Travel Journals: The Vienna Opera House

Let’s talk about Vienna.

For most of my Travel Journal posts, I like to focus on one aspect of a city or one attraction that I visited, rather than the entire city, and write several different posts about the city. For example, I wrote a post about The Louvre in Paris, but I also intend to write many more posts about all the different places I visited while in Paris.

This, however, will be the only post hat I write about Vienna.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the greatest time when I visited Austria’s capital. I met some not so great people that were uncomfortable to be around, and even when I was on my own I was pretty stressed out (see my Traveling with Anxiety post for an explanation there).

That being said, I did have one very cool experience while I was visiting Vienna, so I wanted to write about it.

I would like to preface this story by saying that, yes, I know, it seems a bit strange. Maybe even a little unsafe. But please keep in mind that everything worked out very well, though I wouldn’t necessarily encourage others to take the risks that I did. I was lucky. But at the time, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

So, on that ominous note, let’s begin.

This story actually starts in Venice. While I was standing in line to go in and see Saint Mark’s Basilica (the line was ridiculous for that), I got to talking to a couple of fellow tourists. I mentioned that I was heading to Vienna after my stay in Venice, and the couple I was talking to very excitedly recommended that I visit the Vienna State Opera.

Given that I really didn’t have a plan of what to do once I got to Vienna (the biggest mistake I made on this trip, really), I was happy enough to take their suggestion.

And boy did it work out for me.

First of all, the building itself is pretty incredible.

I took a tour of the complex, which was led by a guide who discussed everything from the history of the building – including its destruction during World War II and the consequent rebuilding – to some of the backstage workings.

It was a fascinating experience, and served to make me extremely eager to see a performance on the stage.

Now normally, these sorts of performances are extremely inaccessible for your average person. Most tickets cost far too much for a recent college graduate to afford.

But the Vienna State Opera has a program in which they offer standing room tickets for only a few dollars! Granted, you end up having to stand for the entirety of a three hour performance, but I was 20 at the time, I figured I could handle it.

The tickets are offered a couple hours before each performance, so I was standing outside the opera house waiting for my chance to rush inside and hopefully claim a standing spot, when I was approached by an older British gentleman.

Apparently, I looked either English or American – enough so that he assumed that I spoke fluent English. He asked me what I was waiting for, and when I explained that I hadn’t already purchased my tickets, he asked if I knew where he could pick his up. I pointed him in what I thought was the right direction, but explained that the theater wasn’t open yet, hence all of us waiting outside.

I’m not entirely sure why he did it, but next thing I know, he’s explaining to me that he was meant to be meeting some business associates for this performance, but they were unable to come, so he had extra tickets. And would I like to join him for the performance. In orchestra seating. As in, some of the best, most expensive seats in the house.

Of course, this is sending red flags through my head like crazy. All that stranger danger, and don’t trust strange men, and all that that I’ve been taught all my life. But everything that he’s offering is extremely public, I don’t feel threatened by him (this is quite unusual for me, since I have a tendency not to trust men. Something that just kind of gets ingrained when you’re female).

And most importantly to me at the time, what he’s offering is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

So I said yes, and he told me to stay put when the doors opened, and he would bring me my ticket. And he did.

That night, I saw the first performance of the Ring Cycle, written by Richard Wagner.

The Ring Cycle is a four performance show, meaning that in order to see the whole thing you have to go see it on four different nights. It’s quite a famous opera, and takes an incredible amount of talent by the actors to pull off.

I was utterly blown away by the performance. It was an experience like absolutely nothing I’ve seen before or since. Of course, the acting and singing were phenomenal, but as an added bonus, seeing it made me feel mature and cultured in a way that only going to see a famous opera in a famous opera house can.

And the fun didn’t end there.

My new friend, supposedly impressed by my analysis of various aspects of the opera (but probably more likely just a man not wanting to have to see it alone, and taking the opportunity to provide a young person with a great cultural experience), offered me the ticket for the next night as well. Which, of course, I accepted.

I always feel so weird about telling this story. It makes me sad to know that not only to other people, but also to myself, this story seems like it could have gone very badly.

After the second performance, I accepted an invitation from this man to go for a glass of wine and a piece of cake from a cafe across the street from the opera (it turned out to be a super famous cafe and a super famous cake, just as a side note). We spent over an hour discussing the opera, as well as ourselves, and I learned that he was divorced. That he owned his own business. That he had daughters around my age.

And when the wine and cake were finished we parted ways. He didn’t offer to return me to my hostel or anything creepy. I walked to the metro, he walked the opposite direction, and I never heard from him again.

What’s sad is that I consider it luck, rather than my own good sense, that I didn’t end up drugged or something. Obviously this man was harmless, or he would have harmed me. Yet society says I was lucky not to have been raped.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, and I try very hard not to dwell on it. I was lucky, but not because I wasn’t hurt by a stranger. I was lucky because I got to have this amazing experience that I will remember forever.

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Travel Journals: Traveling with Anxiety

Let’s talk about anxiety.

When I started traveling when I was 17, I was not aware that I suffered from anxiety. But knowing as I do now that I have serious social anxiety, so many of my less enjoyable experiences of traveling make more sense.

