It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

New York City at Christmas (visited in 2015)

I don’t know about you but when I think about Christmas time I cannot help but turn back into that giddy little four year old girl who was jumping on my parents’ bed at 2 a.m. in the morning screaming, “WAKE UP! IT’S CHRISTMAS!” (P.S. I may or may not still do that (: ). One of my biggest dreams was to see NYC at Christmas time because deep down in our hearts, I think we all want to live out those Hallmark Holiday Movies and in my opinion, New York City is the perfect place to do so. Around the winter holidays, NYC transforms into this entirely new world filled with gigantic Christmas decorations, lights hanging from every street corner, store windows filled to the top with winter displays and moving animations, and the always classic Rockefeller Christmas tree to bring it all together.


(Me and my mom in front of the Rockefeller Tree)

If you know me, you know that I usually like to spend a quiet Christmas at home with my family and loved ones (and my dogs), but last year my mom and I stepped out of our comfort zones and did something I have always wanted to do: take a trip to NYC during the holiday season. Even though I am usually the kind of girl that resists change, I loved every single second of this trip. I had been to New York City twice before this trip, once in the summer and once in the spring, but this trip was an all new experience. Not only does the city look incredibly different with all of the decorations, but the feel of the city changes too to fit the growing holiday cheer. There are so many fun and amazing things to do in NYC at Christmas, it can get a bit overwhelming if you are thinking about planning a trip. So, since the holiday season is growing closer and closer, in this post I have compiled a list of my top recommendations of things to do and see in NYC at Christmas time. Keep in mind I am not a native to NYC so my list might look different from someone who lives there, but as an outsider these are my top picks for things to see!

Top 10 Things to Do/See in NYC at Christmas Time:

  • Rockefeller Christmas Tree- Of course, nothing says “holiday cheer” like a gigantic Christmas tree! Plus, right beside the tree you can rent a pair of skates and go iceskating on the outdoor rink.



(The outdoor iceskating rink beside the Rockefeller Tree)

  • Shopping on 5th avenue- 5th avenue is amazing at anytime of the year, but the decorations and light shows that happen around the holidays are like something out of a fairytale.



  • Seeing the Empire State Building lit up with green and red- It is so fun to see the lights on the Empire State Building change to red and green around Christmas.


  • Go see a Broadway Play- Again, this is something I recommend doing regardless of the season, but there is something extra magical about seeing one of these spectacular masterpieces during the holidays.


  • Check out Top of the Rock at night time- The Top of the Rock has one of the best skyline views of NYC (including a great view of the Empire State Building) and it is a completely different experience to come back and see the view at night.


(Featured in the center is the Empire State Building before the lights were switched to red and green)

  • Check out some amazing seasonal food!- NYC is known for some great food and the holidays are no exception, but for me, my favorite was the seasonal veggies and smoothies!


(Featured here is some healthy seasonal veggies with chicken and rice and a chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie- yum!)

  • Spend some time in Times Square to see the holiday ads (and because it is a must!)



  • Go see the famous Macy’s department store that is featured in Miracle on 34th Street.- It is one of the most fantastic places in NYC and you instantly become a little kid again when you see all of the magic that the store has to offer!


(The giant mailbox for letters written to Santa)


  • Look at some of the incredible winter and holiday store window decorations.- Nothing can beat the window decorations for a NYC Christmas. I think the pictures speak for themselves here.




(Anthropologie store beside the Rockefeller Tree)


(Henri Bendel window)

  • And last but not least, spend some time with the people you love- NYC at Christmas time is amazing, but it would not have been nearly as special if I had not been able to share the experience with someone I love. So whether that is your family, your special someone, or some of your best friends, I encourage you to share the joy of Christmas and the experiences that NYC has to share with your loved ones!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!


The Traveling Brunette

*All pictures taken by me


Empire State of Mind

New York City, New York (visited in 2015)

Welcome to the “City That Never Sleeps”! New York City is one of the most iconic cities in the world. From “Sleepless in Seattle” to “Home Alone” to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” this city is booming with life, love, and adventure! Whether you are looking down on the city from one of its many skyscrapers, or strolling the streets of Brooklyn, or grabbing a bite to eat from a local street vendor, this city will always keep you entertained. NYC has much to offer so I have decided to break it up into several different posts so you can see just how much adventure can be found here. For my first post on NYC, I am going to focus on one of its most famous structures: the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building is one of the most popular tourist spots and for good reason because it gives you the best view of the city. First, let’s get a look at some of the origins of the Empire State Building.




