All posts by virginialouise

Packing Guide: Essentials for Europe Fall 2016

By Tiernan Cutler

You’re in the midst of packing and are sure you forgot something–sound familiar? We’re here to help. Here are the 12 top items you shouldn’t leave home without for the perfect Fall abroad.

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1. Rainboots & Jacket

Your first few months abroad will be filled with weather of all kinds, and there’s no better way to brave the rain and snow than with dry, toasty feet.

2. Neck Pillow

Between jetlag, traveling every weekend, and “studying” late into the night, Europe makes you an expert napper. These neck pillows will become your portable bed and lifesaver.

3. Adapters

You can never have too many of these. Skip the big converters and just stock up on the simple adapters.

4. Tobasco

For those who love to spice up their food, you’ll be hard-pressed to find your trusty Tobasco bottle on this side of the Atlantic.

5. Pocket External Charger

While making your friends back home jealous with your constant stream of Instagrams and Snapchats, your phone will die quicker than you ever imagined. Don’t get caught at a killer view with no way to snap it!

6. Tide-to-Go Pen

We’re in the land of 3 hour dinners, spaghetti on the reg, and flowing red wine. AKA, the land of spillage.

7. Mac ‘n Cheese

You’ll be exposed to the best cheese in the world, but after a month you’ll get that itch for a taste of home.

8. Beard Trimmer

No better time to try out that European scruff look. But better bring your own as these guys are a little pricey for that student budget.

9. Deodorant

If you have your favorite brand of deodorant, good luck finding it over here, especially for you choosey gentlemen.

10. Gum

Even if you’re lucky enough to come across your favorite brands, it just doesn’t have the same savory flavor and chewable quality like it does back home.

11. Peanut Butter

All things peanut butter. It exists over here but in the smallest, most expensive form.

12. Winter Hat

You’re only in Europe for 5 months, so don’t let the cold and wind stop you from exploring! Make sure to come winter ready.

The Low Down on Flo-Town’s Top Pizzerias

By Madlyn Thone

In Italy there are 3 main food groups: panini, pasta, and most importantly pizza. Pizza is the epitome of a perfect meal. How could it not be when you’re combining thick fluffy crust, melted cheese, and endless toppings? After your first Italian pizza experience the way you judge pizza will pretty much be changed forever. Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns? Forget it—nothing will ever compare.

The best pizza is almost never found in a fancy restaurant. Forget white linen table cloths, silverware, or extensive menus. Walk down nearly any street in Florence and you’re bound to find a different pizzeria and with so many options it can be easy to become overwhelmed to choose which one is the best. Well fear no more because here’s your Florence cheat sheet to the very best pizzerias!

  1. Gusta Pizza

Via Maggio, 46R, 50125 Firenze

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I don’t know anyone that doesn’t firmly agree that Gusta Pizza is some of the very best in all of Florence. The menu is simple, cheap and most importantly, insanely delicious. With the freshest ingredients and amounts of hot cheese that just defy explanation—this place is bound to become a regular visit. Grab it to go with some Gusta wine and sit on the steps of Piazza Santo Spirito or make the treck up to Piazza Michelangelo, if you somehow have enough self control to wait to eat it until then. Recommendation: the classic Gusta Pizza (cherry tomatoes, arugula, parmesan, mozzarella)

  1. Pizzeria O’Vesuvio

Via dei Cimatori, 21r, 50122 Firenze

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Three words: ricotta stuffed crust. It’s a total game changer that takes a simple margherita pizza to the next level. Not to mention that it’s where the cast of Jersey Shore worked while living in Florence. It’s tucked away in a side street but it’s more than worth searching for. Once you walk in you’re immediately greeted by the friendly staff and find yourself longingly staring at the massive brick pizza oven roasting while you patiently wait. Recommendation: Truffle pizza (truffle sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, white sauce)

  1. Il Pizzaiuolo

Via dè Macci, 113, 50122 Firenze

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A favorite among locals, this pizzeria is an off-the-tourist-track destination. It’s a tight squeeze with close tables and walls are covered with pictures of Old Naples. Start the night grabbing pre-dinner drinks around the corner in Sant’Ambrogio square, dine, and hit the neighborhood bars after. With most pizzerias reservations aren’t necessary but with this one you might want to consider! Recommendation: The “Diavolo” (spicy salami, mozzarella cheese, and olives)

  1. Toto’s Pizzeria

Via Dante Alighieri, 28, 50123

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Pizza by the slice tends to be harder to come by when in Italy but at Toto’s you can get a slice or a whole pizza to take away. With plenty of different options constantly being prepared it’s hard to choose just one! The slices are massive and be sure to try a different type each time. Bonus: open for late night snack after a night out. Recommendation: The “Florentina” (spicy salami, pecorino cheese)

  1. Yellow Bar

Via del Proconsolo, 39r

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Most commonly known for their freshly made pastas, the large pizza menu is often overlooked! The open windows and large bench seating tables make this a fun atmosphere for a big group. The pizza is thin and crispy with a light and fresh tomato sauce that you’ll enjoy until the last bite. Recommendation: The classic margarita pizza can never do you wrong, especially here! Feel free to add your own toppings like arugula to make it even more drool worthy. 

