A Trip Across Ireland

This semester has been life changing and each city I’ve traveled to has been amazing in its own way, but I definitely saved the best for last! Ireland has always been a place that I’ve dreamed about going, who knew it would actually become a reality?

On Thursday, April 30th, we started our journey bright and early and went to the train station around 6:30am. We had good intentions and planned on taking a 7am train right to the Pisa airport to arrive early with time to go through security and everything, but it turns out we looked up the train times incorrectly. It all ended up working out anyways; we took a bus and got to the airport with more than enough time to catch our flight.

Thursday was a day full of traveling. After our hour long bus ride, we were on the plane to Dublin for three hours, then we took a taxi from the airport to the train station downtown. Our taxi driver was super friendly—he gave us suggestions on things to do and places to eat. Also, we were a little caught off guard at first because we didn’t realize the Irish drive on the opposite side of the road! We then had some lunch and got on a train to a town called Cork, which was about another two hours. After arriving in Cork, we took ANOTHER taxi to a castle, called the Blarney Castle.

The Blarney Castle is in the middle of a huge park with a creek, waterfalls, and all kinds of different paths—it was beautiful. We climbed the castle to the top where we reached the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a famous stone of the castle that is said to give those who kiss it “mystical eloquence.” So we had to kiss it, of course! A man was there to help us from falling, because it was very high up and we had to lay back and bend far to kiss it.

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After we kissed the stone, we walked around the park a little more and then headed back to Cork for dinner. We took yet another form of transportation—a bus—to downtown. We didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we wandered for a little to find a place where we could get a quick meal before our train ride back to Dublin. We found a pub that had amazing barbeque! I got a sandwich with pork belly, coleslaw, pickles, and BBQ mayo. It was extremely messy but one of the best BBQ sandwiches I’ve ever had.

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Then, back to Dublin we went! Our train left just after 8pm and we arrived in Dublin around 11pm. Needless to say, we slept the majority of the trip. Traveling really tires you out!

The next morning, we met in the lobby around 9:30am for a walking tour of Dublin. I’m not much of a city person, but I absolutely loved Dublin! It was such an adorable and beautiful city, with pubs on every corner, a river, castles, and churches. Plus, the people are the nicest I’ve met while traveling!

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Our tour guide, Carl, filled us in about the culture and history of Dublin. The first thing he told us was that Irish people like to talk, and he was certainly right! He talked and talked about Dublin for probably a solid fifteen minutes, but it was all very interesting. As we had already noticed, the Irish are very sociable and friendly. In addition, they like to do things in excessive amounts. For example, they are one of the top three consumers in the world of tea, chocolate, potato chips, and beer. Even when speaking, they are excessive. If someone asks a question and they want to reply with yes, they’ll say something along the lines of “yeah, yeah, yeah…” When saying welcome, too, they say “céad míle fáilte,” meaning a hundred thousand welcomes.

Carl taught us some Irish words, but then told us that only about 3% of the population still speak the Irish language regularly. He shared with us a lot of history related to the English being in control of the Irish, and apparently at one point it was made illegal to speak Irish.

He started telling us history starting in 600 BC, when people from France visited and brought many Celtic traditions. Then, around 385 AD, Romans came to Ireland. They disliked the wet and cold weather, so decided not to stay and conquer the Irish, but they did bring Christianity, roads, and aqueducts with them. He went on to tell us the story of St. Patrick, as well as the reasoning for the symbol of the shamrock—the leaves were used to explain Christianity and God in three persons (father, son, and holy spirit).

Then we learned about Vikings coming and taking over, and then the constant fighting between the Irish and English. A little later—in the 1800s—there was the Great Famine, also known as the Potato Famine. Potatoes were one of the Irish’s main sources of food, so when a crop failure occurred the country really suffered. Carl told us SO much more, but enough history, more about our walking tour!

We started at the Dublin Castle, which was built in 1204 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1684. The new part of the castle is definitely a lot more modern, but there’s still a tower from the original building. The castle is often used for ceremonial purposes, in which John F. Kennedy, Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II have all been there. He told us a story about Queen Elizabeth coming and how it was a huge deal because it was the first time someone from the British Monarchy had come to Ireland since it had gotten its independence from England. Apparently the Queen started her speech by speaking Irish, and it really meant a lot to the Irish.

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Another fun fact! The colors of the Irish flag actually has a significant meaning.  The green represents the Catholic religion, the orange Protestant, and the white is the peace between them. When the English controlled the Irish, King Henry VIII had created the Protestant religion and the countries suffered over 500 years of religious wars.

Anyways, after the castle we walked around the side of it to gardens. There’s a little brick path running through the grass of the garden that really looked like nothing, but from a bird’s eye view it shows a Celtic knot. From here we could see a side view of the Dublin castle, which showed a transgression of different styles of architecture from the left to the right.

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As we were standing in the gardens, our talkative tour guide shared some more fun information with us. He explained an interesting Irish word to us—“craic”—which means fun or good times and is pronounced the same as “crack”. He told us a story about how he was once standing outside a pub with friends and they were talking with a few girls. Apparently the conversation was going well and he wanted to invite them to come inside and hang out some more and he said to them, “want to come inside? The craic here is great.” But the girls were American and didn’t understand what he was trying to say, they thought he meant drugs and they immediately left—ha ha! There’s also another saying that “the craic is 90” which is referring to the year 1990 when they went to the World Cup. Apparently one time some tourists thought this meant a percentage, so when asked one night what the craic is they said “eh.. I think it’s about 72,” and now this is another joke that the Irish laugh about.

We continued to walk throughout the city of Dublin for a while longer. We stopped at a set of stairs where apparently the main character in the movie P.S. I Love You ran down, so that was cool. Then we went to the Christ Church of Dublin. This church was once a Catholic cathedral, then got changed to a Protestant church. It was used as a meeting and market place, but then like everything else, the Irish got a little excessive with it. Like any other area of the city, they thought that the church needed a pub, so that’s what they did! They put a pub inside, then a whiskey distillery in the basement, then it all went downhill from there. Apparently at one point they felt bad because there were prostitutes outside in the cold, so they even let them inside the church! After all the crime and craziness, the people eventually cleaned up the church and rebuilt many parts of it.

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It was chilly outside, so we stopped at a cute little café and got some hot drinks—I got tea! Apparently U2 got their first record deal in a theatre right by the café. The singer, Bono, was once turned away by a hotel on the same road because he didn’t fit the appearance they wanted as a customer, and he told them that he’d make it big someday and buy their hotel. Funny thing is, they laughed in his face, but he actually ended up doing what he said he would! He also owns a pub in Dublin and occasionally visits, but we didn’t see him.

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From there, we headed across town to Trinity College, which is the oldest in the country and can be compared to Harvard or Yale. This university was ranked 61 out of the top 100 in the world and has about 16,000 students. It’s very famous for its literature program and many known writers and poets have studied there, such as Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, Oscar Wilde, and the author of Dracula. There’s even a room so amazing there that the director of Star Wars Episode 2 wanted to film a scene in it, but they denied him and he ended up just recreating it. It was really such a beautiful campus!