For anyone who is unclear on what it means to have social anxiety, it’s not simply that I’m shy or nervous around new people. I am those things, but it also affects how I perceive certain events or actions, especially my own. When a situation causes me anxiety, my heart rate increases, my mind blanks, my whole body heats up immensely, and all I can think about is ending the moment as quickly as possible.

It should be noted also, that different people experience anxiety differently. Just because those are my symptoms doesn’t mean that the way other people experience anxiety is any less valid. And the solutions I’ve come up with to handle my anxiety, which I’ll be discussing below, are not right for everyone.

So, here are my top three tips for traveling with social anxiety.

1) Bring a trusted friend

The trip that I remember being the most significantly stressful for me in terms of my social anxiety was my second ever trip to Europe. On that trip, I stayed the first week in Rome with a friend, then moved on to travel for some time by myself through Venice, Vienna, and Prague, before meeting up with another friend in Munich.

And while I remember that week in Rome with extreme fondness, the rest of that trip was varying degrees of horrible.

Any time I was by myself, I questioned every one of my decisions, I was certain I was making a fool of myself with the locals, and in general I felt extremely out of my comfort zone. While there’s something to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow, there is a limit, especially when you have anxiety. I didn’t feel like I grew on this trip, I felt like a fraud.

So when I got the opportunity to travel again, I made sure to do it with friends. And with friends that I knew would understand and be there for me.

My Fall Break Trip (so capitalized because it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had) to Sweden, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Bruges was the first trip that I took after learning these things, and it was far more successful.

When we found out that I had mixed up my flight when we’d booked our travel, for example, it was immeasurably helpful to have a calm headed person there to let me cry a little, and be there to help me get things worked out.

Or when we had to interact with other people, like the manager of the hostel, having a friend beside me sometimes gave me the will to complete the interaction myself. And if not, my friend was there to do it for me.

2) Have a plan

One of the biggest problems with my Europe trip was that I had been told by tons of extroverted, non-socially-anxious people that the best way to travel was to not have a plan. Just go with the flow, see what comes up, leave yourself open to possibilities.

No.

This is one of the worst possible things you can do, at least if you’re like me.

When I travel now, I like to plan as much as I can. The internet makes this so easy, it’s incredible. I pick out exactly which attractions I want to go to, I try to find a selection of restaurants that I can choose from, I know exactly what activities I want to go to and when they are happening.

Of course, this makes me a huge tourist in the places I go. I do not end up off the beaten path, and I like it that way. Going off the beaten path makes my anxiety flare like crazy. Trying to do things “like the locals” makes me feel like a fraud. The only thing that will get me away from the tourist attractions of a place is if I have a guide. Whether it’s a friend or a paid tour guide, it doesn’t matter, as long as there’s someone there to tell me if I’m doing something right/wrong.

And you know what, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You’re on vacation to enjoy yourself, not have an anxiety attack.

3) Accept your limitations and be forgiving with yourself

This one can be the hardest of all of them, I think.

You do have to accept that, while traveling, you are going to make mistakes and do silly things. You’ll end up on the wrong train or have booked the wrong flight. You’ll try to order something on the menu and butcher the pronunciation. You’ll get lost and go the wrong way in the rain for thirty minutes, and end up giving up on the destination because at that point, you want a hot shower more than you want to see that place.

And it’s ok to be upset about that. It’s ok to have a little cry in frustration, it’s ok to freak out, it ok to be embarrassed.

Just don’t let it ruin your vacation.

Book a new flight, make a joke about your language skills, try again tomorrow. And know that you are doing something extraordinary, just by being there.

That’s my best advice.

Travel Journals: The Louvre

Let’s talk about Paris.

The Louvre is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Paris, second only the the Eiffel Tower. You can’t go to Paris and not go to the Louvre. And you can’t go to the Louvre without spending the entire day there.

The first time I went to Paris, in May of 2013, I was utterly blown away by the museum. It’s the sort of  place that makes you completely rethink your perceptions of history, art, and architecture.

But before we get to all of that fun stuff, let me tell you about the not-so-fun.

The queue.

When my then-boyfriend and I went to Paris, our first stop was the Louvre. The day after we arrived in Paris, we went to this museum, which was not a great idea.

We were both completely exhausted and jet-lagged from the trip, not only throughout the day, but particularly in the morning. We didn’t end up arriving at the museum until around 11, even though the plan had been to get there early in the morning to avoid having to queue too long.

To be fair, we did not end up having to queue as long as we expected. The line stretched well outside the complex itself, and we honestly expected to be waiting for more than an hour, and it turned out to be less. And besides, the view you get while waiting isn’t too shabby.

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I still highly recommend getting to the museum as early as you possibly can. The sooner you can get there, the less energy you’ll waste standing in line. Energy that you will definitely need to make your way through the seemingly endless exhibit.

When we did finally get into the museum, we took one look at the first exhibit and turned back around.

We needed the audio guide.

Being a French museum, of course all of the plaques and descriptions for all of the exhibits are in French. I did not, however, speak a single bit of French, and James only spoke a little. It would have been unspeakably boring without the audio guide.

