Friday, August 31, 2012

Enjoy the Long Weekend

What will you be up to this weekend? Going out of town, having a staycation, stuck at work (hopefully that is not the case)? Rob and I will be headed out of town with some good friends for a weekend at Shaver Lake! Luckily, our friend's parents are extremely generous and are willing to open their home to an energetic group of twenty-somethings. The Shaver weekend has turned into something of a tradition and everyone looks forward to it every year. As we were discussing final details last night, we realized that we really have planning this weekend down. We know what to expect, how to prepare, and how smoothly it can run.

I'm always up for an adventure, but I also really enjoy a nice, relaxing weekend. Having a heads up on what to expect eases any stress and anxiety I may feel about a possible mishaps. With that in mind, here are my hopes for the weekend:
  • Sleep in
  • Read a book for pleasure
  • Play in the lake
  • Take a nap
  • Have a milkshake from the general store
What are your plans for this weekend? Hopefully it is a relaxing one!

(Photos from Quiet Like Horses)
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

About Me

Blogging (almost) everyday for a year and no about page? You know me, I live outside the rules! Ha! If you really know me, then you know that that last statement is absolutely not true. To be honest, here's how not having one breaks down:

not sure exactly what to say + kind of forgetting that it is supposed to exist = no about page for a year!

I've finally sat myself down, perused Pinterest for distraction, and created something to describe myself and why this blog exists. Check it out here. I hope you enjoy!

(Photo taken in Venice in 2012)
Monday, August 27, 2012

Venice, Italy - Europe Trip 2012

Holy smokes, Venice does not disappoint! Once we arrived, we hopped on a water bus and headed for San Marco Square. Cruising through the canal, watching the sun glistening on the water, is such an amazing experience. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, hear the water breaking against the boat, and see the city alive and well. Ian was freaking out from the beauty, Sarah was freaking out from the beauty, and I was freaking out from the beauty! It's not often that we get to ride along such beautiful scenery, so we were definitely excited.

Due to a booking situation (more on that later), we actually arrived in Venice a day early. Sarah's mom (and her reliable internet) was able to help us find a place right in the middle of San Marco Square (thanks, Mary!). It was smack dab in the center of everything and it was a great way for our friends to be introduced to this romantic city.

We dropped our bags in our rooms and headed out to explore. First things first: gelato. We made sure to start our adventuring with the delicious treat. :) Next up: real food. Ali and Elijah suggested a place near the Grand Canal and we all happily agreed. It was a fun place with nice servers and interesting decor (read: bras were hanging throughout the restaurant and bar. The owner told us they were "donated" from guests, ha! No donations here!). By the end of the meal, they brought us a round of complimentary shots (seriously, there's something about young travelers...) and we all made Elijah drink Ali's. After dinner we decided to wander through the city...

Wandering in Venice is a wonderfully beautiful experience. We stumbled upon gorgeous homes, canals, boats, and people. Yes, being lost can be frustrating (ok, very frustrating), but when you're open to wandering it is one of the best places to do it. As we strolled, we came across two really memorable moments: a Swedish accordion player and a Venetian music festival.

The accordion player was set-up near one of the bridges and was playing his stinkin' heart out. He was charismatic, passionate, and was able to endear himself to the crowd quickly. At one point, an older gentleman from a nearby restaurant approached him, put money in his cap, gave him a bottle of water he had purchased for him, and then placed his hand on the performers face and said, "Thank you. This is beautiful." It was such a sweet moment to witness. The older gentleman was moved by the music he was hearing and acted on it. It felt special being a part of it.

After we watched that performer play for a bit, we headed toward home (or what we thought the direction of home was), and pretty quickly came across a music festival. We arrived right as the last band was playing their encore set, but we joined the crowd and began dancing with everyone around us. The whole plaza was full of people, food, lights, and music. We found something unique and dove head first into a local night of fun. It was a major highlight for all of us, but the experience really resonated with Robbie.

We couldn't have asked for a better first night in Venice. Here is my journal entry from that night:

"Each 'first night' in a city has been fantastic! Malmo, Berlin, Prague, and Vienna; Venice is no different. We are finding and stumbling upon amazing scenes and experiences, and it is really setting a tone for the next few days."

The next morning we walked around for a short bit and grabbed breakfast sandwiches from a local place. The air was warm by 9am and we were all betting that we would have a warm day. As we sat along the street, we watched several "repeats" go by as they worked to find their way. Ian described the area as the "Bermuda Triangle"because people just couldn't find their way out! From here, we strolled through the main shopping streets and over the Rialto Bridge.

