✈ Europe | Versailles

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris

During our stay in Paris we decided to take a day trip over to the Palace of Versailles. It’s just 10 miles from the city and is easily reachable by train.

Well…easy if you can navigate the train station. In our case, we raced over to the Gare d’Austerlitz to catch the RER train only to find that there were no ticket agents on duty that morning. So we flitted from machine to machine trying to buy our tickets. We couldn’t use any of our cards and it wouldn’t take bills. Turns out – you had to go upstairs to get your cash changed to coins, then come back down stairs to buy the tickets and find your track. Thankfully after a semi-rude encounter with a worker who insisted she knew nothing and was just on the maintenance crew, a passerby took pity on us and swiped us through the gates!

Since we’d missed the earlier train, this one was caught was packed with people heading to Versailles. A band of really talented musicians wandered through the cars serenading the riders.

When we arrived, we rushed along with the rest of the herd toward the Chateau. Walking up the street, all you can see is the golden gate and decorated rooftop of the palace glittering in the morning sun. Once there, we were ushered into a winding line to wait to be let in.

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The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau in the Île-de-France region of France. In French, it is known as the Chateau de Versailles. It’s commonly just called “Versailles”.

Versailles has been known as the epitome of indulgent luxury for centuries. It’s a place of queens and kings and pure decadence. I mean, this place is definitely over the top!

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We started by touring the Chateau. The ceilings, wall paper, fireplaces, and enormous canopied beds were all amazingly luxe. Marbled floors, impressive pillars, and gold in every direction you glance.

There is a stunning chapel and the sparkling Hall of Mirrors which has 357 mirrors in total. It was in this hall where Treaty of Versailles was signed following World War I. Grand celebrations and balls were also held here.

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| the two-story Royal Chapel, designed after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris  |
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 | the chapel |

versailles5warhall  | The Hall of Battles |

As you walk through this jaw-dropping home, it’s easy to see why the French grew angry and resentful about the unfair and undeserved privileges enjoyed by aristocracy and began a fiery revolution.

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| entering the Hall of Mirrors |

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| the Hall of Mirrors |
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| The Queen’s Bedchamber, where she also gave birth to the heirs to the throne |

Mom and I actually walked through the palace twice. The first time we were jostled around so much by the large tour groups that we could barely enjoy a thing since we were way too busy pushing our way through the crowds just so we could breathe again. Seriously folks, it was pretty overwhelming.

Thankfully, the beauty of the place does provide a bit of distraction if you have to battle throngs of tourists. Our second pass through was much calmer and we could really take in the beautiful surroundings without being trampled.
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After our visit at the palace, we explored the grounds that sprawl over nearly 2,000 acres. The gardens are perfectly manicured with flowers, grand fountains, and statues.

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From there we headed to the far end of the estate, where the Trainon Palaces and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet can be found. It’s so calm and peaceful this far from the Chateau that it completely makes sense why Marie Antoinette made this her little escape.
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The Hamlet was built for Marie-Antoinette in 1783, so that she and her ladies-in-waiting could entertain themselves with the charms of country life.
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| The Farm was home to varied livestock such as cows, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. |
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| The Malborough Tower was the point of departure for fishing outings and boat rides. |
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The Petit Trianon was a gift to Marie Antoinette from Louis XVI when he became King.
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| the Queen’s music room, view of the Temple of Love from the Petit Trianon.|

The Grand Trianon is an elegant residence designed by Jules Mansart in 1687. The pink marble structure is edged by geometric, pastel gardens. The large windows and bright decor give the home an airy, playful vibe – even though it’s still very fancy.

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The Grand Trianon was used mainly for hosting family visitors. Following the beheading of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI in Paris, this residence and its pink arches were left abandoned. Years later, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte reopened it and made it his personal home.
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Although the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, blew me away, Versailles is really something special too. If you get the chance to explore this lavish and regal complex – do it! It’s definitely a place where the past comes alive.

Up next… London!

