They Told Me Prague Was a Fairytale

Prague, Czech Republic…the City of a Thousand Spires is the setting of a real-life fairytale with allusions to Mozart and Hemingway around every turn. This city, home to amazing food, many absintheries, and arguably the world’s best beer, is where I spent last weekend as I chose this destination as host to my final trip outside of Italy for the semester.

I arrived in Prague late afternoon on Saturday and after hearing so many great things about this city I was extremely excited! While I heard that the architecture was amazing I was more excited about the food than any other aspect of the weekend. If you haven’t heard, Prague is home to the now-famous “donut ice cream cone”. (If you haven’t heard, where HAVE you been?). The chimney cake, or in Czech “trdelnik”, is a popular street food all over Prague and it has recently become world-famous after some genius realized just how amazing it would be filled with ice cream and reinvented the treat’s entire allure. In a way I suppose it’s similar to fried dough…but better!

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We arrived to our hostel from the airport by cab and were excited to realize, before we even stepped out of the car, that we could order trdelnik right next door! After checking in we of course ran next door to order these! When we researched the donut cones prior to leaving Italy we found a specific bakery that we wanted to go to for our ice cream cones, so here we opted for whipped cream and strawberries and this fresh, hot treat was amazing!!

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we ordered our trdelnik from this walk-up window

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Next we decided to just walk around a bit and head to the Old Town before figuring out where to get dinner.

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the city’s famous astronomical clock in the Main Square

After we felt that we had walked around enough to get an idea of the city we crossed back over the river and headed toward our hostel where we stopped for a bit while deciding where we were going to eat. Venturing back out into the cold rain we walked a bit down the street and found a restaurant that seemed promising, after all it’s been around since 1782. I ordered koleno, or pork knuckle, which is served on a cutting board and surely attracts the attention of diners around you!

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After this we called it a night and went back to our hostel. The next morning we woke up and went to the Prague Castle, which sits atop a hill and has a wonderful view of the city. We purchased a ticket that allowed us to enter part of the castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Golden Lane, all situated atop this hill in what seems like its own tiny neighborhood.

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St. Vitus Cathedral
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Golden Lane
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the view from the castle

Next, we returned to Old Town and went to the bakery that we had read about online. We got our ice cream cones (with Nutella and strawberries) and even though they were not as fresh as our first chimney cakes and were a mess to eat, they were delicious, even the ice cream was great!

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We walked around some more and enjoyed the sun while it lasted. We found a few small food vendors in the Main Square and I tried the “Prague Ham” that was being smoked right in front of us. It was so good!

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Next we went to the John Lennon wall, a now-famous wall in Prague that, despite being covered time and time again, has been painted throughout the years in Lennon-inspired graffiti.

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After surviving the crowd surrounding this wall we returned to our hostel to get out of the cold and rest for a bit. For dinner we decided to go to one of Prague’s best microbreweries that dates back to the 14th century. Like I said, Prague arguably has the world’s best beer, and there are many microbreweries that brew their own craft beers and incorporate them into many of the foods at their onsite restaurants as well. Keep in mind that the Czech Republic is the country with the highest beer consumption per capita in the world, and they’re proud of it! Here, I ordered pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and it was delicious. We declared our meals here the best of our trip!

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After dinner we returned to the hostel and on Monday morning we woke up to make our way to the Petrin lookout tower, which looks like a mini Eiffel Tower. This was quite the hike! However, after climbing up the hill to the tower, and then climbing the tower itself (only about 65 meters) the view was worth it. Luckily, when we went the weather ended up being great for the view but it did end up snowing when we were leaving the observation deck!!

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After leaving the observation deck we spent some time in the cafe that was at the bottom while we waited for the snow to let up. Then, we got the day’s trdelnik, this time I ordered one with vanilla sauce and while it was amazing this one was extremely messy!

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After eating our chimney cakes we crossed the river again and did our souvenir shopping before it was time to eat dinner. We went to a restaurant that was “medieval” and I ordered beef goulash with bohemian dumplings, which I had wanted to try before leaving Prague. I have to admit though that these particular dumplings were basically just bread.

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The next morning was Tuesday and we left for the airport bright and early and flew through Munich on our way back to Florence.  I arrived in good time to make it to my class where I had to give a presentation and hand in a paper. After being in school for only an hour I finally felt like my weekend came to an end and I had time to relax a bit.

I have one more full week of school left and I will officially be finished with my Junior year of college and more importantly packing to come back home!

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My Lizzie McGuire Weekend

Last weekend was nice as I was able to relax on Friday and Saturday and not leave Florence until Sunday. I went to Rome for a short one night trip and I couldn’t have been happier.

Saturday was my Half Birthday (!) and I spent it in my apartment taking turns relaxing and doing homework before going out with a few friends for nachos, margaritas, and ice cream aka life’s treasures. In Florence we have a store dedicated to the Magnum ice cream bar and I was so excited to finally check it out! It did not disappoint. I ordered a vanilla ice cream bar dipped in white chocolate AND milk chocolate, covered in meringue bits, mixed rice balls, and rose petals, with white chocolate drizzle!

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Sunday morning I travelled with a small group from school to Rome. When we arrived the weather was absolutely beautiful and we went immediately to Louis Vuitton for a tour of the store.

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After Louis Vuitton we went with our Professor on a short walking tour of the city that brought us to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain among other quick stops.

The ceiling of the Pantheon is a perfect sphere with a skylight at the top that is open meaning that when it rains it rains inside the building. This is also the oldest building in the world built to worship many Gods instead of one.