Once we crossed over the bridge, we ventured through Venice's other main island (with some gelato as a refreshment, of course). I had never actually visited this part of the island before, so it was fun for me to see the differences (there aren't many, if any). Our goal was to walk to the train station and make reservations for our next trip and then head back to meet the apartment owner for our next Airbnb digs. Unfortunately, things took longer than expected at the train station, so we agreed to take a water taxi back to San Marco Square (oh bummer :). It was a beautiful, quiet ride; water taxi's are actually a bit expensive, but worth it if you're willing or have more people to split the cost.

We grabbed our bags and headed out to meet with our host. There was a little bit of a miscommunication about the time (good thing we had a working phone, thanks Sarah!), but once we meet our host, things were great! Our apartment was in a quiet, residential part of Venice, away from the hustle and bustle of tourists. Each room was spacious and offered air conditioning (Venice apartment, for the win!). We decided to take a little afternoon break, rest up for the evening, and enjoy our place.

Robbie and I broke off from the group to celebrate our anniversary dinner that evening. We were technically in Berlin on our actual anniversary, but we decided to wait for an uber romantic city. In hindsight, I'm sure we would have found a great place in Berlin and LOVED it, but I'm not going to complain about waiting for Venice either. We found a great restaurant that was both a garden restaurant AND along the water. It had lush vines growing above the tables and we were seated only a few feet away from a small canal. I love my husband, I love being married to him, and it was a pretty perfect way to celebrate our life together.

The next morning, the whole crew decided to go to Murano island. Murano is an island not far from Venice that specializes in glass blowing. Once you land, there are hundreds of glass factories that allow visitors to watch a demonstration in hopes that you will buy some of their merchandise. The last time Robbie and I were in Venice, we visited an amazing factory that had a top notch demonstration and beautiful pieces of glass. We were a little bummed because we couldn't find the same one this time, but no one really seemed to mind. After some walking, we decided to grab some lunch at a restaurant along a canal. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Ian ordered an amazing lobster dish, but it seemed to fizzle out from there. I don't want to sound like a brat (I mean, I was in Italy), but the food just wasn't that good; I guess you can't win them all.

After we got back to Venice, we took a rest and got ready for the evening. We all agreed to split the cost for a Gondola ride, which was fun. The Gondoliers are usually yelling back and forth to each other, which can kill some of the magic, but it's really cool to see the city from the water. After our ride, we grabbed dinner from a courtyard cafe and enjoyed each other's company. Overall, the night was pretty quiet, but I think we all enjoyed that.

The morning we left, we grabbed pastries from a local bakery, tried to squeeze in St. Mark's Cathedral (but had to leave right before we got in, bummer), and cruised the canal one last time. Since Venice relies so heavily on tourism, it can sometimes feel artificial or commercial. Plus, the fact that they hike prices up so high can be a turnoff for me. However, it's natural landscape is still amazingly beautiful and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to see it.

Off to Florence we go!
(More photos after the jump)
Friday, August 24, 2012

Venice Sneak Peak

Venice is undoubtably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can find yourself utterly lost as you are strolling through the narrow streets, trying to keep track of the tiny canals; it is hopelessly romantic. I can't wait to share all of our pictures of this amazing place and fill you in on our adventures.

Have a great weekend!

In case you missed them...
Thursday, August 23, 2012

Travel Postcards

When traveling, postcards are a great way to send a little something to a loved one back home. They are light weight, you can find them practically anywhere, and they make people feel special. Here's the thing: I NEVER send postcards to people. I always have these grand plans to pick a place that reminds me of a friend or family and send it back home so they know that I am thinking of them; I just never get around to actually doing it. My best friend Julie, on the other hand, is amazing at it. She always sends postcards while she's away and I love to hear how her trip is going.

I don't know why I don't do it. Maybe I'm intimidated by foreign postal services, or perhaps I really am just selfish and lazy. Whatever the reason, I tell myself I'll be different the next time. Ha! Who knows, maybe you'll get the one and only postcard I mail.

Do you send postcards while traveling? What motivates you to do it?

