Barcelona with my Besties

Last weekend was one of the best yet! Megan, Sarah and I were able to spend a wonderful three days together in Barcelona, Spain. Once we made it from the airport to our hostel, we spent hours catching up outside at a little cafe. It was sunny and warm, which was the perfect weather to enjoy a pitcher of sangria. We explored La Rambla, which is a main street filled with street performers and is home to a wonderful market. Every flavor of fresh juice was available for only 1 Euro. I tried pineapple, orange, strawberry! Delicious! Every exotic fruit, vegetable, fish, and meat was available. We saw sheep heads, brains, unidentifiable fish, and some other meats that we weren’t quite sure about. We also stumbled upon the best baklava I have ever had. It oozed honey and I could have licked the napkin clean. We then explored along the pier and beach. Surprisingly, we ran into both groups of girls from our program, also vacationing for the weekend, within 5 minutes of each other! Small world! That night for dinner I had the most bizarre pizza: shredded spiced pork, buffalo mozzarella, cocoa powder, chives, and honey. It was phenomenal!

Saturday we visited the breathtaking Sagrada Familia. That morning, I felt like a little kid going to Disneyland for the first time. I have wanted to see this church for such a long time. It was incredible. It was so refreshing to be in a church that incorporated nature into the design. It really does feel like being in a big forest with beautiful blues and greens streaming in from the stained glass windows. I was speechless for a while as I took it all in. They are anticipating for construction to finally end in 2026. Only 8 of the 18 towers have been completed. It was interesting to learn that the towers are for the 12 disciples, 4 evangelists, Mary and Jesus. The sun rises on the nativity facade, sets on the passion facade, and during the day is on the resurrection facade. I just loved how each element was carefully planned out to the last detail. That day, we also made it to Park Guell. It was neat to see the tile benches and big, tile salamander. That evening we hiked up Mont Juic looking for the Magic Fountain. After quite an uphill battle, we gave up on seeing it. To our surprise, our bus stopped right at the fountain! The area was packed with hundreds of people. It was similar to the Bellagio fountain, but with a little more spunk and a lot more American 90s music. It was a perfect way to end the day.

Sunday was our relaxing vacation day. We pretty much hopped from one cafe to the next. Our lunch was at a place called Wok to Walk. It’s a make your own stir fry bar. You pick everything from noodle type to meat and veggies to the type of sauce. I really am hoping that it makes its way over to the US some point soon, because it was delicious! It was nice to have so much time to just enjoy being with each other and not having to run from site to site. That evening, we had tapas at a place where you pay by toothpick. Each little appetizer (tapas) plate has a toothpick in it, and at the end of your meal they tally the toothpicks and you are set. It was a great way to try a lot of different foods. We had everything from shrimp to sausage to deep friend potato meat ball things. Overall Barcelona was one of my favorite spots yet! We had a riot! We have already made a pact to go back when Sagrada Familia is finished!

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Vacationing like a Celebrity

Before I start in on our fantastic trip to the French Riviera, I better do a quick overview of what has been going on between spring break and now. I try to spend my free afternoons at the Boboli Gardens, flying through books and soaking up the sun. We are trying to discover more areas on our side of the river. We have found an incredible gelato shop with flavors like salted caramel, chai tea, and lemon/sage. The Saturday before Easter, I got to go on a bike ride through Tuscany. The views were incredible, and despite the last few hours in down-pouring rain, it was still a great time. We ended at a castle for a wine and olive oil tasting. Easter was quite the experience! Florence celebrates by shooting fireworks off of a giant, ancient cart. The procession before the big show was filled with bright medieval costumes, music, and flower adorned oxen.

We started our trip to southern France in Nice. The weather was perfect, in the mid-70s and sunny. We walked through rows of brightly colored buildings with even brighter shutters. Coral and blue, pink and orange, they were beautiful! Our guide brought us to a lookout point with a beautiful waterfall on top. We spent the rest of our day exploring the coastline and taking in the ocean smells and sunshine.  The macarons and croissants were unbelievable! I definitely ate my way through the city. Each morning of the trip we stopped at an open-air market where we got homemade chocolate croissants and a huge container of fresh strawberries for 3,50 euro!

