Under the Tuscan Sun

This past weekend was so much fun! My program had an organized trip to many little places around Tuscany that me and my roommates went on. It was just Saturday to Sunday so we had the beginning of the weekend to relax and just hangout. Friday night we made dinner at home and watched She’s the Man, which none of us had seen in forever and quickly remembered how hysterical it is! What happened to Amanda Bynes, she’s crazyyyy now!

The trip left early Saturday morning for Siena. It is a small town and we learned a lot about Catherine of Siena during the tour. There is a beautiful church set up on a big hill that is basically the biggest thing in the town. We finished the tour at a large piazza where we then ate lunch – single slices of pizza! This was the first time all semester that we’ve just been able to eat a slice and it was so nice and a little reminder of home. The slices were huge by the way – like 1/4 of a pie! We ate our slices in the piazza and layed in the sun. I actually fell asleep for a couple minutes just sunbathing. It was nice and relaxing and fun to see a new part of Italy that is so different than Florence yet so close!

From Siena we headed to thermal baths in Rapolano. They were just like those in Budapest but a little smaller and there were more outside. Even though it was a Saturday the spa wasn’t that crowded because it is starting to get warmer and people are heading to the coast! Yes it was around 70 degrees outside but the thermal pools were still amazing to be in…not too cold or too hot! We lounged in the water for a couple of hours before leaving for the hotel. The API ladies had told us they were giving us dinner at the hotel but everyone was kind of like ya ya ok sure because every time we’ve had an organized “dinner” with the group its been just an appertivo buffet that is over crowded and not enough food. However, at 8pm we went to the lobby to check it out and there were set tables. So we sat down and were immediately greeted by a woman spooning pasta in our dishes. Amazing! The pasta was delicious and not even a small portion and my table got seconds! I was so satisfied I didn’t even need anything else, but then came the chicken and potatoes, then salad (the Italians have weird timing with their salads) and then chocolate cake dessert! I was so full it was beautiful. After dinner we all walked into town to this bar that was inside and outside and there was live music under the bridge we were on so that was nice. It was a great ending to a great day and I was excited for the next day!

Sunday we woke up and left for Cortona – where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed!!!! If you’ve seen the movie (and if you haven’t you must) I don’t need to explain the beauty of the town. The busses dropped us off at the bottom of a huge hill, where Cortona is located, and we had to take little vans up to town because there was a rare car race going on through town. Of course we had a tour and then got to stop and see some of the antique cars. They were antique racecars though, not like the ones you see in parades, and it was exciting to watch them race around the windy roads. After Cortona we went to Castello da Verrazzano for a wine tasting. At this point we were all very tired and a little cranky because they told us it was going to be a short bus ride and it was 2 hours long. Getting off the bus there was a lot of complaining but as soon as we made our way to the Castle gardens everyone shut up. It was absolutely gorgeous filled with lemon trees and fountains and a nice old British lady gave us some history about the castle and the Verrazzano family. We went on a quick tour of the wine cellar then were seated in a grand terrace for the tasting. We tasted 4 wines – 1 white, 2 red, 1 dessert (ew) and had lots of appertivo to go along with it. Prosciutto, salami, bruschetta, olive oil, quiche, biscotti, salad and olives were just a few of the things that were passed around our table. We drank and ate for about an hour and had so much fun meeting the 5 other girls that sat at the table with me, Bre and Michelle. They were all so nice and all from different places and I’m sad I didn’t get to meet them earlier in the trip 😦 The wine tasting was definitely my favorite part of the trip!

2 bad things about the weekend:

1) I somehow managed to get allergies for the first time in my 20 years of existence! As soon as we got on the bus Saturday morning it was like flipping a switch – my nose was uncontrollably running, eyes water, I couldn’t stop sneezing (and I have obnoxious sneezes) and my throat was sore. It was awful. I barely slept Saturday night because I kept having to wake up to blow my nose. Thankfully it didn’t ruin my weekend and I stil managed to have a ton of fun!

2) I forgot I needed to charge my camera battery. So when I turned on my camera in Siena it started to die so I knew I couldn’t take my pictures. So I basically could only take like 1 picture at every place.

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Tuscany Bike Tour

Jill & Justin are here! It’s been great seeing family faces and in the last 3 days I’ve had some new and delicious foods/wines/experiences!! Saturday, I picked them up at the train station and we went to see the apartment they are staying at – so pretty! It’s bigger than what they expected and has this awesome deck that’s HUGE and overlooks Palazzo Pitti! That night we went to a small restaurant (for those in Florence, 4 Leoni) that is known for their pear ravioli so me and Jill both ordered it and Justin got a beef stew that he really liked. The bruschetta there was also delish! It wasn’t really ravioli as much as just stuffed pasta in random shapes and had such a unique flavor! The portion was tiny (only about 5 pastas) but worth it because it was so tasty! After dinner we headed over to Golden View Open Bar which is right on the fiume Arno (Arno River) and had amazing views of Florence all lit-up at night!

