Florida Awaits!

Exploring Porto Venere, Italy in May 2014
Porto Venere, Italy (a city just outside of Cinque Terre in May 2014)

In approximately 2 hours, I will be meeting up with my husband to go to Florida. It's not quite as exciting as Italy, but I'll take what I can get. :) I simply had to fit a beach trip into my summer somewhere!

So what's in my bag for a weekend at the beach?

hair things - brush, straightener
make-up - under eye cream, blush, lip gloss
clothing - a few shirts and a pair of jeans, 2 beach dresses, swimsuit
flip flops
camera equipment - tripod, wide angle lens, flash, extra battery, filters
laptop and backup hard drive
pillow and blanket

a fresh baguette, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of seltzer water with lemon juice

Did I forget anything? :)

Packing for a weekend trip to a beach in Florida is not as time intensive or nearly as crazy as packing for a trip to Europe!

Do you have any big plans for the weekend?

Travel Thursday: A Day in Marseille, France

Marseille is one of those cities in France that I probably would not have even considered going to if not for the recommendation of friends. It was a beautiful little city tucked away on the coast of France, and I feel citizens are quite accurate when they claim it is "the secret capital of France". To me, it reminded me quite a bit of Charleston, SC, in my opinion, the best coastal city on the southeast of the United States. (I haven't been to too many. Perhaps I should branch out a bit?) It's one of the cities where there is so much to do and so much to see, with half of it only known by the locals, that you can never really do or see it all.

One of my favorite places to go in Marseille was to a little walking spot along the coast the name of which escapes me. We were told to arrive early and drive to the spot, because at 8AM they closed the roadway to anyone that wasn't also going to a restaurant nearby. The views from this spot were absolutely amazing. I told Justin that this spot reminded me of all of the beautiful views you see on tv when they are advertising beaches in Cabo San Lucas or Jamaica. You've seen beaches before, but you've never seen beaches like that.

As we were leaving down the narrow roadway we had used to get there (and praying our driver was confident enough and slow enough not drive us over the edge), we stopped (very) momentarily for me to capture this shot of the beautiful city and coast of Marseille. It was the first and only time I actually asked any of the drivers to stop.

If you are considering a visit to France, I strongly encourage perusing the beautiful Marseille while you are there. With fantastic food, a beautiful coastline, and nice people, you can't go wrong.

David Gray - Mutineers Review

I first heard of David Gray in 2004 when a friend got me to listen to his hit song "This Years Love". Typically, David Gray's music is a bit more country than I typically listen to these days, but I could not say no when One2One offered me the opportunity to review his newest cd Mutineers.

On June 17th, Grammy nominated artist David Gray will be releasing his tenth studio album, Mutineers. This newest release finds the singer-songwriter steering into unfamiliar territory. In addition to the change in tone, there's a rising sense throughout the record of an artist liberated from even his own expectations.

David Gray has established himself as one of the UK's leading music artists both at home and overseas. His 2009 release Draw the Line was met with critical praise and garnered the artist a series of high profile television appearances as well as two sold out tours in the US. Foundling, Gray's ninth studio album picked up where Draw the Line left off and created a new chapter of lush, soulful songs that found the artist returning to his folk music roots.

Ever since I received this album from One2One, "Back in the World" has been played over and over again as one of my very favorite songs from the entire album. It's fun, infectious, and gets stuck in your head. Of course, I have no idea why being "naked like a tree" is "the only way to be".

As is the case for me with most cds I receive from One2One, the music usually has to grow on me. This cd is a bit different from what I normally listen to. It has a mixture of songs I love … and songs I hate. I won't share what my favorites are, but I will encourage you to give a listen to David Gray's newest cd to discover the artist for yourself. I especially recommend this artist if you like folk songs and country music.

Here's a link to pre-order your copy of the cd today. You can also learn more about David Gray here.

Had you heard of David Gray before my post? Do you have a favorite song by him? Share with me! :)

*I received this album free from One2One Network for providing a review. My opinions on this album are my own and not necessarily those of One2One Network or anyone else.