(The lower level of the inside of the Empire State Building)

From the Beginning: *

  • The building was originally constructed during a race to create the world’s tallest building! During the economic boom during the late 1920’s, builders were restless to try to build the world’s largest skyscraper.
  • The building has a total of 103 floors.
  • It was finished in record time. It took only 410 days to build from start to finish!
  • At first, it was considered a financial fail, mostly because of the start of the Great Depression. The building only became profitable during World War II.

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Fun Facts: **

  • Shocking kisses: Static electricity gathers at high heights, and under the right atmospheric conditions, couples can experience a slight electric shock when they kiss.
  • As far as the eye can see: On a clear day, you can see five different states from the top of the building: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
  • Zipping: The Empire State Building is home to so many businesses it has its own zip code: 10118.
  • Lightning Show: The building is struck by lightning on average of 100 times per year.
  • True love: Every year, the building holds a Valentine’s Day Weddings contest in which 14 couples are selected to get married on the observation deck.
  • A True Wonder:  The building was named the eighth Wonder of the World (the only one built in the 20th century).

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The View:

I could write about the spectacular view all day long but I think it would be wiser to let the pictures speak for themselves. So, without further ado…






From this high up, you can truly tell that NYC is surrounded by water. The view is honestly breathtaking. Words cannot describe it.

Literary Recommendations:

For books set in New York City, you have to check out the classics! Some of the best literature based in New York City are The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath to name a few.

For this post, I would be crazy not to offer some movie recommendations too. Some of the most popular movies featuring the Empire State Building are “King Kong”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “An Affair to Remember”, “The Amazing Spiderman”, “Annie Hall”, and the holiday favorite, “Elf”. There is a plethora of pop culture that features the Empire State Building, but if you take my advice, I would plan a trip so you can see it for yourself! NYC can be an easy and inexpensive trip if you do your research and plan ahead of time. (Tip for students: many popular sights give student discounts for tickets!) Stay tuned for more posts featuring NYC!

P.S. If you’re lucky you might just meet your own Tom Hanks at the top of the Empire State Building!

-The Traveling Brunette

***All pictures taken by me!

Paris is Always a Good Idea

Paris, France (visited in 2013)

Ahh, the beautiful and breathtaking Paris! Out of all of the places I have visited, Paris is by far the most beautiful. Unlike some cities, Paris is exactly how you would imagine it: streets of gold, magnificent and dazzling architecture, glamorous shopping, and tiny little coffee shops that line every street corner. There is a reason that one of Paris’s nicknames is the “City of Love” and it is because you instantly fall in love with the city from the first moment you set your eyes on it. If Paris doesn’t make you fall in love, I don’t think anything will. When you are in Paris, you cannot help but smile. There is so much to talk about when it comes to “The City of Light”: the iconic Eiffel Tower, the glorious Notre Dame de Paris, the artistically enriched Louvre, and many, many more and if I talked about them all extensively, this post would take hours to read. So, I have decided to post pictures of all of these places, but I want to focus mostly on the history of the Louvre to give you a tiny taste of some of Paris’s culture.


(The Eiffel Tower)


(One of the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower)


(Another view from the top of the Eiffel Tower)


(Looking up from underneath the Eiffel Tower)

The History of the Louvre: *

  • The Louvre was originally created during the Middle Ages (approximately in 1190) by Philippe Auguste in an effort to erect a fortified enclosure to protect Paris.
  • It was a grand display of the king’s power and authority before he left Paris to fight in the Crusades.
  • Therefore, the Louvre was first created to be a castle. It was protected by a moat and held circular defensive towers on its sides and corners. In the center, the main tower was located and was surrounded by its own moat.
  • This “castle” was not a home for the royal family, but rather a garrison fortress.
  • As time passed, the Louvre became less of a defensive site and more of a royal residency as traveling French kings began to stay in the structure more often, particularly during the Hundred Years’ War.
  • The change from a fortress to a residency and, finally, a museum began to occur under the reign of Francis I (r. 1515-47) after the defeat of the military at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. By the end of his time in power, the king decided to have the Louvre rebuilt, but this did not occur until Henri II’s reign (r. 1547-59).

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(The outside of the Louvre)


(The inverted pyramid inside the Louvre)

Protecting the Louvre During WWII: **

Starting in 1938, the threat of war urged France to have a large-scale evacuation of its public art collections. The famous Mona Lisa was removed from the Louvre on August 28, 1939 and by the end of the day on September 3, almost all of the precious art pieces were removed. The Mona Lisa was moved 5 times during the war before being safely brought back! During WWII, the Louvre was still a palace and Paris experienced one of the longest occupations in its history and the damage of war was evident in destroyed gardens and bomb damage.

