Just keeps gettin better

So it’s been a while since my last post and that’s because a lot has happened. For the past two weeks, I’ve been on the property management team. I went into this part of the rotation without really knowing what to expect except maybe having to handle customer complaints about the music being too loud at the H&M in Washington. But ohh was I in for it! Construction and development are the only two teams that do not interact with a property once it’s finished. After all, their unofficial motto is GTS or Get Shit Done! Get in, get out, on to the next one… They’re like the one night stand of real estate.

In the middle of last week, I had the privilege to travel to Riverpark where I met the on-site CenterCal management team. I spent the day talking with all of the members of the team, learning about their role and how they found CenterCal. After, I drove to Valencia and had dinner with some family.

This week I got to travel to Salt Lake City and Boise with the El Segundo (“corporate” as the individual property managers call it) team for the quarterly asset management meetings for 2 of CenterCal’s most prestigious properties. I traveled with the CEO, the President, and the VPs of Leasing and Property Management and sat in on conversations about sales, lease deals, and marketing. One night we all went to one of Station Park’s most popular restaurants for dinner, Twigs. We shared a few bottles of wine and I got to listen to their stories of traveling for CenterCal over the years. I had not interacted with many coworkers outside of the office before that night so it was a real treat. At the end of the night, we all stayed in the newly opened hotel on-site.

On Friday, I went to Northern California, first to visit 2 more sites, and second to stay with Christina and Julia in San Francisco for the weekend. On my way to the airport I called my mom to explain to her one of the properties I was visiting in Danville. “Oh you’re going to Danville?” she said, “There is a great grocery store next to a river in a gorgeous shopping center you’ll have to stop by.” “Mom, that’s the development, THAT’S Blackhawk!” When I told the CEO this story when I returned he thought it was great. A true testament to the experience that is to be felt at his properties.

I flew JetSuiteX from Burbank to Concord. It is literally a jet that only flies between 3 or 4 locations that any old anyone can buy a ticket for. And wow was it ever cool! No security, just a quick swipe of your personal bag, and there’s a lounge with snacks and coffee and wifi while you wait. When you’re on the plane all drinks and snacks are complimentary. I couldn’t stress more that this jet is open to the public, FLY THIS JET!

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Concord is in the construction stage but was much more built-out than I had anticipated. I was greeted by the CenterCal staff in the trailers on-site and I road in a golf cart around the property with one of the construction managers. Blackhawk is the only property in CenterCal’s portfolio that they did not have a hand in developing. Like my mom described, it has a river flowing through it and is very picturesque. The marketing manager and I sat out for lunch at one of it’s signature restaurants and it was very good. All of the people I’ve met at CenterCal have been incredible and the Blackhawk staff and I bonded over the familial feel of the company.

 

After Blackhawk, I jumped on the BART and headed into the city. I met Christina and Julia when they got off work and we shared an uber to Christina’s apartment in Nob Hill. SF is the #1 location for recent CMC grads so I wasn’t too surprised when, 5 minutes into the ride, we pass Ashraf (my freshman year RA) on the street. Christina called him and he chased us down to squeeze into our uber with us. I haven’t talked to him in two years but it’s like time had stopped. It was great to catch up on his successes in SF and in life and after about 20 minutes he simply left and walked the rest of the way home. 

For the next 2 days Christina, Julia, and I walked a lot and ate a lot. I think we averaged 8-10 miles a day and we ate great food all along the way. It also happened to work out that our friend Oliver or “OMAS”, another recent CMC grad, was DJing at a bar on Haight. It ended up being a great recent CMC alumni event of sorts of music, drinking, and top notch authentic Mexican burritos.  

 

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Place-making

Today something really cool happened; today I got to step onto the site of one of CenterCal’s properties, The Collection at Riverpark. CenterCal has devoted countless hours to meetings, permits, leases -blood, sweat, and tears- into this development, and there it was, beneath my feet.

To be present in that moment was an amazing feeling and a feeling I have most enjoyed in my time here so far. This sudden realization of the tangibility and the impact of this business on people’s quality of life hit me like a truck. Children were playing in the fountains, women were catching up over lunch, young couples were sharing their first date: people’s lives were being lived in this center.

The CEO of CenterCal has built his company around “place-making,” but seeing it first-hand, right there in front and all around me, it clicked. There are stigmas against macho, greedy developers coming in and dropping cookie-cutter mega-malls in places previously inhabited by tight-knit communities. These stigmas exist because in many cases they are true. But not at CenterCal. Place-making is built into every facet of this company, from the diligent attention to detail in its plans, to the state-of-the-art coffee machine in the front lobby where people gather in the morning. I have been blessed with the incredible opportunity to be a part of this company for the summer.

Next week, I will be joining the team on quarterly visits to two of CenterCal’s grandest properties: Station Park and The Village at Meridian, as well as put on a hard hat to walk a new site in Northern California and I couldn’t be more excited.

