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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Studying Abroad:Why it is Beneficial By Alycia Oliver


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 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!

Inside the Suitcase: How to Pack for Florence By Alycia Oliver

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Going on a trip is meant to bring relaxation and happiness into one’s life, however many can admit packing gives comes with anxiety. What am I going to forget? Did I pack too much? Will I have enough room to bring back a few things? To eliminate these packing anxieties here are a couple strategies I use myself when packing.

1)   Head-to-Toe.  Begin at your head and move down your body thinking of everything you need as you go. For example; hat, sunglasses, shirts, shorts, pants, shoes. Obviously this would be done in further detail, but you get the jist!

2)   Inside out. Another approach is starting with your under garments and then moving outwards. This strategy works well for clothing items but do not forget to make a mental note to include electronics, toiletries and for the girls make up and jewelry.

3)   Activity list. Thinking about what you do in a day from when you wake up until you go to bed can really speed up the packing process. As you do so think about everything you need and use while doing these activities.

If one inherited the forgetful gene (like myself) it is best to write a checklist on paper when using all the strategies above. When I arrived in Florence I wish I had read a couple blog posts on what to bring and what not to bring. First of all, each item you pack you must be sure you will wear atleast twice. 8-18-travel-list-1When you are traveling “the never wear the same outfit twice rule” NEVER applies. Ladies, your suitcase is only so big- you will have to outfit repeat, get used to it! In order to make sure you are bringing the right things to Florence, here is what I recommend:

-Sunglasses

-Sunscreen: the sun is a lot hotter then you can imagine, protect your skin!

-Long skirts: not only are these comfortable and in style, you will fit in perfectly.

-Maxi dresses

-Strappy sandals: don’t bother bringing flip flops, Italians always walk in style!

-One pair of walking shoes: all you do in Florence is walk, walk, and walk.

-Light pair of pants

-Mosquito repellant: It’s do or die over here, a constant war humans vs. mosquito’s!

-Only ONE pair of heels (preferably wedges): the cobble stone streets are hard to walk on and most people go out in dressy sandals or flats.

-Small side purse with good zipper: avoid those pick pocketer’s as much as you can.

In general, bring light clothing and in a diversity of options (shorts, pants and skirts). Florence is known to experience all seasons in one day. In the summer months you may experience a few storms, which I personally find quite amazing. Sitting back and watching the thunder and lightening can sometimes be relaxing if you are in the right place at the right time. What you need to know is that in Florence it will down pour very quickly and suddenly then usually it will pass. Bringing an umbrella would be a good idea! Hope this helps and takes some time off your packing. Happy Travels!

Calcio Storico Fiorentino: Historical Soccer By Alycia Oliver

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As many of you know, Italians live and breathe soccer. This sport keeps all Europeans on their toes, especially during the world cup. The competition between each country is quite outstanding.  Restaurants and bars play games on their big screen TV’s to attract a large crowd of viewers! In the month of June the Calcio Fiorentino games take place in the Santa Croce Square. Calcio simply means to kick thus, after translation it would the “Florentine kick game”. The history and extraordinary rules of calico fascinates many people, drawing them in to watch the games. Here are a few points to fill you in on the sport.

076340176History- Calcio is an early form of soccer that originated in the 16th Century. It is said to be the game that started out all rugby and football events! Initially, the games were reserved for the wealthy citizens and it was said that even high public figures (such as the popes and royalty) were known to play.  In 1930 the games were back in action after being dormant for two hundred years! I would not be surprised if these games continue for many more centuries- I mean who doesn’t like to watch something historical and full of violence (this is a must see for all men!). To this day men take the game very seriously, dedicating their life once in the timeless arena.

076340626Rules- Here I will discuss the rules or better yet, lack of rules in Calcio. The official rules were first published in 1580. There are three games, each a duration of 50 minutes. The idea is for players to use both their hands and feet to move the ball up and down the field.  Each team must take the ball beyond their opponent’s defense line. One of the only few rules that apply are no sucker-punching and kicks to the head. Head-butting, punching, elbowing and choking are all fair game! Since no substitutions are allowed, this game can get quite bloody. As you can imagine, this is very VERY entertaining.