Ten Things I'm Thankful For

I've said it before and I'll say it again … this month has been rough. I don't deal with changes very well, and there have been a lot of changes in my life recently and will be more soon.

Here are 10 things I was/am grateful for from the past week:

1. Seeing the kids I watch. No matter what happens during my day, I am so grateful to see their faces and experience their enthusiasm; I soak it in. They always make me feel better.

2. Having a Mexican lunch with my parents and in-laws after returning from Europe. Being greeted with hugs.

3. Realizing that French mail is much faster than German mail! The postcards I sent from France have already arrived, and I've only been back a week! Usually German mail takes 2-3 weeks.

4. Justin's homemade freshly baked baguettes and croissants. Discussing the pronunciation of the word "croissant" with Justin. Exploring Atlanta to find the best baguettes, croissants, and macarons for sale. (Alon's has some pretty good baguettes and croissants, but the macarons are nothing like those found in France.)

What's the difference between a crescent roll and a croissant? Some googling may need to occur. :)

5. Going to my favorite Italian restaurant with my "honey". I usually only go a few times per year. It always makes me happy when we get to go again. (I've been dining there for nearly 20 years!)

6. Getting my editing list down by nearly 500 pictures! I started with 3400 pictures on my laptop (with this being only half of the images that were taken during the whole trip) and now I am down to 2900! It sounds crazy, but I DO NOT want to edit 6000 images! I hardly want to edit 2900. I really just want to edit the very best of the best. If I get a few great images edited and perfected from each location I will be a happy individual.

Oh - and for future reference, your grandparents may say they want to see all of the 6000 images, but they lie. Pro-tip: Only share the best of the best. People get bored otherwise.

7. Getting to go to the beach this weekend! I am soooooo ready!

8. Becoming more confident in my picture editing.

9. I'm almost caught up with e-mails! Yay!

10. Getting the opportunity to talk to a friend for an hour at a time during my long drive to and from work. I had neglected talking to her too much in the past 2 years since I lived 5 minutes away from work, and I could always think of something else I needed to be doing rather than spending an hour on the phone with her. Now, my hands are tied to the steering wheel.

How has May gone for you? Are you excited about the start of summer? Do you miss the cool winter time weather yet? Did spring bring any major life changes for you?

Things I Learned While Photographing European Landscapes

I didn't realize when I started this week that all of my blog posts would be about travel … and that they would all be lists! I'm more or less taking a break this month and not stressing about blog posts. I hope my travel lists have been informative and helpful. If not – there are only a few more days left until the end of the month, and then I get to adjust myself and this blog to a brand new schedule!

1.When taking a photo, follow the thirds rule. (The picture above would be much better and more interesting if I had done that.)  Once you spot a landscape you want to photograph, decide which is more detailed and beautiful – the sky or the landscape. Whichever is most important should take up 2/3 of your image with the other taking up only 1/3. If you aren't sure which area is more visually appealing, take both pictures and decide later. :) NEVER shoot 1/2 and 1/2 like I did unless you plan on editing later.

2. Check your shutter speed and aperture. Lower your ISO as low as you can comfortably go. A low ISO means you will have less grain in your images, but if it results in a lower aperture setting or shutter speed than you can comfortably get holding your camera, you might be better off going with a higher ISO. It's really a trade off. This blog post isn't really a lesson in photography though. I really just want you to remember to check and double check your settings. If you were last shooting late at night, you could get some really over exposed images (read: trash).

3. Slow down. Focus. Visualize your image. Even if you are with a group and going at a hectic pace, it is always best to make your first shot count, especially if it is the only shot you get. Don't count on photoshop to save your butt. And if you have a camera lens that lets you manually focus, be certain to check that you are manually focused or that the setting is on for automatic focus if focusing automatically is what you want to do.

4. Polarizers are way cool! I only bought one for my wide angle, but I definitely regretted that decision. I used my polarizer for almost every shot! Buy a polarizer to use for whichever lens you use most often if you have any intention on shooting landscapes. My husband even used the polarizer when shooting with his iphone! :)

5. My canon 24-70 lens is simply amazing. If you don't have a good generic lens, I recommend investing in one. It focused quick, the images were sharp, and nearly everything looked better when I shot using this lens.

