In The Heart of Tuscany By Alycia Oliver

The heart of Tuscany is a great place to get a break from the busy and crowded streets of Florence. The scenery you will immerse yourself in is surreal; the contrast of the vast rolling yellow and green hills against the clear blue sky is breathtaking.IMG_1128 The hills of Tuscany are the home of many sunflower fields. Especially in the summer months, prepare to see rows on rows of sunflowers (more then you could ever imagine!). Several movies have been filmed in the beautiful tuscan towns, such as Gladiator, Under The Tuscan Sun, Heaven, a Mid-Summer Nights Dream, and The English Patient.

In addition to all the above, Tuscany produces some of the best wines in the world! As wine is something all cultures enjoy, this is a favoured place to visit. If you are a wine lover, you absolutely MUST take a day trip to the heart of Tuscany and take part in one or two wine tastings. IMG_1122You can either rent a car or vespa and ride through the hills, or you can take a bus with a tour guide that will take you to towns and vineyards. I personally did the second option and will further explain my experience in the chance you want to take notes and do it on your own!

I got an early start and left Florence, around 8 am to ensure myself a full and eventful day. I arrived in the first town of Montepulciano an hour and a half later excited and eager to explore. We headed to the Nooble Di Montepulciano Cantina Crociani for our first wine tasting of the day (yes, at 11am). I tasted three different red wines, each of different quality, price and body. There was a unique atmosphere with being surrounded by several oversized wine barrels in an underground cellar.  Satisfied and tipsy we left to venture the Piazza Grande. For any twilight fan this was a very exciting moment to step in the exact doorway Edward Cullen was standing in. The size of the piazza itself was surprising as it seemed so much smaller then it had in the movie!IMG_1151

Our second stop was a Cheese farm in Siena hidden in between two sunflower fields. Not only did they have the best cheese, it was also the home of many animals such as puppies, goats, turkeys, guinea pigs, pigs, kittens and last but not least puppies! I cannot deny the fact that I offered the owner money to take one home. The owners did a demonstration of how cheese was made, and after they generously fed us a fresh four cheese pasta and an unlimited amount of wine. In total we tried five different types of cheese until our bellies ached! IMG_1224Although we were all quite tired we went to our third stop in a small town called Pienza. Here we attempted to walk off the wine, bread, cheese and pasta while looking in the small boutiques and shops. The highlight of this town was the amazing view overlooking the hills, vineyards and sunflower fields- it really was picture perfect!

Finally, we made it to the Brunello Winery in Chianti. Since Brunello is one of the most famous wines in the world it was rightfully so the most delicious wine I have tasted. This winery was extra generous and in total we tired three types of brunello all ranging in the year it was made, a grappa wine, and a desert wine. I left with 3 bottles to bring home, and let me say this I was not the only one! All in all Tuscany was a relaxing and tranquil experience. It is lovely to see places in the world filled with such beauty and serenity!IMG_1314

Tips to Stay Healthy in Florence By Alycia Oliver

When the word Florence comes to mind what do you think of? My guess would be pasta, gelato, food, and more food. And no, food is not the only important thing in Italy there are many beautiful historical structures, yet when I came to Italy people were forewarning me not to be upset if I “gained a little weight”. Travellers want to enjoy their vacation and mindlessly eat without thinking of all the calories and carbs they are consuming. If you are studying and working abroad in Florence and are here for the long haul a 2-6 month “vacation” may not be acceptable. The following are a few guidelines to follow to ensure a healthy and happy lifestyle in Italy that you may usually maintain back at home.

Juice Bars

For those who have fresh fruit and vegetables in their morning routine, coming to Italy to only find pastries and breads in the morning will be a shock. To do worry- the fresh juice bars scattered around the town will save you. My personal favorite is called Love Life Juice Bar, located close to Santa Croce. Here you can select the fruit you like and they will blend it into a nice refreshing drink. You can also find salads, quinoa, yogurt and granola and many other healthy options to satisfy your needs.fruit-salad

Locate a Gym

If you are going to be in Italy for a longer period of time locating a gym at the beginning of your stay will be the most resourceful. Here they will provide workout classes as well as full access to a well-equipped gym. With a little research and a bit more cash you will also find a spa included with a gym membership. This includes steam rooms, saunas, and hot tubs. Don’t procrastinate, or else a membership may not be worth the amount of time you have left!

