Spring Break: 3rd Stop Berlin!

6 May

Day 5: March 24 – An Airport Adventure and FINALLY Berlin

We woke up very early to get our flight to Berlin,being sure ourselves ample time to get to the airport, get through security, and all that nonsense. We made it to the Brussels international airport and went to check in. This is when we were informed that we were at the wrong airport. Why, yes, in fact there are twoooo international airports (a fact that I too did not know) and we were at the wrong one. So after panic ensued, we hoped in a cab and I informed the cab driver to drive as fast as he possibly could to our actual airport. After hitting traffic, me panicking again, feeling like I was going to vomit, we finally made it to the airport and we made it with time to spare! Horray! Yay, for being sure to leave ample time to get to the airport.

Once we were finally in Berlin, we dropped off our bags at our hostel- CityStay Mitte (which was a pretty nice hostel) and despite being exhausted from the stress of the morning we immediately got to site seeing. We started walking around the city saw a bunch of Berlin’s buildings and then got severely lost trying to find the Reichstag. We did however eventually make our way to the Brandenburg Tor and then to the Reichstag. Both are very impressive monuments in real life and are slightly over powering they are so big. We proceeded to walk around the city. We fallowed what I can only describe as a walking tour of placards that are set up around the city detailing the history of several different sites. We saw the Berlin wall, err well, what’s left of it. We saw the Holocaust memorial, which was very well done. And then we continued to walk around and wander the city. Because everything in Berlin closes at 2pm when it’s not tourist season, which is just silly.

Day 6: March 25- Concentration Camp and more of Berlin

Since everything in Berlin closes at 2pm, we woke up early to try and fit as much as we could in our last day. We took about a 1 and a half hour train outside of the city to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was a really interesting experience and we spent about 2 and half hours there. We then hopped on the train back into Berlin and walk around for a bit until we froze, because it was soooo cold in Berlin. I ate a pretzel (it had some sort of cheese on it) and drank some German beer….I thought that it was appropriate.

Berlin was fun, although I would suggest that if you are going to go you should go in May of July when it’s warm and things stay open past 2pm.



Spring Break: 2nd Stop Brussels

5 May

Day 4: March 22 -Brussels

The flight from Dublin to Brussels was very short (only about an hour) and it was on time (yay) so we arrived in Brussels nice and early, which gave us ample to time to start venturing (we were only in Brussels for 2 days, so we had to hit the ground running). We left the airport, hoped on a bus and then a train and then we started walking to our hostel… and then we got a little lost– but no big deal with the little amount of French that I know I was able to get us back on track ans we did find our hostel. The “2 go 4 Quality Hostel” (yes, that is it’s actual name) was mach nicer than our first hostel it was very clean and they offered free use of computers and it was located in a perfect place!  After dropping our bags off we began our quest for the perfect Belgium Waffle!

A friend of my roommate had lived in Brussels last year so we knew a few spots to check out. We settled on one stand that was recommended to us and damn was it good! I got one with strawberries, whipped cream, and drizzled with chocolate. yummm. After sitting and enjoying our waffles we decided to see a few of the local sites. We started with a very odd statue that for some reason the Belgians are obsessed with, the Mannequin Pis– it is a fountain topped with a small statue of a young boy peeing—- yes, you read that correctly. It was a very odd fountain and I’m not sure why the Belgians love it, but they do! After the Mannequin Pis we walked around and found the Brussels’ Royal Palace, it is beyond beautiful. After studying the Renaissance Palaces of Florence the combination of the gothic and baroque style that this palace was built in was very refreshing and elaborate. The whole square is beautifully laid out and in the spring they have this tradition of covering the ground of the square in a carpet of flowers arranged into an intricate design, I wish we could have been their for that, but the square and the architecture alone was fantastic none the less. We wandered around for a little bit and saw the city and then went back to our hostel to finish checking in.