The next day, we took a bus to Eze for a perfume factory tour. I don’t think I have ever seen employees so happy in my life. What a fun place to work at every day! My favorite part of the weekend was hiking to the top of this medieval city to the exotic gardens. The gardens were situated on the top of beautiful cliffs covered with flowers and cacti that overlooked the Mediterranean. I could have soaked in that view all day long. Our next stop was in Monaco. What a lavish place to be. Seeing the Monte Carlo casino was great! Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, and  Rolls Royce were all parked outside the entrance. They knew I was a high roller when I walked in with my jean jacket and Keds! 😉 I played the slots and lost a whopping 50 cents!

On our last day, we headed out for Antibes. The 48 beaches and huge collection of super yachts did not disappoint. It was so nice to relax in the sun while the breeze brought in the amazing smell of the ocean. The yachts that we walked by were absolutely gigantic! They had cute names like “Just for Fun.” I don’t even want to think about how much they cost, but they were really cool to see. Our drive back to Florence was right along the coast, so we got to enjoy beautiful scenery the entire ride back. It was hard to leave the land of sun, sand, and palm trees but I am so glad I got to experience another area of France. We are off to Barcelona this upcoming weekend! Can’t wait!

Spring Break of a Lifetime

I returned this past Sunday from the best spring break trip of my life! We drove 4,500 kilometers, hit 7 countries, 4 major cities, and had an incredible time! We left the night of March 19th and returned the afternoon of the 29th. To try to make this as easy to follow as possible, below are five paragraphs for each city we visited.

We arrived in Prague Friday morning and hit the ground running (a common theme for the entire trip). We were introduced to the city with a great walking tour that showed us Old and New Town Squares, the last standing concert hall where Mozart played, the clock tower, and the jewish quarter. Prague lost 70,000 Jews in the holocaust, so terrible. The majority of the afternoon was spent exploring the city. We danced our hearts out that night at an 80s/90s club that was playing Grease sing-a-long videos on the screens! The next day we saw the John Lennon wall, and got to enjoy the view while a man played Beatles songs. It was a beautiful, sunny day so we climbed to the top of the clock tower and enjoyed gorgeous panoramic views of Prague. Food highlights in Prague: STREET FOOD! Sausage was amazing. We did a beer flight tasting with blueberry and honey beers, and I tried a Pilsner Urquell (a Tom Pearson favorite). A dessert called a Trdelnik, or what we called a turtleneck, was incredible! A huge hollow croissant dough cylinder coated on the inside with whatever you want. My favorite was toasted coconut on the outside and dark chocolate on the inside!

Sunday morning we departed for Berlin at 8:45am and arrived around 3:00pm. We went to a very cool outdoor market that afternoon. Really neat art, clothes, food, etc. I felt like I was at an Uptown art fair. People in Berlin are very funky and artsy. The next day, we had our best walking tour of the trip, and our gorgeous guide from London didn’t hurt either 😉 We started at the Brandenburg Gate, saw the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his child from the window, walked through the memorial for all the Jews lost in the Holocaust (each name of someone lost is flashed for 5 seconds and it takes 7 years to get through each name), walked over where Hitler shot himself, saw Checkpoint Charlie, Humbolt University (Albert Einstein, the Brothers Grimm, and Karl Marx are some people who studied there), and saw many other fascinating places! We went to the top of the Fernsehturm (TV tower) and then headed to the East Side Gallery. It was absolutely incredible to be able to touch the Berlin Wall. Each segment is painted with vibrant colors, famous images, and inspirational quotes. We ended our day with a stop to the world’s largest chocolatier, Fassbender and Rausch. Best chocolates I have ever had! Another food highlight Berlin is known for is currywurst, which was sausage in a curry sauce with some interesting spices thrown in, nonetheless it was fantastic!

