where everything is free! Only in Europe. To end the election carnival, Wednesday was the Big Splash!

Before the Big Splash 

So what is Big Splash you may ask. Well, it is a giant water balloon fight in the Ladeuzeplein right outside of the KU Leuven library sponsored by Lipton. Each faculty, which is a group of all people in the same major and a few groups for internationals, assembles a team and a president. Each team stands in a gigantic wrestling ring of sorts facing another ring with another team. At the sound of a bell, the teams begin tossing yellow water balloons in the air. The object of the team is to hit the president as many times as possible. Needless to say, everyone, not just the president, gets soaked! Since I had to go to class that afternoon, I was unable to be a part of the water balloon throwing, but I still had a blast!  I watched a handful of my friends from the house participate while I was the resident photographer! It was typical Belgian weather yesterday, meaning cool and overcast, so I didn't mind not getting soaked! It was absolutely incredible to listen to live music coming from the stage and watch hundreds of water balloons soar through the air!

Getting ready to toss balloons with Nuria, Cadgas, Ashley, Indigo, and Adrian

The first balloons being thrown!

Soaked head to toe after the madness! 

Enjoying free fries with Ashley in front of the stage

Part two of the Big Splash--some of my friends participated twice!

After five minutes or so of throwing water balloons, one team is declared victorious, meaning they move along in the competition. At the end, one victor is crowned. ESN Leuven won this year! The event also included free fries, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and of course, ice tea!

Another water balloon fight that highlights the fact that this event takes place in front of the library!
This event is something that seems so typical Leuven to me. Nothing like this event has ever taken place at Loyola, or any other place I've ever been. Today was truly an amazing day that I will never forget! I absolutely loved making a BIG SPLASH!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The BIG three in Rome: St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican, and the Colosseum

After a wonderful little jaunt in Florence, Rome was next our our list. After seeing "The David" and a wine tasting in the Tuscan hills, it would be a hard city to beat. Even with high expectations, Rome never failed to disappoint. The best part of Rome was my parents; my parents surprised me a day early in Rome and we had the best time together. Since they came early, they tagged along on some of our little trips!

Of course, we hit many of the tourist spots, like St. Peter's Basilica where we had an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the ruins below. Underneath St. Peter's Basilica, lies the Scavi where the tomb of St. Peter lies. Due to the importance of this sight, only 250 guests are allowed per day to visit this burial ground. For our tour, we wandered below St. Peter's Basilica, exploring the burial ground, seeing St. Peter's bones. Our tour guide was incredibly informative; it seemed as though she barely took a breath during her perfectly rehearsed speech. This was such an important event and I am thankful that I was able to see this burial ground in person. After visiting the Scavi, we toured the Basilica and I had a difficult time enjoying it if I am completely honest. There is so much to look at in the Basilica from statues like the Pieta to the marble detailing on the floor. For me, it was too much stimulation for me to truly enjoy all of the art. It also bothers me that people are only taking pictures, not really enjoying their surroundings. (This explains why I have no pictures of the interior of the Basilica and we were not allowed pictures in the Scavi.) While we were inside, there was even a mass being held in one of the side chapels and I was disturbed that people were walking, talking, and taking pictures while this spiritual service was going on. That would have disturbed me regardless of the religious location. Regardless of my personal opinions, I am glad I visited the Basilica and the Scavi.

St. Peter's from the yard of the Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum was another museum we had the opportunity to visit. Much like my idea of St. Peter's, I did not take any pictures inside. Rather I chose to enjoy my surroundings in the moment. When I think of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel is the first thing that comes to mind. After studying Michelangelo in detail during my art history course, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the "Last Judgment" were high on my list of art works I needed to see in Europe. After wandering through the museum, and it is gigantic mind you and I had no idea how large it was, the Sistine Chapel was the last spot on our tour. How could the artwork disappoint? It is absolutely stunning. I loved seeing in in person. The "Last Judgment" commands attention. I spent a long time with my neck stretched upward, looking at the "Creation of Adam" and the "Separation of Light and Dark." Seeing the Sistine Chapel was a highpoint of Rome for me, without a doubt.