That night we had an early dinner and of course I had to try the mussels, after all they are what Brussels is known for. And they are famous for them for good reason, they were delicious! After dinner we walked around the square of the royal palace…. and if I thought that it was beautiful in the daylight– at night it was outstanding! After strolling for a little bit we decided to go to a bar that was recommend to us from my roommate’s friend. It was a bar called Floris, and has a lot of specialized drinks for Brussels. My roommates all got different beers so that we would all be able to try each others. We got three entirely Belgian beers we tried — Delirium Nocturnum (dark, sweet, and wine-like), Delirium Tremins (an amber), and Floris Pear (a sweet pear cider). Probably the  greatest thing about Brussels is their appreciation for their beer. It is crafted with such expertise that the Belgians handle it with such care, each beer has a specific glass that it should be served in and a specific way to pour the beer, it is great how much appreciation they have for beer. After trying their beer we decided to try another drink that europe and Brussels is known for, absinth. Most people have only heard of absinth because it used to made with wormwood (a poison) that made the drinker hallucinate and because of this it was illegal in the U.S. But now they don’t put any wormwood in it and it doesn’t make you hallucinate, it is just a really strong form of alcohol. The bar we were at had close to 400 types of absinth all varying in flavor, color, and alcohol content. We chose a green, cinnamon flavored one with not a super strong alcohol content. And the thing with absinth is there is a proper way to drink it (like everything else in Brussels) so we asked to bartender to show us how. When you order it, it comes with a sugar cube, a sieve, and matches. What you do is you put the sugar cube into the absinth and leave it there for a second, take it out and put it on top of the sieve, then you light the sugar cube on fire and after it starts to bubble, but before it caramelizes you blow it out and drop it back into the absinth and then you crush it  up and stir it around and then drink it. Its all very complicated but fun, and the sugar makes the shot taste better, the cinnamon flavor wasn’t bad it tasted like big red chewing gum, we did have the option to have a licorice  flavored one, but I do not like licorice at all, so that was not going to happen haha. After trying the absinth we went across the street to a larger bar owned by the same people, called delirium (like the beer) and hung out there before heading back to our hostel.

Day 4: March 23 -Exploring Brussels

Brussels is a much larger city than I had originally thought, but it is definitely worth walking around and they do have a metro (very clean the picture I took of it looks like a friggin museum with stained glass and everything). Walked around the city, saw some awesome graffiti, and made our way to the ThyssenKrupp Liften Ascenseurs, which is basically just a big glass elevator  that gives you panoramic view of the city. Its right outside of the Palais de Justice and you can see all the way to the Atomium, where the worlds fair was held. It was a pretty amazing view. After taking in the view we walked around that part of the city, stopped in a bunch of shops, bought some tasty chocolate (Belgian chocolate is definitely where it’s at), and then stumbled upon a park in the middle of the city. All in all that side of town was well worth the visit.

After walking around we hopped on the metro and went to the Atomium. It was a fun park and it was fun to stare at it. Next to the Atomium there is “Little Europe” where they have miniature versions of all of Europe’s most famous monuments. And as much as I want to go in and make a fool out of myself and make ridiculous poses with the monuments, we decided it was probably better if we didn’t.

It was our last day/night in Brussels, so we had to make it count and I think we did a pretty good job. We hit all of the major sites that we had on out to do list. And as one parting gift from Brussels we al had our very last truly authentic Belgian waffles . 😦

Spring Break: 1st stop Dublin!

12 Apr

After the crazy week that was midterms we were finally able to have a break and our first stop was Dublin!

Day 1: March 19th — Dublin

Since our flight to Dublin was at 7am and the Pisa airport is about an hour and a half away we had to wake up at 2am, which meant that I got about 2 hours of sleep. After getting to the airport, through security, and finding our gate without any problems we were able to begin boarding the plane at about 6:30am. And by 6:50 we were all on the plane, settled and ready to go, excited about the start of our break…..and then we sat in the plane for 2 hours because there was fog in Pisa (that was 2 more hours that I could have been sleeping in my own bed….grrr.) Oh well after the 2 hours on the runway and the 2 hour flight we were finally in DUBLIN!