(Photo from Moments of Magic)
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vienna, Austria - Europe Trip 2012

I don’t think anyone in our group had major expectations heading into Vienna. I think it was the city we had done the least amount of research on and only had a couple of days in. Even though we didn't give it much attention beforehand, Vienna definitely came out swinging on our first day! Somehow we missed our tram stop and had some difficulty finding our way. Have no fear! Between Robbie’s internal sense of navigation and Sarah’s mobile minutes we were able to get back on track. We found our apartment, settled our things and then headed to dinner right away (because we were starving).

Dinner was quite an experience as well! I found a Bosnian restaurant not far from us, and everyone was game to give it a try. When we got there we were the only patrons in the entire place. On top of that, the owner barely spoke German (Austria’s language) and zero English. It definitely felt awkward as we struggled through our order, but things started to turn around from there. He connected an online media player to his sound system, and gestured for Ali and I to choose an online music station for the restaurant. My go-to, Pandora, doesn’t work outside of the U.S. because of copyright laws, so I had to pull Robbie in to help. As we were trying to figure out the music, Ian somehow made his way to the bar and was asking the owner (Jay) about his beer selection (note: they were struggling to communicate through German because English was NOT the common language). We were able to get Mumford & Sons to play and this led Jay to play the air guitar while the volume was much too loud. After dinner, Jay brought the entire table a round of free shots! It was gross and burned my throat, but it was such a fun experience. His excitement was contagious and a great way to welcome us to this city.

As we set out to explore the next day, we decided we should stop at the tourist office first so that we could get some good information. We grabbed transportation maps, and a city map with a walking tour of the city center. First stop on the tour: St. Stephen's Cathedral. Throughout Europe I was struck by how beautiful everything was; each church is unique, yet just as grandiose as the last. To get some background info as we walked through the church, Sarah and I listened to a bit of a Rick Steves' audio guide. After plenty of of pictures were attempted (the lighting was just too dark), we decided to hike to the top of the church tower. Boy, it was exhausting! It was around 20 stories, straight up (yikes!). Once we had a chance to catch our breath, we were able to fully enjoy great views of the city from the highest point in the Hapsburg Empire.

It actually rained on us pretty consistently the entire day. I'm talking soppy shoes and wet clothes kind of rain, and I was loving it! In hopes of not becoming miserable, Robbie, Sarah, and I purchased ponchos, looked like major dorks, and stayed dry. Ian didn't want to be a part of that, so he stayed damp.

We strolled through Graben Street and found a cute Austrian place tucked down a small alleyway. It was nice and warm and full of locals. There was an older couple who grabbed a window seat and were going over their map once they finished their meal. Ian leaned over to me and said, "That's going to be you and Robbie in another 35-40 years." I really hope so.

We went back to the house for a little break, met back up with Al and Lijah, and decided to get dinner at the NachMarket. The Nach is an outdoor market that sells fish, produce, meats, cheeses, etc. We agreed on a Japanese place for dinner and ended up eating mediocre sushi. Not to be a snob, it just wasn't as good as home (lesson learned). Before we left our apartment, Ian had done some research on where we could get an after-dinner treat. He found a place called Hotel Sacher and their claim to fame is inventing the Sacher Torte. Sacher Torte is a specific kind of chocolate cake that was accidently invented in 1832. The hotel was super fancy, and we were totally out of place in our casual gear, but the dessert and drinks were delicious so we didn't care!

We decided that we weren't done for the night, so we finished up the walking tour. We found ruins, the Royal Palace, and the Twin Museums. It was neat to stumble upon these beautiful building as they were lit up, with hardly anyone else around.

The next morning we headed back to the Nachmarket to explore and grab breakfast. It was fun to see the vendors alive with people and full of color. We found a cute place and had an Austrian style breakfast. The skies were blue and the weather was pretty lovely. After much discussion, Robbie and I decided to take a day to ourselves. To be honest, it was really nice. We love experiencing new places with such good friends and seeing things through a different perspective, but it was nice to have some alone time to ourselves. Time for just the two of us, time to talk about our hopes and plan for our future.

We kicked the day off at the palace we found the night before. Robbie was willing to listen to a bit of the Rick Steves audio guide (yes!), so we heard some great historical insight we would not have known otherwise. From here we embarked on some classic Robbie/Stacy exploring: see something in the distance, walk there, go inside (if possible), and then find the next place. We found a beautiful church with tall steeples and an awesome outdoor concert area that plays "re-runs" of classical music concerts for free. We decided to grab lunch in a small little neighborhood called Spittleburg and enjoyed the quaint views. It was about this time that the rain started again, so we headed back to the apartment to grab warmer clothes and to rest a bit.

