Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Tieks by Gavrielli

For this year's Eurotrip, I was determined to have an extremely comfortable, versatile, well-made pair of shoes.  This was particularly important for my relatively minimalistic approach to packing--only one small rollerboard suitcase and one Vera Bradley Weekender.  In years past I've brought over a big 26"-er and at least 3 pairs of shoes and I decided that was just too much.
This was all I'm taking for 2 weeks in Europe!


Hmm..She's thinking about throwing up on them later.
Early in my search I found out about Tieks by Gavrielli, which are handmade Italian leather flats that Oprah is just in luuuuurve with.

Now...don't let the sticker shock put you off too much.  They start at $175 a pair. We're talking hand crafted!  Leather!  And a vegan option if you prefer not to wear animal products.  

The price was daunting, but I've reached a point in my life where I'm willing and able to invest more in quality footwear.

Eventually, I took the plunge and ordered a leopard print pair.  I was so excited to have my "moment" opening that adorable teal box with the flower headband wrapped around it that I saw every other blogger write about. I took out the shoes and put them on and immediately thought, "Ahhh...they really do feel like clouds."

Then, about 15 minutes later, reality came crashing down on the big toe of my right foot.  I have what I suspect to be a growing bunion problem.  It's quite common in women--even women ilke me who don't wear pointy shoes and avoid ones with a narrow toe box in general.  My mom just had surgery to remove one a few weeks ago, in fact.  I had noticed this issue in ballet flats and my feet before, and with leather shoes I just powered through it until the shoe gave.  This time I wasn't so sure--I had to have some shoes ready to walk Europe with me by the end of the next week.

I took to Twitter and contacted @tieks, and "Tieks Girl" responded almost immediately.  I explained the issue and declared that I'd order the next size up to try them on.  Tieks Girl suggested that walking around wearing the shoes with a thick pair of socks does wonders for bunions.
Hmm.  Maybe she's on to something.

LOVE the teal box and purple flower.  My power colors!

The next size up pair arrived in a matter of days, and I tried them on.  I could tell right away that they were just too big.  Having shoes that slip and rub against the back and sides of your foot because they're too big isn't good either, so I did as Tieks suggested.  Every day for the few days left leading up to my trip, I wore those suckers with the thickest pair of hiking socks I own.  The bunion still hurt, but I was determined to break in the shoes.

Long story short, I went off to Europe an found that wearing the Tieks was excruciatingly painful on the outer edges of my feet. I ended up MacGuyver-ing  Band-Aids and ear plugs to cushion the tender spots.  That worked brilliantly; I'm really glad I brought so many of them with me!  The Tieks and I turned a crucial corner the day I went to Disneyland Paris and it poured rain all day.  I knew my feet weren't going to stay dry, but I tried my best by putting on a pair of my running socks, and then wearing little plastic bags around my toes.  I just didn't want my bandage-earplug-cushion contraption to soak off.

What's a little rain?
When we finally made it back into our hotel room, I of course took them off and stuffed them with paper to try and dry them overnight.  The next morning when I went to put them on, they were still a little damp, but they fit amazingly well!  I know leather and water aren't two things you normally want to put together, but I think some combination of that, the socks, and walking around like that all day really did the trick of getting those suckers to mold themselves to my foot.

For the last few days of my vacation, I just needed to wear Band-aids around the spots of my feet that were still tender and a bit raw.  Otherwise, the Tieks finally fit me as comfortably as they should.  Since I've been back home in the US, I wear them to work almost every day.  In fact, I put myself on the waiting list for a black pair that go with everything.  (I happen to think leopard print goes with everything too, but perhaps not every day...)

Pictured below are my feet as of yesterday.  (Foot fetishizers, enjoy.)  The dark spots at the base of my big toes and pinkie toes are where I was running into problems.  I've had this happen to me in almost every pair of ballet flats that I've ever owned, so I'm not blaming this on the design and/or construction of the Tieks at all.  I'm not blaming this on anyone; that's just what my feet are like and I have to deal with it accordingly.  


