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

Advertisements

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.

Img_4209_1

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.

glass-water-pour

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.

Fiesole9ViewOfFlorence_g

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.

1280px-Theatre_archaeological_site_Fiesole_n01

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!)

12094784

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!

biennalvenice

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

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-spain

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!

positano

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!

tuscany-fields

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.

home_0011

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.

DestinationImage_FrenchRiviera_CoastShot_CreditiStock_JacobSjomanSvensson

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


Unknown-2

 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

Unknown

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

076323334

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.

076340649

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!