Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Junior Year Dorm Tour

     I'm not gonna lie, the past six days since I moved back to school have been CRAZY. Since classes didn't start until today, I've had plenty of time to catch up with friends and I couldn't be happier to be back with my Tribe. Additionally, I'm gearing up to facilitate Panhellenic sorority recruitment as a member of the Panhellenic Recruitment Team at my school. Between friends and recruitment, I've barely had a moment to breathe, but now that things are finally slowing down a bit, I'm getting my room in order and wanted to share it on the blog!

     I decided to live on-campus again this year because it seemed like it would be difficult to find an off-campus arrangement that would allow me to stay for only a semester-- hopefully, this spring I'll be studying abroad! William & Mary is definitely a residential school; many students live on campus all four years of college, so I'm definitely not out of the norm for still living the dorm life as a junior.

     This year, I'm so lucky to be living in a suite in the newest dorm on campus with three of my best friends. I'm actually rooming with my roommate from freshman year! Our suite set-up includes two double rooms with an adjoining bathroom; we've already been taking advantage of the great layout to spend hours in each other's room and blast music while we're showering.

     I'm definitely still figuring out where to store things and may be adding a few more pieces here and there, but I'm already loving my room. So without further ado, here are some pictures/details about the highlights in our room!

 Here you can see a a few of the details around my bed! It's sort of tucked into it's own nook on one side of our room. I'm looking forward to printing out some new pictures to pin on the cork boards and adding some sorority-related items once recruitment is over and I'm affiliated again. I painted all of the watercolors on the pin boards; the print in the gold frame came from Etsy.


        I made the "A" above my bed before freshman year using Lilly prints from my agenda and it's followed me throughout my different rooms ever since.












     Since our room is in the inner corner of an L-shaped dorm building, this little nook was created to allow the room to still have a window. My roommate and I have designated this as our food nook as you can see! The "Eagle G" sign is a memento that we, ahem, borrowed from the freshman year dorm where we roomed together-- it's something of a tradition to snag a small sign if you lived in that dorm.










     Our desks have a HUGE hutch and as you can see I'm still trying to find ways to fill it! We didn't anticipate how spacious our new dorm room would be so my roommate and I are still trying to add pieces. We definitely need some more wall art, so shoot me an email or Insta DM if you have any ideas!












     Casey (check out @case_ofcasey on Insta for her blog-like account!) didn't want to hop out of bed for pictures and I can't really blame her since I was doing this as she was trying to relax with some Netflix (oops). I love her framed prints that she found on Etsy and her monogrammed Lilly pillow! Obviously, my roommate is a Kappa Delta, but I'll give you a hint you guys a hint about my own affiliation-- we're not in the same chapter.






     Finally, we've got my closet! It looks a little sparse right now because I didn't realize I'd have so much space for close. I stuck a command hook on the inside of each door so I can start hanging up outfits the night before class; hopefully this will help cut down on my time getting ready in the morning!











     I've also got a little sneak peak into our suitemate's room; we took a FDOC picture earlier this morning to celebrate the start of the academic year. Maggie lived in the room next to Casey and I during freshman year so we've got a little reunion going on in our suite. How cute is her Lilly bedding and the flower monogram above her bed?













     So there you have it, the highlights of my new dorm room! I'll post some updates if we get any cute new additions, and seriously, give me a shout if you have wall decor ideas. On Friday you can expect an August favorites post so be on the lookout!

Thanks for reading,
Alex
Monday, August 28, 2017

What's in my Backpack? College Edition


     Maybe I'm just nosy, but I love a good "what's in my bag" post. As the college semester gets underway, I decided to create one of these posts for myself so I can share my essentials for getting through the school day. At the end of the post, I'm also including a mini life update about moving back into college

    I'm not one of those girls that carries a dainty little tote around campus, and I'm proud of it. While backpacks are obviously not very chic, you just can't beat the comfort and the amount you can carry with one. I hate running back to my dorm during the day to grab various books and whatnot, so a roomy backpack is my best friend.

     As I mentioned in my school supply post, I use a plain old L.L Bean bookpack at college . These backpacks are $40 max, the shipping is always free, and L.L Bean's lifetime guarantee means you can count on this backpack to get your through your undergraduate degree. My only complaint is that there's no water bottle sleeve on the side of the backpack, but I just throw my S'well in the middle pouch. Seriously, this will be my third year using the backpack, and I think I've developed an emotional attachment to it. Getting into the contents...



     The main compartment of my backpack holds everything I need for class. I carry my Dell laptop in an old Vera Bradley sleeve (similar); the sleeve is starting to wear holes in the corners since it's over four years old, so if you have any suggestions for a new one, let me know! Next are my Moleskine soft-back notebooks that I use for taking class notes, and then my Moleskine journal that I use as my bullet journal/agenda. Finally, I've got my (also super old) Vera Bradley pencil case stuffed with mechanical pencils, colored pens, and sticky tabs.

     In the middle pouch, I keep my most interesting item in my whole backpack-- my mini "survival" kit. I use a lined Vera Bradley pouch as a little kit that I can switch between my backpack and purse; seriously, it makes life so much easier to transfer items I use frequently. Inside the pouch, I've got the following: facial spray, a Tide stain stick, oil-blotting sheets, eye drops, hand lotion, hand sanitizer lip balm, a mini hairbrush, a hair tie, and a portable phone charger.

The contents of my "survival" kit

     Also in the middle pouch of my backpack? An umbrella in case of sudden on-campus downpours (Virginia weather is notoriously bipolar), my calculator (gotta have it for accounting classes!), a pouch of tampons/pads, a water bottle, my laptop charger, and a spare iPhone charger. If you learn nothing else from this post, let it be that you should always carry an umbrella in your backpack, just in case.