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Trevi Fountain

After our walking tour we had a few hours of free time so we stopped to get lunch where I ordered pizza, which in Rome has an extremely thin crust, and pineapple. Little did I know what my pineapple was going to look like!

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After lunch we walked to the Colosseum. Because the weather was so nice and it was a Sunday there were tons of people gathered around the amphitheater. We spent this time taking tons of photos and awing at the immensity of this ancient ruin.

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With all the people the line to go inside was incredibly long and we didn’t have enough time in our schedule to wait to go inside. So, after we were done taking photos we ventured back to our meeting spot, stopping to check out souvenirs and get gelato milkshakes on the way!

Next we went to Museo Boncompagni, a small museum all about fashion.

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After the museum our time with the school group was finished. Most students returned to Florence but myself and a couple friends were staying the night in Rome so that we could see more of the city. When we split from the school group we went to check-in to our hostel and relax for a while because we were exhausted. A few hours later we went out to get dinner where I tried spaghetti alla carbonara for the first time!

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The next morning it was a challenge to wake up but we wanted to head to Vatican City!  We ate a delicious breakfast at our hostel and we were on our way! First we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Next we made our way to Vatican City and had to wait about an hour to get into the Vatican Museum. Once inside we were forced through the entire museum with massive crowds of people before finally making it to the Sistine Chapel where we couldn’t even take pictures!

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walking through the Vatican Museum

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When we finally made it out of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum we made a quick stop for Vatican souvenirs and left Vatican City without seeing much more. We were quite hungry by this time so we stopped for food and went back to the Colosseum.

On the way we stopped for souvenirs and some awesome gelato!

When we arrived at the Colosseum we were shocked to realize that there were hardly any people there compared to the day before and we were able to go inside without even having to wait in a line! Once inside it was beautiful and incredible to look at this amphitheater and think about the events that took place right there.

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Next, we made our way back toward our hostel to pick up our things and relax for a little while before heading to the train station to return to Florence.

So, there’s Rome in a nutshell! I loved Rome and thought it was a beautiful city. We were blessed with amazing weather and I was able to cross just about everything off my “Things I Want to Do” list.

Now, I have one more big trip coming up that I am excited for, and I’ll be home before I know it!

Ciao, Bella!

You Want to Visit and You Don’t Even Know it

Last weekend I left Italy and travelled to Krakow, Poland. Now, I am less than a month away from returning to the States and I am so excited to have some amazing final weeks abroad and get home to the people that I miss so much!

Poland was incredible. Krakow is one of those cities that’s incredibly underrated and too often forgotten. Before going I must admit that I envisioned Poland to be a dreary, grey country full of sadness and depression. I really cannot explain why this was my expectation but I am happy to admit that I was extremely incorrect. Poland, I now know, is actually an adorable and kind place and Krakow is colorful, clean, and happy even in the rain.

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We arrived in Krakow late Friday evening so that night we basically only checked-in to our hostel and went out to get dinner. I tried placki, potato pancakes, with stew, basically a goulash. I followed this with cheesecake, which I quickly realized was better than in other places in Europe that I’ve ordered it.

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The next morning we started our weekend in Poland by going on a walking tour, which took us all around the city, taught us tons of fun facts, and ended at Krakow’s castle.

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After the walking tour we went to eat some lunch. Now, the exchange rate in Poland was an absolute gift, and since there were so many different foods to try I ate ALOT last weekend! At lunch I ordered duck breast in an apple cinnamon glaze, a side of mashed potatoes, strawberry pirogies (the wrong ones to try for the first time), and gingerbread.

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After lunch we ventured back out into the cold (after leaving an 80 degree week in Florence I might add) to head back to the castle where our tour had ended so we could check out more of the area.

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After this we headed back toward the city center. Walking around we actually came across a hole-in-the-wall cafe that was Harry Potter themed and went by the name of The Leaky Cauldron. Sadly, the inside did not look exactly like that in the films, however, we sat at Severus Snape’s table and ordered this Leaky Cauldron’s version of butter beer, which did not disappoint.

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We then continued to explore the streets of Krakow visiting shops and churches.

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When it was time to eat again we decided to go to a Mexican, yes Mexican, restaurant that we had passed earlier in the day. A break from the Polish food for one meal, this did not disappoint. The atmosphere was so fun with employees dressed up and customers wearing sombreros, colorful lighting all around, and chandeliers made of bottles. We again ordered tons of food and had the most amazing margaritas including cactus ones…who knew? Oh, and when someone ordered cheesecake the lights went out and it was brought out by Zorro!

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Dinner at this restaurant concluded our Saturday evening. Sunday morning we woke up and walked to a meeting point where we were picked up and driven about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Krakow to Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. We spent the first part of our day touring these sites.

This experience was incredibly humbling. There are so many things that I know people will not understand when I get home from this semester and tell my stories, but for this there is no doubt. There is no way to truly understand this even in the slightest way without actually visiting. Being here was eerie and sad and in all actuality it is extremely difficult to put into words. I look forward to sharing more about this visit with my loved ones when I return home.

After Aushwitz we returned to Krakow and headed to the city center. As it was still relatively early in the day the pretzel carts were still out and full so we were thrilled by the opportunity to finally get pretzels! Pretzels are all over in Krakow and we hadn’t been able to try any the first day. In Poland the pretzels are circles and are known as obwarzanek, and they are delicious!

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We enjoyed our snack and stopped at the hostel to relax for a few minutes. We then decided to head to one of Krakow’s “mounds”. We took a bus just outside of the city center and then hiked up to the top of a hill where there was an old building. Once there we were able to climb even further up the winding path of the mound and at the top the view of the city was great even though it was full of fog!