We weren't quite ready for dinner so we stopped at a street side cafe for some warm beverages. I was able to enjoy a hot chocolate, listening to the rain fall on the city, with my favorite guy (3 of my favorite things!); I'm pretty sure I had a smile on my face the entire time. We walked further along Graben, past St. Stephen's, toward the river, and stole WiFi from Starbucks (we didn't feel bad stealing their wifi since they are such a huge organization, sorry Bucks!). While freeloading, we picked a French place on the opposite side of town for dinner, but the underground got us there no problem.

The restaurant was a tiny little place, in a local neighborhood, on a street with no name. Their lights lit the whole place and created a warm, inviting ambiance in contrast to the wet cobblestone street. As soon as we walked in we could tell that it was family owned and simple in spirit; no two tables were set up the same and everything was made of wood. We both ordered dessert crepes because we were so full from our coffee breaks throughout the day. It was a perfect little place to end a wonderful day with my guy.

When we got back the roomies had made their way to the roof of the building and were looking over the Vienna skyline. We each took turns pointing out the places we found and compared adventure notes from our day. Can you see St. Stephen's off in the distance?

Vienna is a beautiful city. Their buildings are powerful, but not overwhelming; detailed, but not gaudy. There is a mix of old and new architecture throughout the city, but neither feels out of place. The city itself actually reminded me of San Francisco because it felt manageable in size and was much more modern than most of the other cities we had visited. We got the sense that some people are resistant to changing the appearance for fear of losing the historical integrity, but that there are also those that push against that. This quote from the tourist center seems to sum it up, "At one point, old Vienna was new."

Is Vienna on your "must-see" list? It wasn't on mine, but I definitely want to go back now that I've been there.

(More photos after the "Read more" jump)
Tuesday, August 21, 2012


While we were shopping around Malmo during our trip, I couldn't help but notice the great design and window displays throughout the city. Each store offered something different and inspired me in unique ways. Since we were carrying everything in our packs, I had to be extremely selective in the purchases I made and even where I made them. Because of that, I decided to grab store catalogs and look books on display. They have provided lasting inspiration and were barely noticeable in my bags.

One of the first stores we stumbled into was Marimekko. Marimekko can actually be found in different vendors in the U.S., but I've loved the Swedish catalog I picked up. Here are my favorite pieces from their online shop.

Do you shop at Marimekko? Do you have a favorite Scandinavian retailer?

(I'll be back with photos and a wrap up of Vienna tomorrow. Stay tuned!)
Monday, August 20, 2012

Prague, Czech Republic - Europe Trip 2012

Prague started out as an adventure for us! We got off at the wrong train station (in a Slavic speaking country) and had to figure out how to get a hold of our transport. It was an especially stressful situation for me because I had arranged our stay in Prague and felt extra responsibility. Luckily, Airbnb has amazing customer service and was able to call our driver for us and have him pick us up at a different train station. Our driver took us directly to our amazing apartment so that we could check in right away, and even gave us a legit dinner recommendation. It was a classic Czech restaurant, with killer food, and a celebrity siting (the young actress from Moonrise Kingdom)!

After dinner, we hit the streets! Prague at night is absolutely magical. We all started to refer to it as the "Disneyland" of Europe because it's main cathedral looked like a castle and the buildings are so beautiful they look fake. We managed to watch the world's oldest astrological clock ring at the top of the hour (with hundreds of other tourists), walk along the Charles Bridge, and stroll through Old Town all within our first night. We were bummed to have to leave Berlin, but those feelings were soon eclipsed by our excitement about our new city. 

Our first full day in Prague was LONG. We started with the New Prague walking tour, went straight onto a second tour (the Castle Tour), and then the boys went on a beer tour! Needless to say, we did a lot of walking and took in quite a few sights. The architecture in this city is incredible and full of diverse architectural styles, including (but not limited to) Art Nuevo, Art Deco, Cubism, Renaissance, Victorian, and Soviet. We learned that most of Prague’s buildings, including their synagogues, were spared during WWII because Hitler had decided that Prague would be the city that held his museum of the extinct race. It’s a creepy reason to be spared, but fortunate that original buildings are still standing. Some of the other tour highlights included:
  • Prague’s Velvet Revolution and Velvet Divorce (non-violent political movements that were said to go so smoothly, they were like velvet). 
  • How Praguers liberated themselves from Nazi occupation at the end of WWII. 
  • Life within Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1989 (to this day, older generations remain completely silent on public transportation for fear that their conversations will be overheard) 