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Afterwards we headed towards the restaurant where we ate lunch, but we first stopped at a statue and Carl talked just a little more. The statue was of a woman named Molly Malone who was a fishmonger and would walk through the streets selling her seafood. She died young with a fever but her ghost would still haunt the streets of Dublin. There’s an entire song about her that Carl taught us and we all linked arms, swayed, and sang it together. Also, it is said that she was a prostitute by night, which was made obvious by how low her shirt hung. Apparently by grabbing her left breast, you’ll receive good luck or something like that. Being us, we just had to go along with it and do it—it was pretty funny!

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Then, lunch! We went to a place called O’Neill’s. It wasn’t like most restaurants where a waiter brings you your food—we had to go up to a counter and tell them what we want and workers stood at a little buffet and assembled our plates for us. I got the Irish stew, which came with lamb, carrots, potatoes… and even more potatoes. We had the option to get as many other sides we wanted, so I topped it with some cabbage and green beans too! So delicious and filling!

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You’d think we’d be done with our day by now, but nope, we still had an entire tour of the Guinness storehouse! This was definitely my favorite part of the day. The building was extraordinary—it was huge and the whole thing is actually shaped like a Guinness glass. There were seven floors and each was a little different. The first floor was the lobby and gift shop, then the second floor was all about the ingredients of Guinness beer. There were signs and writing throughout the walk teaching us about the four natural ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water. There was a big sandbox-type thing filled with barley; lining the walls were glass cases with vines of hops; and there was a massive waterfall in the middle of the room.

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Then, on to the third floor, which was all about the brewing process! There was a ton of information about how the ingredients are processed to make the final product. It’s a long process that I’m not going to write all about, but it really was interesting to learn about because I had no clue how beer was made.

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Up the escalator we went to the fourth floor—the tasting experience! On this floor we were taught how to fully appreciate a Guinness when drinking it. We went into a room that had these pillar things with steam coming out, each with a scent of a different beer. Then we went into a different room where a very entertaining man instructed us on how to properly enjoy the beer. We were supposed to use all our senses and really get the full effect.

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After the tasting room, we headed to the next floor. This floor caught my interest because it was all about the advertising of Guinness. I’m a Communications/Marketing/PR student, so I really do enjoy this type of stuff. They had different advertisements, a photo booth where we could put our head onto a person in an ad, and a huge screen showing commercials.

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Then we headed to the sixth floor—which was the best so far! This floor hosted the Guinness Academy. When first coming to the Guinness Storehouse, we were given a ticket for one free pint of Guinness. We could either use this ticket at the Guinness Academy and pour our own or wait for the top floor which was a bar. We chose to pour our own of course! The Guinness Academy room was very cool. There were four small bar areas and we were taken in a small group to one of them, where we learned the method for pouring the beer. We each took our turn, got a group picture together, then got to take our beer with us along with a certificate that said we had successfully crafted the perfect pint of Guinness.

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The last floor we went to was the Gravity Bar, which was on the very top floor. It was a huge bar with a 360 degree view of the city of Dublin and we went up there and enjoyed our pints.

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The tour of the Guinness Storehouse exceeded my expectations! And who knew I actually really liked Guinness. Before leaving, we spent a little while in the gift shop, then headed back to the hostel.

That night we went out on a pub crawl. We went to three different pubs around Dublin which were definitely what I would expect from an Irish pub. Then we headed back to the hostel because we had to be up VERY early the next morning for a trip across the country.

Although I loved Dublin, Saturday was probably my favorite day—we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher. We left Dublin by bus before 7am and headed for the cliffs, which are on the left coast of Ireland. We were up so early that the hostel was nice enough to pack us a little breakfast to have on the bus! The bus ride was a little over three hours and between the movie on the bus and the sheep and cows in the fields we drove by, I was pretty content.

When we got there we walked just a little up the hill and all of a sudden the cliffs were right in front of us. I was kind of speechless—it was even more beautiful that I had expected. Just cliffs as far as you could see, with green grass and stone and water. I really can’t even describe it… it was just so beautiful! We walked along the coast one way for a long time and enjoyed the view, then walked back and went the other way. It was a little chilly and super windy, but that wasn’t stopping us from enjoying the cliffs the whole time. After about an hour or so, we headed inside the little gift shop and café they had, got a tea, then headed out to the bus again.

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Next, we went to a town called Galway. We got lunch at a place called McDonagh’s, which is known for its fish and chips. I got a seafood chowder with a side of chips (fries). It was so delicious!

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Then we spent the rest of the time walking around and doing some shopping. Galway really is such a cute little town! I could have spent a lot more time there.

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Ireland is known for a piece of jewelry called the Claddagh ring, which is a heart in the middle of two hands with a crown on top representing love, loyalty, and friendship. We went to a little jewelry store and each of us got ourselves one! The way you wear the ring tells what your relationship status is. If you wear it on the right hand with the heart facing out, it means you’re single and looking for love; on the right hand with the heart facing in, you’re in a relationship; on the left hand with the heart facing out, you’re engaged; and on the left hand with the heart facing in, you’re married. There were some really fancy and extravagant rings, but I just got a simple one!

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After a few hours we got back on the bus and headed for our hostel in Dublin. That night a big group of us went out to a bar called Whelan—it was actually a pub where they filmed the movie P.S. I Love You! There was live music and it was a good way to end our trip to Ireland.

The next morning we got up, had some breakfast, and then headed to the airport to go back to Florence. Ireland is definitely one of my favorite cities, and I hope to be able to visit again someday!

A Weekend in the Alps

After finding out that I’d be studying abroad this semester, I had a select few places in mind that I just HAD to go to. One of those places was Switzerland and I got to travel there about two weeks ago. There’s just so much to say about this amazing country, I’m not sure if I could even put it into words.

We went with a tour group called Bus2Alps and left on a bus at 9pm on Thursday, April 23rd for Interlaken, Switzerland. As you can tell by the name, Interlaken is a little town between two lakes—Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. It was an overnight bus ride that lasted about eight hours. We got to our hostel around 5am and went right to sleep, because my friend Shannon and I scheduled paragliding for 8:30 in the morning.

We were exhausted the next morning, but paragliding was beyond amazing. A van picked us up and drove us on a windy road up the mountain. I was nervous and excited at the same time, and it ended up being much easier than I had expected! They strapped us into the harness and we just ran down a little hill until we were in the air. The weather was great—there were barely any clouds and we could clearly see the entire city of Interlaken as well as one of the lakes. We were up there for about ten to fifteen minutes, but it went by so fast and before I knew it I was landing. I could’ve gone for hours!

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After paragliding, we walked a little while through downtown Interlaken. It isn’t a very big town, but there’s all kinds of cute shops and restaurants. We signed up for a tour that was all about the food and culture of Switzerland, and that started a little bit later in the day. We met our tour guide and headed for a little Swiss farm! Our guide, Viktor, told us that we were going to the “country,” so we hopped on a bus and I was expecting at least a ten minute ride. After not even two minutes we got back off, took a short walk, and we were there. It was kind of hilarious how small the town actually was!

At the farm, we met some cows, fed them grass, and tasted some fresh milk. Viktor bought milk at the grocery store and had us do a little taste test blindfolded to see if we could tell the difference between fresh and store bought. There were a lot of cute baby cows! Some even less than three weeks old. We then went into the farmer’s cheese cellar and tasted some delicious homemade cheese! Viktor taught us about how cheese is made and that it’s “massaged” with different ingredients such as spices and apple cider, which gives it its distinct flavor.