Tuesday morning we pulled into Amsterdam around 6:45am. The exhaustion was starting to kick in by this point, but we didn’t let that stop us from having another fun, jam-packed day! We met for a 3 hour walking tour of the city. We explored the canals and the adorable, old buildings, while learning about Dutch culture and their traditions. After a quick lunch of beef croquets, we went on our tour of the Anne Frank house. That was one of the most surreal moments of this trip. I had a lump in the throat the entire time and teared up seeing Anne’s height marks and sweet magazine cut-outs of animals and celebrities on the walls. Her inspirational and tender words are so moving, and make you appreciate and reflect on your own life. After that, our environment flip-flopped as we went to the Heineken factory tour. This tour is a blast and fun for people like me who can’t stand beer. After that, we went on a walking tour of the Red Light District. That was an interesting 2 hours to say the least! The next day we had to get Dutch pancakes and they did not disappoint. Mine was filled with stroppwaffel (caramel wafer cookies) and topped with chocolate flakes, cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream, sugar overload! I got to enjoy the city from a local’s perspective with an awesome bike tour that afternoon.

Thursday was a day for the books: breakfast in Amsterdam, lunch in Brussels, and dinner in Paris! Our three hour detour in Brussels consisted of one thing: eating. From our chocolate strawberry belgian waffles to the world’s best fish and chips with garlic truffle mayo (I’m drooling again just thinking about it) I give Brussels a thumbs up for food. As for Paris? What says Parisian dinner more than a Chipotle burrito?

We started our time in Paris with a walking tour of Notre Dame, the lock bridge, and the Louvre. Seeing the Mona Lisa was great! We walked down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and saw the Arc de Triomphe. We spent the rest of the day staring at the Eiffel Tower. We watched the sun set and saw the light show twice. I expected it to be breathtaking, but I didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with the Eiffel Tower. It is stunningly gorgeous. I had a food list for Paris and hit them all: a chocolate croissant, the best Palmier I have ever had, Laduree macarons, a strawberry nutella crepe, and finally the best crepe of my life: gruyere and ham. Foodie heaven! Saturday we spent at Versailles. It was so much bigger than I imagined and every inch of it is beautiful. It would have been nice if the gardens were in bloom, but they were still a sight to see. After one more Chipotle dinner, we left Paris at 8pm Saturday night and returned in Florence around 12:30 Sunday afternoon.

Looking back on my pictures, I can’t believe we were able to pack in as much as we did. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to go to all of these places! My new quote of studying abroad taken off of the Berlin wall is “Right now, someone is dreaming of living your life,” this is my reminder to be so appreciative for every amazing experience here!

Exploring Italy

Last week started off with a bang when we experienced an earthquake last Tuesday! I thought my friend was insane when she texted me saying she had just felt one, but sure enough about five minutes later my bed began to shake. It was the most bizarre thing! Not to worry though, nothing serious here!

My classes seem nonexistent because they are either taking us on field trips or taking us to eat, but I’m not complaining! My food tradition class toured a grocery story called Eatily to explore different types of Italian products. I don’t think I will be attempting to use anchovies or any of the strange cheeses in my cooking endeavors, but it was fun to learn about! This Monday in food class we made tiramisu. Chocolate class never disappoints. We have had two weeks of chocolate tours and tastings. Last week we sampled rich hot chocolates, an extra dark and a chocolate hazelnut. They are like cups of melted candy bars. Then this week we tried about ten different pieces of chocolate and topped that off with gelato. Not too bad for a Monday! For my art and history courses we toured Santa Maria Novella church and the Bargello museum. It is always so surreal to see famous works of art that I have only seen in a book or online. Today we saw Donatello’s David. It was so much smaller than I expected! The food continues to amaze. I had some fantastic gelato, one was dark chocolate with raspberry, and another was coffee, hazelnut, and dark chocolate. I got to try bolognese sauce and fresh tortellini in Bologna. It was unreal! I also might have eaten chicken liver in Bologna, but sometimes you just never know what you are actually eating and I would rather not know.