Running on treadmill

Feet First

Take advantage of all the walking you will be doing in Florence! Boycott taxi’s and buses if you can and use your two feet to get to all your destinations. Surely enough working elevators are hard to come by in Florence, so getting up and down from your apartment will be a workout on its own! Do yourself a favor and choose the activities that require exercise. Climb the 417 steps to the top of the Duomo as well as the Bell tower and hike to the top of the Michael Angelo Piazza to watch the sunset! You will be having fun while getting a work out at the same time.

Fresh, Fresh, Fresh.

The fresh farmers markets are the place to be. Italians cook with the freshest of fruits and vegetables keeping their bodies healthy and strong. Some restaurants even make their own pasta right there in the restaurant. Eliminating all the extra chemicals added to foods will make you feel better about what you are indulging on. check out a restaurants review, and do your research to find the freshest restaurants in Florence.


Hydration is Key!

It is very important to remember to drink lots of water in Florence. With all the walking and the smothering heat you will start to feel ill without water. Water will give you energy, tide you over between meals and keep you feeling healthy. Although you do have to buy water in restaurants (at usually a hefty price) it is possible to find 1 euro very large bottles of water! Stock up while you can.


Fiesole Italy: What kind of Tourist Are You? By Alycia Oliver

When travellers are looking to come to Italy the first on their mind is Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan and maybe the Amalfi Coast. There are many hidden gems in Italy and Fiesole is most definitely one of them. The biggest benefit about Fiesole is that you can stay in the heart of Florence and take just a short 20 min bus ride up the hill to the magical countryside. If you are interested in taking this bus you must get on the number 7, which stops at the Santa Maria Novella railway station and Piazza San Marco.


First of all, I would like to ask you what type of traveller are you? You may be surprised to know that in fact there are different types of travelers. Here are your options:

  1. Organized Mass Tourist. This is the least adventurous of the bunch. You like you remain within the tourist bubble, and use the itinerary fixed by the tour operators and attend trips out of the complex and organized tours. This is the easy route that most families take if they have a lot of children they are traveling with.
  2. Individual Mass Tourist. These tourist also use facilities made available by tour operators but exercise greater control over their own itinerary. They will typically serve their hotel as a base and arrange private tours or hire a ca for further trips.
  3. Explorer. An attempt to get off the beaten track and experience new places is the main goal. They make their own travel accommodation arrangements and really enjoy experiencing new things.
  4. Drifter. These travellers scorn the tourist bubble and shun contact with mass tourism. They want to immerse themselves directly into the culture and seek for the local spots in their destination. They Actively seek new destinations and are prepared to take risks in experiencing new cultures and places.

I urge you not to be an organized mass tourist, work your way down the ladder and be comfortable with exploring new places! Typically, explorers and drifter tourists will populate Fiesole, as it is not as well known as other larger cities in Italy. Little do most people know Fiesole was an active community before Florence was, with very unique rules! It was said that the women had just as many rights as the men (at this day in age that was very unusual). They could go to the bank, pay for things, work just as hard, and sometimes the men even took care of the children while the women went out hunting for food.  All Florentine history originates in the hills of Fiesole.

This small town in the Tuscany region overlooks the entire city of Florence and was conquered by the romans in the III century BC. In 405 BC everything turned to chaos when the Stillcone defeated the Goths. The reason why this location was so valuable is because it was far enough way from the Arno River, the main form of transportation at the time. This would allow villagers to have a warning when any danger was near. The Ertuscan’s populated Fiesole and many of the remains are still present. With only an 8 euro ticket you are able to see the roman baths, the remains of the roman Etruscan temple, as well as the magnificent theater. What is really special is, to this day you are able to watch classic shows and operas in the roman theater! The capacity is up to around 3000 people. Some of it has been preserved however there are parts that are still untouched.


Fiesole is small enough to do in a day trip. Here are the main attractions I would jot down to see!

