I’ve been home for over a week now and I still can’t wrap my head around how much these past four months have meant to me. There truly is no better time to travel than… More
Lorenzo de’ Medici (LdM) is the name of my school here in Florence. When I’m not in class or out exploring a new city, LdM clubs are a fun way to get involved.
I was able to prepare and enjoy five different Italian appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. Each Thursday morning for five weeks, my friend Lauren and I (as well as the other students in the club) met with an LdM chef who walked us through preparing these dishes. Each class, we were required to bring our LdM apron. We entered the kitchen with everything set up for us: ingredients, utensils, spices, and the recipe to follow. Our chef, Enrico Sassonia, and his assistant were great. We had so much fun making traditional Italian dishes throughout our first club sessions that we signed up for another round of cooking club, which allowed us to make three more dishes.
A quick look at the dishes I was able to prepare:
- The first dish, called Mozzarella in Carrozza, is an Italian appetizer comparable to mozzarella sticks. They were loaded with mozzarella and super delicious.
- The next week, we made Ribollita soup. This is a traditional bread-thickened vegetable soup and unique to Tuscany.
- Strudel de Mele (apple strudel) was fairly easy to make and so good. It came out of the oven flakey and golden brown, which we topped with icing sugar.
- Panzerotti Ripieni e Fritti is a fancy word for the second appetizer we made, which is basically the Italian version of a pizza roll. They were amazing.
- Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a traditional Florentine cake. Similar to a sponge cake, we filled the inside with homemade whipped cream and a mixture of sweet ingredients. My favorite part of this dessert was getting to decorate the top with powdered sugar and the Florentine symbol.
Here are some of the pictures I took throughout my weeks as a chef:
In an attempt to get ourselves up and working out between all the gelato, pizza, and pasta we’ve been eating, Lauren and I decided to sign up for zumba club. Us two, along with six other LdM students, were able to participate in the club each week. Our instructor, Henrik, is a full-time zumba instructor so he did a fabulous job throughout the semester. We began the classes learning steps to Puerto Rican/Venezuelan type music, which was extremely difficult and not at all our type of music. Throughout the semester, Henrik began to play more pop songs by European artists, and by the last few sessions, he also had us dancing to songs by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and so on. We will miss zumba club as it was something we looked forward to and a great way to brighten up our Mondays.
This photo was taken on our last day of zumba class, but was missing a good chunk of the students who normally came. We had also just ended the class, so excuse our sweatiness.
Florence holds rich history from the Italian Renaissance era, and all of the landmarks, churches and museums located around the city center are extremely popular for both locals and tourists. On the first Sunday of every month, Florence opens some of its spectacular museums for free admission. My roommates and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this.
Accademia Gallery | Galleria dell ‘Accademia
One of the most well known pieces of art in Florence is the statue of David. Sculpted by Michelangelo in the 1500s, this statue now represents freedom and independence. David’s statue stands at the end of the museum’s hallway entrance and is one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve seen. David is a must see when visiting Florence!
Pitti Palace | Palazzo Pitti
This palace housed the grand dukes and the King of Italy back in the 17th century. Today, the layout of the palace remains as it was centuries ago and still holds some of the furniture, paintings, sculptures, and my favorite, the extravagant ceilings that belonged to the royal families. The palace has many different exhibits inside and out, and serves as a good break from the painting-filled museums around Florence.
Uffizi Gallery | Galleria Uffizi
Arguably the most famous museum in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery houses hundreds of paintings and pieces of art from the Italian Renaissance. The building was constructed in a U shape, seen in the picture below. The long hallways are corridors that have smaller rooms branching off, which hold majority of the artwork. A private room separates Leonardo da Vinci’s work from the rest, which was my favorite exhibit in the gallery.