Cheers to the weekend

This past week was jam packed with touristy things. I woke up Saturday morning to learn that our wifi was out. Since I also don’t have a coffee maker at my apartment, I used this as an excuse to explore DTLA (learning the lingo or just posing as a local?) in search of a fun, new, probably hipster spot. I had plans to meet Mariah and Brendan at noon so I had some time to kill. I decided on Astro’s Donuts, a tiny donut shop featured on one of those mouthwatering facebook food videos. They are known for their crème brule donut and chicken n waffle sandwiches. I decided on the Blueberry, Lemon, and Thyme donut and found a spot on the bar to pull out my laptop. The staff was all so nice and they were curious about where I want to school (sticker on my laptop) and how I found Astro’s. Great donut, great coffee, great service, great gram pic.

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I met up with Mariah and we drove to Union Station to pick up Brendan who had come in from Claremont on the metrolink. We made our way to Griffith Park, parked somewhere at the bottom, and walked all the way up. None of us had ever been so it was definitely a checked box on the LA Bucket List but we found ourselves to be of only what I’m guessing to be a handful of Americans there. Our tourist was definitely showing. A lot of people were there because of the weekend traffic and it being such a clear day so we did a quick walk-through, took some pictures, and made our way back down the trail. We were hungry and Mariah lives just across the park from The Grove so we decided to go to the Farmer’s Market for lunch. I’d been to The Grove before but this time I saw it very differently. The company that developed The Grove is a competitor of CenterCal so I’d recently done quite a bit of research on the property. Now that I understand a little bit more about what it takes to put a massive project like that together, as well as its management, it’s not just a destination anymore but rather a case study.

That night we celebrated Claire’s, and her twin brother Mark’s, 21st birthdays at a wine bar called Bacaro just down the street from my apartment. True to its reviews, it really is a hidden gem “in the middle of the ghetto.” $20 for unlimited house wine, homemade sangria, champagne, and beer for an hour and a half. Add some Italian tapas and you’ll have yourself a great night and not so great a memory. Some pictures…

 

 

The next morning, after dropping Brendan off at Union Station, Mariah realized she forgot her keys at Mark’s apartment the night before. He was already at brunch and wouldn’t be back for a few hours so we tried a coffee shop down the street. It shares a wall with Bacaro and it was just as good! They offer this 3-cookie sampler for $2.50, that and coffee was the perfect next-morning breakfast. When Mark finally responded, we went to his apartment a few blocks from mine. On our way out of the parking garage, we run into 2 CMCers subletting just down the hall from him. What are the chances?!

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I was asked to housesit for a coworker who lives in El Segundo Sunday and Monday nights so later that day, I drove down to Long Beach for Caryl’s Tonys Viewing Party in lieu of her tiny bungalow. I would be staying at Caryl’s on Sunday night but I looked forward to staying in El Segundo and avoiding the traffic on Tuesday morning on my way to work. At Caryl’s there were hors d’oeuvres, show tunes, and more wine, what could be better? After work on Monday I went to the nearby Ralph’s and bought a pint of ice cream that I later ate on the beach watching the sun set far over Malibu and the hills beyond. Went back to the Bungalow, watched the Warriors win the NBA Championship, and looked forward to getting an extra hour of sleep before work the next morning.

 

 

On Wednesday, I got dinner with Isley at the sushi/thai restaurant sharing Bacaro’s other wall (I’m starting to get the picture that this is the only nice block to eat at in all of USC?!). It was nice to catch up since we hadn’t seen each other at least since starting college. She is working at Hubert’s Lemonade so I left with 2 cases at the end of the night. Free lemonade=promotional materials I guess, comment below if you want some!

On Thursday, I met Connor, Jordan, and Jordan’s cousin for happy hour in downtown LA, and then we ended up getting dinner at another place nearby! The Artisan House is a restaurant I saw on another one of those Facebook videos and I will confidently say that the lobster mac n cheese was even more incredible than it looked in the video. I’m 2 for 2!

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Happy Friday! Many more touristy events to come!

Here’s a pic of my breakfast this morning that I’m just a little proud of 🙂IMG_6528

City Livin’

So nears the end of day 2 at CenterCal and I can already tell that this is a uniquely special place and I’ve fallen into something pretty incredible. I’ve spent most of my day reading everything I can find on CenterCal’s seventeen development projects: books of demographic analytics, the equivalent of stacks and stacks of online blueprints, and articles written in newspapers like LA Weekly and The Real Deal about various upcoming projects.There’s not much to do here with it being my second day and with today being the executive biannual retreat. After experimenting with the latte machine a bit and reliving my high school barista days in an attempt to break up some time in my thoughtful sleuthing, I went to check in with who is my direct supervisor for the next two weeks. She didn’t have anything for me to do either. I obviously haven’t met everyone in the office yet so she challenged me with a unique task. “Go introduce yourself to some dynamos,” she said. I was nervous, but she gave me two names and verbal directions to get to their offices, and playfully shooed me away.

