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!

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Wanderlust 2017: When In Rome…

After an amazing week in Greece, it was hard to believe that I would spending the next nine or so days traveling through Italy. The first stop you ask? ROME!

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Going into this trip, I knew it would be tourist central – something that I am used to since I lived and worked in New York City for more than half a decade – and jammed packed with people from all different walks of life. However, I don’t think you can be completely prepared for this type of tourism. In NYC, we move FAST. In Rome, they move glacially slow. It was definitely a transition period for me, and prepared me for the rest of Italy.

…Experience the History Like the Romans Do

We had the pleasure of touring the Roman Colosseum and Roman Forum. This structure is immaculate and the second you walk in, you start to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. You can almost hear the crowds, picture men and women sitting separately wearing white robes, waiting to be entertained.

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I did have a sad moment at the Colosseum. Turns out that when they brought the animals from other parts of Europe and the Middle East to fight against, they were starved and locked in pitch dark dungeons, so they never really had a fighting chance for their lives. I got over it very quickly, but it made me very upset.

Also, our tour guide told us that the Romans were not nearly as civilized as we seemed to have thought. Their main entertainment was going to the Colosseum to see death. They also held plays where instead of acting out deaths, they would legitimately kill the actors to get the full effect for their audience. They were quite barbaric.

We also went over to the Trevi Fountain, where if you throw three coins into the fountain, you wish (1) to return to Rome, (2) have a new love interest soon, and (3) get married at some point. I don’t buy into these silly stories, but just to be safe, I may have thrown three coins in the fountain. Here, you can see it was an extremely enthusiastic moment in my life:

We also went over to Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona. Once again, gorgeous fountain, super crowded. But worth stopping over. I did get a chance to see it around 10am when the square was clear, and it was definitely worth seeing again.

The fountains were gorgeous. The city overall was gorgeous.

…Go to the Vatican Like the Romans Do

Those who now me know that I was raised Catholic, but have chosen to live a life sans religion – personal choice; I respect everyone’s beliefs. This however did not stop me from going to Vatican City.

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Vatican City lies in the middle of Rome, but is considered it’s own country – sorry boys, but that wall isn’t really fooling anyone. Also, if you go there, DO NOT get your passport stamped. When you get it stamped, you void your passport.

Anyways, the Vatican was beautiful. The city is perfectly maintained, the architecture has been created with such attention to detail, and the gardens are perfectly kept.

…Eat Like the Romans Do

As previously mentioned in the Athens post, I was no longer on a traveling adventure, but simply a food tour, and Rome did no disappoint. I chose to have pasta for every single meal except breakfast, and gelato at least once a day. And to be honest, the only reason I hadn’t eaten pasta for breakfast is because our hotel fed us each morning and I wasn’t about to turn down free food.

Let me put it this way, every pasta I tasted was delicious and above basically every pasta (I will say Ferarri’s in Schenectady does make a mean pasta and can hang with Italian-made pasta) I had ever tried. I found that the reason why the pasta is so delicious is because they keep the ingredients minimal and natural. They let meats and sauces marinade for a long time, they slow cook everything, and most of all, they put so much love into their food.

I decided to have “Terah Time” where I treated myself to a delicious meal alone at Ristorante Romantica – yes, I took myself there without realizing the name of the place until I had already eaten half of my meal. This is something that is completely necessary to maintain my sanity while traveling the same 30 people for a period of 35 days. I stopped over a quaint bistro, had a glass of the house white, ate an excessive amount of pasta in a creamy red sauce with salmon, then finished off with some Italian lemon cake. I was happy as a clam for treating myself.

…Make Pasta Like the Romans Do

One of the trip “add-ons” was a pasta making class in the middle of Rome through EF College Break. We taxied over to a fourth floor walk up and soon found ourselves sitting in a circle and testing olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited.

We then had a glass of Prosecco then headed to the rooftop terrace. There, we found a kitchen, then a shaded area with tables setup with cutting boards, flour, eggs, and everything else you would need to making pasta from scratch. The instructors were wonderful, the process of making pasta was easy, and most importantly, the food turned out to be delicious.

I had taken a pasta making class before at Brooklyn Kitchen, but it didn’t compare to being under the Italian sun, sipping bubbly, preparing a meal, then sitting down as a group and appreciating our hard work and our instructor’s skills. We ended with an espresso to get us through the rest of the day, since we were stuffed full.

Moral of the story, take a pasta making class at some point while staying in Italy – you will not regret it.

…Travel Like the Romans Do

Upon our departure, it was quite bittersweet. I was excited to leave the busy city to head to Florence, but I was sad to leave a place filled with such history. I would definitely go back for a couple days while touring Italy. My main gripe was how busy it was, but then again, it is summer and people take time off to travel (I’ll get over it).

