These were our "costumes" for our Halloween house party in Serbia last year. 
It may come as a surprise to some - since I LOVE dressing up and being absolutely ridiculous - but I really don't like Halloween. The "holiday" sort of just grosses me out and makes me all uneasy. Maybe it's because of my insane fear of horror movies, or perhaps my rejection of Halloween has something to do with the way my parents raised me. I have three little brothers, and we were more often dressed up as Noah and his arc full of animals than scary witches and bloody vampires. Most of our costumes were hand-made, compliments of my creative mother, and I only remember trick-or-treating once as a child. Do I think I missed out? Nope, I don't think I missed out at all. In fact, once Chris and I have kiddos, we may take them to harvest parties over neighborhood trick-or-treating. I have such fond memories of those church harvest parties.

In any case, I love that Halloween hasn't become a huge commercialized holiday in Europe yet. People say that things in Belgium are starting to look more "Americanized" thanks to western movies and sitcoms. Classy Autumn decorations adorn the shopping street, and local chocolate shops offer leaf-shaped-truffles for sale, but I am yet to see a wizard hat or vampire mask for sale.


Pompeii, Italy

View of Mount Vesuvius from Sorrento, Italy. 
Oh silly me! I completely forgot to post pictures of one of my favorite summer excursions! The Morris’ and I had just spent several glorious (sweltering) summer days in the Italian cities of Rome, Positano, Sorrento and Capri, and the day had come for me to fly home and reconnect with my hard-working Hubby. 

(Lovey-dovey side note – I am always bummed when Chris’ work schedule doesn’t allow him to hop on a plane with me every single time I get the travel urge, but I am beyond blessed - and spoiled - that he gives me freedom and trusts me to sight see on my own, meet up with friends and spend his hard-earned dollars wisely. What a man!) 

Evan mentioned that next on the Morris’-Italian-travel-agenda was a trip to see the ruins of Pompeii and that darn Mount Vesuvius. Since I would pass Pompeii on my way back to Rome, I decided to enjoy one last excursion with my dear friends before parting ways. I'm so glad that I did! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing the Pompeii that had before only existed on the pages of my middle school textbooks. 


Nieuwpoort, Belgium

A storm rolling in over Nieuwpoort, Belgium.

Chris and I have been living in Roeselare, Belgium for 7 weeks now, and I still feel scattered and unsettled. There is so much to explore and friends to be made and jobs to be found. The weather is flighty and unpredictable, so discovering my new home on two wheels can sometimes leave me looking like a drowned rat. I am not quite sure how people still manage to look presentable riding a bike around town in the rain?! Maybe I just need to invest in a good rain coat. The saying around here goes something like this: "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes because it will surely change; and if you like the weather, well, sorry to say that after a few minutes your new found appreciation for the weather will change too." I have to laugh because I feel like I am back in Portland, Oregon. The climate here is so similar to the Pacific Northwest. I guess I have just been living in Kentucky and Serbia too long to appreciate sporadic rain showers. It will grow on me . . . I hope!

One of the great things about our new home is the number of visitors that we have had in the past 7 weeks. Chris and I have had an excuse to get out and explore a little more since we are entertaining visitors most weekends that we stay in town! One of my college friends, Ben, is an expat living in Rome, and we invited him to hop on over to Belgium for a long weekend. Of course, the three of us explored Brugge, but on Sunday, we decided to drive 30 minutes to the city of 
Nieuwpoort on the North Sea. 


Cinque Terre Italy

One of my favorite shots of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre, Italy.  This is where we stayed!
Cinque Terre Italy (The Five Lands), that mythical portion of the Italian Riviera that has, for centuries, lured travelers in with the promise of fine Italian wines, charming local flare, breathtaking views, and romantic hikes uninterrupted by passing vehicles. I had a good friend who had hiked The Five Lands with his wife several years ago, and after seeing his pictures, I instantly added the destination to my "bucket list." I know it is a super "touristy" place to visit in Italy, but I am a tourist, and I want to tour as much of this amazing world as possible!

Kayla and I were blessed with fantastic weather and cheap flights in mid-September! We did book about three months ahead, so perhaps a little advance planning helped us stick to our budgets. Even with three months notice, it was a struggle to find a comfortable, budget friendly B&B with an available room. If you are planning to spend some time in Cinque Terre next summer (2013), I would suggest contacting B&Bs now! A lot of places are already booking up for June, July and August. You will need to contact most places via email when requesting a reservation. 

I learned while researching that there are a few (super expensive) hotels in Cinque Terre, but the most common thing to do is to get a room at a guest house or family run B&B. I used Trip Advisor as a reference, and decided to book four nights at Locanda Ca da Iride in Riomaggiore, the first of The Five Lands. Our little B&B was nothing spectacular, but it was clean and the family was friendly and accommodating. Riomaggiore was a great home base from which to explore all of Cinque Terre. A lot of B&Bs only accept cash payments once you check out, so as a rule of thumb, contact your accommodation several times before you arrive to make sure they indeed have your booking. 