As it turned out, the audio guides for the Louvre are kind of incredible.

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The guides, at least in 2013, were a GPS enabled Nintendo 3DS. This thing would track your location to keep track of what room you were in, and then you would use the touchscreen to select any of the exhibits you were interested in hearing about. The top screen would show an image of the exhibit, and you would hear a 2-3 minute spiel on the history or significance of the piece.

This has actually become one of my top travel tips.

Whenever I go to a museum now, I always get the audio guide if one is offered. It’s usually quite reasonably priced, and you get so much more out of the experience than if you were simply to gaze at all the exhibits, never understanding the significance of any of them.

So, equipped with our stunning audio guides, we ventured into the museum. And boy am I not exaggerating when I say that we “ventured.”

The Louvre is such a massive complex, it’s astounding.

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This diorama is one of the first things you see when you enter the museum. It’s a depiction of the entire museum, along with some of the surrounding Parisian cityscape. There are three stories of exhibits in more than twenty different collection, ranging from Egyptian Antiquities, to Sculptures, to French Paintings. I don’t know that it’s even humanly possible to see every single piece in the museum in a lifetime, with over 380,000 different pieces and displays.

I was there for the entire day, more than six hours on my feet listening to descriptions of one artifact after another, and probably managed to see less than a quarter of the entire museum.

Five years later, of course I don’t remember every piece that I saw, but there were certainly a few memorable ones.

Let’s start with the obvious – the Mona Lisa.

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Despite this being one of, if not the most famous painting in the world, what I remember about seeing the Mona Lisa is not the painting itself, but rather the crush of people surrounding it.

I got to glance upon it’s glory for all of thirty seconds before I found the multitude of bodies too much to bear. Just enough time for a bad picture, not enough time to really appreciate anything about it.

The one piece that I really fell in love with was The Coronation of Napoleon.

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There was something about this piece that really transported me to the time, to that moment in history that before, had just felt like a story to me.

Otherwise, it was mostly collections as a whole that I liked. The biggest surprise was how interesting the exhibit on Mesopotamia was. I didn’t know anything about Mesopotamia, and it was fascinating!

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The Egyptian collection was also extremely impressive.

What was the highlight of the museum for me, though, was not any of the collections, the art or the history. It was the architecture and murals of the building itself.

The Palace that is now the Louvre museum is a phenomenal structure. I was surrounded by priceless artwork and historical artifacts, but all that I could think about was the amount of time and care went into each archway, each column, each mural.

Fortunately, the audio guide did discuss the palace itself on occasion. Sure, the Mona Lisa is an important painting, but tell me what the room it’s housed in was designed for! Explain to me the significance of that imagery sculpted into the ceiling, or the years of work that went into creating the facade of this building. Those were the most fascinating things to me.

While I was living in Paris, several years after my first trip, I only went to the Louvre once, with my orientation group before school started. We got a whirlwind tour of some of the most iconic pieces in the museum, but it was all in such a rush and so early in the morning that I barely remember any of it.

Even though I only visited the museum once, I walked by the Louvre on numerous occasions on my way to and from school. If my usual Metro line or stop was down for some reason, the second easiest route from my apartment to school was to walk from a stop near the museum.

Occasionally, though, I would go out of my way to walk by the Louvre, and here’s why – there was nothing like the Louvre to remind me that the city I was living in was truly remarkable.

Here is this massive palace, reaching several stories high and featuring some of the most intricate and stunning architecture you’ll ever see. Here is this stunning park, with sprawling gardens. Here is this endless museum containing countless pieces of  priceless art and history. And it was all just minutes from my apartment.

It helped put things in perspective sometimes, and was one of the things that I missed the most when I left.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Let’s talk about Walt Disney World.

It’s been absolutely ages since my last Disney post, and it’s long overdue.

But since it’s been so long, let’s have a little refresher. I, and my family, are a little obsessed with Disney. We go to Disney World in Florida every few years, almost always at Christmas.

In my last Disney post, I discussed a few of my favorite things about Disney at Christmas. For this post, I’m going to talk about the Magic Kingdom exclusively.

Magic Kingdom is Disney’s most iconic park. It is also packed with the most stuff, so I will by no means be able to discuss everything about the park. Notice that I said the most stuff, not just the most attractions or rides or anything, because the park is utterly infused with endless amounts of charm, happiness, and, well, magic!

Let’s start at the beginning – Main Street.

There is something awe-inspiring about entering Magic Kingdom. When they designed the park, they absolutely knew what they were doing to create the most magical effect possible.

When you first enter, there is a small central square that blocks the view down Main Street, so that only when you are in the exact right place to experience the magic do you see the castle.

I will absolutely never tire of that sight.

Main Street itself actually has a great number of interesting shops, though we never stop at any of them when we first get to the park.

My best tip to anyone planning a trip to Disney, and this goes for all parks, not just Magic Kingdom, is to get there at opening and book it to the back. Most people dawdle at the front of the parks without much of a plan. If you go quickly (no running though, that’s not allowed) you can get onto some rides that usually have extremely long wait times in just moments. We usually head back to Adventure Land first, which is immediately left once you get past Main Street.

