Category: Travel

The Best of Florence: 14 Things to Do, See and Eat

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As many of you know, Florence became my home away from home for four months while I studied abroad. The city was charming, beautiful, exciting and so historic. There are so many amazing things to do and see in this Italian city, the list could go on and on… but I’ve narrowed my list down to the top 14 things every person should do, see and eat if they visit Florence.

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1. Climb to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset

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2. Visit the Boboli Gardens and climb to both ends

– Go straight up the steps behind the amphitheater to the very top for a Tuscan hillside view, and all the way down the path to the left down Cypress Lane for a forested walk leading to the Isolotto’s Basin fountain.

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3. walk through Pitti Palace and visit the Sala Bianca and the costume gallery

– Sala Bianca was the room where many famous fashion designers had their first shows to launch their careers.

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4. wander through the Central Market and browse the colorful produce

– Grab an apple or orange, they are so flavorful in Italy.

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5. Eat at Osteria Santo Spirito and order the cheese and truffle oil gnocchi

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6. Eat at Gelaterie La Carraia along the Arno (biscottino is my flavor obsession)

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7. Climb to the top of the Duomo and Giotto’s campanile

– If you only have time to climb one, though your ticket will get you into both, I suggest climbing the campanile. That view will include the Duomo in it which adds an extra amazement factor.

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8. Go on a late night outing to one of the town’s secret bakeries, and eat it on the steps of Santa Croce

– The most well-known secret bakery (closest to Santa Croce) is Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini. Walk down Via dei Benci towards the river and make a right on Via del Canto Rivalto, follow your nose toward the delicious smell of freshly baked pastries. If no one else is there waiting, lightly knock on the glass door and order the ‘Cornetta con Nutella’ (Nutella filled croissant)… the chocolate is all warm and melty.

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9. Get Gusta Pizza to-go and go sit along the Ponte Vecchio at nighttime

-Gusta Pizza (located near Santo Spirito) is my favorite pizza in Florence. 5 euros for a delicious fresh margherita style pizza… I’m tearing up just reminiscing about it… you must go!

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10.  Shop the leather markets for great deals

– Mercato Nuovo is my favorite, but the San Lorenzo Market also has awesome deals!

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11. Visit the museums – See the David and visit the Uffizi

– The David is a must-see located at Accademia Gallery (along with many other sculptures by Michelangelo). The Uffizi is home to many famous works of art, including my favorite piece “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli.

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12. Visit The Fashion Museums: Capucci, Gucci and Ferragamo

– If you’re into fashion, and are looking to be amazed, visit each of these museums to see the work of these talented, and iconic, designers.

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13. Grab a quick pastry (bomboloni are my favorite) and an amazing cappuccino from a small cafe

– If you want to do it the Italian way, stand at the counter while you eat and enjoy. It is actually cheaper this way, and you’ll get to observe the locals more.

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14. Go grab aperitivo before dinner one night

-Aperitivo is a common Italian tradition where many bars will serve an appetizer buffet for free, with the purchase of a drink. Go grab an Aperol Spritz (my Italian favorite) for 7 euro and eat all the appetizers that your heart desires. (Who else agrees that the US needs to adopt this tradition?!)

 

Have any favorite spots in Florence that I missed? Leave your thoughts in a comment!

Packing for Europe: 10 Things to Pack You May Not Think of

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1. Bug Spray – Believe it or not there are mosquitos in Europe, specifically Italy, almost all year round. Many European stores do not sell normal bug spray, so if you want to avoid the bites, pack a small container of repellant.

2. Electricity CONVERTER – This is different than an adaptor. Europe has a higher voltage than the United States, so many of your electronics may get fried if you simply plug them into an adaptor. Usually Apple products can handle the European voltage of 240V, but many other products cannot.

3. At least 3 pairs of comfortable shoes – No matter how comfortable you THINK your shoes are, they will give you blisters…it’s a fact. With all the walking  you’ll do in Europe it’s best to alternate your shoes each day.