What is your best travel photography advice? Do you agree with anything I've said? Can you think of anything to add to my list?

Top 5 Things I Miss From Europe

Yesterday I shared the top 5 things I missed from the states while gone. Today, you get to see the top 5 things I miss from Europe now that I am home. :)

1. The FOOD! - delicious crepes (I'm not talking about the street vendor ones!), French limonade, freshly baked baguettes, freshly baked croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice, French breakfast cheese, muesoli, macarons, and sparkling water that can be found everywhere!

I'm not going to lie. I didn't love it all, but I certainly didn't miss American food either.

2. The views. Even in the most mundane locations, the views were still astonishingly beautiful.

Ok, so I lie. Even in the most mundane locations, an astonishingly beautiful view was often not too far off, often within walking distance … up a steep hill or lots of stairs. Perhaps including some rock climbing. The views I miss, but the rock climbing … not so much.

3. The weather. I left Georgia when the weather was topping off in the 80s on the hot days. While I was gone, I'm pretty sure the weather in Europe topped off in the upper 70s, but that was the hottest. Now that I am home they are expecting Georgia weather to go up to the 90s by the weekend. Ugh. If flights weren't so expensive and long, I'd be hopping aboard another plane right this minute to get away from the heat! :)

4. The Parisian Metro. First of all, they call it the metro which is way better than the "subway", "PATH", or even "MARTA". Second of all, I loved seeing the Parisian women board in their beautiful coats, high heels, and dresses. The men weren't too bad either in their fabulously maroon jeans. And last but not least, the trains were fast! If I had to use public transportation, I would want to use the Metro.

5. The stores in Paris. Not all of the stores though. I especially loved the boutiques and vintage shops that housed items I probably couldn't afford. On my first day in Paris I found a magnificent umbrella - white with the city of Paris in black going around it. It was soooo adorable! In a vintage store, I stumbled across an old film camera that was so stylish and perfect. We won't even talk about how I did the touristy thing and bought paintings from street vendors near the Louvre just because I wanted to take a piece of Paris home with me. At least I'll have a story to tell when I hang those paintings in my home!

6.* The people. We ran into so many friendly people while abroad. I'm not sure how many were curious and friendly simply because we were foreigners and how many simply enjoyed hearing themselves talk, but it was certainly refreshing to run into so many friendly faces during our travels.

I'm sure there are plenty of other things I will miss about Europe, but those were the first things to come to mind. Obviously a return trip will need to occur "somewhen"* but until that time comes, I will have to live off of my memories and pictures.

*stealing words from a German friend.

A Few Things I Missed While Abroad

This week I have been busy getting caught up. With over 700 e-mails to conquer, 2000+ images to edit, and a giveaway to award, you can imagine I am having a busy week. (We won't mention jet lag.)

Here is a list of a few things I missed most from home:

1. ICE!!! Perhaps I should have started this with … You know you are a southerner when … all of your drinks must have ice! Ok, so totally not true. I would have been happy with just plain COLD drinks, but no!! Just like northern US citizens, our European counterparts would have nothing to do with cold drinks! The soda, sparkling water, and even juice often felt like it was lacking something, and no drink tastes good at room temperature when you are craving an ice cold drink.

2. Southern Hospitality. I don't mean to be rude or condescending when I say that Northerners and Europeans frequently just don't have it. They aren't from the southern United States, so why should they? I certainly don't hold it against them, but I did miss the little things … like everyone holding the door open for everyone else, and, when sitting down to eat, waiting until everyone had been served before beginning the meal. Other manners, like how to properly eat spaghetti were lost on myself and Justin, so I'm certain in many cases, some that we didn't even know about, we were being rude without even realizing it. Nevertheless, despite my inability to be polite in a foreign country, I still missed the kindness and consideration afforded to others found within my own culture at home. It is something I take for granted daily.