Not Giving a Fuck is Easier Than You Think

My dear friend, Stella, who most of you know from our short stint of eating out and writing about our meals in the Dine n’ Dash section, sent me this awesome link of a Ted Talk called “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. This adds to my recent post, Routine is the Enemy of Time and how important it is to live your life the way you want.

Rather than me breaking it down for you, take the 12 minutes to watch the video. I cannot stress enough that everything she says is completely true and will help you live a happier and healthier life.

Enjoy!

Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!

My First Euro Trip (Part 2: Prague, Czech Republic)

Sitting on my flight to Athens, I can’t help but feel as if I need to close out my last European trip before I start the next one. As I mentioned in my last post, in addition to going to Warsaw over Thanksgiving, I also did a quick two-day stop in Prague. My favorite part about this trip is that I truly did this independently – from the booking everything and seeking out information, to traveling solo – and it’s a trip not only will I always remember, but one where I grew a lot as a person.

To set the scene, I decided to take a painfully early flight from Warsaw Chopin Airport to Václav Havel Airport Prague. You may be asking me what made me choose Prague? Well, honestly, I was looking for a cheap flight and city where I could see beautiful architecture, greenery, and eat great food – I’m relatively easy to please and Prague seemed right up my alley.

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THE HOSTEL

Upon arriving in Prague, I immediately checked into my hostel, Sir Toby’s in Praha 7. I didn’t spend much time here, but the time I spent was very pleasant. The staff were extremely helpful and gave me some “inside” advice on seeing some sites that tend to be off the beaten path.

The hostel had a bar area that was more than welcoming. Everyone spending time there were sociable, but not overbearing or overwhelming. The server was a lot of fun to talk to because she had a ton of stories about her travels and moving around Europe. I think talking to someone like that can be an eye opener that we are not meant to stay in once place our whole lives.

THE CITY

After checking into the hostel, I took the trolley to walk through New Town to see what lay on the outskirts of the famous Old Town. As you walk into the area, you notice that the architecture is gorgeous; colorful with incredible designs. The trees grow in all shapes and sizes, yet they fit into area’s uniqueness.

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When you walk up to the city circle, the Astronomical Clock draws your immediate attention. The gold clock on the immaculate structure is intimidating; to see to the top, you have to look up so high, you feel as if you’re looking at a New York City skyscraper.

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Once you get over how gorgeous the clock tower is, you start to notice the other architecture around you. You notice that every store and restaurant front is different. You notice that you are somehow in this maze.

Upon realizing there is much more than the circle, you start to follow the maze. Now, we’re not talking a corn maze, but simply size streets with back roads with more side streets and structures that are built to lead you to other parts of the city. It’s quite beautiful. You feel lost, but safe at the same time.

THE FOOD AND BOOZE

It’s pretty safe to say, I ate my fair share of food in Prague. I, of course, had to go for the schnitzel on a couple occasions because, well, when in Rome (or Prague). I also enjoyed some borscht. Like I said, when in Rome.

But, my favorite “discovery” was mulled wine. For those of you who do not know what this it (I had never tried or really heard of it), mulled wine is warm wine with cinnamon, anise, and orange peel. You can sweeten it like coffee or tea with sugar, if you like – I prefer it with one brown sugar packet. This discover lead to quite the hangover, but it was worth it.

There are also a ton of great home brews in Prague, which end up being around $1.34 per pint. Please don’t ask me which ones I tried, I tried as many as I could to ensure I experienced “all” that Prague had to offer.

THE CHARLES BRIDGE

My favorite part of the trip, hands down, was waking up extremely (unnecessarily?) early and walking across the Charles Bridge. As you walk across, there are statues of biblical figures and tales; including all the saints and Jesus Christ. I easily took over one hundred pictures on this bridge, because not only is the architecture amazing, but it overlooks the Vltava River and the towns that exist up and down the river. These towns have houses and buildings in pastel colors that are extremely vibrant, even on the gloomiest of days. This is where I fell in love with Prague.

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Finally, when you get to the Praha 1 side of the bridge, there are picturesque locks with notes carved or painted on them attached to the fence. I couldn’t help but walk along and read as many of the locks as my attention span could hold – for the record, I lasted way longer reading through the locks than I thought I would because they were all so interesting and uniquely beautiful.

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THE ST. VITUS CATHEDRAL

I took 30 minutes to venture into the St. Vitus Cathedral, and it was worth every penny. According to the pamphlet, St. Vitus Cathedral is the most important and largest temple in Prague because coronation of the King and Queen occur there. The Cathedral is also the burial location of several patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen, and archbishops.