Teams- There are four teams with 27 players on each. A team that once belonged to the roman gladiators represents each district in Florence. The teams are as follows; Santa Croce (blue team), Santa Maria Novella (red team), Santo Spirito (white team), and San Giovanni (green team). Each team dresses up in some sort of costume to display their pride; of course all in matching team colors.

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The soccer tournament is said to be an honor of San Giovanni, thus the final Calcio game on is June 24th (Florentine holiday for Giovanni). The finals are played during the evening, which is followed by an amazing display of fireworks on the Arno River. Cherishing the ongoing tradition of Calcio Fiorentino, Florence has kept the medieval spirit alive by reliving an event so ancient. To check out the Official Facebook page click here. I will also provide you with a well-filmed video to summarize the games, enjoy!

Fashion Forward Florence By Alycia Oliver

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If fashion is something that sparks your curiosity, you may wish to experience Florence, Italy from June 18th to June 21st. Between these hot summer days, the Pitti Uomo is in full swing. One could also call this ‘The Beautiful People’s Club’. This renowned fashion week attracts models, designs, bloggers and photographers from all over the world. You know what this means- great people watching! As high fashion men and women stroll the streets bystanders are able to admire their impeccable, well-put together outfits.

fashion-show-pictures-1As the busy city gets exponentially busier, events get set up on the streets. An even bigger bonus- several events include free alcohol and are open to the public! This will be one of the only nights you will want to be wearing your high heels ladies (other than that the uneven cobblestone streets will guarantee you an ungraceful face plant). This is the best place to meet future contacts, especially if you are interested in the fashion industry. Shops are open after hours and DJ’s are brought in playing euro-trance tunes to keep shoppers happy. If you are planning a trip to Florence, this could be the right time for you to come. If you are already in Florence, enjoy every minute and absorb all the new fashion trends Europe has to offer!

Florence at it’s finest By Alycia Oliver

Firenze, Firenze, Firenze! This beautiful, romantic city is the only place I wanted to be this summer. A spontaneous trip from Canada to Italy has begun my summer with great people and great food (to say the least!). I am a student traveling with Global Experiences, a program that organizes Italian classes as well as internships. The Italian classes were challenging but rewarding once I was able to converse with others in the bar and shoo away unwanted strangers (girls, be cautious as men don’t know the meaning of no). After three weeks of classes I feel fortunate to be an intern at When In Florence, an advanced student services company. The friendly staff is able to help all tourists with almost anything that is needed during their stay.226175352_dae1a0d6ff_z Since being in Florence I have explored almost all routes and side streets that are lined with restaurants and shops. A piece of advice for all travellers- don’t stick to the main roads, the most unique places are hidden!

For all the girls out there, if we share a common interest in shopping the San Lorenzo Markets is where you should get your new handbag, wallet, coin purse and other leather goods. Since there are hundreds of stands around the city, there are a few things you must look out for, the Firenze sign engraving and the delicious smell of fresh leather. Additionally, the Santa Croce area and side street around the Duomo have affordable shops for students.  If you are looking for something a little more pricey shopping near Piazza Della Republica is your best bet. Happy shopping travellers! On another note, there is never a dull moment in Florence.1010910_10151638990702141_10201237_n Not feeling a club or bar? Don’t feel like staying in? As I am one of the most indecisive girls on the planet I always face the problem of what I should do. When in doubt, grab a bottle of wine from any store (or even stands on the road) and head to one of the several bridges crossing the Arno River. I can guarantee you a beautiful sunset, a great crowd and many talented musicians.

Last but definitely not least, travellers you must keep traveling! There are several stunning locations around Florence perfect for day trips as well as weekend trips. A few close cities are Lucca, Sienna, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Venice and Rome. Some places worth going for a weekend include: the Amalfi Coast, Croatia, Greece, Naples, and Sicily. There are several companies that will take students on these trips for very affordable prices, including When In Florence. I highly suggest taking some of these trips as you will not waste time getting lost in a foreign city and will be able to see everything you need in a short period of time. While enjoying every minute, take every opportunity that gets thrown your way and be open to the different culture and new people you stumble across. With this in mind we will share a similar experience, simply the best trip of your life!