After spending ten days with my Loyola group, we parted ways in Rome. my friends jetted around the continent and I spent a few more days in Rome with my parents before going to Barcelona! (I will cover Barcelona in a forthcoming post!) As luck would have it, a family friend from Cleveland was living in Rome for work, so my parents had a place to stay and someone from home to spend time with, which was incredibly nice. Cynthia, and her son Will, were wonderful hosts-one night she even made burritos and for anyone that knows me, this was a huge deal as I live for Mexican food! While Cynthia worked during the day, my parents, Will, and I spent time wandering the city doing things like visiting the Colosseum. The Colosseum was magnificent. The fact that people of the past were able to create these feats of engineering without modern equipment is fascinating to me. One thing I never knew about the Colosseum was that they used to fill it with water and use it for naval races! I cannot even begin to fathom how they filled it with water and how they kept it inside the Colosseum! Seeing the Colosseum is certainly a must-see in Rome!

The Colosseum 

Rome is a beautiful city full of culture and must-see attractions from the Vatican to the Scavi to the pizza to the Colosseum. Everything I saw in Rome was something that I only ever dreamed about seeing, so this was an incredible trip! Stay tuned for my next post about my few days in Barcelona with my parents!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Packing with a purpose: Perfectly Packed carry ons

Let the second installment of "Packing with a purpose" commence! When it comes to travel, not having to check a bag is the way to go in my opinion. When I can, I never check luggage. I never have to wait in line for my bags and I never have to worry my baggage will be lost or not make it to my destination. For fourteen days in Italy and beyond, I will bring only a carry on and my backpack with personal items and some makeup and toiletries. I have a few tips to make sure that you can pack a carry on as effectively as possible.

1. Bring outfits you can wear more than once.
Dresses are great for this because they are no-thought outfits than can be worn more than once. To Italy, I am bringing two dresses that can be worn day or night.

2. All of your clothes should match.
When I pack for a trip, I make a list of all the clothes I would ideally like to bring if space was not an option. Once I have this list, I narrow it down based on clothing that goes together. I only brings tops that can go with all of the bottoms I bring and vice versa. That way, if something happens to one of my tops or bottoms, I can still wear the all of the pieces together.

3. Think about where you are going (activities, cultural differences, weather, etc.)
In Italy, I will visit many churches which means covered shoulders and knees.With that in min, it helped to narrow down my clothes immensely. I packed outfits I could mostly wear in a church or somewhere I need to be more conservative that could also be worn other places. Be sure to acquaint yourself with the activities you will be doing and where you will be going to ensure that all of the clothes are appropriate. This will also help to narrow down the clothes you will bring.

4. Bring one pair of pajamas.
Pajamas don;t get very dirty so you can wear the same ones multiple nights. Don't waste precious space on clothes no one will see. If you must, wear the same pair of bottoms and two pajama tops.

5. Wear one pair of shoes and pack another.
This means, bring as few shoes as possible. be realistic and try to make sure all of your shoes go with all of you outfits. (This goes along with #2 and all your clothes matching-shoes should too!)

6. To save space, roll your clothes.
To maximize space, roll your clothes instead of leaving them merely folded. No only does this prevent the clothing from wrinkling, they also take up so much less space. If you follow any of these tips, please follow this one. It will change your packing life, I promise.

