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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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

Eiffel In Louvre

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.”

Arc de Triomphe

 

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.

Macarons at Laduree Paris
The original Laduree, one of the world’s best-known bakeries (specializing in macarons)

 

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.

The Louvre – It’s more difficult to take this basic picture than one would think
Entrance to the museum
Attempting (and failing) the Mona Lisa smile

 

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!

Escargot – the green substance is the part that is eaten

 

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.

Palace of Versailles
Garden of Versailles
The largest garden I’ve ever seen

 

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.

The Eiffel Tower, beautiful from all angles
Pictures from the Trocadero building
Some of the roommates posing in front of the Eiffel tower. No, we did not plan to wear our jean jackets.
Champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel tower lit up at night

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.

Ancient Fiesole

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.

A look at the city of Fiesole

 

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.

These arches served as the entrance into the Roman baths
The first was used as a cold water bath
From left to right, the ancient Romans built a pool with hot water (warmed by the hot air from the two ovens) and a lukewarm bath

 

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.

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View from inside the temple area
The heart of the city is located right next to these ancient structures

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.

Discovered in 1988, this tomb dates back to the beginning of the 7th century AD. “The man was lying on his back, with some personal objects near him: a knife, an iron belt in two fragments on his pelvis, an iron axe and a glass goblet.”

 

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.

Called a “vomitoria,” this passage serves as an entrance and exit to the amphitheater
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The amphitheater looks into a breathtaking view of the Tuscan hills

Czech It

When I booked a trip to Prague, I had no expectations for the weekend. Aside from the infamous John Lennon wall, I knew nothing about the city and what it would have in store for me. Friends and blogs highly recommended a trip to this city, so my roommates and I decided to take the advice.

Prague’s colorful streets and beautiful architecture displayed on each building is nothing to look past. Every street we turned onto offered a new array of buildings, which made the city one of the more unique places I’ve been to so far. Not only does Prague contain a pleasurable aesthetic, many of these buildings are extremely old and rich in history. A local tour guide named Chris took us on a two-hour expedition around the city. He was extremely knowledgeable about everything to do with Prague, starting from hundreds of years ago up until today’s time. I was able to jot down some key pieces of Prague’s history as well as a few medieval stories I found to be quite interesting.

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One of many colorful streets in Prague

Interesting piece of history: German forces in 1939 surround the Old Town Square – some buildings remain still intact. The tall castle looking building shown in both photos is called the Church of Our Lady before Týn.

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The famous Astronomical Clock tower is a huge tourist point. Every hour, the tiny doors on either side of the sitting statue open up and apostle figures rotate around inside the tower.

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The clocks themselves – on top is the astronomical dial and the calendar dial is below. According to Chris (our tour guide), legend says the Prague Councillors loved clock master Hanus’ clocks so much, they didn’t want him to make the clocks for any other city. So, the Councillors burned his eyes until he went blind and cut off his tongue so he couldn’t tell anyone how to build one. He rebelled by jumping to his death, down the clock work. This destroyed the clocks and for decades and for a while, no one was able to fix them.

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Pinkas Synagogue, a holocaust memorial site. After being closed to the public after Soviet invasion of Prague, the museum was reconstructed and reopened in 1995. The Old Jewish Cemetery sits just behind this building. On the tour, I learned this cemetery was built in twelve different layers since land in Prague was scarce. Because of this, the cemetery is a few meters higher than the streets and is said to hold 12,000 tombstones.

Our next stop was a self-guided tour of the Czech Beer Museum. In the exhibit, there were many rooms filled with information on ingredients found in beer and how it’s produced and packaged. Multiple displays of hundreds of beer bottles and caps lined the rooms. In the center of one of these rooms is a table with eight various flavors of beer seeds for tasting. I tried three kinds and most of them tasted awful to me – extremely dry and bitter. After exploring the museum, we headed into the pub area where a man filled beer glasses with the first (out of four) kinds of beer. One of the darker beers had a slight caramel flavor, but I was only able to contently finish the first. Although I’m not much of a beer drinker, I enjoyed this experience and it was fun to sit down with my roommates for an hour or so and relax.

