Beautiful Boulder

For about a month now, I’ve been living in Boulder, Colorado. My summer internship means I get to spend June- August basking in the sunny, not too hot weather and the beautiful mountains.

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The Flatirons, Boulder’s pride and joy.

Settling into Boulder, I’ve been struck by how beautiful it really is here. Not an experienced hiker myself, I have gone on a few “nature walks” in my neighborhood and in the mountains. I’m obsessed with the beautiful flowers that grow wild here, in the mountains and planted in front yards.

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I even checked a book out from the library to help me identify flowers.

While the wildness here is stunning, I also found a great art museum. The Leaning Tree Museum of Western Art is a few miles from downtown Boulder, and I took a picnic one Saturday to explore. Outside the museum there is a statue garden full of life size, bronze icons of the West. There were bears and buffalo, mountain lions, and statues of the Native Americans who lived in Colorado.

 

Beyond the sculpture garden there was a two-story art museum full of western art. The paintings depicted virtually every aspect of live in the Western plains. The collection was excellent, and many of the pieces were magnificent. I really enjoyed seeing such a specialized type of art, and such excellent examples of it.

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So far, I’ve gotten a taste of what Boulder has to offer, but there is still more to explore. Historic downtown Pearl Street is home to tons of cute shops and great restaurants and bars that I am slowly working my way through. And there are sure to be hidden gems everywhere. Hopefully I will have another update from beautiful Boulder soon!

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How to Not Stress About Air Travel

Almost universally, everyone agrees that the worst part of traveling is the traveling. Being in a new place is great, but getting there can often be a pain. And if you don’t travel regularly, it can be stressful, especially if you have to fly.

Years of in-flight experience have turned me into something of a road warrior. With holiday travel season approaching, I thought I would share my tips for a stress-free journey.

Stress Free Air Travel

There are three main components to any good airport experience: packing the right bags, getting to the airport, and navigating security. Once you can master those steps, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Packing the Right Bag

You should have 2-3 pieces of luggage: a carry-on, a personal item, and maybe a checked bag. Whether or not you check a bag depends of the kind of trip your taking. But keep in mind that it will usually cost extra. If you do decide to check, pack your liquids and gels in a plastic bag in that checked bag.

The most important bag for your trip is the carry on. It’s where you will put your clothes, shoes, etc. that you need. Instead of winging it, use a packing list to figure out what you need, and what you don’t. Find more packing tips here. As you are gathering items from your list, put them near your bag. Don’t start actually packing until you have everything together. That way you can pack everything for optimized use of space and make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.

There are a few key things that you will need to pack with security in mind. Once you hit the airport security tables, you are going to have about 2 minutes to unload all required objects into bins and go through the scanner. This means don’t pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag. You will be tempted to, but resist. Instead, pack your laptop, tablet, and e-reader near the top or in an easy to reach place in your briefcase/backpack. Not all airports make you take out e-readers and tablet computers (think iPads), but some do.

You also have to figure out where to put your liquids and gels bag. Every passenger is allowed a one-quart bag with liquids and gels inside. Each bottle can be up to 3.4 oz. or 100 ml. More details can be found here, but suffice it say that you will need travel sizes. I usually keep my bag in my backpack or the front pocket of my carry-on. Then, once I’m through security, I can move everything around to a better location. For example, my hand sanitizer and chap stick go straight back into the front pocket of my backpack or purse so I can use them on the plane. The baggie is just a temporary measure in the airport. Just make sure you know where you want to keep yours.

Getting to the Airport

All of this packing happens the night before your flight. But when the actual day arrives, getting your physical self to the airport can be one of the most stressful parts of flying. For domestic flights, you will want to arrive no less than an hour and a half before your scheduled departure time. And for international flights that goes up to at least two hours. Personally, I would suggest two hours for any flight unless you are leaving before seven am.

