Thursday, May 31, 2012

Travel Thursdays: Study Abroad in Padova

For today's Travel Thursday, I'd like to take a little trip down memory lane to a time when film cameras were still the norm and Skype and Googlechat didn't yet exist. A time when I decided to leave my gorgeous on-campus apartment with a view of the Charles River and super fun roommates to beef up my language skills in Italy for a semester. A wonderful, magical, and life-changing time called study abroad.

My host mom's MINI, as seen from my bedroom window

Back in 2004, I was smart enough to take the opportunity to study abroad for a semester, which I had very nearly almost skipped out on (and then I would have never caught the travel bug! Can you imagine?!). That is, until Sister made her decision to go to New Zealand for a semester; I then reasoned that I couldn't possibly stay behind while she got to see the world, so after flip-flopping between my university's France and Italy programs (I'd already studied both languages), I opted for Padova, Italy. Totally the right decision. :)

The whole experience was so amazing that the city continues to be one of my favorite places on Earth. I'd never been out of the county before that, believe it or not. (Or apart from Natalie for more than a few days at a time!) But it didn't take long for me to call Padova, or Pads as we now lovingly refer to it, home. Every day there was colorful, lively, and loud. And the city was chock full of restaurants, bars, and quirky traditions for us college students to discover and adopt.

Prato della Valle, the sight of many a picnic of ours

Piazza della Frutta, one of the four piazze in the center of town where we spent most of our evenings 

I think I look back so fondly on that time because the number one priority of the whole semester was to try new things. Live a new life, meet new people, get to know a new city... It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be so carefree and untethered!

Cafe Pedrocchi, the swanky restaurant with awesome appetizers near our Centro di Studi

A typical day was, looking back on it, ridiculously awesome. My mornings were usually free, so I'd have breakfast at home that always consisted of a bowl - yes, a bowl, not a cup - of foamed milk that and strong espresso that my host mom prepped for me plus a few cookies. Though I miss the coffee and charm of that breakfast, I have no idea how I survived so many mornings on just cookies! Oh Italy...

My Italian family | Our three-person-and-a-dog breakfast and dinner spot

Pepe, on my bed, one of her usual hangouts

Then I'd head out to the city center from my home, about a 40-minute walk (I lived the furthest away but my host family was so awesome it didn't even bug me), usually to meet up with Alyssa. I'm not really sure what we did between then and lunch... Maybe some homework? Or more likely, some chatting, a visit to the outdoor market in Piazza della Frutta or Piazza delle Erbe, and some weekend travel planning. Yeah, it was challenging. :) Eventually we would have lunch, either at the mensa (cafeteria, where they had a soda fountain OF WINE) or one of our favorite restaurants, of which there was no shortage.

 Typical afternoon and evening drinkies with Alyssa and Liz , still two of my favorite partners in crime! 

Perfectly colorful buildings | Statues with hats

A horse statue by Donatello outside the church of Sant'Antonio 

My classes were all in the afternoon at our Centro di Studi in the center of town where we also had a fabulous terrace to chill on when we had some free time. But the most important part of the day was after classes were done and before Italian dinner time. Those hours were reserved for my favorite tradition of all time: drinking a spritz (or two or three) in a piazza (a tradition I still gladly maintain to this day and have even passed on to Natalie. Without the bustling piazza, sadly.). It was the time of day when the entire city came alive and all the college students got out and mingled with orange drinks in hand.

A quintessential spritz moment with Emily

Piazza dei Signori

On weekends when we didn't travel (which was about every other one), we spent our days becoming locals as best we could.

Group picnic in Prato della Valle

After dinner gelato time

Oh how I miss those carefree days... Although let's not talk about the amount of weight I gained in a mere four months in Italy, mkay?

Did you study abroad? Where'd you go? Did you have as amazing a time as I did?

Pardon the quality of the pictures, they're quite old! All by Nicole or Emily

Thought of the Day

As Natalie has mentioned, she loves to send me ridiculous/kickass cards in the mail sporadically and I love to receive them. This one arrived on a particularly grumpy day of mine recently and sent me into a much-needed laughing fit. Which is pretty much what mail from your sister should always result in, am I right?

Card from oh my word (ps. the back is great, too; it says "made in the usa, dammit")

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On My Wishlist: Time-Lapse Camera

Just imagine the videos Sister and I could make of our tomato plants growing with this super adorable (and super wee) time-lapse video camera!

I know, the excitement never ends around here. But that little green plant totally won me over.

Recolo interval recorder available on Amazon

My Weekend in Pictures {Baby Shower}

This weekend was the third and last long weekend of the month and it gave us a nice little preview of the summer we hope will stick around for a bit. I can now finally reveal that I'd been looking forward to this weekend for, oh, the past two-and-a-half months, as I was secretly planning a surprise baby shower for my friend, Kerstin. It's been SO hard not mentioning anything about it both on the blog and to her in person. What a relief to finally be able to share it now!

Picking up some last minute baby shower supplies | The line for bike parking at the theatre

After a final trip to Idee (my third in two weeks) for last-minute supplies, we started the weekend by going to the Freiluftkino in Neuk├Âlln (Nat's and my old hood) on Friday night to see The Artist with our friends Sara and Christoph. (It was so good! I can't believe I waited this long to see it...and a great movie for outdoors, since you don't have to pay attention to the dialog. :)

Our entire Saturday was spent getting the apartment party ready. I finalized the lanterns from hell (I love them, I do, but they take about a million hours to make) while Micha did a couple grocery trips and even did a fantastic job of picking out flowers based on my vague instructions of, "I just need different shades of pink!"

Didn't he do a great job of picking these out? He's a keeper.