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After the farm we headed for a woodcarver’s shop. The woodcarver, Gabriella, was in the middle of working on a project. She has been carving different materials for 25 years—including snow, ice, and wood. She actually was an ice carver in Texas in 1960! We learned all about different types of objects made from wood and different themes she likes to go for. For example, she does more traditional objects such as animals for gifts, but when she has free time and is feeling more creative she carves abstract objects such as crazy masks. She emphasized the importance of being passionate and loving one’s work, and putting effort into quality products like she does.

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Next on the tour, we went to a chocolate store called the Funky Chocolate Club that had actually opened less than a year ago. The two entrepreneurs have a huge selection of different types of chocolate and they also teach classes on chocolate making. When we first arrived, one of the owners—Michaela—gave us a cup of hot chocolate. It was incredibly rich and delicious! You could really tell it wasn’t from a packet. Then we went to the back where we sampled chocolate and learned more about chocolate making and the company.

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Last on our tour, we went right down the street to a shop called Chäs Fritz, which sells cheese, wine, and other homemade Swiss specialties. It was a beautiful day, so we stayed outside and they brought us a cart with a whole tray full of different cheeses, along with bread and a fig relish that was both spicy and sweet! We had two soft cheeses, one similar to parmesan, a Swiss cheese, and a gorgonzola. Viktor told us how each cheese is different, and would point to different tops of mountains and say “this cheese is made by the people who live there!” It was amazing how local all the products were.

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I truly enjoyed the food and culture tour. I’m a lover of all things food, so I was definitely enjoying all the samples, as well as the information about Switzerland. There were only three of us on the tour, so we were able to be very personable with each other and we really had a good time.

On the tour, we asked Viktor about food suggestions for dinner that night. I’m all about truly experiencing a culture, and that always includes food! He gave us a restaurant to go to called Restaurant Bären, which means bear, and suggested a dish called Rösti. It contains mostly potatoes, which they fry in a pan and then add different ingredients such as vegetables or meat. I got the Hawaiin version, which came with ham, pineapple, and cheese. After dinner, we headed for bed. We were exhausted from a long day full of paragliding, walking around, and eating.

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On Saturday we did a little traveling through Switzerland! We took a short train ride to a town about 15 minutes away called Lauterbrunnen. The train ride through the mountains and countryside was absolutely beautiful. Once we arrived, we took a bus ride a short ways to the Trümmelbach Falls, which consists of ten waterfalls inside of a mountain. We walked through caves and up many stairs and saw different waterfalls along the way, which are the only glacier-waterfalls in Europe inside a mountain that are still accessible.

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We wandered around and spent awhile at the falls, then walked a short ways down the road to a bus stop to head back to the train station. The bus doesn’t run that often, so we waited for a little while, but I wasn’t complaining. We were surrounded by mountains and I just stood there in awe of how beautiful it was. It was the cutest little area around the bus stop, with wooden houses, kids playing, and people working outside. Only every once in a while did a car drive by. It was so quiet and peaceful.

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After taking the train back to Interlaken, we stopped at the hostel to change and freshen up, then took another bus to Lake Thun. There was barely anyone around where the bus dropped us off and it was an amazing view of the lake and surrounding mountains.

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After spending a little time there and taking in the view, we went to the bus stop to go back to Interlaken. We were pretty good at figuring out the bus system… or at least we thought we were. The bus route was a straight line, so we figured once it reached the end it would head back the other way, so we got on it the opposite direction and hoped to ride it until the end of the route and then head back the other way. When we reached the final stop, everyone got off and we were confused, so we asked the bus driver if the bus went back the other way. The next bus to Interlaken wasn’t for another hour and we were in a town about an hour away from Interlaken. Oops!

We spent our time there getting a snack and trying to find Wi-Fi, because we were supposed to meet a friend for dinner and had to tell her we couldn’t make it. We found Wi-Fi, got in contact with her, then got on the right bus back to town. Once we got there, we just happened to run into her while walking back to the hostel and it all worked out anyways. We all headed to dinner and got another Swiss traditional food—Fondue! Then right to the hostel and to bed we went, because we were tired from another long day.

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Sunday we got on the bus around 9am and headed back to Italy. We took a stop in a town called Como, Italy, which has a huge lake. Apparently George Clooney has a house there! When we arrived, it was pouring down rain, but still beautiful. We walked to a little café and got a coffee, and luckily by the time we were done it had stopped raining. We walked around just a little, then got back on the bus to Florence.

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The bus pulled into Florence around 6pm, apparently one of the earliest times this trip has ever gotten back! We were exhausted for sure, but it was worth it completely. Switzerland had always been a place that I hoped to travel to, and it really exceeded all my expectations!

A Day in Perugia

As much as I’ve traveled throughout Europe, Italy still continues to be my favorite country and will always have a special place in my heart. During my semester studying in Florence, I’ve traveled to the Italian cities Lucca, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, Monteriggioni, Milan, Greve, Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, Como, and Perugia. Each city is unique and amazing in its own way, and I fall even more in love with Italy after every trip I take.

Kent State has taken us on multiple field trips throughout the semester, and Perugia was included in these trips. On the morning of Friday, April 17, we took a bus through the hills of Tuscany and reached Perugia, a town in the Umbria region. We took the city’s public transportation system—called the Minimetrò—up the hill to reach the city center. The Minimetrò is made up of small vehicles attached to a rail, contains seven stops, and is one of the first of this sustainable transportation alternative. It was really a cool experience!

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After arriving in the city center of Perugia, we took a short walking tour. First we came to a random glass circle in the ground, which anyone could just walk past if they’re not paying attention. While peering through this glass, our professor told us about the underground fortress that used to exist in Perugia. In the 1500’s the Pope wanted to enforce a tax on salt, which would have a huge impact because salt was used widely, especially to preserve food because of the lack of refrigeration. As a result of this, there was a war called the War of the Salt. The Pope ended up winning, conquering Perugia, and building this entire fortress underground to protect himself from the citizens.

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We then walked through Perugia more and ended in the main square, Piazza IV Novembre. Its name comes from the date of the end of World War I—November 4, 1918. This square has a use similar to the Roman Forum, where everyday business would take place, and in the middle of the piazza sits the Fontana Maggiore (major fountain). The Fontana Maggiore is the oldest medieval fountain in Italy and contains all original parts, but has been restored multiple times. A fountain was built in a main square like this to symbolize the fact that the city has been successful and was able to move water through aqueducts into the city center.

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Throughout Perugia, the symbol of the griffin could be seen everywhere. The griffin is a mix between a lion and an eagle, in which a lion represents strength and power and an eagle represents bravery, freedom, and prestigiousness. Griffins lined the entrance of a thirteenth century building, Palazzo de Priori, which now holds the National Gallery of Umbria.

PICTURE 5Of course we had to get a view of the city of Perugia, so we took a short walk up a hill and an amazing landscape was right before our eyes.