The two men I met were eager to answer my many questions about what exactly they do here but they were also genuinely interested in helping me get the most out of my time here. “Make your goals backwards,” one of them said, “if you have a narrow focus, you’ll go in circles for the rest of your life without even knowing it.” This seemed wrong at first, contradictory to all of those years of being told things like “start small” and “baby steps,” but as we kept talking, he explained how he had been at a crossroads in college similar to the one I find myself quickly approaching: to be or not to be, law school or not to law school. These are not questions I need to answer right now, but they are those that my time at CenterCal will help me in answering in the near future. I don’t quite know how I am going to do it just yet but I know that the best life is one that enriches others and I have a lot more to learn from how the people at CenterCal do their business.

After work, I met up with some CMC classmates to go to the Dodgers game. I have lived in Southern California for three years and I’ve never as much as driven past the stadium. The Dodgers lost and the beer was expensive, but our time spent catching up on our time since school got out and our first few days at work was well worth it.

 

 

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving was a little different this year. Bubba didn’t bring the mashed potatoes and Lucas didn’t fall asleep on the couch downstairs, the one Starbucks pumpkin spice latte I allowed myself last week was the closest I got to pumpkin pie, and last year I would have NEVER thought that instead of turkey I would be eating Octopus in Paris with Jolie on the celebrated Thursday.

But just because giving thanks doesn’t have a holiday in Europe like it does in the States and it isn’t adorned with turkey and football and a 5pm nap doesn’t mean that Europeans don’t know how to be thankful. In fact, this year I feel like I’ve found a whole new meaning of Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t even celebrate it.

Thanksgiving for the Danes starts with J-Dag. This is the day Carlberg brings its special Christmas beer to the shelves. Unfortunately, I was in Italy at the time (unfortunately in Italy, ha what a concept!) and I missed the official day when everyone follows the trucks from the brewery to the pubs and “elves” dressed in blue bring Juleøl to the masses, but I felt the spirit all the same. Juleøl and Christmas bring the entire country of Denmark around a single Thanksgiving table of sorts. The nutty taste of pine and caramel available in only November and December spark reminisces about the year gone by and hopes for the year ahead. I had my first Christmas beer a few days later, (after much anticipation!) with Michael’s famous homemade lasagna. It paired beautifully! But then again, I think both Christmas beer and Michael’s lasagna (better than Florence’s might I add) would each pair with just about anything so how could it go wrong.

My next major Danish Thanksgiving experience also featured Michael and Christmas beer, and schnapps, lots and lots of schnapps. The whole family came over for Michael’s birthday last weekend and I experienced my first truly traditional Danish birthday party.fullsizeoutput_1494Linda catered various smorrebrød, a traditional Danish take on smorgasbord, small open sandwiches of rye bread and different seafoods and meats. Nearly every course was accompanied by a shot of licorice schnapps (another Danish tradition) and the Christmas beer was flowing. Conversation about the welfare state, the crazy American higher education system, and the recent American election soon followed, I’m sure we were all a sight to see. Food, drink, family, and politics – doesn’t get much more Thanksgiving than that!

The next day, Jolie flew to Copenhagen. (Now it’s starting to feel more like Thanksgiving!) The plane ticket was a combined birthday/Christmas gift and we had both been counting down the days for months. Jolie stayed with me and Linda and Michael and Louise for three days and I showed her around Copenhagen. We walked something like 11 miles each day and on Tuesday we made authentic American pancakes for Micheal’s (real) birthday breakfast. Homemade batter with chocolate chips and peanut butter and syrup… except in Denmark they don’t have chocolate chips so we had to cut up a chocolate bar instead, peanut butter is only popular in America so we had to put nutella on top instead, and syrup is too pasturized for the greater part of the world’s health-conscious consumption so we had to use agave nectar instead. All in all, still a great pancake, but a little too healthy for my taste 😉

Exploring Copenhagen at night, Christmas is in full effect here! – fullsizeoutput_1498

Early morning wake-up to cook some real ‘Merican pancakes –fullsizeoutput_14c8

Somewhere near Nyhavn (all those colorful houses on the canal) –

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On Wednesday, Jolie and I flew to Paris. We stayed with our mom’s childhood neighbor, David Miller, who lives outside Paris with his family. We hadn’t seen him or them since we were little back in Iowa but is was nice to be greated by a friendly face all the same. Paris was everything that every movie has made it out to be. We drove straight to the Madeleine from the airport. It’s Paris’s Parthenon. I didn’t know it existed before either but it’s completely intact unlike the one I saw in Greece, and absolutely gorgeous. David took us to the famous Fauchon Bakery and we bought pastries that we then took with us on the metro to eat under the Eiffel Tower. fullsizeoutput_14bd