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One of the many displays found in the beer museum

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It’s no secret who the beer drinkers in this picture are… and aren’t

The Prague Castle was an amazing sight to see, with free entrance as a bonus. Once past the gate, there is a short walkway that leads into a huge open square. One of the first buildings people can enter is the Church Of Our Lady Before Týn. We were able to view the west end of the church and it was absolutely incredible. Intricate stain glass was built on each panel of the surrounding walls as well as the front and back of the church.

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Church Of Our Lady Before Týn inside view

St. Vitus Cathedral church provided stunning views from all angles

St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle

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One of many entrances to the Prague Castle sits high above the city. This picture is taken right outside the castle, showing a breathtaking view of Prague.

Of course one can’t visit Prague without making a trip to the John Lennon memorial wall. The trek to the wall and our experience there was nothing but a tourist trap. Most tourists in Prague flock to the well-known landmarks, which made traveling from place to place quite difficult. We reached the John Lennon wall and it was filled with inspirational quotes, lyrics, names, and symbols related to Lennon from tourists throughout the years. A local guitarist played Beatles music as tourists came and went, creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere.

The entire wall – not as big as I had imagined, but a unique landmark to see in person.

The roommates and I enjoying the nice weather

 

Lastly, but surely not least: The Trdelnik. My roommates and I referred to them as “turtlenecks” during the weekend for lack of a better pronunciation. For no more than 120 Kč (koruna – Czech’s currency), these heavenly sweets are a great purchase. 1 Czech koruna = 0.039 USD, which means a trdelnik can go for anywhere between $2.34 – $4.68. Trdelnik’s are served as a cone with ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries, etc. or a cylinder-shape with cream, Nutella, chocolate, etc. filled on the inside. The dough is wrapped around a stick to be shaped and cooked golden-brown, and is covered in sugar, nuts, and various candy toppings. Finally, the spread or topping is added and it is served warm. A melt in your mouth dessert.
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The process of making these sugary treats

The trdelnik in one of many forms. Although I wouldn’t choose ice cream as a filler again, it sure was just as delicious as it looks.

Alpine Adventures

This past weekend, my roommates and I ventured to Switzerland – home of Swiss cheese, Swiss chocolate, Swiss Army knives and of course, the Swiss Alps. My trip was filled with incredible views and adventures. The small town of Interlaken sits far down in a valley between two lakes (Brienz and Thun), with the Swiss Alps surrounding the area. The Youth Hostel we stayed in is bunk bed style like most, the view from our window showed a large mountain with houses placed along the Aare river. The free breakfast was delicious and we were in a decent location, although a little far from the downtown area.

A forecast of rain and fog throughout Friday put a damper on our plans, but we still went exploring in our rain coats and umbrellas. The water was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Minerals from the mountain tops flow down into the lakes and river, creating crystal clear water in a vibrant turquoise color that is safe to drink from. Our guide told us it was the prettiest color she had ever seen due to the weather.

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My roommates and I exploring on a foggy day

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View from the hostel

After our nature walk, my roommates and I walked into the downtown area to check out the shops and restaurants. We visited the Funky Chocolate shop everyone raves about and I had the best, richest hot chocolate of my life. This quaint shop offers chocolate making lessons, which is pretty cool, but we decided to spend our time drinking it.

Swiss hot chocolate tastes as good as it looks

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The rain couldn’t keep us away from swiss chocolate

The word “free” was all I needed to see to sign up for the next adventure – a walking tour around Interlaken and the neighboring town. On this walk, the guide gave us some background information on the town and took us to some of his favorite spots. The tour turned into a short hike up one of the mountains, where we visited Alpine ibex (mascot animal of Switzerland), saw some amazing views of the city, and filled our water bottles straight from the glacier water streaming down the mountain. I really enjoyed this tour and have learned that whenever its possible for a local to give advice, a tour, etc., take it. The locals will know the best places to eat, visit, and what to do around town.

