Tag Archives: florence

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Some Essentials and Realities of Life Abroad

1. Things most certainly do not always go as planned.
Despite your best efforts, planning in advance, creating a rough agenda, or whatever it may be, traveling and living in general while abroad do not always turn out exactly as expected. A friend and I planned a weekend trip to Milan. We bought the train tickets and booked a hostel on a Thursday night, and had a list of restaurants, clubs and general areas we wanted to hit. Additionally, we had mapped out distances between the places we’d be and wanted to be. Upon our arrival, we were slightly disoriented and a lot of what we had planned ended up being counterproductive. Instead we spent the day wandering around the city, ending up at Milan’s Duomo, which is astoundingly beautiful. We ended up sitting in the piazza with some wine, people watching and talking until dinnertime. Rather than getting frustrated and bummed out about the unexpected, we went with it and decided to explore the city without any sort of direction or plan, and this ended up being one of our most memorable days/experiences.

2. Going with the flow and keeping a positive attitude are essential.
When plans don’t materialize or go as expected, go with it and definitely make the most of it (see point 1). Wandering around for example can bring you to some of the best places, or past some of the most obscure places that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Ask locals for restaurant recommendations. Laugh at the fact that you have to run a little over a mile back to the station to make your train. When I reflect on my time abroad, I remember the things that went wrong and my positive reactions to them the most. I remember laughing/running to catch my train back to Florence from Bologna and I remember wandering around Milan for hours spending quality time with my friend. The way you react to these situations is crucial.

3. Homesickness may come in waves, or not at all.
I wasn’t homesick for 99% of the time. The 1% of the time I spent being homesick was the result of something absolutely ridiculous and I regret it. You will more likely than not miss the little things like Chipotle, guac, and Goldfish like I did, but you’ll survive the 3.5 months without them simply because you don’t really have a choice and because they all taste so much better after waiting. If you’re homesick for other reasons, try to focus on what a great experience being abroad is and the fact that you will never have the same experience/opportunity ever again. Even if you come back to the place you’re studying, it will be with different people, at a different time, and you will be a different person. So if you get homesick, absolutely do not let it get in the way of enjoying and making the most of your time, because more often than not the reasons contributing to the homesickness are trivial compared to all the awesome things you’re experiencing abroad.

4. Do, see, or try something new everyday.
Really though. It doesn’t matter if it’s a food you’ve never tried or a site you’ve never seen or a route you’ve never walked. Do something unusual or out of the ordinary every single day. Make a point of going to a new museum or restaurant or walking a different way to class or exploring a new area of the city. Not only do these things help you to get to know a place better, but more importantly they help you get to know yourself better.

5. It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
See point 1, as well as point 3. Also, you and all of the people you’ll be spending time with are humans, and therefore are not perfect. Just because you’re abroad living the dream doesn’t mean you’re always going to be happy. I honestly thought that everything would be perfect because I was abroad and nothing was going to get me down, but the reality is things are still going to happen that you don’t necessarily like. The key is to not let those things bother you too much or to get in the way of your time abroad.

6. Enjoy the little things, because they’re actually the big things.
Words cannot describe the joy I felt walking by the Duomo in Florence everyday and night. I never once took that for granted. I stared at it with admiration every time I passed it and reminded myself of how beautiful it is. I watched many sunsets at Piazzale Michelangelo, and I wish I saw more because they’re unreal. I enjoyed the fact that I could walk literally everywhere and that my longest walk at any given time was 20 minutes. Walking everywhere is one of the things I miss the most about being abroad. Even the details of the buildings are ingrained in my mind because I loved them so much…even though they’re just buildings. I also miss the obscure shape of my apartment key. The list goes on.