We had a quick break before we started the next activity, the Castle Tour! The Castle Tour was neat because we were able to see a whole different part of the city we wouldn’t have found on our own. We saw the Royal Castle, various government buildings, and amazing views of the city. I started to lose steam toward the end, so I began lagging behind with Ian, taking pictures. One of the major highlights of this tour was our stop at St. Norbert’s Monastery. We rode the city tram to the top of Castle Town and were dropped off to AMAZING views of Prague. The sky was blue, red rooftops were sprinkled over the building tops, and there was a calmness in the air; it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. It spurred the voice inside of me that says, “You are young, you are seeing the world, and you are doing exactly what you should be doing”. After taking in the views Robbie and Ian went to grab a couple of beers from the Monastery’s brewery. In order to support themselves, the Monks would brew beer and sell it to locals. The guys said it was some of the best beer they’ve ever had and described it as, “drinking a sandwich from a bottle”. After the boys took off for the beer tour, Sarah and I strolled through the Royal Gardens and even stumbled upon a bride and her groom enjoying the city’s views. I definitely enjoyed the slower pace, especially after running around all day.

Our second full day in Prague was SO much more relaxed than our first. We found a breakfast place and gorged ourselves in the name of Ian (it was his birthday, after all). We all enjoyed munching on delicious pastries watching locals go by. After breakfast, Ali and Lijah took off for a daylong tour to the concentration camp in Terezin, a site used for propaganda during the war. Since Nazi’s couldn’t make prominent Jews (i.e. doctors, professors, lawyers, etc.) just disappear, they were sent to this “model” camp. There, a doctor named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, created a drawing program for children to express their feelings during the war. It was incredibly powerful to see images of fear and hope coming from such young people. Luckily, the doctor was able to hid thousands of drawings before she volunteered to go to Auschwitz to follow her husband. 

The four of us explored New Town, found the right train station, lost Ian for a bit, and bought cigars (at least the boys did). We visited the Metronome Statue that has replaced the statue of Stalin that once overlooked the city. Right next to the statue was a makeshift skate park full of skate kids doing their thing. It was refreshing to find a place that Praguers call their own without trying to sell something. 

We walked through the park to a beer garden our tour guide recommended. The park and beer garden sat on top of a hill, so we had panoramic views of the city as the guys enjoyed their beers. We ate in a cute little restaurant that was soaked in sun and alive with people. It was wonderful to sit in the sun, enjoying conversation and a meal with my guy. 

Before dinner, Robbie, Ian, and I rushed to the clock tower in Old Town Square. We ran up the stairs as fast as we could (as fast as my short legs would carry me), and made it just in time to watch the trumpeter announce the top of the hour. It was an experience I have never had and don’t imagine having many more times in my life. The tower gave us striking views of the city. We saw everything from the castle, our beer garden, and open fields in the distance. I started to feel a little shaky and dizzy from the height, but it was well worth it for the experience. 

Our final morning was spent catching up on things we weren’t able to see the previous few days. We wanted to make sure we saw the Jewish Cemetery and memorial. The cemetery was pretty remarkable. Jews in Prague were walled into their ghetto for hundreds of years and weren’t granted any additional land from the Czech government. This lead to the community burying their dead on top of previous graves, up to 12 graves deep! Visitors can see the tops of some headstones resting at the foot of others. When the ghetto walls were taken down (just over 100 years ago) community members were given the option to either move out or stay within the ghetto; 80% moved out immediately. 

I was a little intimidated by Prague when we first arrived. I think it’s because I am completely incapable of the language; I have no idea how to pronounce Czech words and don’t even know where to start with pronunciation of the letters, and felt insecure about that. That said, since Prague relies so heavily on tourism it does an excellent job accommodating English speakers. English is all over signs, in menus, and individuals throughout the city do their best to use it. The language barrier was scary at first, but it definitely got easier. 

Prague may have been the biggest surprise of our trip. I don’t think any of us were expecting just how beautiful it would be. We were struck by architecture at just about every turn and had delicious food almost (ask Ian about his little hiccup if you have a chance :) every meal. It’s a gorgeous city and would highly recommend making a stop the next time you’re in Europe!

(More photos after the jump!)
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