Warsaw.

P1019683

Poland was kind of an accident in our travel plans: we were going from Vilnius to Prague and the cheapest way was to bus with a stop in Warsaw. We spend about 16 hours in the city, bookended by two overnight buses, so this was definitely our most difficult day of travel. We were kind of dirty and cold, but we saw so many beautiful things that we didn't regret our choice.

We did end up hanging around in the train station for a chunk of the dark hours, but when we ventured out we found some gems. The first place we headed was my favorite: Lazienki Park. It's a huge stretch of greenery in the center of the city, interspersed with ponds and statues and little footbridges. It even houses a palace and an art gallery. I was genuinely amazed, and felt like I was wandering around in Narnia, helped along a bit by the faun lampposts. My favorite favorite was this open air theatre we stumbled across, built to look like a classical ruin. You can't entirely tell from the picture, but it was in the lagoon. It was separated from the seats by a narrow strip of water. I was nearly salivating at the thought of performing there on warm summer nights, surrounded by the swans and stars. Ugh! So cool!
  P1019667 P1019681 P1019643 P1019671

The afternoon was spent exploring Old Town, which is a good hike from the park, but we split up our walk by stopping in at some cool ephemera shops and having lunch at a restaurant I compared to a Polish Olive Garden. One of our biggest laughs of the trip was looking at the Google Translation of the restaurant's website:
"In the room is a furnace. The furnace has a window, through which peeks grandmother. Whether we taste? After our smiles to know that, yes." 
The decor did include the facade of a wood burning stove, but we didn't eat any bits of grandmother as far as we're aware.

Late afternoon saw us headed back towards the vicinity of the train station; we spent a couple of hours exploring a really interesting (and free) Museum of Modern Art. Once our feet got too tired to keep standing around, we loitered in the cafe and perused the really interesting bookstore. I took notes about some titles I wanted to check out when I got home, and I've really been enjoying a couple which I'll share soon.
Finally, we were overcome by the fourteen miles (self high five!) we'd walked that day and dragged ourselves back to the train station to wait for our next bus. A nap and episode of Game of Thrones later, we were on our way. To Prague!

Vilnius.

P1019584
P1019606

I mentioned last week how my buddy Kaitlyn and I took a massive adventure over our winter break. The grand journey began in Vilnius; we were staying with some family friends.
If you had asked me the capitol city of Lithuania before this trip, I certainly wouldn't have been able to tell you. That's one of the biggest things I took away from traveling this time around: there's so much I don't know. The top of that list is languages. I have found that being an English speaker allows you pretty wide freedom while traveling (in Europe especially), because most people speak it, but think about what that means. In Belgium, almost everyone I met spoke at least French, Dutch, and English. That's insane, coming from a place where it's not expected that you know more than one language. I'm about to graduate from college, and most of the Spanish I've learned is already faded, having been sacrificed for other pursuits. Traveling is such an eye-opener to priorities in different parts of the world, and how different those priorities can be from the ones we assume at home.

P1019597 P1019593 P1019592 P1019583 P1019586 P1019594

The first day we arrived in Vilnius, we way overslept. Winter is a dark season there, and the sun never got bright enough to wake us from our jetlag. But the next couple of days, we got out and explored the city. It's UNESCO protected, and it's easy to see why; so many of the buildings are really old and beautiful, particularly the Eastern Orthodox churches that brighten up the skyline in their series of pastel colors.

 My hands down favorite part of the city is a little difficult to describe. It seems like it's part artist commune, part quirky neighborhood. It's called Užupis, or the Republic of Užupis, and it even has its own constitution. Some of the unusual laws are pictured above, and they seem like a particularly good set of ideas on how to live your life: for example, "Everyone has the right to be happy" "Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation." We ate lunch in a little restaurant there where they were playing some odd English music that sounded like 1940s covers of modern pop songs. But the crepe and mushroom pasta were just as good, regardless.

 Some other highlights from our time here: we climbed a tall hill at the center of the city, where the three white crosses are, and saw an incredible view of all the orange tiled roofs. We went with our friends to a cool pub in an underground bunker from the war, and figured out the hype about Kinder eggs and explored a Lithuanian grocery store, hung out with our generous hosts and eased our way in to our travels with style. We were struck by how fashionable and good looking most of the people walking around the streets were, which was something we noticed again and again in eastern Europe. We had our work cut out for us to keep up. On our last night, we said farewell to our friends, and took a taxi with a wonderfully friendly old cabby who spoke no English, and went to wait for our overnight bus to the Czech Republic. On to Warsaw!

Backpacks, boots, and a big wide world.

PC229788 P1010073 P1010626 Over winter break, my dear friend Kaitlyn and I went backpacking through Europe.
It still seems so weird that I can actually say I've done that now. I can really put that tick on my bucket list. Granted, I'll be wanting to do it again, but I'll put the first tally there for now.
We had a pretty ambitious list: we were gone for three and half weeks, starting in Lithuania and ending in Amsterdam.

Kaitlyn and I are lucky to have pretty well aligned travel goals:
1) Eat good food.
2) See great art.
3) Meet cool people.
4) Do it on the cheap.

I'm extremely serious about that last one. My experience has shown that if you are willing to sacrifice some comfort, it's totally possible to see the world in a clean, safe, and exciting way without spending a lot of money. So though my perspective is limited in terms of luxury, I can tell you a lot about the pros and cons of hostels, eating at a mix of grocery stores and restaurants, and finding the good museums, book stores, and souvenirs that aren't lame. If you're into traveling with similar interests, please feel free to follow along!