This past weekend I went on two great day trips. Bologna was surprisingly lively and much more modern than I had expected. Seeing the first university in Europe was fun. What a gorgeous place to be able to study! The main subjects taught there were law and medicine. I can’t imagine what they were learning in their medical school then compared to what we learn today! My other trip was to the Saturnia hot springs, which is about three hours south of Florence. The drive had some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen yet. The rolling, bright green hills covered with vineyards and dotted with sheep were adorable and could have been the perfect image on a Tuscan postcard. It was like driving through a picturesque Tuscan movie set. The water from the springs is taken from the ground and then channeled into pools at the resort. I have been spoiled with extra hot, hot springs in Costa Rica and on other trips so I was a little disappointed with the water temp, but it was still warm and relaxing. I didn’t realize how much I smelled like sulfur until we got back onto the bus, oops! At least we all smelled on the way back.

I’m really looking forward to attending a soccer game this Thursday. Florence is kicking butt in their league! Being the only sport I did not play, I will have absolutely no idea what is going on, but the experience will be a blast! Next week we have our midterm exams, so I will actually have to start doing something for my classes. With spring break coming up, it will be nice to have a relaxing week!

Tuscany and Veneto

The past ten days were jam-packed with outings in Florence, day trips in Tuscany, and a fantastic weekend in Venice. Two Fridays ago (February 20th) Sarah and I ventured outside of the city to Fiesole. Perched perfectly on a hilltop, we had a view of miles of Tuscany hilltops on one side and a complete view of Florence and beyond on the other. We explored an archaeological site that had a roman amphitheater and ancient roman baths. We soaked up the beautiful, sunny day by hiking through hills while enjoying the gorgeous views. That same weekend, we had our fabulous Gustie friend Sarah Schuetz come and visit for the day. It was so nice to be able to catch up with her and hear of her adventures in Ireland.

All of my classes this week went on field trips or had cooking labs, pretty tough right? We visited the Ferragamo museum, central market, San Miniato church, and different residences of the Medici family. In chocolate class we made chocolate mousse and chocolate chip cookies. As low-key as the classes are, I am learning so much by being able to go to the places I see in my readings. This past Friday, I visited the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace. Both were stunning! The rooms of the palace were jaw-droppingly gorgeous, each their own work of art. On top of that, they were filled with treasures and clothing of the Medici Family. Quiet the sights to see!

This past weekend was our trip to the lovely islands of Venice. When stepping out of the train station, you are smacked in the face with the beautiful sights in front of you. I joke that I feel like I am always in a postcard here, but Venice was like strolling into a beautiful oil paining full of bright colors combined with crisp, fresh air. It was fantastic to see the water, we didn’t realize how much we missed that. There is no rhyme or reason to the layout of the streets in Venice, and I have never been so directionally challenged in my life. While being completely, utterly lost we did find one of the best things I have eaten on the trip so far. We got chicken and tomato calzones that made finding our way around Venice much more enjoyable. We stumbled upon the Rialto Bridge, which then brought us to St. Mark’s Basilica and the San Marco Square. Before going on our walking tour, we found an adorable pastry shop where I got the best cannoli filled with candied orange pieces and chocolate chips. Delicious! Our walking tour of Venice was fantastic. Our tour guide was hilarious and gave us information that was actually worth knowing. We really enjoyed it. The best part of the weekend was our next activity, the gondola ride! It lasted about 35 minutes and we explored tiny canals as well as the large Grand Canal. The sun was setting as we maneuvered our way through the water ways. It was dreamy and beautiful. After the ride, while waiting to meet up with some of Sarah’s friends from home, Sar and I drank sparking, peach wine while soaking up the view of the water. We splurged on an incredible fresh seafood dinner. When ordering the sea bass, I did not expect that the whole fish would be making its way to our table. You can imagine the look on our faces as they beheaded, de-finned, and deboned the fish at the table. Needless to say, it was the best fish I have ever had. Finishing it off with tiramisu was not a bad way to end our first day in Venice.

