Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 145

The weekly roundup of fabulous internet finds:

  1. Spot on (and yet I totally am a sucker for objects with French phrases on them): French Speakers Hilariously Discuss What French T-Shirts Actually Say.
  2. Hilarious: Grown Up Annie on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
  3. Perfumes for each of New York’s neighborhoods: What Exactly Does New York Smell Like?
  4. So much joy: One Man Emerges from the Sea to Frolic with 4 Million Rescued Pugs.
  5. Love these pictures: April 1950: Coke Comes to France.
  6. Cute: Realistic, Miniature Paris-Inspired Cafe Food Fits On Your Fingertips.
  7. Exactly: 7 Travel Inventions I’d Love to See (But Probably Never Will).
  8. A long clip, but well worth it: John Oliver Sounds Off on Unpaid Maternity Leave on Mother’s Day.
  9. HAH: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck Admit to Deflategate on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
  10. “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say”: Read Amy Schumer’s Powerful Speech About Confidence.

(Image via)

Norway in a Nutshell: Stunning Natural Beauty Among the Fjords

Norway in a Nutshell

I still have a huuuuge backlog of posts from Italy to get to but, fickle blogger that I am, I find myself unable to refrain from writing about the trip I just got back from. So, from the beautiful chaos of Italy, I’m switching gears to the beautiful order and efficiency of two Nordic countries, Norway and Finland.

The entire trip was spurred by my desire to see Norway’s fjords, and so fittingly I began my journey there. Over the past year or so, I had seen blog posts and articles about the fjords pop up again and again; everyone, it seemed, was raving about Norway’s natural beauty. Combine that with the promise of super affordable flights on Norwegian Air and I was sold: to the fjords I would go.

I based myself in Bergen, a town nestled among the mountains and, fittingly, known as “the gateway to the fjords.” I did what basically everybody who comes to this region of Norway does: follow the Norway in a Nutshell pathway, a route that takes you through some of Norway’s most stunning vistas by train, bus, and ferry boat. Here’s how the day unfolded.

Part One: “Pinch Me” Views on Train Rides

There are several routes that can be taken to get to Norway in a Nutshell; since I was based in Bergen, I purchased the version that consisted of a round trip from there. Phase one of my journey involved trains: a train from Bergen to Myrdal, and then a train from Myrdal to Flåm. This latter train, the Flåmsbana, is the steepest in Europe and comes with some awe-inspiring scenery.

The first train ride was beautiful, but the views became downright spectacular by the second: the tiny little houses perched up in the mountains, the tall skinny pine trees in the various gradations of green that I would come to view as typically Norwegian, the bright sunshine creating beautiful reflections in the sparkling water, and the old, hearty Norwegians with walking sticks, cheerfully hiking everywhere. Tourists riding the Flåmsbana tend to stand, peeking as far as they can out the windows, and it got to the point where we were all ping ponging back and forth: catching a glimpse of something gorgeous out the left side of the train, then scooting over to the right for the next beautiful thing that came along.

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Part Two: A Relaxing Lakeside Lunch in Flåm

Unsurprisingly, the Flåm Railway ends in Flåm, a tiny town situated right on the water. The next phase of the journey – the boat ride through the fjords – was not scheduled to depart for about an hour and a half, so I had a bit of time to kill.

There wasn’t much to do in Flåm, but it certainly was pretty – the town is nestled between mountains, with waterside pathways and trees that were just beginning to bloom during my visit. I had enough time to grab lunch at the cafeteria (nothing spectacular, but the point of Norway in a Nutshell isn’t gourmet food; it’s scenery) and to take a pleasant walk along the water.

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Part Three: Jaw-Dropping Beauty on a Boat Ride

If I got nothing else out of the day – if the train hadn’t run and the bus had broken down – it all would have been worth it for this boat ride. THIS is what I came to Norway for, this ferry from Flåm to Gutvangen through the Sognefjord. This was the Norway I was hoping to see. This was the Norway that straight-up blew me away.