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After our walking tour, we all went to lunch at a restaurant called Osteria A Priori, where we had a typical Italian meal consisting of bread with different chesses, honey, and jam; pasta; meat with potatoes; and an espresso. It was incredibly delicious!

PICTURE 7Then back down the hill on the Minimetrò we went in order to catch the bus and head to Perugina, an Italian chocolate factory that is now partnered with Nestlé. I’m a huge chocolate fanatic, so this was heaven for me! We first took a tour through the museum and learned all about how different types of chocolate are produced and the history of the company. One of the main chocolates sold by Perugina is the Baci Kiss, and it was hard to miss the giant one in the museum. This was a replica of an actual 5,980 kilogram (13,184 pound) kiss created in 2003 for the annual chocolate festival in Perugia. The kiss received a Guinness World Record and took over 1,000 hours to create. It was then distributed to people at the festival for free and finished in less than four hours.

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After the museum, we arrived in a room where we tried MANY samples. When I say many, I mean our whole group had about ten different types of chocolate, including dark, milk, white, orange filled, banana filled, mint, and Kit-Kats. Needless to say, we had a little bit of a stomach ache afterwards, but it was all so good! The guide then took us through the actual factory, where we could see the chocolate being made and packaged. The behind the scenes of this production was very neat to see, but we weren’t able to take photos.

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After spending a little time in the gift shop, we headed back to the bus for one more stop—Brunello Cucinelli. Brunello Cucinelli is a high-end fashion company that produces quality products, a lot of them being cashmere. What’s interesting about this business is not as much the clothing itself, but the overall environment. The store and offices for the workers are located in their own village in Solomeo, just outside the town of Perugia. This village is beyond beautiful, with quaint little buildings and a view of the hills of Umbria. It was extremely quiet and peaceful, who wouldn’t want to work there? Besides the offices and store, there is a theatre in the village that is used mainly by the workers. All of the clothing was way out of the price range of us college students, but it was interesting to see a business that is focused on Italian values such as quality and respect for employees.

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Brunello Cucinelli was our last stop of the day, then back to Florence we went! Italy continues to amaze me. There’s no doubt that I’ll miss the food, atmosphere, beauty, and so much more when I go back home in a couple weeks, but I’ve tried to take in as much as I can while being here. Perugia was just another example of how this country is truly incredible.

(This post was also published on Flo’n the Go at http://www.flonthego.com/2015/lifestyle/04-23/a-day-in-Perugia/)

Milano: The City of Many Talents

Before coming to Italy, I really knew nothing at all about the city of Milan. I was familiar with cities such as Rome and Venice of course, but I couldn’t tell you much about Milan. After visiting this city, I’m actually highly impressed by all that it has to offer.

I visited Milan on a trip through the school and unlike other trips, we only spent Thursday and Friday in the city. We left Thursday morning and arrived around 11AM in the HUGE and beautiful Milan train station.

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We took the subway to the part of the city our hotel was at, dropped our bags off, then headed out for a tour. After getting back on the subway for a few stops, we got off and walked up the stairs to see this:

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Yeah, pretty breathtaking. This is the Duomo of Milan, which is a cathedral. We stopped and appreciated this amazing church for a few minutes, walked around a little, then had a break to eat lunch. We did a little shopping of course, because Milan is one of the world’s centers of fashion!

After the break, we headed into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the world’s largest shopping malls. It’s a little hard to describe—it’s kind of outside, because you just walk right into it, but it’s also covered and makes you feel like you’re inside. It is built with iron and glass, and is a modern structure that connects the traditional Duomo area with the Teatro alla Scala plaza, which we visited next!

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We met a guide at the front of the opera house, then went inside! The Teatro alla Scala is one of the most known culture institutions in Italy. There are seats just like many theatres in America, but the walls are entirely covered in separate theatre boxes. Apparently in the past, the boxes were private for wealthy families who would decorate them and use them as a social place to play cards, gamble, hang out, and even cook. We actually got to go into one of these boxes and see into the theatre where they were rehearsing for an opera called Carmen. Very cool!

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After touring the theatre a little, we went through a museum they have attached to it. We saw many interesting pieces of art, artifacts, costumes, and more.

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From the theatre, we actually walked back to the Duomo and went inside! We weren’t allowed to take photos, but believe me, it was beautiful! From there, we walked through the city on a street only for pedestrians. We saw the chamber of commerce, stopped and got some gelato, then headed for Castello Sforzesco.

Castello Sforzesco is an amazing castle just a little ways away from the Duomo area. It was a fortress and private residence for the Sforza family (a man named Francesco Sforza was a duke of Milan). The castle now holds museums, but used to be like a little small town. We walked through many different gates and into several little sections of the fortress. The guide even showed us a staircase up to the family’s living area and said that they would ride a horse to get up the stairs!  It really looked like what I think of when people talk about castles—many walls, a gate that used to have a drawbridge, towers, and more.

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After the castle, we walked awhile and reached a really cool sculpture. It was a giant needle with thread in three different colors, which used to be the three colors of the metro system (it now has five). The knot of the thread was on the other side of the road and made it look like it ran underground—very cool! This was made to represent the impact Milan has in the fashion industry.

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The tour was over and then we had free time for the rest of the day. One of our professors, Francesca, went shopping with a group of us girls. There were stores EVERYWHERE, and I ended up only buying one shirt all weekend. I was pretty proud of myself! Then we went back to the hotel to change and headed out for dinner. The area around our hotel was a little dead, so we hopped on the subway and went to an area of town with a lot of restaurants and bars. My friend Shannon and I split a calzone and risotto with zucchini and shrimp. It was delicious!

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Friday was a super busy day in Milan. We started off with a tour of the luxury fashion district, which is mainly on a street called Via Monte Napoleone. It’s comparable to Fifth Avenue in New York City. They had every store imaginable, such as Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. I’m not a big fan of high fashion, but it was neat to see all the fancy stores. Some brands had an entire four or five floor building all for their store!

Next, we walked through town and passed some really neat places. First we stopped to look at the courtyard of a university called Accademia di Brera. If you read my post about Rome, remember the set designer we met–Lorenzo Baraldi? He actually went to school there! We saw an awesome terrace garden on our walk too, which Milano is also known for.

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Then we arrived at the office for Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s newspapers. It is actually the oldest, starting in 1876. We talked to staff of the newspaper, watched a video of its history and everyday operations, and then talked with a journalist. He actually studied in New York City for a little while and he had a lot to share about the field of journalism. We asked many questions and then got to tour the facility.

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The last tour of the day was a little while away—we had to take the metro—and it was the headquarters for Pirelli, a rubber and tire company. I didn’t really think much when I was told we were going here, but then once we arrived and I saw the logo I realized how often I see this brand in the United States!

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Pirelli started out as a cable company (like telephone and electric cables), started making other rubber items like tires, rain boots, and floor mats, then in 1980 only continued the production of tires and nothing else. First we went into a room with archives of all sorts of documents and graphic design work, where the guide showed us some old advertisements.

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We then went into a room with a really awesome mosaic on the wall, made to represent the evolution of science and technology from the past to present.

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The next room we went into had advertisements, items, and photos everywhere. Even on the floors! They also had a touch screen computer where you could choose an advertisement and then print it—it was the size of a 5×7 photo and we could take it with us.

