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

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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

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.

Top 10 Attractions for Young Adults in Florence By Alycia Oliver

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Florence is a city full of character and personality. As you walk down the narrow streets each one is more interesting then the next. This lively city is a great place for students to visit for a weekend or even to study for a long period of time. The following lists the top ten places to go to, ranging from sights to nightlife to restaurants including links to find tickets. These are listed in random order, so if you do not have time for all pick what interests you the most!

The Duomo

The Duomo

1)Piazza Del Duomo- The Duomo is one of the most popular sights to see in Florence, once you see it you will understand why. It’s large, intricate exterior is breath taking and its beauty continues to the interior. If you are up for it hike the Duomo’s 414 steps to the top to see Florence from a different angle- it is truly spectacular!

2) Piazzale Michaelangelo- A small hike to the top of this hill will get you an incomparable view of Florence. It is easy to purchase wine, champagne and beer once you reach the top as a reward. Enjoy a drink while listening to the street performers and watching the sun set over the city of Florence. If you care to go dancing after, Flo, an outdoor seasonal club, is nearby.

3) The Secret Bakeries- Most of these wholesale bakeries are only open for the night owls and partygoers. Some are difficult to find however asking a few locals they should be able to direct you in the right way. One is located on via Canto Rivolto 2, an alleyway behind busy via De’ Benci. The cheap freshly baked goods should satisfy all cravings.

San Lorenzo Market

San Lorenzo Market

4) San Lorenzo Market- Italy is known for their high quality leather. There are blocks upon blocks of leather goods and jewelry to keep you occupied for hours. Watch out for pick pocketer’s and be sure to bargain!

5) Ponte Vecchio- This is the oldest bridge in Florence which usually covers the face of postcards. It is lined with a variety of jewelry shops that have been there for hundreds of years! At sunset, street musicians play on the middle of the bridge while people gather around sipping on pre-bought bottles of wine. Just below the bridge there is a grassy area along the river where you can relax, away from all the traffic.

6) Piazza Santo Spirito- If you want to find a place farther away from tourists and closer to the local life, this is the place to be. This Piazza has several cafes, restaurants and bars to keep you occupied.

Parco Piscine le Pavoniere

Parco Piscine le Pavoniere

7) Parco Piscine le Pavoniere– In the months of summer Florence can get scorching hot. This is the best place to cool down and relax poolside. It can get very busy as it is the largest pool with a restaurant and café on location. During after hours the pool turns into a bar!

8) Gusta Pizza- For all the pizza- lovers out there, this place is a must! With the best quality and reasonable prices this pizza spot has claimed a title for one of the best pizza places in Florence. If you’re lucky the chef may even make your pizza into a heart for you!

9) Grom Gelato– Italian gelato is something you cannot leave Italy without tasting. This is a competitive industry in Florence and you will have no problem finding a gelato place within a one-block radius. However, if you want the best quality go to Grom. The service is great and there is a very large selection of flavors.

10) Hotel Cavour Rooftop Bar- This roof top bar is the nicest in the city! A great selection of drinks and an even better view! This place is something a bit more laid back then the typical bar or club scene in Florence.

If you want to see Florence in a day, this is also possible although be prepared to do a lot of walking! There are several companies that can guide you through the cities main attractions, such as When In Florence. You have several options, you can go by Foot, Bike, Vespa and even by Boat!

Top Ten: Ways to Be Italian – By Zoe Eager

  1. Always drink your coffee sitting down. Distain Starbucks and American taste in coffee. Loudly.
  2. Remember that traffic lights, stop signs and crosswalks are suggestions only. Obey if you feel like it, but never after 11:00 PM. This is a sign of weakness.
  3. Believe that air conditioning is detrimental to one’s health (unlike, somehow, smoking). It should be avoided at all costs, and foreigners who do not know any better should be educated. Loudly.
  4. Un-gelled hair is naked hair.
  5. The top three buttons of a button-up shirt are for decoration only; no one cool actually buttons them.
  6. Obsessively clean things. Clean things that are already clean. If you’re bored, clean something; if you’re busy and need to procrastinate, clean something.
  7. Eye contact is a non-verbal come on, that, even when accidental, is irrevocable.
  8. The best way to get a date is to stop women in the street with declarations of their beauty. When combined with rule #4 and #5, this method has a zero-fail rate.
  9. Saying “ciao” fewer than four times when saying goodbye to someone does not constitute a proper goodbye.
  10. Never question the discrepancy between meal sizes in Italy: a cappuccino is a complete breakfast in and of itself, whereas a single-course dinner is not a dinner at all.