Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 132

The weekly-ish roundup of awesome internet finds:

  1. The decline of the show in a nutshell: Looking Back at the Most Awkward Sponsored Challenges on Project Runway.
  2. Using an apostrophe to pluralize is my number one grammar pet peeve (yes, I have many). Thus, this is awesome: How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season.
  3. I would for sure eat a Cumbercupcake.
  4. The Onion gets it: Michigan Fans Thankful Program No Longer Relevant Enough to Be Humiliated on National Stage.
  5. Best gift ever: J.K. Rowling’s Christmas Present to You Is More Harry Potter Stories.
  6. Like I could love John Legend and Chrissy Teigen more.
  7. Any self-respecting Friends aficionado will get 100% on this quiz: The Friends Episode Where the Girls Lose the Apartment.
  8. Dying from all the cuteness: This Little Boy and His Rescue Dog Are Adorable Together.
  9. An interesting video project from the New York Times: 9 Kisses.
  10. Yesssss: The 2014 Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog.

(Image via)

The 20 Things I Did Right in My Semester Abroad

My semester abroad ended seven months ago (and began almost a year ago), and yet here I am, still writing about it. Part of me suspects I should just move on, abandon my idea for this post, and write about more current happenings. But after chronicling the 20 Things I Did Wrong while abroad, I figured it was only fair to take a look back at some of the things I got so very right during my time in Geneva and beyond. I can honestly say that my months in Europe were one of the best – or perhaps the best – experiences in my life, and here are twenty of the things I did to make that so.

1 – Embraced Food Tours:

If there was any theme to my semester, it was this: discovering a city through its food. Once I took my first food tour in Lisbon, I was addicted, and quickly signed up for more tours in almost every new-to-me city I visited. While food tours can be a bit pricey, I found them to be a good value; you get lots of food for your money and you burn off the calories by walking all over and exploring new places. For me, food tours were a splurge I was willing to make – I don’t spend a lot on hotels or souvenirs or alcohol while traveling, but I will spend a lot for a good meal. Priorities, you know?

2 – Gave Amsterdam a Second Chance:

Amsterdam was not on my travel radar when this semester began; I had visited the city in 2011 and had not loved it, so returning seemed relatively pointless. But, as my semester wore on, I felt a pull toward Amsterdam, an urge to give the city another try. And, oh man, am I glad I did. My weekend in Amsterdam was one of the best experiences of my semester. From my perfectly-located apartment rental to the gorgeous golden hour walks along the canal that became a nightly ritual, I totally fell in love with this city, proving that first impressions are not everything (and that non-rainy weather counts for a lot).

3 – Let Go of the Pressure to Visit “Must Sees”:

I have to confess that, on trips past, I’ve been something of a slave to guidebooks. In one sense, it’s natural: when it’s your first visit to a place, you don’t want to miss any of the important stuff. Yet something shifted in my travel attitude this semester. Perhaps it’s becoming a more seasoned traveler and having the confidence to trust my own judgment over some travel guide’s, or perhaps it’s just my waning tolerance for time wasting – whatever the reason, I abandoned any notion of what I “had” to see, and started focusing on what I wanted to see instead. What did that mean? Skipping things like the famed Vasa Museum in Stockholm in favor of the kitschy ABBA Museum, peacing out from Monaco when I just wasn’t feeling it, and feeling free to linger at markets in London rather than seeing more “important” sites. In the end, I was way happier for it.

4 – Booked Last Supper Tickets Super Early:

I had heard stories from people who wanted to see The Last Supper in Milan, only to arrive and find themselves out of luck because a pre-booked time slot was not available. Since seeing The Last Supper was the impetus for my entire trip to Milan, I knew I could not make that same mistake. I booked months in advance, which was possibly a bit excessive, but in the end, totally worth the obsessiveness: I finally saw da Vinci’s magnificent fresco up close, which was definitely one of the most special art encounters of my life.

5 – Walked Everywhere I Could:

One thing I did very little of this semester was use public transportation; I rode subways sparingly and almost never took a bus outside of my commute to work. Instead, I wandered around on my own two feet most of the time, even when it probably would have been more efficient to not do so. This strategy allowed me to justify indulging in some pretty delicious food while overseas. But, more importantly, it made me feel more connected to each location I visited. It gave me a better sense of place, it allowed me to find spots I otherwise wouldn’t have stumbled upon, and it gave me lots of time to think. In every city, long, meandering walks became something to savor, and my semester was all the better for it.