Words don’t do it justice, and even though I love looking through my pictures (if I do say so myself), they don’t quite capture it either. Every turn the boat made brought more wow moments: snow-capped mountains with tiny little villages of brightly colored houses nestled beneath them, clear blue water sparkling in the sunshine, and clouds doing oh-so-magical things. This boat ride will go down as one of my favorite travel moments ever, of that I am certain.

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Part Four: Hold-Your-Breath Hairpin Turns on a Bus

After the wonder of the fjord cruise, the final legs of my journey were bound to be somewhat anticlimactic – though that is not to say they didn’t have wonderful scenery in their own right. From Gutvangen, we hopped on a bus to Voss. The bus took us down a mountain on a series of hairpin turns that were alternately thrilling and oh-my-God-I-cannot-look-this-is-too-steep terrifying. The drive into Voss was glorious as well – we passed along a lake right at the moment when the sun was hitting it just so that it was blindingly bright.

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In Voss, I grabbed the train back to Bergen, sitting in a car alongside Norwegian families, their ski gear stacked overhead, their adorably blonde children decked out in coordinating snowsuits. It felt like the perfectly Norwegian end to the perfectly Norwegian day – a day when I learned that, yes, the natural landscape of Norway really is as spectacular as everyone says it is.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 144

The weekly roundup of things that are almost awesome as a pug shaking itself dry:

  1. So good: Todrick Hall Remixed Disney Songs as 90s James, and They Are Magical.
  2. Some I knew about, some were surprises: These 43 Disney Secrets Were Hiding Right in Front of Our Eyes.
  3. Way too catchy: Dark Lord Funk (Harry Potter Parody of Uptown Funk).
  4. Super excited about this movie: Here’s What the Live-Action Beauty and the Beast Cast Looks Like.
  5. True: All Trailers Are the Same.
  6. Hah (and yet I’m still dying to get a dog of my own): A Bill for All Debts Accrued by My Dog.
  7. For future reference: Manhattan’s First Ever Subway Bar Map.
  8. Fun: An Animated History of 20th Century Hairstyles.
  9. Accurate: Real Housewives of King’s Landing.
  10. Hail: U-M Grads’ Rendition of Fight Song Will Give You Chills. I love this so much.

(Image via)

Seaside Relaxation in Riomaggiore

During my time in Cinque Terre, I was based in the town of Vernazza and, truth be told, I was pretty content just chilling out there. Still, the area is called the five lands for a reason, and though I had seen each of them before, I figured I may as well explore one or two again this time around. Enter: Riomaggiore.

I hopped the train to Riomaggiore from Vernazza, and upon arrival, began the hike up into Riomaggiore proper. That’s the thing about Cinque Terre: you can take a train “to” a town, but there’s often a little hike to get there. In Riomaggiore there is – allegedly – an elevator to the main part of town, but after a brief, half-hearted search, I decided just to hike. After all, isn’t that what one does in the Cinque Terre? That, or eat gelato by the water.

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The short climb, though, was worth it. I loved Riomaggiore, though to be fair, all of the region’s towns are adorable. Still, I loved it. I loved the walk up a flower-lined, mural-filled road into town. And especially, I loved the view from the heart of Riomaggiore, looking out into the Ligurian Sea, past the cheerful, brightly-colored buildings.

After poking around for a bit, I decided it was time to head to the next town, Manarola, which is connected to Riomaggiore by the Via dell’Amore, the Cinque Terre’s easiest walking path. I made my way to the Via dell’Amore, only to find…a gate barring the pathway. My walk to Manarola was not to be, and though I could have hopped on a train to that town, I decided to change up my plans.

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A Pié de Mà is a wine bar on the edge of Riomaggiore, perched right up above the water. The views are stunning and the atmosphere relaxed. I grabbed a plate of cheese, drizzled with honey, and a glass of white and settled in. I read a little, I scribbled a few notes in my journal iPhone, I stared out at the water, literally sparkling under the midday sun. It was not quite the event I had planned for – but it was not too shabby nonetheless.

Lazy Days in Vernazza

The journey to Vernazza started in chaos, as many Italian journeys seem wont to do. I took the train from Bologna to Florence, and in Florence I was to change to a train bound for La Spezia. Predictably, my train from Bologna was delayed, and I found myself rolling into Florence’s Santa Maria Novella much later than planned.