7. Almost everything is a learning experience.
Even the bad things. I got my debit card compromised over spring break in Greece, but I learned to 1. Be more cautious of the ATMs I’m using and 2. Handle and manage such a situation. If something happens like this again, I’ll know how to handle it because I’ll know all the right questions to ask the bank, things to take note of, etc. On my second to last night in Florence, I got my phone stolen. I’m pretty sure it was stolen right out of my hand because my purse was pretty much the Fort Knox of purses, but it pretty much just taught me to back my phone up to my laptop. I did back up to iCloud, but not to my laptop, and I didn’t know when I’d have an iPhone again and the only thing I was worried about off the bat was when I’d have access to my pictures. If you care about your notes/pictures/calendar/etc. put them on your laptop too, because you just never know. If you’re lost or can’t find your way or aren’t where you thought you’d be, use it as an opportunity to use another language, get to know someone know or just explore!

8. Keep a journal.
Before I left for Italy, my dad handed me a little black notebook and told me not to buy him anything, but to write a journal entry every day for him in the notebook as his gift. I had planned on blogging a little bit while abroad, but never really thought about keeping a journal. About halfway through my semester, I figured out that my dad had tricked me into writing in the journal for myself, and I’m so happy he did because I know I wouldn’t have kept up with it so much if it hadn’t been for him. I literally wrote in it every single day about what I did, how I was feeling, what my plans were, etc. Now whenever I feel like reflecting on my time abroad I can go and read my journal.

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Top 8 underrated must-sees in Europe

Everyone knows that when in France to visit the Eiffel Tower, to walk on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, grab a beer at Temple Bar in Dublin, and so on. These typical tourist attractions are always worth to see, but what about those city gems that go unnoticed except by the locals? Sometimes the best things in these famous European cities are the things that are almost entirely unknown by tourists, but are incredible when discovered. Here we have a list of the top most underrated places in a few of Europe’s most travelled to cities, and all are worth checking out!

1) Fiesole
This Italian providence is located right outside of Florence up on those amazing Tuscan hills. Many tourists never think to travel outside of Florence’s city limits, but Fiesole is worth the trek! Being up on those high hills, Fiesole offers breathtaking views of Florence that could even the Piazzale Michelangelo views to shame!

2) Santa Maria del Mar
This church is typically overshadowed by the famous La Sagrada Familia by Gaudí located in Barcelona, is a great example of Gothic architecture for all you art lovers out there. Santa Maria del Mar is gorgeous and immense both in its interior and exterior. However, its beauty is often not noticed by travelers because of the rush to see all of Barcelona’s other more famous Gothic churches. Yet a trip to this church will leave you feeling as much awe as any of Gaudí’s works!

3) Rue du Chat que Piche
This street in Paris is known by the locals as the most narrow street in all of the city. Along one of the wall’s lining the street is a design of fishing cat underneath an umbrella, symbolizing the English translation of this street name, “Street of the Fishing Cat.” This unique street is a necessity in any traveler’s itinerary for unique things to see when in Paris!

4) Troja Chateau
This Prague gem is known for its gorgeous gardens and impresses all with its architecture. The chateau is rarely a popular visiting point for those exploring Prague, but its breathtaking artwork and location will be a memorable site for anyone passing through Prague.

5) Richmond Park
London is home to many popular walking paths, but one of the more easily overlooked ones are the paths going through Richmond Park. This park provides people with beautiful views of London through a waterside walking tour. London has many tourist attractions, but travelers will be able to experience a whole other side to this busy city through its peaceful Richmond Park.

6) Artis Royal Zoo
Zoos are a common tourist spot in any location, but the Artis Royal Zoo located in Amsterdam tops all others with its many exhibits. With a planetarium, aquarium, a huge variety of animal exhibits, and a cheap entrance fee, this zoo is sure to impress.

7) Royal Canal Way
There is few better ways to experience a new city than by exploring by foot. The Royal Canal Way in Dublin winds around a lake while remaining close to the train for easy traveling. Even though it is a mainly local area, the scenic water view is memorable to any travelers who know of the spot.

8) Appia Antica
Rome is known for its mighty attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican, but the old road of Appia Antica departs from the bustling Rome tourists. Containing a few historic sights on the road and no cars allowed through on Sundays, Appia Antica shows travelers a new and calmer side to Rome that few get to experience.

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Florentine fare: Trattorias

By Hanna Daboul

Trattorias are one of Florence’s best attributes. Found around every corner and on almost every street, they offer a delicious taste of traditional Tuscan cuisine and culture. Most of them are family owned and operated, and have been in business for at least a couple of generations, sometimes more. I love everything from their comfortable, laid-back atmosphere to their fresh, piping hot dishes.

