Wanderlust 2017: Tuscan Leather Smelling Like a Brick

Yes, once again, more Drake lyrics. I can’t be tamed…

After leaving Rome, I was ready for a smaller city, and Florence, Italy was the perfect solution. We had three days slated to be in Florence and I was going to take full advantage of this city. I had heard a lot about Florence because a lot of people I studied with at Marist College spent a semester abroad there, but I had no idea it would a place where I wish I had done the same.

THE CITY

Busy, busy, busy, but beautiful. When I say busy, I in no way am comparing it to Rome. It felt busy because there was always something going on. There were always people looking around at the beautiful architecture, statues, painting, small streets, and shops. The city buzzed at all hours.

And it was hot. Luckily, there are enough shaded areas, but when in the direct sunlight, you start to feel the burn.

My favorite part of the city was definitely Piazza della Signoria. There, you can find the Loggia dei Lanzi where a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, a statue of Perseus and the Head of Medusa, and many other mythical and historical figures are displayed. When you walk down the Uffizi Gallery towards the river, there are statues of the most important philosophical, mathematical, social, and governmental figures to have made an impact on Italy.

And the river! Oh my. Talk about a beautiful view. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was the only bridge to not be destroyed during World War II. When you look down upon the Arno River and the quay, you see a couple restaurants that have been built in to the hills along the river, with outdoor areas where people were enjoying life.

This city is where you start to see the true relaxed European culture that’s mentioned when people return from a trip abroad. It’s quite inspiring, if I do say so. We as American are constantly on the go, driven by money and status, and we so often forget that life is so much more than climbing the financial ladder. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip – people don’t take themselves too seriously (for the most part).

THE FOOD

As previously mentioned in my post about Rome, I went hard in the paint eating pasta, pasta, pasta! I tried a carbonara that was perfectly al dente and out of this world – I’m day dreaming about it now.

My favorite place to get my grub on was the Mercato Centrale food and goods market. On my “Treat Yo’ Self” night, I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a big ole steak, and a tiramisu that was out of this world. I’m a huge Delmonico’s tiramisu fan and it put it to shame (so much so that I texted my mother about how we had been living a lie).

Finally, the pizza was delicious. Their personal pizzas were basically the size of the average eight-cut from the US, sans NYC. I tried a few different kinds, but mainly with proscuitto as a topper. Cured meat is EVERYWHERE in Italy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE HOSTEL

We stayed at the Plus Florence CB Hostel. The place had a pool, bar, rooftop, restaurant, laundry, and good sized rooms. Since the inception of our trip, this was the best place we had stayed. This place was so great that I plan on using Plus hostels on my future European Adventures.

After three days in Florence, I was sad to leave, but also extremely excited to continue our trek to Northern Italy. If you have a chance to see Florence, go for it; splurge! The city is wonderful and you’ll love the culture. Caio!

IMG_6664

Wanderlust 2017: She Dreamed of Paros, Paros, Paro-dise

Yes, that is a play on Coldplay’s “Paradise“.  I know it’s weird that it’s not a Drake song, but y’all will get over it. Fun fact: I was listening to “Paradise” when I decided to make some moves with my life, so it’s only fair that I give it a shout out. Anyway…

The Cyclades Islands were a dream. We took a four and a half hour beautiful ferry ride across the Mediterranean Sea from Athens to the island of Paros (don’t worry, my post on Athens is coming soon!). Paros was exactly what I imagined Greece to be…but even more stunning. No picture could truly portray its beautiful.

We quickly dropped our bags off at the hotel, then went straight to the beach for lunch and drinks. I have never seen water so crystal clear; so perfect – not to mention, it was nice and warm.

IMG_5991.JPG

We first ate freshly caught fish with feta, tzatziki, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pork. I was in heaven. We then grabbed drinks and enjoyed the sun and the sea.

Over the next two days, we toured all of Paros, including Naxos. The people were extremely friendly, the shops were beautiful, the food was fresh, and the bars were fun – what else could you possibly need?

On our last day in the Greek Islands, we went on a booze and BBQ boat ride around the islands. This was hands down the most amazing thing I have experienced. We started with climbing a huge rock/cliff in the middle of the sea where an abandoned church had been built. I was terrified but so proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone.