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Some of the Featured Masterpieces: ***

The Louvre is a 60,000-square-meter exhibition that is home to around 30,000 pieces of art. The Louvre is divided into three main sections: the Denon, the Richelieu, and the Sully wings. Each wing features over 70 rooms in addition to numerous halls that are filled with sculptures. With this much art, it is impossible to see every piece in a day or even in an entire week! However, I have researched and created an “essential checklist” to help you navigate and get the most out of your visit to the Louvre.

  • The Top Piece: This, of course, is the famous smiling lady: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (located in Denon Wing, Room 6). This area is always packed with people so don’t expect to be able to see it too close. (P.S. it is a lot smaller than you would imagine it) but it is still an incredible experience!100_1625
  • Les Noces de Cana by Paolo Veronese or The Wedding Feast at Cana (Denon Wing, Room 6). This painting depicts the biblical story narrated by John the Apostle who describes the wedding feast in which Jesus turns water into wine.


  • Venus de Milo (Sully Wing, Room 7). This statue is also known as Aphrodite (The goddess of love and beauty) and represents the Greek view of ideal beauty. As you can see, her arms were broken off and are still missing but many art historians believe she may have originally been holding an apple, a crown, or a mirror.


  • Victoire de Samothrace (Denon Wing, Daru Staircase). The Goddess of Victory (Nike) stands on the prow of a ship in strong winds and the sculpture is praised for its sense of movement and accuracy. The goddess appears to be drenched in water but the blowing effect of her gown and her wings gives the work a sense of realism. (P.S. the sports company Nike was inspired by the goddess of victory!)



  • The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David (Denon Wing, Room 75). Napoleon commissioned this painting to document his coronation. Unlike other kings, Napoleon faces the congregation rather than the Pope, which made a statement of his independence from the religious church.


These are just a few examples of the thousands of masterpieces that the the Louvre holds. I hope you enjoyed your initial taste of some of the beauty of the artwork in Paris.

*** Artistic facts checked by:


(Notre Dame de Paris)

Literary Recommendations:

For this post’s literary recommendations section, I want to offer you a wide range of literature that I hope will help you acquire a greater appreciation of some of the artwork in the Louvre and for Paris itself. Since much of the art and sculptures in the Louvre center around Biblical stories and Greek mythology, I recommend that you check out some of the stories of Jesus in the Gospels of the Holy Bible and some the countless stories of the Greek gods and goddesses, particularly Aphrodite since she was featured in this post. Some of the other Biblical and Greek characters seen in the Louvre are David (Biblical), the hunting goddess Artemis (Greek), John the Baptist (Biblical), and the powerful god Zeus (Greek).

If you are interested in some of the most influential and popular works of French literature, I suggest you pick up a copy of Les Miserables or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo, The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, or one of my favorites, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.

I hope you all have enjoyed this little sneak peak into the beauty and history of Paris, France, particularly the Louvre. I highly recommend taking a trip to Paris to experience some of the immensely rich history and culture that the city has to share. In the meantime, pick up some of these books and dive right into the culture today! Have a wonderful day, my traveling friends!

-The Traveling Brunette

**** All pictures are taken by me


Tips and Advice to Make Your Traveling Dreams Come True!

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous


Have you ever wanted to see the world but financial problems held you
back? Have you ever dreamed about traveling but you just can’t seem to find the
time to take a trip? Hectic schedules and financial issues are some of the biggest
reasons why people do not travel and at first glance, these problems may seem
unsolvable. Trust me, I am a college student. I totally get it but trust me, even people with a low income can travel the world if they practice discipline. Once you commit to following some of these easy steps on how to make time and save money, your worries will be a lot easier to conquer and defeat. So if one of your greatest dreams is to travel, do not give up on them because of financial issues or busy schedules. Instead, implement some of these tips into your own life and watch your dreams of traveling become a reality. It’s hard to have the discipline to sacrifice the little stuff now for the big stuff later, but believe me it is oh so worth it! All of that time and energy that you put into saving and planning will all be worth it when you get to see the Eiffel Tower at night, or take a ride on the Orient Express, or drift your cares away while floating on top of the Dead Sea.

P.S. I know the title of this post makes traveling sound like some sort of Disney fairytale, but honestly, it really is and nothing feels better than knowing that you helped make those dreams come true for yourself! Be your own hero and make your life happen!