The Eiffel Tower really was a work of art and devine engineering. And what I didn’t know is that it actually sparkles for ten minutes every hour on the hour. I thought that was just an allusion from filming it like how city lights look like they’re flickering at night, but no, since 2000, the Eiffel Tower actually sparkles. Absolutely gorgeous.img_4984

We walked so much in Paris my feet still hurt:

Thursday: Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Elysees, Grand Palais, Petit Palais,Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, Orangerie Museum, Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Galeries Lafayette, Parc Monceau

Friday: Point Neuf Bridge, Notre Dame, St Germain des Prés, Palais Garnier, Opéra national de Paris

Saturday: Palace of Versailles


The Musee D’Orsay – img_4988

Arc de Triomphe – img_4919

Notre Dame – fullsizeoutput_1499

Nutella/banana crepes and vin chaud outside of Notre Dame – img_4961

Palace of Versailles – fullsizeoutput_14ccimg_5005img_5021

On Thursday night, David made octopus for dinner. I think he secretly wanted us to be disgusted so he could have more for himself but Jolie and I were both eager to try it. I ate fresh, grilled octopus in Greece but David insisted on freezing and thawing the meat to make it more tender. And he was right. Delicious. And I can say, without a doubt, that that was the most interesting Thanksgiving meal I think I will ever eat. fullsizeoutput_149c


For my last grand European weekend trip of my semester to have taken place over Thanksgiving break seems to have brought my semester abroad full circle. Stepping off the plane from Paris, back in the comfort of Denmark, which now feels like a second home, hit me like a ton of bricks. This feeling is usually associated with the bone-numbing cold this California college girl still can’t seem to dress properly for, but this time something was different. I am so thankful for the experiences that I’ve had since landing in Frankfurt on August 3rd, they have truly opened the world up to me in ways I didn’t know were possible. The next time I step on a plane in just two weeks, I’ll be heading back home to the States and it will be all over. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to study abroad since I was little and my parents told me stories of their experiences and just like that, my time is nearly up.

Traveling is weird: the more places you go, the less content you are with where you are; the wider the world becomes, the less space you feel like you occupy.  But that feeling of insignificance is beautiful. It’s even oddly comforting because you know that the cure is also the affliction. Upon first arriving here, I wanted to be mad at my parents for not exposing me to this feeling in my childhood, but now, at the vulnerable age of 21, I’m glad I didn’t know this feeling before my 20s. I will never be happily content in just one place for the rest of my life, but that’s the price you pay for truly seeing the world the way it wants to be seen.

Independence

I wanted to explore Italy so badly that I was willing to do it by myself. I thought that would mean doing whatever I wanted and spending every day exploring how I wanted, but what it really means is walking alone in a sea of honeymooners, silent meals for one, and going to bed early because I’m a single girl and, like it or not, I need to be careful. Being along sucks and it’s no way to travel across Italy.

Or maybe it is.

Traveling alone has been an enlightening experience unlike any other and looking back, with 6 weeks left in Europe before heading back to The States, it might have been exactly what I needed to remind me of just how lucky I am to have been granted this experience. When will I ever have the opportunity to travel alone again? I mean seriously! When will I have an entire week devoted to just me again yet alone 4 months in Europe?

It is all about perspective and while I probably won’t opt for a romantic destination vacation for one next time around, I’ll probably never again get the opportunity to even sport the idea

I started in Lake Como. Staying in a hillside village with an incredible balcony view called Perledo. Yes, this was my view – img_4363 I drove about 1,000 feet down a snake-y and narrow street each day to the waterside town of Varenna where the streets were cobblestoned and canopied with fall leaves. I purchased a ferry ticket to explore the neighbouring towns of Bellagio and Menaggio for the day. Maybe I was a bit bias but Varenna was definitely my favorite. The ferry docked in front of a large yellow hotel and a lavendar shop and to get to the restaurants and gelato, you had to walk along a suspended water’s edge path covered in vines. The first night I had basil rigatoni with bolognese sauce and the second night I had artichoke pâté on bread and ham, arugala, and mozzerella pizza. Both meals were paired with wonderful house wine. img_4357

More Lake Como – fullsizeoutput_13c6img_4267

While I didn’t feel any earthquakes, I had driven over the Lecco overpass that made national news hours before it collapsed from a heavy-weight truck on my way to Varenna from the Milan airport. That made the world a little smaller in a totally different way. I drove around the broken concrete mound two days later on my way to Cinque Terre.

My parents graciously sent me our GPS complete with Italian maps a few weeks ago in a care package for my birthday. Incredibly helpful and incredibly necessary. Driving in Italy isn’t as terrifying as people say. The signs are a little different and the cars are a lot smaller, but for the most part the idiot drivers here are no different from the ones I’ve witnessed driving I-80 through Nebraska. I made the mistake on my first travel day though in checking the box on my GPS to avoid toll roads. Unlike in the US where the toll road may save you 20 minutes, in Italy it can save you 5 hours. I learned that the hard way. The trip from Lake Como to Cinque Terre took 7 hours instead of 2.5 and by the time I realized my mistake, I was in some far off village on top of a mountain in the middle of absolutely nowhere, at least it was gorgeous. I was in the middle of gorgeous nowhere. My time in Vernazza, Cinque Terre was cut about 6 hours too short and for being just a stop-over on my way to Florence, that was a lifetime.

When I finally got to Vernazza, though, the sun was just setting and I caught a glimpse of an incredible sunset over the Mediterranean. From my personal balcony (airbnb you did it again!), I enjoyed a small bottle of wine and a focaccia pizza slice layered thick with mozzarella and pesto for dinner. img_4475fullsizeoutput_13f0

From Vernazza, I continued to Florence with a quick stop for a shameless selfie at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Not much else in the tourist town, but I did have my first experience at a full-service gas station. fullsizeoutput_13f6

Following my airbnb host’s instructions in Florence, I parked at a dead end park on the southside of the river and walked to the airbnb. On my way, I stopped for a panini at the famous All’Antico Vinaio. The line took nearly an hour but from my many recommendations, I knew it would be worth it. Prosciutto, goat cheese, arugula, and truffle spread. Yep, worth it. fullsizeoutput_13f8I spent all of the following days walking all over Florence. I met David, I saw the Duomo, I read a book in the rose garden, I watched the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio, and I bought a leather jacket with money from my grandparents for my birthday. (Thanks Dix & Bubba and Mama & Papa!) fullsizeoutput_13fdfullsizeoutput_1418fullsizeoutput_1419And on my last morning, I met a friend who’s studying in Florence for breakfast. We met interning in New York for the summer, and we reconnected in Florence. Pretty cool.

Next up, a night in Siena on my way to Rome. Siena is a walking, Renaissance city on top of a hill. The only cars allowed inside are those that restock the restaurants with Coca Cola and produce in the early mornings before the city wakes up. I read in the large fan-shaped central square, Piazza del Campo and enjoyed some homemade pici pasta with pumpkin cream sauce and sausage. When I got back to my airbnb, my host, Luca, and I talked politics over chamomile tea and apple cake. fullsizeoutput_141f

The next morning I left Siena for my final destination: Rome. My airbnb was located a stone’s throw from the Vatican and had such nice accommodations I’m already planning my next visit. My dad studied in Rome when he was my age and my mom visited him often while simultaneously traveling Europe with Up With People at the same time. As sad as we all were that they couldn’t join me on my first trip, I’ll be sure we’ll share in our second. Their number one recommendation was a family-owned gelato shop called Giolitti’s, a staple in Rome. Before meeting up with my friend from Copenhagen who happened to have planned a trip to Rome for the same time, I stopped and got my first of many gelatos at Giolitti’s. img_4590img_459230 incredible flavors topped with homemade whip cream called “panna”. My favorites were Bacio (another of my parents’ recommendations), Raspberry, and Pistachio.

Caleigh and Lauren had been given some recommendations as well so after a second Giolitti’s experience we walked a long way to a mom and pop neighbourhood restaurant located in Trastavere. I had gnocchi and the house red. Buenísimo! After paying our check, a group of business men behind us started up another conversation on American politics. Turns out they are all professors at the local international school. One in particular was a high-up Maltese diplomat who’s spoken at Stanford on international politics on several occasions.

We started the next day making a wish at Trevi Fountain. fullsizeoutput_143bWe walked all day and visited the Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum… and Giolitti’s… twice. We ate Margherita pizzas at a local university restaurant for lunch and spicy penne for dinner next to the Pantheon. img_4619img_4631img_4640

On our last day, we had reservations for the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral at 1pm but woke up conveniently early enough for Giolitti’s (I might have an addiction). As promised, the lines for The Vatican were really long but well worth it. I didn’t know what to expect at all, just that Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam and Pieta were somewhere inside, and I was in for it. To my likely-ignorant surprise, the Creation of Adam is a small panel fit in the center in an incredible ceiling of frescos in an ever grander building full of them. fullsizeoutput_1433fullsizeoutput_1454Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel but it truly was amazing. Being pushed and nudged to oblivion by a Japanese tour group on one side and a Brazilian oneon the other was not so amazing. But even that spoke to the universality of Michelangelo’s work.

