First impressions

Here I am, in Florence Italy, writing while sipping a crazy cheap and crazy good cappuccino in a gourmet cafe at 4:30 in the afternoon (a huge taboo, guilty as charge).  It’s been about two weeks since I first touched down in the land of pasta and gelato and so far I’ve loved embracing la Dolce Vita.  Cliché aside, catch me wandering every street till I get lost all semester long.  Culturally, the Italians love their food and they love their drinks.  Give me an aperitivo plate of prosciutto and pecorino for every meal and I’ll happily relax among all the tourists and bustling locals in the large piazzas.  On every turn, there is art, either in the form of a building, church, or street art.  Nothing quite beats finding the ancient Renaissance era palaces painted with modern edgy street art and I could go on and on about the coffee culture.  Watching elderly Italians sip their coffee at their corner cafes while reading the paper every morning always puts a smile on a face.  

The majestic Ponte Vecchio that connects the two sides of Florence over the Arno river.

Florence is a textbook definition of a walking city.  Everything is confined within the city center with the massive figure of the Duomo towering over the rest of the city.  The central squares are pedestrian only and walks to destination are no more than 30 minutes.  Every street presents a new surprise, whether it be an elaborate building facade, a cute cafe that you haven’t seen before, or a random ornate Renaissance sculpture which scatter themselves out through the city.  There is a sense of joy and curiosity that comes from walking in Florence.  Nothing is boring and everything is accessible.  The lack of a subway system allows visitors and locals to take advantage of the walking museum that is Florence.  

The Florence Duomo has to be one of the most photogenic buildings I’ve encountered. It photographs amazingly every time!

This past weekend, I ventured away into the tuscan countryside to explore the beautiful Chianti region and learn about the local wine industry.  Driving through the hills covered in vines and cypress trees was reminiscent of movies encompassing the beauty of Italy.  I visited a small local family vineyard where I learned all about the process of wine making and the history of Chianti.  The tour ended with a traditional tuscan lunch paired with the local wine in a picturesque chateaux over looking the fields.  Not only was it a super fun experience, but also a cultural one.

Grape fields at the Chianti vineyard.

The Chianti region offers the perfect break from the bustling city of Florence, even for non-wine people.  The vineyard I visited was only 20 minutes away from the city, but feels like an entirely different world.  Chianti wine is probably one of the most well known wines from Italy, coming from the Sangiovese grape.  The red chianti is smooth and flavorful, pairing well with the delicious ragu pastas that Florence is known for.  For my first weekend away, it was a great little escape that really helped me gain a greater appreciation for wine.  

The hills of Chianti

These first two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of cultural exploration, adjustment and fun. Embracing the Italian way of life has been easy, full of gelato and paninis. That’s all for now, as I anxiously await the start of my European travels. Ciao!

Exploring Argentina

Hi everyone! I’m back after a little hiatus. College life has caught up to me and I seriously haven’t had the chance to sit down and write anything. Lots has been going on and I’m about to leave for my semester abroad in Italy where I hope to document every aspect of my travels while exploring Europe! To kick off two months before I leave, I want to revisit my summer travels in Argentina, an amazing adventure for my first time in South America.

Argentina is a rich country full of culture and vibrance. I had the opportunity to explore all sides of the country from the tropical paradise of Iguazu Falls on the northern border, to the Patagonian tundra and the spirited metropolis of Buenos Aires. Starting with the city, Buenos Aires is massive with many different neighborhoods that harness different environments and cultures. Like any cosmopolitan city, there’s your trendy quarter (Palermo), the bourgeois strong held (Recoleta), a boho artist dwelling neighborhood (San Telmo), and colorful working class neighborhoods (La Boca). What makes Buenos Aires such a delight to walk around is that each of these unique areas feels like a different city with their own cultures, arts and atmospheres. I relished walking around each area and discovering the little quirks while enriching myself through the Argentinian culture.

A must see and highlight of the city is the Recoleta Cemetery, a world famous cemetery that is unlike any other. The cemetery is quite literally a city for the dead (think of a village of tiny house mausoleums), allowing you to easily get lost with intrigue among the mass of uniquely designed tombs. The park that surrounds the walled cemetery is perfect for people watching and soaking in the Argentinian culture. Street musicians and tango performers are abundant. Sitting outside sipping a latte at an alfresco cafe is an ideal way to watch the vibrant scene of the large park. On the weekends, a large local craft market sets itself up around the cemetery. Browse the local artisan stalls full of unique crafts and get lost once again in the central highlighting park/cemetery of the Recoleta neighborhood.

Palermo Soho and Hollywood reflect their namesakes, being the “trendy” neighborhoods. Younger and colorful, they offer fun steakhouses or parrillas and many nice boutiques for shopping. Don Julio and La Carnicería are two popular and delicious options that were highlighting meals of my trips (both in the Soho neighborhood). The strong dollar and weaker local currency makes shopping a thrill in Argentina (take advantage people!) and some of the best and nicest Argentinian labels are located in Soho. For a break from shopping, stroll into a local cafe and enjoy the slow art of sipping an Argentinian coffee (preferably with a football game in the background).

A Soho street

The La Boca neighborhood is the grittier working-class neighborhood with colorful architecture and street art that reflects the vibrant pride and culture of the people. The vibe along the small streets is definitely touristy, but the buildings are interesting to observe and provide for great instagram opportunities (sorry, photo-opts). Fun and fascinating street art can be found all over Buenos Aires, but the best can be found in the more seedier areas such as La Boca which drawls tourists.

A wall in La Boca

San Telmo claims to be the birthplace of tango and now boast a number of funky markets and gentrified streets. Many of the building were old “palaces” back in the day and it is interesting to tour the courtyards and balconies of the old dwellings since many have become stores, galleries or apartments. Foodies can delight in the San Telmo Mercado, an indoor market full of gourmet street food and antiques. Make a day searching for leather treasures and enjoying freshly baked empanadas.

Empanadas are a must try food in Argentina

Outside the metropolis of Buenos Aires lays a vastly diverse landscaped country. Iguazu Falls borders Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in the tropics and is the widest system of falls in the world. The boat tour is truly a thrill ride that heads straight into the falls. You get the best views from the boat down below, but there is also a whole network of hiking trails up and around the falls that allow you to enjoy the nature and wildlife of the subtropical forest. The falls are unlike anything I have ever seen and really take your breath away.

The falls from the boat ride

There are few places in the world where one can ski in August. Argentina is one of them. Venture to Patagonia to explore a winter playground. Bariloche, a town about 15 minutes from the Cerro Cathedrale ski resort, is modeled after Swiss ski towns and is situated right on the edge of a massive lake. The desolate landscape of Patagonia along with the lake country makes the Bariloche area breathtaking and unlike the mountain of the northern hemisphere. The country also allows visitors to take advantage of local produce, showcasing the best steaks and Malbecs for a very reasonable price.

Bariloche lake side

That’s it for the summer travels! Stay tuned for my adventures abroad, traveling across Italy and Europe!