✈ Europe | Paris

Catch up on our grand European adventure: Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II 

Day 1: We arrived at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Thankfully we’d been able to catch a decent amount of z’s on our overnight train ride so we were ready to hit the town. We met our airbnb hosts, dropped off our bags, and headed straight to the local street market our airbnb host in Florence told us about. There we bought a fresh rotisserie chicken, potatoes, and fruit. We ate our lunch at a few small parks (we had to keep changing venues because wasps were following us!). Then we wandered around the city and took in the sights!

We walked along the Seine, stopped in at Shakespeare and Company to browse the books, did a few laps around Notre Dame, admired the colorful Love Lock bridge, and visited the Musee de Cluny (which exhibits medieval art, treasures, and tapestries), and grabbed crepes for dinner as the sun went down.

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| the neighborhood market, Marche d’Aligre |

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| wandering the city streets and along the Seine |

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| hanging out at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore |

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| the lovely Notre-Dame Cathedral |

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| the Love Lock bridge – sweethearts attach a lock and toss the key into the water to symbolize their love |

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| outside the Musee de Cluny |

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| a glimpse of the Musee de Cluny’s collection: old treasures, the ceiling of the chapel, intricate tapestries |

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bon appétit |

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| crepes - very thin pancakes that are dressed up with sweet or savory toppings|

Day 2: We took a break from Paris and did a day trip to Versailles.

Day 3: We woke up, packed a lunch, and headed back to Notre Dame – this time to see inside! It was, as you might imagine, a gothic drool fest. Window after stunning window. Marvelous architecture. Neat gargoyles and grotesques. I totally get why people want to visit this cathedral. But then Mom took me to some place that was really mind-blowing…. Sainte-Chapelle.

It’s a breathtaking chapel; one of the finest to be built in France. It was built by Louis IX in the 1240s to house relics from the Holy Land, most notably the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. Most of the relics have been rehoused elsewhere or were lost in the revolution. Sainte-Chapelle also features an exceptional collection of stained-glass windows – 6,458 square feet of it to be exact. If you visit, make sure the sun is out that day because the light pours in and you feel like you’re inside a magical jewel box.

After soaking up Sainte-Chapelle, we continued our trek across the city. We passed a large throng of protesters, checked out the immense city hall, ran across a hidden medieval house, paid a somber yet moving visit to the Shoah memorial/museum, took a short break to people-watch (with a sorbet in hand), and popped into the Musee de l’Orangerie (an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings) to see Monet’s water lilies.

The sun was going to set soon so we quickly made our way down to the world-famous Eiffel Tower. The iron lattice structure is quite a sight! We had booked an evening boat tour so we were lucky enough to get to see the tower during the day and at night, when it was all lit up and glittery. The cruise was fun and it was nice to just relax, float along the Seine, and see the shining city by nightfall.

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| Notre-Dame |

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| inside the cathedral |

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| the beautiful windows of Notre-Dame |

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| Notre-Dame Cathedral |

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Sainte-Chapelle |

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| the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle |

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The Conciergerie, Hôtel de Ville – the city hall, and a medieval building|

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| Photos weren’t allowed at the Shoah Memorial but we found this plaque outside a nursery school in memory of the small children deported from 1942 to 1944 because they were born Jews; innocent victims of Nazi barbarism and the Vichy Government. They were exterminated in the death camps. |

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The Tuileries Garden, Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe |

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| the Eiffel Tower |

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| Paris at night |

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| views from our evening boat cruise |

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| the shining city |

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| the glowing Eiffel Tower |

Day 4: We woke up extremely early, caught the metro, and head to the Catacombs of Paris. We had read that the wait to get in can sometimes be 2-3 hours long so we wanted to avoid that. And boy, did we – we were the first in line! A little history about the Catacombs, they were developed in the late 1700s because Paris’ cemeteries were becoming overcrowded and causing serious health issues (disease ran rampant and water was contaminated). To solve this issue, the city closed several cemeteries and transferred the human remains to the old stone quarries. The bones were stacked neatly and plaques were installed stating which cemeteries the bones were moved from and the date. The Catacombs house over 6 million bones. To reach the Catacombs you travel down a narrow spiral stairwell and through a few stone hallways before reaching the ossuary, the final resting place for many of Paris’ dead.