Medici Chapel | Cappelle Medicee
This building serves as a remembrance of the Medici family (Royal family that ruled Florence until the 1700s). Here, burials for members of the Medici family are displayed throughout the first floor, as well as various bones held in trophy-looking cases. The dome holds a tall, circular shaped room covered with designs from floor to ceiling. The Medici Chapel is one of the less well-known museums in Florence, but is worth a quick visit.
With eight weeks down and only seven more to go, I’ve reached the halfway point of my semester abroad. I am having the absolute time of my life exploring other countries and immersing myself in the Italian culture. I don’t want it to end!
The Italian way of living is much different than in the United States. At first, it was difficult to grasp the new behaviors and norms of Italy, but it has been ingrained into my daily life and I now feel like a local.
I’ve also been able to use some Italian language I learned from class, which the locals really appreciate. With only half a semester of Italian language, I am able to order most items from a menu, pick out food items from the grocery stores, tell the time and use numbers, and create simple sentences using verbs. My Italian class is made up of 10 students and we meet twice a week for an hour each time. The professors here are really great, they expect us to learn and want us to do well, but they also understand that we are here on study abroad and most of our time is dedicated to experiencing the Italian and European cultures. This makes for a somewhat less rigorous study schedule than at Iowa State, which is relieving.
When I’m not focused on the “study” part of studying abroad, I enjoy taking in all that Florence has to offer. Since Florence is such a touristic city, there are many different cultures coming through every day. This makes it difficult to pick out the Italian culture, but there are many spots in Florence to visit that only the locals go to. An example of this is the Biblioteca delle Oblate, which is a beautiful public library with indoor and outdoor seating and a great view. Places like this are always fun and interesting to visit.
During my time in Florence I have learned a lot. Here’s some of the most interesting things I’ve learned as well as what I still have yet to do:
Top 3 things I’ve learned:
- Restaurants in Florence often will open around 7 p.m for tourists, but the locals typically eat dinner around 9-9:30 p.m.
- When traveling, it is wise to plan transportation and activities ahead of time. This saves money and is less stressful during travels.
- Cafes are a big part of the Italian culture. For a quick and cheap pick-me-up, locals take their drinks at the bar then move on with the day. Just know only tourists order cappuccinos after 11 a.m.
Top 3 things I would still like to do:
- Meet more of the locals to gain a new perspective of living in Florence.
- Since Florence is known for its architecture, I would like to visit many of the not-so-touristy churches and buildings.
- Watch a sunset from the river or the Piazzale Michelangelo lookout point.
With these ideas in mind, I hope to cross them off my bucket list and make the most of the rest of my time here. Ciao for now!
Feeling adventuresome, my roommate Lauren and I put together a full schedule for our week off from classes. With plans to travel to four different countries, we began our busy journey in Berlin.
A city full of rich history from the time Hitler came to power. We downloaded Rick Steve’s Berlin City Walk audio tour and learned so much about the city. The tour took us a few hours but was highly informative and I would recommend it to anyone traveling in Berlin.
The Brandenburg gate was originally built to separate west and east Berlin. It has now become a symbol of unity and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Berlin.
The tour led us through many historical sites in Berlin, a powerful one was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Numerous cement blocks that seemed to go on forever reminded us of a maze. Our audio tour had us imagine the cement blocks as if they were tombstones filled with bodies. The atmosphere was quiet and eerie as we walked through the maze of blocks.
One of the most interesting places we went was the Berlin memorial wall. The original wall, which separated the east from the west, is still partly preserved. In the middle of the memorial was a wall of faces of those who died attempting to cross the wall. Being in the very spot where the wall once stood and the amount of history that once surrounded it set off an indescribable feeling.
Our first stop in Ireland was a huge landmark in a small town on the western coast. On the cloudy day, the green Cliffs of Moher appeared brighter than ever. One of my favorite trips from my travels thus far.
In Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse proved to be a fun stop for a rainy day. This self guided tour taught us about the ingredients in Guinness, how it’s made, and how to properly taste and pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We ended at the gravity bar, which was solely made up of glass windows that overlooked the entire city of Dublin.
