Sunday, December 4, 2011

The last night

The day has come that I've been denying will ever arrive basically since we got here. I meant to blog more about what I've been doing for the past couple weeks, but I've been so busy trying to enjoy every last second here that I haven't gotten around to it. Suffice to say living in Florence for three months has been nothing short of magical and these past couple weeks have been chock full of amazing food, laughter with some of my favorite people and beautiful sights in and out of Florence. Spending a day riding bikes in Lucca last weekend was one of my favorite days of the trip, climbing to the dome of the Duomo for sunset this week gave me one of the best views I've seen of my favorite city, and wine tasting with Pino, everyone's favorite panino maker, will always be one of my favorite memories.

This weekend has been full of goodbyes and last-minute things, which has been simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking. From spending time at the lovely Christmas markets in front of Santa Croce and eating delicious German food to buying all the gifts and last minute purchases at San Lorenzo, it's been a good way to say goodbye to this place. We've had sad goodbyes with all the Italians we've come to know and see every day -- I actually started tearing up in Gusta Pizza today seeing how sad our favorite Gusta workers were to hear we were leaving. Packing all day has been draining and sad, and it's raining in Florence for almost the first time since we've been here. It's been a melancholy day at best, but I'm looking forward to one last night in my city, and then it's back to the people and places I love in California!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vienna and Salzburg

Last weekend, I went to Vienna and Salzburg to explore the Christmas markets and soak in the fairy-tale scenery. I was really excited for Vienna, which unfortunately did not quite live up to what I had hoped for, but Salzburg was much more than I expected, so in the end it evened out. The Christmas markets in both cities were gorgeous, and there were lights up all around both cities as well -- although Vienna didn't turn theirs on at night, which is part of what made me not like it as much. There should be a law that if Christmas lights are up, they should be lit anytime it's not light out. However, it was still a beautiful city, and the drive between Vienna and Salzburg was gorgeous as well. All of the countryside in Austria is stunning, which made taking a bus much nicer than it otherwise could have been.

Sadly unlit lights in Vienna

Molly and me outside of Hofburg Palace

Delicious macaroni & cheese at the first Christmas market in Vienna with Hilary and Molly.

Drinking gluhwein (hot wine) in a Christmas mug at the second Christmas market in Vienna! This setting was gorgeous with the surrounding architecture and lovely decorations, but we unfortunately did not make it back at night when the lights were on as it was beyond freezing outside. 

This picture doesn't adequately represent how gorgeous the river was in Vienna -- the reflections of the fall leaves were soo pretty. 

The girls I went with (Emma, Molly, Hilary, me and Erin) in front of Schonbrunn Palace attempting to look royal.

The gardens of Schonbrunn Palace. I imagine they would have been even more stunning if the flowers were in bloom.

In front of another section of the grounds -- this place was huge!

At the Christmas markets outside the palace they had these giant donuts that they pump full of a filling of your choice (chocolate, of course) and are completely delicious. Surprisingly, all the Christmas markets had a huge selection of scrumptious pastries, from every kind of pretzel (marzipan, apple strudel, you name it) to donuts and cream-filled confections.

The huge Christmas tree at my favorite Christmas market in Salzburg.

Molly and me in front of the tree and surrounding stands.

Ornament heaven -- this is barely a fraction of how many ornaments were sold at these markets.

After we almost froze to death at the Salzburg markets, we went to Augustiner, an Austrian beer hall where monks brew the beer and you drink it in these giant stoneware mugs that you fill with cold water to cool down and end up with a frothy, delicious beverage.

The next day, we went on a Sound of Music tour. This is the lake that Maria and the von Trapp children row around, and that's the building used as the back of the family home.

More Christmas decorations and markets

Being twirled in front of the von Trapp gazebo (I Am 16 Going On 17 and I Must Have Done Something Good)

The road Maria skips down while singing I've Got Confidence

Attempting to dance like Maria...the picture didn't quite capture how very graceful I really looked.

Amazing view

Church where Maria and the Captain were married, which is actually in Mondsee

The picturesque town of Mondsee, where we ate fantastic apple strudel.

