31 January 2011


If you had one day to travel wherever you wanted to go, where would you go?  More to the point, if you   had one day to travel to wherever you wanted in Tuscany, where would you go?  Florence is a possibility, as are Siena and Lucca and Pisa.  You and a group of girlfriends could visit San Gimignano, a medieval hilltown in central Tuscany.   The afternoon could be spent wondering through the tiny town's meandering streets (after they helped you recover from the forty-five minute roller-coaster of a bus ride).  You could sip wine, soak up the sun, and marvel at both the built and natural landscape.  You could savor the slow pace of the day.  And maybe, as you take in the quiet countryside, you could reflect on your year of travel drawing to a close, and on the realization that where you go is not nearly as important as who you share the journey with.

San Gimignano:

29 January 2011

April 1, 2001

The scene outside my window:

Want to go to Italy?  Me too.

April 1, 2001 marked our first full day in Italy, the beginning of the year's climatic trip.  We spent three days in Tuscany, four days in Rome, followed by six days to travel wherever we wanted (Venice for me, Capri or Naples for some others).  April 1, 2001 also marked my first time in Italy.  Florence was the perfect introduction for the neophyte to the Italian experience.   There's plenty to see and do, but the city isn't so big that it feels overwhelming.  The day began with a visit to the Uffizi to the see this and this, among others.  We toured the Duomo, ate gelato, and wrapped up the day with wine and olives at the Piazza de Michelangelo.  That's a day that's hard to top, but, as we discovered, in Italy, those kind of days are pretty frequent.

The Duomo:


The kind of thing you encounter around nearly every corner:

Ponte Vecchio over the Arno

view of the surrounding countryside from the Boboli Gardens:

28 January 2011

table dancing

Two more tunes from the soundtrack to Leuven 2001:

Robbie Williams, "Rock DJ"

Madison Avenue, "Don't Call Me Baby"

27 January 2011

one day in Ieper

We spent a day in Ieper (Ypres), a town and a region continuously shaped by the First World War and its legacy.  Ieper's famous cloth hall, once left in ruins and rubble, now houses the remarkable In Flanders Field Museum.  

Tyne Cot Commnwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Dedicated in 1917, Tyne Cot is the burial ground for Commonwealth soldiers who served at the Ypres Salient.  There are over 10,000 graves, of which only about 2,000 are named.  It was designed to resemble an English garden.  We were there in February 2001. 

I went back in July 2009 and it looked like this:

The Ijzertoren: A monument to Flemish soldiers who served in the war.  The original structure was destroyed in 1946, allegedly by French-speaking radicals.  The current tower not only memorializes the Flemish sacrifices during the war, but also serves as a symbol of Flemish nationalism. The inscription at the top VVK - AVK stands for Vlaanderan voor Kristos, Alles voor Vlaanderan.

26 January 2011

travel is all around us

Recently I stumbled upon Worldhum, a website dedicated to travel writing.  While other sites are designed to help you find the cheapest flight or the most convenient hotel, Worldhum wants to tell the stories of travel - on the places we go, what we find shocking or mundane, and how it changes or inspires us.  In a sense, that's what plum for the road is trying to do, although the only story I'm telling is mine (but hopefully that will change).  I try to incorporate literature, history, and (eventually) music alongside my pictures where I can because my time abroad was about more than just visiting places; travel is both sensory and emotional.  It's about being moved by new music, being overwhelmed by new and delicious food and drink, it's forcing yourself to ski down the mountain, it's knowing that what you are experiencing will change you forever.  I find Worldhum so appealing because with it's collection of literature, blogs, photography, music, and nonfiction, they clearly believe the same.

I particularly enjoyed their post on the 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time (although I'm skeptical of their listing Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Love, Pray ahead of Rory Stewart's The Places in Between, but that's just me) and another on the Top 40 Travels Songs of All Time.  That got me thinking about the music I came to know and appreciate during my time in Europe.  They're largely songs you're most likely to here in bars and clubs, but that's because I spent a lot of time in bars and clubs.  To begin with, songs like:

Daft Punk's One More Time:


The Cathedral at Reims is an easy day trip from both Paris and Leuven, which is fortunate if you happen to be taking a Flemish Art History class.   The cathedral, simply put, will take your breath away.  It was built after the fall of the Roman Empire and, until Napoleon, served as the site for the coronation of the French monarch.  The Germans destroyed the structure during the First World War, but it was rebuilt following the Armistice.

The Cathedral at Reims: 

The building is huge.  I was at least 100 yards away and still could barely capture the entire facade.