Our first stop was our hostel to drop our bags off and then we left immediately for the Guinness Factory. Of course finding the bus that takes you there was slightly more confusing than we originally thought and we wound up going to 2 wrong bus stops before finding the correct one.

The Guinness factory was awesome. I stood in the worlds largest bottle, I saw a lease that was for 9,000 years, and I learned a lot about beer production. I also learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness (I got a certificate and everything…you’re jealous I know) and then of course I was able to drink it. And I have to say that Guinness is much better when its actually from Ireland and I think pouring it yourself makes it even better. Guinness is not something that I would drink everyday (its much too heavy for that) but it was nice to try it (I do think that I will be sticking to my Bulmers however).

After the Guinness store I was able to meet my cousin for dinner! Dinner was great and I loved being able to see some familiar faces. And it was just so odd and random and lucky that we were in the same city at the same time and able to get together. Dinner was fun and we were able to listen to some real Irish music… and there was a rugby match earlier in the day (Ireland won against England), so things did get a little crazy there for a second when some drunk men came in and got a little rowdy . It made things a little more interesting hahah. Dinner was great, thank you JM.

All in all I would say the first day of spring break went very well.

Day 2: March 20th — Howth

On our second day in Ireland we decided to visit the town of Howth. Its a small town just north east of Dublin located on the coast and it is well worth a visit. The town is so cute. And when we were there there was a small market going on where I purchased m first Irish Claddagh Ring (yay). We then took a walk to the water where we found a fantastic surprise!………SEALS…… we found seals! Real live wild seals! They were very cute. After staring at the seals for a little while we ventured to the cliffs. The half hour long up hill hike was well worth the view. And I’m pretty sure that I found my future house on the way (well it was more like 8 of my future houses…. I fell in love with everyone that I saw). The view was incredible and a little but scary because the path is literally cliffs and they go straight down, frightening but sure does make for a pretty view. After Howth we ventured to Malahide another small town. We ventured around the town, got lunch and then decide to visit a castle. The walk to the castle was a little long and at one point I wasn’t exactly sure where the long dark and tree covered path was leading us, but we did get there eventually and the castle was beautiful.

After we got back to Dublin I got a terrible migraine and basically died… fyi: a hostel is not the ideal place to get a migraine….oh well I think the beginning of the day made up for the whole thing.

Day 3: March 21 — Around Dublin

Our third day in Dublin was very low key. We spent the day walking around shopping. I purchased a scarf and a bathing suite (yes, I am aware that those are two very odd and opposite purchases, but I needed a bathing suite and it was cheap and cute and I liked the scarf. So I go them both). Pennies is the quite possibly the greatest store ever, just saying. So after walking around and shopping we decided to walk around Trinity College. The campus was beautiful, I can see why it is such a popular university. I swear the grass in Ireland is literally greener than at home. That night we finally made it to Temple Bar! Its a great bar and I had quite possibly the best sandwich– turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on a baguette — it was like thanksgiving on a roll! Temple Bar was so fun and they have live music almost every night, and it is surprisingly larger than it looks from the front. And drinking a Bulmers at Temple Bar was an excellent way to finish up our Dublin adventure.

Dublin down… Next stop Brussels!!!

photos to come shortly.

When in Rome. A Roman Holiday. You Know All the References….

29 Mar

I realize that I am slightly behind in my posts, but in my defense I had midterms and had to pack and then I was in three different countries in one week  so I think that it is acceptable.

So, lets backtrack--- the weekend of March 11th my roommates and I went to Rome. The weekend got off to.....I wouldn't say a rough start, but a shaky one. We were running a little bit late and left for our 6:40am train at 6:20, oh and by the way it takes about a half an hour to walk from our house to the train station, sooooo yeah I started off that morning by sprinting to get our train. But the good news is that Italians are very rarely on time, sooooo even though we managed to get there on time the train didn't leave until 6:45am. And we were off on our three hour journey to Rome! woo!

