Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Iamsterdam

                Looks like I’m moving to Amsterdam! I wish, but my trip there this weekend made me fall in love with this quaint canal town. I was expecting Amsterdam to be beautiful, but I was not prepared for how much I would really love it. The canal houses, cozy cafes, and bountiful bikers give a homey feeling. Aaron and I stayed in a nice area within walking distance to all the museums and sites. Plus the public transportation is so easy there; you can hop on the tram, a bus, or rent a bike.
                On our first day, Thursday, we visited the Anne Frank Haus. The emptiness of where two families once hid left an eerie feeling. The attic is pretty much vacant now, with only a few posters stuck up on the walls for decoration. It is hard to imagine anyone living there, in darkness day in and day out. The exhibits were well done, plus I learned more about her father Otto, and how they kept his company running while in hiding.
                We needed a bit of a pick me up afterwards, so we walked across the street to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. It was a small museum that explained the process of farming tulips in the Netherlands. It actually was really fun and inspired me to purchase some tulip bulbs to plant when I return!
Quick pick outside the adorable Tulip Museum
                To finish off the day we went to the Heineken Experience, located at the old Heineken Brewery. It was a self-guided tour where we learned about the history of the company as well as some sampling. After the main tour there was a lounge/bar with all sorts of games, music, and TV’s to hang out. It was a nice way to end the evening.
Photo-op at the Heineken Experience
                Friday was museum day. We started at the Rijksmuseum, which houses several Dutch artists including tons of Rembrandt pieces. The museum itself is incredible, the architecture outside resembles a palace while the inside is modernized and sleek. It was hard to pick a favorite piece in the museum, because there was so much to see. We spent around 4 hours in the museum, then had a lunch break and made our way down to the Van Gogh museum. The Van Gogh was much more manageable and went chronologically through Van Gogh’s life and work.
                Exhausted from the day of museums, we decided to take a Canal Cruise on Saturday. We walked around the central area which is more populated with tourists and got our tickets. The cruise lasted about an hour where we learned more about the city’s history. Then we did some shopping, some eating, and lots of picture taking.
Aaron and I on the Canal Cruise
                If you are ever in Amsterdam, you HAVE to ride a bike. There are designated bike lines throughout the entire city; it is really crazy but so much fun. We rented bikes in the central area and rode everywhere. Now I understand why everyone does it! We rode through Vondelpark, under the Rijksmuseum, to the Anne Frank Haus, everywhere. I almost wish we had rented bikes for the duration of the trip, because it’s so much quicker to get around.

Biking at Vondel Park
                Afterwards we stopped for some lunch and finished up souvenir shopping and headed to the airport for our return to Firenze. I’m so glad this was my last trip and lived up to all of my expectations. The city is so vibrant and diverse, we ate all different types of food (Tapas, Chinese, Dutch), in just one weekend. I would love to return here in the future, or maybe for an extended time ;).

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Italian Inspiration

     Through my experience as a D&M major, there are times when I question why I chose this major, why do I enjoy fashion? Sometimes I doubt myself and feel like I’m in the wrong field. Having this time in Italy has completely changed this view. I wanted to touch on some things that have recaptured my love for fashion through my abroad experience.
     The all black outfit is very much alive in Florence, but I’ve noticed the girls pay so much attention to detail. They have edgier pieces, high platform boots, a structured jacket, or a cool accessory. I never knew black could look so chic. Even though I don’t own enough black to pull off this look, it really shows how you can individualize a monochromatic ensemble. Plus, there is a sense of confidence I see in these girls which inspires me to "own" whatever look I come up with.
     There are some pieces I would never see in the US, like the big furry jackets that are “in” right now, sky high platform boots, pops of bright lip colors, etc. There are some people in the US who would go for it, but I think people would give you a strange look. I feel like European fashion is not judged as much, some things can be totally out there, but I think people tend to accept it more. I’ve seen all colors of hair, shaved on one side or the other, which I used to think was an odd choice, but now I feel like I appreciate their confidence in their look.
     Having a limited wardrobe has also been a lot of fun to play around with. Since I only have so many pieces, making a new outfit is always enjoyable. Plus, when I buy a new piece I can figure out multiple ways to incorporate it in my wardrobe. People-watching is where I have found new inspiration as well as fashion blogs and my friends from school. A lot of my friends I’ve made here study fashion as well, and I think we all enjoy each other’s style and play off that. Their passion and creativity has inspired me to think differently and have confidence in my look.
     It appears I’ve gone on a bit of a rant, but the overall point is that, living in Italy and traveling Europe has opened my eyes again to my love of fashion. It has also allowed me to appreciate how other people dress, instead of judging them based on their aesthetic. We all have our own style and there are no rules!