So, now that you know when you want to be at the airport, you should determine how long it will take you to get there. Google Maps is a great tool for this. Look up the route ahead of time and there are options to send it to your phone (if you are on a computer) or to save it for later. At the very least, the airport you are headed to will be saved in your history for easy look up later. Preview the whole route to make sure the computer hasn’t decided to take you any weird ways. One time a friend and I got sent to cargo receiving and told to walk. That was no bueno.

Then, once you know about when to leave, set an alarm. That could be on your phone, or on an old fashioned alarm clock if you prefer. It is just easier to know that you don’t have to remember when to leave.

If you aren’t checking a bag, then you will also want to check in to your flight and get your boarding pass ahead of time as well. Save it on your phone or print it out up to 24 hours before take off. That will save you one line at the airport, so you can head straight for security upon arrival.

Navigating Security

This is it. The final hurtle to a successful trip. You’ve already got your bags ready to go, with everything you need easily accessible. But before you stride up confidently to the counter, there are a few do’s and don’ts of the security line.

  • Do bring a snack. Lots of people think food isn’t allowed, but solid food is just fine. Save yourself from overpriced airport food by throwing a PB&J or a granola bar into your bag.
  • Don’t forget to empty your water bottle. Planes are really dehydrating, so having plenty of water is a must. But only empty water bottles can go through security. Pack it empty, drink up, or if you forget, you can just dump the water in the bathroom sink at the airport.
  • Do wear shoes you can take off. If you are between the ages of 12 and 75, chances are you will be asked to remove your shoes. Your best bet is to wear slip ons of some kind. During the winter this can be tricky though, since you probably want your warm boots. If you have to wear lace up shoes of some kind, loosen the laces while you wait in line to make taking them off faster at the counter. Once you’re through the scanner, there will be a bench you can sit on to get your shoes laced back on nice and tight.
  • Don’t forget about watches, earrings, and other small jewelry. These are big culprits for scanner beeps. You probably wear them so much your forget that you have them on, so do a double check in line. Then place them all in your coat pocket (jackets have to go through the scanner anyway) or the front of your purse. That way they don’t accidentally get left behind in bins either.
  • Do empty your pockets. No matter how many times they announce this, someone always forgets. Best plan: don’t put anything into pants pockets until you are at the gate.

These simple tricks will get you in and out of the security line as fast as possible, but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the TSA staff. They are there to help.

 

Especially around the holidays, flying can be a stressful time. Hopefully this cleared up a few of the mysteries of air travel, and will help you have a great next trip.

A Little Time in London

It’s hard not to love London. There is something for just about everyone, from hipsters to history buffs. I stopped over in London for four days on my way to Asia. And those were some action-packed four days. From seeing London’s most famous sites, to visiting a few hidden gems, I was busy having a great time day and night.

On my first evening I met up with a friend at Hyde Park. They are hosting a big summer festival, and on weekdays you can eat from food stands and watch free movies. We hung out there awhile before walking down to Trafalgar Square, past Buckingham Palace. It was my first little overview of London, and a particularly beautiful walk in the evening.P1130337 P1130348

Over the next few days I set out to see some of London’s biggest tourist attractions. There are a million ways to see London, but one of the best is to just walk around. I saw the west side on a walking tour that I highly recommend. To see the official City of London I set out on foot myself. Either way, walking let me go where I wanted in a very walkable city.

I had a great time on another Sandeman’s walking tour through the West End and Westminster. It was basically a London highlights reel. The tour started in Covent Garden and we walked all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Along the way I got to learn about the history of sites like Trafalgar Square, St. James’ Palace, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. I always enjoy hearing the stories and learning some interesting facts about a place.