We had such a great time in Cinque Terre, and even though I can now check it off my "bucket list," I want to get back there some day with my Hubby! Enjoy a few of our pictures and if you are interested in any of my notes from the trip, I will list them at the end of this post. 

First picture of both of us in Cinque Terre! Rocks make great tripods!
Riomaggiore - Cinque Terre, Italy.
It's really this beautiful!
You just cannot stop taking pictures of Riomaggiore, Italy!
Via dell'Amore (Walk of Love) Kayla is looking for a lover. 
Mimosas on the hike at Bar dell'Amore. 
Grapes off the vine in Groppo, Italy. 
Wine Tasting in Groppo, Italy. 
We hiked up to Corniglia, but we didn't eat or drink here. 
Entering Vernazza, Italy. This was our favorite of The Five Lands
The views of Vernazza, Italy just take your breath away!

Two girls in Vernazza with a mini bottle of wine and a lovely sunset. 

The umbrellas are the restaurant Baia Saracena where we had some great pizza. 
Our last day was stormy and we spent it in Monterosso al Mare. 

We had the best sangria at Enoteca del Eliseo in Monterosso al Mare
The owner of Enoteca del Eliseo treated us to his homemade grappa and limoncello. 

As promised, I will leave you with a list of our Cinque Terre "loves." 

Riomaggiore (Where we Stayed):

Breakfast - Every morning we picked up fruit at a local co-op (store) on the main street. We stuffed our bags with fruit and munched on it along the hike. 

Dinner - La Lanterna - A great, family run Trattoria right on the water. Great food and friendly service!

Hiking - You can start your hike from any of The Five Lands, and you will pay 5 Euro each day that you hike. The hiking fee is used to maintain the trails and is much needed after the mudslides last year. We started hiking from Riomaggiore, and whenever we didn't feel like hiking anymore, we just took the train. You can buy a daily hiking/training pass for 10 Euros. Also ask for a train schedule at any of the stations, the schedule is helpful since the times are pretty limited. 

Mimosas on a Hike?! - We hiked the romantic Via dell'Amore from Riomaggiore to Manarola, and about ten minutes into the hike, we stopped for mimosas at Bar dell'Amore. Why not?! It was a girl trip after all!


A Little Dip - We were so hot after our (short) hike, so we walked down to the water and jumped in! There is no sand in Manarola, but stairs have been carved into the stone allowing you to easily reach the water. Once you jump in, little ladders are cleverly placed to help you get OUT of the water gracefully. 

Groppo - Manarola was pretty quiet, so we decided to take a friend's suggestion and hike up to the small hill town of Groppo. We meandered through cliff-side vineyards and grabbed handfuls of grapes as we passed. Eventually we found a place at the very top of Groppo where we could taste some wine. 

Vernazza (Our Favorite)

Picture Worthy Time/Place - Make sure to go out on the pier and get some pictures back on Vernazza as the sun is setting. This was my favorite bunch of pictures from the trip. You can also buy a half bottle (or a whole bottle) of wine at any little store and they might even offer to open the bottle and provide plastic cups so that you and a "glass" of vino can take in the majestic sunset. 

Dinner #1 - As the sun was setting, we had dinner on the pier at a little Pizzeria called Baia Saracena. The pizzas were good and the wine was cheap! What more do you need when in Italy?! We even made some local friends who invited us out for post dinner drinks. Salute!

Dinner #2 - We liked Vernazza so much that we decided to do dinner there a second night. It was a stormy evening, so we were forced to sit inside at Ristorante Pizzeria Bar "Vulnetia." The interior is very cozy with exposed brick walls and high, wooden ceilings. We had pizza and while it was good, we quite preferred our first dinner at Baia Saracena. 

Monterosso al Mare - (The Town with the Beach)

The BEST Sangria! - Kayla and I fell in love with the little bar called Enoteca del Eliseo in Monterosso! You will have to wind through lovely little streets to find this place, but once you get there, the cinnamon and clove Sangria is well worth the trip!

Take a Hike - Hike up the hill and get a view of Monterosso. The cemetery for all five towns is located at the highest point of the city. Random little fact. 

Lunch With a View - We had caprese salads for lunch right on the water at Nuovo Eden Bar and Gelateria. The food was nothing to write home about, but the setting was worth every single Euro penny!

I know that there is so much that we did not see and experience, so I will have to drag Hubby along for a second Cinque Terre adventure in the near future! As always, thanks for reading!


Posing in Pisa, Italy

The Leaning Tower of Pisa - Pisa, Italy. 
As Kayla and I were planning our 10-day-European-girlie-get-together, almost in unison, we exclaimed that seeing Cinque Terre, Italy was an absolute must! For centuries, that charming portion of the Italian Riviera has beckoned tourists to come and drink in the romance. We wanted to go and see what the big fuss was all about! 