Our second day was more low-key. We toured the opera house in Venice. Earning its name Fenice (phoenix) by burning down twice, it has been totally brought up from its ashes and restored to its original beauty. Chandeliers adorned each ceiling and attention to detail was evident everywhere you looked. We were able to go into the main, fancy box seating used for royalty and special guests. Fun to be able to sit where Napoleon Bonaparte has been! The rest of the day consisted of relaxing by the water and soaking up the last views of the city until we headed home.

Thank God for Cuddl Duds!

The past week has been full of memories, from gorgeous sunny Florence days to a wonderful weekend trip in Como and Milan. My Italian Food Traditions course has been wonderful. Week one consisted of making bruschetta and artichoke risotto, and this past Monday we had prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano tastings. Everything Chocolate is fabulous! I can definitely get used to chocolate bar and chocolate spread tastings each week. Last week was beautiful, warm and sunny which, of course, lead into a weekend of rain and snow. The weather didn’t stop us from having a great time though!

Our coach buses headed out of Florence in the early afternoon on Friday through the beautiful hills that surround Florence. Around 8:00 pm we arrived at a very large restaurant that somewhat resembled a German beer hall. We were served an all you can eat buffet of pizzas. Pizza after pizza was carried out of the kitchen: arugula and prosciutto, artichoke and parmesan, crab, to name a few! With very full stomachs we arrived at our hotel and crashed for the night.

Saturday started off bright and early with breakfast at 6:30 am. The hotel laid out quite the breakfast spread: pastries, meats, cheeses, a variety of breads, crackers, berry cheesecake, Nutella, yogurt, fresh fruit, and the list goes on. We then headed off for a full day in Milan. A walking tour took us to a castle, past many museums, and to the Milan duomo. Along the way, we stopped to see The Last Supper. It was incredible to see such a renowned work of art. After seeing it depicted in so many ways and usually in a small poster size, I never imagined the true grandeur of the painting being as large as it was. It could easily span an entire wall of our house. We went by the stock exchange, which is flanked out front with a giant, marble statue of a certain choice finger from someone who was clearly not happy with the stock exchange. By the time the walking tour was done we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes and headed into a cafe at the top of a very high-end department store that overlooked the duomo. After we had time to dethaw we explored the amazing store, and after realizing we couldn’t afford one single thing there, we headed over to the beautiful and stunning Milan duomo. I have no words to describe how gorgeous it was, but it was a true masterpiece. After braving the rainy, damp city for the sake of saying we shopped in Milan, we decided that nothing sounded better than McDonalds fries. They have never tasted so fantastic! We had some down-time back at the hotel before enjoying our Valentine’s Day five course meal of caprese salad, pesto pasta, asparagus risotto, veal with roasted potatoes, and tiramisu.

We woke up to one of the snowiest mornings I have seen in a long time. Buckets of wet snow were pouring down on Sunday morning in Como. I layered all the clothes I had brought for the weekend on top of my cuddl duds and would have done anything for my Uggs. We started the morning with a walking tour of the city center. Every chance we got to stand under an awning we had to fling off the snow that piled up on top of our umbrellas. We saw the home of the man who invented the battery, more beautiful churches, and a 500 year old home. Then, it was time for our Lake Como boat ride. I was disappointed with the weather, but the Minnesotan in me was not going to miss out on seeing the lake through the foggy windows inside the boat, so I braved the weather and stood outside in the snow. Despite the disgusting weather, it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. George, Amal and I unfortunately couldn’t find an overlap in our schedules to meet up 😉 Maybe next time! We did see the place of the Clooney’s first date, where some scenes of Oceans 11 were filmed, Versace’s mansion, and many other gigantic, gorgeous mansions. Now completely frozen to the bone, we tried to warm up with some hot chocolate before heading to Parma. We toured the Bertinelli factory where they make parmigiano reggiano cheese. It is incredible the amount of hard work that goes into each wheel. Bertinelli didn’t disappoint, the cheese was delicious! When the bus pulled into the station that night, it was nice to feel back at “home.” The trip was a whirlwind, but it was great to get out of the city for a while and see another region of Italy. Can’t wait for Venice in a week and a half!

