Tag Archives: europe

“Birth.”

as some of you may know, i am moving to belgium next year for work. for those of you that don’t know, don’t feel bad. i mean, how could you have know? i haven’t updated this thing for nearly a year. but yes! it’s happening. living and loving abroad for at least two years starting january 2014.

the move is a little bittersweet for me. don’t get me wrong, i’m beyond excited for a new adventure. and as far as countries go, you really don’t get much better than belgium. for instance, most of the belgians i know can understand and flip sarcasm just as well as an american. and they do it in a secondary language (i’m sure they can do it in dutch too, but i wouldn’t understand). but that’s a huge thing. they speak english. they are known for chocolates, waffles, beers, bicycles… you know. the finer things in life.

and i’m attempting to learn dutch. i already drink a(n un)healthy amount of beer. i’m not too terribly worried about making friends. having said that and expressed my excitement, i must admit there is a bit of sadness as well.

you see, there is a part of me that will always love and have a loyalty to iowa. sure, our four seasons are brutal. we get mocked for having so much corn growing across this fine and flat state. outsiders don’t know the difference between iowa or idaho or ohio… but the people in iowa are wonderful. we have that “midwestern work ethic” which means we don’t stop until we get the job done and we get it done right. but we not only WORK hard, we play hard too. we are loyal. we’re nice. we’re a little backwards, not on the peak of fashion or the finest, but we are good people. and i will miss that.

so to bring a little bit of home with me overseas, i’m commissioning art off of some of the greatest artists/designers/inspirations i know… my friends. that way i have a constant reminder of people back home and i also get to display some damn good art while i’m at it.

the first piece of art i collected is a piece by my good friend Jon- the title of the piece is called ‘birth.’

i absolutely love it. i originally requested a painting from him about two years ago and jon gladly accepted the challenge. i told him i didn’t care what he painted, i just wanted something unique. i also told him there was no hurry or deadline on the piece, which i think he took to heart. the painting traveled with him for 2 years between three different apartments, and a multitude of people had the opportunity to see it in its different phases. it started out much like a skeleton head, then slowly turned into outlines of fish. then we watched in amazement as the fish became more detailed, and beautifully so. also, the piece is huge, like 27×39″, so i plan to have it be the center piece of my “iowa-inspired” wall in belgium.

birth by jon pearson

birth by jon pearson

fishy fishy2

i’ve known jon for about as long as i have been in des moines. one of my favorite things about this silly guy is that he just does not understand sarcasm. with me being one of the most sarcastic and flippant people i know, i’m not sure how our friendship budded the way it did, but i am so glad for it. he’s one of the most genuine people i know- he is always thinking, questioning, and pushing himself to be better. and throughout the years i think his art has really reflected this.

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if you want to check out any of Jon’s other work, you can go to any of the following. he also does commission work (although if it’s anything like mine, it may take awhile). 😉

thanks again, jon! it will be the highlight of my des moines wall.

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italia, mio amore

i will just start this post by saying that i love italy. i love italy so much that i paid a ridiculous amount of money to try to learn the language through rosetta stone, then remembered my inability to finish any long-term project i aspire to… but yes, there is just something about the place that i really enjoy. i had the good fortunate of going there for work in 2010 and then the even better fortune of going there for fun in 2011.

jessica and i had decided that, since it was much cheaper to fly from one european country to another than it would ever be to fly from america, we’d be silly to pass up the chance to go exploring. we bought our plane tickets from ireland to italy for around $130, got a list of hostels, booked our stays, and off we went. the original plan was to fly into venice, stay there for a day and a half, go hang out with my co-worker bruno in verona, and then take a train down to rome. unfortunately, bruno got called to des moines for the week we were in italy (bummer!) so we had to find last minute plans. the whole thing didn’t go as smoothly as we anticipated, but i think that is half the fun. you might want to get jessica’s take on the matter sometime, though… she’s a “make sure you know where you’re going” kind of lady. (aka: a bitch. [just kidding {or am i?}])

while we were sitting in the airport in dublin, getting grouchy with each other, we found a map from the water boats (vaporetti) to where our hostel was in venice. as much as i give jessica a hard time, she was really dead useful when it came to getting around. i’m kind of a wanderer, i’ll follow people, i’ll get lost, i’ll ask for directions or i’ll just keep wandering. jessica remembers things; she knows where we turned, where we should go, and has pretty good intuition which helped keep us from getting lost. so needless to say, we arrived in one piece to our hostel, casa petrarca.

after we got settled, and they made us pay them in cash (highly suspicious, but happened EVERYWHERE we went), we got our giant key (i’m not kidding, i wish i had taken a photo of it) and we went out to explore venice. everything in venice is so tall and narrow- the buildings are like slender (ancient) super models. they were so old and beautiful, it was easy to get lost in the moment. the weather was nice, albeit a bit hot (compared to ireland), and everything was definitely within walking distance because the city was so small (yet extremely populated). admittedly, i looked like a huge tourist since i had my camera around my neck, but since i’m asian… well… i thought i could get by with it.

there’s an old charm to the city and everywhere you turn there’s something you could take a photo of. cathedrals, town squares, gondola rides, people letting pigeons crawl all over them… wait, what?!?

this was such a mystery to me. i mean, i can understand not wanting to take a gondola ride (they were around 80 euros during the day, 100 euros at night!), but why on earth would you want filthy, diseased pigeons crawling all over you. and do that for free?

this whole phenomenon was weighing on me the rest of the day. i couldn’t see the appeal. maybe i’m biased and have a thing against birds (sort of true), maybe i just have one too many scars from the species (literally *cough*eddie*cough*).

i couldn’t see the appeal and yet, and yet… i really wanted to try it. we tried to sit to see if the pigeons were interested in us, but we realized pretty early into this endeavor that people were selling bird seed, which of course, attracted the dirty rats with wings… ahem. anyway. i wasn’t going to pay for any stupid bird seed just so i could have this… strange… experience.

…but i will take the extra crackers from my table at dinner and use them.


(as you can see, i’m not handling it very well)

okay. now that i have that out of my system…

our time in venice was fairly short. it’s a fairly expensive city and i feel like you can see most of it in two days, which is roughly the amount of time we spent there. if you are traveling to italy, venice is a place you definitely need to see… but i would never live there. don’t get me wrong, i liked the place and it was fantastic for photography. but it was very touristy, very crowded, and just not the place i would hang my hat and call home.

in our last few hours in the city, i have well documented trip photos of us trying to find our way to the train station and also jessica’s frustration with how the names of the street kept changing. she tried to figure it out… i took photos (i am not much help in most situations).

after realizing that there are signs that point you to the train station (although it is called something different) we realized we had plenty of time to spare and did a bit more actual sight-seeing. we went to the cathedral to look around. a friendly tip: you are not allowed to wear tank tops or shorts into a cathedral in italy. if you try to enter in non-proper clothes they will give you a shawl to wrap around yourself while you’re inside. oh, and by “give you a shawl” i mean “they will make you pay a euro for a paper towel like piece of fabric.” just a fair warning. i’m not saying it’s not worth it.

jessica and i hung out at the train station in venice for a bit. since the original plan was to go to verona we still had our train tickets to there, but because bruno was no longer in town we did not have any housing. right before we left for vacation i had gotten us a room at a holiday inn (or something similar) at the train stop right outside of verona. it was fairly cheap and, besides worrying that we might be mugged, raped, and killed on our way there, the hotel was actually SUPER nice for the price. there was a complimentary buffet breakfast, good utilities, and super nice rooms… it was easily the most relaxed night of the whole trip. and sometimes you need to just relax, to be able to recharge your batteries. the next morning we woke up refreshed, we got ready, and we were on our way to rome.