Gogarty’s bar, on Dublin’s famous Temple bar street, was one of our favorite night life experiences of Dublin. This traditional Irish Pub has a touristy flare; live musicians play Irish music as tourists fill the bar with beer, singing and dancing.
Being the (1940s) history fanatic I am, our first stop had to be the Anne Frank house. I booked our tickets a couple months out and for good reason, the lines to get into the museum grew increasingly long throughout the weekend. I was able to tour the secret annex the Frank family hid in for two years during the time of the Holocaust. The audio tour led us through the house to the bookshelf that was once used as a hidden door. We continued up the steep stairs into the annex and explored the many rooms. An extremely eye opening experience and easily the coolest museum I’ve ever been in.
Seeing the locals traveling around by bike inspired us to rent bikes for the weekend. We hesitantly started on our own. The locals are crazy bikers and move extremely quickly in all directions along the confusing bike paths. We eventually got the hang of it and biked throughout the canals, into Vondelpark, through the museum square and outside the main city area. The next day we took a bike tour and learned all about Amsterdam’s history. It was a pretty cool way to see the city!
No trip to Belgium is complete without picking up some chocolate. Mary’s is hands down some of the best chocolate I’ve had.
Belgium waffles!! Our sole purpose for visiting this country. Of course, the chocolate, fries, and beer weren’t a terrible addition to this quick stop.
Although not the most relaxing spring break I’ve been on, it’s easily one of my favorites. I checked many places off my bucket list from this week abroad.
Florence, Italy | January 31 – February 08
Venice, Italy | February 11
Verona, Italy | February 12
Interlaken, Switzerland | February 16-19
Prague, Czech Republic | February 23-26
Fiesole, Italy | March 3
Florence, Italy | March 2-6
Paris, France | March 10-11
Naples, Italy and Capri, Italy| March 18-20
Florence, Italy | March 20-25
Best known as the birthplace of pizza and for the archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Naples was an interesting historical stop. Chase and I decided to visit the ruins of Herculaneum, which much like Pompeii, was heavily damaged due to an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. It was incredible to see these structures still standing after so many years.
Of course, a visit to Naples is not complete without pizza. Pizzeria D’Angeli treated us to some traditional Neapolitan pizza and it was so delicious, I forgot to take a picture of my pizza before I dug in.
Located an hour off of Naples’ coast, the small island of Capri contains some of the most impressive views I’ve ever seen. With only a day to explore the island, Chase and I fit as many activities into our day as possible. A chair lift up to the highest mountain point of Capri offered amazing views and a unique experience.
Capri is well known for some of it’s rock formations; one of them being the Arco Naturale (the other is the Faraglioni). It was such a cool sight to see, the pictures don’t do it justice. The water visible from under the arc shows a bright blue color in this picture that was even more vibrant and magnificent in person.
Advice to those thinking of vacationing in Capri:
Highly consider visiting in the summer time – Majority of the shops and activities are closed in the winter and spring because it is not tourist season. Although a relaxing trip, we didn’t get an experience of the island in full swing.
Check into seeing the Blue Grotto – One of Capri’s hidden gems, It’s lucky if the tides and winds are low enough for the Blue Grotto to run. Unfortunately, we were unable to experience this the day we visited, but I’ve heard it’s amazing to see the water illuminate in the cave at night.
Look into airbnb and bed and breakfast stays – there are quite a few in Capri and we really enjoyed our airbnb as well as the friendly company of the owners. (The B&B we stayed in here)
Ooh la la! A trip to Paris was at the top of my list of places to visit while traveling Europe, and for good reason. Paris has so much to offer, from its many extraordinary landmarks to the unique cuisine, I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city.