6 – Arrived in Montreux Super Early:

To say the least, I am not morning person, despite repeated efforts over the years to force myself into becoming one. Yet often I find that, when traveling, it pays to rise early and get to sites before everyone else, as this often means shorter lines and more opportunities to take pictures without swarms of people in them. That’s why, when it came time to visit the Château de Chillon, I got up super early to take the train from Geneva to Montreux, and then the bus out to Chillon. It worked perfectly: I rolled in before the first tour group descended on the castle, and I was able to spend most of my visit in complete peace. Early rising? Painful but oh so worth it.

7 – Added Berlin and Dresden to My Itinerary:

I had visited Berlin three years ago and loved it, but I have to admit it wasn’t high on my list of places to travel this semester; I was trying to make it to more new-to-me locales. Then, randomly, I remembered Dresden, a city that had come very highly recommended to me by a former boss (and many others), but that I had never quite managed to visit. Suddenly, I had a plan: a quick weekend trip to Germany, with a day in Berlin and a day in Dresden. In Berlin, I found even more reasons to love the city, from stunning architecture to funky street art to delicious cuisine. And in Dresden? I completely fell in love. The city was magnificent, and I’m so happy I made the trip.

8 – Lived Cheaply in Geneva:

Living cheaply in Geneva is something of an oxymoron, as the city is notoriously expensive (see: exhibit A). However, I did the best I could by avoiding the apartment rental market and slumming it in student housing for the semester – hooray, shared bathrooms! My dorm was also located in a rather notorious area of Geneva: the Paquis, home to plenty of student housing and…the red light district. While some locals are a bit wary of the area (and while it is admittedly a bit rough around the edges), I never felt unsafe calling it home, and my wallet thanked me for it. I’d happily trade luxury accommodations for a little extra money to take more weekend trips.

9 – Skipped Starbucks (Mostly):

This sort of seems like “Captain Obvious” advice, but…don’t go to Starbucks when in Europe (and, to be honest, probably not when in America either). There’s something comforting about the mega-chain, to be sure; if you’re down or homesick, Starbucks can feel reassuringly American, a comforting port in a travel storm. But, the coffee isn’t great (in my opinion), the prices are ridiculous (particularly in Europe), and you’ll miss out on other more delightful alternatives. Besides a moment of weakness in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, I never set foot in the ‘bucks, and I was happier for it. Otherwise, how else would I have drank the incredibly indulgent hot chocolate at Cafe Schober in Zurich, sipped cappuccino while people watching at Le Petit Cler in Paris, or cozied up over tea at Perch’s in Copenhagen?

10 – Allowed Myself to Indulge in Paris:

It probably comes as no surprise that I am an avid reader of travel and expat blogs, and many of my favorites are Paris-centric. Naturally, then, I have a huge list of Paris restaurants, cafés, and pastry shops I’m dying to visit. While my five days in Paris were not long enough to make an appreciable dent in that list, I did hit a lot of good places. I achieved that by letting myself splurge a lot in Paris – think decadent eclairs from L’Éclair de Génie, stuffed-to-the-brim falafels from L’As du Fallafel, and sinfully rich chocolat chaud from Angelina. Should you eat like this all the time? No. Should you eat like this when you’re vacationing in Paris, and not feel guilty about it? Yes.

11 – Never Said “No” to a Farmers Market:

I love a good farmers market, at home or abroad, but there’s just something special about visiting one in a new-to-you European city. From seeing the locals shopping to finding out what types of fresh produce are popular in a particular place, visiting a market always feels like a great way to get to know a city, which is why I always stop when I see one. I browsed through markets most everywhere I went – including Lyon, Nice, and Lucerne – and I never, ever got tired of it. In fact, I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

12 – Meandered Along the Canals in Amsterdam:

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Amsterdam is a city of great cultural attractions, and in my two visits, I like to think I have hit many of them: I climbed the treacherous staircase up to the Anne Frank House, I visited the Rijksmuseum both before and after its renovation, I explored the entire van Gogh oeuvre at his namesake museum, and I sipped beer at the Heineken Experience. Truth be told, though, I don’t even think these are the real treasures of Amsterdam: the true gem is the city itself, and namely its terribly charming canals. Over the course of my weekend in Amsterdam, I made canal exploration a priority, ending each day with a long walk along the canals and spending plenty of hours during the day roaming around them as well. While I think the city’s museums are quite worthwhile, I would recommend letting go of the pressure to visit all of them; make sure you spend ample time soaking up that canal magic, too.