We opted for an early dinner after The Vatican because Caleigh and Lauren had an early flight the next morning. What turned out to be our favorite meal in Rome and mine in Italy was just a few streets from The Vatican’s outer wall. We probably would have walked right past it if not for the woman working at the gelato shop next door who saw us eye it skeptically and assured us of how good it was. A waiter sporting a thick line of eyeliner and jeans that were just a little too tight named Monsour greated us and pointed us to a table in what seems to be the back corner of the restaurant. Using my very limited Italian to thank him, he assumed that I was a local and immediately took a liking to us. He got a good laugh when I told him shortly after that I was from The States but that I was indeed third generation. Caprese salad, wonderful red wine, and a plate of carbonara pasta (his recommendation). fullsizeoutput_1436Dessert was a large piece of tiramisu topped with cocoa powder and panda (whipped cream) split among the three of us though we each wished we had our own. When I asked for the check Monsour played dumb and instead had us follow him through a maze of a giant restaurant to the kitchen where the whole staff wanted a picture with us.                    1-2-3-Carbonara!! fullsizeoutput_142bfullsizeoutput_142dI’m still confused how our interactions escalated to this but hey, I got to take a pizza out of the oven and that was a pretty cool way to end our time in Rome and my week in Italy.

I ate a lot of gelato, walked a half marathon nearly every day, and met some incredible people. And y the time I met up with a friend in Rome, (1) I was more than ready to enter back into social civilisation, and (2) it felt like a whole new vacation!

Looking back, my time in Italy was a learning experience I will treasure forever. I know that I am independent. Often stubbornly so. But independence is not always a strength. Certain experiences are meant to be shared. Renting a car and driving through Italy by myself is just as independent as it gets, but without Caleigh and Lauren, easily more that half of my experiences in Rome would not have happened. Experiencing a new place is only half the fun, sharing that experience with another person is what really counts. I can’t wait to take my best friend, my boyfriend, my husband, my family to the places I have been. I feel like I didn’t properly experienced those places alone and maybe that was the whole point… Now I have to go back!

Back to my roots

Though this past weekend was not as sunny or glamorous as my last week touring Greece, my weekend spent in a small German village provided me with a different kind of experience: one filled with family history, apfelkuchen, and hard game called skido.

Plech, Germany is a small village of 1,300 people (that’s the same size as CMC!!!). There is one intersection, a small church with a cemetery, a family owned restaurant run by four generations, and a lot of history. My great-great-great-great grandfather George Schramm, grew up in a classic A-frame home in Plech across the street from the restaurant and immigrated to the United States in 1837. He kept a diary documenting his journey to the New World, his settling in Farmington, Iowa, and the opening of his family’s general store. My grandma studied his diary and in the early 2000s visited Plech with my grandpa. This was when they met Hienz Stark.

Heinz is the city manager of Plech and knows the ins and outs of the town like the back of his hand. He agreed to meet my grandparents for lunch and the very same restaurant he and his family took me to this weekend. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship that brought Heinz, his wife Monica, and their children Andreas and Anna to our house in Colorado in 2002. Other than some penpal-ing when I was little and hearing about my grandma’s recent phone conversations with Heinz, I hadn’t seen them since. But George’s history is so core to my mom’s and my ancestry that I knew I couldn’t come to Europe and not go back to where it all started, so I reached out to Heinz and when I arrived, he and the rest of the Starks welcomed me with open arms after almost 15 years. George was 21 when he left Plech, and I was 21 when I returned.

I was welcomed into their 16th century, 4-story barn house to the smell of coffee and homemade apfelkuchen. (I love Europe and its midday coffee break, definitley coming back with me to the States.) Then we walked the entire village in about an hour on the first and once the sun went down, Heinz, Monica, Andreas, and I had dinner at the (now-seemingly famous) restaurant just up the street. After, we drank wine and played a couple rounds of an American card game I had previously never heard of called skido. The next day Anna and her fiance Florian joined us on a day trip to Nuremberg and more coffee and apfelkuchen to follow. I left the third day after visiting the family cellar on the hill and meeting Heinz’s mother who lives just 2 houses down the hill on the corner. Quaint, simple, and reflective weekend.

The Stark’s home, where I stayed – fullsizeoutput_137f

The Schramm House – img_4071

Our trip to Nuremberg –  fullsizeoutput_138d

Heinz and Monica and me outside their cellar –img_4146

And some picturesque apfelkuchen and coffee – img_4194

Next weekend I am off to Italy, ironically enough where my dad has family! Unfortunately they didn’t keep a detailed diary of their day-to-day life, I guess that’s kinda uncommon haha, so looks like I’ll just have to go back to being a tourist.

Greece Day 5/6: Mycenae, Nafplion, Corinth

Friday- We spent most of the day driving down the mountain from Delphi to Nafplion. We stopped many times along the way to see various ruins in and around Mycenae. img_3822

We’d just be driving through what seemed to be a bunch of olive farms and abandoned houses (evidence of the recent economic meltdown) until, out of nowhere, monstrous white columns would rise high into the air, breaking the seemingly internally flat skyline of the valley. It honestly wasn’t until we arrived in Nafplion around 4pm was there any real geography of any sort to look at.

