Tag Archive | europe

Picture + 100 Words: Container Garden Inspiration

One of Cordoba's famous patiosIf you find yourself with a garden space that is horizontally challenged, take a tip from the Spaniards and go vertical. In countless courtyards throughout Cordoba, gardeners are not deterred by limited space. Instead they put plants in containers that climb up the walls toward the sunlight. No need to get fancy with the pots, simple terra cotta will do. Add in some blossoming flowers in coordinating colors, mix up the textures of the foliage, and just keep rising higher and higher. One more thing: consider drought-resistant plants because watering all of these regularly would be bothersome.

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How Others Deal With the Heat

If you haven’t heard, it’s going to be hot the next few days and into next week. H-O-T hot. Like 99 degrees hot here in Frederick. But it’s not just Maryland, a heat wave is in the forecast for much of central and eastern U.S.

I grew up in Louisiana, so I’m no stranger to heat (and humidity!). But how do others handle the heat? Here are a few clever ways I’ve come across.

Dubai

We were in Dubai in January and it was hot. It was about 30 degrees away from summer weather, but it was 85 and I was wearing lots of modest clothes. So how do you escape the heat in Dubai? You go to the mall.

The wonderfully air-conditioned mall.

Let's go to the mall

We joked that Dubai was one huge mall because there were so many of them, but it makes sense. Isn’t there nothing better when it’s ridiculously hot out than stepping into a 65 degree climate-controlled space?

Spain

The other week we were complaining about the heat in Maryland. We were dealing with low 90s here and I decided to check the weather in Southern Spain. It was 110 degrees. Spain was one place where we were fascinated by how they’ve handled hot weather.

You have table misters that keep you cool while dining alfresco or just walking by.DSC_5225

Sun shades that stretch across streets do you don’t have to walk in the sun.DSC_5224

And kissing lanes that are designed to be so narrow for more shade.
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This is also the culture that has perfected the art of the siesta – a midday nap that coincides with the hottest part of the day.

Greece

I was thinking of all of the places we’ve traveled when it was hot, and the only thing that I could think that Greece really got right about the heat was having the sea RIGHT there. You just jump in and immediately cool off. Genius. 😉

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Phoenix, Arizona

When we were in Phoenix this past January it was warm (for January!) and sunny. At one street corner I happened to look up as we waited to use the cross walk and saw the ingenious shade structures on all four corners of the street. It was this convenient little tree-shaped plastic fan that spread out over us and provided shade from the relentless Arizona sun.

I don’t know if it necessarily makes me feel better to know others are dealing with hight temperatures, but I do hope that some of these heat-beating solutions will be implemented more widely here in the U.S.

What other smart ways have you found to beat the heat?

Shoes to pack when you travel: Three pairs and considerations

When you travel the last thing you want is a blister or aching feet. But what shoes should you pack?

Ultimately the shoes you pack should meet most (if not all) of these considerations:

  1. All weather. It’s not the time to pack suede shoes if you’re going anywhere that rains at all. Your shoes should be able to get wet, dirty, muddy, dusty, etc.
  2. Comfortable as can be. You should be able to walk miles in these shoes without aches or blisters. This requires significant breaking in.
  3. Versatile for all outfits. Your shoes should work with every outfit you pack. You won’t want to wear the same shoes day after day. Get shoes that work with jeans, khakis, pants, capris, shorts, and bonus points if it works with skirts and dresses.

Below are my go-to shoes for traveling as well as recommendations from my well-traveled friends.

Merrells

Me, my husband, and my friend Kerry all swear by Merrells. The best thing about these shoes is that technically it’s a sneaker, but it doesn’t look like a sneaker. Too many jokes have been made at the expense of white-sneaker sporting American tourists, but at the end of the day a good pair of sneakers is what you should wear when you’re walking 10-12 miles a day. The three of us have gray-colored Merrells, which like Dr. House proved, we can make look as sporty, casual, or nice as we want.

Sperry Boat Shoes

I love my Sperry boat shoes. The moment it climbs past 65 degrees in the Spring until it falls below 60 in the Fall, I’m in my boat shoes about 75% of the time. In addition to being comfortable, boat shoes look nicer than sneakers (even Merrells). If we’re traveling in any season other than winter, my boat shoes are in my bag.

Nice walk along the river/creek.

Sperrys in Wales.

A pair of strappy flat sandals

In Louisiana we use the term “lagniappe,” which means a little something extra. If we’re traveling in the summer I’ll throw a pair of flat sandals in my bag as lagniappe. These are nice for the beach or to wear with a sundress to look a wee bit dressier than my other shoes. I wouldn’t spend the day walking in sandals, but it’s nice to have the option to dress up. My favorite sandals have been from J Crew and Madewell – they only last a couple of years, but I don’t spend a lot on them. These look very similar to a pair I bought a couple of years ago and I just bought these, but haven’t worn them yet, so can’t say if they are comfy.