3. Shops being open. If you have ever tried to go shopping in Italy, France, or Germany around lunchtime, during the evening, or during a weekend, you know exactly what I am talking about. How do these people ever find time to shop? They must get it all done during their month long vacations. ;)

4. Not having to pay for water or the toilet. AND having mens and womens restrooms. Having a shared restroom isn't so bad unless you are trying to get away from the group for a breather. Paying for the bathroom makes me not want to go at all though! It would probably do wonders for New York City bathrooms to have shared, pay bathrooms!

5. Aquafina. We had every other water option available to us, but we didn't have my favorite. And actually, I began to develop a taste for sparkling water brands and which I preferred as we spent more and more time in Europe. The tap water never once grew on me though. I tried to like it, but I just didn't.

It was good to know that there were things I missed from my own country even if the number was far less than I ever expected. I'm grateful to have the return of these things (minus the catching up), but there are definitely things I miss from abroad. If you've ever been abroad, what things did you miss the most from home? If you haven't, what things do you think you would miss the most?

19 Happy Moments From My Trip

Getting back from Europe has hit me hard. On the one hand, I am so very glad to be surrounded by familiarity. I love that all of these people were praying for me during my travels and were excited to see me upon my return. On the other hand, I miss the beautiful scenery, cute boutiques, and delicious foods that can only be found overseas. I worry I will never actually return, and my heart breaks a bit when I think about that.

Nevertheless, I am trying my very best to be positive since I had decided to have a month of happiness, which I haven't really managed to actually take part in yet. I thought I would start it off with 19 happy moments from my travels – one for each day I was gone.

1. Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport was soooooo easy to navigate when we were trying to board our plane. The longest line we waited in was security and there were still only about 5 people in that line. Plus, Justin bought me strawberries and whipped cream from Starbucks (an unusual purchase to say the least!) to snack on while we waited on the plane.

2. Delicious crepes! :) I thought that when I arrived in Paris there would be unlimited French food options available to me. But you know what we decided to eat on our first night in Paris? Crepes. Delicious, wonderful, amazing crepes. We bought one savory and one sweet. I don't think I've ever had better crepes in my entire life! :)

3. The first morning we were in Paris, the rooftop terrace was closed, so at 6am we got up the nerve to ask the front desk to please let us up there. And guess what? They did. :)

4. Our Airbnb location in Germany was simply wonderful. We were in a big apartment with a garage. Plus, the owner left us some chocolate muesli(?), orange juice, and wine to enjoy. Kim Biewer was an extremely awesome host and I highly recommend staying at his apartment if you ever choose to go to southern Germany. You will not regret it! :)

5. Shooting wedding portraits from different angles that the main photographer was not getting was a fun challenge for me. I ended up with one beautiful image shot through flowers that so perfectly captures the emotion from the day. I just hope I can edit it to my satisfaction.

6. Other fun things from the wedding included: chatting with the wedding photographer during the reception (She was so sweet and very amusing!), and the parents of the bride and groom going out of their way to make Justin and I feel like special, honored guests.

7. Chatting with the groom's father for 4 hours the night before we left for Munich was interesting and fun. The conversation went back and forth in English and German, and he eventually asked us to stay with him next time we were in Germany rather than with his son and daughter-in-law. For the first time, I actually began to feel a bit confident in my ability to follow a German conversation. (That feeling didn't last.)

8.Watching my husband drink his way through Munich was interesting. I did get tired of paying for drinks (and use of the bathroom) though.

9. The Neuschwanstein Castle was gorgeous. I had a bit of a struggle with my camera at first, but once I started getting good pictures, I was quite happy.

10. The Alps in Austria were amazing. (See above.) I was so very grateful for my friend driving in that he would ever so often pull off to let me take pictures without my ever actually saying I wanted him to. I'm not sure I ever would have opened my mouth.

11. Hearing music in St. Marco's Square in Venice made me feel like I was in a Disney movie. I felt like we should be dancing a'la Beauty and the Beast. (Or if that movie is too French for you, perhaps we should have been eating spaghetti like Lady and the Tramp.)