13 – Kept an Open Mind about Strange Foods:

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When it comes to challenging foods, I don’t exactly have what you would classify as the strongest stomach. This semester, however, I made a point of trying all the local favorites wherever I went, and this meant keeping an open mind about foods that were a little scary. From haggis in Edinburgh to reindeer in Stockholm to pickled (like, excessively pickled) fruits and veggies in Budapest, I never said no to anything. I didn’t love everything I tried, but I was always happy I made the effort.

14 – Visited Castle Hill in the Early Evening:

I would like to say that I had some grand plan for visiting Budapest’s Castle Hill in the evening, that I knew most tourists would have cleared out by that point, that I anticipated how magical it would feel to watch the sun set over the city from high atop that incredible vantage point. To be honest, however, the real reason was this: I took a longer-than-planned afternoon nap and ended up having to make the trip to Castle Hill in the evening out of necessity. Happy accidents, people – they are the foundation of many of my best travel memories.

15 – Ate My Way Through Borough Market:

On my Saturday in London, I had an ambitious itinerary, and it all kicked off with the Borough Market. Just one problem: I became kind of obsessed with the market, and found myself not wanting to leave. Suddenly, I felt my plans shift: I ate breakfast at the market, ran over to the Shard for a quick visit, and then found myself coming back to the market for lunch. Yes, there were other places I had wanted to go, but sometimes, you’ve just got to stick with what works. And Borough Market has so much good food to choose from that I know I only scratched the surface; it will be on my itinerary for future London trips for sure.

16 – Sought Out Sunsets:

Something that sounds super cheesy to write but is nevertheless true is this: one of the best things I did while in Europe was give myself the time and freedom to seek out beautiful things. I visited Rue Crémieux for no other reason than that it was colorful, I spent hours wandering among the flowers at the Keukenhof, and, of course, I found myself seeking out sunsets again and again. Often, I would rearrange my schedule just to walk along the water at peak sundown hours, and more than once I dropped other plans just for the sake of seeing a gorgeous sunset (as depicted in the above shot, where I completely abandoned packing for home in Copenhagen to take one last walk through Nyhavn Harbor).

17 – Lingered in Bruges:

I’ve heard of many people doing Bruges as a day trip from Brussels, and given the close proximity of the two cities, that’s certainly a viable option. But something told me that I would love Bruges, and so I opted to spend two nights and three days there. I couldn’t have wound up happier with my decision, as I completely fell in love with magnificent Bruges. The magic of the canals, the abundance of artwork, and the wickedly indulgent waffles provided more than enough reason to linger, and I’m so glad I spent that time in Bruges rather than in Brussels, a city I couldn’t quite bring myself to love.

18 – Went Back for Panzerotti a Second Time:

Sometimes when I’m visiting a place, I make it an unwritten rule to try something different for each meal. Even if I stumble upon something wonderful, it feels right to explore as much of a city’s cuisine as possible. But sometimes, I have to abandon my self-imposed rules in favor of something absolutely delicious. In Milan, it was Luini Panzerotti, makers of the humble, cheap street food that also wound up being one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten: glorious panzerotti. It looks like a calzone, but it tastes about five thousand times better: a sweet dough with a piping hot savory filling, the combination of which was culinary perfection. It was worth the multiple visits, and the next time I find myself in Milan, you can bet Luini’s will be one of my first stops.

19 – Rectified Past Mistakes at the Reichstag:

On my first trip to Berlin, I found myself adoring the city, much to my surprise. I had no idea Berlin would be so wonderful – its amazing museums and its fun, funky vibe immediately won me over. My time in the city would have been just about perfect, if not for one big mistake: I didn’t reserve advance tickets for the Reichstag, and my sister and I were turned away at the gate. This time around, I knew I had to climb that dome, and so I planned way in advance – which was totally worth it. I loved the architectural spectacle of Berlin’s big dome, and I’m so glad I got to experience it my second time around.

20 – Cozied Up in Copenhagen:

One of the enduring dilemmas I face while traveling is this: the struggle between wanting to do things in a place and wanting to just be there. What I mean is that, when you’re traveling, there’s often pressure to see all the things, to hit every item on a city’s imaginary bucket list. But some of my favorite moments have come when I’m not doing anything at all, when I’m just lingering and enjoying a place. I had one such moment in Copenhagen, where I decided to abandon my plans to explore the city more in favor of hunkering down in a coffee shop. I sipped tea, read a book, and took refuge from an unexpectedly chilly day in May. It might not have been an afternoon of adventure or discovery, but it’s nevertheless one of my fondest Copenhagen memories.

And, with that, I’ve finally said everything I have to say about my semester abroad. It’s hard now not to look back at it with overly nostalgic, rose-colored glasses, to romanticize it as the BEST TIME EVER. But in the end, I have to say…it kind of was. Mistakes and all, I was crazy fortunate to call Geneva home for four months, and to travel all around Europe for even longer. I don’t know when – or if – I will ever have the chance to spend such an extended amount of time overseas, and so my semester-long adventure will always be super special to me. I was pretty damn lucky.

I Recall Central Park in Fall

Here we are, well into December and I’m writing a post about autumn. The truth is, despite my tardiness, I really wanted to blog about Central Park in fall, current season be damned. It seems cliché at this point to be incredibly excited about fall – changing colors! Pumpkin spice lattes! Cozy sweaters! – but I can’t help but find myself waxing rhapsodic about it too, right alongside everyone else on Instagram. And the number one object of my autumnal affection this year? Central Park, of course.

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I had lots of reasons for choosing the Upper West Side to live, but Central Park was honestly one factor that didn’t occur to me as I made my decision. The first night I arrived in New York, though, it hit me: Central Park was just a few minutes from my doorstop, a quick two block journey east. Near daily walks to the park became a thing for me this autumn and, let me tell you, living so close to the park has been fantastic. It often seems like down just about every pathway – and there are a lot of them – I can find explosions of fall colors to admire.

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Before I became a permanent resident, I always found Central Park intimidating to navigate, a maze of poorly-marked pathways down which I always seemed to be making wrong turns. These past few months, however, the Park has become a close friend: the pathways now feel familiar, and I’ve figured out which little landmarks to look for as I meander through. It’s a gigantic space, but suddenly, it seems a bit cozier to me, a bit more like home.

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I’m sure I will find things to love about Central Park in every season – paths covered with freshly fallen snow in the winter, bright blossoms on the trees in spring, and the perfect picnic spots in summer. But fall? I have a sneaking suspicion that I will always love that Central Park season most of all.

November in New York: A Few Favorites

One thing I’d like to start doing is posting monthly recaps – little collections of all the things I’ve seen, done, and eaten that month. Now that I’m living in New York, I would love to have a fun record of my time in this city, and this seems like a good way to do just that. And so, here are a few of the best things I did this past month.

November flew by in a blur – my days were filled with establishing a new routine with a new job in a new city, working lots of late nights, and trying to make my apartment feel a bit more homey. It went by in such a blur that, here we are, well into December, and I’m only now getting the chance to write about it.

Despite the fact that the month was packed with more than a few work and household-related chores, I’m a bit surprised at how much other good stuff I managed to fit into November as well. Scrolling through my camera roll, it’s clear to me that my first November in New York treated me just fine after all.

November was filled with more than a few getting to know “my” neighborhood (the lovely Upper West Side) strolls. This meant lots of visits to Central Park:

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And lots of wandering around the oh-so-charming UWS streets, my iPhone camera constantly at the ready and my heart filled to the brim with brownstone-envy:

I work in midtown, so I also logged plenty of hours there this month, from braving the rain in search of coffee (Gregory’s, please):

To wandering past Radio City and getting excited about the first signs of holiday decor:

To taking a Paint Nite class:

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Elsewhere, I fought through crowds at the New York Festival of Light in DUMBO:

And over Thanksgiving, I enjoyed a jam-packed weekend with my family, from seeing Les Mis on Broadway (my second time seeing it this year – the first being in London):

To visiting the 9/11 Museum (an extremely powerful experience):

To making our way through Washington Square Park to work off a few of those Thanksgiving dinner calories:

Speaking of food, November was a good eating month, too. The aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner was at Rosemary’s, an adorable West Village spot that I now count among my favorites in the city:


I also had a fancy afternoon tea at the Plaza, which was already decked out for Christmas:

I stopped by the Meatball Shop, where I had a delicious meatball sandwich but was surprised to discover that my favorite part of the menu wasn’t even the meatballs at all – it was the ice cream sandwiches. My mom and I split one with mint ice cream, while my sister and did split one with brown butter ice cream. They were To. Die. For.

I also tried the famous black and white cookies at Amy’s Bread. I’d never eaten a black and white cookie before, so why not start with the version that’s consistently dubbed one of the best in New York?

Closer to home, I stopped by the UWS branch of the Shake Shack, which mercifully has shorter lines than some of its other sister branches. I still think it’s slightly overrated, but the food becomes much tastier when you don’t have to wait forever to get it:

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And finally, I popped into Jacob’s Pickles, an Upper West Side favorite (seriously, in the span of just a few days, no fewer than three different people recommended I eat there). My chicken and pickle sandwich was delicious (that biscuit though!), and I’m sure I will be back many times in the future.