The next stop, we swam through caverns. The second we entered into the first cavern, all I could think about was the scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, where Dumbledore and Harry go into a cavern to find one of the horcruxes. Naturally, my mind went a little wild and I scared myself a bit – imagine if one of those zombie-esq creatures that crawled out of the water dragged me under!! Obviously, I was being dramatic and went back to enjoying the beautifully clear turquoise water. It was incredible and at the same time, this is when I felt as if our group of 30 people started to really bond.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

FullSizeRender.jpg

This was taken in Paros, but, you know, we cute 😉

After that, we went to a small beach on Antiparos and the boat crew barbecued chicken and pork kebabs, made fresh Greek salad, and gave us lots of wine. It was the definition of paradise. I wanted to be left there forever.

We had to eventually head back to Paros. We were all sad, but exhausted from the perfect weather, swimming, wine, and overall excitement. It was very clear, the Greek Islands were the best part of Greece. We are all talking about going back already, but trust me when I tell you, I WILL BE BACK SOONER THAN YOU THINK!

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

P.S., this is my hysterically entertaining roomie on my trip, Lynn. She’s pretty rad. Y’all should follow her on Instagram: @lynni_cha

My First Euro Trip (Part 1: Warsaw, Poland)

Growing up, I had always dreamed of visiting Europe. Specifically in the late spring/early summer, probably the south of France, wind in my hair, having an enlightening moment while looking off into the sunset. So, when I booked my first trip to Europe for the end of November, I knew my initial vision of Europe was a bit off.
15978097_10100845642203222_409214451684184709_n
The idea of spending over eight hours traveling to a destination for one week kind of blew my mind. I’m not the best with flights because I am unable to fall asleep on any moving vehicle without drugging myself; especially a plane seated next to some rando who is a bit pushy about the middle arm rest. Nonetheless, in order to get to Europe, I had to suck it up, buttercup and ZzzQuil it up.
I had decided to visit my dear friend, Margaux in Warsaw over the week of Thanksgiving.  I had decided that during the eleven day trip, three of those days would be spent in Prague, Czech Republic because Margaux would be working and I wanted to experience as much as possible.

THE ARRIVAL

When I got to Warsaw, I noticed the smog, fog, rain, and clouds. But, it felt very familiar. It was cold. The kind of cold that chills your bones. The kind of cold where your toes, fingers, and nose are completely numb to the touch. It didn’t matter. I was in Europe, solo, visiting a friend, traveling the world, and living out one of my dreams.
I became a complete tourist the second I got there. I hadn’t looked up how to say anything in Polish (or Czech for that matter), I had no idea where I was, I wasn’t sure what to start with, and once I saw the city, I wasn’t sure if there was enough for me to see in five days. Thank the stars for Margaux. She spoke an alarming amount of Polish, she took control of my schedule for the five days – even when she was at work, and I had plenty to see… I’m forever grateful.
Naturally, the first night we did was go out to a nightclub and celebrate my arrival. Clubs in Poland are different. There aren’t bars like in the states, so the nightclub is king. Very techno-y, very slicked back hair, button down shiny shirt, tight jeans-esq., if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down… not necessarily my scene but a ton of fun. We danced all night, then in true American fashion, housed some McDonald’s at 4am.
16142743_10100845748520162_679838130389471932_n

THE HISTORY

In the midst of the hangovers and rush of excitement, I was able to experience so much of what Warsaw represents. Let me first say, the people are lovely (and extremely patient!). The architecture is straight out of a history book. The environment, despite the cold climate, is very warm and welcoming. I see why Margaux has chosen to live there.
Margaux made sure to bring me to Warsaw’s Old Town and The Warsaw Rising Museum.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely adorable, but at the same time, scary with the history of what Warsaw has gone through since WWII. We walked around Old Town Market, but because of the weather, there weren’t many vendors up and running. We did see the Mermaid of Warsaw fountain in the middle of the square, which is when I started to realize that the mermaid was the coat of arms for Warsaw (to be honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me. Warsaw has a few rivers, but they aren’t on a large body of water. Poland, to the north lies against the Baltic Sea. MAYBE if it was the Polish Mermaid, I’d be on board. Who knows, I’m probably over thinking this). We also took a stop over to see the Presidential Palace which was probably the most well kept and pampered piece of property in Warsaw.
Then there was The Warsaw Rising Museum. Growing up in the United States, you obviously learn about WWII. But, what we don’t really learn is how it affected other countries and to what extent. We don’t realize that some countries, like Poland, were destroyed to a point where you wonder if it’s even worth rebuilding. What this museum shows is that it is worth rebuilding and fighting for your independence. The museum guides you through the stages of the Rising and holds Germany and their allies accountable for the damage that has been done to Poland. Still to this day, when you walk around Warsaw, on one side of the street, there are brand new buildings, across the way, it looks like a war took place – because it had. This place is a must see and a reality check on what actually happens in the world.
Another prevalent driver throughout Poland is religion. 87.2% of Polish people are Roman Catholic, and you can tell by the architecture and vast number of churches throughout the city (and I’m assuming country). Though I am not a religious person, you cannot help but admire these churches. I think the statues, paintings, and overall environment of these structures could convert some people to believers because it feels real for everyone who lives there. Religion runs the majority of their lives and a lot of their government. I had the pleasure of peeping into a few of the churches, and trust me when I tell you, you will see some of the most beautiful works of art hidden among the pews.