Once we got to Rome I was beyond excited because Rome has basically every piece of artwork that I have studied in every art history classes that I have ever taken. We immediately dropped off our bags at our hostel (which was not a terrible one) and got started because we had a lot to see and not a lot of time to do it all in.

We started off at the  Palatine Hill (or the Palatino). The Palatine Hill is the center most hill of The Seven Hills of Rome. And if you follow Roman Mythology then you aware that legend says that the Palatine Hill is the hill that held the cave where the she-wolf found Romulus and Remus... Romulus later became the founder of the city of Rome (course that was only after he killed his twin brother Remus, yay sibling rivalry). Because of this legend many Roman emperors chose to build their houses on this hill, the hill of the original Roman, Romulus. And today the remains of many of Rome's most famous emperors' houses like Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian can be seen there. And fun fact the word Palatino is the origin of the word Palace--- learned that in my palaces of Florence class (see, I do go to class); and this is because all of the Roman Emperors built their palaces on the Palatino.

After the Palatino we went down the hill to the Roman Forum (Forum Romanum or Foro Romano). And its basically a large piazza surrounded by the ruins of ancient government buildings in the center of ancient Rome. It was pretty much the center of Roman public life and then became the center of Roman judicial and economic life. But is probably most famous for Marc Anothony's funeral oration for Julius Caesar and then the public burning of his body within the forum. And today there is a memorial at its location. Something that I found very interesting and did not realize until I was actually at the forum was how recently everything was discovered. Things at the Forum are still be excavated and restored...crazy.

We then went to the Colosseum, which is often considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture ever created. And when you see it in person you can understand why. And for something constructed in 72AD its kind of crazy how much of it is still there and in good condition. It was originally used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as  animal hunts, executions, battle re-enactments, and drama productions. We spent a good portion of the afternoon there.

And then we on to the next spot walking across the city to the Trevi Fountain. Built in the Baroque style by one of my personal favorites, Bernini, it is one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of sculpture that I have seen. Its no wonder why Fellini chose to shoot one of the most famous scenes in film history there in his movie "La Dolce Vita". And not to worry I threw in a coin to make sure that I would be back to Rome (please, I already know I'm taking my family to Rome when they visit, so I will definitely be back haha). And apparently a lot of people want to go back to Rome because I read that there is an estimated 3,000 euro collected from the fountain, which is used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy citizens. After the Trevi we of course got gelato, because a trip to the Trevi would not be complete with some delicious chocolate gelato yumm. And then we walked to the Spanish Steps, which fun fact are Europe's widest staircase. The 138 steps are divided into three sections and the view from the top is well worth the climb up all of them. Surprisingly the steps were not built by Spain, but instead were built by French Government, because the church that the steps lead to was a French Church and the French Government thought that the church was deserving of a grander entrance. Annnddd a happy surprise there is a Bernini sculpture at the bottom of the steps that depicts a boat, yay Bernini.

The next day, Saturday, was devoted to the Vatican and the Catacombs. We woke up early and walked about 3 miles basically from one end of the city to the other to go to St. Peter's and the Vatican. The line for St. Peters was INSANE so we decided to just head straight to the Vatican, where we waited on line for about 45 mins and then were able to get inside. The Vatican has a very impressive collection of art and many of the rooms themselves are pieces of art. There are several rooms that are frescoed by Rafael and his school, which are very impressively done. And there is of course the Sistine Chapel done by none other than Michelagelo. Now, this semester I've already been in a room surrounded by works of Michelanglo (jeeeez how many people can say that) and that room was incredible, but there is something about the Sistine Chapel and all of those colors that really makes you stop and stare. I probably could have stayed in the chapel for several hours examining every aspect of the works, but time was short so we only stayed for about a half hour and then we were on to all of the other rooms in the Vatican.