Settling In

As I am sitting down to write my Sunday blog, I can not believe two weeks have already flown by. It is a good reminder that every second here is so valuable. The first week of classes was great. It is comforting to finally feel like some type of schedule is in place. My courses are Everything Chocolate, Traditional Foods of Italy, Art History, Fashion in Film, and The History of the Medici Family. I feel like I am getting a well-rounded insight to all aspects of Italian culture. Our most memorable classroom is Pepto-bismol pink with a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling and large paintings on each wall. We sit on pink couches that circle the room. It is quite the experience!

We took a nice hike to see the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is the lookout point over the city. The view is stunning. You are able to see all of Florence surrounded by the gorgeous Tuscan hills. I also ventured into Florence’s large food market. I had hoped to finally get some chicken, but was very surprised when the chickens still had heads and some feathers. I will be saving chicken for the chefs at the restaurants. The market was fascinating and full of every fruit, vegetable, meat, etc. My favorite was a gourmet apple/pear juice. I think I could have licked the bottle clean. Our best food surprise of the week was finding the Florence chocolate festival. Tables of truffles, chocolate bars, chocolate barks, and so many samples. They even had fudge! I’m really looking forward to a week full of warmth and sunshine. Next weekend I am headed off to Parma, Lake Como and Milan. Can’t wait for the first trip!

We made it!

It’s official! We made it through week one! Getting over jet lag and adjusting to the culture has been, at times, frustrating but overall we are doing very well. Our apartment is situated in a typical Italian neighborhood above a constantly bustling street. We are less than a ten minute walk from the river. We get to experience the best of both worlds, which does not happen for every student here. Each morning we walk by tiny fruit markets, butcher shops, and family owned restaurants where most people don’t speak english. We then cross the river and are surrounded by every designer brand imaginable, people everywhere, and cars zipping by at every turn. No matter where in the city you are, it always feels like you have been placed into a beautiful Italian painting. The winding streets are filled with bright colors and gorgeous architectural designs. Our classes are scattered throughout the city. Some will be by the Duomo and others closer to the river. I’m very excited to start off week one of classes with “Everything Chocolate” at noon on Monday.

We have packed more into the first couple of days than I ever expected. Most days consist of having a few destinations in mind, getting lost trying to find them, eating delicious meals while lost, then finally finding where you originally wanted to go. We have stumbled upon delicious pastries and gelato. I honestly do not think that anything here can taste bad! On average, we walk at least 7-8 miles a day! In one large summary, so far we were able to see: Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, The Uffizi Gallery, and the statue of David. The leather markets were an experience all on their own. Until the time comes for the perfect purse 😉 we are going to try to avoid them.

For all my foodies out there, they aren’t lying when they say Italy has the best food in the world. Even cheap sandwiches in touristy areas are fabulous! The cheeses and meats are like nothing I have ever had before. The fruit we get at the local market is so wonderful and fresh. Oranges, berries, apples, you name it and it tastes 100 times better in Florence. I was able to track down a dish with my favorite thing: truffle cream (gnocchi with sausage and truffle cream) and couldn’t have savored each bite more. The best pizza I have ever had came from a tiny place called Gusta Pizza. The margarita pizza was so perfect that our table was so busy eating that we were almost silent. Finally, the most important part, dessert. One word: gelato. The fresh mandarin paired with their dark chocolate was the best ice cream of my life. Thank goodness we walk as much as we do!

Pre Departure

Bion Giorno Family and Friends!

Here is my official blog site to keep you up to date on all of my adventures abroad. For a little over view, I will be in Florence, Italy for the next four months. I will be staying in an apartment with 4-6 girls from my program, which is Study Abroad Italy (SAI). We will be studying at Florence University of the Arts. For the first semester of my college career I won’t be taking any science courses, and will have the chance to study art, fashion, and cooking! I’m very excited to see what the next four months have in store. To quote my favorite movie, Up, “Adventure is out there!” and I’m ready to find it!