We stayed with a couple of friends over the course of the trip. (It's a super cool feeling to know people around the world. I owe some of that to Kaitlyn and some to my semester studying abroad.) The rest of the time we were in hostels, which were on the whole pretty nice. We spent our days walking the cities, filling our eyes and bellies with beautiful things. Some evenings we opted to stay in and rest our tired bodies, but others we went to theatre and cool jazz clubs and did some wandering under European street lamps.

There are a good number of 'city guide' posts coming your way over the next couple of weeks. First up: Vilnius, Lithuania!

  P1010143P1010365

Thanks, Linus.

P1010880 P1010920 P1010889

Winter storm Linus hit us over the weekend, which for me meant that yesterday was spent under blankets with Oliver Twist in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. And my cancelled rehearsal meant that I got more homework done than I was expecting. Score. Little victories, guys.
This morning my buddy Kaitlyn and I ventured out to play in the mess. We could have used some snowshoes but the sun was on our side and everything was sparkling.

This semester I'm an intern at a local paper, and one of my assignments is to find 'hidden treasures'  around Milwaukee. The whole project has got me thinking about an idea I'm mentally referring to as Home Trips. Just little excursions to a place I've never been to--restaurants, parks, bowling alleys, neighborhoods, bookstores. My goal is to find a new place every two weeks, and by the end of the year I'll have a whole new set of favorite spots. We were only out for about an hour today and my brain felt totally refreshed. I figure there's less of a chance I'll feel my routine going stale if I pepper it with small adventures.

What new places have you found to spice up your stomping grounds?

Milwaukee Saturday.

P1010852
P1010821
P1010855
P1017977


My city and I are really fiercely fond.
If I'm going to be honest, this is a relatively recent feeling. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time in parts of Milwaukee that I rarely visit now. And I always had a sort of nagging impression that my home town was something to be ashamed of--never in so many words of course, but my school friends didn't seem proud to live where we did, and neither did I. And then it came time to apply for colleges, and people did their best to make a grand exodus and get out of here. I did not, although more by financial constraints than by choice. So I went to college without leaving home, and that may have been the best gift of a lesson that Marquette has given me: Milwaukee is cool.
All of a sudden I was spending my time in places where people sought new ideas and made art and ate good food. I was seeing my city through the eyes of people who came here by choice, and finding a whole new world I'd never known existed before. I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do, and it's very possible that saying the name of an ultra-hip restaurant or bar will still draw a blank look from me, but I'm eager to learn.
There are several words to describe what I love most about Milwaukee--it's genuine, sincere, a little rough around the edges. Milwaukee tries really hard. It's not always a paragon of progressiveness or open-mindedness, but there are so many people who live here that are trying to make it better that they outweigh the negativity. Milwaukee knows that it has a lot of work to do, and the feeling of camaraderie and potential that comes along with the responsibility is part of what makes it great. It's a city on the cusp of spilling over with startup businesses, community organizations, arts programs, all designed to improve the quality of life for those that call Milwaukee home. I'm so excited to be a part of this Milwaukee Movement and to make my own contributions to my city's growth.
So often, I'm taken by surprise by all the small, lovely things I pass on my daily routine. These images were brief snippets of my Saturday that was filled mostly with work and errands. But I was happy to do them as I looked around me with the knowledge that I live in such a beautiful place.
I love to travel, to go out and see other parts of the world. But I really love coming home, too.

Apple quinoa breakfast bowl.

P1010837 P1010838

I woke up this morning wanting to make myself a real breakfast, and I couldn't find any bread. So I moved on to my next idea, which was a bowl of some kind of grain, and after a brief Pinterest scan I found something I wanted to try. I found this recipe and modified it slightly to use the ingredients I had.

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 medium apples, shredded

Instructions:
1. Put the almond milk, quinoa, and applesauce in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid, which should be somewhere between 15-20 minutes.
2. Add the spices, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. I also added my shredded apples, although the original recipe instructs you to add them later as a topping. But I found that this helped to absorb some of my excess liquid, and worked really well.
3. Serve. I topped my bowls with a drizzle of honey and sprinkle of hazelnuts from the family farm, and let me tell you, that was a good addition.

Tips:
I used some apples that had been lying around and getting kind of soft, so I shredded them with a food processor rather than by hand. I was also surprised to find how sweet this was (and I'm a sucker for sweets). Making it again, I might actually hold off on the honey until I try a couple bites and see if it needs additional sweetness.

Overall, this was a two thumbs up. I've made my share of Pinterest recipes that weren't overly successful, but this was a really good one, especially for someone with a sweet tooth who's trying to fool their body into being healthy.

 Original recipe via Love and Zest.

A Fresh Month.

P1019426


I've already seen a lot of really beautiful things this year, and it's only just started. Some of them have been at home, others in pretty distant places. I went on a great trip with a dear friend of mine, and I'd like to share some retrospective pictures in the upcoming weeks. I started school again, and am already up to my eyes in the hilarity of a new show, and interesting words to read. I got to spend some time with my family, and I'm really grateful.
I'm hoping to make it a good one, folks. And as I've finally gotten to a place in my academic career where my writing is coming forward, rather than essays and arbitrary projects, I'm hoping to jumpstart this bad boy of a blog and bring it along for the ride. Let's do it.