November 30, 2016

Ciao!  For Thanksgiving, I visited my cousin Kelsey in Florence, where she is studying abroad. To make the weekend even better, her entire family-- my cousins Kaela, Brendan and Luke and my Aunt Jeanne & Uncle Brian, were there for the occasion too. It was such a great way to spend the holiday and I had such an amazing time there.  So good to be with family!

cousin lovin'!!
On Wednesday when I arrived, we climbed up to the top of a lookout where we could see all of Florence-- most importantly the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio-- the two most prominent buildings in the city.  The sun was just starting to set, making for picture-perfect views on my first day in Italy.

After the big hike to take pictures, we stopped at a bar at the top to reward ourselves with mojitos before we headed to dinner.

I ate more pasta than is humanly possible on this trip, but how could I not? No matter where we went the food was ridiculously good-- the food in the airport was better than some of the best restaurants back home in the US, not even kidding. (Here's an awkward family photo of us eating the best sandwiches of our lives.) My second day in Florence, we decided to go to a museum that housed paintings of Leonardo da Vinci along with several other famous Italian artists. There were also many perfectly preserved marble sculptures from centuries ago. While we appreciated the art, it was very entertaining hearing my younger cousins' commentaries as we walked through aisles upon aisles of naked marble people who weren't leaving much to the imagination.

Thanksgiving dinner did not disappoint. We may not have had turkey and stuffing pies this year, but we certainly did not go hungry. Between many rounds of antipasti, Chianti by the bottle, pasta to boot and a massive Florentine steak shared between me and Kelsey, we barely had room for dessert - but where there's a will there's a way, so we squeezed it in.


We capped off the night with a ride on the merry-go-round in Florence and headed back to the Airbnb for our last night in Florence.


The next day, we headed to Milan. I didn't really know what to expect but we were all pleasantly surprised by its charm and eclectic mix of the old and the new architecture. The Milan Duomo was amazing to see- we got to go inside it and walk around and it was absolutely beautiful.


We also went inside a huge fancy shopping center, kind of like the Short Hills Mall on steroids. It was fun to look around and see all the Christmas decorations, but Gucci and Prada were not in the abroad budget. We finished the night with a late dinner (more pasta) and prepared for an early wakeup to catch our various flights (I was going back to London out of one airport, Kelsey was headed to Paris from the other airport and everyone else was USA-bound).

I am so beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving the way I did with my amazing cousins, aunt and uncle. So much amore for mia famiglia! Arrivederci, Italia! 


November 29, 2016

outside the cute blue door of our airbnb

Éirinn go Brách! I have always been proud of my Irish roots and have been blessed with many opportunities to travel there with my family several times-- in fact, before arriving in London for the semester, the only place in Europe I had ever been was Ireland.  That said, I jumped on the opportunity to return when Hannah and her high school friend, Katie, who is studying in Barcelona, asked if I wanted to come to Dublin with them. 

We hopped on the short RyanAir flight --which was terrifyingly turbulent-- and landed in Ireland late Thursday night. The next morning, we woke up and left our Airbnb in time for a traditional Irish breakfast (minus the black pudding).

Despite having already been to Ireland, I had never actually seen Dublin and was excited to visit the many historic sites and churches located there. It is such a cool city because it combines history and Irish heritage with modern artsy vibes and good shopping- right up my alley. We spent the first day wandering the streets and cramming in sightseeing. 

Trinity College Library

Christchurch Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Temple Bar

This is a cool artsy area of Dublin, complete with cool wall murals and trendy pubs/bars playing live music. It is also home to Dublin's famous pub, The Temple Bar, which we stopped in to get drinks before dinner and listen to a fun quintessential Irish band.

The Guinness Storehouse
The next day we were all excited to be visiting the Guinness Storehouse. While Katie and I were certainly more open to the idea of drinking beer than Hannah (strictly a wine girl with the occasional mojito-- can't blame her), all three of us were pumped to pay a visit to this Irish landmark and it did not disappoint. Complete with a full museum which detailed the history of Guinness in Ireland, the factory was both fun and educational.  My personal favorite part of the museum was the advertising exhibit, a display of Guinness's iconic advertising over the years. 


Once we moved past the educational part, we reached the beer. We started with a tasting where we learned the proper way to enjoy a Guinness, followed by a mini workshop where we learned how to pour the perfect pint. We all passed with flying colors and were recognized with a certificate and our personal pint to enjoy. A little apprehensive to try Guinness (I was disgusted by it when I first tried it the last time I was in Ireland in 2014), I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that my taste buds had matured beyond restricting their appreciation of beer to frat basements, and I was actually enjoying it. #adulting


Cliffs of Moher

After getting our fill of Guinness and Dublin, we ventured early Sunday morning to meet a tour bus bound for the Cliffs of Moher and the Atlantic Coast. I was very excited for this day because this is the area of Ireland where I have spent a lot of time with my family. We actually drove right by the home of a family friend where we stayed for 2 weeks last time we were in Ireland. It was a long bus ride away from Dublin, but the views were worth the trip.  We got to spend 2 hours at the Cliffs of Moher, one of my absolute favorite natural wonders that still astonishes me every time I see it. 


Thank you Ireland, go raibh maith agat! Until next time!


