Monday, February 28, 2011

Secrets to a Stress-Free Life

SO this past weekend my five roommates and I travelled to Amsterdam. Although it is only a 2 hour flight from Florence to Amsterdam, the minute you step off the plane in Amsterdam something tells you you are in a whole different world..! Amsterdam is truly something (AKA something I only need to experience once). I am happy for the eye opening experience and even happier to be back to home sweet home in Florence!

On the way home from Amsterdam I bought a US COSMO magazine in the airport for a pricey 8 Euros. I sometimes feel so out of the "All Things American" loop that I decided to splurge in order to have a good read. "Secrets to De-Stress a Stressful life", "The newest weight-loss breakthrough", "Learn how to land the man of your dreams"... Even though I am in Italy, I cant be missing out on all these juicy 'secrets' and 'breakthrough' ideas.

I normally love loosing myself in a good trashy magazine on plane rides, but this time was different. As I read I began to recognize these 'new' and 'breakthrough' secrets from old cosmos, glamors, and any other magazines you can think of. Cosmo rarely reports anything EARTH-SHATTERING and though, I think I was well aware of this fact since the day I first picked up one of these magazines, this time I seemed to have much less tolerance for them. Most of the reading I have been doing lately has been out of travel books (My hero, Rick Steves) and at this point, what I read in those seems a lot more exciting and breakthrough then the Cosmo did.

While reading Cosmo I also realized that many of the 'Tips' in the magazine that I formally loved and tried hard to remember, didnt really seem to apply. For instance, the article that claimed to hold the secrets to a de-stressful life really didnt contain any secrets at all. It's tips: "Slow down", "Take a walk by yourself to collect your thoughts", "Get more sleep", "Eat healthier", "let yourself enjoy life", "Dont overload your plate". These so-called 'Cosmo exclusive secrets' are also known as ITALIAN CULTURE, and I do them daily.

SO, I'm not quite sure who I have to thank, Cosmo or Italy, for a healthier, less stressful and more enjoyable life but whoever it is, I am sure glad to have all these secrets in my possession! CIAO

Monday, February 21, 2011

Every weekend seems better then the last...

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world being here (or in a real life Disney World...)! I know I keep repeating myself but this place truly is incredible and everyday I think I learn to appreciate it more and more. I enjoying becoming a 'regular' at our neighborhood fruit market, I take the time to stop and ogle in store windows (just like the locals do), I find myself rolling my eyes at loud tourists, and I haven't used my map in one whole.... hour (I think some things will never change wherever I happen to be!)

This past Friday, the study abroad program we are here with took us (TCU kids) to Siena for the day. Siena is about an hour bus ride from Florence. Siena was gorgeous (this is becoming a theme for Italian cities). We visited the home St. Catherine who is one of the two patron saints of Italy. We walked around in the famous, Piazza del Campo where, every summer, people flock the square to watch the 'il Palio' horse races. We hiked to the top of the old Duomo to see the most incredible view of the city. AND we had lunch at a wonderful Pizzeria. 

The next day, my 5 roommates and I hoped on an early train to Venice. Every February-March Venice has a huge, month-long celebration (mardi gras times a million) called 'Carnivale'. Many other European cities celebrate this as well. During carnivale people dress as if going to a masquerade ball, complete with eloquent dresses and intricately decorated masks. Venice Carnivale does not official start until next weekend, but on Saturday night they were having the 'pre-kick-off' to carnivale which consisted of turning on the 'Wine Fountain' in the town circle for all to drink out of. Saturday ended up being the perfect day for us to go; we avoided all the crowds of the official carnivale but still got to see the town all set up for the party. 

I couldnt believe my eyes when we got into Venice. The beautiful facades of the waterside buildings are unbelievable and the water gives off a very 'beachy' feeling. Obviously, I took a MILLION pictures! Once we got on land, the town was just as energetic as we had hoped. Kids dressed up like halloween, festive masks sold everywhere, and gorgeous waterside dining. We wasted no time in purchasing our masks so that we could wear them for the remainder of the day and join in on all the fun.

At 6 o'clock we headed to the town square to join the already enormous crowd gathered for the kick-off to Carnivale and the Wine Fountain! We were so anxious to see what this so called wine fountain would be like and why the whole town wanted to see it! The kick-off presentation begin with wonderfully themed men and women dancing all around the fountain to traditional Italian music. More dancing, some quickly spoken Italian, lots of clapping, a million cameras flashing, and then.... THE WINE! Sure enough, red wine flowed out of a beautiful antique fountain. After admiring the fountain it was time for all to enjoy the fountains wine! We all got a little glass, toasted to the start of carnival (and drinking wine out of a public fountain), and then ran to the train station to catch the last train home to Florence.

Frogs in Siena 

beautiful view of Siena 

Art in Siena's Duomo

Top of the Duomo in Siena 


Carnivale Masks 

Wine Fountain! 

Ciao for now! Next weekend: Amsterdam! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Exploring.....

After our exciting day on Friday (trains to Pisa and Lucca) we were hooked on day trips and decided to go for another round on Saturday! We headed out of Florence Santa Maria Train station again on Sat, this time heading for Bologna.