To put this into perspective, I packed all of this in a standard carry on with room to spare:
2 dresses
1 cardigan
9 tops (one is a dressier, going out top, 2 button downs, 6 t-shirts/tunics)
2 bottoms (1 black knee-length skirt and one blue skater skirt and I will wear the jeans on the plane)
1 set of pajamas (top and t-shirt)
Underwear, socks, and bras
1 pair of shoes (I will wear my other pair on the plane)
Even with all of these clothes, using the rolling technique I even have room to spare and I have tons of outfit possibilities since all of my pieces go together! I hope that this helps you, my fellow travelers, pack the perfect carry on and lose the hassle of checking luggage!--C

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Go with the Flo[rence]

Hello my favorite readers! After two weeks of gallivanting around Florence, Rome, and then going to Barcelona with my parents, I am back and ready to tell you all about it! First and foremost, with my nine American counterparts and the Snow Doctors, we traveled  to Florence first. After the world's choppiest flight, Florence was finally in reach. needless to say, Florence was a feast for the eyes! The views of Florence are something to behold. On the first night, we climbed the stairs to the top of the Piazza Michelangelo, a hill from which one can see the entire city and the iconic Duomo of the city. With the sun beginning to set, this was the perfect sight for some tired American travelers.

At the Piazza Michelangelo with Katie, Kath, and Sam

View from Piazza Michelangelo

Our subsequent days were filled with art and exploring and a wine tasting in the hills of Florence. Of course, we went to the Uffizi Museum, where I took selfies with even more famous works of art like Botticelli;'s "Birth of Venus" and Titian's "Venus of Urbino." Needless to say, my art history loving heart was full of excitement.

Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"

Titian's "Venus of Urbino" with my friend Elena

Outside of the Uffizi Museum with the entire group and our professor Dr. Snow
After gaining our fill of art, another magical moment in Florence came at the top of the Duomo. For 10 euros and and hour and a half in line and 463 steps, Ashley and I climbed the Duomo to see the entire city from above. noting can compare to climbing up ancient steps to make your way into the sunshine to see the entire city from above. Stunning it was, to say the least. We could even see where we were in the Piazza Michelangelo the night before. Comparing the two views of the city gave me a new appreciation for the beauty beheld in Florence.

463 steps to the top of the Duomo

A 360 degree view of Firenze!

Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of Florence came in the Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze. Why you may ask? THE David. Michelangelo's David calls the Academia di Belle Arti home. For me, this was a spiritual experience. For ages, I saw David in books just hoping that one day I would be able to see him in person and he certainly did not disappoint. At the end of a hallway flanked with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, David stands under a dome in all of his glory. The minute I saw him I was in awe. Awestruck, I stopped walking and just stared. For me, there was noting in that museum except for David. Overwhelmed, I shed a bit of a tear seeing him in all of his beauty. I only had eyes for David. He did not disappoint. At all. I loved him so I even got a David charm for my charm bracelet. If you are ever in Florence, the David is a requirement. I can certainly understand why he is one of the most famous works of art in history.

Michelangelo's 'David"

Our trip to Florence ended with a wine tasting in the Tuscan countryside. As someone who does not know much about wine, this trip to the winery was quite enlightening. While the wine was beautiful and delicious, the views of the Tuscan hills were more than satisfying.

The Tuscan countryside

The Tuscan countryside

After Florence, our group jetted off to Rome, which I will talk about in my next post. Stay tuned!

The entire group after our Tuscan wine tasting!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Packing with a purpose: 9 things to think about before you leave

When it comes to packing, I have it down pat; My mama taught me well. Think you can't pack for 10 months with two bags? It can be done! When we came to Leuven in July, I managed to pack an entire year's worth of clothes into one checked suitcase, one carry on, and my purse and they were all under the 50 lb weight limit! Needless to say, many people came with more than one checked suitcase. Anyway, I consider myself a packing mastermind of sorts. As I mentioned in my last post, I will be in Italy and beyond for two weeks and I am (only) taking a carry on and a personal item, which in this case is a backpack. Not the most stylish, but insanely practical. Since being in Leuven, I have gotten many questions from my fellow travelers and friends about how to pack so lightly for a long time. I have now decided to share my wisdom with all of you!

