Month: April 2014

Catch Me In Croatia

Holy moly, I’ve never seen water so clear! This weekend I spent roaming around the beautiful country of Croatia. Never before have I experienced a culture that was so laid-back, relaxed and beautiful! When I say these people were flawless, I mean I was begging them for their beauty secrets. Not only were they extremely kind and genuine but they had an incredible love for their country while appreciating the finer things in life. One of my favorite quotes from our tour guide was, “During the day, many people spend a couple hours drinking coffee and socializing. We know that work doesn’t go away and it will always be there when we come back.” How’s that for a great philosophy on work?? Don’t think I have ever heard that one in America!

West entrance to the Palace.

West entrance to the Palace.

After our long bus ride through the night, we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast on a terrace of a local restaurant Friday morning. The town of Split, Croatia is right on the coast and a main hub for cruise lines along with local ferries. We made our way to our nice Croatia apartment and then set out to catch the sun before it was hidden behind the clouds. After a short nap on the beach where we marveled at the clear water, we made our way to the other side of the town where we hiked along a trail to find an even more gorgeous setting. We watched the sunset on rocks just a few feet above the water and I basked in the fact that yes indeed, I was sitting on Croatian rocks in the middle of Europe. Oh the life I’m living!

The best sunset.

The best sunset.

The next day we woke up to pouring rain but we had a boat tour booked with the rest of our trip. So after a quick rain dance, we headed to the boat and island hopped for the whole day. Our stop for lunch ended with sunny skies so I sunbathed the day away on the deserted island and even jumped into the Adriatic Sea. That’s 2 foreign oceans that I’ve dipped my toes in! The water was chilly but so worth the dive. We ended our tour and docked in Trogir where we spent a little time exploring then headed back to Split. Our dinner that night was a family style buffet however the quality of buffet’s over here are completely incomparable to that in America. This food was incredible and the gnocchi was possibly the best pasta I’ve ever put in my mouth… Yum!

A view from our boat tour.

A view from our boat tour.

We awoke the next day to leave for Krka National Park, about 2 hours away from Split. All I knew about this national park was the famous waterfall that I had seen in so many previous study abroad photos. Little did I know this place was one of the most majestic places I have ever been. The waterfalls, the greenery, the nature… It was so incredibly serene. After a few hours and a sad goodbye, we left and headed back to Florence.

Krka National Park.

Krka National Park.

If you’re looking for the most beautiful beaches in the world and interested in meeting some incredibly nice locals, Croatia is the place to go! What a way to spend my weekend, Croatia will forever have a place in my heart.

In other news, we are at the one month countdown until I am back in the States! This weekend I will be traveling to the Amalfi Coast, followed by a week in Florence, a visit from my best friend from home then a few days in Paris and London. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown and how many places I’ve gotten to visit. Life is good!

Until next time…

Molly

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Hippity Hoppity

Buona Pasqua!

For those of you not familiar with Italian… Happy Easter! Today I strolled around town with a small bunch of the most perfectly colored orange and yellow tulips while people-watching on the Florentine streets. As Easter is one of the most heavily celebrated holidays in Italy, the atmosphere this weekend is upbeat and happy. Italian nonna’s travel with huge Easter eggs for their cute grandchildren, the Italian men walk with a bouquet of flowers for their wives and the children walk the streets, happily eating their Easter cookies. The holiday is upon us and I am so happy to be celebrating it in Florence.

While walking today, I came across a large market that I had never seen before. Although a only few blocks away from my apartment, I hadn’t yet stumbled upon its bounty. With tulips in hand, I frolicked amongst the vendors, trying to restrain myself from purchasing all of the fresh goods available. It was busy and bustling and I wanted to stay in that atmosphere forever. The vendors are so kind and although my Italian is rough (but getting better!), they recognize my attempts and work with me as I purchase their yummy produce.

Although bummed about missing Easter at home with my own family, the family that I have here in my little town of Florence is a wonderful substitute. I woke up this morning sad not be home celebrating but after my walk around town and finding so many things to marvel at, I have to say that my heart felt heavy about leaving here in less than a month. Time flies so quickly and my semester here has been full of adventure, with maybe a small side of homesickness. In these last few weeks, I plan to suck in all the culture I can while experiencing everything in the moment. The friends and the life I have made here will be in my heart forever and I know that the memories I have will last a lifetime. Florence has become my home away from home and I will miss the sights, locals and sounds (just not some of the smells).