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Lastly, we went to a separate building that held the majority of the offices for the employees. It wasn’t like any office building—it had a giant pillar in the middle of a room surrounded by windows of offices. The pillar actually used to be a cooling tower for the rubber, but now holds an auditorium.

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After Pirelli, it was time to head back to Florence! I really didn’t know what to expect with Milan, but I was impressed by all the talent represented in this one city. We saw some amazing architecture, went into an opera house, found high fashion around every corner, learned about an Italian newspaper, and toured a multinational company. It might not have been my favorite city, but I was far from unimpressed!

Venezia: Take Two

Being that Venice has been one of my favorite cities, I was very excited that I got the chance to go again last weekend! This time I went with the school, so it was even better to experience it with all my friends and classmates.

First off, some fun facts about Venice! The city is actually made up of over 100 islands and each time you cross a bridge you reach another. When building the city, they used wooden foundations to hold all the buildings up. They cut down trees from neighboring countries, sharpened them, and stuck them in the soft soil of the land to make a base for buildings. Because of the unevenness of the land, the majority of the buildings are actually leaning.

Anyways, we were in Venice from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon—the train left Florence around 9am and arrived in Venice a little after 11am. Immediately after walking out of the train station, I saw the water and beautiful bridges of Venice and I got excited all over again!

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The group of us walked (a very long time) to find our hotel. As you can probably guess, the water everywhere, as well as the very small alleyways, makes it difficult to walk around, so we wandered for a little while. When we finally found our hotel, we took all our luggage to our rooms, freshened up, and headed out for lunch.

First we crossed the Ponte dell’Accademia (Academia Bridge), which gives an amazing view of the Grand Canal, then walked awhile until we found a nice little plaza. It was such a beautiful day, so we sat outside and had a long lunch while we enjoyed the sun.

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After lunch we met back at the hotel and then went to the Guggenheim Museum, which has art belonging to Peggy Guggenheim, who was a wealthy American art collector. The art at the museum was more modern and I thought it was neat, but I wasn’t all that interested. We saw some paintings by famous artists though, like Picasso and Jackson Pollack.

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By the time we were done it was about 4pm and we had the rest of the day to ourselves! A group of us walked around for a while—we actually went back to the bridge because it was right by our hotel and listened to people play music while we enjoyed the view. We then went back to our hotel and got ready for dinner.

Eight of us walked just a few streets over and found a restaurant called Ristorante San Trovaso, and I ordered a seafood pasta! I was beyond impressed by the pasta—it was spaghetti with some kind of light spicy sauce, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and octopi. My one roommate Kaitlin ordered the same meal and was super grossed out because the shrimp still had heads and the little octopi had legs. I peeled all her shrimp for her and ate her octopi! She wasn’t a fan, but this was definitely my favorite meal while I’ve been abroad so far.

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Saturday morning we had some hotel breakfast, which in Italy consists of mainly coffee and croissants, then headed out for tours. We started at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which is one of the greatest churches in Venice. The church is a major Franciscan church, which is one of the largest religious orders in the Catholic Church. Rocky, an art history professor with Kent State, told us all about the meanings of paintings, statues, and the church itself. The church was definitely different from many we’ve seen in Florence—it was more of a Gothic style and they don’t have many frescoes (paintings on the ceiling and walls) because of the humidity in the city.

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After the church, we went to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. A scuola is kind of like a Knights of Columbus in America, where men who couldn’t serve in government had a place to direct their attention. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but it was just as extravagant as the church.

Then we went to the Gallerie dell’Accademia, a huge museum of art established in 1750. Instead of how we share stories today, like on social media, they told stories through paintings. It was interesting to hear the stories behind different art.

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After the gallery we got ourselves some sandwiches and gelato, then explored the city. We walked up the water from our hotel until we couldn’t walk any further, and it was beautiful of course. Then my roommates and I got some wine, found a nice spot by the water, and watched the sunset together.

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On Sunday we met bright and early in the lobby and headed for Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). First we went to Palazzo Ducale, which is like the senate for the republic of Venice with 1,000 members representing different counties. We walked through different rooms, like one for the major council, one full of old weapons and inventions, and even a prison in the basement.

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We then went into Saint Mark’s Basilica. It took a little while to walk up the narrow, steep stairway, but once we got to the top it was breathtaking. Mass was going on so we could only stand towards the back, but the entire ceiling was covered in gold mosaic. So many small pieces covering the entire room—it was amazing. We went through doors onto a lookout that gave a view of the entire square, which was also amazing.

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After the church, we had more free time before we had to catch the train. We walked along the water, found the famous Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge), and just wandered around shopping and exploring. My one roommate and I then got sandwiches and sat by the water, while other people rode a gondola (I’m waiting until my family comes to ride one).

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Before we went to the train station, one of the Kent State staff members treated us all to a delicious gelato, then back to Florence we went! You’d think visiting the same city multiple times would get boring, but I can’t wait to visit Venice again when my family comes in a little over a week!

Quando a Roma…

(When in Rome…)

Kent State takes us on four field trips during our study abroad time in Florence: Rome, Venice, Milan, and Perugia. This past weekend we went to Rome and it was AMAZING. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay as much attention in history class in high school as I wish I would have, so I was never really that interested in history, but this all completely changed on this Rome trip. I was at the front of the tour almost the whole time and I was so fascinated by everything! We spent Thursday through Sunday there, so it was a very long weekend packed with a lot of activities. I’m going to go day by day and hopefully cover all that we did.

Day One:

Thursday morning bright and early we got on a train and headed for Rome. The ride was only about an hour and a half and when we arrived we then got on a bus that took us to our hotel. Of course the room I’m staying in is never ready, but I freshened up in another student’s room and we were able to leave our suitcases there when we headed out.

The director of the Communication program at Kent State Florence and one of my professors, Fabio, lives in Rome and was our personal tour guide the first day. Another professor of ours, Francesca, joined us later in the day, too! The professors and staff at Kent State Florence are seriously the best. They’re more like friends and they really care about our experience here!