25 January 2011

fish out of water

In early February, I somehow found myself on top of a mountain in France.  Which is interesting, considering that I can't really ski, don't have any particular interest in skiing, and in fact find skiing kind of terrifying.  And yet there I was.  A member of my cohort, an avid skier, had organized a week-long trip to Avoriaz, a resort high in the French Alps.  I signed up, thinking, sure, why not?  Who turns down an opportunity in the Alps? I learned two important facts from this trip.  One: The Alps are stunning.  Everyone needs to see them at least once in their life.  Two:  I still don't like skiing.

I would love to go back, just maybe during the summer.   

24 January 2011


Even the most seasoned traveler isn't immune to the unexpected hiatus.  Both persistent illness and family duties kept me away, but now I am back and happy to be on the road again, or, at least to be writing about being on the road.  Unexpected ventures remind me of the time I ended up in London on just three days notice.  It was January 2001 and I had just returned to Leuven after the holiday break.  The London excursion centered around my cousin, one my all-time favorite people and his interest in an English girl he had met only two weeks prior at a wedding in Texas.  I went along to serve as his moral support (in case he should decide to chicken out), so you can already tell how this story will end.  A scheme was hatched on a Wednesday, arrangements were made to rendezvous with the object of his affections, and we were both in London by Friday.  One ill-advised meeting at a club in Wimbledon and a lost wallet later, and the romance was over before it began.  We did, however, manage to see some pretty decent sights.

Westminster Abbey:

Piccadilly Circus:

We even took in show:

84 Charing Cross Road.  Just a cafe now, but as immortalized in a great book, it used to be a lovely bookshop:

Buckingham Palace:

Portobello Road in Notting Hill:

Parliament and Big Ben:

17 January 2011

švestky na silnici

Have you ever had one of those moments when you find yourself in an extraordinary situation and all you can think to yourself is, how on earth did I get here??  Such was the feeling I had when, in early December, I found myself at the Prague's Smetana Opera House seeing a production of Verdi's Nabucco.  I can't tell you a thing about Nabucco, as it was sung in Italian and translated into Czech. I can recall instead the stirring music, the warmth of the hall compared to dreary cold of that day, the plush velvet seats, and the overwhelming sense that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Prague was never on my must-see list of places to visit.  Unlike France, Ireland, and Italy (stay tuned), Prague was an unexpected destination, a place I ended up in only because a couple of friends suggested we go for a long weekend.  But what a discovery it was.  It's an exquisite city.  The Old Town especially, where all of these pictures were taken, has the grandeur of a cultural capital and the misty, cobble-stoned road eerieness of a small village.  Prague was the first and only eastern European city that I visited during my year abroad.  It was both a reminder of how much I had seen and how much I still had left to see. 


The Charles Bridge:

I need to go back just to take better pictures.

15 January 2011

Steelers Nation, Steelers World

It's hard being a world traveler and an avid sports fan.  How can I balance the desire to be on the road with the need to watch all the important games?  How can I explore the world while remaining loyal to one particular place?   Fortunately for me, as a lifelong Steelers fan, I don't have to make these impossible choices.

Steelers Nation can make any place feel like home!
(International locations are listed on the bottom of the page)

Let's Go Steelers!!

how not to travel across Ireland and Scotland, Pt.2

St. George's Square in Glasgow:

 Stirling Castle:

William Wallace Monument in the distance:


The Old Course at St. Andrews:

St. Andrews' seacoast:

14 January 2011

how not to travel across Ireland and Scotland, Pt.1

In late October, four friends and I left on our first big solo adventure.  Our plans involved spending 10 days traveling across Ireland and Scotland, where we visited Galway, Dublin, Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews.  Somewhere in the planning process we developed romantic notions of what backpacking across a foreign country was supposed to be like: hopping trains daily to new and exciting destinations, crashing at bohemian hostels, swapping adventure stories with fellow travels, seeing the sights of the world.  Only one of those came true (unless you count the Willy Wallace Youth Hostel and its tartan bedsheets as bohemian).  When I recall that trip now, I think of desperately seeking accommodations in Galway and Edinburgh, running through airports, a too-heavy backpack, and U2's Beautiful Day, which had just been released and seemed to be in perpetual rotation on the radio.

It wasn't all bad; it was just a learning experience: something good to try once, but that I hope to never repeat.  When I think about the good parts, I think of: beautiful scenery, eating $2000 Russian caviar in a Dublin bar, deep-fried Mars bars, and everything in Scotland.

For now, let's start at the beginning.  The Irish countryside outside of Galway:

The Cliffs of Moher:

Trinity College Dublin:

St. James' Gate at the Guinness Factory:

Dublin Writers' Museum: