Blue Skies and Bicycles

Welcome to Lucca, Italy

An hour train ride from Florence, the old town was the perfect setting for an enjoyable and relaxing Saturday afternoon. With the sun shinning bright against the blue sky for another day,
I was anxious to explore another nook and cranny of Italy.
Jenna, Emmet, and Fiore (love them all!)
would join me on the unknown adventure the town would hold.

jenna, emmet, me, fiore

Arriving in the town, like Siena, is like approaching a giant but gorgeous brick wall. Dating back to ancient times the walls once served as security, and to enter the city we had to walk through the tunnel entrance. I can’t imagine how many people have stepped through the same passageways nor how many bricks were hand placed to form the wall (too much work if you ask me!)

emmet, me, jenna, & the wall

The day began by moseying through the streets of the quiet town. Different from the other Italian towns I have explored, the buildings in Lucca were less brick and more plaster. More what I imagine Northern European towns to look like. Nonetheless, it was quaint and the perfect setting for an outdoor lunch.

Lesson of the day, pointing randomly to items on a menu written in Italian can result in interesting results. What I thought was pasta with veggies, turned out to be spinach and some sort of meat. If I knew what it was I’d tell you so you wouldn’t order the same thing.
But really, I have no clue, and I think it’s better for my mental health if I don’t find out.
At least the view of an old church, the sunshine, and wine made up for it.

Next adventure
(and possibly one of my favorite memories thus far):

The beauty of a walled town is it provides the perfect location on top for a path— filled with bikes, walkers, adorable dogs, and runners. I think I would work out more at home if my view to my left was Tuscan hills and to the right was an Italian town.

Anyway, bike riding was fabulous.
What could be better than blue skies and bicycles?

Well, maybe almost falling off the bike from laughing so much, or the view, or the fresh breeze on my face.

Lucca is one of those experiences that is teaching me that the unplanned moments lend themselves to the best memories. I never imagined I’d be bike riding through an Italian town I’d never heard of, but it shows life is all about enjoying the ride
(no pun intended hah)

Off to the art studio to work on my Michelangelo skills…



Field Trip Time

Let's face it, 
As fun as elementary school excursions to Brookfield Zoo & the Shed Aquarium were,
Italian field trips in Tuscany take the cake.

Itinerary for the day:
Siena & San Gimignano

The rain cleared to blue skies in perfect time for our early morning Friday departure. We all boarded buses for the hour ride through the Chianti region to Siena. The view from the bus window was exactly what you see in pictures of wine country-
hills, wine vineyards, narrow trees,
& shuttered houses nuzzled in between.

First on schedule was a tour of Siena from the cutest native.
She led us through the maze of streets (I would get so lost!), a mammoth marble church, and a giant square (where thousands of people crowd when a horse race is held two times per year- it dates back to Medieval times)

It surprised me how different the ancient town is from Florence. A powerful town back in the day, Siena's brick buildings climb and fall with the rolling Tuscan hills.

After the tour, we tried a typical dessert called frittele. More or less they were fried rice balls.
 Interesting sounding; scrumptious tasting.
And only 1 euro for 4, how could the fat kid in all of us not pass them up?

best bottle of wine!

You know those few moments that will be frozen in your mind forever? Moments that are so picturesque, so perfect that you know the mental movie will replay as clear as glass in ten years?
Welcome to the moment titled:

A Wall in Siena

Staring: Me (duhh!), some great friends, a couple of the best bottles of wine (one which tasted a tad blueberryish), a stone wall overlooking the hills, and a Tuscan view worthy of an actual movie.

Plot: sitting under the blue Tuscan sky, overlooking the hills, brick buildings behind us, sipping our wine out of plastic cups, talking, & laughing

It is a moment frozen in time in my mind forever.

Next stop, San Gimignano
(never able to remember the name we referred to as San Jimmy John’s all day hah)

It is a smaller Tuscan town in the heart of Tuscany, situated up in the hills. The quintessential view of Tuscan hills and vineyards was more picturesque than Siena
(didn’t know that was possible, but so charming)

Our time in the town was spent smiling for many pictures
 How could we not? The perfect weather and view set the ground for pictures so pretty we now seem photo-shopped in.
We explored the hilly streets for a little then…
gelato :)

Not just any gelato, this gelato was the best I have ever had. And for anyone that knows me, that’s saying a lot…
I’m a bit of an ice cream devotee.
My flavor choices- vanilla and chocolate chip.
Yum yumm yummm
It’s probably good that particular gelateria is in San Gimignano, the fat kid in me would come out a little too much otherwise.

Best field trip ever.
Nothing could compare to the wonderful day we had.
Tuscan hills, draw-dropping views,
great wine, great food, great friends.




On Top of the World

Interlaken, Switzerland
is perhaps the most stunningly gorgeous place I have ever been.

The Alps are breathtaking, intense, and serene all in one overwhelming feeling. The skyscraping mountains are picturesque any time of day. Whether it be the bright white snow peaks glowing against the bright blue sky or their mammoth outline in front of the deep night sky: being surrounded by them drowns you in the beauty of nature.

Ironically, the calmest setting brought the most action packed weekend imaginable.

harness, safety ropes, helmet, sled, skis, winter jacket, ski pants, hiking boots, adrenaline, & courage


Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. I jumped off a cliff. But not any old clff. No, this one was 90 meters high. For us Americans who have no idea what the metric system is: 295 feet.
 I know what is going through your mind:
 what was I thinking?

Well I may not have been, but let me explain more.

After a gorgeous hike up a snowcovered mountain, we (about 20 of us, including Kristen Doyle and Mallory Zampa who I was traveling with) reached the platform we would be flinging ourselves off of. The view was awe-inpiring. Peaks streatched into the sky all around, a rocky gorge with a little stream bellow.

Strangely, while most people had looks of terror on their faces as the comedic guides fit us in our harnesses, I was giddy with excitement
(I'm mental, I know)

One by one we would make the leap. The only insturction: jump.
Oh, and buy a shot of vodka for two franc before if you want
(I'm not kidding)

I watched Kristen courageously jump/dive, followed by Mallory's terror-filled scream as she swooped across the canyon. My turn! The excitment turned to fear pretty darn fast as the rope was tied on.

I walked to the edge of the tiny platform and in that moment realized what I was actually about to do. I imagined more of a swing across the canyon, but in that moment realized I would be plummeting 300 feet down, then swinging.
The pit of my stomach was at my feet, and I hadn't even left the ground.

One final breath and I was off (literally). Once you go, there is no turning back. Gravity takes over and what really is only a second of falling feels like an eternity. Imagine being on a rollercoaster, only you just keep falling.. and falling...
and falling.

But before you know it, you start swinging across the canyon. And as I opened my eyes (wish I would have actually enjoyed the view on they way down, opps) I was flying through the gorge,
 screaming of fear and joy.

By far the most exhilarating experience! And the most crazy.

please look at my face

so much happier


What better place to learn to ski than the Alps, right?

Pre-departure I was more nervous for the day than leaving for cliff jumping (once again, mental). The van was packed with beginner ski and snowboarders, all our gear, and two instructors. The drive to the mountain, like always, gorgeous as we passed an aqua blue lake. The sun was shining brightly, the temperature equal to what Switzerland usually gets in March.

Great start as I had trouble even walking in the ski boots and little five year old Swiss kiddies flew by me on the bunny hill. My Scottish ski instructor Ian was stuck teaching me and one other girl all day, lucky him.

i am now in love with skiing!

With patient instruction, a bunch of jokes, even more laughs, and some practice, we "graduated" to the intermediate hill (woohooooo). Which, by the way, was much much larger than the little bunny hill. ahhh.
But gliding down the the hill was so much fun;
and I wasn't half bad!

From the top of the slope it really feels like you are on top of the world.


Absolutely incredible! I'm used to sledding down the "hills" of Downers Grove, not down mountains. Let alone the Alps.

With plastic toboggan in stow we took a ski lift up to where the sledding path began (ummm I was unaware ski lifts were ever necessary for sledding).

The guides gave us "instructions": lean to the side to turn, put your feet down to stop, don't crash into anything, and don't sled off the edge of the mountain.
Well thank you for that insightful advice, I really didn't know not to fling myself of the mountain.

I now comprehend what breathtaking actaully means.
 In the distance the lights of houses nestled in the foot of the mountains were nothing but glowing specs against the snow.
Night sky and mountains connecting all around.

I've never felt more alive than sledding forty miles per hour down a curvey path of a mountain, stars shining bright, laughing, letting out screams of joy.

with my best friend in Switzerland.
what is my life?

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend or a better two people to travel with. 

The Swiss on a whole are some of the friendliest people I have met. Sunday we channeled our inner Swiss with a delish picnic overlooking the Alps and the paragliders sailing in. 

It only takes a moment to see Swiss enjoy their life to the fullest. But then again, maybe it has something to do with being in the most gorgeous place imaginable...

Love & Miss You,


view from the hostel lobby.
bring me back now



Contrary to common belief...

I do go to class.

I think a lot of people, particularly my parents,
think I only go out to the Florentine bars.

Lets get real, I may go out a tad too much,
but I'm still the same nerd that's at IU.
I do go to class (don't worry dad).

For all of you that still don't believe I go to school, I will explain my classes and what I have learned.
Although, I may fail school when I return to IU in the fall. I may forget how to really study. But anywho........


For all of you that know me well, I am creative but not artistic. My four weeks of drawing have taught me a lot, but I still do not think my drawings will be hanging in any museums.

Maybe when I am halfway proud of any drawing I produce, I will post it for the world to see.
As for now, that could take awhile...


Same goes for this class. Creative but not as artistic as I would hope. However, I love the freedom the medium allows me.
I must learn patience to allow the paint to dry though
(not so good at that...) 
But I do love that watercolor is perfect for those who aren't  perfectionists. And I love that watercolors will never dry the same way.


A lot of people dropped the class after the first week, but the inner nerd in me also loves this class. An anthropology class about the modern Italian culture has already taught me more than I could have ever imagined.
An excerpt from a paper I just wrote:

It is ironic to me that the more I learn about the Italian culture the more I learn about my culture as well. I never realized how fast I power walk through the streets of Chicago until I slowed down at the Florence pace and took in the beautiful surroundings. I never realized how “early” Americans eat dinner until I began eating at delicious pizzerias at 10 P.M. Drinking a large coffee seemed second nature until I saw Italians standing at the bar drinking their cappuccinos. Purchasing a week’s worth of groceries was normal until I stopped by the market or grocer daily.  I already feel emerged in the Florentine culture, and I love it. 

It is hard to put into a few words how much I have already learned about the Italian culture in a month.


Florence is the classroom. If you didn't know the Renaissance started in Florence you should come see the amazing works by masters such a Michelangelo and Giotto.
Therefore, please name a city that makes a better classroom.

I have already seen AMAZING masterpieces. I feel as though I could be a tour guide already. Come visit :)


Ciao. Sono americana di Chicago.
(Hi! I am an American from Chicago)

Please, whatever you do, please do not expect an Italian conversation when I return to the US. Obviously, the convo will not go very far.


But I think the most important lessons have been learned outside the classroom. Florence is an exceptional classroom. It is not until we step outside of our culture and comfort zone that we learn the most about others and ourselves.

Believe me, I know the feeling of being trapped. But step outside of your culture and you will soon find that your restraints may be a mere grain of sand in the worries that plague other cultures.

Take a risk, try something new. You have no idea what you will learn!

And of course, if you need a new culture to visit...
Florence it is. Book your ticket NOW!



Oh Amsterdam.....

A whole new world, that’s all I can say about my experience.
I may have a little skewed vision considering I was staying in the "party" area, but let me explain.

First off, there are a few things you should know about the city in the Netherlands.

1. a lot of drugs are legal.
2. prostitution is legal.
Umm okay, just a little different than the US
(and a little out of my comfort zone)

Alec, Chelsey, Emmet, Me, Rachel

everyone besides Emmet shared a kingish size bed
... can you say cuddle sesh? haha

There are also a couple other aspects of the city you should know about.

1. the green light district is party area; this is the location of our hotel. This area contains most of the "coffee shops"
Coffee shops mostly sell weed, not coffee. Incase you were looking for a delish cup of joe some coffee shops do not even have coffee
2. the red light district is where you can see barely dressed (usually not that attractive) prostitutes.
I kid you not, the girls stand in windows dancing and you can approach them to ask if they want to sleep with you. Pay just two euros and you can get a peep show. Needless to say, I did not go.
Sorry, but I think my two euros are better spent. Mostly on the delish chocolate covered, custard and fruit topped waffles all over the city.

Anyway, the city is not all coffee shops and prostitutes (although after Friday night I was a tad concerned that was all it was). The architecture is great in the city. It is kind of a cross between what you see in 101 Dalmatians and what you picture Nazi Germany to look like.... a weird description I know. But there are canals throughout the city and bicycles everywhere.

We visited the Van Gough museum and the Anne Frank house.
I have been to a lot of art museums, and I can honestly say that this was my favorite. If you have heard that true masterpieces can't be captured in a photo, I think that phrase was developed for Van Gough's work. Stand up close and all you see is a blur of color but step back and you see a mesmerizing beauty.

The Anne Frank museum was a little anti-climatic but still strikingly powerful. Although the annex was larger than I imagined and unfurnished (the Nazi's cleared the apartment and Otto Frank did not want to recreate furniture), it was still a great learning experience. 
I think the messages in Anne Frank's diaries should be learned by everyone. We could all learn a little more about acceptance.

I'll chalk Amsterdam up as a fun weekend. But I never could shake the feeling of being in a foreign culture.
I was ready to get back to Florence. 
And I'm ready to visit the Swiss Alps in Interlaken this weekend!




I am in love with Florence.

No other expression can describe my experience thus far. It has truly been the time of my life, and I am only three weeks into my adventure.
Florence in one word is breathtaking. Walk down any street and you will stumble upon delectable food, an espresso bar, an unbelievable piece of art, or an astonishing architectural wonder. I may already be biased, but I would tell anyone to visit.
I promise I will not wait three weeks for my next blog update. Now that I am settled in (it already feels like home!), posts will come regularly.

Home Sweet Home

Wander down the most adorable Florentine street, climb up three flights of stone stairs, figure out how to open the lock, and you have arrived at our apartment: 63 Borgo la Croce

There is an entry room, a dinning room, a kitchen with the prettiest window, two bathrooms (well… one is the size of a closet so maybe we should count that as half a bathroom), and two bedrooms. The high ceilings and wooden shutters are identical to what I envisioned an Italian apartment to look like. Although, I was fully prepared for Jenna, Alex, Chelsey (my little Italian family, love them all so much), and I to be crammed in a shoebox apartment. The only complaint is it slightly frigid; we have been known to sleep in hats on occasion.

Nevertheless, it has already become the meeting place for our friends and our home.   

Our landlords (who literally live right next door) are the most precious Italian couple. They speak only Italian, and we see them out for walks at night. Hope they can put up with us!
The apartment is only a ten minute walk to school
(some people have to walk 40), ten minutes to the Duomo, and not far from any of the amazing Florence shops, restaurants, and
history. I am blown away every time I walk out
of my apartment and am waiting for the green
screen to be pulled away from in front of my
Speaking of history, did I mention our apartment is in a 700 year old building? That thought is mindboggling to me. I can’t even comprehend how many meals have been cooked in our kitchen, families have lived there, and memories that have been made there.
If our 700 year old walls could talk, they would surely tell you some great stories of our shenanigans already!

 Of course, everyone is invited to visit!



Three weeks in and I have tasted nothing but pure deliciousness!

Pizzerias, gelato and small sandwich shops are around every corner. Fresh produce is everywhere. The thought of the thin, crispy pizza coming out of the wood burning oven makes my mouth water.
There are, however, many more foods than the typical spaghetti and meatballs us Americans think of when we hear Italy. In fact I have yet to see anyone eat spaghetti and meatballs. Pork is on nearly every sandwich (yesterday there was a whole pig’s head being chopped up at the market, yum?), pastries are everywhere, and I had the kindest Italian butcher explain to me how to cook cow stomach… Needless to say I passed on that purchase.

What I have found most fascinating and enjoyable about Italians’ relationship with food is that meals, particularly dinner, is an experience. Not eaten till at least 8 P.M.— but usually closer to ten— you sit around, talk, drink wine, savor your food, and most of all— you enjoy the company with whom you share the meal with. I think Americans, as with many aspects of our lives, would find enjoyment in slowing down and appreciating experiences.
I’ll take the time to enjoy pizza and gelato for all of you.

Promise :)


In the words of my teacher:

“If you don’t like wine, you better learn. It’s part of our culture. Americans drink Coca-Cola, we drink wine.”

Well that may have been the easiest assignment ever received. I must admit, wine has probably been my main source of hydration. I don’t even want to know the wine to water ratio my friends and I have consumed. Waiters actually think you’re a tad crazy if dinner is ordered without wine. It truly is part of the Italian culture to share conversation and wine… no complaints there.

Part of our wine
 bottle collection

On a personal note, I had a goal of liking red wine by the end of my time in Florence. The taste of red wine was not appealing to me
 pre-Italy (guess that’s what you get for drinking boxed Franzia red wine). But I am happy to say within a week of being here; I now happily enjoy the taste.