A couple of my roommates and I stayed at The Generator hostel. The building was a little ways outside of the city center, but located right next to the tram station and was easy and cheap to get around Paris. Once we arrived in the city, our first sighting was the Arc de Triomphe. Honestly, I had no idea what this arc was or why it was so special. I later found out it is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris and has a unique story tied to it. In short, this arc was ordered by French Emperor, Napoleon in 1806 to honor the French army. After the army had conquered most of Europe and took a victory in Austerlitz, Napoleon declared, “You will return home through arcs of triumph.”
As my roommates and I walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (main street in Paris), we stumbled upon the first ever Laduree bakery. World famous for their amazing macarons, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some (even if the line was out the door). There are so many flavors and most all of them are delicious. I picked out a chocolate hazelnut and a coconut with lime and both flavors were to die for. Other flavors my roommates raved about: pistachio and salted caramel. I think it’s safe to say we all highly recommend trying a macaron from Laduree.
Our next stop, the Louvre. We were in luck because Friday’s after 6 p.m., the museum has free entrance to persons under 26 years of age. Inside the museum, it looked as though we had entered a mall. Escalators and staircases lead in every direction. Underground walkways connected the pyramid structure to the buildings surrounding it, which is where the museum galleries exist. After roaming around the main areas of the museum (and getting slightly lost in one of the wings) we made our way to the Mona Lisa painting. Displayed on it’s own wall deep into one of the exhibits, the painting was much smaller than I imagined. About 30 in. by 20 in., everyone crowded around the famous portrait, which made it difficult to take a good look, and a decent picture.
Around dinner time, we all followed a friend’s recommendation to a local French restaurant. I felt a little adventurous and decided to try the escargot, a typical appetizer in France. Escargot is simply a cooked land snail. It tastes pretty salty and has a tough, gelatinous texture that was most likely doused in butter, garlic, and whatever the green sauce (shown in the picture below) is. I surprised, not only my family, but also myself because I actually enjoyed it. I recommend giving them a try!
We lucked out with a gorgeous day on Saturday as well. The first place we visited was the Palace of Versailles. To our disappointment, the line to the entrance was insanely long so no one felt like waiting to enter the palace. We later found out that even though the line looked like it would have taken hours, it actually moved pretty quickly – so if this situation ever arises, it’s good to know the wait is worth it. Instead, we walked around back to view the Gardens of Versailles and were impressed with what we saw. The gardens existed a farther distance than my eyes could see, beautiful grassy designs surrounded the various pools of water. Realizing it’s only the beginning of spring, I could only imagine how gorgeous the gardens look with everything in bloom.
In disbelief we hadn’t been to the Eiffel tower yet, I was antsy to get there. We made a stop right before the main area of the tower to get crepes, which was a mistake. Although they were good, we were told later that crepes sold at the stands surrounding the tower are amazing. We walked around the base of the Eiffel and across the bridge to a building known as the Trocadero. From there, we had incredible views of the Eiffel tower and took the majority of our pictures. Exhausted from our constant travels, we decided to buy champagne and some snacks and relax on the Champ de Mars (a public green space located in front of the Eiffel tower). This was debatably my favorite part of the trip. I was extremely content relaxing in the sun, attempting to fathom the fact that I was in Paris, sitting in front of the Eiffel tower and drinking champagne. Once the sun went down, we had dinner at a close by restaurant, then went back to watch the the tower sparkle. Once it gets dark enough, the tower sparkles every hour on the hour, for five minutes. It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen and is completely mesmerizing to watch. If I ever get the chance to visit Paris again, I would take the elevator up to the top of the tower at night as I’ve heard it is an incredible experience.
I only wish I had more time to experience everything Paris has to offer. I hope one day I will be able to return to explore more of this beautiful city.
Fiesole, Italy – A small town located 30 minutes north of Florence is easy to travel to by bus. Lauren (one of my roommates) and I took a day trip to this quiet town to explore the hills of tuscany. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus in the city’s square, which was smaller than any square in Florence. It seemed as though the town was deserted since the only people we saw were those getting off the bus with us. As we made our way along the windy main road, we found ourselves practically scaling the buildings as the sidewalks barely existed. We reached some amazing views of the hills and could see for miles since Fiesole lies at the very top of a (Tuscan) hill. Both sides of the city looked onto beautiful views; at one overlook, we were able to see the entire city of Florence.