Anyways, Fabio took us on a walking tour of the city. He wanted us to see places that we wouldn’t see with the rest of the Kent State students who came on Friday. He first took us to Capitoline Hill (and he treated us all to a coffee on the way). There are seven hills in Rome and Capitoline Hill is the smallest but most important! It was designed by Michelangelo and today it has museums and a beautiful square. 2015-02-19 11.39.28 We then took a short walk to the edge of the hill to a lookout over the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), which was beautiful! The Roman Forum is made up of ancient ruins of old buildings, such as temples and government buildings. 2015-02-19 11.51.59 From there we visited the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), which also goes by the name “Wedding Cake” or “Typewriter.” You can basically see this building from any spot in Rome—it’s huge and up on a hill. Funny thing is, apparently people take more pictures of this than the Colosseum, but the Romans hate this building because the construction destroyed a huge portion of Capitoline Hill and reminds them of bad government in the past. 2015-02-19 12.20.51 We then had some lunch (I had an awesome calzone with spinach and ricotta) and then off to Cinecittá Studios we went! Cinecittá is like the Hollywood of Italy. It’s made up of studios and sets for many famous Italian movies as well as international productions, such as The Passion of the Christ and the TV series Gangs of New York. We saw the inside of an empty studio and many outside sets that looked completely real but were made out of styrofoam and fiber glass on wood scaffolding. 2015-02-19 14.01.532015-02-19 14.24.492015-02-19 14.25.59 At the end of our Cinecittá tour, we met a set designer named Lorenzo Baraldi who talked to us for about an hour about the movie business, which was really cool! 2015-02-19 16.08.20 We left Cinecittá and headed up a hill to Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges). We got there just as the sun was setting and it was unbelievably beautiful. Orange trees lined the paths of the garden, with one big path leading to a lookout of the entire city. Fabio told us that the oranges are very sour, but of course some students had to try them anyways. We had just walked all day and saw so many parts of Rome; this lookout with the sunset was a perfect, relaxing way to end our day. 2015-02-19 18.00.55 2015-02-19 17.42.41 Of course we weren’t completely done yet, though. Can’t forget about dinner! Fabio took all 18 of us to a little restaurant across the river called Carlo Menta. We had a typical Italian multi-course meal of bruschetta, pasta, veal, and cake. When we asked what the cake was all the waitress said was: “It’s a surprise!” It ended up being some kind of citrus cake and it was delicious of course. We were all exhausted from our long day, so we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day Two:

Fabio and Francesca didn’t stay the entire weekend with us, but they were still in Rome Friday morning, so before our tour with the other students they took us communication students on a little morning tour.

First thing we did was go to a market in a square called Campo de’ Fiori which means field of flowers. There were flowers of course, along with fresh produce, dried fruit, spices, pasta, wine, and a lot of other random little items. 2015-02-20 10.00.592015-02-20 10.21.46 We left there and went to another square called Piazza Navona. The sun was shining and there were musicians playing fun music, fountains running, and happy people everywhere. It was a wonderful start to our day! 2015-02-20 10.47.172015-02-20 10.48.35 Other non-communication students came to Rome Friday morning, so after our time with Fabio and Francesca we met them at our hotel and spent the rest of our day on a tour of ancient Rome with another professor from our school, Laura, who teaches a class called Roman Achievement.

First, we visited the Pantheon! Which was right down from our hotel actually. Pantheon literally means “to all gods” and was a temple that has now been transformed into a church. The thing that interested me most was the structure of this building. It’s one of the best preserved buildings in Rome and the dome was built so perfectly so it stays intact, with an open hole in the middle of it called the oculus (eye)—so when it rains it comes into the building! It’s the largest unsupported dome in the world. It took only seven years to build and it was made so that a perfect sphere (height and width both of 142 feet) could fit inside the building. Sorry for getting all nerdy, I just thought it was so amazing how they built such a complex building thousands of years ago. 2015-02-20 11.13.20 2015-02-20 11.58.25 After the Pantheon, we walked past the Altar of Fatherland again, and headed to the Colosseum!!! Can you tell how excited I am? I thought it would be awesome and it even exceeded my expectations. I’m sure you’re probably aware of what the Colosseum was used for—it was an amphitheater (the largest in the world) where the Romans hosted fights between wild animals and gladiators. Just standing in this amazing structure was somewhat memorizing. I took a few pictures, but then I just stood there for a while soaking it all in. It’s definitely a place I would recommend anyone to go if they have the opportunity. 2015-02-20 12.36.48 2015-02-20 13.08.01 We had free time to explore the Colosseum some more and to get lunch. We then met our tour guide at the Roman Forum. We saw the Roman Forum from Capitoline Hill on Thursday, but Friday we actually went down into the ruins. We learned so much about the Forum—it was the most important meeting place in Rome—and now there are only pieces of buildings that used to be highly important. We walked around for a while, then headed up the hill to a terrace that gave another amazing lookout of Rome and the Forum. 2015-02-20 14.48.06 2015-02-20 15.35.52 As I was standing on the terrace, this lady beside me was looking at a book that caught my attention. It had cut-outs of the Roman buildings in the past and then she would flip the page over and it showed what it looks like now as ruins. I obviously asked her where she got it from—it’s so neat to see what the ruins used to look like as actual standing buildings!

We then had the rest of the day to ourselves! A few of us wandered around the city for a while, then went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We went back to the same square as the market that morning and found a little restaurant. I got spinach ravioli and it was delicious!

Day Three:

Saturday was spent mainly at the Vatican City! The walk there itself was beautiful—we walked by a huge fort and across the river. 2015-02-21 09.43.24 2015-02-21 09.45.45 We met another professor from Kent State Florence, Rocky, who teaches art history. We split into two groups and our tour guide was actually a lady who works with Rocky. We went into the Vatican Museum which has many different buildings and courtyards. There’s a story that says that the pinecone shown in my one picture actually used to fill the hole in the dome of the Pantheon, but I guess it’s way smaller than the hole. 2015-02-21 10.10.24 2015-02-21 11.02.39 2015-02-21 10.59.36 2015-02-21 10.47.57 We saw so much amazing artwork in the museums, including the Sistine Chapel! We weren’t allowed to take photos of it, but I’m actually kind of glad about that. I just stood there in awe—I’ve learned so much about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel and now I was seeing the real thing for myself. Definitely a moment I will never forget. 2015-02-21 11.20.48 Lastly, we went into St. Peter’s Basilica, which was another jaw-dropping moment. Such a huge, extravagant church. It’s really impossible to even describe. 2015-02-21 13.48.46 (1) 2015-02-21 14.04.05 We spent awhile in the Vatican Museums, and then we were done for the day! We walked around the city just for a little, had some lunch, and did a little shopping (I got one of those books of the ruins that I asked the lady at the Forum about).

We made reservations at a small little restaurant called Il Duca that Fabio suggested then went back to the hotel and relaxed for a little. After getting ready, six of us headed back out for dinner. Rome is famous for their special artichokes and I had been wanting to try one, so I had one of those along with a huge plate of lasagna, bread, and wine. Apparently we weren’t too full, though, because then we got gelato from a place called Blue Ice. Oh my gosh, they had so many flavors! They had flavors like Baileys, Snickers, and Oreo. YUM. I swear I will never get sick of gelato. 2015-02-21 19.33.16 (1)2015-02-21 20.45.08 After dinner, we met some other students and we all went back to Campo de’ Fiori (the place with the market during the day). They have a ton of little bars and there were people everywhere—it was a lot of fun! We stayed out for just a little but then headed back to the hotel, because we had one last day of touring Rome! 2015-02-21 23.49.52 (1) Day Four:

Ahh, the last day. At this point you can probably guess that we were beyond tired, but we still had a great day! Sunday we had the art history professor, Rocky, as our guide. First, he walked us around Rome a little and talked about places we hadn’t seen yet. We saw the Rome chamber of commerce, which was super exciting (because I work at the chamber of commerce at home, if you didn’t know). 2015-02-22 09.57.36 Next we went to the famous Trevi Fountain! They told us ahead of time so we expected it, but the fountain was getting restored and was completely covered in scaffolding. So sad 😦 They had a little pool of water in front of it though, so we still threw coins in of course! It was amazing how beautiful the fountain looked, even under all that construction. I guess I’ll just have to visit again someday! 2015-02-23 19.53.40 We then walked past the Spanish steps and saw the Barcaccia Fountain, which was actually vandalized Thursday night after the soccer game by crazy fans. We walked through the metro system and ended up in the Villa Borghese gardens, which is kind of like a Central Park of Rome. It was definitely a nice change of scenery from the city. I actually saw a squirrel and I was beyond excited because I hadn’t seen one since I’ve been in Italy! We walked through the park to the Galleria Borghese (Borghese Gallery), which holds a lot of incredible art. Rocky talked all about the sculptures and paintings and I was actually surprised how interested I was—just like history I have never been that into art either. 2015-02-22 10.43.18 (1) 2015-02-22 10.57.59 2015-02-22 11.04.10 (1) 2015-02-22 11.19.11 2015-02-22 12.15.20 We spent a few hours at the museum, walked back through the gardens and to the main area of Rome, and had lunch at a restaurant called Dakota. It was a really neat place with Italian food but also burgers and fries.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, picked up our luggage, then got on a bus to the train station. We waited just a little while for our train, then back to Florence we went! Most of us slept the majority of the time and we got back to Florence around 6pm. Surprisingly, my roommates and I still had the energy to get groceries when we got back.

Rome was amazing to say the least. I gained interests in history and art I never had before, I saw places most people only ever see in pictures, and I made memories I will never forget. Luckily, my mom, grandma, and aunt will be visiting at the end of March and we’ll be going to Rome together—so I’ll get to experience this life changing city once again!

Carnevale di Venezia

After the craziness of my weekend in Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg, I relaxed the next weekend and stayed in Florence for the majority of the time. Florence was having a chocolate festival from February 6th through the 15th and if you know me you’d know I’m a HUGE chocoholic. I went to the festival multiple times throughout the week and weekend and I event wrote about it for Flo’N the Go. You can read it here: http://www.flonthego.com/2015/gourmet/02-18/cioccolato-a-firenze/

Besides just hanging out in Florence and stuffing my face with chocolate, my roommate Deidre and I took a day trip to the Carnevale di Venezia (the Venice carnival). I’m a person who never wins anything—like on lottery tickets or at raffles—but surprisingly I won this trip to Venice through a company called Florence for Fun. The Venice Carnival was one of Deidre’s top things on her to-do list, so it worked out perfectly!

We left for Venice around 7:30am on the morning of Friday, February 13th. The bus ride took about three hours and once we arrived we had to take a boat to the actual city. I had a picture in my head of what I thought Venice looked like, but I was blown away by its beauty when we finally got there.

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Venice is a city on the water—it is made up of over 100 islands connected by bridges. It was truly amazing to me how people live in a place like this. How awesome would it be to look out your apartment window and see a gondola sailing past?

We started our day in Venice with a glass blowing demonstration. I didn’t know this before coming to Italy, but Venice is very famous for its glass. The small factory we went to had anything from a huge horse made out of glass, to chandeliers, wine glasses, and small figurines. We watched a man make a vase and a small horse.

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After the demonstration, we had the remainder of the day to wander around this amazing city. We spent most of our time gawking at all the intricate, creative, and crazy attire that people were walking around in. We also got masks for ourselves, of course!

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Just looking at all of these people took up the majority of our day. They had also set up a stage in a main square—Piazza San Marco—and were having a costume contest while we were there. We were feeling pretty chilly, so we got ourselves some hot wine and sat and enjoyed the show.

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At about 6pm we took a boat back to our bus and headed home for Florence. Our day in Venice was very entertaining—not only did we get to wander around this beautiful city for the first time, but we were there during such an exciting event! One day really wasn’t enough to see all that I wanted to see in Venice, but luckily I’m going back with my school next weekend. I’m so excited to explore this city even more!

Three Cities, Two Countries, One Weekend

It’s been entirely too long since I’ve blogged. My life has consisted of midterms, traveling, and writing for different classes, and I haven’t had a chance to actually write for my own blog. Through my one class called Multimedia Experiential Learning, we have the opportunity to contribute to a blog called Flo’N the Go (www.flonthego.com) and I’ve been writing for that. It’s a site that provides information on topics such as food, music, and arts in Florence and helps students as well as anyone else to know what’s going on and connect with each other. I’m pretty excited about it—you should check it out!

Anyways, in the midst of all this busyness, I’ve gone to some great places! I took an awesome trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg the first weekend in February. My friend Shannon and I went with a tour group called Euroadventures and we spent a day in each city.

We left Florence by bus at about 9pm on Thursday and arrived in Budapest, Hungary, at about 10am Friday. There was no snow at all in Florence and then at some point on the bus ride I woke up and there was about a foot of snow along the highway. When we got to Budapest, we freshened up in a bathroom because our hotel rooms weren’t ready yet, then went out for a walking tour. The tour was long and we were freezing, but Budapest was amazing.

First we went to a huge market in downtown Budapest. We had less than an hour here, which sucked because we probably could have stayed the entire day! There was every type of Hungarian food imaginable—sausages, cabbage rolls, goulash, potatoes, and more. I got a cabbage roll that then came on top of even more cabbage. It was delicious! The market itself was huge. It had fresh produce, souvenirs, and so much more.

2015-02-06 11.49.41a2015-02-06 11.04.18a2015-02-06 11.18.51aFrom the market, we took a tour of the rest of the city. We walked along the river, crossed one of their many bridges, and ended up going up a hill to get a view of the entire city. Shannon and I lingered a little too long apparently, because we went to the meeting point and everyone else had already headed back down the hill. Luckily one of the guides with our group waited for us and we found our own way back to the hotel. I’ve always heard the best way to learn a new city is to get lost anyways, right?

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After getting back to the hotel, we relaxed for about an hour then off to the hot baths we went! This was quite an experience. Budapest has thermal springs in the ground and they use this water to make basically giant hot tubs. There were some outside (that we literally had to run to because we were in our swimsuits outside in winter) and they also had multiple ones inside. One room had a salt water one, one room had both the coldest and the hottest of the baths, and there were also saunas. The baths were super relaxing after walking in the cold all day.

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After the baths, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We went to an all you could eat buffet called Trófea and it was overwhelming for a food lover like myself. They had a station where you could choose the meat and vegetables you wanted and they would grill it right in front of you. I had shark, tilapia, sesame chicken, spicy pork, portabella mushrooms, and zucchini. WOW. On top of that, they had a whole self-serve buffet where you could choose from typical Hungarian food as well as things like salad, sushi, and cheeses. Oh, and dessert. They had every type of cake imaginable—I had to try a little of almost all of them of course. To go with all this delicious food, I drank hot mulled wine with oranges in it. Needless to say, my belly was full and I was very happy.

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After dinner, we went to a bar called Szimpla which is a ruinpub, meaning it is located in an old building that would otherwise be abandoned. There were old pieces of furniture and random items like cars and street signs everywhere. It was dark and I didn’t get any pictures, but just by googling “Szimpla” you can see for yourself!

We stayed for a little and then went to bed because we left the next morning for Vienna, Austria! When we got to Vienna, we again had to freshen up in the bathroom of our hostel because our room wasn’t ready and we had another walking tour. We saw an apartment that Mozart lived in, St. Stephen’s cathedral, and so many more beautiful buildings of Vienna. Austria was really affected by World War 2, so we learned a lot about the areas that were bombed and the effects of the war on the city.