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Next, we headed back into the city and walked around for a while before we found a pub for dinner and returned to our hostel.

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The next morning was our final morning and we were planning to take a bus outside of the city to go to a National Park. However, I must admit that we were shamefully unable to find the bus station. So, instead we went to a restaurant for breakfast called Camelot Cafe where I ordered their vanilla french toast with a “smoothie” and amaretto latte.

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After breakfast we naturally went shopping at the mall for a while and then shopping at the market in the city center. We then climbed the tower in the city’s main square and took pictures with the head sculpture in the square before getting lunch in the Jewish Quarter where they have a small square of food trucks and finally leaving!

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Poland was absolutely amazing! It was nothing that I expected it to be in all the best ways! The food was amazing, the people were amazing, it was adorable, inexpensive, magical, fun, and humbling! I would advise everyone to visit this amazing place!

 

Napoli, Sorrento, Pompei, Capri

I know, I am so late posting this, but I am finally ready to share with all of you the trip that I took two weekends ago! I decided to explore a bit more of Italy so I travelled with a friend to Naples where we stayed for the weekend while also using our time in the area to travel to Sorrento, Pompei, and Capri.

Naples is known for having the best pizza in Italy and since Italy is known for having arguably the best pizza out there I can only assume that Napoleon pizza must be the best pizza in the world. Also, Naples is said to have wonderful coffee and the city as well as neighboring cities are known for the production of Italian liqueur limoncello. Despite these delicious facts, Naples is also well known for more negative reasons. Before deciding to go to Naples I had been told by many people that the city is not very nice but rather dirty and the product of the Camora, one of Italy’s Mafia groups who has made its home here. When I arrived in Naples I quickly realized that it is in fact everything that people had said it was. The city is much darker and more run down than others I have seen in Italy. But of course, I had to see it for myself.

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Anyway, the day we arrived in Naples we checked into our hostel and after learning the locations of the best pizzerias we made our way into the city to get some food. The first pizzeria we stopped at is the oldest in Naples and apparently the best, however, the crowd outside was huge and we eventually decided to leave. We made our way to its rival, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, the pizzeria that Julia Roberts ate at when visiting Italy in Eat, Pray, Love. Here, the line was also extremely long but we decided to take our number and wait it out, for at least an hour. Once finally inside, the experience was great and so was the pizza. The service was quick because they continually turn out pizzas. It’s interesting to see the differences between different parts of Italy, Naples is different from Florence in just about every way possible, including this pizzeria.

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Because getting food took up so much of our time we didn’t make it to Amalfi, another city on the coast. Instead we just took a bus to Sorrento for a couple of hours. In Sorrento we walked along the water and found a small carnival before eating gelato and heading back to our bus.

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After returning to Naples we walked around just a bit before deciding to call it a night because we were waking up early the next day to head to Pompei.

We had to take a train to Pompei so in the morning we walked to the train station where we caught the train that took us to the ancient city. Upon arrival we bought tickets for the bus that would take us to Mount Vesuvius. Once we got on the bus it took us to the bottom of the mountain where we then boarded what they referred to as a jeep, which then took us 1,000 meters up the mountain where we then had to climb the remaining distance to the crater, approximately 200 meters.

Driving up the mountain was extremely rough and much different than I had envisioned. Mount Vesuvius actually didn’t look at all like I thought it would until the point where we had to walk ourselves. Riding in the jeep was like driving through the woods on extremely winding roads.The higher we drove the more incredible the view became.

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At the top a guide taught us a bit about the volcano and told us what to look for as we walked around the crater. The experience was incredible and exhilarating and as usual my pictures don’t do any justice. Looking out into the distance we could see Pompei and the other cities that have been destroyed by this volcano’s force. We could also see the island of Capri and Naples. Being at the top of a volcano is different than being atop a mountain. You not only realize that we as people are such incredibly small beings in this world, but you also realize that we actually aren’t its most powerful being either. Standing on something so still and dormant as a volcano you don’t want to forget that you’re also standing on something that can suddenly ruin not only us as individuals but also all that we have created and worked for.

After our time atop the volcano it was time to descend and catch our jeep back to the bottom. After leaving and grabbing food we made our way to the ruins where we walked through the ancient city that had been destroyed in the volcano’s most famous eruption.

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After Pompei we returned to Naples and walked around the city. We went to try out the pizza at another well known pizzeria for dinner and got zeppoli on one of the major shopping streets.

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The next day we woke up even earlier, checked out of our hostel, and made our way to the port to catch a boat to Capri by about 8:30am.  After grabbing croissants and coffee we boarded the boat and nearly an hour later we were in Capri. I fell in love instantly.

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When we got off of the boat we took the cable car to Anacapri a major hub where we could then catch busses to other villages. First however, we decided to take a chairlift up a bit further where we could get a great view.

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7,091 km away from you, New York!

After the chairlift we took a bus to the Blue Grotto, Capri’s famous sea cave. We were relieved when we arrived and saw that the grotto was open. Sometimes, if there is a wave in the water the attraction will be closed. When you get off of the bus you have to walk down steps to the water’s edge where your row boat picks you up. You are rowed to another boat where you pay and then you enter the cave. In order to enter you have to lay down in your boat as the entrance is very small. Once inside, you turn around and the light reflects off of the water the most electrifying blue.

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After the Blue Grotto we decided to visit a few other villages with great views and peaceful settings.

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We ended our trip to Capri with gelato and slushies before getting on the boat and heading back to Naples where we then walked to the train station to return to Florence.