Would I recommend Tieks for anyone else with bunions?  Maybe.  If you're willing to wear some sort of cushioning device until you can break them in to the point where you don't need cushions, by all means, go for it.  I've read other gals on the Internet say that they do just buy the next size up in order to compensate for their bunions.  It's all up to you, naturally.  I like these shoes; they are versatile, comfortable (all of the above notwithstanding), and of quality construction.  I was able to save so much room by only bringing them and a pair of running shoes. 

Update October 2013: I did get the black pair, and had almost no issues at all from day one, and within a few wears they were totally broken in.  I think the leopard pair was much tighter/had less give at first because it's a painted leather.  I'll keep that in mind for future pairs.

Update December 2013: ...and then I got one of the vegan pairs, the Sunset Stripe.  Hey, I got 20% off during their holiday promo--I had to!  These are still in the break-in stage.  Although, this time it's my toes that are doing the work.  Bunion is a non-issue in this pair as well.

*I wasn't paid by Vera Bradley or Tieks to write this post at all...but I would totally accept any merchandise to test out. ;-)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eurotrip 2013

Jetlag sucks. It's 6:33 PDT on a Sunday morning, and I've been wide awake for 4 hours.  I might as well do some more blogging about my most recent European vacation, eh?

As with last year, and the year before that, I took a solid 2 weeks.  Anything less is unacceptable!

Grüß Gott, Bayern!


Let's get this party started!
My friend Ralph moved to the southern state of Bavaria for work, but with the logistics of the situation and the fact that he didn't have his own apartment yet, it didn't make sense for me to go there when I went to Germany in 2012.  This year, however, it worked out perfectly!  Up until this point, I had spent nearly all my time in the Rhineland area (where my family lived while my mom and later my brother were stationed there in the USAF), Dortmund in the north (where Ralph used to live), and Offenburg (Ralph's hometown).  Over the years I've come to understand that Bavaria is, ehm, unique.  It's actually the most highly visible culture that people from my part of the world (the US) have come to think of as quintessential German.  Think lederhosen, brass bands, beer, and pretzels.  Oktoberfest, beer maids spilling out of their dirndls.  You get the picture.  The truth is, Bavaria is to Germany as Texas is to the US.  It's a very distinct region that is not representative of the rest of the country!  Most Germans have never worn a pair of lederhosen or dirndl in their lives and to do so would be pretty out of place outside of Bavaria, just as you wouldn't normally wear ten gallon hats and cowboy boots in New York or Seattle.  And that's just an oversimplification of the culture--there's much more to it than clothes and food.

All that said, I was eager to visit this region and experience it firsthand.  Because I wanted to take advantage of the Labor Day holiday and celebrate my birthday in Europe, I missed Oktoberfest by a week.  That's ok, though, because in the city where my friend lives, they have a bi-annual festival that is essentially the exact same thing on a smaller, less-touristy scale.  It's called the Plärrer, and it's fantastic.  Yours truly went to an outlet shop and bought a complete dirndl outfit, pictured above.  And, true to form, there was plenty of beer, pretzels, singing, and dancing.  Lucky for me, the band played mostly pop and rock songs in English as well, so I could really get into it.
Prost!!

Augsburg, where he lives, is a lovely and very old city--third oldest in Europe after Neuss and Trier, in fact.  It's not too big, not too small, and an easy distance from Munich.

Wunderschönen München

Speaking of Munich, we totally went there, natürlich!  I don't know what more can be said of this city that hasn't been already.  It's gorgeous.  We listened to a Rick Steves audio tour and saw all kinds of interesting things, like a memorial that locals took over to dedicate to Michael Jackson after he died, a posh grocery store that has an entire basement full of Milka products, and a lovely biergarten/marketplace area where I tried to get one of the famous local weißwursts to go with my beer, but was given a bratwurst instead.  (I think maybe the lady at the stall didn't think I actually knew what I was asking for?  Oh well; the bratwurst was fine.)