-The Etruscan wall

-Roman baths

-Roman Temple

-Parco Della Rimembranza (best place to enjoy the view)

-Cathedral of Fiesole

-Antique markets (only happen once a month!)


This list does not include the several points you can enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the view. There are also a couple very beautiful restaurants on the hill tops with the most amazing pasta you will ever taste!  Hopefully this has inspired you to go to the roots of Florence and experience history first hand! Happy travels!

Top Travels From Florence: Day/Weekend Trips By Alycia Oliver

Florence is a spectacular place to set base camp while in Europe. Florence is essentially in the middle of Italy and Italy is sandwiched between beautiful Spain and Croatia/Greece. With a variety of transportation you are almost guaranteed to find a cheap way to the destination you want to reach. Alternatively, there are many student services companies that will take very good care of you. If you do not have the travel agent gene, do not worry the trips are pre-planned and a guide will show you the top attractions of the city! Here are a few of my personal favorite trips from Florence that vary from day trips to weekend trips. Stop by  the When In Florence Office for more information or to book your trip!


Venice (Day Trip). Sail the canals of the remarkable city of Venice while sipping on processo and listening to talented musicians. Your eyes will never be at rest in this stunning floating city!  After taking a gondola ride and floating down over 150 canals, make sure to see the Murano glass factories. Hopefully you will get to see a glass blowing demonstration, which will surely blow your mind. Other attractions that you can see are the St. Mark Square and the Rialto Bridge. If you don’t want to go with an organized group the best way to reach Venice is by train.


Cinque Terre (Day Trip). Lace up your sneakers, grab your bathing suit, and head to the home of pesto! Explore the 5 towns that hang amongst the cliffs over the Mediterranean Sea while hiking through the colorful villages. While admiring a breath taking view of the crystal blue sea you can enjoy amazing pesto pizza or seafood. At the end of your day there is a long sandy beach you can relax on before getting on just a 2 hour bus back to Florence.


Barcelona (Week-End Trip). The home of the ultimate Spanish beach life intertwined within a lively city is a perfect combination for a weekend vacation. The mix of modernity and old Spanish town is found in Barcelona. Some of the top sights you will see are The Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and La Rambla. Last but not least, the nightlife is unimaginable, pack your dancing shoes and expect to stay up until the early hours of the night!


The Amafli Coast (Week-End Trip). This will be a very eventful, action-packed weekend. Sail around the Island of Capri and visit the outstanding Blue Grotto (if your lucky you will get to swim in it!). Taste the freshest lemon cello while relaxing on many beaches. Visit Positano to cliff jump and swim in caves to keep yourself cool from the hot summer sun. Get another perspective and see Italia from sea as you can ferry from Capri to Positano or Naples!


Taste of Tuscany (Day Trip). For something a little closer to home we head to Florence’s backyard, the Tuscan Hills. This is all about wine wine and more wine. Taste some of the world’s best wines and go on wine tasting tours as well as vineyard tours.  Walk through the medieval villages and see the Montepulciano and Montalcino.


Interlaken & Lake Como (Weekend Trip). For all the adrenaline junkies out there, this is your ideal trip. Hiking, rough water rafting, sky diving, paragliding, and canyon jumping are all possible in Europe’s adventure capital, Interlacken! After an eventful day head to the spa or watch a chocolate show for relaxation. Lake Como, the home of many celebrities get-away’s, can be toured in one day as well. The third largest, beautiful lake in northern Italy is worth a visit!

Skradinski Buk

Croatia (Weekend Trip).   If you are looking for a tropical get-away then Croatia is the place to be. From river rafting, to island hopping, to the Krka waterfalls you come back with amazing photos, memories and maybe even new friends! Exploring the ruins of the Dioceltian Palace and the old town of split should be in your itinerary as well.


French Rivera (Weekend Trip). Visit the notorious southern France to experience the lifestyle of the rich and the famous! Sun bathe on Nice’s long beautiful beach or take a hike up a small hill to see an aerial view. With Monte Carlo only being a 20 minute subway ride away indulge in the amazing restaurants and test your luck at the famous Casino! Expect beautiful cars, people beautiful, beautiful scenery and a beautiful time!

Studying Abroad:Why it is Beneficial By Alycia Oliver


 Studying abroad is supported and encouraged at many Universities in North America. One could say studying abroad is a current trend, the ‘cool thing to do’ –on a similar scale to the new style of sneaker wedges most young women are dying to get their hands on. If you are interested in studying abroad, you should pat yourself on the back for already taking a step in the right direction. Personally, being someone at the end of my abroad experience I can say that there are absolutely no downfalls. Nervous? Don’t know what to expect? Not sure if you will fit in? Don’t worry, these are the thoughts shared by each student during pre-departure- you are not alone! Studying abroad will give you several benefits that will relate to your current and future life.

Finding Yourself. The 20’s are said to be the golden years, the years to embrace your youth. These are the best years to travel, trust me on that one! Spending time on your own without the comfort of your family and friends will bring out new personality traits you never knew you had. Throughout your travels you will find out new things about yourself, what you like and what you don’t like.  Additionally, your priorities can change as well as your opinions on people, places or things. Things that bothered you may no longer do so when you return home as you will realize what you previously thought were of big importance are not.

Gain Independence. When studying abroad, you will learn how to do many things for yourself. Being a student is about branching away from home and learning the ropes of life, why not speed it up while doing it in a different country! After getting used to doing your own grocery shopping, banking, traveling, and cooking you will feel quite mature and independent when you have finished your time abroad. Once you have returned back home not only will you impress your family, you will feel more comfortable with yourself as a whole.

UnknownBe Culturally Diverse. Being culturally diverse is a skill set you will have for the rest of your life. This can help you in many situations such as interviews, future studies, or even casual conversations with friends and family. If you are studying in a destination with a different language, this will be even more beneficial to you. To this day knowing another language is on its own a big skill set that can help you succeed in the work force. I assure you, you will make many friends from all over the world!

Push your limits. Pushing your boundaries is the best way to experience new things and allow yourself to grow. Making the decision to study abroad is the start of your limit pushing. You will be surprised as to what you are capable of doing and how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to go. Do activities on your own, travel on your own, go bungee jumping. Yes, some of these ideas will be quite extreme for some but balance is key.images

Warning: you will catch a travel bug while studying abroad. This is the concept of having the itch to travel all the time from this moment on. Traveling is contagious, addictive, like a drug. The adrenaline rush you get from it, the thrill of learning and experiencing new things is something will you seek to find for the rest of your life. All in all, studying abroad is an unforgettable experience everyone must try. I encourage you to find yourself, be independent, culturally diverse, and push your limits!

Florence Summer Wardrobe for Women: Top 10 Must Have Items By Alycia Oliver

The very hot and dry summer months in Florence allow everyone to shed their layers of clothing and take out their light summer wardrobes. Hello pastel and white colors, shear and flowy fabrics- ah I love summer! Florentine men and women are continuously well dressed and up to date with all fashion trends. The following are a few suggestions of key items, hopefully keeping you in the loop!


1. Simply White. All white was a common theme used by the designer Pucci in her summer 2013 look and is a very big trend right now in Italy. Pairing a white dress with colorful jewelry or a bright lipstick can really make the outfit pop giving it a classy and sophisticated look. Not only is white a fabulous look in the summer, the contrast of the white fabric against skin will enhance any summer glow!


2. Big hat. This will be a useful accessory to keep you from melting in the summer sun while keeping you looking fabulous. There are the typical large floppy beach hats however keep your eye out for many other fabrics and sizes!


3. White Sneakers. Converses are typically the most trending pair of shoes at the moment. Not only will they relieve your feet from all the walking you will be doing around Florence, they can be paired with a wide variety of outfits. Shop for comfort while keeping yourself stylish!


4. Maxi dress. These will save your life in Florence. When you are running out the door these are the easiest items to throw on…for almost any occasion. You can dress them up for a night out, throw them over a bathing suit for the beach or even go to work in them. They are conservative and perfectly suitable for the Italian culture.


5. Circular Sunglasses. This trend dips into the past and allows the more hipster look to shine through in ones wardrobe. Sunglasses are an essential item for everyone in the summer; you might as well make them count! Additionally, glasses with a strong colorful reflection are something you may want to consider as they are spotted all over Europe this summer.


