Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying a well deserved break from work or school and is having a great time relaxing and celebrating with their loved ones today.  

Although I am incredibly thankful to be home in Tennessee with my family today, I've also been spending some time reflecting on the adventures that I've taken in the past year and a half.  Maybe I'm a little biased due to my lack of experience with other seasons, but the weeks surrounding Christmas is really my favorite time to travel.  Between the lights and the Christmas markets to all of the locals brimming with excitement, those few weeks are packed quite a bit to experience.

Below are some of my favorite scenes from Christmas around the world.  Enjoy!

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

Spanish Steps (in the background) in Rome, Italy

Fendi Store in Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Milan, Italy

Greve (Chianti), Italy

Galway, Ireland

Calle Larios in Málaga, Spain

Nativity Scene in Málaga, Spain

Street Lights in Seville, Spain

Christmas Tree at Disneyland Paris and Nativity Scene in the Notre Dame

PPG Square in Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Saturday, December 8, 2012

DIY Covered Chevron Chair

before                                                                after

Since my DIY Chevron Canvas continues to be one of the blog's most popular posts, I figured I would share another DIY project I completed this summer and somehow never got around to posting.  I guess you can tell I have a little something for chevron prints.

And, I'll admit it, I'm also a sucker for anything free.  So when the organization I interned with over the summer offered free chairs to anyone that would pick them up, I got four.  With no specific plans and a very little budget, I headed to Hobby Lobby craft store to pick up inspiration and supplies.  When I saw this cream and blue heavy chevron fabric, I knew that was it and now I couldn't be happier with the results!  Total cost?  $10.00 

Click through to see the super easy step-by-step! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Homestays are Awesome

l-r: Jose, me, Maria and Martina

Choosing your living arrangements are often one of the most nerve-wracking decisions you'll have to make as a future study abroad student.  I often hear people say that they're going to choose a private apartment or school dorms in lieu of taking the chance of living with a foreign family- a homestay.  Desiring to learn as much as I could about Spain (and not to end up like the girls in the movie Taken) I took a chance and checked off the "homestay" box on my study abroad form.  Let me tell you just some of the reasons I loved taking the chance on living with a Spanish family. 

The food.  Maria provided us three meals a day, everyday.  True to Spanish form, we received a very light breakfast, a gigantic Thanksgiving sized lunch around 2 p.m., and a smaller dinner between 8 and 9 p.m.  The smells wafting from the kitchen before lunch everyday were nothing short of tantalizing, and from Paella to flan, I got it all- homemade. 

The culture.  What better way to experience Spanish culture than by living with Spaniards?! One of my favorite Spanish moments was when Jose began yelling from the living room, "ABBEEE! NATALIA! Venga venga, mira!"  (Come come, watch!)  What had him so captivated?  A bullfight.  No kidding, Jose loved bullfights and soccer games almost more than my southern dad loves Tennessee football- and that's a lot. 

Everything was done for us.  Although that sounds kind of spoiled, believe me, you will treasure being able to explore a new country without worrying about paying rent, cooking dinner, or doing laundry.  

The family aspect.  I love to travel and I hadn't felt homesickness since I was in elementary school.  Having been the last thing on my radar, that's of course one of the first things I experienced.  As if that wasn't enough, I was having a few issues at home that I was really upset about.  Maria, Jose and the kids never let me mope and always made me feel at home and cared for.  When it was time for me to leave Spain, Maria gave me a giant hug and dos besos, the Spanish tradition of a kiss on each cheek, and told me, "Don't be sad, because my family is a little bigger now.  I will always consider you two (my roommate and I) my second daughters."  Talk about a tearjerker

Although I realize not every homestay experience is as great as mine was, I think several things played into my experience: open-mindedness, communication, and respect.  Combine those things with a great family and you're golden.  

Have you lived with a homestay?  How did it go?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why I Chose ISA

Although it seems just the opposite, deciding that you want to study abroad is a pretty small decision in comparison to the many details that follow.  Once you get over that initial hurdle, you'll need to pick your location, decide whether or not to go with a study abroad company (and which company, if you take that route), plan for your academic course load abroad, and then go through all of the little details.  Although it depends on your school's requirements, you don't have to start with any one decision.  For example, maybe you're focused on Paris, and the classes and company are secondary to you; Maybe you want to have the support of a study abroad company and want to take courses in art, but you don't have a preference for location.  To give yourself a little guidance, prioritize your decisions, and then go from there.

