Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lake Como, Switzerland & My 21st!

Finding time to write this week was impossible! Between birthday festivities and schoolwork I'm finally able to catch up on some me-time.  A bunch of people have been asking about my Switzerland trip so even though its a whole week later- I'll briefly fill you all in!

Lake Como

We left on Saturday at 6 am to depart for Lake Como.  We were able to walk around the lake-- such incredible views! No sightings of Clooney though. After we walked around Como we took a ferry ride to the town of Bellagio. It was the most quaint little picturesque Italian town you could imagine! There were beautiful flower gardens everywhere and even the flowers outside of the restaurants matched the restaurant's decor.




After leaving Bellagio, it took about two hours to reach the Switzerland border. I try not to consider the stereotypical characteristics of a particular place before I visit so I'm able to be unbiased in my opinion-- however, as soon as we entered this beautiful country everything was exactly how I would have imagined and hoped it would be in terms of appearance! When I imagine Switzerland I picture almost exactly what I was able to see with my own eyes. White mountains, green grass, wood chalets and chocolate shops! I was pleasantly surprised though by 1.) how friendly the people were 2.) how clean, calm, and quiet the country was. During our ride to St. Moritz we passed several beautiful lakes, waterfalls, streams, and of course the Alps. The feeling you get when you arrive in a place like this is hard to put into words-- but i'm positive I wasn't the only one who experienced this feeling as many said it was their favorite trip so far.

When we arrived at Hotel Sonne in St. Moritz Saturday night it was 40 degrees! A big change in temperature from the mountains in Southern Italy I experienced the previous weekend. We ate dinner in the hotel- a delicious 4 course meal. My favorite was the chicken and gravy with french fries!

Lake of St. Moritz with the city in the background
Considering the towns throughout most of Switzerland are in between the valleys of the Alps and among the slopes, they're fairly small due to this location. On Sunday Morning we began our walking tour through the town and around the Lake of St. Moritz. During our tour it felt as if the city was sleeping, we may have seen only 15 or so locals walking around. It was a nice change from the hustle and bustle and tourists in Florence. We stopped at a chocolate shop where of course I splurged a little!

Swiss Chocolate
After the walking tour we took a 3 hr train ride on the Bernina Express through the Alps. Throughout the entire ride there were stunning views of the mountains and the towns surrounding them! I think I took about 200 pictures just during this portion of the trip-- a little excessive I know! We finally then arrived in Italy and took a bus ride back to Florence. I hope to be able to go back to Switzerland one day or even again during my stay here. Everything about the beautiful country felt so relaxing, humble and refreshing!



The Big 2-1!

My loves on my 21st! (Kirsten, me, Courtney)
Tuesday the 24th was my twenty-first birthday here in Florence! What a great place to celebrate a birthday. On the morning of I received a flower delivery from my wonderful family! The fact that my mother called Italy to find a place that would deliver flowers to me just proves how blessed I am! After class my roommates, neighbors and other friends from LdM went to a restaurant called Dante's. It is a must-go place to visit in Florence as a student because they give you free unlimited wine and limoncello shots! It was a perfect place to celebrate a birthday- and the food was delicious! Also, an actor from the show on MTV "Awkward" was there and sang me happy birthday! We were all feeling good to say the least when leaving after quite a few empty bottles. I'm so lucky to have met some great friends during this experience who helped make my birthday special while being away from home! I couldn't have asked for a better day!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Amalfi Coast!

This past weekend Sept. 12-15th I went to the Amalfi coast to visit Sorrento, Capri, Positano & Pompeii! Before coming to Italy I heard so much about how beautiful this coast line was and would admire pictures of it constantly-- so you can imagine how excited I was to finally be able to visit! We stayed in a hostel "Villagio Blu" in Sorrento and left for Capri friday morning. When we got there we took a private boat ride around the island, passing the Blue Grotto and going through the Dolce & Gabbana rocks. After the boat tour we hiked to the top of Capri Town. The views were amazing!
     video


View from Capri Town


We then took a bus to the highest point of the island, Anacapri. One of the highlights of this area is the chairlift to the top of Mt. Solora. I was speechless when we got to the top! The Meditterean Sea went on for miles. From there we could see the Dolce & Gabbana rocks, the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius in the distance!
Down the chairlift!

Saturday we took a bus to beautiful Positano. We walked from the top of the town down to the black sand (well, rock) beaches. After stopping for paninis we got to snooze on the beach before taking a boat to go cave diving and cliff jumping! I jumped off the 20ft cliff- so worth the wedgie! My favorite part was being able to swim around in the turqiouse water! We took the boat the the cave which was also very cool! On the way back to our hostel we drove through the most amazing sunset overlooking the coast of Positano- the timing could not have been more perfect!
The cliff we jumped off!
Beautiful Positano

Sunday morning we left Sorrento to depart back to Florence and stopped in Pompeii on the way. Our guide for the tour of the grounds was 100% Neapolitan but lived in England as a boy so his accent was quite interesting. It was amazng to see what was able to be recovered from the damage of Mt. Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 A.D. Even the grooves on the streets from the chariots were still clearly visible. Even though we didn't have time to explore the city of Naples, I was happy to be able to visit the general area as part of my heritage originates from this area in Italy. The people just in the city of Pompeii were generally more friendly compared to people in the northern region of Italy.

