Friday, April 13, 2007

the past two months...

Where to begin? I realize that I have been a less than faithful blogger lately, so this will be an attempt to catch up. Since my last post I have traveled to Amsterdam (March 2-4), Venice (March 16-18), some tuscan Hilltowns surrounding Florence (March 23), Athens, and the Greek Isles for Spring Break (March 24-April 1).

Amsterdam: A great change of pace from Florence, lots of new buildings, wide streets, and most people spoke English. Highlights included a boat tour of the canals, the Van Gogh Museum, the Ann Frank House, the Heineken Museum, as well as a visit to the infamous Red Light District. An exhausting trip, but worth it.

Venice: We were fortunate to have sunny skies and fairly warm weather in Venice, although at night it got chilly as the wind blew in from the water. A city of beauty comparable to Florence, Venice posses the added charm of bridges and canals. We saw a great collection of art at the Patty Guggenheim Museum- works by Dali, Calder, and Picasso just to name a few. We were also able to take a ferry out to the island of Murano, which is famous for its glass factories. The live demonstration was very cool, and it was hard to choose a souvenir since all the glass jewelry is so beautiful. Another high point of the trip was a visit to St. Mark's square, where we fed the pigeons-- it is an experience to say the least!

Hilltowns: Our class trip to the tuscan hilltowns was a sun-filled day of exploring churches, olive groves, and quaint streets and shops. We ate gelato, tasted wine, and enjoyed the slower pace that the small towns offer.

Spring Break: I would have to say that this was my favorite trip so far. Not only was the weather gorgeous, and the sky and sea bluer than you can imagine, the food and lodging were cheap, and the people extremely friendly! Getting to Athens was somewhat of an adventure: we had to leave the night before to take a 5 hour train to Milan central station, from there we took a bus to the Airport, once we arrived in Athens we had to take a train to Pireas, the port, where we had to wait for 7 hrs because the ferry to Santorini was delayed. We finally made it, dropped our stuff off at the hostel and headed to the port to make a boat tour of the volcanic island and hot springs off the coast. The rest of our time at Santorini was spent at a more relaxed pace- we ate well, watched the sun set, and layed out on a red sand beach.
But after two days it was time to continue on our adventure to the next island: Paros. Here we stayed at a quaint hostel close to the port, where we were the first guests of the season. Again, amazing food: my first Greek salad in Greece and, of course, baklava. Since we were also the first tourists of the season at the restaurant the owners gave us free wine.
We rented cars here to explore the coast and country side, traveling to the small town of Naussa to spend the day. The last day we found a small beach which we had all to ourselves!
The final island of our trip was Mycanos, and it was magnificent! Here the beach we found was called "Super Paradise" and I don't think it could have been given a more fitting title. Again, we had the whole beach to ourselves. The water was a little too cold for swimming, but I took the plunge a few times. In the evenings we relaxed, ate some gyros, and walked around the quaint streets -everything freshly painted in bright white and blue as the locals prepared for tourist season.
We spent only one full day in Mycanos so that we could have time to explore Athens. We saw the Acropolis and spent some time shopping. We flew back to Milan in the evening, hoping to catch a 10:00 train back to Florence, but unfortunately discovered that the trains stopped after 8pm. We spent a very interesting last night in a hostel, but at 10 euros a night we couldn't complain. The 7am Eurostar train got us back to Florence in time for class at 11am. Honestly, I was not especially happy to be back- Greece was amazing!

Monday, February 12, 2007


Visiting Assisi was like taking a trip back in time to a medieval village. Situated on a hill,it draws it's charm from the winding streets, stone buildings, and beautiful surrounding landscape of olive groves. It took 2 1/2 hours to travel there by train, and from the train station we had to take a short bus ride up to the top of the hill, but the view was gorgeous.
We followed a Rick Steve's recommended route for a day trip, and it was perfect. We saw all the major sites, including a medieval castle, and the tomb of St. Francis, and of course enjoyed the educational yet witty commentary of Rick Steve's guidebook. Yet, what I liked most about Assisi was the peaceful atmosphere. There were very few cars, and it was overall a very relaxing experience.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Coastal Adventure and the Leaning Tower

Chinque Terre, Lucca, Viareggio, and Pisa were the destinations of my travel last weekend. The trip began with Chinque Terre: a series of 5 quaint cities situated along the western coast of Italy. The cities are connected by hiking trails and a train, but it is well worth the walk. The climb, steep at times, winds through beautiful gardens of orange and lemon trees and affords an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea!
We hiked to the first town, and arrived just in time to watch the sun setting. We spent the night in Lucca, a smaller city further inland, whose main attraction is the exisiting medieval city wall, which has a walking trail on top.
Relaxing on the beach was next on our agenda, so the next day we headed to the coastal city of Viareggio. The water was still quite cold, but we had a nice picnic of pizza by the water. We ended the day in Pisa, which has little to offer besides the infamous tower, so we amused ourselves by taking fun pictures!

Thursday, February 1, 2007


As this was my first visit to Rome I feel like I accomplished a lot: the first day was taken up mainly by a lengthy tour of the Roman forum. It was impressive, but not as great as it could have been since it was pouring, thundering occasionally, windy and freezing. The day did seem to be getting better as the clouds cleared, revealing a rainbow, perfectly framed by the ruins, and later that day I visited the Villa Borghese, a magnificent art and sculpture gallery, with many exquisite works by Giotto. Other highlights included: St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museum, Trevi Fountain, and of course, the Colosseum. Sadly, we did not have much time to spend at the Vatican, so I don't feel that my experience of the Sistine Chapel was complete; however, it was inspiring just to see even for a short amount of time.
After a jam-packed weekend, it was nice to return to Florence. Rome was an exciting trip, but it made me realise how much I prefer the small-city charm of Florence.
Tonight I ate at "Il Latini," an authentic Tuscan restaurant, whose ambiance was completed by the proscioutto (cured ham) hanging from the ceiling, and group style seating. We shared a table with an Italian couple, as well as some travelers from Germany. I ate a wonderful caprese salad (tomato and fresh mozzarella), tomato soup with basil and thickened with bread, and a rich chocolate cake for desert- The best meal I have had so far!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Day Trip to Siena

This Friday I took a day trip to Siena. It was a short bus ride from Florence, and the scenery through Tuscany was beautiful, even in January! Visiting Siena was a nice change from the bustle of Florence- it has smaller streets, more hills, and very few cars. The major sights include: Il Campo, the sight of the famous Palio horse race, and the ornate gothic Duomo. The church was never completed, so visitors can enjoy a great view of the city by climbing to the top of the unfinished nave.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Daily Life in Firenze

Now that I am falling into a schedule of classes, the next task is to plan trips! Since I am fortunate enough not to have class on Fridays, I get a three day weekend, every weekend! This weekend, I plan to travel to Siena by bus and get a taste of the Tuscan countryside.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Well, after being delayed in Chicago, and missing my flight into Italy, I finally arrived in Florence, or "Firenze" as it is said in Italian.

I live in a cozy apartment with three other students on Via dei Rustici, very near to the famous Santa Croce. It is small, but warm, and complete with all the necessary amenities, except a dryer; however, since electricity is much more expensive in Italy, few people have them.

This past week here has been a blur of intensive Italian language classes, orientation sessions, sightseeing, and cooking. A highlight so far was definitly eating gellato as I admired the view of the city from the Piazza Michelangelo.

This week I have started the rest of my classes, so I am attempting to become accostomed to a new schedule as well as the new culture.