Click through to see how I made my decision!  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Top 5 Things to Do and See Around San Juan, Puerto Rico

1. Explore Old San Juan

From sightseeing to shopping, Old San Juan has so much to offer.  If you're a history buff, check out the forts that border the city.  At both locations you can tour dungeons, chapels, and the famous sentry boxes.  If you're more into modern day shopping and exploring, give yourself a few days to wander the streets which have everything from local boutiques to beautiful plazas filled with interesting people.

2. See the Arecibo Observatory

Featured in textbooks around the world and even in the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, the Arecibo Observatory is a great place to get a little educational sightseeing in.  In addition to seeing the world's largest reflector, you can also check out the accompanying museum and visitor center.  A little over an hour outside of San Juan, driving is your best bet for transportation (we rented a car for the week).  The drive through rural Puerto Rico was one of my favorite parts though.

Click through to see the the rest of my Top Five list!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sights and Architecture in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


For the third part (of four) in my mini-series on Puerto Rico, I wanted to share a few photos of the gorgeous architecture found in and around Old San Juan- the historic district of the island's capital.  

Although the buildings in Puerto Rico borrow from both Spanish architecture and Caribbean color patterns, the city is definitely unique.  As I wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets, I couldn't help but notice the enticing mix of colors, lines, and overall Puerto Rican flair.  

Window gardens adorn a majority of the brightly painted buildings, and interior courtyards filled with palm trees and exotic plants beg to be explored.  Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of the way that most homes seem to be centered around the open garden area, and would love to call one of these Spanish, colonial style homes my own.  Unfortunately, that's going to set me back at least a million dollars- So I guess it's apartment style living for me.... for now.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Exploring Historic San Juan

Since I started writing about my trip to Puerto Rico in yesterday's post, I figured that I would go ahead and turn it into a mini-series since there is so much to talk about.  Be sure to stick around to hear a little more about Puerto Rico's sights and tastes, because let's be honest, food is definitely one of the best parts of travel.  

The island has got some of the coolest history, as it's an eclectic mix of Spanish, American, and Caribbean.  If you've read some of my previous posts, you probably know I'm not a huge history buff or museum lover, as I prefer to really experience history by being there and actually walking where they walked, seeing what they saw, etc.  Two great places for exploring like this are the forts that once guarded the capital of San Juan. 

Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal are both open to the public with minimal entrance fees.  While there, you can see various historical exhibits and explore most of the forts (including the dungeon and various underground passageways).  After you see one, you can catch a trolley or walk to the other.  Though they're pretty similar, you'll receive a pretty nice discount on your second admission, and both have several unique aspects.  

If forts aren't really your forte, pun intended, all you need to do to experience a little history is just wander through Old San Juan.  The neighborhood is full of beautiful old buildings and courtyards, delicious eateries, and plenty of entertainment.  Just beware of the tourist trap shops which fill some streets.  For shopping and souvenirs, you're better off looking for a local market or festival. 

Tune in tomorrow when I'll be sharing photos of the brightly colored architecture, some of my favorite in all of my travels thus far! 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Went to a Rainforest Once.

When I look back at photos of previous travels, part of me smiles at the memories that flood my mind as if it were just yesterday while part of me groans, "How was it that long ago already?"  

Shortly after high-school graduation, my best friend and I reunited (She lives in Canada and I in Tennessee, USA) for a senior trip to Puerto Rico.  Though this island is technically part of the United States (and is even starting to want to become the 51st state), it couldn't be more different than the America I knew.  

Puerto Rico's El Yunque is the only rainforest in the United States and is located in the north eastern corner of the island.  A short drive from the capital, San Juan, El Yunque offers guided and self-guided tours through the gorgeous forest.  With free admission (and just $5 for an hour long guided tour) El Yunque is definitely a must-see for visitors to Puerto Rico.  I only wish that I had given myself more time to explore the countless waterfalls and trails!