Our very animated tour guide in Pompeii


On a side note, the semester has definitely started to pick up the pace! Even at HPU after syllabus week the semester gets busy right away with essays and late night cram sessions but studying abroad takes busy to a whole new level. While most everyone travels between weekends we have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to get all of our homework, group projects, laundry, dishes, packing etc. done before leaving. Coming back from Amalfi this weekend and preparing for Switzerland this upcoming weekend while studying for a quiz and writing a research paper was a lot-- but it's all worth it to be able to see the world during our free time!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fiesole & Cinque Terre

What an amazing weekend in Italy! This past Saturday a group of us went to Fiesole which is just 15 minutes outside of Florence and overlooks the beautiful city. To get there we took bus no.7 at the bus stop only five mins away from our apartment. We're not yet accustomed to the bus system here so we got off at the bottom of the hill before we realized we still had 2 miles up to get to the town's center! Naturally, we waited for the next bus to pick us up!


Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking. Pictures simply do not do it justice. We ate lunch at a restaurent called "Blu Bar" and I ordered the best Margherita pizza I've ever tasted in my life! There is not much to do in Fiesole besides take in the view and to visit the archaeological area of the town. Rachel, my roommate, and I ventured into the museum with very little knowledge about this little town-- so we were suprised to find it had so much history. The most popular site is the Roman Theatre which is still in tact and in use.
The Roman Theatre





The first recorded mention of this town dates back to 283 BC when the town was conquered by the Romans. In the archaeology museum they displayed pots, coins, and sculptures hand made by the Estrucans-- they even discovered a full skeleton among the ruins of this town. After the Florentines conqured the town it became a popular area for the wealthy to reside there in their villas overlooking the city.

SUNDAY:

Yesterday Courtney, Kirsten and I ventured off on a last minute trip to Cinque Terre! We left at 7 am and arrived around 11am as our train was delayed. Unfortuantely the weather was cloudy with a few drops of rain but that didn't matter considering how beautiful it is there!! Cinque Terre in Italian means "The 5 lands" which are spread throughout the mountains along the coast in the region of Liguria, Italy. I read the book Beautiful Ruins this summer (highly recommended) which was set in this beaufitul region so it was amazing to finally visit and gain perspective!

Manarolo


Vernazza
The 5 towns include: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Manarola. Vernazza was very picturesque however, Monterosso was my favorite of the 5. The beaches were incredible and it was more spread out than the other more congested towns. The region of Liguria is where pesto originally comes from, and is also well known for its white wines as I learned today in class! Of course we had to try the pesto for lunch- which tasted extremely strong & fresh, but delicious! After we explored the 4 towns we spent the rest of the afternoon in Monterosso by the beach! It felt amazing to soak up some italian sunshine and go swimming. After one margarita I had a lovely nap on the sand, and before I knew it was time to head back on the train. Cinque Terre was an amazing day trip sunshine or rain! A beautiful and busy weekend in Italy before another week of classes.. next up is the Amalfi Coast this upcoming weekend! I hope you all are enjoying my posts- I appreciate the feedback!

Pasta w/ pesto!
Beaches of Monterosso
               

Friday, September 6, 2013

Scuola di Lorenzo de' Medici





This past Monday we began our first week of classes at Lorenzo de' Medici. After the initial stress of finding how to get to each of my classrooms scattered throughout Florence, I now feel more comfortable as I'm developing a routine. I am currently enrolled in two psychology courses, an intro to filmmaking course, an Italian language course, and a wine tasting course. Out of these 5 classes only two of my professors speak fluent English. I expect it will be difficult to attempt to listen and understand their lectures accompanied by a very strong Italian accent while also taking notes-- especially in wine tasting after a few glasses!
My "Psychology of Crime" classroom

I'm most excited about my filmmaking class in which we will be making a short film shot around Florence. My wine tasting class is also a wealth of information as I already learned on the first day what characteristics make a good Barolo and Dolcetto red wine! My favorite was the sparkling Moscato D'asti Spumente of course. Delizioso!



Adjusting to attending a school in a different country has definitely been a process. Unlike HPU, LdM doesn't hold your hand each step of the way. While it is exhilarating having this freedom, it also requires a great deal of responsibility and independence. Studying abroad certainly allows you to explore your strengths and weaknesses as an individual. So far it has been an amazing experience that allows me to feel even more comfortable as an independent adult.
While this week has been focused primarily on classes, getting books, grocery shopping and such I don't have very much exciting news to share! Instead I'll entertain your eyes with a few pictures from this past week/end including a visit to Piazza Michelangelo and a "welcome LdM student dinner" at the Palazzo Borghese.
Tomorrow we plan to visit Fiesole located in the countryside of Florence and Sunday I will visit Cinque Terre on the western coast of Italy! Stay tuned for more about those excursions. Ciao for now!

The view from Piazza Michelangelo
The best gnocchi I'd had so far in Florence!
Piazza dei Pitti
The girls of Via Delle Ruote- @ Palazzo Borghese



Palazza Borghese