Roman Holiday

Our final school trip was to beautiful Roma. The itinerary included the Coliseum, the Vatican (Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica), the Roman Forum, and other sites along the way.
St. Peter's Basilica

We started our first day at the Vatican. The Basilica itself it unprecedented, it’s so large and grand it is impossible to see everything inside. Then we made our way through pieces of the Vatican Museum towards the Sistine Chapel. Once we arrived I was overwhelmed with the beautiful works of Michelangelo. Staring up at the ceiling I finally got to see the amazing pieces some people only get to see in their textbooks. We spent a while just walking around and taking it all in. Afterwards we were lead over to the Pantheon, which was the inspiration for all dome’s to come. It is incredible to think that the dome is free standing, even today it is unexplained how it was constructed.
 
Dome inside of the Pantheon
At night, Aaron and I grabbed some dinner and then did some sight seeing. We walked all the way around the lit up Coliseum, passed Trajan’s column, and went by the Trevi fountain (which was disappointingly under construction). After our feet our tired of walking we went to the hotel and prepared for the busy day ahead.


The Coliseum at night
Saturday, we started with a tour of the Coliseum. Finally seeing the inside of the massive structure was unbelievable. Imagining how many people (50,000) sat in this stadium, being freely entertained with exotic animals and gladiators is unfathomable. Looking out from the Coliseum we had a perfect view of the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Forum (more ruins). After we wandered around and took our fair share of pictures, we made our way to the Roman Forum. A few of us wanted to see the Pope in St. Peter’s Square at noon, so we hurried our way through the ruins and caught a cab to the Vatican. We pushed our way through the crowds for a good view to the Pope’s apartment (where he comes out on Sunday’s to bless the crowd and the world). It was a really cool experience to be there and be a part of the mass of people filling the square.

Inside of the Coliseum

The Pope blessing the crowd
Before we knew it, we had to head back to Florence. Rome was much more beautiful than I was expecting. I thought it would be tourist infested, dirty, and only have the stereotypical sites to offer. Rome really is a beautiful city where I see myself returning sometime soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Love London

          One of my good friends growing up, Megan, offered for Aaron and I to stay with her at her flat in London. She is studying there for the term as well, so we took advantage of her hospitality and spent the weekend in London. She lives in Southbank and gave us loads of options of things to do. We left on Thursday, Thanksgiving, and were kindly greeted by Thanksgiving leftovers her and her floor-mates had made. It was just what I needed after a day of travel.
            Friday rolled around and we started at the Imperial War Museum. Most of the museums are free in London because the government funds it through taxes, therefore, they rely on donations. The outside of the museums looked really small and quaint, almost like an old court house. As you enter there are fighter jets and all types of war memorabilia. We could have spent all day in there, but we limited our time to 2 hours. The exhibits covered from WWI to current time. I really enjoyed the Holocaust exhibit, a precursor to my trip to Amsterdam this weekend where I’ll see the Anne Frank Haus. It was quite emotional, especially hearing Holocaust victims’ stories.
            Then we made our way to the tourist sites, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. It started to get dark really quick, so we set up a place to meet with Megan, and then headed to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland festival. I had heard there was going to be a festival in a park, so I imagined it would be a few rides and a few vendors. It. Was. HUGE! There were carnival rides so large they should be in a theme park, vendors lined up at every end, and tons of people walking around with sweets and over sized teddy bears. The rides were a bit pricey, so we thought we might get a drink. As we perused about we came across a carousel with adults standing on it, and as we took a closer look we discovered it was a carousel bar! We immediately hopped on, ordered a beer, and sang songs with the entertainer. Finally, we stopped for a quick fish and chips and walked back home.