12. My friends bought red and white wine for a first meeting with another friend. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't realize that the wine didn't come for free with the meal until after it was paid for. (Don't ask. I was very confused.) I thought it was an extremely nice gesture on their part to pay for wine for 6 people, including two they had never met and were not likely to ever meet again.

13. I felt cute in my turquoise Free People shirt, white sweater, and jeans with my hair up in a ponytail the day we explored Cinque Terre.

14. The hosts of our AirBnb in Marseille were very nice and helpful providing us with insider information so that we could see and do the very best things in Marseille despite the fact that we would only be there for one day.

15. Picnics of bread, cheese, salami, and wine became the norm while I shot images of sunsets in beautiful places.

16. It really meant a lot to me that my friends tried so very hard to help me capture amazing images, and in some cases even joining in the attempt to obtain the perfect shot. That little bit of effort encouraged me to take my concepts and ideas further and try harder.

17. When we walked into a restaurant in Paris and asked for a bottle of wine, the waiter looked at me and said "And for mademoiselle?" It made me laugh, and I felt completely at home. Apparently, even when I leave the US, I still look 12. :)

18. Then there was that moment, actually several really, that threw me for a loop and made me laugh … and still do, even today.

- I was in the bathroom attempting to wash my hands, and I could not figure out how to turn the water faucet on. When I finally figured it out, the water came out faster than I expected it to with some going down the arm of my jacket, which I probably shouldn't have had on anyway. So I mutter a frustrated "ugh!" not even realizing that my (male) friend was in the bathroom stall right behind me. I had read that it was a bathroom for males and females, but when he asked "what?!" while (I imagine) peeing, I said "nothing" and ran out of the bathroom as fast as possible both amused and embarrassed by my ignorance and surprised by the unexpected response that one usually does not receive in an "empty" bathroom. (Even if the bathroom had been filled with women, I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't have received a response to my "ugh!". And to receive a response from someone that is using the bathroom?! Ummm… ?!)

- The stairs leading to the bathroom at one rest stop also led to the exit. Since I had gone to the bathroom to clean my shirt while my friends continued to eat, when I left the bathroom and passed by a friend coming down the stairs, I did a double take. Were they all leaving without me? … As it turns out, no, they weren't. I felt silly, but I was glad I even noticed this particular friend on the stairs; I'm quite good at living in my own little world and not noticing things or people.

19. A glass of French champagne on a rooftop terrace in France watching the sun set over the Eiffel Tower was nearly the perfect ending to an amazing trip.

What things have made you happy this month?

A Feeling of Comfort & Connection in a Crazy, Rushed Vacation

Traveling to and from Europe may have been one of the most stressful things I have ever done in my entire life outside of planning my wedding.

I'd love to write you out a list of dos and don'ts from my travels or even just a list of positive experiences, but I'm still recovering from what appears to be jet lag. I'm feeling very emotional, and it's usually best to keep your mouth shut when that is the case.

Nevertheless, today, as I look back, I must admit that one of my very favorite moments in my travels was running barefoot through Venice on a rainy Wednesday night to make it to a boat in time. (My shoes were too slippery.) For a brief moment, I was able to let go of all of my worries. The pavement was smooth and soft; the rain was transformed from gross to cleansing and refreshing. I didn't care about how I looked; all I cared about was being in the moment.

Then, back to the hotel I changed into a long-sleeved, clean shirt and put on my cute (yet abused) Target flats before making my way to a small room in the hotel where myself and the people I was with were able to chat about hotels, finances, and other random things over wine as the rain poured down outside. The combination of rain and late night talking resulted in a feeling of comfort, and the late night talking finally allowed me to feel temporarily connected and at ease with those I was wandering around Europe with.

Everything we did on our trip was very fast and impersonal. We weren't staying in places long enough to drink them in; we were gulping them down as fast as we could. In some cases, we were struggling to even breathe. It was constantly a race against time. While I'm grateful for the trip and experience I just returned from, I'm most grateful for those very rare moments of rest and connection that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.