From Paris' Orly Airport, we booked a super cheap (only $25 per person) Easy Jet flight to Pisa, Italy. The flight was uneventful and actually put us on the ground ten minutes before the scheduled arrival. Way to go budget airline! After landing in Pisa, we took a five minute bus ride to the main train station. Since trains headed in the direction of Cinque Terre seemed plentiful, we decided to grab a Pisa site map and check out that crooked little Tower that everyone reads about in history class. 

From Pisa's train station, it takes 20 minutes to walk to Piazza del Duomo ("Cathedral Square") where you will find the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa in Italian). Pisa is a small city, so there's not much to see there other than the Tower. I am sure that there are adorable, hidden cafes and restaurants in the city, but all that we had time to explore was the Piazza del Duomo. 

Construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa started in 1173, and the famous tilt started in those initial construction stages due to a poor foundation. The tilt increased over time until the structure was finally reinforced in the 20th and 21st century. The tilt was actually slightly corrected during those recent reinforcements. I think she's leaning about as far as she ever will. Gotta keep that tourist attraction standing! 

Kayla and I had a great time and we were so glad that we took a little detour to see the Tower. We even  took a few of those ridiculously cheesy "trying-to-personally-topple-the tower" pictures that every tourist has to get when visiting Pisa. We also helped a few passing tourists frame and snap their own picture trying to push the Tower over. No one succeeded on that particular day. 

In Pisa, we made complete and utter fools of ourselves, and we were not ashamed. 
Santa Maria Della Spina Church along the river in Pisa before you get to the Tower. 
First glimpse of The Leaning Tower of Pisa as we entered the Piazza del Duomo.

Too cute!
Looks like I got caught trying to destroy the Tower. 


Pictures of Paris

The Eiffel Tower at night is a sight worth hanging around for!
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” - Aldous Huxley
I seem to have used that quote in so many conversations; and I've seen it prove true time and time again. It makes me glow inside when stereotypes are shattered. After all, aren't we all just people trying to make our place in this big, scary world? The only differences may be the color of our skin, our religious choices, the language we grew up speaking, and the color of our passport. 

Now that Chris and I live in Belgium, an obvious weekend jaunt would take us to Paris, France in under three hours. This is absolutely terrible, but I have to admit that I was less than thrilled to spend time in France, and not because of my own experiences, but because of tales I had heard from others. "Ohhhh, France this, and France that. The French can understand English, but they won't speak with you unless you speak French. Lana, Make sure you have a map because you may not find anyone who will help you navigate the city. . . " One stereotype after another. You would think that I would have learned to ignore such negative talk after spending a wonderful year in Serbia.

My magical weekend in Paris made me anxious to return to France and explore every single corner of the country! In fact, I am already researching the Bordeaux region. There are a lot of Bordeaux wines for sale in Belgium, and I am starting to get "acquainted" with as many of them as possible. 

My dear friend (and bridesmaid), Kayla, flew into Charles De Gaulle to spend ten fun-filled days with me and Chris in Europe. The cheapest flight took her into Paris, so naturally, we decided to spend two days exploring the city. Chris had to stay in Belgium, so Kayla and I booked a room a little out of the center at the Mercure Paris La Defense 5 Hotel. Reasonable lodging is really pricey in Paris, so we chose to stay close to the La Defense metro line and made sure that the hotel offered free shuttle service to and from the metro. One night we got in too late and had to walk from La Defense to the hotel and it took under 15 minutes. 

I cannot say enough about Paris! It is absolutely dreamy! You must go see it for yourself and leave all pre-conceived notions behind. If you are loving life, then life will love you back! 

Great staff (and great prices) at Le Bourbon in the St-Michel area.  That's my friend, Kayla!
The beautiful Notre Dame!
Love that I captured the leaning guy in this picture!
Paris -  the city known for the Love Lock bridges. 
Our first view of the Eiffel Tower at dusk. 

Dancing with a Tower view! Makes me want to get my Hubby here for a dance or two! 
Breakfast at Hemingway's hangout  - Les Deux Margots. 
We met up with one of my college buddies! It was wonderful to see you, Grant! Let's meet again!
The cafe was crowded but cozy and well worth the trip!

This taxidermie store, Deyrolle, is in the movie "Midnight in Paris." 
The mini Arc de Triomphe right before you enter the Louvre.  

The Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace has always been my favorite statue.  She's in the Louvre!
Checking out the Mona Lisa . . . with about 500 other tourists!
Amazing art structure as you leave the Louvre. 
The Arc de Triomphe. 
Exploring Paris!
Window shopping at Christian Louboutin. One pair for me, and one for Kayla.  Dreaming!
We said farewell to Paris with a bottle of Bordeaux, and the Eiffel Tower sparkled her approval! 
"Toute chose appartient a qui sait en jouir." - Andre' Gide
("Everything belongs to those who can appreciate it.")