     I use the smallest part of my backpack (the front pouch with "L.L. Bean" embroidered on it) for odds and ends. Namely, this is where I toss in my wallet, keys, and earbuds, plus any things I may accumulate during the day i.e. business cards, mail, etc. I usually have to clean this pouch out every couple of days because I tend to amass a lot of little papers/trash, oops.

     So that's what's in my backpack on my average school day!

     Now, as far as my mini life update; as many of you may know from social media, I moved back into college yesterday. I'm so thrilled to be back in Williamsburg for my junior year! I'll be honest, these first few weeks of school are about to be crazy hectic as I facilitate formal sorority recruitment as a member of the W&M Panhellenic Recruitment Team.

     Despite this craziness, though, I'm planning on working ahead and scheduling posts. Blogging is something I really enjoy, and I'm making a committment to keep up with it at school (within reason, of course). So for now, you can count on seeing new posts 3 times a week as usual! As always, following me on social media (links in the top right corner) is the best way to keep up with my day-to-day life. Most importantly, look out for a new dorm tour post later this week :)

Thanks for reading!
Alex

P.S. Hope everyone is enjoying the Lilly Pulitzer sale! I still can't decide if I can justify buying something new
Friday, August 25, 2017

Easy Summer Outfit Formula

     Summer is winding down, but it's certainly not over yet! Up north, you've still got a week until Labor Day and it's (somewhat archaic) fashion rules, and here in Williamsburg and even further south, we've still got a few weeks of shorts left to look forwards to. Today I'm sharing an easy outfit formula to help you enjoy the last days of summer.

     Ever since I've gotten home from Europe during the second week of August, I've been reaching for the same short of outfit. I've been craving outfits that are quick to throw on and comfy to wear yet still stylish, and I think this combination perfectly fits the bill.

     Now that I'm back at college, creating a little outfit "formula" like this helps take the stress out of getting dressed in the morning. Although I generally try to pick out my outfits the night before, sometimes, it just doesn't happen; luckily, having a few combos like this in the back of my head making throwing something together a lot faster.


     The foundation of the outfit is a pair of chino shorts. Chino shorts look more polished than denim shorts without sacrificing comfort; the 5" hem on my favorites from J. Crew Factory is long enough that I don't feel self-conscious about my thighs but not so long that they look mom-y. Investing in a pair of good chino shorts is always a good idea-- navy or white are good color choices if you're looking to start your collection! 

     Color-coordinating between your tee and your chino shorts elevates this outfit from your usual shirt-and-shorts combo. The belt helps break up the matching colors and adds some ladylike definition to your waist if you choose to tuck your shirt in like I did. 


     Since the outfit is casual, I chose not to do much in the way of accessories. I opted for a plain pair of pearl studs. As for shoes, I like the look of classic plain leather Sperry's (not to mention that they're super comfortable!), but in the future I might try Jack Rogers sandals to dress the look up a bit. To transition the look for fall, you could easily switch to a long-sleeved tee and/or cropped colored chinos. 

     This is my first outfit-centric post on the blog, so I'd love if you could give me some feedback about what you'd like to see in the future! More pictures? Links to items? Just not a fan of outfit posts? Leave a comment or email me, because I want to make sure I'm giving you guys the type of content you want!

Thanks for reading,
Alex 

     





Wednesday, August 23, 2017

7 Mistakes College Freshmen Make & How to Avoid Them


      It's crazy to think that tomorrow, I'll be waking up bright and early to drive back down to Williamsburg for my junior year of college. Two years and two days ago, I was moving into my freshman dorm, bright-eyed but definitely a little nervous. My freshman year was full of lots of fun and more than a few mistakes, but I wouldn't trade it for the world; my freshman hallmates are still my best friends, and tomorrow I'll be moving into a room with my freshman roommate again. 

     Mistakes are definitely a part of the learning experience of college, but there are some that are harder to recover from than others. Today's post is all about seven mistakes that college freshmen make and how you can avoid them to make the most out of your first year of college, as told by someone who's survived it. 

Mistake #1: Not taking care of your body
     It's way too easy to stop managing your health at college. For some people, overindulgence is the issue; unlimited dining halls, binge drinking, and laying around watching Netflix. For others, it's the opposite; you might become so busy that you skip meals and neglect proper nutrition. Being healthy at college is a huge struggle and I'll admit that I'm still working on this myself, but making your health a priority is so important for your happiness and academic performance at school.
     Avoid this mistake by...eating at least two meals per day with a focus on eating plenty of veggies and protein, staying active, making sleep a priority, and partying (somewhat) responsibly.

Mistake #2: Saying you'd never do "XYZ" club/organization/activity
     I think a lot of freshmen are too quick to write off certain clubs or activities as something that's simply "not for them". So many students say that Greek life "just isn't for them" without even finding out more about the recruitment process, and others laugh when they pass the Cheese Club booth at the activities fair. Eliminating activities just because you don't think they're "you" might keep you from making great friends or discovering something new that you love.
     Avoid this mistake by...keeping an open mind at the beginning of the school year and truly listening to people that want to share a bit more about their club/organization with you. You never know what might speak to you!

Mistake #3: Thinking that freshman year grades don't matter
     I had no idea how this myth got started, because all of your grades matter. Nothing is worse than starting your first semester off with a dismal GPA; no matter how hard you work in future semesters, that one really bad semester will always be haunting you and dragging you down. Although GPA isn't the end-all be-all of your resume, a lot of college opportunities, such as special internship opportunities, scholarships, and certain major programs, have a hard GPA cut-off.
     Avoid this mistake by...keeping a balanced outlook on grades. Yes, this is your freshman year, and you should be having fun. With that in mind, though, realize that your academic transition is going to be tough, and commit to getting the help you need to make passing grades.

Mistake #4: Committing to a major too soon
     You probably came into college with an idea of what you want to major in, but statistics will tell you that it's unlikely you'll stick to that one; according to the National Center for Education statistics, 80% of college students will change their major at least once, and the average college students changes their major three times. Loading up on major classes during your first year of college can leave you stuck with useless credits when you switch from Anthropology to Physics.
     Avoid this mistake by...focusing on completing you school's graduation/general education requirements during freshman year. Taking a wide variety of classes will expose you to fields that you didn't even know existed back when you were in high school.

Mistake #5: Not pursuing opportunities because you're "just" a freshman
     Many first year college students shy away from opportunities because they're "just" a freshman and they assume that those opportunities are intended for older students. However, no opportunity is off-limits unless it explicitly says "sophomores/juniors/seniors only"! Getting experience early on will help you build your resume, boost your confidence, and discover your passions.
     Avoid this mistake by...applying for positions and opportunities, taking advantage of your school's Career Center, and making your voice heard on campus, all before you become an upperclassman.

Mistake #6: Spending too much money
     Boy oh boy, was I guilty of this one! Your newfound freedom at college is often intoxicating, especially when you realize the sort of access you have shopping and food. Many freshmen spend money like candy once they get to school, splurging on over-priced spirit wear at the campus book store and ordering way too much delivery pizza (oops). Soon enough, your checking account balance is going to start looking more like a GPA number.
     Avoid this mistake by...creating a realistic budget at the beginning of the school year. Decide how much money you'd like to have left at the end of the school year and work backwards, dividing up how much you can spend by how many months at school. Adjust according to necessary expenditures and leave wiggle room for a few splurges.

Mistake #7: Assuming you'll be the same person at the end of the school year
     College is a tumultuous time, and many people that with freedom comes the discovery of a new self. Maybe you realize that you love alone time, or that you enjoy partying even though you always stayed in all throughout high school. Change is going to happen, whether you like it or not.
     Avoid this mistake by...accepting that change is going to happen, and embrace it. People aren't static, and it's okay to change, as long as you're getting closer to becoming the best version of yourself.

     If you're a college freshman, what are you most nervous about when it comes to the college transition? If you're an upperclassman, what advice can you give for students who are just starting out?

Thanks for reading and good luck!
Alex

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint James Guide: Picking the Perfect Striped Tee

 Disclaimer: this post is in no way sponsored, so it fully reflects my own personal opinions!

     A quick browse through the blog Instagram page will reveal lots of pictures of me in striped shirts. Do I wear stripes too often? Probably. But after purchasing my first Saint James brand striped tee, I was hooked on the soft, preppy shirts; they've become a uniform of sorts for me. Today I'm sharing my guide to the Saint James striped tees to answer some of the questions I had when I bought my first shirt in the hopes that some of you will fall in love with the brand, too. I'll break each of the best-selling shirts down into fit, styling suggestions, and colors available. See the end of my post for a rundown of where you can buy Saint James!

Brand Context
     Here's my quick blurb on Saint James that was included in my Europe Trip Haul post-- definitely check out the post if you're interested in the Minquiers Moderne or Levant Moderne shirts, as they're the most recent additions to my collection!

Saint James is the real deal when it comes to striped "sailor" sweaters and shirts-- the brand's history can be traced back to the 11th century (!), has ties to the French navy, and has done collaborations with J. Crew. Products from the brand are even included in official gifts from the French government to foreign ambassadors.


Long-Sleeve Tops
  Classic: Minquiers Moderne //  The Minquiers shirt was my first Saint James shirt; two years later, I'm still wearing it! The Minquiers is definitely the most timeless of the Saint James shirt and I love how versatile this top is. The shirt is soft cotton but high-quality so that white stripes are never see-through. 
  • Fit: This top is unisex, so I'd recommend that women go down one size from their usual size. For example, I normally wear a Medium in tops, but I got a size Small in both of my Minquiers tops. The look is fitted ever so slightly but still very relaxed and comfy. 
  • Styling suggestions: 
    • Straight-leg jeans and loafers
    • Rolled sleeves + white jeans + sandals 
    • Rolled sleeves + chino shorts 
  • Available in 10 color combinations

  Sweater-Like: Meridien Moderne //  I just recently bought my first Meridien top, but I'm already in love with it! The Meridien is made of a heavyweight cotton that makes it warmer than a typical t-shirt but lighter than a sweatshirt; it's perfect for chilly summer nights or transitioning into fall!
  • Fit: This top is unisex, so women should go down one to two sizes down from their usual size.  As I said, I normally wear a Medium in tops, but I actually got an Extra Small in the Meridien top because I wanted it to be fitted; this top looks especially flattering when fitted because the thicker fabric disguises any areas you might be self-conscious about.
  • Styling suggestions:
    • Scarf + jeans + flats
    • Over a button up + skinny jeans + riding boots
    • White jeans + boat shoes  
  • Available in 11 color combinations
     Similar style: Meridame // Very similar to the Meridien but this top features a scoop neck and a feminine fit intended for women, so order your usual size. Available in five color combinations. 
  
Cropped: Galathee // The Galathee top is made of the same soft, lightweight material as the Minquiers tee, but this one features 3/4 length sleeves and a slightly shorter hem. 

  • Fit: This is a women's top, so order your usual size. May not be suitable for those with a long torso (like me) or for those who want the option of being able to loosely tuck the top in. 
  • Styling suggestions:
    • Rolled sleeves + high-waisted shorts
    • Tucked into a skirt
    • Cropped jeans + flats
  • Available in 12 color combinations
       Similar style: Garde Cote III // A similar style/fit as the Galathee, but this top is made of a stretchy anti-UV material that's perfect for a trip to the beach. Again, this is a women's top so you should get your normal size. The anti-UV material also means this top is breathable and won't wrinkle! Available in six color combinations. 

Short Sleeve: 
  Comfy: Levant Moderne // I just purchased a Levant tee while I was in France; it's my first short-sleeve Saint James tee and now I don't know how I lived without it. It's basically like the Minquiers Moderne with short sleeves.

  • Fit: This top is unisex, so women should order down a size or order their usual size. I'm usually a Medium in other brands, and I got a Medium in the Levant top so it'd be roomy and cozy; while I've definitely achieved that goal, the top certainly isn't so big that it looks sloppy. 
  • Styling suggestions:
    • Chino shorts + a belt
    • Rolled up jeans + sneakers
    • Under an open cardigan + jeans or leggings
  • Available in five color combinations
   
  Feminine: Etrille // The women's-specific equivalent of the Levant, the Etrille is slightly more fitted/cropped in length. The look is slightly more polished. 

  • Fit: This is a women's top so order your normal size. May be a little short on those with a long torso.
  • Styling suggestions:
    • Tucked into a summery skirt
    • Jeans + sneakers
    • Under a blazer + dark-wash jeans
  • Available in three color combinations

Where to Buy
     So you're sold on buying the best (in my opinion) striped shirt ever. Here's where you can find Saint James products, including other items like sweaters and striped dresses
  • The Saint James website: the widest selection of Saint James' current offerings, plus a sale section for buying your stripes at a discount. Free shipping to the US for orders over $50 (AKA free shipping basically anytime you order a shirt)
  • Saint James boutiques: In the US, there are two dedicated Saint James boutiques, both located in Manhattan-- on the Upper East Side and in the West Village, to be exact. You can look up the address on the Saint James US website, linked above. Outside of the US, there are boutiques around the world; it's a bit difficult to track them all down, but there seems to be one in Japan and of course there are dozens in France. A quick Google search can tell you if there's an official boutique in a country near you. Visiting the Saint James store on rue Tronchet in Paris was a highlight of my recent trip to Europe because the selection was great and the salespeople were friendly and helpful!
  • Authorized retailers: You can use the link to the left to search for authorized retailers near you here in the US; I'd call ahead to the store to find out about how much of the brand they have in stock. 
  • Tuckernuck.com : I ordered my first Saint James shirts from Tuckernuck, but I'd only recommend ordering them from here nowadays if you're looking for an older style. Their selection is limited and it's difficult to achieve the $179 threshold for free shipping, but the shipping is fast and customer service is good. Be sure to check out Tuckernuck's version of the Saint James Guide; it's helpful but a bit confusing to navigate and only reflects the styles they (used to) offer.  

     Now that you've got the down-low on Saint James tees, will you be adding them to your wardrobe wishlist? What's your preferred brand for stripey tees? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line on social media!

Thanks for reading and have a happy Monday,
Alex 

     
Friday, August 18, 2017

How I Take Notes in College Classes: 2 Methods for Creating the Best Notes for Your Class Type

   

     How is the fall semester already basically here? I have just a week and a half until classes start, and many other people have already begun their college semesters! I have a little confessions, though; I'm actually a little bit excited to get back into the swing of studying! Today, I wanted to share my personal note-taking strategy that helps me get the most out of class.

     I think there are two common mistakes that students make when taking college notes. Firstly, many people keep using the same note-taking method that they used in high school; that may work at some universities, but in rigorous classes, your old technique just isn't going to cut it. Secondly, many people use the same approach to note taking for all of their classes, failing to acknowledge that your needs are going to be very different in a history class versus a calculus class.

     I do have one universal rule for note-taking, and that's always take your notes by hand. My reasons for doing this range from practical to strategic. The tiny desks in college classes almost never fit my laptop comfortably, and when I use my laptop to take notes, I'm always tempted to surf Facebook or clothing websites instead of paying attention. Plus, writing things down helps you remember them better, and I love the formatting freedom that a blank sheet of notebook paper offers.

      Besides taking all of my notes by hand, I break my note-taking down into two categories: notes for reading-intensive classes, and notes for technical classes. Reading-intensive classes include history, English, foreign languages, and science classes that don't include much math; technical classes would be math classes, math-heavy science classes, and classes that involve lots of computer work.

Note-Taking for Reading-Intensive Classes: The Cornell Method
      The Cornell notes method is a very well-known note-taking method that involves breaking your paper down into three section for recording information. I started using the Cornell method heavily last year and found that this method really works because of one key feature: a section for post-class review. More on this later; for now we'll just discuss how you use the method in class.

     Using the Cornell method, you'll use the small section along the left-hand side of the paper to record key terms/people/big ideas. The larger section on the right hand side is where you flesh out these key items; think dates, descriptions, formulas, charts, etc. Both of those sections are used during class, as you take notes along with the lecture. The final section, along the bottom of the page, is where you'll come back to summarize your notes at a later time.
Image from https://www.society19.com/note-taking-tips-for-college-students/

     This summary section is what makes the Cornell note-taking method so great! I use the summary section in two ways, depending on how much time I have on my hands. You'll fill out the summary section the night after your class to really seal the information in your head; studies show that if information isn't reviewed within 24 hours of acquiring it, much of it will be lost, so ideally, we should be reviewing our notes every night (read more about the "curve of forgetting" here). Luckily, the Cornell method gives us a handy section to jot down a summary of our notes after we review them.

     In a perfect world, I'd review my notes every single night, but as the semester drags on, it often just doesn't happen. That summary section is still useful to us, though! Before a midterm or final, I'll review my notes and fill out any blank page summaries so that I'm actively studying rather than just passively skimming. This strategy works well for studying for big exams because it creates little checkpoints and visible progress as you study, encouraging you to reach a goal-- filling out all of your summaries-- rather than coping out and switching back over to Netflix.

the Cornell method in action for my summer astronomy class!