This Easter weekend my roommates and I plan on making some of the meals we have learned in cooking class while enjoying the Easter atmosphere outside. There is an Easter parade tomorrow as well as an “explosion of the cart” which happens right outside the Duomo. I thought I loved holidays at home, but my how fun it is to be experiencing holidays in another culture! I am loving every minute.

I hope your Easter table is full of laughter, familiar faces and a bouquet of brightly colored tulips to highlight the spring season. Enjoy your weekend and give the Easter bunny a carrot for me!

Until next time…

Molly

Postcard Perfection

Sunbathing with the Mediterranean Sea at our feet, mingling with the locals and cozying up in blankets to watch the sunset over the water… If that doesn’t sound marvelous, I don’t know what does. I wish I knew where to even begin for my trip to Cinque Terre this weekend. From the views to the people, we were surrounded by beauty everywhere we looked. Not one ounce of my being wanted to come back to Florence on Monday morning, nevermind the lingering fact that I will be facing reality in less than 2 months (where does time go?!). It was the most wonderful weekend and I’d like nothing more than a time travel machine to relive our weekend whenever I please.

Vernazza.

Vernazza.

After a quick trip to Pisa to capture some corny photos kissing the leaning tower, we headed to Monterosso which is the most northern city of Cinque Terre. As our train exited the tunnels, I turned my head just quick enough to see the endless ocean to my right, highlighted by sunny skies. I could have jumped out of the train right then and there. Each of my roommates and I struck up a conversation with our seat neighbors and by the end of the train, we had already made 5 friends. Our train pulled into Monterosso and it took all I had in me not to run into the ocean fully clothed.

Corniglia Ocean.

Corniglia Ocean.

After dipping my toes in the water, we headed to Vernazza and met up with our adorable landlord who showed us to our apartment that was a nearly vertical incline up several steps. Paired with 25 pound suitcases, our legs were screaming at us! It was the most adorable apartment with the quaintest details in the perfect location. Just a short walk down a few stairs and the sea was at our feet… I was in heaven. We marveled at the colors and took in all the sights as we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed for the stone beach where the sun was shining and the water was crystal clear. As we were walking in, a couple boys behind us told us to head to Monterosso that night for his brother’s bar opening. So after a fabulous dinner on a cliff overlooking the water at sunset (seriously my description doesn’t do it justice!), we headed to Monterosso and ended up at the small bar opening where everyone was family and the locals treated us like their own. We made lots of connections and danced the night away with our new friends!

Sunset over Cinque Terre.

Sunset over Cinque Terre.

The next morning we put on our swimsuits and headed out to city hop on the train. We started in Rio Maggiore and made our way to Manarola and then Corniglia. After about 400 steps up to Corniglia, we found the quaint town on a hilltop and a sign that said “mare”. We couldn’t help ourselves and headed back down many steps to find the most amazing rock cove where we laid out like mermaids and tried our hand at swimming in the cold Mediterranean Sea… It was marvelous and just like a scene from a movie! After two hours we headed home to Vernazza and made dinner after the sunset.

Ravioli with pesto at Belforte.

Ravioli with pesto at Belforte.

On Sunday, we awoke to find cloudy skies and although our plan was to cliff jump and kayak, we ended up meeting up with some of the boys Jennie and I knew from Milan. We took their lead on the trail to Monterosso (little did we know the intense incline that was involved) but it was a wonderful hike with an even better view! After a little shopping, we settled at a beach bar where they played country music and specialized in drunk @$$ buckets… How dangerous does that sound?? No worries, everyone stayed safe (and maybe a little happier) before we decided to hike back to our home in Vernazza. We ended our stay with one last sunset dinner and said a very sad goodbye to the town that welcomed us so graciously.

Hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.

Hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.

Never before had I felt so at home and happy in a town full of smiling locals. Instead of sleeping our last night there, I spent the night dreaming of ways to come back to this wonderful place. So relaxed, so laid back and so picturesque… I loved every single second. It was most definitely my favorite trip so far and I plan on going back in the near future.

Until next time, start looking into plane tickets to Cinque Terre… You will NOT regret it!