Seeing more of Italy is always exciting. I love my trips that are outside of the country so much but it’s also important to explore the one I’m living in!

Next stop: Poland!

 

 

 

Spranggg Break: Part II

After our second day in Santorini we were on our way to Budapest, Hungary. With a connecting flight back in the Athens airport that was about nine hours long, this day was extremely uneventful. We were bored most of the day, trying to occupy ourselves in the airport with iffy wifi while simultaneously trying not to spend too big a fortune on airport food. By 8pm we were in Hungary. After getting off the plane we used the city’s public transportation to make our way to our hostel where we arrived after grabbing a slice of pizza and bottle of water at a pizzeria next door. We soon realized that our money would be going pretty far in Budapest, as they use the Hungarian Forint as opposed to the Euro. When we checked into our hostel we were happy to realize that it was our best one of the week!

In the morning we woke up in time for a general walking tour of the city to see all the major sites Budapest has to offer. The tour took us to the outskirts of the Jewish Quarter, St. Stephen’s Basilica, multiple statues, Matthias Church, Castle Hill, and the country’s extremely unimportant white house.

 

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St. Stephen’s Basilica: Hungary’s largest church and tied as the tallest building in Budapest
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Chain Bridge connecting the old cities of Buda and Pest
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rubbing his belly for good luck…with food!
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a peek at Buda Castle
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the front of Matthias Church
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detailed, self-cleaning, tiles on the roof of Matthias Church

After the walking tour we decided to get a Hungarian lunch before stopping at Starbucks where we would decide our plan for the rest of the day. I ordered chicken paprika, which was much different than I expected it to be and frankly, not as good. My raspberry mint lemonade however, was delectable.

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After a nice break we decided that we were going to work our way to Budapest’s main market. Of course, the twenty three minute walk took at least an hour as we made a stop in nearly every souvenir shop that we saw en route. Eventually we made it to the large market where we enjoyed simply walking around and trying not to make any purchases.

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When we finally left the market it was dusk so we decided to cross the Chain Bridge again and head down the river a bit where we were seeking the best nighttime view of Hungary’s Parliament Building. We planned it perfectly, and by the time we made it to the perfect viewing point it was dark outside.

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Earier that day when we were on our walking tour our tour guide had pointed out the main area of Budapest’s night life and told us about Hungary’s traditional drink, palinka. After failing to try Greece’s traditional drink, we made the decision not to pay for the company’s pub crawl, but instead to try going on our own. The tourguide mentioned the city’s ruin bars, which were destroyed in the war and nearly demolished by the city in order to build new again. Long story short, they were saved by a few citizens and one has been turned into one of Budapest’s largest and most popular bars. We went straight to this bar and upon entering you can see the partly destroyed walls and floors immediately. The decor is quirky as bikes and chairs hang from the ceiling and various other antiques and knick knacks add to the atmosphere around you.

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After our evening out we returned to our hostel. The next morning we decided to do another guided walking tour, this time of the city’s Jewish Quarter, as Budapest has a relatively strong Jewish history. This tour took us to the Dohany Street Synagogue, the old site of the wall of the Jewish ghetto, and past various other synagogues and street art in the area. Coincidentally this tour ended at the ruin bar we had been at the night prior.

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Dohany Street Synagogue: unique in appearance, Europe’s largest synagogue and the second largest in the world
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the site of the ghetto wall, the Jewish ghetto stood for six weeks between 1944-45
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colorful street art is found all over the Jewish Quarter

After the walking tour we stopped for lunch before heading back to the hostel to pick up the items we needed for our next stop. We made our way to Szechenyi Thermal Bath.  Throughout Hungary there is historical influence from many other countries that have made their mark here throughout the years. One of the traditions that Hungary has adapted from the Turks is the Turkish bath. Today many working baths are still present in Budapest, Szechenyi being one of the most well-known.

Our experience at the bath was much different than we expected it to be. I was prepared to enter a peaceful and calm atmosphere that was honored as a healing ritual. Slightly to my surprise, I entered instead an atmosphere that was in fact rather chaotic and consisted of energetic children, groups of college students, and overall lots of laughter. While this experience wasn’t what I expected it to be, it was still unique and almost better because it ended up being tons of fun. Just goes to show how different isn’t always bad, and how the unexpected can work wonders!

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the outdoor baths

After spending time at the baths until it became dark outside we stopped at a diner for dinner before heading back to our hostel where we packed and otherwise prepared to leave early the next morning in order to finally return to Florence.

Gratefully, after a week away we returned to Florence early Saturday afternoon, giving me time to go grocery shopping for the next day.

The next morning was Easter and it didn’t take long to realize how special Easter is in Firenze. Traditionally, every year a parade marches through the city. Men, women, and children elaborately dressed in brightly colored costumes are followed by four large, white oxen that pull a large wooden cart to Piazza del Duomo. After the parade, men prepare the cart so the Priest can light the fireworks that shoot off of it and create the scoppio del carro, or explosion of the cart.

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After the explosion we attended Easter Mass inside the Duomo. This was actually the first time I had been inside of the church and I must say the inside is not nearly as beautiful as the outside. After mass I took a nap before going to my friend’s apartment where a bunch of us gathered for Easter dinner. While it’s bitter sweet being away from home every single day, this is especially true on days like Easter that I know are extra special back home. That said, I am so grateful that my Easter away from my family was still surrounded by good company and blessed with great food and love that traveled across an ocean.

Spring break went out with a bang and as usual, I am not ready to get back to the books. Five more weeks and I’m home free!