And with that, my first full month in New York came to a delicious close. What was the highlight of your November?

Exploring the High Line Expansion

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I’ve written about the High Line, New York’s old elevated-rail-line-turned-public-park, a few times before (see here and here), but since it has recently added a third section, I figured another visit – not to mention another blog post – was in order. The new phase of the High Line runs from 30th to 34th streets, looping around the West Side Yard along the way.

Early on a Saturday morning – or, early by NYC weekend standards (9am-ish) – I set out for the 34th Street entrance to the High Line. What I noticed right away about the third phase is how different it felt from other sections of the park. It’s much more industrial and urban: it surrounds a rail yard, incorporates railroad tracks into its pathways, and has views over the Hudson to glamorous New Jersey. It’s not as pretty as the other sections of the High Line, but what’s cool about it is that it feels more like a part of the city. It’s less idyllic and peaceful and more real.

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The new section of the park is relatively short, so I could not resist continuing on to the older, more-familiar-to-me phases. There are some places that I doubt I’ll ever tire of visiting (not to mention photographing), and the High Line has to be one of them. There are lots of reasons why I feel lucky to live in New York now, but getting to stop by the High Line whenever I feel like it has to be one of the greatest.

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Under the Manhattan Bridge at the New York Festival of Light

Once again, I’ve fallen behind on blogging, but perhaps, this time, with good reason: I’ve had a crazy busy fall, starting with apartment hunting in New York (an insane process even in the best of circumstances), followed by traveling around Italy, moving to New York, starting a new job, and becoming super busy at said job. In short, I’ve been doing quite a bit of living. But blogging? Not so much.

I have a backlog of posts to get to, stretching all the way back to May (!!), but I also have a strong urge to write about what’s happening now, to chronicle some of the things I’m doing in this newish-to-me city that I have already come to adore. And so, since this is my space and I make the rules here, I have decided to abandon my usual practice of covering things chronologically and instead to write about it all, to alternate between older travel posts and more recent happenings.

And so, to start, an event I attended a few weekends ago: The inaugural New York Festival of Light.

I saw someone post about the festival on Facebook, and I was intrigued: innovative light installations under the Manhattan Bridge, created by artists from around the world. It sounded worth a trip to Brooklyn to me. And so, when my best friend asked if I wanted to hang out that weekend, I immediately thought of the festival and suggested we check it out. Wouldn’t it be awesome?

Well…as it turns out, yes and no.

Mostly though, if I’m being honest, no.

Here’s the problem: the festival was insanely crowded. Now, I expected it to be busy, to some extent. This is New York; there are always crowds. But I was not expecting the wall-to-wall, soul-crushing mass that I found when I got off the subway at York Street. It took me almost an hour just to find my friends, and actually getting up close to any of the light installations required further waits. I never even made it to the installations directly under the bridge itself; navigating the mass of people to get to the bridge turned out to be way too daunting.

As for the Festival itself, the bits of it I could actually see were pretty cool – I especially liked the various light projections on the bridge – but perhaps not worth the frustration and effort. The Festival was obviously quite popular, and I would love to see them do it again next year, only with more attention to logistics and crowd control. The artists whose work was featured had some excellent ideas, and it would be nice if their creations – and all the attendees – had a bit more room to breathe.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 131

The sorta-weekly-ish roundup of internet finds:

  1. Always good: Celebrities Read Mean Tweets #8.
  2. I’m a Parenthood fan, but the final season has been a little (er, a lot) disappointing, and this is a good summation of why: What Happened? Why Is Every Character on Parenthood the Worst Now?
  3. Even though Thanksgiving is already over, I may mentally file this idea away for future years: FRIENDSgiving (“Rachel wasn’t supposed to put beef in the trifle!”)
  4. Another thing to file away for next Thanksgiving: The United States of Thanksgiving.
  5. Anything that involves Anderson Cooper giggling is a good thing: Anderson Cooper Had No Idea His Ridiculist Was About Him.
  6. I’m seeing Straight No Chaser perform live this week, and I have naturally been listening to Text Me Merry Christmas on repeat in preparation.
  7. Fantastic: Tinder Guys Unknowingly Answer Carrie’s Questions from Sex and the City.
  8. Heh: We Are All This Golden Retriever Spectacularly Bombing an Agility Test.
  9. This is all so true, but MAN do I love this movie anyway: Love Actually Honest Trailer.
  10. I thought Interstellar was only average as a movie, but this is interesting: Interstellar Reading List: What’s on the Movie’s Big Bookshelf?

(Image via)