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Every town in Switzerland has their own sign, we were able to explore both of them.

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There are endless activities to try in Interlaken, whether its skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, and so on, any activity would be amazing. My activity of choice for the weekend: Paragliding Interlaken. The bus ride up to the takeoff point only took fifteen minutes and a short hike. The guides laid out their parachutes and hooked us in, then with a few quick steps and a running start, the wind took the parachute and we were up in the air. It was absolutely incredible and better than any view from a mountain or plane window. Paragliding is special because flying through the air, above the towns and lakes, and through the mountains gives an overwhelming sense of being free and courageous at the same time. Sebastian was my guides name and he was great, very friendly and funny. During the flight, we skimmed the side of the mountain and came just feet from the tops of the trees. The parachute caught an upwind numerous times, keeping us in the air longer, which allowed for more tricks. Sebastian even let me steer the parachute on the way down doing a move they call “the rollercoaster.” Twirling around in the air, I all of a sudden found myself sideways and we were spinning upside-down and I was loving every moment. The landing was easier than I could have imagined, we basically just started walking in mid air and the ground eventually met our feet. Throughout the fight, Sebastian took pictures and videos of my flight making for a great keepsake.

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Sebastian and I getting ready for takeoff

Somehow, he trusted me enough to let me steer

On Sunday we were given an odd amount of time in town before our bus left for Florence. With less than half the day to explore, we had enough time to buy souvenirs and re-hike the trail from yesterday. This time, we walked past the Ibex cage and a couple of us were invited inside. I was able feed them bread pieces and walk around their home. All fourteen of them followed us around the cage, getting a little too close for comfort. This was a neat experience not typically offered to tourists and goes to show that meeting new people while traveling has its benefits.

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Freddy the ibex outside his home on the mountains

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Attacking me for more bread

People say when spending full weekends traveling abroad, it’s nice to come back to Florence. I agree with this; however, this weekend was different and I was very much disappointed to be leaving. At my list of top places in the world, Switzerland has made its way to the top and I hope to find time in my future to revisit this beautiful country.

Everything Leather

Firenze leather markets are a must see. Every day, the vendors wheel in their wooden display carts (which I would imagine is a tough task considering the size of them) and display all their items in an extremely organized, but compact fashion. Each cart fits snug to one another, making room for a countless number of vendors surrounding the San Lorenzo Market.

Tourists typically flock to the leather markets, however today was exceptionally chilly so there weren’t many crowds.

My roommate, Lauren, modeling belts at the leather market.

A typical display put away for the day. These carts are wheeled out of the streets for the night to a destination I am unaware of.

Each vendor sells basically the same items – and right across from each other, which makes for intense business. Whether the vendor specializes in leather bags, belts, jackets, or clothing such as scarves, hats, and Firenze shirts, similar items can be found throughout the market. This makes it easier to barter with different salesmen in order to get the best price. Although they sometimes help each other sell items and seem to be friends, which had us a bit confused.

Scarves of wool, cotton, and “cashmere” displayed on this stand. Tried to barter for these, but they weren’t budging today.

Purses galore. Each stand had an impressive amount of these colorful handbags – all so cute and inexpensive.

Shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, and everything Firenze.

A blogger perfectly describes how bartering/bargaining for items should play out. A couple of these tips that stood out to me were: know what you’re looking for, shop in groups and assign each person a role, make an offer strategically and know when to walk away. My roommates and I are far from perfecting these suggestions, but we hope to up our bargaining game by the end of our semester abroad.