Molly

Artsy Fartsy

As promised, this weekend found me completely enveloped by the Florentine art museums. Although I am not much of an art connoisseur, my roommate is very knowledgeable so I went with her to spend Friday in the Uffizi Gallery. With her Rick Steve’s guidebook in hand, we followed his tour as she read aloud the details of the paintings. 3 floors and about 2 hours later, we had completed our tour and I was much more interested than I thought I would be. It was a fabulous way to spend a rainy day and I left feeling very cultured.

Saturday was complete with a trip to the Bargello where we found a beautiful building full of many sculptures. We also toured the Santa Croce church which is right around the corner from us and houses the graves of famous artists such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Dante Alighieri. It’s incredible to know that such influential people grew up on the same streets I walk every single day. Our day finished at The Mall which was a short bus ride away and full of the most expensive designer products all on discount. Well, by discount I mean still completely out of our price range although I did purchase a cheap pair of Bottega Veneta heels that are complete perfection. Just being surrounded by such extravagant fashion was a wonderful way to spend our afternoon. Jennie and I ended our night at a wine bar where we sipped on a lovely chianti and munched on a cheese platter… YUM!

Our weekend came to a close at the Pitti Palace on Sunday. It was the place that helped confirm that I definitely must marry into royalty. Holy moly! This palace was at least 3 stories high and held some of the most drop-dead GORGEOUS ceilings I have ever encountered. I have no idea how they construct these marvelous ceilings but I could spend all day exploring their intricacies. Pair the ceilings with the red velvet walls and I think ladies and gentlemen, that I have found heaven. It was marvelous! We made our way around the multiple exhibits in the palace and happened upon the costume gallery which held the most lavish clothes as well as a whole section committed to hats. I’ve always had a fascination with hats but since being here, I have fallen completely in love. Watch out for my return to America, I plan on wearing hats whenever it’s appropriate! The hats in this display were beyond what I can put into words. Think Royal Wedding times 10! As if that weren’t enough, we finished our tour by frolicking through the Boboli Gardens just out back. Another picture perfect moment that can hardly be described in words… Breathtaking!

The weekend was full of art, culture and an affirmation that I’m not quite ready to leave this place in less than 2 months. It never fails to amaze me how much history fills the streets of Florence and how blessed I am to be experiencing the most historical places firsthand. Although the weekend started with a naked shock in my art class, it ended with an understanding and appreciation for the time and effort put into some of the most amazing sights that I have ever seen.

Until next time I will be island hopping in Cinque Terre!

Molly

Naked

It has been one lovely weekend here in Firenze. Instead of going to another city this weekend, my roommate and I decided to stay here and explore the areas that we hadn’t yet discovered in the town we choose to call home. We bounced from art museum to art museum, with a little retail therapy in between and basked in the elegance of the city that is so full of art, culture and good wine.

Before I start my weekend, I must first discuss my experience on Thursday afternoon in my drawing class. Walking into art class, there was a lovely woman sitting on the couch in the back of the room. Since we had a model the week previous with whom we used a rubbing technique with an eraser to sketch her face (mine looked more like a gorilla), I was expecting we would be doing the same thing with this model. Humph. Next thing I knew, she was walking back into the room wearing a robe and as I looked questioningly while gathering around my teachers easel, I realized that yes… I would be drawing a nude model that day.

Now, I like to think that I am a very mature person for my age but lord help me if I didn’t almost start laughing as soon as she took off her robe. Much to my displeasure, the one good friend I have in the class wasn’t there that day so I couldn’t share my emotions with her (which was probably a good thing or I would’ve started to laugh). So instead I mustered up my maturity and headed to my easel and like my teacher said, tried to imagine her as a form rather than a woman… With boobs… And completely nude in front of me as I held my pencil up in front of her to measure her proportions.

All joking aside, I learned a lot about drawing in that class and actually discovered that although more specific, I enjoyed that form of drawing better than any of the previous we had tried. There was something so vulnerable and naïve about the model who had chosen to stand with confidence in front of a class of (luckily all female) college students. She was a full bodied Italian woman who probably eats pasta daily and never refuses a glass of wine. The whole experience made me appreciate a woman’s beauty and the imperfections that make up a perfect being.

