Last Day in Firenze in 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

The next day I’ll be in Firenze will be in 2017! I am off to Verona tomorrow at 9 AM. Today I enjoyed a full day out and about in Florence. It was 50 degrees and sunny with blue skies. I couldn’t complain.

I slept in until 9 before heading out in the city. I checked my mailbox and bought a stamp at my stamp tabacchi (“un francobollo a Stati Uniti per favore”) before making my way to Ditta Artigianale on Via del Sprone for a caffè latte, short story writing, and letter reading. Ella sent me a nice, long letter with a clearly adorable Christmas card! Someday we’re going to launch our own stationery/lettering company.

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I love my mornings at Ditta Artigianale

This afternoon I took my Nikon out for a stroll and captured some shots of Florence on this fine Friday. The city was bustling with tourists and locals eager to ring in 2017. I missed out on the weekly flower market yesterday in Piazza Repubblica; next Thursday I’ll be in Rome with my parents!

I also decided to get my eyebrows waxed at Wave Parrucchieri. I went with Maddie in September when she wanted to get hers done and was impressed with the patience and precision the woman used. It only cost me 8 euros, and they look ‘on fleek’!

On my way back to my apartment, I had good timing, for I witnessed a random act of kindness just a meter away from my feet. A beggar on the street received a hot pizza from a blonde middle-aged woman. I won’t forget the look of graciousness he illustrated before taking a hungry bite. Perhaps this is an omen that 2017 will bring more joy and kindness than tragedy and hate.

I got to FaceTime with Colleen tonight. It was nice seeing a familiar face (thanks, technology), and she was grateful to talk to someone who could relate to living in Florence! I think many of my study abroad friends at home are experiencing some degree of reverse culture shock. Something to look forward to in May!

I hope people in New England are staying safe in the snow. It might not have been a white Christmas, but it looks like it will be a white New Year! xo ~ e.

* I was featured on a blog called Young & Twenty recently. Check out my submission here (please excuse the typos that were out of my control).

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Scrivere, Scrivere!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

One of my goals for the break is to write a full short story. I bought a 48 page journal at RED (Read Eat Dream) and am determined to fill it with fiction. I do a lot of academic writing in addition to personal writing for this blog and myself, but I haven’t given myself a lot of time to work on creative writing. So this is my own assignment! After some brainstorming, I starting writing today at Cafeteria Oblate. Not a bad view to write!

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Of course I couldn’t start writing on an empty stomach. I tried a new cafe this morning that was a longer walk than to my regular breakfast cafe, La Ménagère. Le Vespe Cafe is a charming American style breakfast spot. There were several American tourists enjoying a hearty American breakfast like me. I ordered a cappuccino, a cafe latte (after my meal), home fries, and scrambled eggs! Not your typical Italian breakfast. It was tasty though! I will be returning again. There are many restaurants & cafes I want to continue to try. Girl in Florence has an ongoing list of delicious places in Florence! xo ~ e.

Word of the day: scrivere (write)

I’m Going to Verona

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Still very quiet in Florence! The city truly feels empty without American students swarming the streets; it’s both refreshing and lonesome. There are some American tourists in their place to ring in 2017! I’ve been hanging out at cafés, reading and writing. I FaceTimed my parents this morning, and they are packing up for their European adventure! Tuesday couldn’t come any sooner.

In order to help break up the six day waiting period, I booked a day trip to Verona! I’ll be spending the last day of 2016 in a city I have been dying to go to. Three of Shakespeare’s plays are set there: The Taming of the ShrewThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and of course, the universal love story: Romeo and Juliet. I loved the movie “Letters to Juliet” starring Amanda Seyfried (re-watching it tonight). It’s set in Verona and introduced me to the idea of writing letters to Juliet. People from all over the world continue to write letters to Juliet, and the Juliet Club responds to each and every one (read more about letters to Juliet here). I tried to reserve a time to go Saturday and respond to letters and read letters sent to her, but they are closed on Saturday. I will have to return to Verona because letter writing is a huge passion of mine, and hanging out at the Juliet Club is a once in a lifetime experience!

I did my research today and made a list of the must-sees in Verona. Please feel free to comment your suggestions! xo ~ e.

A Saturday in Verona

  • Juliet’s Balcony
  • Juliet’s House
  •  Piazza delle Erbe
  • Piazza Bra
  • Arena
  • Lamberti Tower
  • Ponte Pietra
  • Verona Cathedral
  • Santa Anastasia
  • San Zeno
  • Giusti Garden
  • Castel San Pietro

Ho Tornato a Firenze

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I’ve returned to Florence! I miss Budapest, but it’s of course nice to be back on familiar streets. This morning I took a stab at using the bus system to go pick up a package. I got lost, and it took three times as long as it should have, but I made it to the courier office! Turns out I didn’t actually have a package. The receipt I was given was for a package I already picked up. Oh well! It was an experience, and I rode the bus by myself!

This afternoon I made my list of what I want to see & do in Ukraine; I leave in just over a month! Sasha was impressed and happy with what I came up with. After going to Budapest, I just can’t wait to travel more.

I also caught up on some journaling and am in the midst of applying for summer internships. Stressful but keeping me busy since school isn’t!

I am going to eat healthy this week after delicious but not so healthy Hungarian food. I worked out tonight– the first time in a couple weeks! I’m hoping to get back in a regular exercise routine before my parents come… which is one week from today! It’s crazy that they’re coming so soon. The four months without seeing them has somehow not seemed terribly long. I miss them a lot and am so excited to show them around Florence before traveling to two other countries with them. It’s a big deal for the LeMays!

I have been doing some reflecting on 2016 and encourage you to do the same. New Years resolutions? Goals in general? Take the next few days to do some reflection! xo ~ e.

Month #4 in Italy

Monday, December 26, 2016

Well it’s been four months now since I have been an Italian expat, and I’m sad to say that my time here is nearly halfway over. Every day is an adventure and a blessing in Italy. In the past month, I’ve survived my first set of college finals, celebrated my first holiday season away from home, had coffee with a stranger, completed my permit to stay process, and met up with a longtime friend in Rome! This month went by the quickest out of the four. It must have been because of finals and the holidays! 

Experiencing a holiday in Europe was something else. I wasn’t expecting to celebrate Christmas away from home so soon, but it wasn’t as miserable as one might think. Christmas is a big deal here due to the history and high percentage of Christians and Catholics. The cities I saw during the holiday season were decked out for the holidays. My favorite aspects were the lights and Christmas markets. In Florence, Rome, and Budapest there were gorgeous lights stringing the city. They ranged in colors and shapes– strings of lights, gift boxes, high heels, bells. It is truly something else, a sight to be seen. The Christmas markets are unlike anything I’ve seen. Rows of small wooden huts with warm vendors selling reasonably priced Christmas knick knacks ranging from ornaments to soaps to jewelry to ornately decorated gingerbread cookies to stationery. Plus, every Christmas market had delicious holiday comfort food. In Budapest I thoroughly enjoyed devouring Apple strudel, goulash, and roasted potatoes with pork and onions at the Christmas market. Of course I had to try the mulled red wine and apple cider! The Christmas markets are a wonderful place to be because there are so many people also eating, shopping, and admiring the holiday vibes. Something you can’t miss out on if you’re in Europe during December! 

Month #4 in Italy has taught me how I consider Florence my home. I find myself missing it, like I do for home in the States, when I’m away from it. I associate Florence with my newfound friends and Marist family. I feel comfortable in Florence and at ease. And the thought of leaving this temporary home is a thought that leaves me uneasy and apprehensive. I’m lucky that I feel so connected and attached to Florence because it means that I’m making the most out of this experience of living here. I know the goodbye will be difficult, but I’m reminded to soak up every moment I have in Florence and not to focus so much on the future. 

I hope to continue to practice my Italian and explore other parts of the city. It’s nice feeling like Florence is home, but I feel as though I may be getting too comfortable with my routine here. I want to try new restaurants, utilize the bus system more, and spend more free time outside of the apartment. All good news to report! Here’s to a New Year! xo ~ e.

What to Do in Budapest Day 2

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are enjoying today with good company and good food. Olivia, Sonia, and I celebrated a non traditional Christmas by exploring more of Budapest! We were out for 12 hours and couldn’t complain about the cold weather due to the spectacular scenery. We were expecting to be the only ones out on Christmas, but many people were out and about celebrating!

Hero’s Square

We stopped by Hero’s Square on our way to the thermal baths. This is a square filled with tourists admiring the very tall statue!

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Széchenyi Baths 

Budapest is known for their thermal baths, and we went to the biggest ones on Christmas morning! I highly recommend booking on the website instead of buying tickets in person. We skipped the long line and had our own little changing room for 18 euros! I’ve never been to public baths before, and they were an experience. Soaking in hot mineral water with many strangers was a lifelong memory. Be sure to hop in the indoor baths in addition to the outside bath, and warm up in the toasty sauna! We didn’t do any spa treatments, but they are offered. PS* The water does smell like sulfur, but it is SO good for your skin. It’s gross, but I did feel the dead skin coming off after a nice soak!

