Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Naked statues, nudie beaches and Speedos—oh my! How Italy literally changed my life …

Hello, dear readers! You’ve probably forgotten about my promise to finish the grand European vacation summary with an account of my adventures in Florence and Cinque Terre. I know I did—well, almost. Lucky for you, my memory is firing on all cylinders today…

Before I jump in, I just need to say that I’M WATCHING YOU. No, that’s weird. But seriously. Blogger has this tracking thing that provides a report of how many people look at my blog, how many “hits” per day and even where the traffic is coming from (which websites refer people and which countries the viewers are in). It’s pretty cool! I’ve seen a huge increase in traffic to my blog from all over the world (which is neat-o, but also slightly creepy as I am positive I don’t have friends in Saudi Arabia, Russia or Denmark at this point). So, as long as you’re not a stalker, welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy random musings from a silly American girl. And hey! How about a comment every once in awhile?

Back to it.

Florence was an oddly fascinating jumble of smells—sewage, tropical flowers and fresh dough were the three that stood out most. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience when I took a deep breath of doughy air only to realize at the end of the breath that it was no longer delicious, yeasty dough I was breathing in, but rather sewage from the nearest apartment building’s obviously worn-out pipes. I tried to stop taking so many deep breaths. But let me tell you, when the scent of flowers wafted through the air toward my nose, it was intoxicating. It actually reminded me of the smell of plumeria that permeates Hawaii. Oh, but wait. There’s that sewage again. So NOT Hawaii. But then again, Hawaii doesn’t have sculptures crafted by Michelangelo or two thousand year old buildings … or gelato. So, I’m not taking sides here.

Our first full day in Florence, Amanda and I went to a cooking class. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to take a cooking class in Tuscany (see Bucket List post from a couple weeks ago). And while a half-day class only scratched the surface, it was by far one of the BEST days of our entire trip. The chef’s name is Melanie, and she’s an American who married an Italian years ago and moved to Italy to be with him. Their love story is one that rivals any fairytale (well, except maybe Beauty and the Beast, because clearly, nothing could rival that one …). I think someone should write a book about them, or at least a blog. But that’s another topic for another day. Anyway, she was amazing. If you’re ever in Florence or anywhere close to it, spend a day with Melanie in her outdoor kitchen in the middle of an olive grove with a view of the Tuscan countryside better than anything you’ll see in any photographs. Not only will you taste some of the best food of your LIFE, but you’ll get to experience the Tuscan culture as it’s meant to be experienced, and that’s a priceless way to spend a day. Some photos from our day together …

Did I mention we made gelato?

I’m totally buying a gelato machine once I get back to the United States.

After our amazing cooking class, we took a self-guided tour through Florence. And by “self-guided” I mean that we tried to get from the Uffizi Gallery to a famous garden whose name I can’t remember and spent hours wandering around, lost. Florence is a really confusing city, and I don’t think it was just me. But then again, I didn’t see anyone else who looked lost, so maybe it was. But regardless, getting lost is sometimes the best thing in the world in a new city (except that time I got lost in Chicago and ended up somewhere that resembled Detroit’s Eight Mile (sup, Eminem) on a bad day—that wasn’t good.) But in Florence, it was great! We ended up seeing all sorts of sights. Mainly really magnificent ancient buildings and naked statues. I’m not sure why, but the Italians REALLY love naked-man statues. Here I am trying to pull off a David.

Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking at the time. Do I seriously have no shame or sense of trying to NOT look like a tourist?? Oh well, the entire cast of Jersey Shore was in town the same time as me, so I’m positive I was less of an embarrassment to America than they were. After all, it’s all about comparisons …

I’m not sure I’ve given you any great insights into the city of Florence through this blog so far. So let me try to summarize before we move onto Cinque Terre. Florence is a beautiful city—larger than most other Tuscan cities with a mingling of rich, poor, pristine and gritty areas. It’s a place where some of the most magnificent artists in the world practiced their craft and left their mark on a world that will never be the same because of their skill. From Masaccio to Donatello to Michelangelo, if you want to see some of the most breathtaking art in the world, Florence is your place. Chapels, sculptures, paintings, architecture and more await you there. Along with real-life flavor of a big, Italian city with a lot of character, great food and friendly Italian people, Florence should be added to your bucket list of places to go before you die. And if you make it there, make sure you eat at Pitti Gola e Cantina. You won’t regret it (And the owners—three young guys—are super cute in case you’re interested in a little Italian eye candy. I’m just sayin’…).