Sunday we walked around most of the day and tried (and failed) to get bargains at the leather market. Some guy told us the leather jackets were FREE so of course we tried them on and were convinced he was giving them to us but then as we were about to leave he said “240 euro” so we were like “BYE!” I took them up to Piazzale Michelangelo that has a gorgeous views of the city and then we got dinner at a cute place in Piazza San Spirito. Jill had gnocchi in a truffle and cheese sauce, I got rigatoni (which is ziti here) with tomato sauce and cheeses and then Justin got TRIPE! As in stomach liner. He said it was good but me and Jill were both a little queasy looking at it.

Yesterday we did a Tuscan Bike Tour with a really great tour guide. The forecast said 57 and sunny but it was probably low fifties and rainy/grey all day…of course until the minute the biking was over! We met in the city at 9:30 and took a van all the way out to the countryside to a medieval castle that is still run by a count and countess. The family produces wines and olive oils and we got to tour the winery and taste some wine and oil! Both were really good and even though it was rainy and gross out everyone was perfectly happy. After about an hour tour of the castle we started the biking. It wasn’t a hard route, despite the very first hill that was steep and left me out of breath. We rode through the countryside and saw vineyards and gardens and basically exactly what you picture when thinking of Tuscany. Half-way through the ride we stopped for lunch at a small local restaurant. There were five pastas to choose from and me, Jill and Justin all got the pasta ragu. First time I’ve had ragu sauce since I’ve been here actually now that I think of it! Ragu sauce is just meat sauce by the way. It’s about the same as bolognese sauce and then theres pomodoro (tomato) sauce. Back to the meal..it was great and a nice touch to have authentic homemade Italian food out in the hills of Chianti. The second half of the bike tour started out in a torrential downpour that thankfully didn’t last long. There was a point of a really big hill and just about everyone decided not to bike up it but get in the van that was following us for a lift up haha! At the top of the hill we got back on our bikes for the last 15 minutes of biking. The tour was so scenic and I had an amazing time! The tour guide was from Dublin, Ireland and hilarious!

Jill got better pictures on her camera but here are a few from the day!

Beyond Italy

I AM TOO EXCITED TO SLEEP!!!! I just finished planning and booking trips for the majority of the semester! I know people who study abroad in Europe tend to travel a ton on the weekends because everything is so close and cheap, and I knew I wanted to, but the past two weeks me and my friends have kept saying, “oh we’ll do it tomorrow…” and then, “let’s plan trips this weekend…” and I was nervous I was never going to leave Italy (which wouldn’t be a bad thing, don’t get me wrong).

I have been constantly changing my mind for where I want to go on spring break and me and my friend Hannah finally decided we wanted to go EAST! We booked a trip with a program (they say that’s best to do for spring break so the planning is taken care of and you can just relax) to Budapest, Krakow, Prague and Ljubljana (I can’t even pronounce the last place is that bad?). All I know is that Budapest is the “Paris of the East” and Prague is somewhere everyone says you must see. The other two look amazing and I feel like my experience is going to be so unique! Activities during the trip include going to Auschwitz, the thermal baths in Budapest, pub crawls, cave diving and apparently the exchange rate is like 0.1 to the US dollar, or something insanely cheap like that. Ok I actually just googled it and got this:

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I’m sold. IS THAT EVEN REAL? All my other friends are going island hopping in Greece to Athens, Santorini (sisterhood of the traveling pants AH!) and Corfu which all look absolutely amazing. That is where I would have gone if I didn’t go east, but I figured I’d mine as well get in as much as I can! OH and did I mention we booked our trips for 50% off because there was some valentine’s day special WOOHOO!! So it was sooo cheap! I am like giddy writing this!

Then, because we were in such a good mood after getting amazing deals and finally making decisions on spring break, we decided to find the cheapest flights anywhere in Europe for the few free weekends we have. At first we were all set to do Paris but then we realized we’d have to miss class and since we’re such good students (cough) we decided on Barcelona since the flight  is leaving on Friday (no classes!). So in two weekends from now we’ll be getting our tan on in BARCA! We all have friends that are studying abroad there too so it should be an unreal time.

Oh and did I mention I’m going to ROME this weekend?! I’ll be sure to post TONS of pictures and try to chill with the Pope before he retires.

My semester timeline of traveling:

Feb 15-17: Rome, Italy*

Feb 21-24: Interlaken, Switzerland (tentatively, but so necessary)

March 1-3: Barcelona, Spain

March 9-10: Venice, Italy*

March 16: Bologna, Italy

March 21-31: SPRING BREAK > Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Ljubljana

April 4-14: Jill & Justin are here!

April 6: Lucca, Italy*

April 13-14: Cinque Terre

April 20-21: “Under the Tuscan Sun” Trip*

April 26-28: Amalfi Coast

*= with my abroad program