One of the most popular sites in Fiesole is the Archeological Area. Within the area, there are a couple museums and ancient ruins including: thermal baths, temple remains, and an amphitheater.
Thermal Baths – Built in the 1st century BC, three of these thermal baths were created for the Romans to enjoy. The temperature of water varied among the three baths, and each one held a different purpose.
Temple – Serving as both an etruscan temple (6th century BC) and a roman temple (4th century BC), some of these ancient ruins are still preserved today. Archeologists suspect the etruscan temple was destroyed and later built on top of to construct the roman temple. The staircase shown below led to a sacred room used for worship and other rooms served as storages as well as an altar room. The temple was likely destroyed by a fire in the 1st century BC.
Used until Longobards (the long beards) arrived at the end of the 6th century AD; the temple site was then turned into a burial ground. Many of these graves were discovered in the early 1900s and goods made of iron, glass, bronze and baked clay were found inside the burials.
Roman Amphitheater – Used for orchestra and theatrical performances, this Roman Theatre was built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. Its ruins had been visible for many centuries and was eventually uncovered in the late 1800s. Seen in the picture below is an underground passage that led to a covered gallery (a total of four passages still remain intact on either side of the amphitheater). Although the passages don’t lead anywhere now, they are pretty neat structures to view.
Transportation around Florence is not all that necessary since everything is within a 15 minute walk, but occasionally it’s nice to leave the inner city center and experience the surrounding cities.
My first attempt at riding the city bus here in Florence: Called ATAF, each ticket only costs €1.20 and can take you as far as half an hour outside of the city. Being the adventurous tourists we are, Lauren (one of my roommates) and I bought two tickets with only an idea of where we wanted to end up. I quickly found out we should have researched how to use the bus system before arriving at one of the pick up locations. The train station area was chaotic and the ATAF bus drivers we ran across were not friendly. Luckily the tourist information booth was able to give us a map and answer all of our questions.
What I learned:
Research which bus lines will travel to the destination of interest before leaving for the bus pick up.
Purchase two bus tickets at any magazine stand, tobacco shop, or any store with “ATAF” stickers on the windows. Bus ticket to where? Nowhere, just a bus ticket… they don’t care where anyone is trying to get to. The tickets are cheaper than what the bus driver will charge, and the locals will appreciate it if the bus does not get held up by tourists trying to pay at the door.
When the bus arrives, act quickly and collectively. The locals waste no time getting on and off the bus and the bus drivers will not wait.
Use the front and back doors to enter the bus, and the middle doors to exit.
A ticket must be validated once on the bus. There is a machine that prints the time and date when a ticket is inserted. This is necessary if authorities check passengers for tickets; if one has a ticket but it’s not validated, he or she may be subject to a fine (often around 45-50 euro).
Lastly, tickets are only valid for 90 minutes. This means if taking a trip to anywhere that will last longer than this time frame, buy two tickets – one for the way there and one for the way back. It is possible to get off and onto different buses in the 90 minutes.
The Visit Florence website is extremely helpful for information regarding the bus system and everything else related to visiting and getting around Florence.
Another easy way to get around Europe is by train. Typically more expensive than a city or coach bus, traveling by train will save a lot of time. At first I was intimidated by the train station, but it’s really very simple and is now my favorite way to travel from place to place.
Here’s how it works: First, purchase the train ticket online or at the station from the ticket windows or the machines. Arrive 10-20 minutes early at the train station so there are no complications. A screen displays all of the trains destinations with the time of arrival and which platform to find it at. In the Florence train station, the platforms are clearly labeled and set up in numerical order, which makes finding the correct platform very simple. Attendants stand at the front of the train checking tickets before getting on, and again once the train has departed the station.