After touring the Catacombs, we ascended into the light and made our way to Luxembourg Garden to enjoy a picnic lunch. Next, we stopped at the Panthéon (not to be confused with the Pantheon in Rome or the Parthenon in Greece) and took a quick peek inside the church of Mount St Stephen (which contains Paris’ only surviving rood screen – dated 1535 – which crosses over like a bridge with spiral staircases on either side).

After lots more walking we ended up at the quirky museum of Carnavalet which holds a collection of historic Parisian and French art, furniture, street and business signs, and more. My favorite room at Carnavalet was the one devoted to Art Deco and my favorite painting was one by Rene Lelong (Carrousel au Grand Palais, en 1910). I think I was captivated by its monochromatic beauty. We left the Carnavalet museum and stopped by the Place de Vosges, the oldest square in Paris.

Then we set off to find the Wall of Philip Augustus. It was built between 1180 and 1225 and a large portion of it still remains which you can find in the Marais (4th arrondissement). It’s across from the Village St-Paul and right next to a basketball court. This was our last discovery in Paris. After viewing the old wall, we grabbed dinner and went back to the our room to pack and prep for our trip the next day.

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| first in line at the Catacombs |
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| down the stairs and through the tunnels under the streets of Paris |
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| the ossuary – the Catacombs |
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Luxembourg Garden |
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the Panthéon |
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| Mount St Stephen |
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| the quirky museum of Carnavalet (yes, that’s a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair!) |
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Rene Lelong  - Carrousel au Grand Palais, en 1910 |
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| the art deco room at Carnavalet |
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| Place de Vosges, the oldest square in Paris |
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the Wall of Philip Augustus |
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| on the streets of Paris |
Up next… London! 

✈ Europe | Florence | Part II

Catch up on our grand European adventure: Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I

Day 3: I had caught a slight cold/fever so we slept in before having a very adventurous afternoon. We grabbed pizza (rosemary potato) off the street and supplies at the covered market (bread, prosciutto, brie, swiss cheese, and fruit) and picnicked in a park by a gorgeous synagogue.  We told the shop staff at the market that we wanted just a small slice of cheese… little did we know the wheel was huge and thus we ended up a massive chunk. After lunch we hiked up to Piazzale Michalangelo to take in the absolutely amazing views. If Florence hadn’t already stolen my heart, she definitely would have once we reached the overlook! It was incredible.

After many minutes spent marveling and taking pictures – we headed to the road where we were lucky to stumble upon an empty, walled trail that lead us back down to the river and the city. We wandered the medieval streets before ending up at the Palazzo Pitti. The palace was purchased by the Medici family and became the residence of the grand-dukes of Tuscany and later of the King of Italy. It is now a treasure-house of paintings and luxurious possessions. Many of the art pieces feature the technique known as trompe l’oeil (optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions) and were seriously astounding. After touring the palace and jaw-dropping royal apartments we finished the day with tasty gnocchi at a quaint little restaurant with a very sweet waiter.

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| covered market and our giant cheesy surprise |

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| wandering around town |

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| magnificent panoramic view from the Piazzale Michalangelo – a famous square at the top of a large hill |

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| views from and around the Piazzale Michalangelo |

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| more beautiful scenes from the overlook |

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| the hidden walled walkway we stumbled upon |

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| strolling the ancient streets |

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| the grand Palazzo Pitti, view from the palace windows, room after room after room of opulence, one of the trompe l’oeil pieces |

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| inside the palace’s royal apartments |

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| more elegance from inside the palace |

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| walking to dinner - Ponte Vecchio in the distance |

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| can’t go wrong with gnocchi |

Day 4: We visited the Medici chapel, church of San Lorenzo, and our favorite gelato shop (the Gelateria de’ Medici – conveniently located just down the street from our airbnb rental). I tried out their kiwi and pineapple while Mom went more decadent with coffee and chocolate. We made our way toward the Arno River, across, the Ponte Vecchio, and back to the Palazzo Pitti. This time we explored The Boboli Gardens just behind the palace. The gardens were vast, with many trails and fountains, and, of course, gorgeous views of Florence.