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2015-02-07 13.41.21The tour guide suggested a restaurant to go to, so after going back to the hostel and relaxing for a little, Shannon and I headed back out for shopping and dinner. When we got to the restaurant there was unfortunately over an hour wait to get seated. We were really hungry, so we wandered around looking for a different restaurant. We stumbled upon one that looked good; we couldn’t read the menu but we saw “wienerschnitzel” so we figured it was Austrian. Once we sat down, we asked the waiter what he suggested and he went on and on about how their bread is “fresh Greek bread” and the seafood comes straight from Greece. Yep, we ended up at a Greek restaurant. Although we didn’t get the full Austrian dining experience, the food was still delicious. We got some kind of zucchini cakes for an appetizer and I got lamb kebobs that were amazing. After dinner, we found a cute little bar, got happy hour drinks, then headed back to the hostel because the next morning we left for Salzburg, Austria!

2015-02-07 19.25.42a2015-02-07 19.52.51a2015-02-07 21.31.18aOur time in Salzburg was spend mostly on a Sound of Music bus tour. It had been awhile since I saw the movie, but I watched YouTube videos to refresh my memory and they played the movie on the bus from Vienna (I fell asleep though, of course). The tour was pretty neat. We saw the abbey for the nuns, the church where Maria and the Captain married, and a few other buildings from the film that I actually didn’t really remember (I’m going to watch the movie again when I get home). We also saw the Austrian hills of course! They were covered in snow and they were BEAUTIFUL. The bus drove through the mountains as we sang Sound of Music tunes with our tour guide—this was my favorite part of the whole tour. We arrived at a small little town for a short break, where we got souvenirs and had some famous Austrian apple strudel. Then we went back to downtown Salzburg, met with the rest of our group who didn’t go on the tour, and headed back to Florence!

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We left around 5 and the bus ride home was only supposed to be about 6 hours, but we hit a snow storm and didn’t get home until around 3am. I was exhausted on Monday for classes, but it was completely worth it. Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg were three cities that I will never forget!

Cooking and Shopping and Museums–Oh My!

Yes, my title is a reference to the Wizard of Oz—sorry I’m so weird—but this past week has been full of all kinds of fun activities!

Florence is known for its fashion of course, so I’ve done a little shopping while here. It’s extremely overwhelming walking past stores like Gucci, Michael Kors, and Prada, but I’ve found quite a few little shops with sales! Shirts under 15€ is a little more my style! I’d rather spend my money on things like food and traveling than clothes anyway.

Speaking of food, on Monday the school took us to a culinary school where we cooked an entire Italian meal! It started off with eggplant caprese, which has slices of eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella all stacked together and then baked for about five minutes:

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Then we made ravioli out of fresh egg pasta, stuffed with a mixture of potatoes and different spices, and topped with “angry sauce”:

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With the leftover homemade pasta, we made linguini that we also had with angry sauce:

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The sauce was made of tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, and parsley. Wow, was it good. Lastly, we had dessert of course! We had panna cotta, which is kind of like a mixture between a pudding and mousse, made with gelatin, milk, whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla. It was topped with a chocolate rum sauce:

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(Thanks to Natalie Swift for most of these pictures, apparently I was too busy stuffing my face to take pictures of everything)

Besides the little bit of shopping and cooking, I’ve visited a couple museums. We were given a card through the school that allows us to go to almost 20 museums for free. Between classes on Tuesday, a few of us went to the Giardino di Boboli, which are gardens across the bridge from where we live:

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The gardens are awesome—they have all kinds of different paths and sets of stairs that go every which way. I’m very excited to visit them in the spring when everything is bloomed! It provided a great view of the city, and we also watched some lady feeding birds, so that was entertaining:

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Lastly, we visited a museum yesterday called the Galleria degli Uffizi. We didn’t stay too long, but we did see some amazing art. It’s definitely a place where you could spend the entire day:

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This week I have classes Monday through Thursday, then Thursday night I’m off to Budapest, Hungary. We’ll be there all day Friday, then go to Vienna, Austria, on Saturday and end the weekend on Sunday in Salzburg, Austria. I’ll be sure to post all about my weekend!

Until then, ciao! Thanks for reading!

Exploring Tuscany

Wow, have the past two and a half weeks flown by. I expected to be busy while studying abroad, but now I’m really understanding what students meant when they told me that before I know it, it’ll be May and I’ll be on the plane going home. So what have I been doing these past few weeks?

First, exploring the beautiful city of Florence of course! I’ve taken five hikes across the bridge and up A LOT of stairs to the Piazza De Michelangelo, which gives a gorgeous view of the city like this: 2015-01-24 15.49.46 I knew Florence was such a breathtaking city, but the first time I went up and saw this view, I had a whole different perspective. I seemed to forget about any stress or worries that I’ve had and just take it all in. I plan on going up to this piazza at least twice a week—it’s beautiful AND the stairs are a good way for me to work off all the gelato and pasta! 🙂

Tuscany is the name of an entire region in Italy, which Florence is the capital of. Last weekend, about ten of us took a bus trip to two other cities in Tuscany: Pisa and Lucca. Of course I was familiar with Pisa because of the Leaning Tower (which was awesome), but I knew little about Lucca and it ended up being an adorable little town. Here’s just a few pictures from our trip: 2015-01-17 10.48.38 2015-01-17 10.43.33 2015-01-17 13.22.44 2015-01-17 14.41.57 The company we went with gave us a tour of both towns and we also had some free time to get a coffee, eat lunch, and walk around flea markets in Lucca. It was a nice way to spend a Saturday!

Lastly, a couple of friends and I visited more cities in Tuscany Friday on a trip called “Chiantiland” with the same company. We started out in Moteriggioni for about half an hour: IMG_5934 IMG_5920 It was a town of only 40 people and you could walk from one side to the other in less than five minutes. Half an hour was actually too much time! Then we visited Siena for a tour and lunch: IMG_5980 IMG_5948 We learned all about the city and its history. One thing that interested me most was the horse race that they have twice during each summer. The main square is turned into a race track, where people fill both the center and the outside and the cobblestone road that circles the square gets covered in dirt. People ride horses bareback and the horse that finishes first wins (even if the jockey had fallen off). If only I was going to be here in the summer to witness this!

After Siena, we traveled to a town called San Gimignano, which is probably one of my favorites so far: 2015-01-23 16.12.05 FullSizeRender 2015-01-23 16.01.17 The beauty of this town and the hills surrounding it is just indescribable. We walked around, visited shops, and just enjoyed the view.

Lastly, we traveled to a winery about half an hour away in the hills of Chianti and sampled some Chianti wine of course. We learned all about the production of wine and sampled three different wines along with some bread, olive oil, and different meats: 2015-01-23 17.24.11 2015-01-23 18.03.31 2015-01-23 17.39.11 2015-01-23 17.19.15 I’ve been in Italy for almost three weeks and I’ve seen more than I could have ever imagined. The cobblestone roads, colorful buildings, huge cathedrals, rolling hills—it’s all I hoped it to be and more. I’m excited for what else this semester has to bring and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Thanks for reading! Ciao!