1. If you are going somewhere for a long time (semester/ year abroad, more than a few weeks), bring clothes that you will leave there.
I know, I know no one wants to leave their clothes behind but hear me out. Bring things that will wear out during the time you will be there, like gym shoes or basics that can be tossed after a while like tank tops or older tee shirts. Especially if you;re coming to Europe where walking is part of the game, your shoes will be destroyed by the end, even new ones, so brings ones you wouldn't mind messing up. At the end of your time, you'll have fewer things to take back and more room for all of your souvenirs! To Leuven, I brought pajamas, tennis shoes, and basic tees and tanks that I know I won't bring home and then I am not upset if i have to leave them somewhere when I travel if I run out of room. This could also be applied to shorter trips if you want to leave crummy clothes behind, but it seems more realistic for a longer span of time abroad.

2. Be realistic.
Really look at the clothes you want to bring. If you didn't wear that dress in the last year, you probably won't wear it while traveling. Only bring the clothes you actually want to wear or are practical. Sky high heels? Don't need them. 7 pairs of flats? You can manage with three or less.

3. Pack multipurpose clothing
When it comes to travel, less is more. When you have to lug your suitcase up a cobblestone paved hill, you'll wish you had less too. Instead of packing 14 separate outfits for a 14 day trip, pack pieces that can be worn again and again in different ways. Dresses are great for this because they can be worn on their own, or layer with tops and sweaters to create different looks.

4. Bring fewer but versatile bottoms that can be worn with EVERY SINGLE TOP YOU BRING. Pants, skirts, and shorts can take up a ton of room and no one ever looks at your legs. Bring one or two pairs of pants than can be worn with every thing else you bring. If your pants match all of your tops, you can create so many outfits with limited pieces.

5. Do laundry while you travel.
This shouldn't be a chore; you're on vacation after all, but doing laundry can save time and space during your travels! This could mean going to the laundromat or having your hotel do it for you. For me, it means bringing a bit of washing powder and lathering my clothes up in the sink or shower. It takes up little space or weight in your suitcase and can be great for emergency stain removal or if you want to wear an outfit again. I do not recommend washing pants in the sink or shower unless absolutely necessary; they take way to long to dry. Tops, undies, and thin clothing dries quickly overnight and will be ready in the morning. If I hand wash my clothes, which I do right before bed or while I;m taking a shower, I can wear them again and again, meaning I can bring less clothing overall.

6. Pare down pairs of shoes
I love shoes as much as the next girl, but come on ladies! We don't need to bring so many pairs with us! To Europe for the entire year, I have two pairs of boots, two pairs of tennis shoes, and four pairs of flats, plus shower shoes and slippers. While it was hard to decide, I rarely miss my shoes at home. I picked neutral, comfortable shoes that ca be worn in many seasons. For the love of baguettes and puppies, do not ever bring rain boots or plastic flip flops to Europe. No one wears them and neither will you and they take up too much space. For a short trip, even two weeks, three pairs is more than enough pairs to get you through your travels.

7. If you forgot something, remember that you can always replace it or have it sent to you.
After paring off some clothes, you might realize you forgot something you need or realize that you want is still at home. Don't fret! There are stores in Europe and you can replace a few things once you get here. Obviously, this can get expensive, so do not rely on this, but remember that it is an option!

8. Look at the weather and customs of the places you will be visiting.
While this might seem like an obvious hint, many of my fellow travelers came a bit ill prepared for Belgium because they didn't look at the weather. Check the weather throughout the time you are packing, to keep yourself up to date on the weather and also look at the average temperatures of the time you will be traveling to get a more accurate picture. Once I see what the weather will be like, I plan my packing accordingly. However, I always bring a few pieces that can be worn is the weather is warmer or cooler than I expected so that I can be prepared. For example, even on a beach vacation I bring a sweater or light jacket in case of a cooler day. If you look at the weather, you can plan to be prepared with the proper clothing and accessories for any situation you might be thrown into!

9. Check luggage sizes and weight allowances of the airlines you will be traveling.
Do this to avoid heavy luggage fees. It is not fun to go to the airport only to learn your bag is too heavy or large and has to be checked, meaning you have to shell out 50 euros for your bag. This also means you should weigh your baggage BEFORE you leave. This will save headaches and money.