One thing that sets trattorias apart from a lot of other restaurants is their hand written menus. Most trattorias use fresh ingredients that they buy on a daily basis, so the menu is constantly changing depending upon what’s available on a daily and seasonal basis. If nothing else, trattorias serve to bring people together to share one of Italy’s favorite things: food. This food wouldn’t be complete without their second favorite thing, wine. The house wine in trattorias and pretty much anywhere in Italy never fails, and is a somewhat necessary and inexpensive addition to any meal, although that could be a matter of opinion. Another defining characteristic is their modest décor. Paper place mats, broken in furniture, random artwork and photos on the wall, and a paper menu are all typical.

Florentine trattorias have similar menus for the most part. Some of them might have a dish that the others don’t or one might prepare one a little bit differently than the others, but for the most part they all stick to tradition. So what can you expect to see on a menu? Bistecca Fiorentina (t-bone steak), ribollita (vegetable-bread stew), trippa alla Fiorentina (tripe), zuppa di fagioli (bean soup), tortelli di patate al ragu (pasta with meat sauce), peposo di manzo (beef stew), and bollito misto (boiled beef)are the usual fare. They also offer side dishes such as cannellini beans, boiled potatoes and sautéed spinach with garlic.

Walking into some of the trattorias there is a feeling of timelessness because some of them haven’t changed in 20 years, and none of them are in perfect condition. The place mats and napkins are disposable, the furniture is broken in, the walls probably haven’t been painted in forever, but the families that own them genuinely seem to want to deliver a good authentic meal and friendly, helpful service, making the experience that much better.

Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo is without a doubt my favorite trattoria that I’ve been to. Mario’s has been around since 1953, and is still owned and operated by the same family. They only serve lunch, so it’s almost always packed and there’s usually a wait. The atmosphere is one of the things I love the most about Mario’s. They literally try to pack in as many people as possible even if that means seating four strangers at the same small table. It’s loud and oddly exciting watching the servers rush around. The bio on their website says, “If you stand across the street at 8:00 in the morning watching the butcher carry in a days supply of bistecca over his shoulder it could be 50 years ago and it would look the same.” I love this because it shows Mario’s commitment to buying and preparing the freshest ingredients, and to maintaining authenticity. When I went for lunch they were literally crossing things off of the handwritten daily menu as the ingredients/dishes ran out. I ordered the pepose di manzo, a beef stew in a red sauce.

Another favorite of mine is Trattoria Sostanza. It’s been around since 1869 and Sostanza is known for their bistecca alla Fiorentina. I love Sostanza’s white tile walls and white marble table and counter tops.

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When I went for dinner there were actually mostly Italians eating, which definitely says something about the food. Sostanza is known for two of their own signature dishes in addition to the traditional dishes and their bistecca alla Fiorentina: tortino carciofi (artichoke tart) and pollo al burro (chicken in butter). A lot people around me were eating the bistecca Fiorentina, which is enormous and easily shared by three or four people depending on how hungry you are. I ordered the veal chop and didn’t regret it. I highly recommend what I’m pretty sure is their signature dessert. I don’t know what it’s called because I saw the people next to me eating it and asked for whatever it was, but it was amazing. Here it is:

Love at first bite.
Love at first bite.

I absolutely love eating at La Marione, off of Via Tournabuoni, because it’s so homey and warm, and the waiters are the nicest. They’re always willing to answer questions about the menu and they’re super accommodating and helpful. No complaints about the food either. I love their ribollita and their beef stew is also really good.

Trattoria da Giorgio is literally a hole in the wall. Its brick walls and broken in tables and chairs set with paper place mats all contribute to its casual, relaxed environment. The best part about Giorgio is its fixed price, three-course menu that includes a half-liter of house wine. You choose a first course, second course, and side plus wine and water all for 13 or 14 euro…great deal. I ordered the ribollita as my first course and then pork with a creamy truffle sauce for my second course with a side of spinach followed by an amazing chocolate dessert.