A perfect view of Big Ben
            Saturday, we bought a day pass for the Underground, because we planned on hopping all around town. We started at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. It was insanely busy, but really cool to see. They even performed a mini concert, which mainly consisted of Abba songs. Then we took the tube toward Camden Market, but took a quick stop at Kings Cross Station. As a Harry Potter fan, I had to stop at Platform 9¾ for a quick photo-op. After a quick snapshot we were on our way to the Market.

Megan and I making our way to Hogwarts 
            The market was incredible, multiple stories, alleys, and stands where you can find food, clothes, jewelry, really anything you can think of.  After some exploring we went to Oxford Street, the main shopping area in the city center. We stopped in Primark, a UK discount store, I’d compare it to a TJMaxx or Target. There I got tons of socks for the winter and a comfy cardigan. The streets were packed with shoppers and Christmas lights hung from building to building. After some more shopping we went back to Southbank for dinner at Nando’s. Nando’s has chicken dishes inspired by Portuguese food. I’d heard about it from friends who visited and it did not disappoint. Aaron and I shared a chicken platter with all different spices, sauces, it was just delicious. After our bellies were filled we hung around for a bit and then met up with Megan’s friends to hang at the local pub. We shared drinks, laughs, and had a nice end to a wonderful trip.
            I absolutely fell in love with London, the combination of an urban oasis and quaint neighborhoods are a perfect blend. Maybe I will be back sometime in the future! Fingers crossed!

The River Thames at night

Thursday, November 13, 2014

City of Water

With a dreadful looking forecast Aaron and I decided to make the last minute decision to book a day trip to Venice. Seems like a bad idea, but we lucked out with just a bit of rain but it cleared up beautifully as the day went on! We booked this trip through the same group we’ve been on other trips with, FlorenceForFun, because it included transportation, a glass blowing demonstration, transport by water taxi, as well as a discounted gondola ride.


The bus ride took around 3-4 hours, in which I took my routine nap. It was misting rain when we arrived and took a train from the outskirts into Venice. After the quick ride our large group dispersed into three water taxi’s, which took us to the main tourist area near St. Mark’s square. We missed the main over flow of the canals but there were still areas that were un-walkable. For this reason there are “cat walks” which are makeshift risers that you can walk above the water. Another solution many people use are plastic over the shoe boots (quite the fashion statement).

Keeping dry with plastic boots!
Tourists on the "cat walks" 
Even in the rain, the buildings, boats, and canals captured the beauty of Venice. The streets were packed with crowds of people but once we escaped the main areas it instantly became quiet and empty. We wove through the never-ending alleys and ended up at the glass blowing studio. Welcomed by beautiful glass sculptures and glass sets I could only worry I would knock something over! I’ve seen videos about glass blowing in the past, but nothing compares to seeing the maestro’s work in the flesh. He first created a vase, seamlessly, within seconds and then, my favorite, the horse sculpture. The effortlessness and beauty of the glass blowing was absolutely incredible.
We had a bit of free time afterwards to grab some lunch, and we settled on a menu with a set “tourist” menu, which I picked a vegetable soup, grilled salmon, and French fries. It was a really good deal, because Venice prices are sky high. I had heard about the Bellini cocktail and decided to try it, even though I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Turns out, I love Bellini’s. I am a fan of bubbly drinks and the mix of Prosecco and white peach juice was a perfect match with my dish.