Last but not least is possibly my favorite place in the world: The Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. I don’t actually have a lot to say about this place—not because I couldn’t go on and on about it—I think we all know I could. But I just don’t think my words could ever do it justice. This is a place you have to see to believe. It’s as if when God created it, He thought to Himself, “I’m going to make a place that, if I ever decide to leave heaven and live on earth for awhile, I wouldn’t get homesick because it looks exactly like home,” and thus, Cinque Terre was made. (A little trivia in case you’re ever on Jeopardy: Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands" and is composed of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.)

I’ll just tell you one story about a life-altering experience I had while hiking the trail between the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre—a moment where something fundamental changed within me, and I don’t think I’ll never be the same again. It summarizes my time there …

I was hiking along the trail that hugs the cliffs of Cinque Terre and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea (which is, by the way, the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever seen). Amanda and I were fairly silent, because like I said, there’s just not much you can say when you come face-to-face with that kind of beauty and the utter magnificence of God’s creation. As we were walking, we had to be careful in some places, because the trail was steep or wearing away. It was at one of these parts I was looking down so as not to face plant and ruin my communion with nature. As I was about to take my next step, I saw a little spider making its way along the trail too, and my right foot came to a stop in mid air. I stared at the spider, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel compelled to kill it. In fact, I felt just the opposite. And not out of fear (the only reason I’ve ever let spiders live in the past), but because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place—the raw, unadulterated, unblemished perfection of it—that I could never deprive any living thing of it. If that spider was lucky enough to live there, then shame on anyone who would intentionally take that away. I let a spider live so that it could experience the joy of living in that perfect place.

Cinque Terre changed me …

You can get an idea of why that happened from the pictures below. But I implore you--Go! See it for yourself!

Lest I end this blog on too serious a note and make you wonder “Who is writing this blog and what have they done with Carly?” let me tell you a couple other things about Cinque Terre: There is a nudie beach that apparently is one of the best beaches on the Italian Riviera. I didn’t test that opinion out last trip, but maybe when my mom comes to visit and we go back, we’ll check it out(kidding, mom). There are hand-painted signs all along the hiking trail that direct you to the naked beach. Obviously I’m five years old and thought it was funny, so I took a picture of one.

Second, God bless America for board shorts. If I see one more fat man in a little Euro-Speedo, I will literally barf. But hey—if I have to see it, so do you. :D Enjoy!

Next week, my mom will be here, and I’m SO excited to take her to Cinque Terre and share the magic with her. I’ll post pictures and let you know if I have anymore life-changing revelations.

Until next time, ciao!



Monday, July 11, 2011

Superfood me!

I think unless you’ve been living under a rock or inside a McDonald’s for the last two years, you’re familiar with the concept of superfoods (or is it super foods? I can’t be sure …). Basically, these are the foods you should eat if you want to be super healthy, super young-looking, super thin and super smart. These foods encompass all that is good in the world of food. And the best part? Most of them taste super good, or can be doctored to the point they are at least not gag-inducing.

When I moved to Switzerland, I was determined to hop aboard the superfood train and make an effort to incorporate at least some of these foods into each meal. Sounds complicated, right? Well, let me just say that I’ve found it to be simpler than I imagined. And if I, the list-it-and-ditch-it-extraordinaire, can stick with it, anyone can. Trust me. This has been simple because of the delicious recipes I’m using, so it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing my taste buds on the altar of healthy eating.

The superfood I’ve been most surprised to enjoy is spinach. Popeye’s momma didn’t raise no fool. It’s good for you, and it can REALLY taste good! I wouldn’t lie to you (and neither would Popeye). I have a “recipe” below for my tomato-spinach-whole wheat pasta I make at least three nights a week for dinner. For someone who loves variety, that’s saying something.