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My tour guide was super funny

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P1130461Since the City of London is only one square mile, I made exploring it my next day. I started with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Nearby I found the lovely, not crowded, All Hallows by the Tower Church. The oldest church in the City of London, it is filed with maritime memorabilia, and completely charming.P1130527P1130524

Then I walked along past the beautiful covered building of Leadenhall Market to the Monument. Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, you can now climb the freestanding monument for an excellent panorama view of the area. And at the bottom you are given a certificate!P1130545 P1130549 P1130556P1130565

The last big landmark I saw in the City of London was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful day outside, so everyone was sitting in the gardens enjoying lunch. From there I crossed the Thames on the Millennium Bridge. I visited the Tate Modern and walked along the artsy South Bank. Popular for tourists and locals, the South Bank offers fun art galleries, shops, and spectacular views of London across the river. Just taking a short stroll down was a total treat.P1130570 P1130577P1130609

That evening I got to enjoy another London treat. I managed to score tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Drury Theater in the West End. Since it was a weeknight, I simply showed up at the box office about 90 minutes before show time and asked if there were any tickets. Luck was on my side, and I even got them to give me a deal. The show, based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, was a delight. It stayed mostly true to the original story, with a few modern adaptations. What I loved was seeing how the factory was brought to life on stage. The design and mechanics were whimsical and brilliant. It was a great night out in an acclaimed theater district. P1130480

I also spent an evening at the British Museum, but I could have been there for at least an entire day. Their collections are well-known for covering many time periods and cultures. The museum was fascinating, even in my whirlwind tour. My favorite thing I did there was to take one of their 20 minute spotlight tours on the Enlightenment. The tour wasn’t too long, and it helped me to learn some more about the museum and a few key pieces. They offer lots of free tours throughout the day and on Friday evenings. I highly suggest you try one next time you find yourself at the British Museum.P1130714 P1130656

I took a little detour from downtown one afternoon to Greenwich Village to visit the Fan Museum. I read about it online and knew that I had to go check it out. The Fan Museum is in an old townhouse. There are two floors of decorative fans, including their history and a special rotating collection. While I was there they were displaying fans from Paris’ Belle Epoch. They were the most beautiful fans I had ever seen.P1130641P1130631 P1130630 P1130625

Other than gorgeous and interesting fans, the museum also had a tearoom in the Orangery in the back. The room itself had been painted by a theatrical painter, and was just lovey. It was also one of the best afternoon tea deals in London. For just seven pounds I was treated to a pot of tea and a whole tower of fresh baked scones and victoria sponge cake. If you, like me, can’t leave London without stopping for afternoon tea, this is definitely the place to go. The staff was super friendly as well.P1130621

I was staying near Camden, so decided to go to the busy and wonderful Camden Lock Market on Saturday as well. Just walking down Camden High Street there were stalls and shops before the market even began. Then you enter the labyrinth of the actual lock market. It’s named after the river locks and the bridge that it’s next to. Every kind of craft, book, vintage item, clothing, etc. was being sold there. As I walked around, I kept thinking that I had reached an end, but there was always more. The shopping was amazing, but the food was better.P1130738

P1130720 P1130722P1130772 P1130769P1130728Sprinkled throughout the huge market were food stalls. But in the center was a food court area. There you could push your way through the crowd and eat cuisine from around the world. If you happened to be there around 10:30, then you can also eat your way through the vendors’ samples as they prepare for the lunch rush. Everything was delicious. I had Spanish paella, but my options were endless. So if you don’t want to go up to Camden to shop, go there just to eat.P1130734 P1130770 P1130774

There is so much to do in London that I could have stayed for another four days easily. But all good things must come to an end. I had a great time sampling some of London’s famous neighborhoods and seeing the sites. I can see why it is practically impossible to grow tired of London. I hope I can go back some day.P1130649

The Sweet Sounds of Salzburg

There is a lot to see in Salzburg. It’s where Mozart was born. It was ruled independently for over 300 years. Salt made the region fabulously wealthy. There are spectacular views of nature. But mostly, the Sound of Music was filmed there.

I went to Salzburg for the weekend with my parents. Like typical Americans, we took the Sound of Music tour. But we did have some time to explore the rest of what Salzburg has to offer.