As March comes to an end, I prepare for another month of traveling and keep counting down the days until I return to New York!

 

Spranggg Break: Part I

What a week! Spring Break 2016 was a Spring Break of dreams. I used seven days to visit three cities in two countries and returned to Florence in time for the city’s Easter festivities yesterday.

My week began in Athens, Greece. I went to Athens with very few expectations and I must say that the city impressed me. A city of juxtapositions. Ancient Ruins are scattered throughout a place that is otherwise quite modern. Locals take pride in their city’s history while tourists are the ones who mostly flood the streets. Tons of stray dogs and cats litter the streets as they watch their counterparts walking by with loving owners. Being inside the city is inexpensive while the cab from the airport will cost an arm and a leg.

Sunday was our first and only full day in Athens and we began by climbing to the Ancient Acropolis, which sits high above the city. Here we were also able to see the famous Parthenon, an ancient temple, opened in approximately 432 BC and dedicated to Athena, Goddess of the city. From the Acropolis the view of Athens was amazing, we could see everything Athens has to offer at one time, or at least that’s how it felt.

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the view while climbing to the top at the Acropolis
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posing in front of the Parthenon

For a late lunch we sat outside at a restaurant where I ordered souvlaki, a traditional Greek dish that is truly nothing more than a kebab.

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pork souvlaki

 

Afterward we got some amazing gelato and after walking around a bit more we found the Temple of Zeus, and ancient temple that was dedicated to Greek God Zeus and now sits in ruins.

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At sunset we visited the ancient Panathenaic Stadium, which served as the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 despite being opened around 566 BC.

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We ended the night with desserts on the rooftop of a restaurant where I ordered a white chocolate waffle that certainly exceeded my expectations!

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The next morning we were up before the sun to catch our twenty-five minute flight to Greece’s famous island of Santorini. After arriving by 8am we dropped our bags at our hostel and went to breakfast. I had a crepe with chocolate, bananas, and strawberries that was served with ice cream and an animal cracker on top!

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After breakfast we decided to explore and found a street that brought us to our first beautiful view of the sea.

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While we were admiring the view we noticed that to our right donkeys were walking down the street! Understand that long before this trip I had been most excited about seeing the donkeys in Santorini. Visiting, you quickly realize that these animals are simply an incredible part of everyday life here. I found this simply amazing. Construction workers use the animals to transport heavy loads from place to place. Of course, while this was intriguing, it was simultaneously sad to watch as men throw heavy sacs onto these animals’ backs. Still, it is interesting to witness just how the people here use this animal and how it is completely normal for them. You never see tractors or large trucks, only man and his donkey. Disclaimer: I must add that I ran into a man who informed me that these donkeys are actually mules!

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Anyway, after walking around a bit, we decided that we wanted to check out one of Santorini’s popular black sand beaches so we traveled by bus to the town of Perissa. The beach was beautiful and relaxing, though not as black, or as sandy, as we had envisioned.

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Perissa

After about an hour in Perissa we travelled back to Fira, Santorini’s capital and the town where we were staying, and prepared to head to Oia for sunset. Oia is a town at the North-end of the island. I guarantee that when you think of Santorini, Greece, you are thinking of Oia, and rightfully so as it is absolutely beautiful.

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We then went out to dinner at an adorable restaurant that had outdoor seating in a beautiful garden, though we ate inside as it was much cooler out at night. Here I ate grilled pork fillet that was delicious and served in a good-sized portion.

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looking at this restaurant from the street
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grilled pork fillet with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables

We followed dinner with a stop at Chill Box, a Greek frozen yogurt shop that we had been wanting to try. My first fro-yo in months was the perfect dessert for the night.

Our next morning in Santorini we decided to sleep in a bit so we got a slightly later start. We went to the same restaurant as the previous day for breakfast and I purchased a waffle with butter and maple syrup (topped with an animal cracker and much like home), a side of bacon, and a cup of coffee.

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While eating we came up with our plan for the day and started by traveling to Kamari beach, another black sand beach that we actually found to be better than that of Perissa. Here the sand was less rocky and a bit darker in color.

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I have touched the Aegean!

Our visit here was short as we had to head back and catch another bus in order to head to the Red Beach. Once we arrived at this beach we realized that we had to hike down to the water, though this feat was completely worth it as the view was amazing. Huge red volcanic rocks lead into the red and black sand of the beach which protrudes into amazing deep blue water.

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Red Beach

After this mini trip we finally met up with some other friends and headed to the Old Port of the island, an amazing fishing port at the water’s edge. The island of Santorini is high above sea level as the edges of the island are mostly cliffs which drop off into the Aegean Sea. This means that to get down to the water you have to hike, or jump, or travel along windy roads, or in this case, take stairs. Now, here at the port if you don’t wish to take 580 steps down and back up you can choose to take the cable car or ride a donkey. Mind you, the item at the top of my list upon arrival in Santorini was to ride a donkey.

Of course, by the time all of us were able to meet up and head to the Port, it was too late as we found once we got there that the donkeys stop running at 3pm and we were there at sunset. Of course, I was crushed, but I still wanted to go down to the water. So, yes ladies and gents, we went down the side of this cliff an approximate 580 steps and back up those same stairs, all the while dodging donkey poop. What an experience. However, in the moment that we were sitting on the dock at sunset there were no regrets.

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After hiking all the way back up the cliff we found a restaurant for dinner where I tried a dish consisting of chicken in a lemon sauce with rice and followed it with baklava. I had been wanting to try traditional baklava since arriving in Greece though it is also a popular dish in Turkey and parts of Asia. Baklava is a dessert pastry filled with nuts and often sweetened with honey or another syrup. I actually enjoyed this dessert more than I had expected!

