Review: Earring Wardrobe Class at Ornamentea

In Raleigh, NC there is a charming green building that contains the all the supplies you need to create beautiful and unique jewelry. 

At Ornamentea, there are walls of beads, enamel powder, metals, and so much more! One could read get lost in all of it, but luckily they have classes for beginners like me. As part of their "Wire Working and Chain Maille" courses, a friend and I went to Earring Wardrobe class with 2 of our professors as part of a bid we won at the UNC ESOP Senate Auction. 

We worked through pre-made kits to create 5 earrings. Each place setting contained everything we needed, very nicely spread.  

We learned the roles of each of these for different pliers: round nose, needle nose, flat nose, and cutting nose. Above the pliers are is a metal file, and below is a ruler that we used a few times to measure lengths of wires.

Earring 1: This first set, we learned how to make a wrapped loop, which I felt was the most complicated one. Overall, I think it turned out well :)

Earring 2: These were confetti earrings, not meant to match, which bothered some people. But when put together they make a pretty color palate. These were more simple, with the skill taught of opening and closing loops. 

Earring 3: The wrapped loop skills came in handy when we learned how to double wrapped loop through the teardrop bead. This was my favorite color combination! 

Earring 4: It was time to learn how to free form wires and make J loops (for when you don't have pinhead wires). This was definitely more difficult to do, but eventually got to the shape I was satisfied with. Key point: don't stop moving through the wire to keep smooth. We hammed the wires a bit afterwards to help keep its shape. 

Earring 5: Saved the best for last! This one taught us the fun effect of texture hammering. Using the round end, we hammered the round copper sheets on one side to create the textured part on the other. We used a small metal hole punch once the effect was complete. This was another free formed hook, but this time we used a Sharpie pen to create the loop - much easier! 

Overall, it was a lovely experience that I would definitely recommend! It's a quick 3 hours that you can take your mother, daughter, and best friend after dinner and drinks. Thanks to a skilled instructor with clear explanations, I learned some basic skills that I would love to use to create some of my own jewelry. Now I find myself look at earrings I buy and think, "I could make that!". 

End of one vacay, start of another!

After the end of a grueling semester, I won't lie and say I didn't want to spend the past couple of weeks on my own to recuperate. But after spending the last 3 weeks working for hours and [literally] laying in bed for hours on end, I think I am fully ready for the next few weeks to come: backpacking in Italy!

Getting from North Carolina to Florida was an adventure in itself. My flight was at 3:15PM, but went to the airport at 10AM to catch a ride with a friend who was also flying that day. It was fine, had some shows to watch and some reports to write and edit. Around 1PM I was getting excited to eat adobo and sinagang at home for dinner, and even skipped lunch to keep the appetite.

Also around 1PM, I got an email to check the status of my flight and I saw this:

Apparently, the plane we were originally going to use had a malfunction bad enough to warrant needing another one, which was coming from Baltimore. Lucky for me, we all got $100 vouchers for the inconvenience. Woohoo!

There was one final delay to 8:55PM, and I finally landed in Orlando at 10:45PM. My mom and sister were waiting for me at the airport, and then finally got home around 1AM after waiting for checked bags.

FINALLY! Good bye, North Carolina, see you in a month!


Italy: Putting Together an Itinerary

The flights were booked and housing was determined. At this point we had the bare bones of an itinerary: 5 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Chianti region, 3 nights in Florence, and 4 nights in Venice. 

Now... what to do to fill the days? To figure this out it has taken days, hours, dozens of websites and blogs, and a Rick Steves guidebook

I had no idea how intricate planning each day would be. It's not like this was our first trip. But actually, it's the first one requiring multiple location changes in a different country. The trip to the Bahamas we stayed on a cruise ship, and in Cancun we stayed in a timeshare. So cheers to us, on our first completely independent vacation.