After the Vatican we took a bus outside of Rome to see the Catacombs. We chose to go to the Catacombs of San Callisto. These are one of the largest catacombs and some of the most historic. They contain the gave of San Cecilia and the crypts of nine popes. These catacombs were huge and were basically a gigantic maze of underground pathways, I would hate to get lost down there. It was quite an experience.

The next day we were able to go back to St. Peter's and this time we took the metro, so we were able to get there earlier and beat the lines. I was ecstatic that I was able to see Michelangelo's Pieta, I think I drove my roommates crazy talking about it. Buttt its okay because it is possibly my favorite sculpture and it was even better in person. And since we visited St. Peter's on a Sunday once inside for a bit we were greeted by a nice surprise... I knew that they held mass at St. Peter's but somehow it didn't register, so it was pretty awesome to experience mass at St. Peter's Cathedral.

And that was my Rome trip, but I want to go back really badly...... We did so much (I don't think that I've walked so much in my entire life) but there was still so much that I wanted to see. In particular I wanted to see the Bernini Chapel (I think I could spend a full day there) and I would have really liked to see the Villa Borghese (and I'm sure I could spend a full day there too). So I will just have to drag my family there when they come to visit.

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We Just Wanted to See the Ocean

18 Mar

Okay, sooo I realize that I am slightly behind with my posts but sometimes life just gets in the way, so this week in an effort to catch up you, my lovely audience (aka mom and dad) get TWO blog posts. Ahhhh, I know how exciting. So anywaysss….

Last weekend my two roommates and I, having grown up around the ocean, were starting to get a little crazy being landlocked so this weekend we decided to take a trip to Cinque Terre. My roommate SM also really wanted to go to Carrara to find her family heritage, which was perfect because it was close to La Spezia where we were staying.

We started by taking the early morning train to La Spezia once there we checked into the hotel got some lunch and then immediately started on our adventure to Carrara. Now, although Carrara is very close to La Spezia it is a little bit complicated to get there. You have to take two buses and on the map it looks like you only have to go a few stops on each bus, but what they don’t tell you is that in between those large stops there are SEVERAL local stops that the bus makes (and why would they tell you that, I mean that’s not something I would need to know or anything right?). But anyways we eventually caught on to what was happening and we did make it to Carrara, although it did take significantly longer than we first estimated.

Once we arrived in Carrara we walked, sat, leaned, and looked at/on marble and it was awesome. Their streets are literally paved with gold marble. We then looked for SM’s relatives’ house. We think that we found the right one, but we took pictures of her in front of a lot of houses just to be certain. We then went back to the bus station to catch our ride home. And this is where we ran into a very unusual sight…. a drunk Italian, yes that is correct I said a drunk Italian, and I’m not talking buzzed and tipsy I’m taking vomiting and falling over (at one point he was sitting on a bench and then fell off of it and proceeded to take the bench with him). Now, I want everyone to take a moment and really think about this because according to my wine teacher Italians do not, not ever, ever ever ever get so drunk that they puke. So, really in Carrara we witnessed Italian history, the first belligerently drunk Italian ever. I feel honored.

The next day we woke up early and went to Cinque Terre, it was fantastic. We started at Riomaggiore and hiked past Manarola. It was a little sad since it was the off season and some of the trails were not open, but that was fine because the trade off was it wasn’t packed with an ungodly amount of tourists as it is when its warmer out. I loved Cinque Terre, but really I can’t explain it, so just enjoy the photos I’m pretty sure that they speak for themselves.

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Rome post to come as soon as I upload photos….

I hate Meridiana Airlines…

9 Mar

My mom and MS are literally the greatest people I know. Thank you for fixing my life. The End.


Literally a Fountain Flowing with Wine, not Water.

6 Mar

This weekend I decided to go to this crazy alternate reality that the Italians refer to as Venezia Carnevale (aka Venice for Carnival). Despite it being a tad colder then Florence the second I stepped off of the boat and onto Venice I basically fell in love with this city in the lagoon and its surrounding islands. When we first arrived in Venice we were given a brief history of the city and its tradition of Carnevale. We took a short tour and then we were able to break for lunch and exploring on our own.