One of my favorite parts of historic downtown Salzburg was Getreidegasse. It is a narrow street full of shops. Each shop has a decorative iron sign. The street is crowded with them. It is so quaint.
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While we walked around, we found a music festival in front of the cathedral. We weren’t surprised, since Salzburg is one of the music capitals of the world.
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We also took an afternoon to explore the Hohensalzburg fortress. Situated high in a hill, you have to hike or take a funicular to the top. We rode. The view was very nice. Inside, you can see the rooms where the ruling prince bishops lived. The center building houses the richly decorated Golden Hall and Golden Room. All of the wood paneling was very Gothic. The fortress remains intact today, because it was never conquered by enemy troops. thumb_P1110949_1024 thumb_P1120171_1024thumb_P1120139_1024There are many homes for the prince bishops in Salzburg. Built in 1615 by prince bishop Markus Sittikus, Hellbrunn palace was a summer palace situated just outside of the city. It is also called the Lustschloss because of its special features: the trick fountains. All through the garden are fabulous fountains that move and squirt visitors with water. We took the guided tour through the garden on a rainy day, so we were always surprised. We were okay getting wet though, because we were already dressed for rain. The fountains were hilarious and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Maybe my parents and I can build a trick fountain for our yard. It was certainly fun at the prince bishop’s parties.
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So, Salzburg had lots of fun and charming things to offer that weren’t from the Sound of Music. But the Sound of Music tour was amazing. We chose to use Bob’s Tours because they limit each van to 8 people, instead of having a giant bus. We were very happy with our choice. Our guide, Christoph, who my mother insisted on calling Bob, told us about the real Von Trapp family, the filming of the movie, and some facts about the area. We got to visit lots of sites from the film as well. One of them was Monsee Cathedral, which was used for the interior shots of the wedding. It is out away from Salzburg, but we got to enjoy a very pleasant drive through the countryside to get out there. We drove through the beautiful Lake District. That was my father’s favorite part of the tour. And the whole time we listened to the soundtrack and sang along!

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I think even if we hadn’t been drawn in by Julie Andrews and Rogers and Hammerstein, Salzburg would have still been a must see destination in Austria. It was so quaint and the area was so beautiful. I’m glad I got to see Salzburg, and dragged my parents along with me.

Kutná Hora Daytrip

While I was in Prague I took a quick daytrip to visit Kutná Hora. Back in its heyday, this town was a major competitor to the Czech capital. Silver mining made it a huge economic power. Until the 16th century, when wars made the mines unusable. Now its legacy is that of a town full of old churches. With one of particular interest.

The reason I wanted to see Kutná Hora was to see the famous Sedlec Ossuary, better known as the Bone Chapel. This is a chapel that is decorated with human bones. Real human bones dug up from the cemetery surrounding the chapel. There are huge pyramids of skulls, candlesticks, and chalices.

P1100749_1024 P1100750_1024There is a coat of arms from the Schwarzenberg family. They were the ones who commissioned the bone art. The bird pecking the guy’s eye is a part of the original coat of arms. Although the whole being made of bones part adds a new, macabre touch.P1100761_1024

The highlight of the Ossuary is the chandelier. It is said that it contains at least one of every bone in the body. It was really something special.P1100751_1024 P1100752_1024

I thought it would be spooky and ghoulish, but it wasn’t really. The bones were arranged as religious artwork, and that motive was clear. I was way more impressed then I was freaked out.P1100754_1024 P1100755_1024

The Ossuary was the highlight of Kutná Hora for me by far. But this town has a long history, and lots more to show for it. There are lots of UNECSO sites (mostly churches) all around the city.

P1100741_1024Like this, the Church of Our Lady, founded in 1142.

I walked all the way across the little town of Kutná Hora. It was a nice day, and there were plenty of cute buildings to see. Plus lots and lots of churches. At the end of my walk I found the Cathedral of St. Barbra. It is a huge gothic cathedral. Work started in the 14th century and took 200 years! Inside were some really old frescos depicting the mine workers from the town.P1100806_1024P1100793_1024

Most of my day in Kutná Hora was spent just walking around and relaxing. It was a quiet, low-key kind of day. What made it special was definitely the Bone Chapel. If you have time while in Prague, you should try to see it. And if you need a rest from the big city, the cute town of Kutná Hora could be just what the doctor ordered.P1100779_1024

Touring Vienna’s Burgtheater

Vienna has lots of universities, and that means lots of international students. So there are several groups around town who organize events for the international students. When I found one group on Facebook taking a tour of the Burgtheater, I knew I had to join.