What makes it so complicated? It's a like a huge puzzle, where the pieces include: 
  • Bucket list: The advice of so many travelers is to ditch the list and use your instincts to take you from one place to another. However, with such a financial investment I find I must ensure I create some sort of idea of what to do so as to not waste time. Again, this is probably going against Italian culture to plan to the point of placing "Get lost in Venice" in an itinerary but e' la vita
    • Rome: 
      • Ancient: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon
      • South: Trastevere, Appian Way, Catacombs
      • North: Borghese , Spanish steps, Trevi fountain
      • Vatican City: Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica
    • Chianti region:
      • Wine tour, ride a Vespa along the hills
    • Florence:
      • Accademia (+David), Duomo, Bargello, Ufffizi
    • Venice:
      • Cruise along Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's Square + Basilica, Doge's Palace, Bridge of Sighs, Murano island (glass making!)
  • Transportation: According to Google maps, this trip is going to be nothing short of exhausting. We'll be getting from city to city by train. It was originally an automatic assumption we would use the Italy Eurail pass, which is $195 for 3 rides within 2 months. Using www.raileurope.com we discovered that a train from Rome --> Florence, Florence --> Venice was only ~$120. Money saving at its finest! Rome is quite large, and there are also metro and buses that can take you to different sites. I'm assuming there will be plenty of walking, however. Florence seems very walkable though. And Venice, you have water travel
  • Entrance passes: The main culprit of the puzzle. Rome, Florence, and Venice have unique 72-hour passes that took a lot of research to be sure it was worth the cost AND arrange things covered by the passes within an itinerary that has more than 72 hours in each place. 
    • Rome: Roma Pass (€30) - FREE entry to the first 2 sites, and DISCOUNTED thereafter. 
      • Major advantage: SKIP THE LINE to all places and free public transportation.
    • Florence: Firenze Card (€50) - FREE entry to ALL sites covered. 
      • Major advantage: SKIP THE LINE to all places and free public transportation.
    • Venice: Vaporetto Pass (€18 if you are <30 years old when you also by a Rolling Venice card for €4) - Unlimited vaporetto rides! Normally €7 per ride, and if >30 years old is €18/2 hours, €20/24 hours, €25/36 hours, €30/48 hours, €35/72 hours. Even if you are >30 years old, the vaporetto pass can pay for itself quickly with a day + night joyrides, to and from hotel, trip to lagoon, to train station, and when you don't want to walk anymore! 
      • Major DISadvantage: Unfortunately nothing in Venice provides discounts to sites
  • Downtime: Still trying to figure this one out... like will it exist?!

Once we've actually done the trip, I'll do a before/after comparison of what I've planned versus what actually happened! There's much more on the itinerary than from my Bucket List that have been added based on research. 

A little preview of our plan for a day in Ancient Rome:

Next up: Travel Essentials (Part 1)


Italy: Housing

As we all know, Europe has a plethora of ways to travel on a budget. Nonetheless, it's still expensive! Thanks to our housing fund, we had the opportunity to book a mix of hotels, hostels, and beds and breakfasts (is that how to properly "pluralize" that term? Eh, B&B's!). To save the surprise, I'll hold off on where we are staying for now, and do that post trip.

But here are some things I learned throughout the process:

1) Do LOTS of research before you book a place...
  • We used websites like booking.com, hostelworld.com to look up locations
  • Once we were matched with places that matched our dates, we looked at the ones with the highest ratings overall and then delved into the individual ratings. Read the ratings, but start with LOWEST and MOST RECENT. I am always skeptical of high praises (cynical, I know). But the longer a rating message is also more trustworthy because it means someone took the effort to provide an honest opinion. Who knows, the praising reviews might be from the owners or someone who was paid to say those things! Again, sorry for the cynicism. 
  • Pictures don't necessarily speak a thousand words. Being negative again, I don't trust photos from official websites either. I used tripadvisor.com to get first-hand pictures from real people (as opposed to professional pictures from the website). This is also a great place to read some more reviews, and it will also "rank" the place you're looking at. 
2) Once you've picked a place, go to the official website to make sure the price is the same as you see on the other websites. Sometimes those sites can have a surcharge! 

3) This was supposed to be a list, but I can't really think of more big points. Oops! 

Anywho, the process took a really long time to piece together places we are going in Italy. Errol didn't want to stay in one place for more than a few days, so we are staying in 2-3 places per city! Our strategy is to stay in a hotel the first few days we arrive and leave so that we may be more comfortable before the long travel. Then staying in hostels and B&B's the days in between. The cheapest way to do a hostel is use the dorms, but we will be staying in double rooms with an ensuite bathroom. It's still cheaper than staying in a hotel overall! 

A little teaser preview of a place we are staying in Venice: 

View of the Grand Canal from our hostel! 
Next up: putting together an itinerary 


Italy: Purchasing the Flight

This trip to Italy has morphed from a tag along trip with Errol and his mom, to a romantic two-week excursion with just him and myself. Unfortunately, his mom couldn't go anymore and gave us our blessing as well as funding for housing throughout the trip so we could still go. A wonderful gift that I will forever be grateful for!

Purchasing the flight took a lot of time. First step was to decide on dates! Took a lot of thought because we wanted it to be as early as possible in the summer but we couldn't finalize until I got my summer rotation schedule. I requested July for the rotation, which is likely why I got my first choice. No one wants July! 

Some things I learned in the process: 

1) It's cheaper (if not cheapest) to fly from JFK in NYC. We booked the cheapest possible to JFK and back, instead of using search engines from Orlando to Rome. 

2) Analyze your layover times, try something "off-label" (i.e., not Delta, AA, United, etc.) to get the cheapest flight. We picked a Russian airline that goes to Moscow then Rome. But because the arrival/departure dates were the best, we get to Rome at 10AM and leave Venice at 11PM giving us nearly a whole extra day! 

3) You must be patient to find the ticket that fits the best for your trip. However, once that moment comes, you must have the courage to make the leap! If you plan right, your credit card can handle it. Mine did... just barely!

Next step: Housing