THE FOOD

When I say Margaux and I threw down in the restaurants, do not take this lightly.  I didn’t think it was possible to eat as many perogies as I had during that week. There are so many flavor options! Potato, cabbage, cheese, pork and cheese, potato and spinach, duck and cranberry, cheese and olives – I could go on for days. Basically take any two delicious items and shove it into a pasta shell and you can get it in Warsaw. You can imagine how happy I was with every meal. We also ate a good amount of Bigos and my new favorite, kopytka!
I did make one huge mistake with food in Poland. APPARENTLY, a coffee in Poland means an espresso. I ordered a large coffee, and after I drank half of it, I had realized what I had done. NO ONE WARNED ME (I don’t want to hear a word about how I should’ve researched more before going on this trip) and I was up for many many hours, I wouldn’t shut up – worse than usual – and I thought Margaux was going to murder me. We got through it, but mixing that at the wrong hour with jet lag – I will never make a mistake like that again.
I also found that for breakfast, the Polish eat what I consider a lunchtime sandwich. I didn’t hate it. There are bakeries everywhere and they put turkey or ham in the breakfast roll (without egg – maybe that’s why I found it to be odd). The breads were delicious. We also at one point grabbed some fresh made soy milk ice cream which was very delicious and COLD! Yes, we had ice cream in November in Poland – I have no idea what we were thinking other than the fact that every time we hang out, we must have ice cream!
THANKSGIVING
My favorite part of the trip was the day I got back from Prague: Thanksgiving. We went to an “Americans Living in Warsaw” dinner at a local hotel and it was exactly what I needed for my first Thanksgiving away from home. The people, all from different parts of the United States, had their own interesting stories of what brought them to Warsaw, and of course, what keeps them there. Some found love, mostly others found money, and a few found their dream. It was such an eye opening experience. To see so many different people have one place in common, and a thousand different stories that brought them there.
16142412_10100845748405392_6410750884114669719_n
The moral of the story, Warsaw is pretty amazing. I really want to go back, but most likely in the warmer months. If you’re looking for an affordable Eastern European trip, I highly recommend Warsaw. And it’s only an hour flight to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Berlin.
Plan your trip to take on Warsaw – you won’t regret it!

RAWRRR!!! American Museum of Natural History

Last weekend, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for the first time. Yes, I will be 23 in a few weeks, and I enjoyed it just as much as an eight year old. But, I will say, it looked nothing like it did in Night at the Museum but I’m already over it.

My only complaint about this amazing place: lots dirty, drooling, snot faced LOUD brats everywhere. I saw an IMAX film called Tornado Alley (open until January 8, 2012) which was amazing and I really got into it (PS I will never live in an area that has tornadoes on the regular). Unfortunately, I was distracted because a mother decided to bring her one-year-old into this 45-minute film. I don’t know someone would think that their child can be quiet for that long, but I made sure she knew I was not a happy camper when the child started screaming and crying.

Also, the museum is holding an exhibit called The World’s Largest Dinosaurs (open until January 2, 2012), so obviously I was jumping out of my skin in excitement. One of my favorite movie series EVER is Jurassic Park (FYI, they have agreed to make a fourth one. How do I know? Because I’m a total dinosaur nerd) so seeing these fossils was one of the highlights of my life.

Enjoy the pictures, and try to make it down to the museum before the dinosaur exhibit ends.

 

Like this post? Check out Kennedy Space Center, Central Park, I Love You, South Street Seaport or New Hampshire or Bust.