The tour took us through the foyer, grand staircases, and honor hall of the theater. The building, like so many others in Vienna, was stunning. Both grand staircases had frescos on the ceilings painted by Gustav Klimt, his brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch. Our tour guide was very informative, and gave us a great lesson in the history behind the Burgtheater. Which was, of course, not without a few scandalous stories.

Situated directly across from the Rathaus, the Burgtheater was the last of the grand buildings to be built on Ringstraße in 1888. But it had been in operation since 1776, after a royal decree by Empress Maria Theresa. It is one of the oldest theaters in Europe. The old building, next to the Hofburg palace, had once been a banquet hall. It was there that many famous Mozart operas were premiered, including Le nozze di Figaro in 1786 and Così fan tutte in 1790. Today it only produces plays, and is a strictly German-speaking theater, making it one of the most influential in the German-speaking world.

The old Burgtheater, next to the Hofburg “Michaelerplatz altes Burgtheater” by Michael Frankenstein – Ausstellungskatalog: Blickfänge einer Reise nach Wien – Fotografien 1860-1910 – Aus den Sammlungen des Wien Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

When it came time to build a new theater, Emperor Franz Joseph hired the two architects who had designed the Kunsthistorische Museum, Gottfried Semper and Karl von Hasenauer. This was a terrible idea. The two architects had quarreled all though their previous project, and were less than keen to work together again. Semper wanted to design a less ornamental theater where the plays could really stand out. Hasenauer was all about the red velvet and gold leaf. All they managed to work out was the design for the basic structure of the building before Semper left the project. Hasenauer was free to run wild with his over-the-top ideas. And so he did.

The new Burgtheater

The new Burgtheater

While Hasenauer’s interior design is gorgeous, he also built a lyre-shaped auditorium with a domed roof. This sounds like a great idea in theory. The lyre was the instrument played by the ancient Greeks while performing, but it also created pockets of seats with no view of the stage. Domed roofs are wonderful acoustically for musical performances, but when actors are speaking, the echoing makes them impossible to understand. Viennese society at the time were said to have come up with a saying to describe these shortcomings, “At the new parliament you can’t see, at the new opera house you can’t hear, and at the new theater you can’t see or hear.” In 1897, the auditorium had to be remodeled.

That architectural fail aside, the grand staircases were what really impressed me. Combine some truly fabulous gold and marble brilliance with a ceiling of masterpieces and you have something magnificent. Our guide gave us great details about the frescos. Each staircase, the Duke’s and the Emperor’s, have a series of paintings that depict the history of theater from ancient times to the 19th century.P1090520 P1090505

One of the most interesting was by Gustav Klimt. It illustrates a staging of Antigone with a statue of Sophocles in the foreground. In front of the statue sits a woman dressed in white, staring out of the painting at the viewer. This woman was Katharina Schratt, the emperor’s mistress, and an actress at the Burgtheater. Now whenever the emperor visited the theater he would always be greeted by his lover.P1090521

To make the painting even better, the woman standing behind her was also an actress at the Burgtheater. The emperor had made advancements to her as well, but she had turned him down, saying, “My only love is my art.” Hence her looking up at the stage instead of at the emperor. I thought that was a great story of art reflecting life.

Every time I decide to tour another building in Vienna, there is always a twinge of fear that it won’t live up to expectations. How could it possibly be as beautiful or have as much history as all of the others? I may never be able to tell you how one city manages to fit so many splendors and stories into its boundaries, but Vienna never disappoints. My tour of the Burgtheater was fascinating. I would highly recommend it, especially for art history fans.P1090509

March at Vienna’s Outdoor Markets

Vienna is home to many outdoor markets. Some are seasonal, like the Christmas market at Karlsplatz and the Ostermarkt (Easter Market) at Schönbrunn. Others, like the famous Naschmarkt, run year-round, rain or shine.