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

We walked into this magnificent church on Christmas Day. There were Christmas markets in front of it and many visitors. There is Christmas Eve mass at midnight, and thousands of people typically attend. Unfortunately, we were getting our beauty sleep then!

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Chain Bridge

You must walk across the bridge connecting Buda and Pest! We went as it began to get darker, and we got to see the Parliament Building light up!

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Parliament Building

We went to the well-guarded Parliament Building at night, and it was spectacular. The building is huge! It’s the largest building in Hungary and tallest building in Budapest. It’s also one of Europe’s oldest government buildings.

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Shoes on the Danube Bank

Along the Danube lies a memorial in honor of Budapest Jews who were executed in WWII. They were ordered to take off their shoes before being killed and carried away by the river. The sculptures of the shoes represents the Jews during their last moments on the bank. This memorial was painful to look at due to its tragic and devastating history, but I am glad we saw it; it’s very moving

Dohány Synagogue 

This is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world! It was our last attraction we saw, and it was late when we visited it, so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. But I wouldn’t skip it because the architecture is stunning, and it is a very important place for the Jewish community.

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#hellohungary sign

Snap a pic at this iconic sign!

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And enjoy some mulled wine from the Christmas market while your friends pose!

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Helpful tips

  • Use public transportation! It’s cheap, easy to use, and convenient. The metro’s interior is very unique– reminds me of an old fashioned diner! Just make sure you validate your tickets because there are officials who check before you get on.
  • Pull out cash. Most places take cards, but cash is handy to have. For the most part, things are cheap in Budapest! You can get a full meal for less than 10 euros and coffee for less than 2 euros.
  • Stay at this Air BnB! We had a lovely and very affordable stay here (40 euros/night). The apartment is in the perfect location– close to the Christmas market, restaurants, stores, and metro station.
  • Don’t worry about not knowing a peep of Magyar! Everyone speaks English!
  • Bring layers! Budapest is 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit in December, so layer up!

We packed a lot into two days, but everything was beautiful and worthwhile. Budapest was the perfect place to spend Christmas and high on my list of favorite places on earth! Merry Christmas! xo ~e.

What to Do in Budapest Day 1

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas Eve from Budapest, Hungary! We had a great day here in this incredible city. Should you find yourself in Budapest at some point, make sure you hit these popular attractions. This city is the perfect place to spend the holidays!

Christmas Market

The Christmas markets at Vörösmarty Square cannot be missed. Here you will find beautiful lights, delicious Hungarian cuisine, many tourists and locals doing their last-minute Christmas shopping at the countless wooden huts with warm vendors. This is the main Christmas market in Hungary’s capital, and it’s a must-see! Don’t forget to take a picture in front of the big tree and ‘Budapest’ sign!

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Spíler BistroPub

We read that we had to go to Spíler if we went to Budapest. It’s a very popular restaurant for tourists and locals alike located in the Jewish district. Very casual food and hipster vibes. It was the perfect place to enjoy dinner after a long day of traveling! I highly recommend the Hungarian letscho with pan fried duck liver (1960 HUF = ~ 6.3 euros) with a small Spíler original blonde (490 HUF = ~ 1.6 euros).

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Budapest Castle Hill Funicular

Cross the Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest and take the Funicular up Castle Hill! It costs less than 5 euros for a fun & direct ride up Castle Hill.

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Buda Castle

You can see a gorgeous view of this remarkable castle from the Danube River on the Pest side. You can’t miss it with the turquoise dome on top!

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Cafe Ruszwurm

This cafe is famous for their cakes. It’s small but very cozy and authentic. I got a tiramisù, and it was to die for! We grabbed a sugary pick me up on our way to Fisherman’s Bastion from Buda Castle.

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Fisherman’s Bastion

This was my favorite attraction in Budapest! The seven Harry Potter like towers give you a stellar view of Pest, the Danube River, Chain Bridge, and the Parliament Building from the arches. It’s a great place to explore during the day and night. Take bus 16 in order to avoid the steep hike up from the Chain Bridge!

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View of Parliament Building from Fisherman’s Bastion at night

Opera House

You have to go to the Hungarian Opera House to a) watch “The Nutcracker” in December or b) eat Hungarian goulash at the cafe! Be sure to reserve tickets for the opera because many shows are sold out; we didn’t get a chance to see the opera, but we did indulge in Hungarian comfort food and enjoy the architecture of the building.

That’s it for Day 1 in Budapest! Look for Day 2’s post tomorrow! xo ~e.