4. Crossbody zipped purse or money pouch – pickpocketing is huge in Europe, and they are pros at it. Always keep any credit cards and valuables close to you and zipped shut. Crossbody purses are best because they are harder for a thief to take.

5. A back-up credit or debit card – Incase your wallet or purse gets stolen, it is always a safe idea to bring an extra credit or debit card to keep locked in a safe in your hotel or apartment. This way if something gets taken you have a spare card to use until the other items can get replaced.

6. Copy of your passport – In parts of Europe, Italy I know for sure, it is actually said to be illegal to travel around the country without a copy of your passport on you. Having the copy on you at all times is a good idea incase you were ever stopped by the police.

7. Small pocket dictionary – Though many cities in Europe are very proficient in English, you will find a lot of establishments and locals that do not speak the language. It is best, and most respectful, if you attempt when at all possible to speak and greet individuals in the country’s language. Also, do not rely on a smart phone app for this because many apps rely on data or wifi, which you may not have in Europe.

8. Paper map of your first destination – Arriving in a new place, while also jet-lagged, is a complete mess. You’ll save yourself the headache if  you pack a paper map ahead of time in your bag, with your accommodation already marked on it. Again, do not simply rely on a smart phone for this, data and wifi are very spotty in Europe.

9. At least 100 Euros – It is also best to travel with a small amount of Euros so you have something to get started with. You will most likely need euros to pay for a taxi right away, and this way you won’t be obligated to use a cash exchange booth at the train station or airport. The interest rate at these booths is usually a lot higher than just using a normal local ATM.

10. Small umbrella – It rains a decent amount in Europe, and the rain tends to come unexpectedly. You cannot normally hail a taxi in many European cities, so if it rains you will be left to walk to your destination. You can usually buy an umbrella off of the street in urban European areas for around 2 euros, but chances are it will break after 2 uses… Trust me on that, I went through 4 while I was in Italy.

What not to pack?

do not pack any hot tools for your hair such as a hair dryer, straightener or curler. These products normally are not designed for that type of European voltage, and even if you plug them into a converter it may melt or even burn your hair. Use the dryer that your accommodation provides or buy a few cheap products once you arrive.

Paris

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Paris was nothing short of magical. I had always dreamed of visiting the city of lights, and finally my wish came true. Our weekend was packed with excitement and activities, and I was able to cover all of the big-see attractions in just 3 days.

Christmas time in Paris was beautiful. The entire city was covered in twinkling lights, and the Champs Elysees had a huge Christmas market all along the walkways. Holiday treats, festive music, a ferris wheel and hot chocolate were all I needed. Check out the photo diary below of my Parisian adventures.

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The Eiffel Tower at daytime.

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A vist to Notre Dame.

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The Louvre.

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My favorite vintage shop in the Marais neighborhood. Amazing finds and totally affordable! This whole shopping neighborhood was awesome.

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Laduree in Luxembourg Gardens. The caramel, pistachio,  and lemon flavors all had their own unique texture, but each were amazing and packed with flavor!

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Montmartre was one of my favorite neighborhoods situated right near Sacre Coeur. We had a cozy breakfast inside a little cafe, and had incredible eclairs from a new favorite bakery called Le Grenier A Pain.

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The department stores near the opera house in Paris are incredible. Galeries Lafayette had this gorgeous structure right in the middle of the store.

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Around the holidays there is a Christmas market right at the end of the Champs Elysees. You can ride a beautiful ferris wheel at night for a stunning view of Paris.

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It’s a must to see the Eiffel Tower at night time. The entire tower is lit up with sparkling lights and it is a sight that cannot be missed.

Au revoir Paris! Until next time.

Ireland

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I visited Ireland not long ago for a long weekend, and the entire trip was just beyond enchanting. Never in my life have I been to a place on this earth with such gorgeous landscapes and green rolling hills. The views I saw on that trip, both at the Cliffs of Moher and merely driving through the Irish countryside, will stick with me for a lifetime.

