Photography by Brianne Lee

Photography by Brianne Lee

Tuscan Day Trip

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Looking for a break from bustling Florence, my friend Allison and I took a day trip to varying cities in Tuscany, a charming place to get a break from the busy and crowded streets of Florence. The scenery we immersed ourselves in was so surreal; the contrast of the vast rolling yellow and green hills against the clear blue sky was absolutely breathtaking! In a mere 12 hours, we took a guided tour of the Tuscany region, including: Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa.
Our tour began in the city of Siena; a quintessential Gothic city with lovely old streets and winding roads you can get lost in.

After leaving Siena, we made our way to a family owned vineyard/farm for lunch and wine tasting! Italians really do treat food and wine like an art. Everything was prepared, organized and delivered with such thought.

 While learning about various wines and what to pair them with, we started off our meal with bread, homemade olive oil and cheese. Next we were served a delicious bowl of Ribollita soup (a hearty soup made with leftover bread, cannelloni beans and vegetables). Next up was a heaping plate of homemade pasta with fresh tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Lastly, we were offered biscotti, which we dipped in a sweet dessert wine. The whole meal was superb and it was a great experience learning about different kinds wines and how they are produced.

 After lunch, we departed to San Gimignano. What a beautiful place this was. So quaint and rustic; I was entranced the entire time! We spent an hour or so walking around and exploring the town. I loved how San Gimignano has a past and present which are so impressively entwined. And not to mention the views this city offered!

The last stop on our tour was Pisa. Of course, our first order of business was to take obligatory touristy photos with the tower! At this point in the tour we were so exhausted that sitting on the grass in front of the tower was exactly what we all needed.

 After touring the Tuscan countryside, I have decided that I am not only in love with Florence, but with Tuscany as well. A recommended visit for anyone traveling to Italy!

Five Lands

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For Easter weekend, I had the pleasure of joining Meghan and her parents to five enchanting villages along the Italian Riviera.
Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) is a cluster of five coastal towns nestled into steep, terraced hillsides along the western coast of Italy, just north of Tuscany. No cars, no modern constructions – just sheer old world charms! The villages are connected by ferries, trains and networks of breathtaking hiking trails. There’s a coastal hike that connects the five towns, which from south to north are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

The five towns look as though they defy gravity for a start. It is as though someone threw a bunch of houses at the cliffs and somehow managed to get them to stick and form little towns.

We stayed in the southernmost of the five villages, Riomaggiore. This town seemed to be one long road going uphill from the coast full of tall, colorfully painted, buildings with lots of quaint shops and seafood restaurants.

The first day started out to be a rainy one so spent the majority of the day exploring and eating our way through each town. (Our goal was to try a different food in each town. I’d say we accomplished that task!) Each village was beautiful and unique in their own way. People are passionate about life in Cinque Terre with their local farms, gardens, seafood business, and dedication to their families.

We took full advantage of the sunny weather on Sunday and set off to day of hiking! Without a doubt any guide you will ever read, any traveler you will ever encounter, and any local you will ever meet will tell you to hike the Cinque Terre. The view is beyond breathtaking. Each town is situated in a, perfectly picturesque, manner, which allows it to shine among the natural landscape while looking so natural it is as if they grew from the ground itself.

The hike was glorious, but challenging (in a good way). Textbook-perfect weather with lots of bright sun and blue skies. The views were beyond spectacular, with each of the Cinque Terre’s villages revealing themselves to be unique in character, but unified in charm. 

In essence, the views will take your breath away, you will feel more connected to the towns and the lands between them, and you will feel overwhelmingly accomplished when you reach the final town and collapse on the train back to your starting point.

It is no surprise that I fell in love with the Cinque Terre. I adored the distinctive puzzle piece houses built on terraces up the mountainside. The secret passages and hidden alleyways enchanted me, as did the coastal walks and breathtaking views. And the food? I’m still dreaming about the best seafood, pasta, bread and gelato I have ever tasted. I definitely look forward to returning here someday!

A Weekend "Home"

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Have you ever realized that what may be a simple routine for a local could be something full of mystery for a visitor? When our eyes get used to a place, we start losing the little and most important details; everything turns to be just ‘normal’ and ‘average’. But for a tourist, all is new.

Almost three months of living in Florence has led me to believe that I am now at that stage where I try to not be classified as a tourist in the city. This isn’t working as well as I’d like it to considering I am blonde, and usually carry a camera around my neck. Nonetheless, I am finally starting to feel and understand the difference from living in Florence to just visiting as a tourist. The lost Americans, with their cameras in one hand and maps in the other, are starting to become very obvious to me. It reminds me of how much I must have stuck out like a sore thumb when I first arrived. 

This weekend I found myself sprawled out on the grass for hours enjoying the sunshine. Surprisingly, this has been the first full weekend I have spent in Florence since arriving in Europe. As much as I love jetting off to new places each weekend, there comes a point when you need both a mental and physical break from it all. 

I thought I would regret not taking the opportunity to travel this weekend. However, as my roommates and I spent our weekend at "home", verses playing tourist in other cities, I realized how lucky I was to have had wonderful quality time in this city I have come to love so much.

Weekend in Southern Italy

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

This past weekend our school offered a trip to visit the gorgeous coastal towns of Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri.

Our first stop was the archaeological site of Pompeii. What I found to be interesting was the fact that this city is almost exactly how it was when it was destroyed. Few places I have been stand out like Pompeii did. This city gives you a glimpse into the past along with a chance to physically walk its streets.

After hours of wandering the ruins of Pompeii, we made our way to Sorrento. A delicious 3-course dinner as prepared for us at our hotel, followed by a chocolate and limoncello tasting at a local shop. 
(Limoncello is a lemon-flavoured Italian liqueur usually served after a meal!

Our second day was spent in Capri, an island off the coast of Sorrento. Our group arrived in Capri by ferry from Sorrento where we were pleasantly welcomed by the beautiful site of stunning cliffs and piercing blue water. 

In order for us to get the most out of our day and see as much as we could, we hopped on another boat which took us around the entire island. From the boat, we saw glimpses of exclusive beach clubs, cliff-side mansions and secret grottoes.

Once back on the island, our first priority was to find a chairlift that we had heard about which takes you to the highest point of the island. This is where I should vainly try to describe going up a tiny, single-seat chairlift, feet dangling over the backyards of the natives, to the highest point of one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I feel as if I barely can.

As the chairlift crept higher at increasingly worrying angles, the view only got more and more vast; more mountains, more villages studding the coast, more vividly blue water. At almost 2000 feet above sea level, we witnessed an unforgettable panorama view of Capri.

Capri was defintely a place that gave me multiple “pinch me” travel moments; that moment when something takes your breath away, you can’t believe what you are seeing or doing at that one moment in time. When in Italy, visiting this picaresque island is a definite must!

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