Let me start out by saying that I am not religious, in fact, I don’t believe in religion, but this Gothic cathedral could make you believe. There were so many amazing paintings, statues, and carvings that felt so real. You could feel the presence of every story being told in each art instillation, almost as if each structure were alive.

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THE CEMETERIES

One of the recommendations that the hostel host suggested for a quiet long stroll was the Vysehrad Cemetery in Praha 2. It was a very cool and gloomy day, but once again, that didn’t take away from the beauty you find in Prague. The cemetery was more of a garden with headstones and shrines to certain families. All I could think of while there was that this must be a part of The Secret Garden’s movie set. I also thought how cool it would be to be buried in such an impressive place.

The nice thing about the cemetery is that it was surrounded by more gardens inside a park, so I took a nice hike along the Vltava River.

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THE AMERICANS IN PRAGUE

On my last night, I met an American at The Fat Cat bar in Praha 1. We decided to keep hanging out and we went on a bar crawl (pretty sure it was the first bar crawl I had attended since college), where there were a ton other Americans, as well as Australians. I never expected to meet anyone in Prague, and even less likely would I think that it would be an American. After doing some research, I found that a lot of college students study abroad in Prague for its rich history and the inexpensive cost it takes to live there, compared to the United States. I would recommend anyone looking for an “off the beaten path” country in which to study abroad, I would highly recommend Prague.

Additionally, almost everyone I met/approached/spoke to in Prague spoke English. There was one woman who was walking her dog at the ass crack of dawn, who I approached asking for directions to the trolley. She was the ONLY person who didn’t speak English. Let me be clear about something – I did not expect anyone to speak English; I thought I would have to use Google Translate to communicate the entire time. But, it was so comforting to know that there were people who could understand me if I needed help.

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THE DEPARTURE

I can honestly say, I’ve never taken a flight as hungover as I was when I left Prague to head back to Warsaw. I was completely in love with the city. I couldn’t wait to go back. The image of the Vltava River from the Charles Bridge while staring at the amazing architecture will never leave my memory.

For me, one of the best parts about my second European Adventure, which I just embarked on, is that I will be going back to Prague. I love the idea that I will already have a little piece of this city with me. I love that, for the first time, I will not be completely lost in Europe.

Until the middle of the month, when I can see you again, here’s to you, Prague, thank you for the amazing memories.

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Life Expectations Based on Disney Movies

Too many times I have felt let down based on what I believed growing up my life was supposed to be like. Why do I have to work five days a week? Why is it so difficult to manage my money? Why don’t I have a huge trust fund or a rich uncle? Why haven’t I met my Prince Charming? Why isn’t my hair perfect? Why hasn’t some life changing event happened to me that has made me eternally happy?

I can tell you why.

My expectations of life have been based on Disney Princess movies and my parents telling me I can be anything I want to be. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a Princess who got to hang out in my mansion all day, sing what I’m doing in tune and have my Prince Charming come home from a long day and live happily ever after. I wouldn’t have to cook any meals because I would have butlers and chefs. I’d never have to leave the compound because everything I would ever need would be in my mansion and everyone and everything I wanted and needed would come to me. My closet would be filled with gorgeous expensive clothing from around the world. I would have children and only have to worry about playing with them and dressing them up because I would have nannies to do all the difficult tasks that go into raising children. Oh, and I would drink lots and lots of delicious wine.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties I am starting to realize I’ve been lied to my entire life.  Let’s get real, no animal is going to have conversations with you; not all mothers/stepmothers are evil and it’s not easy to become rich. ALSO, what I expect of out a man is completely unrealistic.

What’s the moral of this story? When I have a daughter and/or gay son I am going to let them watch these movies but I’ll give him/her a pep-talk afterwords. It will probably go something like:

“Honey, I want you to know that this movie is far from reality. I realize this isn’t fair, but that’s life. A more realistic ending would be Cinderella never got her glass slipper back, so she was out about $150 and had to work extra hours to pay her credit card bill either way. Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with at 16-years-old is completely unrealistic if you want to be successful and be happy in the long run. At 16 you don’t know who you are. At 20 you don’t know who you are. She probably didn’t get in a serious relationship till she was about 28 and she most likely met him online. You will never have perfect hair or a clear complexion 100-percent of the time. She clearly had an animal hoarding issue, which we will discuss when you’re older. She was also obviously delusional since she thought she could talk and sing with a bunch of animals. You will never find someone to clean your house and take care of you for free. She had to get a full-time job once she moved out of her stepmother’s house and she never lived in a mansion ever again. It’s safe to say Cinderella didn’t get the life she wanted. You can dream to be whatever you want to be, and I’ll support you. But let’s be realistic. Maybe you should be a Doctor or a Lawyer since Princess is not a real occupation. Any questions?”

I hope you all have this conversation with all of your future child as I am completely disappointed with the outcome of not being a Princess.