For the duration of my stay in Ireland, I chose an accommodation in Dublin. Dublin has a very energetic and fun atmosphere, and it was very easy to take transporation from Dublin to visit other areas. I chose to take a day trip with friends away from dublin to the Cliffs of Moher and also stop in the town of Galway.

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The Cliffs of Moher were absolutely breathtaking. You can walk along these muddy paths right along the edge of the cliffs that overlook the green terrain and rough waters down below. The views from every side and area of these cliffs were different and so cool in their own way. I was lucky to visit the cliffs on a nice day, but even still the wind alongside the edge of the cliffs was pretty strong. Not strong enough to knock anyone off the edge luckily, but I still had to hold on pretty tight to my hat.

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From the cliffs we passed by this amazing golf course. Crazy right? In my opinion it almost looks like the classic windows background screen.

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Galway was a charming small town filled with lots of locals and a plethora of street musicians. Little shops and cafes were all over the place and the Christmas markets were beautiful. After wandering the shops for a while we enjoyed spending some time in a small bakery. I had the best apple cinnamon cupcake of my life!

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Unfortunately my day touring Dublin was quite rainy, but we still made the most of our time there. The town was urban yet historic and very charming. I loved the different architecture in Dublin, and the different shopping areas and department stores had beautiful holiday decorations and window displays. My two favorite areas in Dublin were St. Stephen’s Green Park and Grafton Street. Grafton street had a bunch of great shops and it ends right near the park, and right along the outside fence of St. Stephen’s Green was a long stretch of Christmas market stands.

Towards the end of our afternoon in Dublin we visited the Guinness Storehouse. The storehouse had some really cool merchandise, and the top floor of the building had a 360 degree stunning view of Dublin. From the top bar, we used our ticket vouchers and got to have a taste of the ‘perfect pint’ of Guinness.

If you’re interested in the night life of Dublin, it appeared that everywhere you turned in Dublin was a cool historic Pub. A lot of the pubs have live bands playing in them, which is a really neat atmosphere that you do not always find in the United States. If you don’t have a ton of time in Dublin, I would suggest visiting the Temple Bar area and The Brazen Head. Temple Bar is one of the most vibrant spots, very lively with amazing bands. The Brazen Head is the oldest pub in Ireland, and the atmosphere is very rustic and inviting.

When In Rome

IMG_6420 IMG_6352 IMG_6368 I was so excited to finally visit Rome. I have lived in Italy for about 3 months now and finally was able to fit the weekend trip into my schedule. I only had about 2 days in Rome, which wasn’t as much as I would have liked, but I still managed to see everything on my ‘must-see’ list.

On day 1 I made the trip to Vatican City. Here, I toured the Vatican Museum, saw the Sistine Chapel, and visited St. Peter’s Basilica. When visiting Vatican City I would suggest getting a tour guide. The facilities are very large and a little confusing, so it would help if you had someone to show you the key highlights of the areas.

The Vatican Museum was so incredibly large and very ornate. I don’t think I have ever taken so many pictures of ceilings before! The artwork was wonderful throughout. St. Peter’s Basilica was absolutely enormous and beautiful; there was marble throughout the entire building and every inch of space was decorated. The entire trip to Vatican City was a little overwhelming, but everything that I saw was incredible.

IMG_6519 IMG_6527  The following day, I started my morning off by visiting the inside of the Colosseum. It was amazing to step inside a structure that was constructed all the way back in 70 AD. The different areas of the building were very neat and it was amazing how similar the building was constructed compared to our arenas today.

IMG_6617 IMG_6680 IMG_6703 IMG_6642 Following my visit to the Colosseum, I used my same ticket to get inside the Roman Forum. I thought this area of Rome was one of the most interesting sights, and I spent close to 2 hours touring it. The area includes a lot of ancient Roman structures, and parts of the Forum also have the best views of the city. I enjoyed sitting in a grassy area overlooking the Colosseum for a while.

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It was amazing to see just how different the architecture was in Rome compared to Florence. It was such an interesting change of pace and I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to visiting Rome again one day!