November 15, 2016

Where to even begin!? Hannah, Abby and I just experienced the trip of a lifetime in Reykjavik, Iceland. To be honest, I had never considered traveling to Iceland until Hannah brought it up while making our list of places to see while living abroad. Its easy to forget about this country, being that it is smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now I can say that Iceland is an unforgettable place and I can't wait to go back again.

We woke up bright and early at 4 am on Friday and headed for London Luton Airport. One 3 hour flight (two hours of which were spent napping) later and we landed in rainy Reykjavik. Despite the gloomy weather, we were refreshed and ready to rally. We checked into our Airbnb in downtown Reykjavik and were blown away by how nice it was. We all decided that if our first apartments are half as nice as this place we will be lucky. We dropped our bags and hit the ground running.

We spent the rest of the day window shopping and soaking up Reykjavik's quaint charm. A pit stop for Nutella crepes was a must and we were ready to head back to the apartment for a nap. After resting, we woke up in time for a late dinner of brick-oven pizza. Later that night we felt inspired to explore the Reykjavik nightlife scene. We certainly had an authentic experience as our first bar was full of locals, making us feel slightly out of place, but charmed just the same. We stopped into two more bars (and took a requisite photo with a mural of Harambe) before making the short walk back to our Airbnb for bedtime.

After sleeping in, we woke up the next morning excited for a day ahead at Iceland's most famous tourist spot-- The Blue Lagoon! Lucky for us, Saturday was our only rain-free day in Iceland, but nevertheless extremely chilly-- perfect for a day spent in an outdoor hot spring. The lagoon was definitely a tourist trap but it was still a fantastic experience. We splurged with our rented bathrobes and spent hours floating in the lagoon, putting on mud masks and soaking until we turned into literal prunes. The Lagoon was also a great people-watching spot- a group of 30 American tourists were also visiting to celebrate their friend's 30th birthday. Each and every one of these people were absolute characters. The birthday boy's Aunt Deb was documenting every detail of her experience in the Blue Lagoon on Facebook Live and even interviewed us on the spot while our faces were covered in mud. Hopefully nobody we know was watching :)

All that floating in the Lagoon made us work up quite the appetite. When we returned to Reykjavik we were starving and stopped at an Italian restaurant called Rossopomodoro for spaghetti. After the meal, We were exhausted and hit the hay early after jamming out to a little Christmas music (a nightly ritual for the three of us that began the day after Halloween). Judge us.

Sunday was an early morning as we had booked an all-day tour in the South Shore of Iceland. Our tour guide Addy picked us up in front of the apartment at 7:30 am. Since Iceland is so far north, the days are darker for much longer in the winter. This made a 7:30 wakeup next to impossible and it actually didn't get light out until close to 11 am.  Our van made its way down the south coast, stopping at many breathtaking spots along the way.


Our first stop on the tour was this famous waterfall which we were actually able to walk behind. The combination of freezing/pouring rain and the splashing of water from the falls was chilling but the view was worth it. After taking it in and snapping some pics, we scurried back to the heated van.


The second waterfall we saw was a bit larger. It was situated next to a farm with beautiful Icelandic horses roaming around. Our tour guide told us that Icelandic livestock are unique in that they have never been bred with animals outside of Iceland since the settlement so they have adapted for centuries in order to handle the extreme climate. By the way, now is the perfect opportunity to mention that I am not a nun, despite the confusing outfit choice. Just a girl trying not to get her hair wet-- you know how it is!

Reynisfjara (Black Beach)

Let's just say I have been pinning photos of this beach on Pinterest for months now so my excitement when we arrived at the Black Beach was unsurmountable. Iceland is a volcanic island and the black beach is actually a by-product of the basalt and lava that rose from the ocean when Iceland first formed. While it is unbelievably beautiful, it is equally dangerous. Extreme waves and a very strong current make the Black Beach Iceland's most dangerous beach. The pictures don't do this place justice. It surpassed my expectations and I would love to return at some point.

Solheimajokull Glacier

I didn't know what to expect when I heard we would be seeing a glacier, especially after hearing how much it had melted due to climate change. Expecting to be a little underwhelmed, I was floored at the massive glacier we saw which is a remnant of the Ice Age. It was surrounded by stunning mountain ranges.

Every direction I turned just took my breath away-- even the view from the parking lot!

After a long day of touring the South Shore, we were hungry. Our Airbnb host recommended Grillmarkadurinn (Grill Market), which was on the nicer end aka more expensive than other Icelandic restaurants which were already ridiculously expensive. We found out that we had actually dined at the exact same table as Dr. Dre and Gordon Ramsay, and that earlier this year the Kardashians and Kanye West also got dinner there. So you could say it was a pretty fab restaurant. The food was amazing and we had a great waiter, Steff. He brought us dessert (on him)-- an intricate hollow chocolate globe which he poured warm melted chocolate on.


Our flight out of Iceland wasn't until late Monday evening so we spent the whole of Monday sightseeing in Reykjavik. It was so nice to see the beauty that lies within Iceland's nature but to also have the chance to see the city as well. It is a colorful city filled with a mix of old and new architecture and the perfect balance of touristy shops and more authentic boutiques and cafes. The two highlights of Monday were the famous church called Hallgrimskirkja (say that 3 times fast!) and the Harpa Concert Hall. 

I was so sad to leave Iceland and am already planning my next trip there. It is safe to say it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I miss it already.

All roads lead to Reykjavik!