In Adventure Land, our top two rides are always Jungle Cruise, which is my personal favorite, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which is my dad’s.

Somehow, it has also become a tradition for us to ride the Aladdin’s Carpet Ride as well.

This camel spit on me the last time we rode the Carpet ride, and somehow it is still one of my favorites.

So you’ve experienced the awe of your first sight of the castle, you’ve made it to Adventure Land for some rides, what’s next?

Well it’s probably about time for a Fast Pass!

I don’t remember when they first started introducing Fast Passes, but regardless, they’re a godsend. There are so many rides that I would simply say, “Oh well, not going on that I guess,” to, because the lines can get insane.

Seven Dwarves Mine Train, for example, is a relatively new ride. The lines for this can be around two hours during the busy Christmas season, and that is just not happening. Which would really be a shame, because the Seven Dwarves Mine Train is a great ride! It’s much longer than you think it’s going to be, and tons of fun without being too intense. No one in my family besides myself usually enjoys roller coasters, but we all love this ride.

So now you’ve just finished your first Fast Pass, and there seems to be something going on. A bunch of people are sitting down beside the pathway, and cast members (the brilliant name for Disney employees, in case you didn’t already know), are directing traffic off the main walkways.

It’s time for a parade!

There are a number of different parades that happen every day at Magic Kingdom, featuring everyone from Mickey and Minnie Mouse, to Flynn Rider from Tangled.

If you have little kids, this is going to be a terrific experience for them. They’ll be able to see all their favorite characters! But do make sure to find a spot early; it fills up fast.

For those of us on the older side who care less about seeing every aspect of the parade, there are plenty of spaces that are a bit less crowded that afford a decent view.

When we were last at the park, my family found a nice spot near one of the transition areas, a bridge from Liberty Square to Main Street, which allowed us some space to rest but also see the parade.

Ok now, let’s get to the most important part of the trip – the food!

The hot thing at the Magic Kingdom right now, or at least what the hot thing was when we were last there, is the Dole Whip.

My dad got one of these while we were down and he let us all try it, and honestly I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s pineapple flavored ice cream with pineapple pieces. It’s nice, but not spectacular.

What I really like, and love getting every time we go, are the Mickey Mouse Pretzels! Of course, these are just regular pretzels, there’s nothing special about them, except that they’re shaped like Mickey Mouse and I just think that’s so fun.

In terms of walk-up restaurants – these are the restaurants typically used for lunch, so named because you walk up and order food like at a fast food restaurant – Magic Kingdom is not my favorite in this field. Nothing is particularly memorable, at least not in a good way, though we’ve had a few walk-up meals that definitely left us not feeling so great afterwards.

For sit-downs this year, we tried a couple of new places.

My parents insisted that it was probably the last time we were ever going to be able to go as a family, just the four of us, and I in turn insisted we do something special.

So we had breakfast in Cinderella Castle!

Let me tell you, it cost a small fortune, about $200 for the four of us, since we couldn’t use our meal plan. And you do pay before hand, and simply choose whatever you want from the menu.

But it was so worth it! It’s a character breakfast, which is not my favorite thing since no one in my family likes interacting with or taking pictures with the characters. I sucked it up, though, and got some cute pictures with some princesses.

My favorite pictures, though, were with our waitress!

She was an absolutely fantastic waitress, and so at the end of our meal, I asked if I could get a picture with her. She must get this all the time, because she had a little performance put together for it where she made a show of freshening her lipstick, and had poses planned for us to do.

But as usual I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the food!

We all had amazing food, and it actually turned out to be my brother’s favorite meal. He had some variation of steak and eggs. My mom and I shared a quiche and some apple french toast (I wanted the French toast, but didn’t think I could handle so much sweet. I was right).

I highly recommend this experience to everyone, just once. It feels incredibly special being able to eat in Cinderella Castle, and I’m glad that I can say I’ve done it at least once.

Our other sit-down choices were for Be Our Guest, the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant, and Tony’s Town Square, from Lady and the Tramp.

Be Our Guest is a fun restaurant with several different rooms, each themed. We ate in the West Wing themed room. This room is dimly lit and has a constant sound of rain and thunder, as well as the famous rose in a glass case!

Every once in a while there’s a lightning flash and a roll of thunder that changes the ripped portrait of Prince Adam on the wall into a portrait of The Beast! It’s very cool.

Tony’s Town Square, on the other hand, is a very typical bistro style restaurant, but it is now one of my all time favorites.

The service was fantastic, the food was phenomenal, and the atmosphere was perfect.

We also may have started a new tradition with this restaurant! We ended up eating at this restaurant at lunch time, and it was such an amazing experience that we may be doing lunches for our big meals of the day in the future. It’s a much more relaxing atmosphere during the afternoon than durning the evening, and gives us the perfect opportunity to rest.

Well, I think that’ll have to do for now! There’s just way too much to talk about with Magic Kingdom. I could go on forever! Let me know if you’d like to hear more about this particular park, and look forward to some more Disney Parks posts!

Travel Journals: Holland Tulip Festival

Let’s talk about flowers.

