While I’m stuck at home…

While I’m stuck at home, bored, with limited human interaction and talking ceaselessly to my dogs, I figured I’d reminisce about the time not so long ago when I was absentmindedly living in Florence without a care in the world. That is until the coronavirus hit Italy. It has now been over a month since my program decided to hastily cancel the semester. What was la dolce vita turned into a chaotic mess within 48 hours while we all tried to rapidly flee the country. At the time, it seemed like a major overreaction by the program. As it happened, that abroad program was the first American school to cancel in-person classes, a move that seemed drastic, yet now ironic, as practically every student from the US is currently completing their semesters from living room couches across the country. All of us abroad students, along with the rest of the world, are trying to grapple with what happened to “our time” abroad, “our time” to travel, explore and be free, “our time” to not be burdened with work for once and have nothing in our way. I know that there are many more severe problems that people are facing with this virus, and that is it truly a privilege to go abroad in the first place. Still, I think it necessary to accept and mourn everything we’ve lost, even the small things, to keep our sanity in this surreal situation. It has been an emotional blow for me since study abroad has been something I’ve dreamt of my entire life. Some days, I wake up, confused, and have to come to terms with everything that happened since I don’t usually live at home. Positively is key, however, and I can only hope to return to Italy as soon as possible and continue to explore and immerse myself in the beautiful country.

I’m very thankful for the time I got in Italy and Europe. If I have learned anything, it is to always take advantage of any opportunity because you never know when it could end or be taken away from you. I tried to make the absolute most of my time abroad, traveling when I could, and exploring Florence when I had the time. No, I didn’t get to see the entire city, regretfully saving many attractions for when my parents and friends came to visit. That’s ok, though; it gives me a reason to go back. There were many places I was dying to see this spring, yet, I can only look forward and still anticipate visiting them in the future.

After “fleeing” Florence, I luckily had the chance to spend some more time traveling in England and Scotland, as I had already planned a spring break trip in London and had friends I could visit there. I wanted to prolong returning home as best I could, and quite frankly, I stayed in Europe as long as I possibly could have. The two and a half weeks I spent on trains traveling around the UK were remarkable, and I’m thankful to have gotten the chance for more memories before the whole quarantine fiasco started. My travels in the UK felt as though there was a dark cloud over every excursion and conversation as the coronavirus was about to start affecting everyone else abroad. There was much uncertainty since it was only a matter of time until other programs got sent home. The virus was chasing after me, but there was nothing that anyone could have done. I had my adventures, often by myself, that I can look back on and cherish. I saw more of the country than I would have if my program didn’t get canceled, and I got to spend more time in London, one of my favorite cities in the world.

I’ve been reluctant to look back at all of my travels, and have put off writing about them while back at home since it seems as though it was a lifetime ago that I was carelessly moving throughout Europe. I have had a hard time thinking about my time abroad, choosing to focus on various crafts, family activities, and schoolwork to take my mind off of where I should be right now. Positive distractions are essential at a time like this. It’s been long enough, though, and I hope to share more about my journeys and experiences moving forward through posts and pictures to reminisce and celebrate the time I did spend in Europe. For now, arriverdverci

Austrian Adventures

Austria, home of strudel, snitzel and the Sound of Music, has a sense of regality that makes you feel momentarily like royalty.  History seeps into every grand avenue of Vienna, lined with enlightenment era white marble buildings and ornate cafes.  Two days in Vienna allowed me to appreciate the cultural richness of the city from the classical music to the turn of the century art movements that define the golden era of the Habsburg empire.  Across the country, lays Salzburg, in the mountains, where both Mozart and the Von Trap family originated.  I regrettably only spent one night in Salzburg, but that was enough for me to fall in love with the alpine charm and natural beauty of the area.  

Vienna appears surprisingly like a modern busy city from the outskirts in with plenty of energy and vibrance.  City center, however, old town charm is abundant.  The churches show the best of baroque architecture, marked by the massively elaborate St Stephans Cathedral with its intricately colorful mosaic roof and spires.  I happened to walk into a service at the church and got to hear the organ play while taking the elevator up to the rood which was quite an experience (imagine hearing the lords prayer sung in German).  The cathedral boosts wonderful views of the city, along with views of the unique roof.  The famous opera house, where Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, among others, casually premiered much of their most well known work, is right across from the Sacher Hotel, home to the original Sacher Torte.  I enjoyed the famous chocolate and apricot cake at the Sacher Cafe which was magically upholstered in deep red velvet and magnificent chandlers.  The apple strudel from the cafe is also amazing and the atmosphere itself is worth it, even if you don’t like chocolate cake.  

Schoenbrunn palace is a quick 15 minute subway ride outside of the city center and holds so much history from Austria’s Habsburg glory days.  The giant palace sits on beautiful gardens and is well worth an inside tour since the rooms are perfectly preserved, including the grand ballroom and the big portrait rooms.  From a historical standpoint, the audioguide offered a lot of insight into the palace’s history and the lives of the people that lived there which was extremely fascinating.  

Belvedere palace is actually an art museum, yet looks extremely regal from the outside.  The palace hosts many of Austria’s most famous works such as Klimt’s The Kiss and other works, and the big Napoleon painting that is instantly recognizable.  The museum is really well done with a beautiful neoclassical marble interior and a great collection of art spanning many centuries.  

Beyond desserts, Austrian food is hearty and comforting.  I tried both pork and veal weiner snitzel served traditionally with potato salad, lemon and cranberry sauce.  The breaded and fried meat pairs perfectly with the sweeter garnishes.  It’s disgustingly delicious and definitely a must-try.  Austrian beef-broth soup is also very tasty, served with a big singular dumpling (think matzo-ball soup with beef instead of chicken).  Bratwurst stands can be found all over Vienna and they might seem sketchy, but they serve up the best hot dogs in soft baguettes.  I tried a cheese filled one with mustard and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.  Cafe Central is a famous belle époque era cafe that mimics a gothic cathedral and has had many famous intellectuals as regulars over the years.  I had apple strudel for breakfast there and have no shame about it.  

Cafe Central in all its glory

Traditional Austrian dinner

Salzburg, at the foot of the alps, is a mountain city, full of both regal and charm.  The Sound of Music tour was the perfect way to see the city and the surrounding area in a short time with unmatched panoramic vistas.  You get to visit all of the filming locations and sing along to the music on the bus.  The town makes Mozart’s presence know, with monuments and squares all over dedicated to him.  Walking around Salzburg at night was surreal, as the hill top castle and other landmarks are lit up, along with the incredible rock face that the town is built into.  

Restaurants:

Cafe Sacher: famous and beautiful

Cafe Central: also famous and beautiful with good breakfast

Weibel’s Wirtshaus: great classic Austrian food in a nice setting

Zum Zirkelwirt: Fun atmosphere and casual Austrian food in Salzburg

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!