Note-Taking for Technical Classes: The Annotated Examples Method

     Disclaimer: this isn't an official note-taking method, so don't Google "annotated examples method" expecting to find it! This is just the way I take notes in technical classes, based on the advice of Cal Newport, an author who's written several books about strategies to "win" at college; you can read my reviews of his books here.

     According to Newport, the best strategy to tackling notes for technical classes is to copy down as many example problems as possible during class, being sure to include the question and answer. If you have time between problems, annotate the steps used to solve the problem. The rational? At the very least, having a slew of example problems to look at will prepare you for as many types of questions as possible, and you'll probably be able to work out the steps to get to the answer, or at the very least, you can ask about it during a lab or office hours. You should have time to annotate at least a few of the problems you copied down, and writing down the steps to get to the answer will reinforce the problem solving logic in your head.

     This method, while a bit unconventional, works well because it forces you to create a formulaic approach to problem solving that'll equip you to answer unexpected questions. Writing down dozens of example problem is also useful for drilling yourself later on; Newport recommends creating and completing practice quizzes and exams before midterms and finals, and this strategy helped me get an A- in Calculus and an A in Statistics despite not being a "math person". 

     The annotated examples method can also be extremely useful in classes that are simulatenously reading-heavy AND technical. For example, I used a combination of Cornell notes and lots of annotated examples in my Intermediate Accounting class; this was the only strategy that helped me survive the notoriously hard "weeder" class!

A loose example of how I do annotated examples-- usually I write a LOT more!

     So there you have it, my strategies for taking high-quality class notes in college classes! If you're looking to improve your grades or even just make the most out of class time, consider giving one or both of my methods a try and let me know what you think. And if you use another strategy, tell me about it in the comments or shoot me an email! I'm always looking to try out a new study method.

Thanks for reading and happy note-taking!
Alex
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Europe Trip Recap + Pictures: 10 Days in Belgium/France/Germany

     Disclaimer: This is a LONG post, so settle in with a cup of coffee and get ready to read!
     I built up my trip to Europe in my head all summer; there's been incessant day dreaming and plenty of blog posts dedicated to what my dad called our family's "bucket list trip". Honestly, after hyping the trip up so much in my head, I was a little nervous that it wouldn't live up to my expectations. It did.

     Don't get me wrong, the trip was LONG, especially as we struggled to catch a space-available military flight home. I probably would've been fine with just a week in Europe, but I know I'm very blessed to have gotten to spend 10 days (11 included the day we left) soaking up culture and history and eating way too many pastries. Although I'm glad to be home and happy to be surrounded by American culture again, I'm excited to share my memories, pictures, and travel tips with everyone!

     My family rented a car in Europe which allowed us free reign in terms of where we wanted to visit; as a result, our trip was a bit all over the place, so I'll be organizing this post by day/location. If you want to get an authentic experience while visiting a country, I can't recommend renting a car enough. Although parking was a bit pricey once we got to Paris (we left the car in a parking garage for two days in favor of the Metro), being able to drive around the country and visit small towns was an amazing, immersive experience.

    With that tidbit of a tip out of the way, let's get started!

Travel Day
     My family decided that we'd start attempting to catch a military flight over to Germany starting on Wednesday, August 2. I was extremely anxious because there was only one flight available that day, and if we didn't make it, we'd have to wait until late Friday evening for another shot. I had never flown Space-A before (space available, military slang for free trips flying on extra seats on military planes), so that added an extra layer of nerves as well!

     Luck was in our favor, though, and we got out on our first try. After a quick 30 minute flight to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and a couple of hours of waiting in the Distinguished Visitor's lounge (perks of having a high-ranking father!), we were boarding our flight at around 5 pm, destined for Spangdahlem, Germany. A free flight is what you would expect-- our seats on the C-17,one of the planes my dad flies, lined the walls of the cargo hold and consisted of metal frames and canvas. They were about as comfy as you would expect metal and canvas to be, which is to say, they were not comfortable.

     After a flight meal of sandwiches made by airmen back in Dover, my family attempted to sleep since the local time in Germany was 11 pm. Sleeping was sort of a relative term since the plane was extremely loud (we were required to wear earplugs for the duration of the flight) and brightly-lit. One perk of being on a military plane, though, is that you're allowed to get out of your seat and sleep on the (albeit cold metal) floor as long as turbulence isn't expected. So after sleeping for a few hours in my uncomfy seat, I switched to the floor, snuggled up next to thousands of pounds of military cargo that I was praying had been strapped down securely.

DAY ONE: Spangdahlem, Germany --> Ramstein, Germany 
     We arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base at about 6 am local time, groggy and hungry. We took a taxi the base lodging facility, where we were going to catch a shuttle to Ramstein Air Base, the base we originally thought we'd be arriving at. A big American-style breakfast at the base bowling alley revived us a bit before the hour and a half shuttle ride to Ramstein. The drive was beautiful; western Germany is a mosaic of deep forest, lush farm fields, and picturesque villages each sporting a church spire.

     Once we got our rental car, we checked into our hotel in Ramstein-Miesenbach.The afternoon was spent transforming ourselves into humans again; showers, naps, and snacks were all very necessary. In the early evening, we went explored the Air Force base and drove around Ramstein-Miesenbach and Landstuhl. These towns surrounding the Air Base are known as "Little America", since many people from the base live in and/or frequent these towns. We had a relatively early dinner at Weberstübchen, a traditional German restaurant, in Ramstein; I had some very yummy jägerschnitzel and my parents and I enjoyed the customary after-dinner schnapps shots that the restaurant owner brought us. As we found out on our last trip, the drinking age in Germany is 16 :)

     Apparently still super tired from our busy travel morning, my parents insisted on us all going to bed at 7 pm, which felt pretty ridiculous since the sun was still up.