I hope this has helped you, my fellow world explorers, to start to begin packing with a purpose! Stay tuned for more installments of "Packing with a purpose" very soon!--C

Monday, March 30, 2015

Insta Recap #8

Hello lovely readers and welcome to another installment of Insta Recaps! I'm having a pretty exciting week. On Friday, my parents are going to be in Paris! I cannot wait to meet up with them in Italy, which brings me to another exciting point. Next Monday, I leave for Florence and Rome for two weeks for Spring Break! During the break, I will travel with all of my American counterparts and the Snow Doctors to these two incredible cities! I absolutely cannot wait to go and I'll get to see my parents in Rome! With that in mind, I will not be bringing my laptop to Italy (it is vacation after all) which means no blogging. However, I will certainly do a few massive posts when I return! Without further ado, let's get into the Instagrams!

Our first morning in Dublin, we stopped at a pub called O'Connell's on Aston Quay if I am not mistaken, for brunch. This place was actually so good we stopped in another time during our trip! I cannot remember what we were laughing about but I had to post this picture drinking Irish breakfast tea for breakfast (I know it's cheesy!)

With the Ashley's (they're both Ashley) after successfully pouring the perfect pint of Guinness!

A garden view of the Dublin Castle

This is the inside of the Mauritishuis in the Hague. This is the ceiling of the second floor and it is absolutely a work of art in it's own right! Plus, what's not to love about red walls?

Hopefully this post will hold all of my voracious readers over until I am able to blog after Italy! See you in a few weeks!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day Trippin': Den Haag

Isn't it amazing in Europe that it takes merely two hours on a coach bus to be transported into another country? Drive two hours in Ohio and you stay in Ohio. Yesterday, the Loyola International Nachbar Huis took a trip to Den Haag or the Hague, the City of Peace. Since the weather was a bit crummy, I didn't take many pictures outside and I usually don't take too many pictures inside museums.

Our first stop was the Peace Palace, funded by the Carnegie Foundation. Inside, the International Court of Justice and the court of the United Nations preside. Since press is not allowed inside, the public rarely hears about the proceedings here. Unfortunately, we were not able to tour the inside of the Peace Palace, but we did visit the visitors center where we learned about the Justices serving on these courts and even got to see the check Carnegie wrote to help build the palace. It would have been incredible to go inside, but even seeing the building was enough for me and it is am=n important landmark that works towards justice and peace for our world, something I find important.

Peace Palace at Den Haag

Once we finished up at the visitors center, we visited the Escher Museum, Escher in het Palais. As you can imagine from the name, the building which houses these works of art was once a palace. Escher is a Dutch artist who made lithographs, drawings, and woodcuts often inspired by nature that are incredibly mathematically precise. When making a woodcut, for example, the design is carved into a block of wood before it is printed on paper. After mulling over this technique, I could not believe how precise the works of Escher were. I cannot imagine drawing straight lies, let alone carving them into a block of wood! Many of his pieces feature optical illusions, the use of mirrors,a tessellations and repetitions of images. Some of his most famous works include "Drawing Hands" from 1948 and many of his depictions of stairs. Overall, I was incredibly impressed. Not only are the works wonderful optical illusions that test our ability to judge what we see, they also showcase an incredible amount of attention to detail. As someone who is a bit neurotic and adores attention to detail, these images by Escher were quite calming and impressive, If ever in Den Haag, the Escher museum is a must see.

Escher's "Drawing hands"

Of course, I couldn't just visit one museum. With only a few hours left in our day, I, along with two other girls, visited the Mauritshuis, a museum that houses Dutch masterpieces. The most famous painting that calls this museum home is "Girl with the Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer. Being this close to a masterpiece, how could I not visit. For 11 euro, it was all worth it. As the name suggests, this museum is in a huis, so it is quite small and intimate with two floors chock full of works by master painters, like Rembrandt and Vermeer. the building alone is worth a visit; the second floor has a gorgeous painted ceiling and red walls that are utterly swoon-worthy. Without a shadow of a doubt, the "Girl with the Pearl Earring" is the stunner of this collection. Prior to visiting, I was familiar with the painting but I was not super drawn to it. After seeing her in person, I understand the fascination. She is incredible, stunning, with creamy skin and the earring she wears glistening under the light. I was mesmerized by her, enchanted by her beauty. Very rarely do I feel so deeply upon seeing a work of art, but this Vermeer is a painting everyone should see.