Nafplion absolutely took my breathe away. It’s this quant little resort town next to a harbor and surrounded by not 1, not 2, but 4 fortresses nestled into the nearby mountains and cliffs. We entered from above and were greeted by two brothers who owned the hotel where we stayed. 

My room- fullsizeoutput_12c7

Downtown Nafplion- img_3849img_3851

We immediately changed into our swimsuits, climbed down the many stairs to the shops to find bottles of wine and take-away sandwiches, and went to the water on the other side of the peninsula. It was 5:30 and the Aegean was still really warm and perfectly clear. We swam for a long time while the sun was setting just behind the mountains that lined the water. fullsizeoutput_12edfullsizeoutput_12a6

When it got sufficiently dark, we ventured back up the hill to go back down the stairs and got gelato. Chocolate hazelnut and tiramisu flavored goodness to end our last night in Greece. img_3913


Saturday- Five of us woke up early to watch the sunrise from one of the old fortresses above the hotel. All of the building’s night lights turned off at the same time in preparation for the sunrise. For just a few seconds before the sun peaked over the mountains, it returned to near darkness, and it was almost totally quiet…fullsizeoutput_1280

After, we all went back down to the water and stuck our feet in. It was even warmer this morning. fullsizeoutput_1291fullsizeoutput_1281

By the time we were ready to go, breakfast was served at the hotel on the top floor patio. We got coffee and Greek yogurt and just sat and enjoyed the view until we left for our next excursion. fullsizeoutput_12d7

We left Nafplion around 10:30 and drove to the brothers’ orange farm just on the other side of the harbor. They have a beautiful stone villa surrounded by oranges, lemons, and pomegranates, with 4 other farms close by that produce wheat and olives, among other things. The economic meltdown clearly didn’t affect this band of brothers, they are doing more than well.fullsizeoutput_12bf

We walked the farm and picked fruit with one of the brothers to take in and use to make orange cookies and Greek pancakes. His wife made the dough in a huge bowl and we all helped in shaping small cookies.fullsizeoutput_1285

While the cookies were in the oven, she heated a thick layer of olive oil on the stove and poured into it small amounts of batter to be fried. We topped the “pancakes” with cinnamon, honey, and ricotta cheese, and the orange cookies with lemon jest, and I felt like I was living an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We all walked away with our pockets stuffed with oranges and pomegranates to take home to Copenhagen.  fullsizeoutput_12a4

We left the orange farm and drove a little over an hour to the ancient city of Corinth, where, supposedly, Paul first preached to the people of Christianity. It would have been a really interesting stop, but having to follow a visit to a family orange farm sealed its fate before we even got off the bus. After walking around for a bit, we were happy to drive back to the coast for an early dinner before getting on the plane. Our dinner spot in Corinth led right out to the water and opened up to yet another picturesque scene. We enjoyed our last Greek salad and red wine together and I finally got my calamari fix.


DIS planned an absolutely incredible trip to Athens, Sounio, Delphi, Nafplion, Mycenae, and Corinth. I will remember this week for the rest of my life and I really can’t thank DIS enough. I’ve wanted to come to Greece since listening to Mamma Mia, watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and reading the Wishbone books (someone please tell me I’m not the only nerd-child who read these books!). Few places have influenced my studies until this point as much as Greece and it’s history and seeing the sites for myself really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Also, this week marked my halfway point with DIS. It’s hard to believe just how fast it’s all going by.

Greece Day 3/4: Athens, Sounio, Delphi

So I dropped the ball on posting every day… but when in Greece!

First to set the scene. img_3799It’s just past midnight and I’m currently sitting on the roof of my Delphi hotel. (Above picture is from about 5 hours earlier.) I climbed out of my fifth floor window —you know one of those old, thick wooden windows that swing open and have white, billowy curtains, that in Disney movies always seem to house a signing princess?— and I’m looking out across a large valley and to the cove beyond, and everything is surrounded by mountains. I can see four separate bunches of twinkling lights representing four different small towns and there’s an acoustic concert somewhere below with what sounds like a large crowd applauding between songs. This seems like a movie and trust me I’m having a hard time believing it either, but this is very very real. I’ve been sitting, listening, and breathing it all in from this rooftop ledge for 15 minutes now and I feel like no amount of time will be enough. img_3809But okay, time to climb in so I don’t mistakenly drop my phone five stories. My bed is just right inside from the window and the moonlight shines through the skylight. This is just incredible.


So yesterday (Wednesday) we went first to Plato’s Academy which was actually more like strategically placed rocks in a field in a park where locals walk their dogs. The intention was there but the execution more just reflected my expectation in coming here that every blade of grass/rock/tree would somehow be considered holy and touched by Socrates.

After, though, we hiked the Hill of the Muses to get an incredible panoramic view of Athens. Full 360 view. fullsizeoutput_12e8.jpeg

After grabbing a quick gyro for lunch (I sound like such a local, ah!) we all got on a bus and ventured down the coast to Sounio and the Temple of Poseidon. Unlike most of the temples located in Athens, the Temple of Poseidon sits at the southern-most tip of the peninsula.img_1561Just before sunset, the sun shown through the clouds and reflected on the Aegean Sea in the most spectacular way. I’m not a very religious person but there simply had to have been something going on there.  

After sunset, we drove back to Athens and had another long ten-course dinner and afterwards, our professors treated us all to a beer at a trendy new bar called Six Dogs. Mason jars, canopy lights, and good vibes all around. It was the perfect way to end our last night in Athens.


Thursday – This morning we got up and immediately got on the bus to drive to Delphi. It’s a 5 hour drive so we stopped along the way in an adorable little town whose name I can’t pronounce to get coffee. The bus could only drive to the outskirts of the city so we had to walk most of the way to the city center. Locals stood out on their balconies and came out of their shops to watch us 20-something Americans take over their little town. After about 15 minutes of walking the cobblestones and occasionally having to make room for a motorcycle to go by, we came upon a gorgeous river that clearly was the backbone of the small community. With large trees whose roots intertwined with its old brick walls, thin bridges made completely out of stone, and clear blue-green water leading to small waterfalls and water mills, this town really was amazing. And to think how easy it would have been to just drive right by. img_3740img_3744

Then we got back on the bus and continued our drive to Delphi. We made one more stop along the way to have a picnic lunch where the ancient roads to Thebes and Delphi intersected. Bagels with turkey, tomatoes, and feta and white wine and olives with the mountains as a backdrop. fullsizerenderfullsizeoutput_12f3

When we finally made it to Delphi, the only thing the town really had going for it was the landscape. Each of the little balconies and cafes was tucked into the mountain side and had an absolutely gorgeous view of the valley and water below. The Temple of Apollo, which put Delphi on the map as “the center of the earth” was no exception.  img_3790

Our museum tour was led by an elderly Greek woman whose chrome sunglasses and a bedazzled sun visor somehow perfectly complemented her deep raspy voice brought on from years of smoking. In true Greek fashion, she was a wonderful storyteller, but the tour lasted nearly 3 hours. By the end, we were all struggling to remain standing. Even our professors had to take a break afterwards. img_3796

Dinner was another experience entirely. We had an entire event center to ourselves and a DJ who couldn’t speak English was playing 90s and early 2000s top 50. We were all laughing so hard that we ended the night middle school dance style, dropping low to Apple Bottom Jeans. Delphi was quite the trip.

Getting up early tomorrow to drive back towards Athens to the towns of Mycenae and Napflio.

Greece Day 2: Athens

As promised, day 2 in Athens-

Today was our first full day in Greece. Unfortunately it was rainy and gross for most of it so good thing my rain jacket counted as one of my gazallion layers worn to rough it to the train before daylight yesterday. Little did I know it’d actually prove me more use.

I had true and authentic Greek yogurt with honey for breakfast this morning. By 9:30, we were on our way to visit ancient Athens to see the remaining foundations of the community where many of Plato’s works were set. I’ve been reading about Socrates for various classes since high school, but today, while walking the ruins, something clicked. The landmarks surrounding us at that spot -The Acropolis, the Hill of the Muses, Mount Lycabettus- are so timeless and iconic it almost felt wrong to read about them simply as a setting. But standing in the valley, in the rain, surrounded by rocks symbolizing where homes and building once stood, it made sense why Athens is said to be the birthplace of philosophy. I mean how can this beautiful setting not make you just want to sit back, breathe deeply, and think about life?

I caught my friend Caleigh taking a picture of the landscape from the second floor of the Ancient Athens Museum. I think the fog from the rain even enhanced the effect –img_3578

After the ruins, we were set free to explore the shops and cafes of old Athens on our own for lunch. A small group of us found a lunch spot of the locals and feasted on some authentic Greek cuisine. The Mediterranean really does make a mean Mediterranean Salad. img_3641

After lunch, we went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium – img_3581img_3587

I ran the steps at the stadium and raced my friend 50m on the track. How many people in the world can say that they did that? The Panathenaic Stadium is where the Olympic flame is passed to the host nation before every Olympic Games, and down the tunnel where the athletes used to enter the track, inside a small museum, is a collection of every Olympics torch since 1900 up until Rio. I saw a lot of amazing things today but THAT seas incredible. img_3609

Sometime between pretending I’m an Olympian and stuffing my face with dinner, I stopped and got the best mocha I’ve ever had in my life. I got the choice of dark or milk chocolate (dark of course, is that even a question?) and they literally spooned melted chocolate into milk and espresso. Ohhhh so amazing. img_3577

For dinner, we ate at a rooftop restaurant overlooking The Acropolis. That view really could never get old. Lamb garnished with lime and another Mediterranean Salad fit for the gods. I might never leave.