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Flat sandals at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

A few more ideas

My friend Melissa says that her Converse all stars work well for long days of walking while traveling. Kerry’s husband and family members love the brand OluKai for comfortable all-day walking shoes, which was new to me. After spending 15 minutes on the OluKai website I’m ready to buy all of the shoes.

What are your go-to shoes for traveling?

How to Have a Memorable Night in Venice

One night in Venice, fairly far from our hotel, we were eating dinner at a restaurant and heard a flood siren. The sirens in Venice don’t wail. They melodically hum. It’s quite creepy sounding.

Flooded sidewalk

For some reason we thought nothing of the siren and continued eating. When we looked up and saw that the whole restaurant had cleared out and noticed the staff looking at us impatiently we began to realize that we should take heed of that siren.

So we left the restaurant headed to the hotel roughly going to same way we came, only to be stopped by water lapping at our feet. There was a canal flooding the walkway and the way to the bridge we needed to cross.

Not a problem we thought, because in Venice there’s really no “main route” and there are multiple ways to get anywhere. We would just cross the canal on another bridge farther down.

Rising water

We headed that way only to be stopped by flooding again. Not quite panicking yet, we started walking faster almost jogging, to what we hoped would be another footbridge over the canal. I noticed that we had several groups of people following us at this point (perhaps because we walked so determinedly – but really it was blind leading the blind at this point). We found a bridge that was not flooded yet and crossed it and made our way quickly back toward St. Mark’s.

This adventure repeated itself several times until we got to a spot where there was no un-flooded option so we just had to wade in and through it. My husband and father in law took off their shoes and socks. My mother in law and I just went for it. It was fine at first. Only coming halfway up my shoes. And then it got deeper and deeper and my shoes and socks were submerged and waterlogged.

Shoes off? Bogdan and Vlad did.

Finally we reached a raised platform constructed just for situations such as these that eventually led us to San Marco. High above the flood now, we watched the Venice police wading in the water below us, wet up to the knees.

Up to the knees

We really should have paid attention to that siren.

But what an adventure we had instead.

Picture + 100 Words: Overwhelmed by the Louvre

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If you’ve been to the Louvre, this photo of me “passed out” on its floor might make sense. The Louvre is daunting from the moment you enter. Climbing up marble stairs, a large statue looms over you from above, and like a reflex cameras all around go up, point, shoot. Walk on. Leave the whole admiring-the-artwork thing to a poorly lit laptop screen. You’ll go through wide expansive halls with canvases literally stacked upon one another and you’ll probably elbow your way by a Da Vinci without even noticing. But it’s the Louvre. And you must go to the Louvre.

The Case for Just Sitting There: A Better Way to Travel

When you travel somewhere with a list of a bazillion must-see sights all with different opening and closing days and times, it will be hard to convince yourself to just sit somewhere for an extended period of time. Here is why that’s a mistake.

I understand the urge to do every single thing you read about in a guidebook or on Trip Advisor (when will I ever be here again? This trip cost me lots of money—shouldn’t I make the most out of it?).

Just like you can burn out on a job, you can get burn out on a trip. We’ve done the whole schedule-every-hour see-as-much-as-possible trips before, but for a recent trip to Italy we were much more relaxed.

And guess what? We spent a lot of it just sitting around not doing anything…and it was lovely! Florence was hot, sunny, and crowded to the brim with large groups of tourists (who only move in packs, as you may know). Instead of elbowing through crowds and waiting in absurdly long lines, we spent a lot of time sitting. Sitting on a bridge on the Arno. Sitting on a bench in the sculpture enclave on Piazza della Signoria. Sitting in a park with shade! Sitting. Sitting. More sitting.

Do you know what happens when you just sit (in addition to letting your poor tired feet get some rest)? You see things. Hilarious things. Odd things. On the bridge over the Arno we watched a wedding bride and her groom get photos taken with Ponte Vecchio in the background. The bride was full on in her wedding dress and of course this caused many people to stop and stare (and take selfies with the couple in the background).

Wedding bride! Ponte Vecchio pictures.

We spent the majority of our time in Cinque Terre sitting on “our bench” watching waves crash into the rocks below us. When you sit for so long you don’t even have to wait for a spectacle—you can come up with stories on your own.

Bogdan testing out the water temp (news flash: it was COLD!)

The view from our bench in Manarola.

We had a story about the local man who came and fished off the breakwater every day for about 15-20 minutes (and never caught anything).

We were in Manarola, which is basically one insanely steep hill from the highway to the sea with houses and shops nestled into the cliffs. It’s a pain to walk up the main road, so when we saw a young man with a bike we made up all kids of stories about how a bike is a bad idea in Cinque Terre (we also named him Matt Damon because he was alone but stopped to chat with a young couple—it was just too Talented Mr. Ripley to not draw a parallel).

Another Manarola shot

Perfect place for a bike?

We watched a toddler and her grandfather pull off an ingenious ruse with the pigeons—grandpa lured the birds by feeding them pieces of bread while granddaughter would sneak attack and chase after them. (No birds were harmed).