A bit rushed for time, we grabbed food to go, collected our luggage, and ate in the train station like typical tourists before hopping an overnight train to Paris. Much to our surprise, it turned out I’d somehow booked us a sleeper car! It was nice to actually catch some z’s but also a little odd since you are a 1 of 6 strangers in a tiny train car with 3 squeaky bunks stacked on each side. Besides Mom and me there was a grumpy man who smelled like sour milk, an elderly lady who was sweet but chatty, her husband who snored, and a young silent barefoot guy who just stared. So that was an experience to say the least…

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| skeleton of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, ceiling in the Medici Chapel, Tomb of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici with Dusk and Dawn, a bony crypt relic |

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| Ponte Vecchio |

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| at the Boboli Gardens |

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| the many walkways through the gardens |

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| more of the Boboli Gardens |

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 | at the end of the garden is the Grotto of Buontalenti built in 1583-93, here you can also see a chubby Bacchus riding a sea turtle |

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| dusk in Firenze |

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| shimmery sunset at the Piazza della Signoria |

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| good night basilica, good night bell tower |

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| farewell Florence, we’ve got a sleeper train to catch |

Up next… Paris!

✈ Europe | Florence | Part I

Miss our first two stops? Visit the links to catch up on our grand European adventure in Rome and Pompeii.

I’d like to preface this post by saying that I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with Florence, thus the need to split this recap into two parts. Florence is so impressive with its absurd amount of art, history, and beauty. I pretty much wandered around in a state of constant amazement. Well, I’d actually say this is true for our entire Eurotrip, but maybe just a bit more so in Firenze…

Day 1: We left Rome in the very early morning to hop a train to Florence. We arrived around 11 am, dropped our bags at our airbnb room, and went exploring. We visited the covered market, many lovely piazzas, and, of course, the always stunning basilicas. The street art / graffiti found in Florence was my favorite of the entire trip. And the food! Gelato, pizza, tiramisu …”Eataly”, you spoiled us for sure.

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| on the train from Rome to Florence |

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| view from our Airbnb room, pizza, and gelato from the best place in Florence |

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The Duomo or Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore with its red and green design & intricate statues and carvings |

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| the golden bronze doors of The Baptistery – one of Florence’s important religious buildings, dedicated to John the Baptist |

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| The Duomo, outside the Uffizi Gallery, the entrance to the Uffizi |

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| inside the church of Santa Trinita - built in the 11th century by monks of the Vallombrosan order |

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| inside the church of San Firenze |

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| street art + graffiti |

Day 2: Woke up to thunderstorms but braved the rain to make it to our morning appointment at The Uffizi Gallery. Along our walk we had the pleasure of enjoying the empty piazzas that had been teaming with people the day before. The Uffizi did not disappoint! We breathed in Botticelli and much more then stood in line at the Accademia Gallery to say hello to Michelangelo’s “David”. We lunched like locals – inhaling risotto with asparagus, gorgonzola gnocchi with walnuts, roasted veal, green beans, and a variety of gelato (pineapple, watermelon, pistachio, and chocolate orange).

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Piazza della Signoria featuring the Fountain of Neptune, a rainy selfie, Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, outside the Uffizi |

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| inside the Uffizi Gallery and Botticelli’s Primavera |

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| as seen from a window in the Uffizi |

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| David |

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chalk models of famous 19th century sculptors like Lorenzo Bartolini and Luigi Pampaloni |

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| lunch – gorgonzola gnocchi – my new favorite dish |

Up Next… our last two days in Florence

✈ Europe | Pompeii

Miss our first stop? Click here to catch up the beginning of our grand European adventure.

During our stay in Rome we decided to do a day trip down to Pompeii. My mom has been dying to go since she was a little girl so I’m glad we were able to make it happen!

We woke up in the dark, early morning to catch the train, dodging sleeping homeless people as we went. Arriving at Termini, the main railway station for Rome, we eventually located the street for the tourism office and stopped to chat with another couple to going to Pompeii…. until their guide showed up and told us we were actually at the wrong tour company! Eeek! Thankfully the correct meeting place was just a few blocks down so we were able to hustle and still catch the shuttle on time. From the bus windows we took in the scenery and grabbed a quick cat nap before arriving in Pompeii almost 3 hours later.