Unlike many other countries across the world, only a small percentage of
the American population travel outside of North America. By far, the top two
excuses for why Americans do not travel are that they cannot afford it and they
do not have the time. However, both of these excuses are myths. Traveling to
another country does not have to be expensive or time consuming. You can
create the trip of your lifetime by simply researching, planning, and saving.

Get Creative: Research Different Places!

The idea that traveling has to be expensive is a myth. With the proper
research and self-discipline, anyone can travel. Researching has two parts. The
first thing to do is research places that you can see yourself traveling to. If your
heart is not set on one specific location and you are willing to travel anywhere
new, research places that are financially cheap but experience rich. Places like
Thailand, Bali, Costa Rica, and India tend to be places that do not require an
extensive amount of money to travel to. If you do have a specific destination in
mind, research different travel agencies and find the best deals and options for
your life and budget. Once you find a trip where the cost seems to be attainable,
start using these tips to figure out the best ways for you to save up to travel.


Pull Out That Piggy Bank and Save:

The first step towards saving money for the trip of your dreams is to be
realistic and set short and long term goals. Know what kind of destinations and
trips can actually work for your budget because if you know it can be attainable,
you are more likely to stick to your savings plan. In addition, think of ways to
remind yourself why you are doing this. This could be anything from hanging up
pictures or maps to reading literature by foreign authors; anything that will keep
you encouraged and on the right track towards your goal. Once you do this,
choose some of these tips to help you save money:

  • Make a Wants/Needs List: stick to buying only what you need and save the
    money you usually spend on wants towards your dream trip.
  • Start a specific travel fund– make a separate account solely for your trip
    and make it a goal not to use that money for anything else.
  • Spend less on lunch or drinks– skip your daily trip to Starbucks and fast
    food and make your coffee and lunch at home. Then, take the money that
    you save and put it in your trip fund.
  •  Try to kick unhealthy/ expensive habits– not only does quitting smoking
    and excessive drinking help your body, but it also helps your wallet.
    Smoking is extremely draining to your finances.
  •  Stay at home more often– constantly going to bars and clubs can seriously
    damage your bank. So find ways to have fun with your friends at home
    without breaking your bank.
  •  Stay away from financially irresponsible people– watching your friends
    constantly waste money on buying the newest technology or the fanciest
    clothes can drastically influence your spending habits in a negative way. Do
    not let other people’s financial habits derail your hard earned travel savings
  •  Stop waiting on the perfect time to appear– if you wait for the perfect time
    to travel, you never will. You have to put in the effort to find time to make
    traveling a reality for you. Like they say, Carpe Diem, my friends!


Carve Out “You” Time:

Once you have the financial means to take your trip, do not let a busy schedule
stop you from taking it. It is a common misconception that people who work full-
time or have a family do not have time to take a vacation. The fact is that many
people who work full-time and have a household of kids do travel, but it takes
discipline. It may seem difficult or impossible to do, but with patience, you can
find the time to take the trip of a lifetime. Traveling does not have to be a seven-
week long trip. In fact, you can go to multiple countries in less than one! Again,
the key is finding out what works best for you personally, and then having the
self-discipline to make it work. Here are some tips to help you find and make time
to travel:

  • Turn your three-day weekend into a four or five-day getaway– if you get
    off a week for Christmas and New Year’s, combine it with your yearly vacation time to give yourself a three-week long trip or tack on a few extra days to a long weekend.
  •  Make the most out of your weekends– sometimes those two day trips can be some of the best adventures.
  • Write it down– make yourself pick a date and put it in writing. You are
    much more likely follow a commitment if it is in writing.
  •  Mix business and pleasure– if you already have to travel somewhere for
    work, add on a few days at the end to take time to travel for yourself
    before you come back.


As you can see, traveling does not have to be expensive or time consuming.
By simply taking the time to research your options and find a trip that can be
tailored perfectly to your financial state and schedule, you can travel to places
you have only ever dreamed about. Most importantly, have fun with it! Just because you’re preparing to travel doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with it! The hardest part of traveling is having the discipline and courage to step out of your comfort zone and make your dreams come true on your own. Never let the excuse of money or time keep you from traveling to places you have always wanted to see. The knowledge that you gain and the memories that you will acquire from traveling will make all of your hard work and preparation worthwhile.

I’ll leave you with this little nugget of wisdom:“Twenty Years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” – Mark Twain


-The Traveling Brunette

Gladiators, and Lions, and Literature, oh my!