DAY TWO: Ramstein, Germany --> (driving through) Luxembourg --> Bastogne, Belgium --> La Gleize, Belgium --> Neufchateau, Belgium

     My family got up bright and early (after I barely slept, because who goes to bed at 7 pm?) and hit the road to Belgium after a hearty breakfast. We decided to take the long route through Luxembourg, just to be able to say we had gone there. Turns out, Luxembourg is mostly just full of cows and fields, with some pesky traffic around Luxembourg City.

     Nevertheless, it was exciting to cross the border because in Luxembourg, the road signs changed from German to French! I'm doing a second major in French language at college, but my family had never actually heard me speak French before (I'm self-conscious), so the minute they spotted the French signs they started teasing me about how I don't actually no French.

     We arrived in Bastogne, Belgium, at about 10:30 am. My dad and brother were already giddy with excitement; Bastogne is a significant town in relation to the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of WWII, since American soldiers successfully held the town despite being completely surrounded by Nazi troops. All I knew was that the downtown area was adorable, and I spied about a half dozen different pastry shops.

Downtown Bastogne
     I nervously ordered us chocolate croissants and cappuccinos in a warm cafe, terrified of using my French for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised when the shop girl seemed grateful that I was speaking French, even if it was sort of broken. We walked around the main street of the town, stopping so my dad and brother could admire a giant tank parked next to an intersection.

     Next, we headed to the Bastogne War Musuem, were my dad told the ticket clerk that I was 18 years old so we could get the cheaper "family" pack of tickets; I'm still quietly outraged that the man didn't question my age. In my opinion, the war museum focused far too heavily on WWII as a whole, leaving me simultaneously bored, because I like to think I already know plenty about the war, and lacking for information, because I really wanted to learn more about the Battle of the Bulge but their wasn't much context provided. Luckily, my dad filled us in as we appreciated the view from the memorial outside.

Foxholes
    Later, we went on a short drive to see foxholes were American soldiers took shelter during the battle. The woods were beautiful-- somber and yet filled with wildflowers and a fresh breeze. It was surreal to imagine people fighting in such a beautiful place, though. We also took a 45 minute drive through narrow mountain roads to La Gleize, Belgium, where a "massive" German tank had broken down right in the tiny town (it didn't look that big to me).


     That night, we stayed in Neufchateau, Belgium. Feeling homesick after our first full day in Europe, we went to a burger joint for dinner. Belgian burger joints, we quickly learned, are full of frozen patties and other meats that you select from a small freezer, and fries are sold with a variety of sauces-- after all, French fries are actually Belgian. Though the food was a little odd by American tastes, the waitress was very friendly and eager to please the random American family that had turned up in their tiny town.

     All in all, I'll say that rural Belgium was very beautiful, but it felt the most foreign out of all the places we visited on this trip. The people there couldn't quite understand my French and aside from the waitress at dinner, no one seemed particularly friendly. At the end of the day, I went to bed sweating due to the European rejection of the modern comfort of air conditioning, and also with a bad headache from actually having to use my language skills in a real-life situation.

DAY THREE: Bastogne, Belgium --> Amiens, France --> Isigny-sur-Mer, France
      Going into the trip, my family knew that day three was going to be a LONG day of driving since our next destination in the Normandy region of France was a 5+ hour journey. We decided to split it up by stopping in Amiens, France, almost a perfect halfway point between Bastogne and Isigny-sur-Mer, where we'd be staying in Normandy.

Feeling very French in Amiens

    Though the French countryside leading there was quite bland-- more cows and farm fields-- I immediately fell in love with Amiens. The city was full of warm-hued stone and brick buildings, the boulevards where lined with trees, and the absolutely massive cathedral was eternally visible. We ate lunch at an outdoor cafe in the square surrounding the cathedral. Sitting there, wearing a striped shirt, ordering my family's food in French, I couldn't help but feel giddy; this is exactly the sort of thing I always envisioned when I thought of going to France.

     After eating, we poked around the cathedral since I'm a sucker for pretty churches. La Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens is the 17th largest church in the world and the largest church in France by volume, the cathedral was truly awe-inspiring.

     Past Amiens, we encountered toll road after toll road. My family couldn't help but feel confused about the presence of so many toll roads in a socialist country. The fields slowly became more open and low-lying as we entered the marshlands of Normandy.

     Arriving in Isigny-sur-Mer, I fell in love all over again. The small seaside town was overflowing with flowers and pretty buildings, and there was a summer festival taking place in the square by our hotel. Another meal eaten outdoors, topped by crepes from a street vendor and then a walk along the river, made for the perfect evening.
Did you know the surname "Disney" originated from d'Isigny ("of Isigny")? That means Walt Disney's ancient relatives were from Isigny-sur-Mer!
DAY FOUR: Isigny-sur-Mer, France --> Sainte-Mère-Église, France --> Carentan, France --> Pointe du Hoc, France --> Omaha Beach/Colleville-sur-Mer, France
The beautiful grounds of the Airborne Musuem
      My dad and brother planned this day of the trip, packing in as much D-Day history as they could muster. After a breakfast of chocolate croissants from the only boulangerie-patisserie open on Sunday morning in Isigny-sur-Mer, we drove off to Sainte-Mère-Eglise to visit the Airborne Museum. The museum details the liberation of the town by US paratroopers; honestly, I had no idea that paratroopers were involved in the Normandy invasions, so I found this museum extremely interesting, and it's regarded as one of the better D-Day museums in the area. Sainte-Mère-Eglise was actually the first town liberated by US paratroopers during the Allied invasion!

The church in Sainte-Mère-Eglise

After a stop in a cafe to get coffee (we had realized, with horror, that almost nowhere was open at 8 am to get coffee on a Sunday), we headed to Carentan, another town with WWII-ties. I hate to admit that I can't remember the significance of the town, but there was another summer street festival here like the one in Isigny-sur-Mer. We perused the festival and got sausages and fries from a street vendor for lunch, my dad insisting on ordering in his broken French that I had taught him.