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baklava

After our second day in Santorini we were on our way to Budapest, Hungary. However, you’ll have to wait a little longer to hear about the second half of my week!

Greece was amazing and I couldn’t be anymore blessed having been able to go when the weather was beautiful and the island wasn’t packed with tourists! How incredible it is to be a young 20 year old casually traveling around Europe!

 

Paris, Je t’aime

Last week was the second week of midterm exams. The school travelled to Prato, Italy on Friday for a class trip where we visited a textile mill and a rag house. The trip made for an interesting yet exhausting end to an already exhausting week that I then decided to close out with a quick trip to Paris!

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rag picker working in the rag house we visited. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Reyes
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dyeing machine in the textile mill. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Reyes

I had been to Paris before in high school, but Katie is currently studying there, so I had to go visit her, especially since she was in Florence to see me two weeks ago. Even though it wasn’t my first time I was excited for a different experience this time around!

My friends and I arrived in Paris Saturday morning and met up with Katie who brought us back to her apartment to relax for a few before beginning our day. All of us were hungry and excited to get some crepes so we decided to go eat at a creperie just down the street after, of course, making a quick pastry stop. I have been excited for the food in Paris all semester. I had a long list of foods to eat throughout the weekend and my expectations were high.

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Katie’s street may be the cutest one in all of Paris!

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Sadly, my apple caramel crepe with shavings of hazelnut did not satisfy my craving.

After eating, we made our way to the Catacombs. I have been wanting to visit the Catacombs since high school but was unable to visit the last time I was in Paris so I made it a point to go this time around.

If you don’t know the Catacombs of Paris are the largest underground necropolis in the world with approximately 6 million skeletons. While visiting such a place would give some people nightmares, I thought is was absolutely amazing and I was so happy I was able to experience a place like this despite waiting in line for an hour to enter.

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Following the Catacombs we went to the Eiffel Tower and more importantly to the top of it. Of course, this meant waiting in line again for about an hour. We climbed as high as the public is allowed, 704 steps to the second level, and then waited to finally take the elevator to the very top!

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on the second level looking up to the top
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watching the sunset from the top

By the time we made it back to the bottom of the tower the sun had fallen and it was time for dinner. Katie brought us to a restaurant that she likes called L’eclair and I have to admit that it was great. The atmosphere was wonderful and the food was even better. I had good wine, beignets de mozzarella, and tried chicken tandoori, which I’ve decided I must add to my repertoire ASAP!

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After a long day we decided to return to Katie’s apartment after dinner. Gratefully I was able to stay there instead of in a hostel and I even fell asleep to an amazing view of the top of the Eiffel Tower each night.

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Since we hadn’t really gotten a good night’s sleep the night before, we slept in a bit before meeting to make our way to Versailles the next day. Once in Versailles we found another creperie where we stopped so that we could enter the chateau with full stomachs. I am happy to announce that this crepe was everything I needed it to be, and so was the caffe latte that came with it.

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Speculoos crepe with coffee ice cream: delish!

Finally we were ready to head to the chateau, which of course meant first spending an hour standing in line. Eventually we made it inside and toured the palace and its gardens. Again, this was my second time visiting Versailles, but I couldn’t have enjoyed it any less than the first. The weather in Paris was perfect all weekend and we really took advantage of it in the gardens of Versailles when we found a cafe where I bought strawberry soft serve ice cream (a big deal) that I simply could not resist!

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the gardens of Versailles cover a whopping 1,976 acres

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Last time I was in Paris I covered the majority of the tourist stops and while I went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, for some reason I never went inside. Therefore, it was of course added to my list this time around. So, after Versailles we travelled to Notre Dame and went inside where we were also able to watch part of the mass that was in session (after first stopping for a quick snack-I got gaufre, a heavenly waffle covered in Nutella and whipped cream).

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By the time we left Notre Dame the sun was about to set. We made our way to the Louvre and took pictures while the sun went down, waiting for the glass pyramids to light up once it was dark.

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Once we felt we had taken in enough of the Louvre’s beauty for the moment we left to go find a restaurant to eat dinner! After eating we finished our last evening in Paris by heading to the Eiffel Tower specifically to see it sparkle. The Tower is lit most of the night, but it actually sparkles at the top of the hour!

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The next morning I went out to order a croissant and baguette (in French might I add) to start my day before heading to the airport. Paris is a magical city and I loved it just as much the second time as the first!

Now, three days in Florence and I’m Spring Break bound!

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

In the classroom it’s been all about the midterms this week, which also means that at home it’s been all about studying. But still, what better way to get your head out of the books than to partake in an occasional Netflix binge, to make the overpriced purchase of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and to travel out of the country? Basically, that’s my past week at a glance, so I’ll jump right to the good stuff.

I spent this weekend in Austria and while I think many people overlook this country for some reason, it has been high on my list of places to visit. I travelled with a friend of mine and because of the drastic difference in price we actually decided not to fly this time, but instead to take a overnight train. So, we left Florence on Friday night and faced our first experiences on overnight train rides as we took on an eleven hour trip to Vienna!

We arrived in Vienna around 9:30am on Saturday and went to check into our hostel before grabbing breakfast and making our plan for the day. One of the benefits to the overnight train is that once you arrive at your location you still have a full day to enjoy yourself, you haven’t lost hours of your day.

After deciding that we definitely wanted to check out the market across the street from our hostel and then just walk around the city afterward we were ready to head out and discover Vienna! The Naschmarkt is one of Vienna’s best markets, especially when it comes to food.