We paid our admission and set off to explore the city. We elected not to hire a private guide and were still able to see all the highlights: the Forum (with artifacts and plaster body casts of the poor casualties), the Baths, the brothel, large and small amphitheaters, the House of the Fawn, the Villa of the Mysteries, snack bars, many houses, and, of course, Mount Vesuvius looming over it all.

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| Mount Vesuvius – the active portion is the high peak on the left side covered in clouds |

Vesuvius is a very much an active volcano. The mountain’s last eruption was in 1944 and it has erupted over three dozen times since the devastating explosion in 79 A.D. It’s definitely a ticking time bomb (which you can read more about here and here).

Luckily, we didn’t experience any explosions the day we visited. In fact, we had gorgeous weather; the clouds and sun took turns keeping us company with a few light rain showers to cool us off as we raced around the ruins.

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| walking among the stone walls, pots that survived, remains of several houses still standing |

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| columns and arches |pompeiibighouse

| restored courtyard garden at the House of Menander and colorfully painted walls |

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| kitchen kilns, a flowery surprise, The Temple of Isis, Tomb of the Istacidii |

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| narrow road leading off the main street, doorway after doorway, ancient steps worn from years of use |

pompeiicasualties|eerie plaster casts of the unfortunate souls who perished |

villafrescoes| well-preserved frescoes inside the Villa of the Mysteries |

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| outside the brothel, roughly carved stone bed, ancient erotic paintings |

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| the Basilica of Pompeii, the Forum, the Lefthand Arcade |

It was incredible to see everything and to imagine what it must have been like to live there: bustling streets, a slight breeze from the bay, sprawling houses and buildings with immense columns and bright frescoes, and mountains and hills in almost every direction.

If you ever get the chance to visit, please do! It was definitely a great addition to our trip.

Up next… Florence!

✈ Europe | Rome

For those who don’t know, my mama retired this year after 28 years of teaching. To celebrate, she asked me to come along as her travel buddy on an epic European adventure. For the entire month of September we traipsed around Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Paris, London, and Oxford! I cannot even being to express how grateful I am to her for the experience. It was a complete whirlwind, I mean, 3 counties in 3.5 weeks?! But, we made it happen, had an absolutely amazing time, and I’m excited to share it all with you guys. So without further ado…

Day 1: We flew overnight from Minneapolis to Rome, with a short layover in Boston. We arrived in sunny Rome, took a train to the neighborhood where we were staying, and proceeded to get lost and wander around for the next 3 hours in the heat + humidity with our luggage. Turns out the first step in the directions we had were the exact opposite of what they should have been. So we walked up and down the street, took many wrong turns, and went into an apartment complex and got locked inside the courtyard. Mom rang all the door bells but no one would help us or let us use their phone. Thankfully a young woman finally set us free and pointed us in the right direction. Sweaty, we eventually arrived at our Airbnb apartment and met our hosts and their kitty Mimine. After showering and settling in we ended the day on a good note with dinner at a local restaurant. Pizza, stuck pig, and roasted potatoes!

rome15 | tasty La Tavernaccia, corner fountains, pizzapizza, napping kitcat, the joys of public transit |

Day 2: We hopped a tram to the city center and stopped by the Vittorio Emanuele II monument. Although it was built in honor of the first king of Italy, it’s controversial because its placement destroyed a medieval area and interrupted the continuity and aesthetic of the Forum sites. The monument is often called “the wedding cake” or “the type writer” by its haters. I get why locals would be upset, but it’s free to visit, has a lovely café on the roof , and sweeping views of the surrounding area. After filling up our water bottles at the free fountain, we walked and walked and walked. We passed through beautiful piazzas, ducked into quiet and ornate churches, ate gelato, took in ancient views and marveled at the (Colosseum, Forum, Circus Maximus, and more), dined at a sidewalk cafe, saw the Trevi Fountain (under construction), Spanish Steps, and Pantheon, and braved both the metro and the train back to our Airbnb abode.