My Experience

Today, my five roommates and I woke up early and with a mission. Each of us looking to buy a leather bag, a couple of us wanted shoes, some needing scarves, and various other gift ideas. We set out around 10 a.m., which we soon found to be somewhat of a poor decision. Arriving at the leather market was immediately overwhelming. We had no idea where to start but dove in on one of the streets. Six American girls, walking through the empty streets of the market since it was just set up and we were most likely the first customers of the day. Almost every salesman stood in front of their display yelling anything and everything in attempt to get us to stop and look at their merchandise. For example, one salesman singled me out asking, “Don’t you remember me?” Every time we stared straight ahead pretending they didn’t exist – which was almost impossible. These guys are extremely good at their job, they would watch our eyes and trace our line of sight to the bag we were looking at, they then started to yell out prices and ask us to come take a closer look. All the tactics they used ultimately scared us away.

After strolling through the streets a few times, we gained the courage to go back in and approach the merchandise. I attempted to bargain for a few of the bags and get a feel for the prices being asked. Eventually, I came across a bag I really liked and managed to make a final purchase of €40 (symbol for the euro) for a purse originally marked at €90. Is it real leather? I don’t know, probably not. Was it the best deal? Maybe, maybe not. By 2 p.m. each one of us bought a leather bag, so all in all it was a successful day and good first experience in the leather market.


My purchase of the day!

Firenze At First Glance

Though I’ve only been here for a week, I have already learned so much about the city of Firenze (Florence). Between the shopping, weather, social norms, and food, the culture here is so much different from America. I’ve been enjoying every moment of it!

The apartment is in a great location; right next to the river, a close walk to the school buildings, and the streets surrounding my building are all (expensive) shopping stores – we live on the corner of Gucci. Inside, the apartment is fairly modern looking with tall ceilings, a glass staircase, and windows that look out onto the busy streets below. I think we lucked out with this study abroad housing assignment.

As I mentioned, shopping makes up a huge part of Florence. Stores of all kinds (clothing, food, luggage, liquor, hotels, even a store dedicated to rubber duckies) line the streets. My favorite places to walk through are the leather markets – here, you are able to barter with the salesmen for everything leather. I have yet to try this, but it’s definitely on my bucket list for the semester. Along with the shops, there’s also a fair amount of illegal street vendors. You’ll find these men with handmade cardboard stands, a blanket on the floor with their merchandise laid out, or walking around while carrying the items for sale. The funniest thing about these vendors is how they come out in the rain, attempting to sell a handful of umbrellas to all the tourists without them. These same vendors switch to selling selfie sticks when it stops raining.

The weather is much different than I’m used to. It rains a lot here but can change within the hour. Because of this, I’ve found it’s best to dress in layers and always bring either a rain coat or an umbrella. You would think the rain might stop some people from exploring the streets, but on any given day, regardless of the weather, the streets are filled with people.

Locals and tourists fill the streets during the day, all accompanied by their umbrellas and rain coats.

Much like the ever-changing weather, the drivers are also unpredictable. My first time seeing the city of Florence, I was watching from the back seat of a taxi, cringing every other second as we sped through the tiny streets. The drivers will get as close as a foot away from other drivers, mopeds, and pedestrians. Cars here are much smaller and quieter than back home, which makes it difficult to hear one coming up from behind. I don’t know if I’ll ever adjust to the Italian driving style, but the food is something I can get used to.

I came to Florence with high expectations for the Italian cuisine, and they have definitely been met. So far, I’ve tried the pasta, panini, pizza, gelato, crepes, and more. Italians eat dinner around 8 p.m. at the earliest, but restaurants and shops open earlier, specifically for us Americans. I have a growing list of restaurants I still need to hit, thanks to recommendations from friends and other travelers.

Cheers to free pitchers of wine for students.

All of the roommates out for lunch across the river.

Panini with pesto at Pino’s, one of my favorite lunch meals thus far!

Gusta Pizza compares to Punch Pizza back home. Contrary to this picture, there were many different types of pizza; we all just seemed to have a similar craving for margherita pizza.

Amazing displays at a local gelato shop… though I’ve been told to stay away from gelato that costs 6+ euros.

Our best find yet. La Carraia gelato has a shop right on the river, the prices are perfect, and each kind of gelato is so delicious, I might have to try them all!

Hopefully I will see some nicer weather in the next couple weeks, I would love to continue exploring this beautiful city. Until next time!