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!


Arriving Fashionably Late

A traveler’s series of unfortunate events would serve as a perfect title for a story of my travels to Italy. Traveling to Florence was eventful and memorable to say the least. Three friends and I took a direct flight from Minneapolis airport to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam straight to Florence – or so we thought.

Arriving to the Amsterdam airport was a breeze; the eight-hour flight went by quickly while the generous selection of movies kept me occupied. Once on the ground, we were able to explore the airport and do some people watching during our lay over. There seemed to be someone from every nationality, so it was interesting to walk by groups and overhear conversations in all different languages. Our layover went by in no time, and we were shuttled out to the airport grounds to board our plane.

A two-hour flight quickly turned into a three and a half hour inconvenience. We spent one hour flying in circles above Florence while waiting out the foggy weather below. Finally, we were given the okay to make our way to the Florence airport. It was incredibly foggy, but the houses, valleys, and river showed through. It was really neat to watch, we could even see the street my apartment is located on, we got so close!

An impressive overview of Florence, which also captures the fog that gave us so much trouble during the flight.

But then, the engine kicked up and back up we flew. They told us conditions were still unsafe to land on the runway, and we didn’t have enough gas to continue flying above Florence to wait out the weather. So off to Pisa, Italy the plane took us (a city about an hour from Florence) and an arranged bus ride to Florence was on its way.

At this point, everyone just wanted to be on the ground. We got our bags and walked around aimlessly trying to figure out where the bus would come. Our whole flight stood outside the small airport pick up/drop off door looking around at each other, frustrated and confused. Somehow, my friend and I managed to run into two of our roommates while waiting. About twenty minutes later, a man came walking through shouting the name of our airline, and the mob of people followed him. Only half of the flight could fit their bags into the large coach bus. So we waited for the second bus, in the light rain I might add. Twenty minutes later a second bus arrived. Another large, but half-empty, coach bus took us to our destination.

Waiting for the second bus ride into Florence in the drizzling rain. Pictured here are three of my roommates and a girl we met on our flight.

Although I would have much rather flown straight into Florence, the bus ride was actually very pretty, and a neat introduction to Italy. Houses of all different shades of tan, yellow, rusty red, brown, and white could be seen the whole way there. Beautiful green hills formed from all different directions, and giant mountains stood as a spectacular backdrop. I’m certainly not in the Midwest anymore.

Views from our bus ride to Florence. The scenery was amazing; however, this picture doesn’t do it justice.

Packing My Life Away

As you can probably imagine, squeezing four months worth of clothes, toiletries, and travel items into two large bags and a backpack is not an easy task. Especially when packing for unknown locations. I have to be prepared for snow in Switzerland, the beach in Spain (during the warmer months, of course), and everything in-between!

Before I started packing, I read up on what to expect the weather to be like and the types of clothes typically worn in Europe. Apparently the Italians are having a colder winter this year than they’re used to (go figure), but 40 degrees beats the Midwest’s negative temperatures any day. I also found out it’s common for Europeans to dress nicely each day, which means leaving my go-to leggings and sweats behind.

I followed this packing list from a blog I found online. It’s written mainly for students studying abroad and covers most everything I should need while overseas. Since packing can be an overwhelming process, it’s nice to remember that forgotten items can be purchased once in the travel destination. All together, it took me about a week and a half to get everything packed.

For those of you with any reason to pack a suitcase in the future, here are some of the clever tips and tricks I’ve learned while packing for Italy!

Pro-tip – Color coordinate all of your clothes so tops and bottoms can be swapped to create more outfit selections. (Conveniently for me, my whole closet seems to be made up of maroon and black clothing, so choosing a color scheme was the least of my worries.)

The rolling method – Take each individual item of clothing, fold it in half, then roll it up tight and pack everything in, side-by-side. This saves so much more room than laying each piece out flat in the suitcase.

Make every space count – Save small items, like socks, for last. This makes it easier to fill in the smaller, empty spaces and frees up some room for bigger items in a bag or suitcase.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario – Always pack clothes and basic toiletry items in a carry-on in case luggage gets lost. You’ll be able to live out of the carry-on for a day or two while the airline locates any lost baggage. (This actually happened to a friend of mine traveling to Spain a few weeks ago, so it does happen!)

I hope this was helpful to anyone with a trip coming up or any reason to pack in the future. For those of you who just want to read about my adventures in Europe – hang in there. I’m anxious to get there, too!

Before It’s Too Late

Like many freshman students attending their college of choice for the first year, I was overly excited and motivated to gain new experiences. I joined numerous clubs, got involved in Greek life, attended freshman dorm events, and went to the many fairs put on by the Memorial Union (the study abroad fair in particular).

Rarely would I take on these events alone, though. My partner in crime of freshman year, my roommate, and best friend I had made and I took on most of these events together. Studying abroad was just one of the many experiences we both hoped to take on while in college. We talked about traveling and Google image searched all sorts of cool places around the world fairly often. At this point, though, we were only freshman and studying abroad was just an idea in its most advanced stage.

During my freshman year spring break, I was lucky enough to take my second trip to Puerto Rico. This is the closest I’ve come to traveling outside of the country (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory) and I had amazing experiences both times! It’s eye-opening to travel to a place with a completely different culture and way of life, and I loved every minute I spent there. This was just another stepping stone to the possibility of a study abroad experience.

img_4797This photo takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Exploring the beautiful buildings and shops along the cobblestone streets was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Fast-forwarding a year and a half, I had just completed my sophomore year of college and was ready to take on my first internship at a global company called Thomson Reuters (TR). A little background on Thomson Reuters: Basically, the company is one of the leading technology innovators of the legal world. TR works with lawyers of all fields and company sizes to keep them up-to-date with technology that makes their job easier. There, my primary role as marketing intern was to manage their social media accounts daily. I worked mostly with Twitter, since they had the best responses through this channel, but also made posts for Facebook and LinkedIn. My experience at TR was incredible and I learned more than I thought I could in a three-month program. It also furthered my interest in social media marketing, which is why the Iowa State study abroad social media internship position is an awesome experience for me. I am able to take what I learned from my internship and apply that knowledge to this position, while also picking up new skills by using different social media channels than I worked with at TR, such as Instagram and blogging.

Thomson Reuters not only taught me that social media is one of the most responsive means of marketing during this time period, but I was also able to meet with many professionals for one-on-one conversations. Each individual I met with throughout that summer had their own advice for me and experiences to back that up, but I found there was one commonality within each and every conversation: In one way or another, they all said their biggest regret from college/before starting their career was not traveling. They all had made excuses for themselves, from not having the money, to not having the time, to even not wanting to leave their significant other; but everyone regretted not taking the time to travel. This really made me think about my future and jump-started my research on Iowa State’s study abroad opportunities.

There is an opportunity for everyone. From any country one could possibly want to travel to, to the time period of the trip. You just have to go and find the right fit for you. My fit ended up being a semester abroad in Florence, Italy with my roommate from freshman year, and I could not be more excited.

An international trip has many amazing experiences to offer. I’m still a month away from leaving to go abroad and I already know this semester will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am thrilled I have the opportunity to share these experiences with my friends, family, travelers, and Iowa State students who plan to, or are thinking of traveling abroad during their time at ISU through the power of social media.