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| sightseeing - Vittorio Emanuele II monument and the Forum |

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| Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli - complete with stained glass bees and a chandelier surrounded alter |
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| street views |
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| The Circus Maximus, Temple of Hercules Victor, and side-street surprise |

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| along the Tiber River and a parade of vespas |

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 | Fontana del Moro and Piazza Navona |

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| The Pantheon |

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 | The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola with its breathtaking baroque ceilings and frescoes by Andrea Pozzo |

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 | views from atop the Spanish Steps and the strange exterior of Palazzo Zuccari near via Gregoriana |

Day 3: We took a break from Rome and did a day trip to Pompeii.

Day 4: We walked the Appian Way and took a tour of the Catacombs of St.Callixtus. They originated about the middle of the second century and are the burial-place of tens of martyrs, 16 popes, and very many Christians. During this time period Christians were being persecuted so they often held their religious services in secret underground in the catacombs. Just down the road from St.Callixtus is the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, which had some very neat artifacts on display, including coins, statues, and preserved tracks left by ancient wagon wheels. After exploring the Appian Way, we headed back into town to see the massive Baths of Caracalla and their amazing tile-work. We were also able to pop into incredible Colosseum and hike around Palentine Hill. And as a bonus – most of the sites we saw that day were free because it was the first Sunday of the month!

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| Appian Way, Circus Maxence, ancient wheel ruts, Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella |

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| Baths of Caracalla |

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| exploring Palentine Hill |

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| The Colosseum |

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| the Arch of Constantine and a delicious panini for dinner |

Day 5: For our final day in Rome, we slept in and then hit the streets in a leisurely fashion. We inhaled delicious potato rosemary pizza and grabbed gelato at Hedera, a father-son operation that uses 60-year-old recipes. They offer 6 cream-based and 6 fruit-based ice creams and the flavors change every day depending on which fruits are in season and what’s available at the market that morning. We strolled along the river, waved at the Castel Sant’Angelo, were given completely wrong directions by a police officer (!), walked through as many medieval streets as we could, and visited the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square. Our last stop of the day was the basilica of Santa Maria in the Trastevere neighborhood. It was golden and gorgeous with details that would knock your socks off (like the faded mosaics dating back to the 12th or 13th centuries). The basilica is one of the oldest in Rome, dating from the 4th century AD, and has many marvelous frescoes to feast your eyes upon.

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| the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square |

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| along the Tiber |

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| gelato at Hedera |

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| Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere |

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| inside the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere |

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| the golden and glowing Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere |

Up next… Pompeii!

currently

Recovering… from a very fun weekend at a friend’s wedding. We all met in kindergarten (except for Mr.C who didn’t join the gang until high school), played crazy games on the playground, marched in band together, danced in a circle at homecoming, chilled at the lunch table, you name it – we probably did it. So, it was fun to be able to reminisce and celebrate! Congratulations, F+R – thanks for inviting us to be a part of your special day.

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Loving… getting closer to having our student loans paid off! Only $12,992.00 to go.

Looking… forward to enjoying the rest of fall, upcoming holidays, and visiting with family.

Thinking… about the big news that was revealed at work today. Some of you know the company I work at has two sides – the recruiting business (where I work) and the online magazine. We all work in the same office and everyone’s pretty close ; many have been there for 8 years. Anyway, today we learned that the online magazine side has been sold to one of the professional organizations in our industry niche. It’s surprising news but also a logical next move. I’m going to miss seeing with the coworkers who are effected by this everyday but thankfully everyone lives in Minnesota so we’ll be able to still hangout. This acquisition calls for some big changes in the next 6+ months, and as uncertain and bittersweet it all is, I’m excited to see what’s next for our company.

Watching… the final seasons of Boardwalk Empire and Parenthood

Reading… The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Listening… “Nicotine” by Panic! at the Disco, “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, “Lost Stars (Into the Night Mix)” by Adam Levine

Eating… Trader Joe’s Gnocchi al Gorgonzola – it’s almost like I’m back in Italy.

Speaking of which, I have finally finished editing the millions of photos I took – so recaps of my epic European adventure will be up soon! :)

Anyway, that’s me…what’s current with you guys?