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.

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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!

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

Travel Tips

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.

Two bus tickets – one validated and one not (notice the date and time stamp at the top)

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.