      
     The afternoon brought the highlights of this day. We explored Pointe du Hoc, where US army rangers scaled 100 ft cliffs on D-Day, strolled along the former "Omaha" Beach, and visited the American Cemetery overlooking the beach in Colleville-sur-Mer. It seemed strange to me to see families swimming and playing on a beach where thousands of Americans had given their lives, but nevertheless, it was a powerful place to visit. I felt proud knowing that American bravery had made it possible for those French families to have a peaceful day at the seashore.







 The cliffs at Pointe du Hoc





Omaha Beach

Detail of the ceiling in the American Cemetery Chapel
Markers at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer


 



    








     If you ever find yourself in Europe, I can't recommend visiting the WWII sights in Normandy enough.

DAY FIVE: Isigny-sur-Mer, France --> Paris, France 
     Not to be over-dramatic, but I expected my first day in Paris to be one of the best days of my life, and honestly, it was. The three hour drive to Paris from Normandy included another bevy of toll roads. As soon as we got close to the city and I could see the Eiffel Tower looming over the other buildings, I knew it was going to be a great visit.

     My family quickly settled into our comfortable hotel in the 13th arrondissement before heading out in search of lunch and a Métro station. We settled on an open-air Italian restaurant along the walk to our Métro stop and slurped down yummy bowls of pasta before hoping on Line 6 and then transferring to Line 4. When we got off at Saint-Michel, just steps from the Seine and the Île de la Cité, Paris slapped me in the face in the best way possible. There's something magical about coming up out from a transit station into a place you've only dreamed off; you emerge from underground and suddenly you're there, in a place that previously only existed in your imagination or in movies. 

     A quick walk across a bridge brought us to Notre-Dame de Paris. We went into the church with me wrapped in a complimentary shawl-- in all my (unecessary) worrying about avoiding shorts and tennis shoes, I forgot that spaghetti straps were acceptable attire in European Catholic churches. It was beautiful though not quite as impressive as the cathedral in Amiens. 

Coffee in the Jardin des Tuileries
     That afternoon, I set an admittedly blistering pace through the city, determined to see as much as possible before 10 pm, when the Eiffel Tower would start it's nightly game of "sparkling" every hour on the hour. I dragged my family along the banks of the Seine, through the grounds of the Louvre, and then to the Jardin des Tuileries, where a break was in order. We stopped at one of the many outdoor cafes in the park for coffee and a rest for our feet; my mom and brother were already less than enchanted with the city, but I suspect that had more to do with my aggressive sightseeing than Paris itself.

     After coffee, we were back at our breakneck pace, past the Place de la Concorde, known to me as the place were Anne Hatheway chucks her phone in a fountain at the end of The Devil Wears Prada.We passed the expensive shops of La Rive Droite, including the very famous rue Saint-Honoré, on our way to the rue Tronchet to find the Saint James boutique.

Too pretty to eat!
     My love for Saint James is pretty obvious on Instagram, and the brand is well-known for making the French striped sailor shirt. Since the shirts are a bit cheaper in France, my mom and I made a beeline to the store; she got one shirt while I got two, which you can see in my Europe trip haul post from Monday. The store staff was extremely accommodating and made finding what I wanted a breeze.

An American in Paris
   Onward again! Feet starting to feel super blistery (why did I wear Jack Rogers?) my family headed to the Champs-Élysées. We strolled down the avenue in search of Ladurée, but perhaps even better, we stumbled upon a Five Guys right there in the heart of Paris. My brother is a Five Guys fanatic and was craving American food, so once we promised him we'd walk back soon for dinner, we continued on to Ladurée: still just as pricey as buying macarons at the Madison Avenue store in NYC, except now with the added bonus of a nearly 45 minute wait in line. We got our treats to-go and headed off to dinner.

     We walked over to the Champs de Mars, the National Mall-like expanse in front of the Eiffel Tower, after dinner to wait it out until 10 pm. When the Eiffel Tower glittered, it was the perfect end to a perfect day in Paris. After our Metro ride back to our hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to see how lively the 13th arrondissement was on a Monday night; at 10:30 pm, people were still spilling out of cafes onto the sidewalk tables, drinking and eating and talking. This energy was exactly what I loved about Paris, and I couldn't help but wish I could join the party.

DAY SIX: Paris, France
     We spent the morning of our full day in Paris soaking up art at the Musée d'Orsay. I picked the Orsay over the Louvre because I feel like most people just go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and then leave; in contrast, the Musée d'Orsay hosts a massive collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works, including some of my favorite artists like Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, and Seurat. I wish I could've seen the massive Monet water lily paintings at the Musée de l'Orangerie, but one art gallery was enough for the rest of my family.
One of the many clocks that offers a window to Paris from inside the Orsay museum


A famous (very pricey) cafe in Saint-Germain
     After some museum browsing, we walked through the rain to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of La Rive Gauche. Once the haunt of existentialists like Sartre and de Beauvoir, the Saint-Germain neighborhood is now extremely fashionable but also one of the most picturesque areas of Paris. My family settled at one of the more affordable cafes on a street lined with little restaurants. Looking out onto the lively street, I couldn't help but feel another twinge of satisfaction at being tucked away at a Parisian cafe on a rainy day. Sometimes, life is just good.

     My parents insisted on making a trek out to see the Palace of Versailles even though I had planned a relaxing afternoon for us followed by a visit to the Paris Catacombs. My mom and I waited 30 minutes to use the restroom, and then the line to get into the Palace was 3 HOURS LONG. Oh my gosh. 
     