Let's begin our tour in Marienplatz

This was across from a hotel where MJ usually stayed.

Bonus Side Trip!

If I'm going to travel 7,000+ miles across the globe, I'm going to squeeze in at least a day trip another big city.  With US holidays being so abysmally short compared to the rest of the Western world, one must simply work with the time one has!  Two years ago my bonus city was Amsterdam.  Last year it was London.  This year it was Salzburg in Austria, just a 3 hour train ride from Munich.  Actually, we spent a day here before we made it into Munich another day--my post is slightly out of order--and we listened to a Rick Steves tour guide here too.  At Mr. Steves' recommendation, we walked, ate, and drank our way through the old town and had a couple shots of schnapps at a distillery that was featured on his tv show.

Mozart spent his youth in Salzburg before ditching it for Vienna.

Mmmm...fruity.

This local restaurant was clearly proud of their feature in the Rick Steves guide book!

The tour took us through the old town, but there was obviously a lot more to see if you had time to hike up until the hills...which are alive...with the sound of music...

I couldn't resist, sorry.

Anyway, Salzburg was beautiful, worth another visit, and really whets my appetite for Vienna, which is another city that has been on my To See list for years.

Bonjour, France

I've been to France a few times before, but not to anywhere particularly well-known to your average person.  When my trip to Europe this year was officially "on", Ralph suggested we go to Paris.

For me, Paris was like Rome in that I figured I would get around to it eventually, but it was actually behind a bunch of other cities that I wanted to see first.  However, since Ralph was actually able to take off the entire 2 weeks of my visit, it was a relatively easy trip via train, and he himself had never been there either, we decided to go.

Bienvenue à Disney-LONDE

Let me backtrack a bit first, though, because we actually spent the first two days out in the suburbs at the Disneyland Paris resort.  This is also where I get obnoxious and point out that I pulled off some sort of hat-trick.  See, when my parents visited me for Christmas last year, we went to Disneyland on Christmas Day.  About six months later, I went to Orlando for a wedding and squeezed in some time at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  This trip to Disneyland Paris marks my 3rd Disney Resort in 12 months.  That's pretty sweet; I don't ever foresee myself pulling that off again.

Disneyland, 12/15/12
Magic Kingdom, 06/10/13

Disneyland Paris, 09/09/13



So, we took the high speed train from Strasbourg to Paris, then the metro from Paris to Disneyland.  Ralph got a package deal for tickets and 2 nights in a local hotel, and off we went.  Unfortunately, it rained almost all day while we were at the parks, so we were petty cold, wet, and physically miserable even with umbrellas.  Every seasoned Disney park enthusiast knows, however, that rainy weather + off-peak season = little to no wait times.  We picked up one Fast Pass and didn't even end up using it.  We pretty much walked on to every ride, and the longest wait was about 20 minutes on the second time we rode Space Mountain before calling it a day.

Now, between all the family trips, my two Disney internships, and my stint as an annual pass-holder, I've gotten to know the Orlando and Anaheim parks quite well.  How does Disneyland Paris measure up?  Well, the Hollywood Studios Park is laughably small.  I think it's the second smallest of all existing parks, and the only two or three things worth drawing a crowd for are the Tower of Terror, the Moteurs...Action! show, and the Rockin' Rollercoaster.  Unless shows are totally your thing, and in that case, go nuts there.  I'm glad we had a park hopper because ToT and the stunt show are two of my favorite attractions, but if you only had to choose one, skip it.