Our tour bus :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm a lucky girl

So, aside from traveling throughout Italy and Europe, I had a visitor of my own in Florence! Kyle came to see me for a little over a week around Halloween, and I had a fantastic time showing him around Florence and venturing to Siena. We hit most of my favorite spots, from Boboli Gardens to Gelateria alla Passera, and tried some new things I hadn't yet made it to, such as climbing the Duomo bell tower and walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset (we also tried to watch the sunset from the banks of the Arno but missed the sun actually setting...still a pretty view in the dark though!). 

View of the Ponte Vecchio while on the way to a delicious lunch

We explored Boboli Gardens, which is part of Pitti Palace, and found some new places I hadn't yet discovered. This park is at the top of the gardens and features the beautiful view below.

Overlooking Florence and Tuscan hills (hard to see here) as well as the back of the palace

Ran into several cool statues I hadn't seen before, and found this handsome man hanging out in front of this giant bust of an unknown figure.

Gorgeous fall colors throughout the gardens

View of the Arno from Piazzale Michelangelo shortly before sunset.

Overlooking the city center. 

Stunning sunset

And then per usual, I threw together a costume the night of. This year, I went with my newest favorite thing in life: Nutella. My roommate drew my sign and Kyle carried around a giant spoon. Easiest and most delicious costume ever.

A gypsy, nerd, garden of Eden, Ace Ventura, Nutella, and white swan

LOVED eating Nutella all night

In Piazza della Signoria with my beloved roommates

A few days later AIFS took us on a gorgeous walk up to San Miniato. This picture is overlooking the graveyard of the church, which overlooks the city.

His last weekend here we went to Siena. This is in the Piazza del Campo, where we ate lunch.

The Duomo in Siena is stunning both outside...

...and inside. One of my favorite churches I've seen thus far in Italy.

Got a bit lost trying to make our way back to the train station, but happened upon this lovely view. 

The next day, we climbed the bell tower of the Duomo after finally checking out the inside. The views were definitely worth the 414 steps to the top. All in all, it was a week full of views of Florence.

The actual dome seen from eye-level.

We hung out with Dante on Kyle's last night here.

Can you tell which is the real Dante?

On the Ponte Vecchio the night before he left. Can't believe how lucky I am to have spent a week in Italy with this guy.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Two weekends ago, AIFS (the program organizing my study abroad trip) arranged a weekend in Rome for the whole program. I loved Rome when we went last summer, so I was excited to see it again without the overwhelming heat and (I hoped) fewer tourists. We got lucky, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the crowds were fairly manageable, at least in comparison to last summer. We saw most of the major sites, with a tour guide this time, which was fun. Our hotel was right in the center of Rome, less than a 5 minute walk to the Trevi Fountain, and with an amazing rooftop view. Though our program only arranged for us to stay 2 nights, a few of us stayed an extra night, which gave us a little more time to explore on our own. 

Trevi Fountain -- on 11/11/11 we all went down and made a wish at 11:11


The Forum

The Pantheon from the outside

Inside of the Pantheon

I was so entranced by the giant bubbles at Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona with my roommates

Campo de' Fiori

We bought each other roses :)

Apparently, the giant pinecone and peacocks have no actual significance, the designers just liked the way they looked together

I loved the map room in the Vatican Museum

Florence map!

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

To give you an idea of how massive this place is, the pen he's holding (that you can barely even see) is 9 feet long. NINE FEET!

That's the same picture...


Outside St. Peter's Basilica

We made Roman Build-a-Bear animals! Meet Mario, Marcello, and Francesca.

Villa Borghese gardens -- we spent a few hours just strolling through these gorgeous, peaceful gardens. We stumbled upon what apparently was a dog park and watched adorable dogs frolic in the sunshine for a while.

Then, we found this absolutely gorgeous lake surrounded by fall colors.

Me, Jessica, Marie and Jordan

Though I feel that we could have allocated our time better to experience more of the city, on the whole it was a great weekend and I'm really glad I got to see Rome again.