Well, only a little. Surprisingly, the Tulips are not the best part of the Holland Tulip Festival.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those that don’t know, Holland is a city on the west coast of Michigan. That area of the state is very heavily influenced by Dutch culture, it was a huge settlement area for Dutch people who came to the United States in the 1800s.

As such, they have a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, and the Tulip Festival is one of them.

Despite living only a couple hours away, I’d never been to the Tulip Festival before. It’s something that everyone in and around the area knows all about, but it’s one of those things that gets pushed aside because you live too close. I’ve always thought, “Oh, I’ll go to it eventually,” but never made any effort to do so.

This year, my parents – newish empty nesters who have suddenly developed lives and interests that I had no idea they could possess – decided they were finally going to go, and invited Michael and I along with them.

Aren’t we cute?

So, after driving about two hours to get to the event, we found that they very conveniently offer a free bus service to the various sections of the event. We parked in a massive parking lot and hopped on the bus.

First stop, Windmill Island Gardens!

This stop required a ticket for entry, which I was initially confused about. It hadn’t occurred to me that these events cost money to put on, so of course they’re going to charge entry. My parents very generously paid for all of our tickets, though, so I have no idea how much it cost.

Here’s the thing about the Gardens. They’re called ISLAND gardens. Indicating that they are in fact located on a limited amount of land, which means a limited amount of space, which means that the massive crowd that descended upon the Gardens for this event had only so many places they could go.

And I am not the biggest fan of crowds.

Unfortunately, also, the weekend we went to the festival was not peak season for the Tulips. If we’d given it another week, I’m sure the sight would have been absolutely stunning. There were plenty of pretty blooms in the fields and along the walls, but it was not the sea of stunning color that I had anticipated.

That being said, we did still get a few lovely pictures.

After the Gardens, the next stop on the bus was Downtown Holland!

There were still some rather repressive crowds in the city, but it was easy enough to pop into a shop or find a side street where you weren’t shoulder to shoulder with other humans. And downtown didn’t seem to be experiencing the steady trickle inward of more and more people with too few people leaving, like the Gardens had.

The most exciting part of Downtown for me was an absolutely stunning yarn shop located not far from the main event. I won’t go too much into it, but I definitely parted with a quite bit of money there. If anyone is interested, the shop is called GarenHuis Yarn Studio, and it is lovely.

Moving on, though, the main event of downtown was a huge art fair in a gorgeous park in the center of the city.

The art fair was, of course, absolutely mad with people. The booths were practically stacked upon one another, but somehow it didn’t feel suffocating.

We took a leisurely stroll through the whole event, stopping now and then to coo over one thing or another. The offerings at the booths were eclectic, from doll clothes to lawn ornaments to paintings.

The only thing I purchased, though, was a bag of cinnamon coated roasted pecans, but I’d say it was a highlight of the trip. Michael is now somewhat obsessed with them, and it’s definitely going to be a tradition for us to seek out a nut vendor when we go to fairs in the future.

Have you ever been to the Holland Tulip Festival? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back with another post in a few days!

Travel Journal: Venice

Let me tell you about Venice.

I traveled to Venice in 2015, following a week in Rome and preceding several days each in Vienna, Prague, and Munich.

So, if this is the middle of my trip, why am I telling you about it?

Well, one of my favorite stories from my travels happened in Venice. I could tell you plenty about all tourist attractions I went to, or the hostel, or the people I met. But for now, I’m going to tell this story.

When I went to Venice, it was one of the first times in my life I’d travelled alone. I’d met a friend in Rome, and spent most of my other travels with others as well. While I learned that I prefer to travel with friends rather than alone while on this trip, I did have a number of experiences that I loved.

So I was in Venice, it was my second or third day in the city, and I’d been walking all day long.

That’s what you tend to do a lot of when you’re a poor recent graduate with extremely limited funds – you walk a lot.

But anyway, I had been walking all day, I’d walked every day for a week in Rome, and so I was exhausted by the time I finally found this basilica.

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Maybe it was because I was so exhausted, or maybe I was just pleased to have finally found the church after searching and getting lost numerous times, but of all the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches I saw on this trip (and there were SO MANY), the Santa Maria Della Salute basilica was by far my favorite.

Salute in Italian means health. I don’t know if that’s why this building felt so much more open, warm, and welcoming compared to all of the others, but it was all of those things and more.

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The way the light came through the windows and reflected off the marble, the openness of the space, it was all astonishingly beautiful to me.

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I found myself more relaxed in that church than I think I was throughout the whole trip.

So, after viewing this gorgeous, comforting complex, I walked out and simply sat down on the steps surrounding the entrance. I basked in the sun and let the warmth wash over me, along with the pleasant din of chatter from the tourists all around me.

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While I sat on the steps, I looked out onto one of the many canals of Venice. At one point a man drove up in a motorboat and parked next to one of the gondolas tied off near the steps.

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I spent the next 20 minutes watching this man attempt to get into his gondola, and it was one of the most amusing experiences of my life.

He seemed to struggle with every aspect of the process, from tying up the motorboat, to stepping into the gondola. All the while, he responded jovially to being heckled by other men in boats, until finally he managed to get himself set to rights.