Now that I am more than two months into my stay in Florence, I can’t say that I’ve restrained myself in the food arena, as you can see from my blog posts (sorry!). Yes my pants are getting rather tight and although I complain about my slight weight gain, I can’t help but think I won’t ever be surrounded by such great indulges for this period of time ever again. The sculptures and paintings of women that fill these art museums depict real ladies in their real figures. Never before had I actually realized how photoshopped Americans society has become. Even the campaigns that preach about “no retouching” still hold an heir of fakeness. These sculptures and paintings that have taken so long to perfect, show not only the hard work put into them but also the incredible features of a woman’s body. Sometimes I catch myself staring in awe, acknowledging that what they depict is truly how a woman’s body is supposed to look. American society is so fogged by perfection that true beauty gets pushed to the way side, leaving only computer generated images that take a mere 20 minutes to configure.

I find nothing more beautiful than a woman with confidence, one who is unafraid to stand in front of a room to be painted, knowing full well the inexperienced artists could paint her any which way. I feel blessed to be in a town that is so full of authentic and real art, art that has been crafted over hundreds of years. Never before did I have an appreciation for art the way I have since being here. I am enjoying all of the wonderful painted masterpieces and the beautifully sculptured marble butts don’t hurt either!

Stay tuned for my next post about my trip to the Uffizi, Bargello and Pitti Palace!

Until next time…

Molly

Spring Break: Brussels

Our last and final stop on our big adventure was the wonderful little town of Brussels and may I say, I think I found a real life Willy Wonka chocolate land. I couldn’t go past one chocolate store without seeing another in the near distance and the smell of French fries and waffles followed me wherever I went. Although mainly coming to this town for the food, we found that Brussels is a lovely city adorned with gold plated palaces everywhere we turn.

Cathedral.

Cathedral.

We arrived on an early cold morning in Brussels and caught a bus to the city centre. The first restaurant we came upon was The Waffle Factory (big surprise there), so we stopped in to grab some lunch and use their wifi until we could check into our apartment. I had a “lunch waf” which was a ball of dough that held ham and cheese inside then later it was placed into a waffle machine and pressed to perfection. It was a lovely treat to start off our time in Belgium.

"Frites"

“Frites”

We checked into what we thought was our own apartment but little did we know that we were actually just renting a room in a cute couples apartment. The husband was a short redheaded man with black circular glasses and his wife was the cutest short-haired brunette that I have ever seen. They were gracious and welcoming as we bombarded their hipster apartment. Since we felt rather awkward about staying to chat, we headed out to explore the town with no map in hand. We saw several gorgeous buildings and I nearly had an anxiety attack over the amount of chocolate there was on every corner. Which one do I go to? How do I narrow my choices? Why is there chocolate EVERYWHERE?? I was in heaven. After choosing a couple pieces of Godiva, we made our way around town and got our first plate of “frites” which we were told to eat with tiny forks instead of our hands. Once our exhaustion got the best of us, we headed to our apartment to nap which ended up meaning we were staying in for the night. It was much too cold to enjoy any night entertainment so we ordered a pizza in and enjoyed catching up on sleep.

Godiva chocolate.

Godiva chocolate.

The next day, after a dark chocolate and banana covered waffle (WOW), we headed to the Atomium which is a structure that was built in Brussels for the World Fair. We took the metro and a Belgium lady, who knew we were iffy about our direction, kindly helped us by showing us which routes to use. Over here, you truly realize how nice people are and how much they are willing to help if you just ask. We found the Atomium and took lots of pictures then spun around the little town it was in. Since it was mainly school-aged kids with not a ton of lunch options, we hopped back on the metro and wandered around the main part of town yet again. Seeing as all the chocolate stores willing give out samples, we made our way to every one we saw and left with a stomach ache (oops)…. But totally worth it! We sat in the main square and people watched then headed home to get ready for a night at the rum bar (900+ rums in one place!). We had a lovely time in a good atmosphere and we grabbed some more French fries on the way home.

Banana and Belgium chocolate covered waffle!

Banana and Belgium chocolate covered waffle!