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy (visited in 2013)

Ever since I first heard about the Ancient Romans, Greek/Roman mythology, and the gladiators, I have always been fascinated with Rome. Being an avid history buff, it was always a dream of mine to visit one of the most historic cities in the world and in 2013, my dream became a reality. Although the Colosseum was the home of Roman cruelty, it is still a glorious monument of ancient history. Stepping into the Colosseum is like stepping back through time. You are instantly engulfed in thousands of years of history and your mind tries to wrap itself around the fact that the very ground that you are stepping on has been there for centuries. Even though the monument has fallen into ruin (now only 1/3 of the original structure remains), it still stands as one of the most beautiful and imposing sights in Europe. In the entrance of the Colosseum, a cross stands tall and reminds you of the horrific persecution that early Christians faced in ancient Rome. This magnificent and humbling sight reminds you just how big the world really is.





The Beginning:

  • The Colosseum is officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater.
  • It was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty. It was meant to be a gift for the Roman people.
  • In A.D. 80, the Colosseum was opened by Vespasian’s son, Titus.
  • It was built with  80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank.
  • Just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, a 25m high monument built in AD 315 to mark the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at Pons Milvius.
  • After several centuries it fell into neglect and began to fall into ruin.
  • The last recorded games were held there in the 6th century.
  • Other public spectacles that were held there were re-enactments of famous battles, dramas based on Classical mythology, animal hunts and even executions.

img_1992(Arch of Constantine)

The Gladiators:

  • Although it is not true for every case, most gladiators were slaves, prisoners of war, or convicted criminals. These men were lured in by hopes of glory and riches.
  • Most of these fighters were men, but there are cases of female gladiators.
  • Contests were typically single combat between two men of similar size and experience and did not always end in brutal deaths.
  • Gladiators were generally expensive to house and feed, so owners were usually reluctant to have them killed.
  • Nevertheless, gladiator lives tended to be short and brutal and gladiators typically only lived until their mid-20s.
  • People from all social classes attended these events, including the emperor himself.
  • If the ground became too soaked with blood throughout the day’s fighting, a fresh layer of sand was placed on top and the fighting raged on.
  • In contests held at the Colosseum, the emperor had the final say in whether the felled warrior lived or died, but rulers and fight organizers often let the people make the decision.
  • Fighters were placed into different fighting classes based on their record, skill level and experience.
  • Most warriors specialized in a particular fighting style and set of weaponry.
  • The most popular gladiator classes were the “thraeces” and “murmillones,” who fought with sword and shield, but there were also the “equites,” who rode in on horseback; the “essedarii,” who fought from chariots; and the “dimachaerus,” who may have wielded two swords at once.
  • Of all the popular gladiator types, perhaps the most unusual was the “retiarius,” who was armed with only a net and a trident. These warriors tried to ensnare their opponents with their net before moving in for the kill, but if they failed, they were left almost entirely defenseless.
  • Gladiators usually became celebrities and sex symbols.
  • Despite popular belief, gladiators only rarely fought against animals.

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My Experience:

The Colosseum has fallen into ruin over the centuries since its glory in Ancient Rome. However, this ruin allows visitors to experience the Colosseum in ways that the Romans could not. Due to its deterioration, you can see the underneath portion of the Colosseum’s floor that would have been hidden from spectators in ancient times. (see below)


(Seeing the levels under the original flooring)



We even also got to see some of the cells that held the gladiators and some of the animals that were used during the games.


(A cell in the main part of the arena)






(One of the holding cells)


(Another entrance into the arena)

Literary Recommendations:

There is plenty of literature on the glories, the tragedies, and the lifestyle of the Ancient Romans. For this literary recommendations list, I challenge you to expand your horizons and focus on literature that is not solely based on the history of the Colosseum. I recommend that you pick up some of the most influential works in all of human literature, such as the writings of Virgil (The Aeneid) or the works of Horace if you are interested in a satire. The Aeneid is an epic poem that is based off of some of the writings of Homer. If you like tales about epic heroes and demigods, like Achilles, Hector, Perseus, and Hercules, I strongly encourage you to pick up The Aeneid and experience the tale of Aeneas!

Thank you all so much for checking out my post! I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. I actually have the extraordinary privilege of being able to return to Rome this Spring (2017)! I am beyond excited and I cannot wait to see the wonderful treasures that Rome has to offer for a second time! I thought I would do this post as a before and another post as an after when I get back from my trip in the spring. I plan on learning a lot more on my upcoming trip and I’m looking forward to seeing different parts of the Colosseum that I have not seen before. Stay tuned, friends!


** All pictures are taken by yours truly **