when we got to rome we immediately found our hostel and fell in love with the place and our adorable hostess, Isa (who also made us pay in cash). let me just say, if you ever go to italy, do not hesitate to stay at the B&B Smart. it’s reasonably priced, it has a great location, and seriously, Isa is the best. she gave us water and drew us out a map when we first got in. she made us breakfast every morning. she hung up my clothes for me while we were touring the town. she brought us fresh watermelon while we were in the room lounging around. bless her little asian heart.

rome.is.huge. it’s old. it’s beautiful, it’s everything you think about when you think of italy. we, of course, did all the touristy things like go to the coliseum, the roman ruins, the fountain of trevi, the vatican…

sigh… the vatican. here’s a thing about the vatican. there’s parts of vatican city that you can see for free- there are other parts that aren’t free. and you will wait in line for at least 2 hours to go see the stuff. probably closer to four. hindsight being 20/20, i might have taken up the “fake” tour guides for their offer of tickets and a tour for $40 and skip the line. in fact, i might’ve paid $40 in itself just to skip the line. don’t get me wrong- the vatican was so AMAZING. there’s so much culture and history to it (and a surprising amount of mythological creatures and ideology), but my feet hurt so damn bad by the time we were there that i was ready to be done around 3/4 of the way through.

all in all, i can’t pinpoint what it is about italy that i like so much. it’s fun to see all the touristy, site-seeing places. it’s fun to walk around and go places you’ve never been. but it’s something about the culture, the architecture, just the country in itself that i can’t explain. i want to go back to italy as often as i can, for as long as i can, for as long as i’m able.

the grass is always greener…

but for real. everything about ireland is just so frickin’ fantastically green!

and cold. ireland was so much colder than i expected it to be. i’m not sure why i thought it would be warmer- probably because i was flying in from iowa where the heat and humidity was just starting to get to that uncomfortable sweltering level…

but yes, cold. cold and green and beautiful and unforgettable… *sigh*  Ireland. i liked it enough to even capitalize it that time.

how did ireland even come about? well, it all started a few years ago when a good friend, ms. jamie glade (at the time), decided that she had had enough of the single life and was ready to tie the knot. curt “put a ring on it,” they started wedding planning, and then they decided to have a destination wedding in ireland and visit some more of europe for their honeymoon. fantastic idea. i immediately fell in love with the plan (yet did not start saving for it, i’m very bad at saving for things), and our friend jessica (who i will refer to as “moneybags” for the rest of this blog), also decided she could afford the money and vacation time to go as well.

fast forward to june of 2011. moneybags and i boarded the plane very early in des moines, got to chicago, and settled in for our 7 hour flight. when we arrived in shannon, ireland, it was also very early in the morning there and we had not had much sleep from the time on the plane. we went to the car rental place, where they money-raped me told me that my state-side insurance didn’t cover driving in ireland. i reluctantly paid the extra amount, added a GPS, and then we took off to our vehicle, which was unpleasantly parked way too close to the next rental vehicle.

can i just say- driving on the opposite side of the road in the opposite seat in the car is a very frustrating experience. doing that, for the first time, not knowing where you’re going, on approximately 3 hours of sleep is hell. our hotel for the first night was this beautiful hotel by bunratty castle and it was only about a 15 minute drive from the airport, but i was down to my last nerve by the time we arrived. jessica… i mean… moneybags… was only 24 at the time and you had to be 25 to rent/drive a car, so i had the fortunate luck of driving the entire trip. most of it i didn’t mind so much, but this time was definitely the worst. to make matters worse, by the time we got to the hotel it was still only around 8am and we couldn’t check in until at least 11am.

so what do any two well-educated, classy, smart women do for three hours while they wait for their room to be serviced?

they sleep in the lobby, of course.

after we got to our rooms, had glorious naps, and refreshed ourselves, MB (for short) and i went out to explore the area we were at. jessica’s dad had bought us tickets to a medieval dinner at bunratty’s castle, but we had a few hours to spare before that so we went around, took photos, explored the (unopen) shops, and drank at some good ol’ irish pubs. i went in and ordered a strongbow- to which the bartender gave me a nice little smirk and said, “we don’t have strongbow here– you want a bulmer’s.”  and indeed i did. bulmer’s: the irish version of cider beer.