Balloons still to be blown up, letters to be modge-podged, and banners to be made

Luckily, in the evening, we took a forced break from all that hard work to meet Micha's momma and brother for dinner on a boat! It's funny, this boat restaurant is literally in the exact place where the Berlin Triathlon starts every year - right at the transition zone - and we've never even noticed it before. Man, were we missing out. The view was fantastic and the food was even better! Lesson learned.

Klipper restaurant in Treptower Park

Instead of heading out to a Eurovision party as planned, we spent the rest of the evening in doing, of course, more party prep. And adding our stabilizing sticks to the tomato plants. I'm getting better at not waiting until the last minute to do everything but I'm still not quite there yet... So we watched the Eurovision Song Contest at home (it was somewhat disappointing this year, I found) with beers and plenty of balloons to keep us company.

Balloon hanging | Tomato stabilizing

By the way, we blew up close to 100 balloons that night and a word to the wise: it is not for the faint of heart. You get dizzy mighty quickly blowing up that many balloons in such a short time span. Hanging them up was quite entertaining, too, as we didn't have our ladder around (it was at Micha's office), so we kind of had to wing it. Half the time, I ended up perched precariously on some piece of furniture while Micha pushed on my back to prevent me from toppling backwards. From now on, feel free to refer to us as the balloon-blowing-up-and-hanging-up-professionals. (I smell a career change...)

On Sunday, the long-awaited fun finally began! All the girls arrived early to help finish the food and drink prep and to jump out and surprise Kerstin when she arrived. It was perfect. From start to finish. I have so much more to say about this shower in a separate post, but here's a little sneak peek.

Me and Simone working on the drinks

Cutest sister hug - Kerstin and Conny (with a teary Janett in the foreground)

Why yes, I do like to coordinate party decor to our walls

How cute is her bump?!

To wrap up the three-day weekend, Monday was spent recovering with a nice long run, a visit to a beer garden, and some margaritas on the balcony (while Micha cathartically popped each and every last balloon, much to my dismay).

And how was your weekend?

ps. More baby shower details and pictures to come throughout the week!
All photos by Nicole or Micha

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday, friends! Today I woke up to sunshine and clear skies for the first time in a week, a promising start to the holiday weekend! What are you up to this (hopefully for you, too) long weekend? Memorial Day is kind of a strange time in Miami, so I'll be avoiding the beach and instead hitting up all the fantastic sales I've been hearing about (specifically at West Elm and Target, my shopping happy places). I might also go check out the new horror film Chernobyl Diaries with a friend, but it'll have to be during the day so I don't terrify myself when I'm in the house alone at night!

Happy Friday, all, and we'll see you back here next week!

Photo by Natalie's iphone

Desk Chair Makeover

There's something about a little piece of fabric that can do so much--like this little piece of fabric on our desk chair. Here, it can do so much to make me hate it (okay, I hate the chair too, but since it's really F's desk and he's the one who sits in the chair everyday, my argument that it's ugly to look at is trumped by his claims that it's "super comfortable" to sit in. So I've lost the battle of trying to replace it. So far.) So I finally did something to make me hate it a little bit less.

Happy desk area, sad ugly chair

After hours (literally--I'm very indecisive when it comes to these things) of fabric searching online, and hours more of Marimekko fabric-lusting online (whose price I could not, alas, justify; sigh by me), I narrowed my choices down to blue and white chevron patterns and chose this one on Etsy. That's right, cat-scratched, faded, and frighteningly floral desk chair cushion--I'm coming for you!

Out with the old (and floral) | In with the new (and striped)

After that, I found a staple gun buried in the back of what I call our scary closet (I had no idea we had a staple gun, or why, but have to admit I was overjoyed, since I'd already removed the chair cushion and the old fabric staples before realizing I needed one to complete my project), stapled away, and voila!--a chair I can live with! And even like to look at now. I love it when small projects make a big difference. And even more when they're easy to do.

Now that's a chair cushion I can get on board with

P.S. It's kitten approved:

All overdeveloped photos by Natalie's new iphone app, Camera+. Apologies, we're still learning how to work with each other. | Chevron fabric by BobbieLou Fabric available on Etsy

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel Thursdays: Sunsets in Siquijor

Welcome to part 5 of the trip that only lasted three weeks but will take a million years to recount... You can find our Philippines vacation part 1, the lost luggage saga, here; part 2, island hopping, here; part 3, the Bohol adventure tour, here; and part 4, our arrival in paradise, over here.

My hopes were pretty high for the sunsets in Siquijor, after having read in both of our guidebooks (we usually travel with an English Rough Guide for me and a German Lonely Planet for Micha) that they were some of the best in the world. The world! That's a whole lot of awesome expectation right there.

The first night clouds didn't offer much, though, so we pretty quickly grew skeptical...

...and then the next night, as the sun started to fall and the mosquitos started to attack, we started to get it...

Photobombed by a bird!

Me (with a very attractive expression), our resident puppy, and Chantal, waiting for the sunset magic 

...the sky lit up both to our left...

...and to our right...

Puppy had already seen it all 8 million times before 

...but on the next day, the fluffy clouds helped the sky light up even more intensely than I could have imagined and the colors changed so drastically from one minute to the next that you could bear to stop taking pictures even for a second. the point where the horizon practically looked like it was on fire!

But the last night...oh that last night and the magnificent pink sky. I've never seen anything like it. It really was paradise and I can't even tell you how reluctant we were to leave when we finally had to check out of the resort and move on. (And to be honest, if I had to do it again, I would have spent the whole rest of the vacation there!)

Photobombed again! 

I swear, this picture wasn't our idea. But with that backdrop, how were we any of us supposed to resist turning on the flash and playing up the cheese?

Moral of the story: If you ever go to the Philippines, do yourself a favor and spend a good, long time in Siquijor. And thank me later.