Before we get to it, here are the most commonly agreed on superfoods:

Drinks: red wine, green tea

Vegetables: avocado, broccoli, onions, peppers, soy, spinach, sprouts, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes

Fruits: açai, apples, blueberries, pomegranates, pumpkin, kiwi, oranges

Meat: wild salmon, turkey

Dairy: eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, milk

Legumes/Nuts/Grains: beans, barley, seeds, walnuts, almonds, lentils, oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, wild rice and millet

Spices/Misc.: cinnamon, dark chocolate, garlic, honey, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, sea salt

Here’s a sample menu of how I incorporate superfoods into my meals every day. I’ve been eating mostly vegetarian since I got here (with an occasional cheeseburger—what? I was raised in the Midwest, so I’m entitled to some high-quality beef every now and then, right? By the way, cheeseburgers aren't acknowleged as a superfood ... yet). I’ve included some non-veggie options too, though, in case you prefer meat.


Option 1: Oatmeal with 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed; 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¾ Cup skim milk, 1/3 Cup berries, 2 teaspoons honey

Option 2: Muesli with 1 Cup Greek yogurt and ½ Cup berries

Option 3: “flaxjacks”—flaxseed pancakes. These can be made on the weekend when you have more time, and frozen then toasted throughout the week. Use honey rather than sugar in the recipes that call for sugar.

Some recipes:
Maple-walnut and flaxseed pancakes (make sure you use whole wheat flour in this one)

Banana flaxseed pancaked with blackberry syrup (YUM!)

Flaxseed pancakes

Option 4: Hard-boiled egg with side of berries and Greek yogurt/honey

Mid-morning snack

Option 1: ½ raw pepper—or a whole one if you’re hungry

Option 2: 1 Cup cherry tomatoes

Option 3: 1 Cup raw broccoli


Option 1: egg salad sandwich (make egg salad ahead of time and store in the fridge for a couple days at a time. I make my egg salad with Greek yogurt, mustard, green peppers [or some other crunchy vegetable], cucumbers and DILL) on whole wheat bread; 1 piece fruit; small piece dark chocolate

Option 2: broiled wild-caught Alaskan salmon, 1 Cup steamed broccoli; 1 piece fruit; small piece dark chocolate

Option 3: large green salad topped with kidney beans, sprouts, avocado, tomato, hard-boiled egg and anything else that tickles your fancy (yes, I just said “tickles your fancy”. It makes me smile.); 1 piece fruit; small piece dark chocolate

Option 4: turkey sandwich (but you have to use fresh turkey—not lunch meat packed with fillers and hormones and other nasty stuff) with spinach, mustard, tomato and sprouts on whole wheat bread; 1 piece fruit; small piece dark chocolate

Mid-afternoon snack

Option 1: Taste of Nature fruit/nut bar; 1 Cup pomegranate or orange juice

Option 2: ½ Cup Greek yogurt with 10 walnuts or almonds, ¼ Cup dried fruit and drizzled with honey

Option 3: 1 Apple with 1 Tablespoon almond butter (make sure you buy the kind with no sugar added)


Option 1: Whole wheat pasta with fresh spinach, tomatoes and basil. This is my recipe, so the quantities probably aren’t exact since I never measure anything. (Sorry, dad—I know you taught me better than that!)

For one person:
¾ Cup uncooked whole wheat pasta—I like to use penne
1.5 Cups uncooked spinach
1 small-to-medium tomato, chopped
7 fresh basil leaves (buy a basil plant—it’s a good investment and easy to keep alive)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/8 Cup fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes in water), cubed
Minced Garlic (however much you prefer)

Step one: Boil water and cook whole wheat pasta according to package

Step two: As soon as you put the pasta in the water to cook, chop tomatoes and set aside.

Step three: Heat olive oil in skillet. Saute garlic in it for approx. three minutes. Add tomatoes.

Step four: Once tomatoes look nearly finished cooking (after three-to-five minutes), add spinach. When spinach is almost wilted, throw in basil leaves. Saute everything together for about two minutes, throw in the mozzarella for 30 seconds or so, then pour everything over your whole wheat pasta.

Bon Apetit! Enjoy it with a side of fruit.

Option 2: Omelet with tomatoes, spinach, onions and peppers; whole wheat toast with olive oil; side of fruit

Option 3: Large green salad with avocado, tomato, sprouts, feta cheese, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar; side of whole wheat bread dipped in olive oil; fruit

Option 4: Pasta with walnut pesto, sausage and broccoli rabe—I haven’t made this yet, but I’m DYING to try it out (minus the sausage)

Any of the lunch options work for dinner too. Oh, and have a glass of red wine with dinner for extra antioxidants … and delicious hapiness.