Trattoria da Giorgio's interior
Trattoria da Giorgio’s interior
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Coming down from the study abroad high: Reverse culture shock

When coming home from study abroad and reuniting with all your friends back home, there are a few questions you will hear:

  • “OMG how was is it?”
  • “What was your favorite city?”
  • “Did you love it?”

They really are some of the hardest questions to answer. How do you describe your four months abroad? It was amazing, I loved every city. Of course, I loved living in Europe and traveling for four months.

I went back to my home university this past weekend and I felt bad for my friends that had to constantly listen to me talk about abroad, but right now it is the only thing I want to talk about.

My first week back home has been a mix of feelings. Filled with jet lag, sadness, happiness and shock. If you think culture shock going to Europe is bad, just imagine it when you come back home. I was amazed by the fact that I could get tap water without judgment and that separate checks were a reality once again.

The fact that if I want to go anywhere I have to drive because I can no longer leave my apartment and cross the Ponte Vecchio to run errands. It is a completely different lifestyle in Europe and I was lucky enough to experience it for the past four months.

For those of you lucky enough to still be there: Enjoy every waking second of it. Not many people were as fortunate as we were to be able to study abroad. And to those of you who are about to leave for the summer, you are about to have the best experience of your life.

You may come home slightly broke and slightly fatter, but you’ll come home with more experiences and stories that you could ever imagine.

Arrivederci Firenze!

30 thoughts everyone has the first time they see the David

By Virginia Fay, Michelle Hayman and Sara Wiseman

  1. …Does that look a little small?
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  2. Why are his hands so massive?
  3. Seriously, they’re like baseball gloves.
  4. How the eff long did this take?
  5. I’m exhausted just looking at this.
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  6. I don’t have enough patience to make a sandwich let alone carve something out of stone.
  7. My ex-boyfriend looks kind of like him?
  8. …Right? He looks like that, right?
    8exboyfriend
  9. It was created in 1501? When was that?
  10. Did they just see me take that photo?
  11. Oh, crap! They saw me.
    11sawme
  12. Who made this?
  13. Michelangelo. Didn’t he do the Mona Lisa too?
    Michelangelo
  14. Wait, no. That was in the “DaVinci Code” = Obviously DaVinci
  15. Can we talk about Tom Hanks’ hair in that movie? Disgusting.
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  16. But, no, this guy did the Sistine Chapel.
  17. God, isn’t it so annoying when they shush you in there?
  18. Like, your shushes are louder than any conversation I was having. Rude.
    17shushes
  19. Look at how interested this old guy is in the David. So cultured.
  20. He probably doesn’t know anything about art and needs to relax.
  21. Boy, David looks kind of hot and bothered doesn’t he?
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  22. What do you think David’s diet was?
  23. Straight protein?
  24. I bet he would have loved Chipotle, given the opportunity.
  25. God, I want Chipotle.
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  26. I should probably at least get a pizza instead.
  27. David could totally put away a lot of pizza, with that size.
    fat-david
  28. If I Instagram the picture I took, will the authorities find out somehow?
  29. You can’t get retroactively banned from a museum, can you?
  30. What else is even in this museum?
    29whatelse
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The low-down on Florence’s ‘White Night’

Notte Bianca (or White Night, for you English speaking folks) has been a tradition in Florence for the past five years. Taking place on the last day of April every year, the city of Florence turns into a whole other world. The streets are filled with art and performances, the museums are open late night and all the bars and clubs are opened later.

The theme for Notte Bianca this year was “The City Goes On.” According to Notte Bianca’s website, “This is the theme of the fifth edition of the Notte Bianca of Florence, that aims at developing the model of a fascinating and high-value event. We will experience a limitless city, reinterpreting the avant-garde vision of the group of radical architects active in Florence at the end of the sixties, which marked a significant page of culture in the XX century. “

In the street you could find musical performances, art shows and in Piazza Signoria there was a laser show infused with dub-step. There was a hay maze to run through is Santa Croce and you could go see the David at 3 a.m.

It was a night that really brought the people of Florence and the abroad students together. Everyone came out for the festivities and partied their way through the night!