Pizza will always hold a special place in everyone’s hungry heart, especially in Firenze. So next time you’re craving a hunk of fresh, cheesy goodness be sure to check one of these hot spots out. Because really, as if you needed any more reasons to eat out in Italy?

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Beating the Heat: Where to Cool Off in Florence this Summer

By Tyler Alway

Summer is upon us, and temperatures are rising. While even the Arno can look refreshing on the hottest days in Florence, check out our favorite rooftop bars, swimming pools, and beaches in the nearby area to beat the heat this summer!

Rooftop Bars

La Terrazza, Piazza Repubblica: On top of Rinascente Department Store, this rooftop cafe has amazing views on all sides with its perfect position smack dab in the middle of Florence’s center.

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Sky Lounge, Hotel Continentale: Right over the Ponte Vecchio is this upscale hotel with arguably the best rooftop bar in town. Only open from April to October, this bar gives a good excuse to get dressed up and lounge about on its decks overlooking views of the city and the hills.

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Bardini Terrace, Costa San Giorgio: Going to the Boboli Gardens? Use your entry ticket to visit this bar with beautiful views of the gardens and Florence alike. After a recent restoration, this bar is sure to provide beautiful views and great drinks.

The Westin Excelsior: Florentines and tourists alike have been waiting for a great rooftop bar, from which they can take in sweeping views of the Duomo and the hills surrounding the city. Earlier this year their wishes came true when a rooftop bar and restaurant opened on the top floor of The Westin Excelsior. Not far from Ponte Vecchio, the bar and restaurant offer 360-degree views of Florence, the Arno river, and the Tuscan Hills.

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Swimming Pools:

Le Pavoniere: Le Pavoniere is immersed in the largest park of the city, the Cascine Park, which runs along the Arno river to the west of the city center. It looks like a swimming pool within a hotel since the location is enriched by an ancient villa, a poolside bar, restaurant and pizzeria. There is also a smaller pool perfect for children while in the evening Le Pavoniere turns into a disco!

An entire day costs €8 during the weekdays and €9 on the weekends. The pool is open Monday through Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm, while from Wednesday to Sunday it is open at night from 8 pm to 12 pm.

How to get there: from Santa Maria Novella Station, take the tram in the direction to “Villa Costanza” and get off at stop “Cascine”, or take bus 17 in direction “Verga 02” and get off at stop “Kennedy”. Address: Via della Catena 2, Cascine Park, Florence, 055/362233

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Costoli: The Piscina Comunale Costoli is the biggest and best equipped pool center in Florence. It has two outdoor pools, an Olympic sized one as well as a smaller one perfect for children (plus a diving pool). The complex is located near the Artemio Franchi Stadium and next to the Mandela Forum, and is surrounded by a large lawn with lots of trees where you can lay down in the shade or grab some sunshine.

Within the complex, you’ll also find a bar where you can buy paninis, snacks, ice cream and much more. If you can plan ahead, we actually recommend packing a picnic to enjoy in the shaded park area and staying the entire day.

Entrance costs €7 for adults and €4 if you enter after 3pm. You can also buy a pass for 10 entries for just €60 (valid weekdays only). During the summer, the pool is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (except on Thursdays when it is open until 8 pm) while on Monday it opens at 2 pm and closes at 6 pm.

How to get there: from the main station Santa Maria Novella, take bus 17 in the direction “Verga 02”, and get off at stop “Mille 09”. Other buses that stop nearby: 10 and 20.

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Beaches:

The best convenient beach: Viareggio. Although the town itself isn’t particularly picturesque, the beach has everything you could need:cafes, restrooms, and showers. The shallow water makes it great for kids, and the beach is really long, so even though it gets extremely crowded, you’ll still be able to find a spot (although renting a cabana here, which you have to do, will cost you). It takes 1.5 hours on the train from Florence, and the train station is located half a mile from the beach.