6. Pastels. Everybody loves pastels, and summer is the best and most acceptable time of the year to wear them! The secret is that pastels rarely clash with one another, and they always give you a light summery look. Pairing pastels with white is something that will make you stand out while walking down the streets in Italy.


7. Jumpsuit. If you roll out of bed and are dying to put on your sweatpants, turn to the jumpsuit. They are the most comfortable and stylish option! There are many styles of the jump suit; pants, shorts, strapless, low back. Choose the option that best fits your personal style.


8. Fringe Bathing suit. Bathing suits are a must have in the summer, an item you cannot live without. Since it is the only piece of clothing you wear on the beach, might as well make it a fashion statement! L-space fringe bathing suits are coming in strong for summer 2013 swim wear. Many colors are available!


9. High-Low Skirts. Showing off a bit of leg while having a flowing trail of fabric behind you is pleasing to the eye. These skirts are perfect for summer as the light fabric keeps you cool. They can be paired with a crop top to give the skirt a full effect.


10. High-Waisted Shorts. Once again bringing back a vintage look into the 20th century, a high waistline is back in style! Not only is this a very flattering look, it will open your closet up to more cropped shirts and tank tops.

The items above items range from casual to dressy, night to day, black and white to vibrant colors, but remember on average Florentines do not dress very casually. Do not wear your flip-flops- those are for the beach. This list should help you stay fashionable while doing almost anything in Italy. Happy shopping!

Top 3 Panini’s in Florence By Alycia Oliver


Panini’s are by far my favorite lunch food; there is nothing more satisfying then an amazing sandwich! Florence is sandwich heaven-you will be able to find a Panini shop on every single street you walk on. This competitive industry has resulted in the best sandwiches I have ever tasted. After living a month in Florence I would say I am an expert in locating the best Panini shops in the city. My top 3 places would be Pino’s, All’ antico Vinaio, and The Oil Shoppe.  Each shop is unique in it’s own way and has gained a strong reputation for a reason.

PINOSPino’s. Not only are you guaranteed a great sandwich, you are guaranteed a very warm welcoming by Pino himself as well as his beautiful wife, Antonella. They absolutely love it when you try and order in Italian (even if you are not very skilled), they appreciate the effort. You really get the best bang for your buck here as each Panini is only 3.50 euro’s! There is a selection of Panini’s on the wall and included in those is the ‘Fantasy Panini’.

This is the one I personally get as it allows you to get any 5 ingredients you would like (I highly recommend the truffle sauce). If you are not in the mood for a sandwich and are looking for a healthier option, they also have grilled and steamed vegetables and caprese salad.


All’ antico Vinaio. This hole-in-the-wall shop is filled with character and enthusiastic people. It’s very small interior is covered with photograph’s of famous people making their own sandwiches. Outside there is a small bench that is lined with bottles of wine and glasses. Yes, it is self-service for only 2 euro’s a glass! The Italian culture is very trusting, as they allow you to pay for your meal after. Beware -the Panini’s are massive; one is almost good enough to share!

Antico_Vinaio_Focaccia_Florence_ItalyRecently the shop has expanded next door to allow indoor seating for customers. Originally people would sit along the streets and on any benches they could find to enjoy their meal while people watching. You decide which ever one you please!

The Oil Shoppe. This shop is targeted towards American students and many of them eventually fall in love with it. The post cards from previous customers that cover the walls are proof of this. images-1Additionally, a large bulletin board lists all the ingredients you can include while making your own sandwiches and salads. As you will find out, in Florence they do not have mayonnaise, mustard or ketch up for your sandwich however you will you find all of the above! Be sure to try the chef’s famous iced coffee, it is one of my favorites!