View of the second floor ceiling from the stairwell--absolutely stunning!

I take too many selfies with famous masterpieces. Here with "Girl with the Pearl Earring"

Another masterpiece selfie with Rembrandt's "Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" (1631)

My trip to the Hague was wonderful. I experienced and was moved by works of art by two very different artists. for any museum-lover, the Hague should certainly be at the top of your list of places to visit!

A lovely quote by Escher-- "A good bit of childish wonder is undoubtedly needed. And I've got plenty of that: wonder is the spice of life."

Be sure to check out the Escher and Mauritishuis websites listed below!
Escher Museum:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dublin up

 With two girls named Ashley as travel companions, we embarked on another weekend trip. From Thursday to Saturday morning, I spent time in the place of some of my ancestors: Dublin, Ireland. Looking out the window as our plane descended on the Emerald Isle, it looked completely how I imagined; incredibly green, lush foliage, cool blue water meeting what must have been a stunning coastline. When we arrived in Dublin, the customs officer knew right away that I was Irish and promptly welcomed me home (he probably noticed my middle name, Farrell, on my passport and guessed from that. Needless to say, the trip started out on a high note, demonstrating how nice the Irish proved to be the entire trip.

For such a blitz trip, we managed to visit many of the Dublin highlights, starting with the Guinness Storehouse tour. Prior to going to Dublin, I never tried Guinness, so this was a totally new experience. Of course, the museum walks you through the steps of making beer from the ingredients to fermentation to the history of the Guinness family to a tasting process to fully experience the flavors of Guinness. Of course, no trip to the Guinness Storehouse would be complete without learning to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Academy. To properly fill Guinness, the glass must be tiled at a 45 degree angel until 3/4 full and then it must settle. Once it settles, the ruby red, not black, pint is topped off. Of course, I learned and now can officially pour the perfect pint. After learning how to pour Guinness, we finish our drinks while admiring the panoramic view of the city in the Gravity Bar. After sampling the Guinness, I think it's safe to stay I'll stick to gin and tonics for now!

The beginning of pouring the perfect pint of Guinness

Perfectly Poured Pints

The gate to the Storehouse
While Guinness was certainly a highlight, we did so much more than learn to pour beer. We visited St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Dublin Castle, which is still an active political building. Being in Dublin, of course a trip to Trinity College was a must do. KU Leuven does not have much of a campus, due to the city setting, but Trinity has a sprawling campus with green space and a huge gorgeous library with cobblestone pathways to boot. On top of that, we wandered Grafton Street and O'Connell Street, two of the most famous streets in Dublin, filled with shops and wonderful street performers. The end of Grafton Street leads to St. Stephen's Green, which was beautiful, but boy was it windy in the park that day! So much so that the water from the fountains sprayed every which way.

The yard at St. Patrick's Cathedral

 Trinity College

Trinity College

From the garden at the Dublin Castle

Performers on Grafton Street--Dublin is one of the few European cities that still allows street performers!

A windy afternoon at St. Stephen's Green

Finally, no trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to a pub or too. Our first night, we went to a pub called O'Neil's, where the food was a serve-it-yourself and there was live music and Irish dancing! During the performance, a drummer would produce a beat and the dancer would mimic the sound with the stomping of her feet on the floor; it was incredibly impressive!

Inside O'Neil's Pub

Visiting Dublin was an absolute blast! Being Irish myself, I certainly felt at home on the Emerald Isle and would love to come back again. Who knows, I might even like to live here one day!