Not keen to wait around in the crowded train station until the next La Spezia train departed, I jumped off my train from Bologna and began my mad dash to catch the train I wanted. It felt like one of those slapstick scenes from a movie, weaving in and out of packs of people, dodging errant rollerbags, frantically trying to figure out which platform my intended train was departing from.

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I made it just in time, and even managed to score a good seat (something of a victory for me on this trip). In La Spezia, I disembarked with a horde of other travelers, all of us trying to figure out which train to take to get to the particular Cinque Terre town we were aiming for. Few of the information screens seemed to be working, and the line to talk to an agent was insanely long, so instead, I spent a fair bit of time wandering from platform to platform, searching for a clue.

I prevailed eventually, and made my way to Vernazza. By the time I climbed the several sets of steep stairs to the apartment I was renting in town, I was exhausted, cranky, and more than a little sweaty.

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But here’s what’s great about Vernazza: it’s a tiny town, and not ten minutes after that initial low point, I was sitting at a table overlooking the water, sipping on a white wine, and feeling the cool breeze from the sea. My whole time in the Cinque Terre was like that: one moment I was pushing through a crowd of fellow travelers, frustrated as hell, and the next I was walking along the shore, admiring a sunset straight out of a watercolor painting over the Ligurian Sea, and completely at peace.

Save for a bit of hiking, my time in Cinque Terre was blissfully low key. I poked around a lot, in and out of shops, up and down teeny tiny alleyways. I ate gelato by the water. I took one thousand photographs of the sun setting. I dangled my toes in the sea and people watched, squinting in the impossibly bright sun all the while. It was wonderful.

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If I did one thing really right this trip to Italy it was this, this mixture of go, go, go and relaxation. I took it easy in Varenna…then I braved the tourist gauntlet in Venice. I relaxed in Vernazza…then I visited all the museums in Florence. I lazed around the Amalfi coast…then I walked all over Rome. It was the perfect balance.

A Magnificent Morning in Cinque Terre

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If there’s one thing I hate, it is getting up early. But if there’s one thing I hate even more, it is crowds. And the unfortunate thing about Italy’s Cinque Terre being so beautiful is that everyone and their mother wants to visit, making the crowds pretty crushing at times.

During my visit, I knew I wanted to do a bit of hiking. Since the devastating floods and mudslides hit the area in 2011, some trails have been closed on and off for repairs, meaning that a few of the routes I wanted to hike were not open during my visit. Luckily, the hike I most wanted to make – the one with the iconic view of Vernazza’s harbor – was up and running. And I knew two things: I wanted to make the journey before the crushing midday heat, and before the equally crushing throng of hikers descended on the trail.

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I woke to a beeping alarm clock at 7am and…got out of bed somewhat begrudgingly, albeit less begrudgingly than usual. After a quick breakfast, I set out, taking the trail out of Vernazza and upward.

Along the way, I encountered almost nobody, just as I had hoped. The trails were blissfully empty, save a few ambitious early morning joggers and a handful of locals, puttering around in their hillside gardens and terraced fields. And the views…the views were spectacular.

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I have this memory, from the first time I hiked the Cinque Terre in 2005, of utter exhaustion mixed with exhilaration. Every time I found myself getting annoyed at the endless climb – up, up, and up – I would catch a glimpse of something spectacular: the blue sea sparkling below, the colorful houses dotting each town, the wild flowers growing along the path.

It was a lot like that this time around, though a bit less stressful given the cooler temps and empty trails. Sometimes I felt tired, but getting to the top, getting to the point where I could look down and see Vernazza’s jewel of a harbor below, splendid as ever in the soft morning light, made me remember that any weariness was temporary. I felt like I could have stayed at the top forever, content to admire the world below in tranquil silence. It was well worth rising early.

 

April in New York: A Few Favorites

NYC April 2015

Maybe it’s down to the spring weather – finally! – but April felt like the month where I did…everything, basically. Saw all the plays, ate all the food, and took ALL the flower pictures (that last point cannot be emphasized enough). Oh, and logged all the hours at work, but we won’t get into that one here.

