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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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.

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!

Misericordia di Earache – by Andy Shepherd

ambulance

Clearly, on the face of it this isn’t going to be an interesting blog post.  I mean, how much is there really to say about the volume of ambulance sirens in Florence?  Not much admittedly, but the chances are that if anybody has ever said anything to you about it before you probably couldn’t hear them on account of severe hearing damage.  And so, we’re reduced to this.  Legally deaf and only able to coherently communicate through the written word. Not that I’m trivializing the purpose of the ambulances, you understand, or even suggesting that they lower the volume of the siren.  In fact, I’m not suggesting any kind of reasonable solution.  Just whining about a problem and being entirely unhelpful and unproductive in doing so.  So in short: Ambulance sirens in Florence are really, really loud and there’s nothing that any of us can do about it.  There you go, I told you there wasn’t much to say…

In closing, I thought I’d offer a short list of completely unfeasible solutions (thus not contradicting what I said a second ago about not offering reasonable solutions):

1. Sabotage

Pros: About an hour of silence before they fix them all again.

Cons: Very time consuming.  Technical expertise required, unless a simple clogging method is used.  Would most likely lead to at least one manslaughter charge.

2. Mass protests (You know.  Like the one’s the kids with the megaphones and sheets painted with slogans do every so often)

Pros: Erm, none spring to mind.  Chance to get outside for a little while?

Cons: Probably very difficult to garner enough support for it considering what we’re talking about is a minor annoyance rather than a genuine problem.  Again, would probably lead to some kind of arrest.

3. Sternly worded letters to the Mayor, Prime Minister, President, President of the European Commission and Secretary General of the U.N.

Pros: A fleeting feeling of self-importance.  The chance to show off to your friends by telling them you’re “in communication with Ban-Ki Moon over the issue and are working together to try and find a resolution suitable to all parties.”

Cons: Waste of paper.  They definitely wouldn’t give a toss.

4. Just putting up with it (I seemingly have contradicted myself now.  This is a perfectly reasonable solution).

Pros: Really, really easy.  Everybody is already well practiced in doing so, meaning no special training is required.  The only option.

Cons: No change in situation.  Increased hearing damage for all.

So, that’s that I suppose.  I was planning on doing five suggestions, but it all got a bit too silly.  If anybody comes up with anything else, feel free to comment (presuming he few people who do read manage to get past the first sentence)…

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!