(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Views of Tuscany in 2007

On a dreary week in November, I found myself thinking about my family’s Italian vacation in 2007 — and got a hankering to look through my old photos. Considering I’ve become thoroughly obsessed with photography in recent years, I edited a few with my new knowledge — and loved reminiscing about my first time in Europe. These shots were taken in San Gimignano, just before the clouds broke and the fog burned off.

For more about the trip and my process of editing old pictures, check out this post I wrote for my photography club’s site. And for more Wordless Wednesday, visit here!

Gallivanting through Europe, looking for love — with the help of ‘The Single Girl’s Guide’

Women looking for love in Europe, lend me your eyes! (And ears. Or both.) When a copy of Katherine Chloe Cahoon’s The Single Girl’s Guide To Meeting European Men landed in my hands, I was prepared to be entertained — but I wound up a little educated, too.

Part self-help book, part travel guide, Cahoon’s book is an actual field guide filled with tried-and-true tips for catching male attention in Belgium, Germany, England — anywhere within the confines of Europe. Written from the perspective of an American woman abroad, Cahoon discusses U.S. social conventions and flips them to explain the ways many international men think, operate and want to woo a woman.

And, you know. You could be that woman.

Her advice stems from personal experience. Cahoon explains,

This book is for single girls wanting to meet desirable European men who are into them and pass by those who are not — without regret. It arose out of several semesters that my girlfriends and I spent studying in Europe. I toured more museums and was tested on more scholarly material than I can ever remember, but one of the most meaningful parts of my international major — which was not included in the official course work — was my in-depth study of and practical exams on how to meet exciting local males.

And exciting they were.

Now, full disclosure: though I’m getting ready to make a trip to the UK, I’m in no way looking to entice a man into buying me a drink — or an engagement ring. Happily in love stateside, I accepted this one for review from the author because the premise is just too good to miss.

Who doesn’t love daydreaming about guys with awesome accents?

Having a wonderful (American) boyfriend, I read Cahoon’s guide for the travel tips more than ways to flirt — but there are forty of them, and they seemed pretty logical to me. Dress to impress. Look confident and happy. Don’t be deterred by jerks. Always, always be safe — and use your head, not your heart.

Solid advice.

But The Single Girl’s Guide . . . shines for me when Cahoon breaks gentlemen down country by country, giving us a little background on the flirting and romance customs inherit in each place. For women taking a college semester to study abroad, I can see how this would be the perfect companion to your travels. “Real-life” stories about meeting men in many of the locations are included, too, along with further suggestions of where to meet certain types of guys (like, say, artsy men).

Because it’s my favorite place in the world, shall we take a peek at England?

“In some other European countries, you could ask a man for directions at a stoplight and he could invite you to dinner,” Cahoon writes. “In England, the most you will probably get is a polite answer with a charming accent.”

Oh, the charming accent.

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Book review: ‘French Milk’ by Lucy Knisley

The people! The places! The food! Paris comes alive through the art and photographs of Lucy Knisley in French Milk, her memoir of one month spent in France with her mother in January 2007. The novel is her creative, personal travelogue of Parisian life that defined a pivotal time in her own life.

The novel is actually a graphic novel — graphic in the sense that it is hand-drawn by Knisley and is, in fact, a visual diary. Lucy, 22, is set to graduate from art school and, like many soon-to-be post-grads, is battling the dreaded nausea experienced when many students imagine leaving college and finding a job in The Real World. Lucy has lived independently in Chicago, where she has many creative friends and spends time with boyfriend John, but she chooses to spend the time after Christmas and between the start of her final semester in France. She and her mother embark on a grand adventure that takes them far from home as they battle language barriers, mysterious foods and homesickness — all while learning more about themselves.

So I’m obsessed with traveling and art, and when I first read a review of French Milk a month or two ago? I was all over this. But it wasn’t a book that made its way into my hands until just the right moment . . . and I’m so glad I just found it. It’s a fast read, obviously, considering it comes in at under 200 pages and is full of vivid, interesting black-and-white illustrations. Lucy’s narratives and art are offset by actual photographs from her trip, which I loved. Comparing her interpretations of scenes with real pictures was so fun to me.

By the time I finished French Milk — only about an hour or so after I’d started — I absolutely felt as though I’d snuck onto the plane with the mother and daughter duo and feasted on the same foie gras in the same cafes. Lucy is very honest and realistic about her growing pains — the fears she experiences as she leaves behind her young adulthood and prepares to enter a new phase in her life. As someone experiencing the same pangs, I really related to her. Immediately after graduating from college in 2007 — Lucy and I are the same age — I took a trip to Europe with my family, visiting England, Italy and Belgium. That vacation completely changed who I was a person, much in the same way that Lucy’s time in Paris fundamentally changed who she was — as a person and, I’m sure, as an artist.

Visually experiencing Lucy’s story was very different than reading about Lucy’s experiences — in a good way. I loved her sketches of the delicious food they consumed (and my stomach was grumbling the whole time, let me tell you) and felt like I, too, was standing on the Eiffel Tower as it swayed in a strong wind (terrifying!). I have very little experience with graphic novels — it’s limited to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and a few comic books an ex-boyfriend pushed on me — but I was open-minded about this one and wasn’t disappointed.

What did the story lack? Emotional resonance. What I felt while reading the book had less to do with Lucy’s reactions to what she saw, felt and tasted and much more to do with my own personal experiences in Europe. I enjoyed the novel for what it made me remember and what it showed me, but I would have loved to know more about what Lucy was really feeling about being apart from John — a stranger in a strange land. Learning about Americans’ traveling experiences abroad is a subject of total fascination for me, and I would have loved to see more about the cultural differences and funny anecdotes about language barriers.

But, then again, this was Lucy’s travel journal — not mine.

If you’re new to the graphic novel genre or just aren’t sure “seeing” a story this way is for you, I still encourage you to give French Milk a try. The subject matter — travel, glorious travel! — was enough to draw me in from the get-go. And I dare you to not want a big, healthy gulp of cold, sweet and delicious French dairy after closing this book! Francophiles and travel bugs will get special enjoyment out of this novel, too, and probably want to hop on Expedia to book their summer vacation after finishing. Speaking of which, a few travel websites are calling my name . . .

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416575340 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Remembering our Roman holiday

It’s been more than a year since I journeyed to Rome with my family in June 2007, but — like London — there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my trip to Europe. It happened at a unique time in my life: I’d just graduated from college; I was preparing to enter my first full-time job at a newspaper; I was leaving behind bits and pieces of “childhood” and getting ready to enter the “real world” (though, as John Mayer reminds us, there’s really “no such thing”).

Basically, it was amazing! Being in such an exciting, busy and energetic place — even if it did rain the majority of the time we were there — was incredible. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a long, long time, but I’ve never created the opportunity. I was looking through tons of my photos today, though, and was reminded of so many awesome places we went. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was really standing there, so far from home. But it was incredible being an American abroad!

Our first day arriving in Rome on a flight from London, we grabbed a cab and headed out to our hotel about 30 minutes from the airport. After trying to settle in a little bit following a harrowing drive through the country with a newlywed couple on their way to Venice, we took one of the hotel’s buses into town and went straight to Vatican City.

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London on the brain

pretty iconic

Pretty iconic

I realized with a start last night that since going to England in May 2007, there probably hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my two and a half days in the city — the culmination of which required my parents, sister and me to walk down a dark street at three in the morning, local time, to catch a train back to Gatwick Airport.

After graduating from college, my family wanted to take our “great European vacation” before I officially entered the workforce (which I did — three short weeks later). We travelled to England en route to Italy, where we toured around Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Venice and Lake Garda. It was, without a doubt, the trip of my lifetime. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than waking up in a foreign country with the whole day ahead of you, the people you love more than anything at your side, a camera dangling from your neck.

Riding backward in a kamikazi cab

Riding backward in a kamikaze cab

While Italy was absolutely gorgeous, amazing and totally worthy of an entire blog in and of itself, it’s London that has somehow managed to stick with me — to the point that I’ve become a completely obsessed, reading up on everything I can find regarding the British monarchy, dedicating myself to shows like “The Tudors,” drafting a novel set almost entirely in the English countryside and prompting my sister to buy me presents with Big Ben splashed all over them. As I type this, I’m sitting at my desk with a wire-crafted Big Ben just to the left of my monitor, a postcard of the Globe Theatre below my screen and a tiny red double-decker bus to the right of that.

I am, to put it lightly, an Anglophile.

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