Being the ever prepared individual that I am, I made sandwiches (breaded eggplant, mozzarella, tomato, lettuce, oil, and vinegar on a baguette) that morning for LC and I to eat, so we wouldn’t waste any time. After finishing our delicious meal we immediately set off on our quest to find our perfect carnevale masks. There were some very elaborate ones with crystals and gilding and I was in love with basically everyone I saw, but those were slightly out of my budget. Eventually I decided on a red and gold one with a huge feather. After finding our perfect masks we continued our adventure with a gondola ride. Everyone should go on a gondola at least once, the ride was amazing and sometimes if you smile real pretty the gondolier will sing for you (a tip for travelers- be sure to find a gondolier with a set rate for the gondola and then split it with a few people to avoid paying a ridiculous amount of money—normally a gondola will cost 80 euro but with 6 people in it thats only 13.33 each (which is basically what we saved by packing lunch)…. and once again I felt like I was in some sort of alternate universe. By the time we were done with the gondola ride it was time to go and meet our boat for our tour of the other islands.

Our first stop was the island of Murano. With our trip we were able to go to a glass blowing studio and watch some pieces being made. This was one of the craziest things that I have ever seen. The training that it must take to create these masterpieces is unthinkable and yet this man seemed to just be casually blowing an intricate glass vase and crafting a glass horse. After demonstrating how he creates his vases he demonstrated how hot the glass was by dropping a piece paper into, which on contact immediately burst into flames. After the studio and browsing the shop we got back on the boat and headed for the next island.

The next stop on our journey was the island of Burano, which is a slightly lesser know island within the lagoon. But just because not as many people know about it doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most beautiful places. The island was originally full of fisherman and in an effort for each fisherman to be able to tell his house from the surrounding each family painted their house a different bright color, which now makes for a very picturesque island. Burano is also known for its lace and it was very fun to walk around and see all of the different lace products for sale. After seeing the island we then got back on our boat to head to our hotel and dinner.

After checking into the hotel and dropping our stuff off we immediately got back onto our bus to be driven to our traditional carnevale dinner. The dinner consisted of and appetizer (cheese and prosciutto), two 1st courses (risotto and cheese gnocchi), a 2nd course (pork and potatoes), and then dessert (some sort of fried dough like thing and espresso).  Everything was delicious and it was fun to have a true carnevale experience!

The next day was the official opening day of Carnevale. We started the day off by going to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. The museum has a fantastic collection of very interesting and pivotal pieces of modern art. I love being able to see the pieces that I’ve studied in person, there is really nothing like seeing the actual piece. At 11:30 I reluctantly had to leave the Guggenheim to see the flight of the angel which is the traditional opening of Carnevale and is where a person dressed as and angel “flies” from the top of the bell tower into the crowd of San Marco’s square. It was slightly anticlimactic, but I am glad that I was able to see it (I think that it’s one of those things that you have to do once). After that we spotted a fountain flowing with wine. Literally with red wine, not water…. I mean I know that here in Italy people drink wine like it’s water,  but I didn’t realize that they replaced water with wine in every aspect of their lives. It was definitely a sight to be seen, at first I wasn’t even sure what it was. After prying myself away from the fountain LC and I decided to go explore, and so with maps in hand we set off.

Let me preface this with the layout of Venice makes absolutely no sense and even with maps it is very easy to get lost…So after walking for awhile and finding a very local bakery selling Krapfen (Venice’s delicious version of the cream-filled doughnut) we realized that we had no idea where we were. We looked at our maps decided in the direction that we needed to go, went that direction for a little stopped looked at our maps realized that we had managed to get completely turned around didn’t know where we were, asked for directions and set off for San Marco. That took an hour….woops. But we still managed to get back to the boat with time to spare and made it back to Firenze all in one piece…YAY! And I still maintain that those doughnuts were worth it.

Enjoy the photos….It was Carnevale so things got crazy with all of the people!

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