Bologna was a pretty big change from the quant Florence. Bigger streets, more cars, traffic, and high rises. Bologna had a much bigger, more urban feel than Florence does. It wasnt my favorite of all places, but definitely fun to see.

After we finished with Bologna we hopped a train to Verona where there was a festival for St. Valentine going on. The festival, 'Verona in Love' was so much fun! The streets were packed with people, parties and PDA. Verona was absolutely beautiful too! Hardly any cars polluted Verona, and some pedestrian streets were even made from marble. To celebrate all things LOVE we also paid a visit to Juliet's famous Balcony.  The balcony's courtyard (just as Rick Steves had warned us) was PACKED with tourists.

Bologna square

3rd largest Roman Coliseum (Verona) 

Entrance to Old Roman Verona 

Juliet's Balcony 

Streets of Verona 

Pink for "Verona in Love" festival 
5 beautiful cities, 5 train different rides, 5 tired girls, and 1 amazing weekend!

Sunday was also a fabulous day. I got to sleep in after 2 long days of travel. Once I woke up I decided to take a little jog and explore a new part of Florence. I have never taken a better run! The scenery was spectacular and I really enjoyed exploring.

Sunday night I went to mass at Santa Croce. We thought the mass was going to be in english but quickly found out it was, in fact, in Italian. It was definitely an experience to attend mass in a completely foreign language, but it was very neat that we were still able to understand the meaning and following along with the mass.  After mass we went to a MEXICAN restaurant! Very unlike Texas Mexican restaurants (little portions, no chip refills, etc...) but still filled my craving for a little Mexican! YUM!

Happy V-day from the Pointe Vecchio in Firenze! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pisa and Lucca Day Trip

Today some of my roommates and I explored Italian Train travel for the first time since being here. We met at the train station at 10 am, not knowing where we would end up but decided the night before that, since trains are SO cheap all around Italy, that we'd just go to the station and see where it takes us! We felt very spontaneous!

We ended up buying a 5 Euro bus ticket to Pisa! Once in Pisa we turned to Rick Steves (who has been a complete lifesaver this trip) to guide our day. Per Rick's suggestion, we started with some delicious gelato and then continued to the leaning tower and Pisa Duomo.

Pisa Duomo 

Leaning Tower!

streets of Lucca

beautiful Lucca plazza

Lucca Duomo

Pisa is very neat, very busy streets and even more bikers then in Florence. The whole town of Pisa leans. The streets 'flow' as if they were rivers rather than going in straight lines. The leaning Tower is truly a sight to be seen.  It leans at a 5 degree angle but, to me, seemed to lean even more than that. Of course, we took the typical 'holding up the tower' pictures by the tower, we decided to be total tourists today!

After our mourning in Pisa we caught a 30 min, 3 Euro bus ride to Lucca. I really loved Lucca. It was a lot quieter and more peaceful then both Florence and Pisa. Lucca is one of the few remaining 'walled' cities. You can walk (or bike ride)  all around the city on top of the walls. Less tourists and more green here. Beautiful churches (as with EVERYWHERE in Europe), wonderful courtyards, upscale shops, and friendly people.

After Lucca, we took a train straight back to Florence! I love how easy, fast, and convent it is to get all around Italy! We got tickets to Bologna for tomorrow, so that is where i'll be!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This past weekend we took our first trip out of Florence to Interlaken, Switzerland. It was a blast! Interlaken is gorgeous with the 2 huge lakes and beautiful mountains. Interlaken is full of "Extreme Activities", they have everything from Skydiving, to canyon jumping, to hiking to night sledding. The weather was beautiful when we were there too, not too cold but fresh snow on all the mountains.

I decided to go night sledding, which turned out to be an absolute BLAST. It wasn't like any "sledding" I have done in the past, instead it was a long and steep course that was much more thrilling and dangerous then I had expected! Plus, it was absolutely pitch black on all the mountains which definitely added the scary factor. However, once our eyes got adjusted, the views from the top were priceless. Mountains bigger and taller then any I have ever seen. Unfortunately, because it was so dark, pictures didnt really turn out, but I will always have the memories of how spectacular the place looked from atop the mountain.

In Switzerland we had delicious Swiss chocolate, plenty of cheese fondue, and got genuine Swiss Army knifes!

We got back from Interlaken on Sunday night and after the 7 hour bus ride, I didnt have the energy to stay up for the Superbowl which started at 12:30 midnight our time.... Heard it was a great game though!

This week has been off to a busy start. I really enjoy all my classes (study of the italian mafia, wine tasting, whats there not to love?!) But they are definitely harder then I had expected.

I still just cannot believe I am here... Going on my third week! Florence is beginning to feel like my home, and I love it!
our sleds for night sledding!


beautiful views 


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rough day...

Its about 4:40 pm here and I am just getting back from a (or another) really long unexpected 'trip' around Florence. Severely directionally challenged is an extreme understatement when it comes to my navigating ability. I am trying so hard to get this city down, but am quickly getting discouraged...I am so sick and tired of always feeling lost and not being able to ask for help. It is really a test to my patience. I need a vacation...

Prefect timing! We are heading to Interlaken, Switzerland tonight! Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, skidiving, parasailing, sorbing, hiking, AND flaming Fajitas! How fun, I cant wait! We get back a little before midnight on Sunday night and I am sure I will have lots to update yall about!