I’ve never been able to properly articulate the joy of this moment in the re-telling of it. No matter how hard I try, the peace, happiness, and contentment I felt sitting on the steps outside the Salute is impossible to properly convey.

It bears stating, then, the lesson I learned from this.

The moments that you remember most from traveling, and from life, are not going to be the great, important, can’t miss occasions and events. Rather the small, quiet moments in between will be what you come to cherish. Remember to give yourself time for those moments.

Knitting Series: Yarn Con Part 2 – The Haul

Let’s talk about Yarn Con.

Alright people, I gave you the run down in last week’s post, and now we’re doing a deep dive. Time to tell you all about Yarn Con!

First of all, I had a fantastic trip to Chicago with Taylor. If you’d like to read about the non-yarny details of the trip, I recommend that you check out my last post.

For those of you that only care about the Con, you’re in the right place.

We’ll start with crowd levels – they weren’t as bad as I expected.

As you can see from these pictures I took from the lovely balcony that overlooks the venue (I love this feature of the building, it’s so fun to get this bird’s eye view of all the vendors!), it really wasn’t that bustling.

Perhaps we got to the event at a less busy time than last year, or maybe it really wasn’t as bustling as the year before, or maybe (and I find this quite likely), I misremembered how tightly packed the Con was last year.

No matter which of these options, the point is that I was not in fact bumping into my fellow yarn-fanatics at every turn. Occasionally I’d have to wait patiently for a booth to empty so that I could check out the wares, or have to politely push my way through a gaggle of knitters who’d converged on a display while I was in the booth and blocked me in. But overall, it wasn’t that difficult to get around.

There were a lot of the same vendors there from last year – Bumblebee Acres, Yarn Geek, and Apothefaery were just a few that stood out in my mind as repeats, though I’m certain there were others hat had been there the year before as well.

I ended up buying yarn and notions almost exclusively from vendors I’d never purchased from before. Northern Bee Studio was the only company from which I’d previously bought something, and even that was a different base.

Which is a great segue into the heart of this post – my Yarn Con haul!

Before I get to the yarn, I have to first show of these gorgeous buttons that I bought from Bunny Badger Fiber.

They were definitely the button queens of this fiber festival – they had a table with several different displays containing a huge selection of the most adorable buttons you’ve ever seen.

These cut out wooden ones I’ve purchased for a cardigan I’ve been planning to make for over a year. I think they’ll compliment the forest greens and browns of the intended yarn.

These were more of an impulse purchase. I do have an idea for a cardigan I think I’ll want to use them for, but mostly I just fell totally in love with them. Aren’t they gorgeous?

I also purchased this progress keeper. Progress keepers were something I was specifically looking for at this festival, since I haven’t owned any until now. This was the only one that caught my eye at the Con, though, so I’ll be on the lookout for more in the future.

Now, let’s get into the yarn.

This beauty was the purchase I mentioned earlier from Northern Bee Studio. I was looking mostly for worsted weight yarns at this festival, which are quite hard to find from indie dyers. While everyone will have fingering weight yarn, only a select few will have worsted weight, and I was grateful for what I could find.

This is their worsted weight, 100% Merino base, in the colorway Juvenile Bald Eagle.

With worsted weight in mind, here was my other worsted purchase from the Con! These lovely skeins are actually somewhat outside my usual preferred color scheme. The speckled browns and orange is definitely not something I’d typically pick up, but for some reason I was drawn to this. I couldn’t get it out of my head for the whole day, so I knew I had to have it.

The company is Darn Yarn MN, and this is their 100% Merino base in the colorway By the Wing.

I just have to make a side note to point out that their slogan is “Swatch For No One,” which I simply adore, and also live by.

This mini-skein is a purchase from Yarn Geek in their Super-Geek! base, which is 75% Corriedale, 25% Nylon. This will someday be the heel, toe, and cuff of a pair of socks.

Now, a note on the colorway, which is called Emilie du Chatelet. One of the things that I absolutely love about this company is that they name many of their colors after famous women from STEM fields. Emilie du Chatelet was a famous mathematician, and I never would have heard of her if not for this yarn.

Finally, this yarn I purchased from The Grinning Gargoyle.

I was looking for a thin sock weight yarn for a pair of socks I’m going to make myself (hopefully the thinner yarn and subsequently smaller stitches will help cure my dislike of hand-knit socks). When we saw this colorway in particular, Taylor pointed to it and said, “This coloway is so you.” Which I had to agree with. It’s called Signature Res.

What sealed the deal, though, was the fiber content. This is their Khalessi Sock base, which is a 70/20/10 combo of Merino, Yak, and Nylon. I’ve never worked with Yak wool before, and I’m very excited about that.

Well! That just about wraps it up. Hope you enjoyed this little yarn haul. Let me know in the comments what you’re favorite purchase was, or if you went to Yarn Con yourself!

Travel Journals: Chicago 2018

Let’s talk about my recent trip to Chicago.

For anyone who follows both my general and knitting blogs, you’ll know that this past weekend I went to Chicago for Yarn Con!

I’ll be talking about all the yarny details in my knitting post on Friday, but spending the weekend in the Windy City gives me quite a bit to talk about that’s not knitting related.