Now, Parc Disney?  Stunning.  Even with the dreary day, I could really appreciate the observations I've heard over the years about DLP just being "prettier" than the parks in the US.  I don't know how to exactly describe it, but is.  I suppose there's even more attention paid to detail and landscaping and definitely more trees.  It's a lot bigger than Disneyland and not quite as big as the Magic Kingdom, and feels much more spacious and park-like.  I would love to come back again, especially with hardcore Disney vets like myself who can really geek out over every little thing and compare it to the originals.

The Magic of Paris

Like Rome, Paris took me by surprise.  In fact, even moreso.  Whereas Rome is a city that I would like to visit over and over again, I could actually see myself living in Paris.  At least for a while; I'm sure it takes more than 2 days to really figure that out, right?  Yes, my time in the city itself was quite brief--much like my day in London last year--but I got enough of an impression to know that I was comfortable there right away.

For the one night we spent in the city, I used Airbnb and booked us an amazing flat near the city's two main transportation hubs, Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est.  We then popped in our earbuds for a third time to take Rick Steves' historic Paris audio guided tour.

Cathédrale Notre Dame, as seen from the queue to get in.

The first day of sight seeing also happened to be my birthday!

A happy gal enjoying a visual nightcap for her 31st birthday

Popsing, are you as amazed as I am!?

Both days were pretty cold and overcast, though thankfully not rainy like the day at Disneyland.  If I had it to do over again, I would have packed more warm clothes and a light jacket.  Unfortunately, the combination of my only bringing two small-ish bags and assuming that the nice weather forecast for my first week in Germany would extend into the second week in France made for an under-prepared visit, clothes-wise.  Thank God for scarves and the umbrella that I did have sense enough to bring.  The next time I go, I already have my eye on neighborhoods I'd like to explore more, and I promise myself that I will spend at least 5 hours of every day just dining.  There was so much to see and so little time that the only real sit-down meal we ate was dinner on my birthday at an incredible fondue place in the Marais district , which was simply called Pain Vin Fromages (Bread Wine Cheese).

Alles Gute

The great part about having a friend in another country is that when you go visit them, you get the true local experience.  Both of his sisters' had their birthday the first week of my trip and the older of the two had a nice birthday dinner at a whiskey distillery where I got to try delicious and simple local food and an educational whiskey tasting.  I also got to see his parents and hometown pals again too.  (In fact, two of them surprised me by turning up in Bavaria to welcome me to Germany!  How sweet is that!?)  So, not only did I get to indulge in some touristy sight-seeing, but I spent an equal amount of time--perhaps even more--just hanging out with friends.  That's my way to spend a vacation.

Cold meats, cheese, and bread.  I could eat this every day.

Watch out for the hard stuff, Popsing.
Onward!

I've got such a chronic case of the Wanderlust that I already started thinking of next year's vacation before I even got home to San Diego two days ago.  This may come as a shock to some, but I think that 2014 I will take a break from Europe.  Yep, you read that right.  This crazy Europhile has decided that it's time to broaden the horizons a bit more, and there's a very good chance that next year I will re-visit Asia and also make my way Down Under to Australia.  Fear not, my beloved Europe, I've already planted the seed with my Dad that we should go to the UK in 2015, and I will probably try to finagle a trip to Berlin in there as well.

Until then, back to reality and rebuilding my empty vacation hours!

The MBA Project: Graduation

So, let's get the apology out of the way first.  I'm sorry for not writing any new updates in 2013 until 3/4ths of the way through it.  For two years I got away with using school as my excuse for not having time to do x, y, or z.

Well, that excuse is no longer valid because I, Maria, have successfully satisfied all requirements to earn my Master's of Business Administration!  Yay!!! Pop the champagne!  Actually, don't--I've spent enough money celebrating for two solid weeks in Europe.  More on that in the next post.

New Experiences

When I wrote last on New Years' Eve 2012, I was about 2/3rds of the way through the program and ready to take on my second Intersession, Spring, and Summer sessions.  I would say that most of your first year in business school is spent getting your bearings on the whole thing, especially if you're juggling school with work, family, social life, etc.  For me, the second year was where I really took off and not only started to synthesize everything that I had been learning over the course of the first year, but also started meeting more people at school--not just in my cohort, which was beginning to disperse as people accelerated or de-celerated their studies.