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Naschmarkt is stocked with amazing produce, baked goods, seafood, and restaurants

We were so happy that we decided to go to this market. The experience was slightly different than going to a market at home. Yes, the market was large, packed with people, and definitely had some great finds. However, I think typically going to a market in the States one can peacefully walk through and browse as they please while vendors simply wait for customers to come to them. Here though, we walked through the market with many vendors yelling “Stop!” or “Come try this!”. This is perhaps due to the slight language barrier as many may not realize that this was a bit rude. Then again, while German is the language primarily spoken in Austria, what was interesting was that not only did most people we come across speak English, but those who did spoke it extremely well!

At the market I tried rose flavored Turkish Delight, which I had never had before, as well as a delicious and mysterious cookie and a cheese danish dessert.

After the market we went into the City Centre and walked around a bit, discovering a street with great shopping (of course), the Museum Quartier, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, another market with ice skating, and more.

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entering the Museum Quartier
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the preparation of Kaiserschmarrn

Kaiserschmarrn is a traditional Austrian dessert. It is pieces of pancake served with tarte berries and in this case, Nutella. Some say that this dessert may have been created for Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria who loved it! We had this delicious dessert twice while in Austria!

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kaiserschmarrn
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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

We then decided to take a taxi to the Donauturm, a Space Needle-like observation deck, in order to get the best view of the city that we could.

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After this we travelled back into the City Centre to visit Belvedere Palace and Gardens. Austria seems to have its fair share of palaces!

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the gardens have a nice view of the city

After returning to the hostel for a bit to recoup, we decided to head out to a pub for dinner where I tried Weiner Schnitzel, a Viennese meal of breaded, fried, veal often served with a form of potato, in my case potato wedges. Yum!IMG_5200.jpg

The next day we took a train about two and a half hours to Salzburg, Austria. The main reason behind going to Salzburg was to go to the different sites where “The Sound of Music” was filmed! I was so excited to visit Salzburg and I must say that it definitely did not disappoint.

We first went to Mirabell Palace and Gardens where much of “Do, Re, Mi” was filmed.

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We then crossed a love lock bridge to get to the Old Town on the other side of the river where we wanted to visit the fortress that is at the top of the hill overlooking the city.

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looking across the river at Old Town and the fortress

After stopping at a gift shop, finding a statue of Mozart (who lived in Salzburg and whose influence is still very present today), discovering a beautiful church, purchasing amazing pretzels (all over Austria), and meeting fellow Americans, we took the cable car to the hilltop fortress and found exactly what we had been looking for.

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Peaks and peaks of mountains surround Salzburg. This town is surrounded by indescribable beauty for which none of my pictures do any justice. The view was simply breathtaking. It’s official, I no longer have any right to ever say “this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”, because I’ve officially seen too many things that are too amazing to ever be the “most amazing”.

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After spending a decent amount of time on top of this hill we took a taxi to Schloss Leopoldskron, the palace which depicts the back of Villa VonTrapp in the film and is today a hotel!

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After visiting Schloss Leopoldskron we took our taxi to Hellbrunn Palace where the pavilion from “The Sound of Music”‘s “16 Going on 17” scene now sits. On the way to Hellbrunn we passed Frohburg Palace, which depicts the front of the VonTrapp residence in the movie, and is today another one of Salzburg’s music schools.

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the pavilion doors are now locked by the city because of too many injuries that occurred as people tried to leap like Leisl
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the pavilion sits on the grounds of Hellbrunn today and while this palace was not in the film it is still beautiful

Hellbrunn was our final “The Sound of Music” stop and we returned to our train station where we spent some time at Starbucks before boarding the train to head back to Vienna.

Monday evening we were taking the overnight train back to Florence but we still had a full day in Vienna so we visited Schonbrunn Palace. We went inside of this palace, once home to Austrian royalty. The palace and its grounds are beautiful.

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On the grounds of the Palace is Tiergarten Schonbrunn, a zoo built at the order of Emperor Francis I. Built in 1752 this is the oldest zoo in the word!

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After our day at the palace and zoo we ate dinner before heading to the train station for our eleven hour trip back to Italy. Arriving at 7:30 Tuesday morning I showered and took a nap before heading to school. Everything lately is nonstop and such a whirlwind but it is so exciting.

Austria was beautiful and should certainly not be forgotten. Now, the countdown is on for my next venture! THREE DAYS!

 

 

The Best Will Visit

The week following my visits to London, Ireland, and Scotland I returned to Florence extremely exhausted but couldn’t quite stop because I had a visitor for the next week! My roommate from school in New York, Katie, is studying abroad this semester in Paris but came to visit Firenze during her Spring Break, and we had a blast!

She arrived Monday evening and after rapidly catching up we decided to walk around the city for a little bit before going to eat. As it was Katie’s first visit to Italy we had to ensure that her experience of Florentine cuisine was nothing short of great.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Firenze you know about Gusta Pizza! Without question the plan was to go to this hotspot for dinner but after learning it was closed I decided we should instead try Pizzeria O’Vesuvio, another pizzeria I had been wanting to try anyway. When we arrived not only was the restaurant open, but it we had great time! And not just because our pizzas were delivered to us in the shapes of hearts……okay, maybe.

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After spending a couple hours at the restaurant, as per the Italian way, we decided to call it a night as we both were exhausted and had more plans for the following day.

So, Tuesday Katie played tourist around the city as I sat in class, and afterward we decided to get the fish pedicures we had been so excited about before heading out to some of my favorite places.