First thing’s first, travel arrangements.

My friend, Taylor, and I took the Amtrak to Chicago this year, rather than driving down.

I love taking trains places, I think they’re such an underrated form of transportation. I hate driving – traveling long distances by car makes me motion sick and the conditions of driving tend to exacerbate my anxiety, which is never a fun way to start or end a trip. So taking the Amtrak was a perfect solution for me.

Not to mention that by not driving, we didn’t have to deal with finding parking in the city or have to try to navigate the crazy Chicago traffic.

I still did get a bit motion sick on the way down to Chicago, and we ended up taking an Uber throughout the trip, but I’d do it all the same if I could.

In terms of accommodations, the hotel that we stayed in certainly had a few quirks. For example, the hallway of our floor was blue. I don’t mean blue as in blue wall, I mean it had freaky blue lighting that made me concerned about what kind of activities were hosted in this hotel.

What was particularly creepy, was that none of the other floors had this odd lighting. We checked!

The hotel was only a 15 minute walk from the event center where Yarn Con was being held, though. Plus, it was well priced and had a bunk bed, so we each got our own beds, which made it well worth it.

And Taylor did end up asking about the lighting, and it turned out that there was a perfectly good explanation. They’d wanted to fit all the halls with color-changing LEDs, but something went wrong with the tech and the changes went too fast, making it a seizure risk, so they’d set it to blue and not had it installed on any of the other floors. It was almost a disappointingly normal explanation.

Before we get into the best part of any vacation – the food – I want to say something quickly about shopping and sightseeing.

First of all, if you can possibly manage it, I highly recommend getting up early to go to the Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile. Maybe not on a Sunday, since most of the shops on the Magnificent Mile don’t open until at least 10 on Sunday, but definitely if you can be there on a weekday.

Taylor and I woke up early because there’s a 1 hour time difference between Michigan and Chicago, so I was up at 6:30am and simply could not get back to sleep.

So, after we went for brunch, we found ourselves with lots of time, and decided to take a walk. Even at a leisurely pace, when we got to The Bean, there was almost no one there! We managed to get some great pictures at the park, as well as outside the Art Institute because of the lack of crowds.

(You can see in this picture that traffic is pretty much non-existent, it was incredible!)

Taylor and I went to a few different shops when they did finally open, but I only want to highlight one.

David’s Tea.

I’ve tried two of the variety of teas that I purchased from this store so far, and I’m already madly in love with this company.

The sheer variety of tea that they have is spectacular, and in particular I’m pleasantly shocked by the amount of caffeine free tea that they have.

I’ve mentioned before that I can’t have caffeine, and it’s always a struggle to find new flavors or blends of tea that I can drink.

I do not have that problem with David’s Tea, and in addition, the taste of their tea is also wonderful. I will definitely be ordering from their online store when I eventually (and probably very quickly) run out of what I purchased in Chicago.

Finally, let’s talk food.

Buckle up, because this is going to be a long section.

I was in charge of all of our food for the weekend (Taylor handled literally everything else), and there are good and bad things to say about just about every place we went.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all of our meals! But I was disappointed by some aspect of each place.

But let’s go in chronological order.

First, we had lunch at Nohea Cafe, a cafe near the Yarn Con event center. This place was very cute and cozy! It definitely felt an appropriate place for a couple of knitters. But I could swear that I stood by the counter for 5 minutes, watching as the woman taking orders did other things. There certainly was no hurry in this cafe.

And when our food finally came, I found myself practically chocking on my caprese panini. It was so spicy! If I’d realized they were going to coat it in red pepper flakes, I definitely would have asked them to NOT DO THAT.

After Nohea, we went to an Irish pub style restaurant that was recommended to me by a coworker who used to live in Chicago.

When you stepped into Lady Gregory’s, the first thing you notice is the NOISE. My god it was loud in this pub. Now, I know that I’m an awful old fuddy-duddy compared to most people in my age range, but come on. The club music, the sports playing, the techno lights, and the cacophony of patrons shouting to one another over the noise was a bit much.

I realize now that I should have expected this, given that it was a Saturday night and Lady Gregory’s is also a bar, but in fairness, I was misled. The pictures on the website all show the bookcases that line a few walls, the cozy fireplace, and a well-lit, pleasant dining atmosphere. It’s no wonder I didn’t expect the volume of the place.

The food, however, was absolutely fantastic.

I’m a vegetarian, and the restaurant offered a separate menu with vegetarian options. I really appreciated this, particularly because it’s so uncommon compared to what I’m used to in my own area. I ended up having a Mushroom Reuben (I’ve never had a Reuben before, thanks to pickiness before I became a vegetarian), and it was delicious. I highly, highly recommend it to any vegetarians traveling to Chicago.

On the following day, we went to Yolk for breakfast.

I’ve been to Yolk before, and I’m pretty sure that it’s one of Taylor’s all-time favorite restaurants. She insists that we go every time we’re in the city.

All I have to say, is that I completely agree with Taylor. If you go to Chicago, you absolutely must go to Yolk for breakfast or brunch. They have a ton of options, both vegetarian and not, and it is phenomenal food.