SUPER easy! Now go superfood yourself …

Super Carly

P.S. Read more about superfoods here and here. Or, just google it and see for yourself—there is a ton of super info out there. Have a super day! ;)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"A dangerous dreamer:" Some things I wanna do before I kick the bucket …

All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.
T.E. Lawrence

I’m a dreamer. Always have been; always will be. The first time I heard of a bucket list, though, I was slightly put off by the idea—it just seemed so morbid to itemize the things I want to do before I die, as though it’s some race to make sure I accomplish my dreams in case I meet an untimely end. But then I thought about it some more and realized it’s actually a pretty great idea. Why not dream big and then set out to reach those dreams—whether I live to be 30 or 103? Too many people have dreams they never realize. Even worse, some people don’t dream at all.

For me, dreams are equivalent to goals. If I dream something for long enough, I do everything I can to turn it into reality. So, I started my bucket list a long time ago. It began with just a few things, but I’ve slowly added to it over the years. As my desires turn into reality, I put a check next to them, but I leave them on the list to remind myself to always, always dream, and never stop chasing those dreams. I have them for a reason.

Below is my bucket list. Then, some of my favorite quotes about dreaming.

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it? If not, why don’t you have one? E-mail me or comment—I’d love to hear what other people have on their lists.

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats

My Bucket List

Learn a foreign language, then visit the country where I can converse with native speakers

Live in Europe (Did it!)

Compete in a dance competition

Go canyoning in the Alps (Did it!)

Adopt a child

Dance in the rain

Attend surf school

Go on safari in Africa

Drive a car over 100 miles per hour

Be in two places at once (and capture it on camera!)

Set foot in every U.S. state

See a U2 concert in Ireland

Swim with dolphins

Take a cooking class in Italy (Did it!)

Compete in a triathlon

Spend Christmas in the Austrian Tyrol

See 4th of July fireworks in New York City

Live in New York City

Skinny dip in the ocean

Make a wish on a falling star (Did it!)

See a whale playing in the ocean (Did it!)

Spend the night on the beach under the stars

Take a trip around the world

Write a book

Swim in the Mediterranean Sea (Did it!)

Be baptized in the Sea of Gallilee

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.
Henry David Thoreau

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Andre Gide

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.
Ashley Smith

The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don't know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened.

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.
Douglas H. Everett

Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.
Marsha Norman

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 4th of July! An ode to my homeland …

It’s the 4th of July (well, almost), and for the first time in my life, I’m not celebrating the birth of my country with other Americans, in America. Last year, I spent the day on the lake sailing with some of my closest friends and the night around a bonfire. It was perfect. I miss my friends and family this year, I miss the fireworks, and of course I miss the BBQs that no one does as well as Americans (sorry rest of the world!). I also miss having the day off work. What? I had to say it. I’d like to propose that Independence Day becomes an international holiday. Every country should celebrate the birthplace of Friends, college football tailgates (the real football ;), electricity and yours truly(random list, I know).

Right? Everyone who’s with me, say “I”! Anyone?



Ok, never mind that. Today is about being proud to be an American. And while I’m not about to get all misty-eyed and quote Lee Greenwood (although I couldn’t resist adding him to my patriotic playlist. And don’t you DARE mute it, or Uncle Sam will hunt. You. DOWN.), I AM going to pay homage to my great country by doing a blog about the good ole U. S. of A. They say life is about the simple pleasures. If you’ve known me five minutes, you know I agree with that. So, here are a few of the simple pleasures I miss about America.

Ice, Ice Baby …

NOT Vanilla Ice, sillies—but actual ice. The kind you fill your glass with and pour tea over or add to a blender to mix up the perfect margarita.

Mmmm, ice. So smooth. So refreshing. Literally melts in your mouth. It’s like the zero-calorie dessert! Hey, maybe I could start a business over here selling ice! I’ll call it “a chip off the old block” (that literally just came to me and may or may not need a little work.) I really just have a hard time wrapping my mind around how, in a country with literally NO air conditioning, there is also no (okay, very little—some restaurants have it) ice. I thought Western Europe was supposed to be all progressive and stuff … well you show me ice, and I’ll show you progressive. I miss ice.