Our trip ended the next day as we flew home to Florence, so incredibly grateful to be back in our little city. It was a wonderful trip that made me realize how fun it is to travel and experience all kinds of cultures. A little of my Spanish language knowledge came out in Spain and as for Belgium, we guessed on just about anything we ordered because we knew zero French. However while being here, it is amazing to see how many people know English. In America, studying a second language is required but only in high school when you are so into cliques and after school activities that learning a language seems like a pain. Here, learning a second language is needed to survive… A trait I hope will filter over into America in the next few decades. It is truly necessary for our increasingly diverse world!

Bottom of Atomium

Bottom of Atomium

Spring break was wonderful but I am excited for a weekend in Florence, exploring museums and getting to know our town even better before we leave in about 6 weeks.

Until next time…

Molly

Spring Break: Barcelona

I made it back to this wonderful land of paella, tapas and sangria! I first traveled to Barcelona while in 2nd grade when my dad was building a new theme park in Europe. He likes to think (and secretly I do too) that this is where my expensive habits began. At the young age of 7, my mom and I hopped on an airplane with business class seats that reclined all the way back and I was able to watch movies on a personal TV thousands of feet in the air… Nevermind the rolling sundae cart that came around after dinner that I will NEVER forget. Caramel and hot fudge and sprinkles for “free”… SAY WHAT? I was hooked and from then on I secretly hope that every long flight I go on will include such lavishness.

Parc Guell.

Parc Guell.

Going back to the story at hand… We had quite the opposite flight adventure as we woke up earlier than the sun to make our way from Madrid to Barcelona. After another cheap RyanAir flight that landed rather roughly (can you say whiplash?), we made our way through the terminal and found a bus that would take us to the city center. Not listening to the wise words my mother has always told me, I traveled with no cash and had to use the credit card machine to purchase my ticket while my friends jumped on the bus. PSA: NEVER count on a credit card machine in Europe, they are INCREDIBLY unreliable anywhere you go. So of course my card wasn’t working and as I turned around to ask my roommates to spot me a couple dollars for the bus fare, the bus they were on pulled away leaving me with no ride into town and a minor heart attack approaching.

Lobster statue at the beach.

Lobster statue at the beach.

Luckily the workers were nice and after a 30 minute delay, I was on the next bus and met my roommates at the final stop to walk to our quaint apartment. We decided to hop on another big touristy bus to hit all the sights and after a 16 hour day, we had seen all of Barcelona including a nice, long stroll through Parc Guell. We made our way home, cranky and exhausted, and I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Que pasa shot at Chupitos.

Que pasa shot at Chupitos.

We awoke the next day to hopefully spend a full day at the beach. Little did we know that it was an incredibly windy day and after being pelted by about 5 sandstorms, Jennie and I decided to take a walk while we left our sunbathing Californian roommate to bask in her motherland. We walked along the ocean and had a wonderful lunch on the deck overlooking the water while we soaked up a couple rays of sun. After meeting back up with Heidi, we took another long stroll to the harbor then headed home to rest our feet and get ready for a night out at the shot bar! Sounds dangerous (700 shots on the menu) but we were responsible and it was a ton of fun! After a quick stop at the Dow Jones Bar, where the drinks get more expensive throughout the night then go dirt cheap when the “stock market” crashes (clever, huh?), we finished our night and got home safely.

Feet grooming by fish!

Feet grooming by fish!

Our last day included a visit to the Sagrada Familia… If you haven’t been, plan a trip before you die. Although the outside was mostly covered due to construction, the inside was something that can only be described as phenomenal. Unlike any church architecture I have seen before, Gaudi is truly an artist. His work, influenced by things in nature, is out of this world. The stained glass windows were amazing and the ceiling was incredible. You must see it to believe it! We left in awe and made our way to a cute Taqueria where the grande quesadilla was smaller than my hand (serious disappointment for this Mexican food lover), but the atmosphere was fabulous. After a swing by the Arc De Triumph, I drug my roommate to the fishy spa where I put my feet in a tub of water filled with fish… Weird but totally cool! Once I got over the tingling, vibrating feeling, I relaxed and enjoyed my smooth feet when it was over. Heidi and I finished our night at a Flamenco show which was a great way to end our wonderful trip to Barcelona.

Inside the Sagrada Familia.

Inside the Sagrada Familia.

Next up, Brussels… Where the chocolate shops are endless and the smell of waffles fills the air!

Until next time…

Molly