Now, the last place that I planned on eating at while in Chicago was called Urbanbelly. It’s an Asian restaurant, and I was seriously looking forward to their vegetarian version of Pho.

Alas, despite my eagerness to please in the endeavor of choosing restaurants, I neglected to check the hours of Urbanbelly before I decided on it. And they aren’t open on Sundays.

I can’t be too sad, though, because as an alternative, we went and got true Chicago deep dish from Lou Malnati’s.

I think that’s a pretty good way to cap off a trip to Chicago.

Knitting Series: Yarn Con Part 1

Let’s talk about Yarn Con.

Yarn Con is one of my all time favorite yarn festivals. It’s a fiber arts convention that includes classes and workshops, but most importantly, vendors.

There are vendors at this event selling everything a knitter could ever want. There’s buttons and progress keepers and project bags and stitch markers and (drum roll please) YARN! So much yarn.

In short, it’s heaven.

Yarn Con is held in the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall, in the Near West Side of Chicago. Because it’s in the city (most yarn festivals I’ve been to happen at fair grounds), the concentration of vendors and knitters in the area is epic. Going in, you end up getting very chummy with a lot of fellow convention goers as you inevitably bump into them while attempting to navigate your way to all the various booths through the throngs of people.

Oh, and by the way, it’s happening THIS WEEKEND!

On Saturday, April 7th, I will be hopping on an Amtrak train (yay public transportation!) with Taylor, and we’ll be in Chicago until Sunday evening.

Hence why I’ve made this a two part post.

I’m giving you all the details for Yarn Con now, and next week, when it’s over, I’ll be showing off all my purchases and giving a rundown of how the event went.

Obviously, I’ve had experience with Yarn Con before, or else I wouldn’t be able to tell you that it’s one of my favorite festivals; however I only went for the first time last year.

Last year, Taylor and I drove to and from Chicago in the same day. That’s more than 6 hours in the car, if you’re wondering. The convention was incredible then, but I’m really looking forward to being able to take my time this weekend.

Of course, I’ll let you all know how it goes next week! Until then, what are your favorite fiber festivals? Have any of you ever been to Yarn Con? Let me know in the comments.

Travel Journals: Taipei 101

Let’s talk about Taiwan.

I spent the last few weeks telling you all about my (terrible) time in Paris, so let’s change gears a little here.

I studied abroad in Taiwan when I was 19, in 2014.

There are so many stories to tell from my 5-month stay in Taipei (the capital of Taiwan), but I think the best place to start is with Taipei 101.

For those who don’t know, Taipei 101 is the most iconic building in all of Taiwan; it’s what the country is known for.

Taipei 101 - 1

For a short time, it was the tallest building in the world. Its name, Taipei 101, comes from the number of floors that it has.

What this building is known for, now, is the incredible damper installed to keep the building stable, which is the biggest of its kind in the world.

This type of damper is used in other tremendously tall buildings, but it’s particularly important in Taiwan as the country is located on a fault line, and regularly experiences earthquakes. The damper limits the sway of the building in everything from typhoon level winds to massive earthquakes.

I visited Taipei 101 twice during my stay, once in the first few days, and once in my last few. The first time was during the day, so I could see the landscape for miles, and the second was at night, so I could see the entire city lit up below me.

Strangely, one of the things I remember most from my first visit is the weather.

I arrived in Taiwan in February, but the country is considered to be a tropical climate, so I expected it to be warm.

I was wrong.

In February 2014, Taipei experienced record cold temperatures, getting near freezing at night and not nearly warm enough during the day – temperatures that I definitely had not packed for.

The day that I went to visit Taipei 101, we finally had a break in the weather. It was warm and sunny, and, at last, got to enjoy some time outside in this gorgeous country.

Taipei 101 - 2

By the time I visited Taipei 101 the next time, towards the end of my trip in May, the novelty of Taiwan weather had long worn off.

Never have I experienced the kind of heat and humidity that I experienced in Taiwan.

When I came home, I mentioned the harrowing humidity so often that it became a joke amongst my friends and family. Whenever someone complained about the weather in (significantly more temperate) Michigan, someone else would pipe up, “But it’s nothing compared to what Emma experienced in Taiwan!” At which point I would roll my eyes, but immediately regale them with tales of the endless rain, heat, and humidity.

But I digress.

One of the coolest things about Taipei 101 is how vastly it towers over everything in the city. There is not a single building in the entire expanse of the city that even comes close to the size of Taipei 101.

IMG_2537

It’s the perfect navigation tool.

Or it would be, if I had any sense of direction.

If I was out with my friends and we got turned around, it’s very easy to spot Taipei 101 from just about anywhere in the city. For most people, it’s perfect for orienting yourself.

I still had to whip out Google Maps, of course, because it’s not going to do any good to orient yourself based on Taipei 101 if you don’t know where Taipei 101 is in relation to where to want to go. Fortunately for me, I had much more directionally savvy friends while living in Taiwan.

Taipei 101 is one of those iconic buildings that you can’t miss out on if you visit Taipei. Not going to Taipei 101 would be like going to New York City and not going to the Empire State Building, or to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower. It’s a must-do, no matter how touristy it seems.