My delicious Bellini - on the go!
Quickly after we had our ride on the Gondola, which was an unreal experience. How can you go to Venice without riding on a Gondola? We circled around the large canal and then glided under bridges and a more quaint area. Some of the Gondoliers would sing or chat, but ours was all business. It was a relaxing end to the day before we had to catch the train and bus home.


Aaron and I on the Gondola :)
I wish we had more time to explore Venice, but I am so happy we decided to go on a whim. Venice has always been in the back of my mind as somewhere I wanted to visit, but I never imagined how beautiful it would really be. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

La Dolce Vita

Living in Florence has been quite the sweet life. There are endless things I love about living in Italy, the food, culture, shopping, museums and all. I’ve tried my best to embrace the lifestyle by shopping at markets for fresh food, taking walks around town, enjoying typical Tuscan cuisine, and attending calico matches to cheer on Fiorntina (the Florence soccer team).
Exterior of Santo Spirito Church
I live in the neighborhood of Santo Spirito, which has a nice square flanked by the Santo Spirito church dating back to the 15th century. While it may seem plain on the exterior, the inside is beautifully done with endless paintings and sculptures. It also houses the main attraction - a crucifix by Michelangelo. The square is constantly filled with locals and students during the mornings while the market is in action. At night it turns into a large get together with all of the bars and cafĂ©’s surrounding the piazza. I love living in this area because there are locals and small shops that make it seem more authentic and homey. It’s comforting to know that right outside my door I can find anything I need or spend an evening enjoying a delicious meal or glass of wine.

Santo Spirito Market
I am yet to find a restaurant I do not like. There is a restaurant down the street from me called Osteria Santo Spirito that is right on the corner of the square and it is always packed. They usually require a reservation but once in a while you can squeeze your way in. There is a large outdoor patio which originally caught my attention, but the inside seating is almost always available so I’ve only sat inside. They have so many traditional Italian items and I’ve grown to love Ribollita. I cannot say enough about this soup. Ribollita is a typical Tuscan vegetable soup originally made in poor families because of the simple and the addition of stale bread. Stale bread? Yes! The bread is used to thicken the soup and I can tell you it is amazing. This restaurant offers large and small portions of their dishes and the small is enough to fill you up for only 5 Euro! Maybe I am partial because it reminds me of a soup my mom makes that we call, “Betty Soup”, so it’s a nice reminder of home.

Tuscan Ribollita Photo Credit
Although classes do take up a good portion of my day, I have Fridays and the rest of the weekend to explore the city. My parents also came in a few weeks ago and I finally fulfilled my tourist experience. We went to all of the main sites and museums including the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. The crowds are pretty overwhelming but it is so rewarding to see these pieces in the flesh I’ve studied in Art History classes over the years.
            Now for the shopping. There are leather shops galore, which is very dangerous for me. I am the type of shopper who has my eye on something for a long time and weighs out the options. This was the instance with my hand made leather sandals. There was a shop on the way to the main leather market that had a pair of leather sandals hanging on their wall for a good month. They were tan with a thick strap across the top and around the back and they were so simple and perfect. After a month of passing by I finally stopped in the store to try them on, and they were exactly what I wanted. They were a little more than I wanted to pay (40 Euros) but I decided for the quality of the leather and the fact they were hand made in Florence, they were worth it. Plus, I bargained for a purse I bought previously, so I had a little extra to spend ;). Florence has a variety of shops from vintage and high end to markets and discount retailers, so everyone can find something they love.
            Not only is the clothes shopping fantastic, but I also love grocery shopping. It was quite intimidating at first since everything was in Italian! But I’ve grown to love shopping at the grocery store because it forces me to learn new words and phrases. Plus the food is very fresh and I feel like a true Italian buying fresh bread and produce to prepare a nice dinner.