Cinque Terre Vs. Amalfi Coast By Alycia Oliver

The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are two comparable and very popular destinations along the coast of Italy that travellers generally have difficulty deciding between. Both towns are situated on the edge of the cliffs hanging over the Mediterranean Sea, however a couple differences separate travellers either in one direction or the other.  I am fortunate enough to have been able to experience both towns and I will use my experiences to differentiate the two.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

First of all, you have to ask yourself what you want from your experience. What activities do you enjoy the most? What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with? Cinque Terre is known for their intricate hiking trails that give you amazing views of the towns and oceans. Although you must be careful, if the weather is not in your favor some of the trails may close (for safety reasons). Positano (one of the biggest towns along the Amalfi) has many roads strictly for pedestrians.  A lot of walking and hiking must be done here as well, yet the town does not have many trails that are simply for hikes, most of the hiking is done during your daily activities such as getting to the beach and going shopping. For the ladies who enjoy their shopping as much as I do, the Amalfi Coast is the better route for you. There are many shops lined very close to each other that allow you to see a lot in one street. The types of things they sell are; linen men’s dress shirts, beach throws, bathing suits, art, and some unique fancy boutiques. In Cinque Terre there are a few shops that are directed towards tourist attractions and artifacts.

Another factor I would consider is; what other destinations you would like to see in Italy and which one is closest to it. Being logical and realistic can save you a lot of time and money when travelling Europe. Cinque Terre is located in Northern Italy while the Amalfi Coast is in Southern Italy. In the summer months both locations are very warm, however geographically it would make sense that the Amalfi would be slightly hotter. The vibes in each town are quite different which is often the deciding factor for travelers. Cinque Terre is a lot smaller in size then Positano and there are many more activities in Positano. If you want to stay for more then a day or two I would recommend going to Positano as it has double the amount of beaches, shops and restaurants. It is popular for its fine dining, day trips to Capri and boat rentals. The Amalfi Coast has an older, wealthier crowd while Cinque Terre is great for backpackers and younger people looking for a relaxing night.

Positano, Amalfi Coast

Positano, Amalfi Coast

The food is exceptional anywhere in Italy, but each city has their own food they are known for. Cinque Terre is notorious for their pesto and anchovies! While I was there I had the best pasta with tomato sauce and pesto (so rich in flavor).  White wine is their wine specialty; you will be amazed at how many vineyards are along these big cliff sides. The Amalfi has the best variety of seafood you have ever tasted which includes lobster, crab, muscles, clams, squid and octopus. Either option you will not regret, as they are both very scenic and relaxing places to visit!

5 Things To Do ‘For The Story’ By Alycia Oliver

When coming to Europe, it is truly impossible to not come back with stories for your family and friends back home. With the culture being so different (Click here for article about culture differences) you are bound to push your boundaries and try new things. For some this is a little nerve-racking while for others this is a complete thrill. The following are top five things to do “for the story”, and obviously the spontaneously good time you will most likely have.

1) Go into an Original Palace. Back in the day Florence was known to be one of the wealthiest places in Europe. A couple families were very well known, the biggest one being the Medici Family. There are a couple original Medici palaces in Florence, your goal is to befriend someone who can bring you to one. Yes, I realize this is difficult but if you are open to meeting everyone you never know whom you will meet. It is not impossible!IMG_0168

2) A Day with Someone Culturally Different. When travelling you will be surprised at how many new people you will meet in the span of one day. Here’s your task, spend a day with someone who does not speak your language and lives somewhere completely different to you. Although the language barrier might be challenging you will learn a lot! Being culturally aware and diverse is important in today’s world, so you might as well start while you are travelling!

3) Be a Yes Man. Has anyone ever thought about what it would be like to be Jim Carry for a day? His goofy personality makes him seem like he is having so much fun. For those of you who know the movie “Yes Man” starring Jim Carry now is your chance! Be a yes man for the day. Here’s the rule: you are not allowed to say no… to anything (clearly with safety in mind). Be open and see where the day takes you.

4) Try a Food from a Different Culture. Apart of experiencing a new place is immersing yourself into their culture. You want to look, talk and eat like them…at least try for a day!  If you go to the San Lorzeno Food Market you will find many Florentine specials. IMG_5042For example, pig ears and  cow stomach are something people enjoy here. Although something may disgust you, be adventurous and try something unusual.

5) Take A Spontaneous Day Trip. It is this simple, go to the train station and get tickets for the very next possible train you can catch. Wherever the destination may be, plan your day trip on the train and wonder the new city completely blind. This could be really fun and you may find a place you have never even heard of to be quite spectacular.