Final Thoughts

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 in college. With no permanent responsibilities or a full time job, there is more freedom at this point in my life than ever. I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Europe and I’ve made memories to last a lifetime.

Meeting people from many different cultures is a unique, eye opening experience. Each person I met has their own stories and advice to share, which has added to my opinions and opened my mind to new ideas about the world. So, I will offer one piece of advice about traveling: be open to meeting new people, you never know what gains could come from those interactions.

With each new experience comes new lessons to be learned, and I wouldn’t trade a single memory I made abroad for anything; however, I wish I would have known:

How to bargain at the Florence leather markets – Confidence is key. It will also save you lots of money.

How to meet locals We met so many amazing people around the city by simply being friendly and adventuring outside of the touristy areas.

Souvenir shops close on Sundays – When traveling on the weekends, it’s easy to leave souvenir shopping until the last day, but don’t. We learned this tip quickly.

Trust your gut on the simplest of choices – If the price for transportation is too good to be true, it just might be.  If the restaurant looks sketchy, it probably is. And if the sellers around the touristy areas hand you a bracelet for ‘free’, its definitely not free and you probably ditch him.

Research before traveling Obviously you know where you’re going, and often times how you’re getting there, but it will save a world of stress to plan out the smaller scale activities (Stay, activities and points of interest, transportation to and from activities, and so on).

No duffles – Backpacks or rolling bags are the easiest for traveling, trust me.

Be aware of your surroundings – Tourists are easy targets and Americans are easy to pick out by our clothing and loud voices. If you’re aware of the people around you and your personal belongings, you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Pictures don’t do justice – Take time to look up and enjoy the view with your eyes. Mental pictures and memories of those you’re with are just as valuable.

Adjusting back to the United State’s culture:

It has taken me about a week to fully overcome my jet lag. It’s odd jumping back into normal American life after living abroad for several months. I’m more appreciative of what didn’t come easily in Italy (free water at restaurants, grocery selections, cars for easy transportation, streets without sellers walking up to tourists, etc.), but I’m already missing what we’re not used to in the US (everything in walking distance, amazing/natural food, gorgeous views around every corner, relaxed culture, and so on). I can confidently say studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I would highly recommend the opportunity to anyone considering traveling during college.

I want to thank you all for reading my blog and keeping up with my travels these past few months. I received many great compliments and feedback, which has meant a lot to me. I hope you gained something from my posts and enjoyed everything I had to share as much as I enjoyed reflecting on my journey.

Life at Lorenzo

Lorenzo de’ Medici (LdM) is a study abroad institution located in Florence, Italy. The school works closely with Iowa State University’s study abroad center.


Location:

LdM is located right in the center of historical Florence; however, I was surprised to find out the institute doesn’t have a central campus. All of the buildings with LdM classrooms, kitchens, the library, advisors offices, and so on are placed randomly amongst other shops and restaurants in Florence. The farthest buildings are no more than a twenty minute walk from each other, and I enjoyed being able to take in the beautiful streets of Florence by passing through the squares and one of the most popular tourist attractions, the Duomo, everyday.


Professors:

The majority of the professors at LdM are Italian. All speak fluent English and I never had troubles understanding them. Smaller class sizes allowed some professors to get to know the students and it was fun meeting and making friends from all over the United States. Most professors understand that we are students studying abroad, less for the class work and more for the experience, so the semester was definitely less stressful than a typical year at Iowa State.


Class Load:

15 credits worth of courses will all transfer back to Iowa State with no problem. An elementary Italian course is required and meets twice a week for an hour. Every other class is two and a half hours long, with a short break in the middle. Most of my classes were geared towards my major (marketing) and offered a unique perspective on the Italian and European culture. Throughout the semester at LdM, classes were fairly simple with few homework assignments. The last couple weeks were more work heavy, with papers and presentations leading up to finals.

LdM Clubs

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.


Cooking Club

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:


Zumba Club

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.

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Zumba club

Florence For Free

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 GalleryGalleria 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!

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Michelangelo’s Statue of David
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Other artwork includes: More marble sculptures and golden panels like this one

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.

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The White Room
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A glimpse at the intricate ceilings and chandeliers found throughout the palace
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Behind the palace: Boboli Gardens
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Giardino del Cavaliere – Filled with colorful flowers at the right time of the year

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.

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Uffizi from the outside
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Inside Uffizi corridor
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Sculpture: Hercules and Nessus

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.

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Medici Chapel
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Inside the dome

 

Photo Journal Pt.2

Spring Break: March 26 – April 2

Berlin, Germany | March 26-28

Ireland | March 29-30

Amsterdam, Netherlands | March 31-April 1

Brussels, Belgium | April 2

Valencia, Spain | April 6-10

Split, Croatia | April 14-17

Florence, Italy | April 20-28

Sorrento, Italy | April 29-May 1

Rome, Italy | May 6

Halfway Point

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!

Spring Break

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.


Berlin, Germany

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.

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Visiting the Brandenburg Gate

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.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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.

Berlin Wall memorial

Ireland

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.

Cliffs of Moher

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.

Guinness Storehouse tour

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.

Gogarty’s Irish pub on Temple Bar street

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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.

Anne Frank house – Narrow building, fourth from the left.

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!

Traveling as the locals do

Brussels, Belgium

No trip to Belgium is complete without picking up some chocolate. Mary’s is hands down some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

Delicious Belgium chocolate

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.

Belgium waffles

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.

Photo Journal

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

Coastal Cities

Naples, Italy

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.

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Herculaneum city remains
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The top of Mount Vesuvius appears in the background as I stand next to the town of Herculaneum
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.

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Margherita pizza from Naples

Capri, Italy

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.

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Views from the chair lift
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An breathtaking and relaxing ride – for those not afraid of heights
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.

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Arco Naturale
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)

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Elegant shopping street in Capri