Exploring the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai
January was a particularly exciting time, as I was coming off of a great visit from my parents over the Christmas and New Year holiday, and going right into my very first trip to Asia as a student consultant in Shanghai, China.  There were about 24 graduate students on this trip, and we were divided into four teams that essentially became three.

I was on one of the two teams that were assigned to the same company; we started out as different projects and quickly merged into one Super Team of 13 people.  Anyone who has worked in groups before knows that having a project team of that size can be extremely difficult to manage, especially in an academic scenario where everyone is more or less on the same "level" and it can be easy for some members to get a bit, how shall I say...lost in the shuffle.  Somehow, we made it work.



We managed to pull off an excellent initial analysis of the small fashion trimmings and accessories company we worked for, which was very well received.  They were very hospitable, treating the entire group to several meals and giving us gifts in the traditional Chinese business custom.  I wish the company every success!
Walking from the metro station to the office

The team, advising professors, and client exec team after our final presentation.


When we weren't working--which was rare when the projects really kicked into high gear--we were eating, drinking, and exploring bits of the city.  For every moment of chaos, noise, and suffocating smog, there were even more adventures in culinary delights and a fascinating juxtaposition of East-West culture and commerce.  Look, China may be a communist country, but Shanghai is a very cosmopolitan, international city.  I must've hit a Starbucks at least 3 or 4 times (peach blossom latte, mmmmm), and my friends and I dined on everything from local dumplings to Japanese teppanyaki to fresh shucked oysters at an upscale bar run by one of my classmates' old high school friends.  Transportation was cheap, shopping plentiful, and in a city 10x the size of NYC, there is plenty to see.  I would definitely return someday, though perhaps not in the dead of winter...

This could be any given city, right?



The Beginning of the End

Because the school only holds one official commencement ceremony every year after the spring session, I decided to go ahead and walk in May.  (Going 3 months early is a lot more pragmatic to me than 9 months later.  Who knows where I'll even be by that point.)  
So, over Memorial Day Weekend, I suited up in the cap, gown, and regalia to go get my diploma-holder.  Most of my family was able to attend, for which I am very grateful!  

I was so swept up in the whole graduation  thing, in fact, that I hosted a neighborhood pub crawl the weekend before.  Which, if I may say so myself, was pretty epic.  Check out the "trailer" I made for the event!


THE End

After May, I had a solid 2 months' break from class, as both of the ones I had left to take where in the latter half of the summer session.  It was wonderful getting a preview of life would be like with a free and flexible schedule--including having the time to fly to Orlando to see one of my best friends get married without worrying about missing class or reading case studies on the plane--and it was also pretty awful to cram two three-credit courses into 5 weeks.  By the time I hit the classrooms again, I was raring to go.  Fortunately, I had had both of the professors before and enjoyed their teaching style and the subject matter.  There were some dark moments in that 6-days-a-week-on-campus period, and maaaaaybe I was finishing my final project over the course of a flight to Munich and still had to put the final touches on once I got to said destination...but in the end it all got done.

Last week I received the final confirmation from the MBA program's administrative director that I was all finished, and my diploma should arrive at my home in 6-8 weeks.

So there you have it.  Two solid years, 53 units, countless case studies and presentations, and invaluable experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.

What's Next?

I've gotten that question a few times now from family, friends, and even work colleagues.  The short answer is: I don't know.  I have ideas and options that I would like to explore in different areas of my life--personally and professionally--but until things are concrete, I'll probably keep the latter pretty close to the vest.  Even going back to school isn't off the table; I may consider doing a PhD eventually, but for now I'm just enjoying my freedom.

Thank you to all who have supported me in this crazy MBA Project!  Now to start working on the next one.