we also met four wonderfully hilarious brothers in the bar, but that is another story for another day.

after our medieval dinner- which was just as hokey and wonderful as i was hoping it would be- we went back to the room to sleep off the jet-lag. the next day we were planning on going to the cliffs of moher (which are up for the seven natural wonders of the world) and if that morning had been any indication, i needed at least six hours of sleep to be fairly functional while driving. …and even then, i almost hit dogs. (i didn’t almost hit the dog, jessica).

the cliffs of moher are BEAUTIFUL. one of my favorite places on the planet. it was so majestic, i know, i know i sound sappy and touristy, but i just fell in love. sure, it was a bit windy, a bit crowded, but the sights were unbelievable. and well worth the admission price (yes, there was an admission price for a natural wonder).  although it is unadvised, there are sections/gates/rocks to walk through/sneak under/climb over that will allow you even more spectacular views. it’s not advised because apparently the winds are so strong that people have been blown over the edge. i got close enough to the edge that it made my stomach drop. if you wanted to you could literally sit on the edge and look down… but i have a feeling that’s where the “plummeting to your death” portion of your day might happen.

after we took off from the cliffs, which i could’ve spent a day at admiring their beauty, we got back in the car and took many small, windy roads up to county donegal to meet up with jamie and her family for the wedding. the roads in ireland are nuts. giant tour buses have to stop to allow another tour bus to go by on their two way (yeah right) roads. farm animals graze in super green pastures, little tiny bed and breakfasts snake along the coast line… it’s super great. the only thing ireland is missing is bacon. sure, they say that have it. but it’s really just fried ham.

anyway, the wedding. the wedding was fantastic, beautiful, and everything you’d want a wedding to be (aka: short). i took photos, i signed as a witness, moneybags got to recite a beautiful poem about marriage… really, the whole thing was just a blast. the wedding was performed at the hotel and then we walked across the street to a church where a priest gave a blessing and a sermon. because jamie and curt aren’t irish they couldn’t officially get married in a church, but they still wanted the religious aspect to the day. after the wedding day, we all parted ways. the rest of jamie’s family was going to do some more sight-seeing, jamie and curt were off on their honeymoon adventure, and jessica and i had an adventure of our own: we were going to dublin.

our ride to dublin was pretty uneventful. stopped for gas, listened to great music, good conversation, i didn’t hit any dogs… getting into dublin, however, was another story. dublin is a pretty hard city to maneuver, from what i heard. to start with, our gps told us the wrong location so we spent awhile walking around before we figured out that we should keep going. secondly… well, secondly deserves its own paragraph.

our hotel was located right smack dab in the middle of the temple bar area- the hip, cool, drinky part of dublin. but every time we seemed to be getting close to that hip, cool, drinky part of dublin, we hit a detour. police men were out telling cars to turn certain ways, road blocks were up to prevent you from turning down specific streets… we spent 2 hours driving around dublin trying to find our damn hotel. because…

because there was a gay pride parade going on that shut down the whole temple bar area and a good portion of the city. hilarious! if only we had gotten there a few hours later, we could’ve partook in a wild and crazy time. there were floats, people dressed up in costumes, oh man. the more i think about it, the more bummed i am that we missed it. i even had on a shirt that said “kiss me, i’m iowaish” that could’ve gotten me a great deal of action. 😉

once we got to our hotel, we quickly rewarded ourselves with some free guinness. we chatted with the bartender, learned the quickest route to the Guinness Factory (the next day’s trip), and then went to recoup a bit before the night’s festivities. and that night we did get to experience dublin. we went out to eat and did a bit of quiet bar hopping, walked around the city to the less crazy bars as well, and then ended up at the bar attached to our hotel, which had some live irish music playing. there we drank, we danced, we met young italian foreign exchange students on some sort of school trip. the next day we nursed our hangovers, walked around dublin, checked out some parks, and made a day of it before getting ready to pack up again for italy. ireland was a fantastic time and something i will definitely have to do again. but i will bring my own bacon.