I was told by locals and tourists alike to make it a point to visit these markets. And so I did. For several weeks now, visiting some market or another has been a favorite activity of mine.

One cold Saturday I made my way to Vienna’s most famous year-round market, the Naschmarkt. I specifically wanted to go on a Saturday to see the flohmarkt (flea market), which is not held during the week. But, boy, was it busy! I didn’t walk through the market, I was carried along by the crowd. There were all kinds of cool stands to look at as I drifted past.

The market spans the distance between Karlsplatz and Kettenbrückengasse, the next Ubahn station, with the flea market stretching beyond that. On the Karlsplatz side there are many small cafes and stands catering to the tourist crowd. They house handsome arrangements of olive oil or homemade mustard but aren’t the place to find a good deal.

As you go deeper into the market, you start to see lots of Turkish food stands. That’s what they are called here. They sell hummus and fresh olives and spices, even dates stuffed with walnuts. I think back home we would call them “Mediterranean food stands.” Everything there looked delicious. I wasn’t brave enough to fight the crowd and buy something, but there were plenty of opportunities. I think I must have passed 30 similar stands.

After that, there was the flohmarkt. While not as big as some flea markets I have been to, this one was decent size. Most of the stalls were selling a variety of Austrian antiques that were fun just to look at. There were a few others with more of a garage sale vibe that would have been great, had I needed any random articles of clothing, etc.

The atmosphere at Naschmarkt was a bit hectic on Saturday morning, but it was also energizing. Lots of people talk about how Vienna can feel sleepy, even with everything going on. There was no time for sleepiness at Naschmarkt. I enjoyed going there just to be part of the bustling crowd and smell all of the spices.

The flea market

The flea market

The crowd!

The crowd!

You may have noticed that I didn’t really buy anything while I was visiting Naschmarkt. The prices at some of the stalls were fairly decent, but I was too caught up in the crowd to stop. For actual food-buying and a more local market, I went to Brunnenmarkt. This one isn’t a tourist market. It’s a local, multi-ethnic market. Here you can buy eggs, meat, vegetables, you name it. While it was still crowded on Saturday morning, I managed to stop at a few stands and snag some good deals, including 1 Euro pita bread.

Lots of fruit and vegetable stands

Lots of fruit and vegetable stands

What I liked about this market was the authentic vibe. You could hear people meeting their neighbors, and it was clear that this was a Saturday tradition for many. My vaguely confused looks might have prevented me from blending in completely, but I still felt in touch with local culture. Like I was one step closer to being someone who has a full-time life in Vienna, not just someone who is passing through.

As the sun peaks out from behind the clouds, it has finally begun to look like Spring. And in Vienna this means it is time for the Schönbrunn Ostermarkt! Since this is a seasonal market, it is a special occasion for everyone. My friend Lucie and I went Saturday afternoon (because Saturday is market day, if you couldn’t tell). Part of the area in front of Schönbrunn palace had been filled with booths selling snacks, crafts, and other artesian delights. It was decorated with giant Easter eggs filled with real flowers. For the kids, there were games and a guy in a chicken suit walking around. As we explored the market, we passed a pretzel stand selling the most delicious looking pretzels.P1090454 P1090460 P1090461

Pretzel stand!

Pretzel stand!

Yum!

Yum!

 The Ostermarkt was an entirely different kind of market, but exceptionally fun. I especially enjoyed the beautiful setting and decorations. And I think it added some Spring freshness to my market repertoire.P1090455 P1090454

For me, shopping at the market isn’t about the practical aspects or the goods being sold. Every market I visit is a new experience. That’s what it is really about, the atmosphere, the people, the smells, just going to have a good time. And I always have a fantastic time. Everyone who told me that I had to check out Vienna’s markets was absolutely right.