I must say, this pedicure was a unique experience to say the least! We paid fifteen Euros for fifteen minutes and while Katie miraculously was able to remain extremely calm, I was quite jumpy the entire time! Even after conducting plenty of research trying to prepare myself and understand what to expect, actually feeling these fish tickle my toes was indescribable and totally weird!

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After the pedicures we met up with some of my other friends who are studying here and we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant that I knew Katie would love (yes, we love Mexican here in Italy). We followed up the Mexican restaurant with some other hotspots (including Secret Bakery) so that Katie could get a taste of some Florentine nightlife!

On Wednesdays I don’t have classes so I had planned on returning to Venice with Katie and her friends from Paris who were also in Florence last week. Unfortunately, when we got to the train station that morning we realized that the tickets to Venice were in fact upwards of 100 Euros. So, we decided to try out someplace else. We purchased much cheaper tickets to travel to Arezzo, a small town nearly a two hour train ride outside of Florence.

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When we arrived we discovered an adorable town with several treasures. The weather was beautiful and the town was peaceful.

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Walking around hungry we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and then found a gelateria, which of course means we stopped for some (amazing) gelato before discovering a gorgeous and peaceful park with an even more gorgeous view. Before leaving we stopped for more gelato, though that almost goes without saying.

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Arezzo felt like a Disney movie, like 101 Dalmatians or Lady and the Tramp.

 

Thursday after my classes we went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, which is absolutely amazing, and then we were joined by a couple of my friends again and went to Acqua al 2, one of our favorite restaurants here in Florence, so that we could have a nice Italian meal!

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After dinner we stopped for gelato again!

Friday Katie left while I was in class. While I was so sad to see her go I am so grateful to have had one of my favorite people visit me in Florence and I knew I’d be seeing her again…very soon!

So, after school I decided to go with a few friends to a gelateria across the street that has recently opened back up as the weather is getting warmer. It was delicious! And of course, while I initially had intended to return to my apartment after school and not leave for the entire weekend, I was invited to dinner with my friends while we were eating our gelato, and so I ended up going to dinner Friday night as well.

This time I went to another restaurant I hadn’t been to before: Trattoria Pizzeria Dante. This restaurant was actually very nice. Not only did I find fettuccine Alfredo on the menu-an absolute blessing- but as students we also all received free wine. You can’t beat that!

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buon appetito!

 

Overall last week was another success! While I didn’t travel too much, that in itself was quite nice after the previous week. This weekend however, I’m back at it!

Great Scot!

Alright, to finish up my stories about last week I get to share with you my short time in Edinburgh, Scotland. Like Ireland, I was only in Scotland for about 36 hours, but it was still a great experience.

Edinburgh is a city like no other. It’s history and charm are present at all times and its beauty never escapes the forefront of your mind.

Upon arriving in Edinburgh we had a very difficult time finding our hostel so we ended up walking around for about forty unnecessary minutes. However, this means that immediately we were able to see some of the city’s beauty. Edinburgh has a castle mounted atop a hill which looks over the whole city.

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Edinburgh Castle

After finally finding our hostel we went to a nearby restaurant for brunch and the food was wonderful. They had french toast and bagels, each of which were a dream come true after a month and a half of hardly having a breakfast outside of cold cereal.

After eating we returned to the hostel to rest and get out of the cold for about an hour before heading out to explore. We knew we wanted to go to the castle so we headed that way.

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Edinburgh Castle
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walking through the park to get to the castle

One we reached the top of the hill the views were beautiful. The buildings are adorable and quaint and simply look like they’re full of all sorts of history. Like so many other cities and towns in Europe, Edinburgh is surrounded by mountains.

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We chose not to go inside of the castle, so we walked down the Royal Mile and were instantly in a whole different world.

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the Royal Mile pictured straight ahead

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It was while walking down the Royal Mile in search of another place with a great view of the city that we spotted a small crowd gathered around a man holding a large owl. To my surprise we soon realized that he and his wife were allowing members of the crowd to hold their owls (there was also a smaller one) in exchange for a small donation of three Euros. I immediately wanted to try it for myself. How many people can really say that they’ve held an owl on the Royal Mile in Scotland?

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I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, she was precious!

While we had been waiting our turns to hold the owls one of the owners, the wife, had mentioned to us that the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her Harry Potter series was just around the corner! Of course, we had to go.

The Elephant House is a cute cafe with delicious hot chocolate and is decked out in not only elephants, but also references to Rowling and Harry Potter everywhere.

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one sign upon entry stated “We do not have wifi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995”
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the bathroom has been absolutely covered in messages from fans who have visited

We continued to walk around a bit after our time at The Elephant House.

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it is said that this street was the inspiration behind J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley of Harry Potter

We then walked to an open area where we again got a great view of Edinburgh and also a nice view of Arthur’s Seat, though we chose not to climb because of the weather.

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Arthur’s Seat
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looking out on the city

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After spending the day in the cool rain we decided not to stay out late. After all, visiting three countries in eight days is extremely draining. I think somehow we all managed to get over eight hours of sleep that night, a blessing we could not take for granted.

Before having to leave for the airport that day we still had time to climb the Scot Monument.

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at the bottom of the Scot Monument
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looking out at the view while climbing the Monument

Climbing the Monument was a bit of a challenge. While it didn’t take long the steps spiraled the entire way to the top and at times became extremely narrow and the space became quite sparse.

After our climb it was time to leave. We finally returned to Florence around midnight and could not wait to simply relax. My week in London, Ireland, and Edinburgh was absolutely amazing and definitely unforgettable.