When the weather is great, one of my favorite things to do is walk the High Line (see: exhibit one, exhibit two, and exhibit three). I had a friend visiting from DC, and she had never visited the High Line, so I knew it was a must-do. Even though it was crowded on our visit – hell, it’s always crowded – it was a great afternoon and a beautiful day to visit one of my favorite spaces in Manhattan.

View from the High Line

In other spring news, the windows at Macy’s were in full bloom for the Macy’s Flower Show. I cannot adequately explain how I adored these window displays – I think coming back to admire them will become a new yearly tradition, even more so than the Macy’s Christmas windows.

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Speaking of flowers, they were everywhere this month. Walking through Central Park was a real treat; I feel so lucky that I live just five minutes from all this.

Central Park Springtime

I didn’t have to go to the park to find flowers, though – they started popping up on every corner of the city this month, or so it seemed. The tarps are off the bodega flower stands now, and it is glorious.

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NYC Flower Shops

This month, I was lucky enough to score two free tickets to a Yankees game. We had great seats, and I was pumped because I had never been to a Yankees game before. There was just one problem: it was freezing. Like 30 degrees, with a light mist falling on us the entire game. Hooray!

Yankee Stadium

One of my favorite things about living in New York is the abundance of shows playing at any given moment. This month, I was lucky to see a bunch of good ones. First – and best – was The Audience with Helen Mirren. I’m so excited I got to see Mirren perform in person; she was, of course, impeccable as Queen Elizabeth, as were the actors playing each Prime Minister.

The Audience

Another show I had wanted to see for a while was Beautiful, the Carole King musical. This one was staged so well – I loved all the colorful set pieces, and hearing all the old, familiar 60s-era songs was a treat.

Beautiful on Broadway

And, after a lifetime of listening to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, I know basically every word to every song – yet I had never seen it performed live. Now, I have.

Phantom on Broadway

I also saw the Radio City Spring Spectacular with my family, who were in town visiting. Though they may be cheesy, I’ve always wanted to see the Rockettes perform, so this was fun. I do need to get back at Christmastime, though.

Radio City Spring Spectacular

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On Easter, I grabbed brunch with my BFF at Piquant in Brooklyn. The food – I had steak and eggs – was alright, but the bottomless drinks were better.

Piquant Brunch

We continued our Easter Sunday across the street at Woodland. With more mimosas, but of course:

Mimosas at Woodland

In other Brooklyn dining news, I visited Smorgasburg – twice. Favorites included a hotdog topped with Thai mango relish at Asia Dog and the ice cream sandwich from Good Batch.

Asia Dog (Smorgasburg)

The Good Batch (Smorgasburg)

Along with my family, I went on a pizza tour in Cobble Hill with Scott’s Pizza Tours. We sampled three slices and learned a lot about the Brooklyn pizza scene.

Scott's Pizza Tours

Back in Manhattan, I grabbed brunch with my sister and a friend at Parker & Quinn after seeing Age of Adaline one Saturday. The steak frites were pretty on point:

Parker & Quinn

At Babbo, my family tried the pasta tasting menu: seven courses of pure carbohydrate bliss. More on this later, but for now, a little teaser:

Babbo

We also had dinner at Parm, which is my number one Upper West Side staple at this point. The entrees were good, as they always are, but the Neapolitan ice cream cake was what I was most looking forward to. Not only was it beautiful to look at, it was incredibly tasty.

Parm UWS Ice Cream Cake

The Tipsy Parson is also becoming another NYC staple for me. It is southern comfort food done right, and I love its location in Chelsea (perhaps because it’s right by Maison 140, one of my favorite little home décor shops).

Tipsy Parson

And finally, I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie at Levain, which is one of the few places in the city that I think is 100% deserving of the hype it gets. The lines here are always well out the door, and often way down the block, but the cookies are worth it. The chocolate chip with walnut never, ever disappoints – eat it warm for maximum gooey awesomeness.

Levain Bakery

In summary: April was awesome, and flowers are my favorite (Levain chocolate chip cookies kind of are too). May, you are on notice.