Sweet southern comfort
Not the whiskey. Gross. Sweet tea! I miss it so very, very much. I know that’s bad, and Sweet Tea and I really needed some time apart. We agreed to use the distance as a time to reevaluate whether or not our relationship was a healthy one (it is not). And this break has been good for us—really, it has. After the withdrawals were over, I hardly even thought about Sweet Tea anymore.

Until this week.

It’s been 94 degrees, and I’m only human! I would really, really love a glass of cold sweet tea with two lemon slices right about now. I’m going to stay strong, though. It won’t be easy, but I will NOT go home and make my own sweet tea tonight. (But only because there is no ice with which to enjoy it.)

Since Independence Day is all about celebrating freedom, I’d be remiss not to mention my own version of freedom: a set of wheels. In case you haven’t met her yet, allow me to introduce you to Kaia.

She may not be flashy, fast or anyone’s dream car, but she gets me where I want to go, when I want to go there. And that’s why I love her.

I also love the freedom to sing my heart out at the top of my lungs whenever I’m driving around town to whatever music catches my fancy that day—usually it’s T-Swift or the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, but I like to mix it up sometimes … Unfortunately, I don’t think the Swiss are big on public displays of interpretive singing/dancing on their trams and buses. So until I get home, I’m singing and dancing on the inside.

My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding
No, I’m not getting married. I’m not even Greek. But I always said my Italian(ish) family reminds me of the family in that movie, and the meals we make and eat together could rival any Greek celebration.

So, I miss that. Not just the home cooking, but what it means to spend a day in the kitchen cooking together, eating together, laughing, joking—all of it. I cook for myself here, but my very miniature college-dorm-room sized refrigerator makes it impossible to keep a lot of variety on hand. And, what fun is it to cook for one?

English speaking television
Now you know I’m not big on spending hours and hours in front of the TV. However, I’d at least like to have the option! Here, I get two channels in English: The Bloomberg network (snoozefest) and MTV (16 and Pregnant? Really, America? We’re watching that crap? Oh sorry, I’m supposed to be saying nice things about my homeland). When forced to choose between the two, I pick watching cartoons in German. But I digress. I think it’s time to move onto my next point …

Affordable food and entertainment
Everything is SO expensive here!!! How much do you think it costs to go see a movie? About $35 dollars. PER. PERSON! How much do you think it costs to go out to dinner at a middle-of-the-road restaurant? At least $35 per person, and that wouldn’t include a glass of wine at most places. It’s unreal. What do people do on dates here?? I mean, I’ve never been a big fan of the typical, completely cliché “dinner and a movie” first date. But you wouldn’t even have that option here. And I’m all about options. Hmmm maybe I’ll go on a date while I’m here and I can report back on what we did. Hopefully something imaginative like strolling along the banks of the Rhine followed by a wine and cheese picnic. How fun would that be??

::extracting myself from fantasy land and returning to the bright light of harsh reality now::

Deodorant and American hygiene
Ok, I’m not going to be gross and go into detail here, but let’s just say that most Americans appreciate a good shower. A good, DAILY shower. Some of us even shower twice a day if we go to the gym. Not so for our European cousins. I’m not saying everyone here is like that, because they’re not. But a lot of amazing inventions, brilliant people and phenomenal artwork have come from this part of the world. So again, for such a progressive, intelligent society, you’d think less people would smell bad. I’m just sayin …

I will literally kiss the screens in the windows of my bedroom when I get home. It’s bad enough that this country loves the ozone layer too much to equip their buildings with air conditioning (I think it’s just a cover up—there has to be some other, more sinister reason to subject people to such harsh conditions. Maybe it’s a form of mind control? “If the people are too hot to think; they’ll do whatever we want them to do!” Hmmm, something to at least consider.). What’s worse is that there are no screens anywhere, including my apartment. And bugs love me, so basically there’s a big arrow pointing to my windows inviting the bugs to come in and harass me, which they happily do (until they meet an unhappy end on the bottom of my flip flop. I like to show them who’s boss.). Can’t a girl get a screen?!??

My Belle
I just can’t write a blog about what I miss without including pictures of my sweet Belle. I think this is a fitting way to close the ode to my homeland. Enjoy the photos, and it’s okay if you want to comment and tell me that I have the cutest dog in the WORLD. Because I do. :)