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The most beautiful nearby beach: Castiglioncello. This area of the Etruscan coast has both rocky and sandy beaches, perfectly clear water, a water sports center, and spectacular scenery, complete with cliffs and coves. The fastest train route takes you there in just under 2 hours, but the Castiglioncello train station is right near the beach.

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The best scenery: Cinque Terre. Getting to the “Five Towns” will take you just over two hours, and then you’ll have plenty of options for exploration. The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso offers the best views, and you can cool down afterwards with an ice-cold margarita and a dip in the sea by Monterosso’s picture-perfect beaches. Hop on a bus with Bus2alps to see it all from €46.

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What to Expect When Staying in a Hostel

By John Felix

Studying abroad in Europe means traveling on a budget. Traveling on a budget means staying at hostels. Hostels mean…

Now before I finish that sentence, let me tell you a little about my experiences with hostels. After graduating from college, I backpacked all over Europe bouncing around from hostel to hostel across 9 countries as I made my way to 17 fabulous cities. So it’s safe to say I have had quite a bit of experience with hostels, and there is absolutely no better way to travel.

To kick things off, let me tell you my favorite thing about staying in hostels. The people you meet. In my 2 months of backpacking, I met countless people from all across the globe, many of whom I still keep in touch with, and some of whom I have seen in the time since my backpacking days. Everyone who is traveling and staying at hostels, whether it be by themselves or in a group, is looking to make new friends, drink a couple of adult beverages and have a good time. Most of the top rated hostels in Europe are targeted at college aged kids, because college kids know how to have the most fun, and that is what traveling is all about.

My favorite hostels all have one thing in common. A lobby bar. This is the best place to meet people and to share travel experiences and stories. The only thing that beats a lobby bar is a bar with outdoor seating in the summertime which is very common.

Some other important things to know:

The most important thing when looking for hostels is checking the ratings and reviews from some of the most trusted sites (hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com). All Bus2alps trips, for instance, only stay at hostels with high ratings on these reputable sites.

FREE WIFI! As an abroad student or backpacker alike, one thing is abundantly clear…life is lived from wifi spot to wifi spot. And let’s be honest, everything else is painful. Hostels give you the chance to post that Instagram pic that you’ve been dying to, or send out a Snap Chat to let the world know where your European adventures have taken you now. Because what’s more important than letting all your friends know on social media how much cooler your life is than theirs.

Local knowledge of the area. All top rated hostels have wonderful staff who are more than happy to share some of their favorite places in the city with you. Whether it be sightseeing, food, nightlife or anything else, you can always turn to the receptionist for some top of the line advice.

Free Breakfast. Breakfast is almost always included, and some places *cough cough* The Czech Inn (Prague) *cough cough* Goli & Bosi (Croatia) *cough cough* The Pink Palace (Greece) offer up a bomb breakfast that is most definitely worth getting out of bed for.

Other food options. Often times, hostels (especially those with a bar) will offer a food menu for lunch and/or dinner. Surprisingly enough, it is usually pretty good when you want a quick bite to grab before heading off to explore the city.

Lockers and storage rooms. Hostels are a very safe place to stay, and to ensure safety of your valuables, you will have the luxury of lockers and/or storage rooms so that you do not have to worry about your things while you are out enjoying the city.

And now we have arrived back at the beginning. It is finally time to check back on that unfinished sentence I started us off with. Studying abroad in Europe means traveling on a budget. Traveling on a budget means staying at hostels. Hostels mean…good company, great times and unforgettable memories. But don’t just take my word for it. Now it’s time for you to go venture across Europe and experience the only way you should travel when you’re young and looking to have fun.

Why the Dalmatian Coast is the Best Coast

By Alexis Court

There has always been a debate about which coast is the “best coast” in America. Phrases like “West Coast, Best Coast” and “East Coast, Beast Coast” have been thrown around for years. Yet, when it comes to Europe, there is one coast that stands out from the rest—Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. If this beauty isn’t on your “must-see” list, it needs to be. Below are five reasons that explain why!

The History

Croatia is chock-full of it. From Diocletian’s Palace to the Cathedral and Bell Tower of St. Domnius, there are many sights for visitors to see and learn from throughout the country.

The Activities

River rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, boat tours—you name it. Croatia has some of the best outdoor activities Europe has to offer.

The Beaches

You can’t complain looking at waters like these! Add a lemon beer into the picture and your day will instantly be made.

The Food

Ohhhh the food. If you like seafood, then you will love Croatia. List any type and this destination has it.

And last but not least…

Krka National Park

The waterfalls in Krka National Park will take your breath away. Not a believer just yet? Go and see them for yourself! You will not be disappointed.