     As if waiting wasn't painful enough, after about 30 minutes in line, it started downpouring suddenly. People literally screamed as it went from cloudy to dumping buckets of rain with fury. It was absolutely miserable. After about 2 minutes of rain, people suddenly started stampeding towards the Palace door. I'll be honest, my first reaction was that there must be some sort of terrorist attack occurring, and people were fleeing; it's a sad day when that's your first assumption during a moment of chaos. I still have no idea what caused everyone to break out of line, but afterwords, we were stuck waiting in a crowded mob for over another hour, people pressed against every inch of my soaked body.
     Once we got inside Versailles, it was just as crowded. You could barely move through the halls of the Palace, let alone see anything. The whole experience left my family extremely grumpy and wondering why we had paid to be stuffed like sardines. You just can't salvage a situation like that, and I wouldn't recommend visiting Versailles unless your idea of fun is being shoved by other tourists. 

DAY SEVEN: Paris, France --> Reims, France --> Colmar, France --> Strasbourg, France
     Another long travel punctuated by some very fun pit-stops. My family planned to stop at the Veuve Clicquot headquarters in Reims on our way to Strasbourg so we could tour the champagne caves and sample some bubbly. Unfortunately, the tours were all full that morning, but we worked our way around it.

There's just some about Clicquot yellow
Feeling fancy
     










       

     Instead, my mom and dad and I did a tasting of 3 different champagnes at the Veuve Clicquot Visitor's Center: the Yellow Label Brut, the Rosé, and the Vintage Brut 2008. Our sommelier explained the grape breakdown of each wine, the sugar content, and the tasting notes, in addition to the proper way to open a champagne bottle (thumb on the cork, the other hand gently twisting from the bottom of the bottle). Having only had a tiny sip of Clicquot's Yellow Label when I had tea at the Plaza Hotel in NYC for my birthday, getting to taste sizable samples of three amazing champagnes was a real treat and all of them were delicious. If you're keeping tabs, don't worry, the drinking age in France, albeit higher than in Germany, is 18 :)

     The champagne was so tasty that my parents decided to bring home a bottle of the rosé (our personal favorite) as well as a half-bottle of the demi-sec (4 times the sugar of the other champagnes we tasted!) for my mom. After that, we hit the road again, just stopping briefly for lunch.

     Our long drive brought us to Colmar, a well-known city in Alsace that had been recommended by one of my dad's friends in the French military. We spent a few hours exploring the "Little Venice" neighborhood, which is full of German-style timbered buildings lining a canal. The city was very cute, and I can only image how beautiful their famous Christmas market must be!

    Another trafficky hour in the car brought us to our final destination for the day: Strasbourg, France. After checking into our room on the top floor of a hotel that overlooked the Ill River, we wandered out for a late dinner in one of the city's many restaurants housed in an old wine cave. The chicken in Riesling cream sauce with spaetzle was so good that I'll admit I started eating spoonfuls of cream sauce.

DAY 8: Strasbourg, France --> Landstuhl, Germany
     In the morning, my family decided that our best option for seeing the city despite the incessant rain would be to take a boat tour. Batorama runs boat tours almost every hour along the Ill river, which winds through Strasbourg and effectively turns a majority of the city into an island. When the weather is good, open-air boats are used; since it was raining, though, our bought was enclosed in glass, making picture-taking almost impossible. Still, the boat tour was a really effective way to see the city quickly and to get a bit of history-- narration was provided in 12 languages!


     After the tour, we did some quick shopping around the massive Strasbourg cathedral (the 6th tallest church in the world and THE tallest building in the world until 1874!). Then we were on the road again bound for Germany. We stayed at a very cool hotel back in Landstuhl that was just a minute drive down a hill from Nanstein Castle; it felt like going on a mountain retreat. Relaxing at the hotel was followed by yet another amazing dinner at a traditional German restaurant, Ult Landstuhl (no free schnapps shots here, though). We went to bed early because we needed to be up early the next day to (hopefully) catch a flight.



DAY NINE & DAY TEN: Landstuhl, Germany
     I think you know how this story ends on day nine, since my trip lasted 10 days. On the ninth day of our trip, the first flight back to New Jersey filled up with families with a higher priority than mine (ugh), and the second plane we were hoping to get on broke down before it even flew to Europe. Discouraged, we headed to the base exchange to do some shopping. For lunch, we tried donner kebabs, a Turkish dish that's popular in Germany-- they were so good! 

     In the afternoon, my family relaxed at the hotel for a bit before heading to try out the hotel's free spa. The spa was pretty robust; there were showers, a sauna, a steam room, a plunge pool, and a sauna. Germans take taking a sauna course very seriously apparently, so we carefully studied the instructions on the wall. The basic order is this: shower, sauna, shower, plunge pool, walk outside to cool down, sit down for a bit, repeat as many times as you want. The ideal sauna course takes 2 hours, and I was the only one brave enough to go for it. We ate dinner on base that night, craving some American comfort food.




Nanstein Castle is built right into the mountain!
     The next day, we were VERY ready to go home. In the morning, we briefly explored Nanstein Castle, the medieval castle just up the hill from our hotel. We showed up to the passenger terminal at around 1 pm for roll call but the flight to New Jersey got pushed back a bit. We made the cut to get on the flight, but right before boarding at 9 pm, they announced that the plane had broke. Seriously?! Luckily, there were still seats left on the Patriot Express, a military-charted 747 that regularly flies from Germany to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Looking for any way home, my family boarded the plane at nearly 2 am, putting us at BWI at 5 am. A two hour, one-way rental car trip later, my family was FINALLY home, after a whirlwind trip.


     Although the trip felt long at the end, I'm so glad I finally got to go to France. I already feel a lot more confident about my language skills, and the trip reassured me that pursuing a second major in French is worthwhile. All in all, I've even more excited to hopefully be headed to Montpellier, France to study during the Spring 2018 semester!

Thanks for bearing with this super long post,
Alex