In Tuscany we sat. Mostly with wine glasses in our hands. Tuscany was made for sitting and soaking in the countryside.

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Tuscany – made for sitting and sipping.

Even in Rome we made time to just sit. We would position ourselves in a prime spot—like on the bleachers in front of the forum ruins. You could sit and imagine ancient Rome as well as people watch all of the entertaining tourists.

One of the imperial forums

Next time you’re planning a trip, resist the urge to schedule every moment and embrace the times when you can just sit and watch the world go by.

When You Just Have to Get the Shot

We decided to venture out of the house after 30 inches of snow dropped on our city in fewer than 30 hours.

The day after was beautiful. We went for a walk to see Frederick covered in several feet of snow.

At one point, walking by Baker Park, I realized that at a certain spot there would be a shot of Frederick’s spires with a frozen Carroll Creek below. Unfortunately there was a barrier of snow in my way.

Not being that committed to this shot, we kept walking. Then I saw a small plowed path from the street right up to the creek. I followed it to the end and realized it opened up to just the right spot for that shot. As I walked back a man came out of his house and asked, “got that shot? I plowed that path just for it.”

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Have I mentioned that I love living in Frederick?

The episode reminded me of another shot that I got when we were in Venice, which is full of great photo opps. We were in St. Mark’s square when I saw a many lying on the ground. He was in search of a perfect shot. He probably got it, too, because the puddle from the previous night’s flood offered a spectacular reflection of the basilica. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of capturing him in action.

He is committed to the shot

Not that I can judge. Last month in Arizona, I was so invested in getting this shot of the red rocks that I risked falling in a pool (albeit heated, but I was fully clothed). Dedicated to the shot.

Bloggers, photographers and Instagrammers alike can relate. Sometimes you just need to get that shot.

Picture + 100 Words: Heads Will Roll

Palazzo VecchioWe finally find a place to sit near Palazzo Vecchio. We’re overwhelmed by the heat, the tourists and Florence itself. We sit here in the Loggia della Signoria, next to Perseus who is a bit imposing.

A man sits next to us, points at Perseus and asks in broken English, “bad guy?”

“Excuse me?” my husband replies.

“Bad guy,” he repeats pointing at the statue towering over us. “Cut off his head,” as he mimes slashing his throat with his finger.

Tired by the thought of explaining Medusa in basic English we smile, nod and say, “yes, bad guy.”

Should I Rent a Car in Europe? (Yes)

Every trip to Europe we ask the same question: should we rent a car?

In the past 6 years we’ve traveled to Europe six times and rented a car on five of those trips. I put together a list of pros and cons of renting a car on your European trip.

There are so many pros for renting a car in Europe:

  1. We’ve found that it is quite affordable compared to American rates when you find weekly deals.
  2. The freedom of having a car means you’re not dependent on train schedules and availability of train tickets.
  3. You can make as many (planned and unplanned) stops on the way to your destinations as you’d like.
  4. Plus, I honestly think you can learn a lot about a country’s people and culture based on how they drive (e.g., super fast but otherwise following the rules ala Germans or completely chaotic and rules be damned ala Italians).

The cons can include:

  1. Finding (and paying!) for parking overnight in city centers.
  2. Navigating medieval-designed and sized one way city streets.
  3. Expensive gas.
  4. Tolls. Tolls. And more tolls.
  5. Getting lost and trying to ask directions in a language you don’t speak (that one can be quite funny, actually).

Our rental car hanging out in Segovia - a Chevy Spark

Here are a few things we’d never have seen if we’d traveled by train:

Scottish highlands: Scotland, all of Scotland, was glorious. Because we drove from Edinburgh to Dunnottar Castle then across the highlands up to Lochness on our way to Isle of Skye then through Glasgow on our way back in to England we really felt like we got to see a lot of the country.
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Escorial & Segovia: Because we were in a car, our drive from Madrid to Salamanca included stops at Escorial and Segovia. Two places where we didn’t spend the night, but we would not have wanted to miss.
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Neuschwanstein castle: That day we were headed from Munich to Salzburg. It could have been a quick and painless train ride, but instead we headed to Bavaria to see sights like this.
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One piece of advice: don’t rely on Google Maps for directions. We made this mistake and realized it the hard way – when we kept being told to turn down the wrong way of one-way city streets. Now we always use viamichelin.com, which not only knows the correct direction of streets, but also gives you an exact amount of the cost of tolls so no surprises.

Picture + 100 Words: The Stairs

There were 180 steps. I counted every one. Not when I was descending and looking out into the sparkling Aegean Sea. Only on the ascent did I count. After hours of swimming, snorkeling, reveling in the fact that no one else at the resort wanted to go down that many stairs to this dream of a beach. On the way up I counted to 180 and then I turned around. Atop the cliff with a wall of sea staring back at me, I was slightly out of breath but already planning the next trip down.

Photo: Milos, Greece