Art, Culture… and Airports

This past weekend I traveled outside of Spain for the first time since I arrived here on my study abroad trip, making stops in both Brussels and Amsterdam. Being in Spain for so long I was almost unaccustomed to speaking English when talking to other people, but it was most certainly refreshing. Both cities were absolutely beautiful and shared many similarities.

In Brussels, the beer and chocolate were as good as advertised. I couldn’t walk more than 1 block without seeing a chocolate shop or waffle house, but I wasn’t complaining. Being able to see the European Parliament was a surreal experience, knowing that it is in essence the de facto capital of the European Union. The buildings and architecture all around were stunning and the people were all very warm and friendly.

Amsterdam as a whole was a surreal experience, at certain points I almost felt like I was in a movie. However, despite what most people know about Amsterdam, the best part was easily the museums. The Rijksmuesum had some of the greatest artwork I have ever seen and due to its size you could easily spend the entire day in there and still not see it all. My favorite painting had to be the The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn’s most famous painting in the museum. The Van Gogh museum was incredible as well and I’d have to say my favorite painting by him was The Potato Eaters.

But what really hit home for me was going to see the Anne Frank Haus, where Anne Frank infamously wrote her journal while hiding from the Nazis. With my father being Jewish, I felt it was important for me to go and I knew it would make him happy. I thought I wouldn’t be able to at first because the line was hours long everyday, but I stuck it out on the last day to see it and it was definitely worth it.

In regards to the airport, I experienced an abundance of emotions. In the image above you will see a plaque in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels Airport on 3/22/16. I remember how much it meant to me being from NYC to see the 9/11 memorial for the first time and while this is attack was on a much smaller scale, I knew it still meant a lot to the people of Brussels.

However, this feeling would not last long. My friend and I were going to make our flight just in time, but we got stopped by security for having cologne… This delay resulted in us missing our flight and ended up costing me over $200. Once again I hope those of you reading this will learn from my mistakes, I’ve made plenty of them so far and I’m sure there will be more to come!

My roots

The reason I am here is ultimately because if I were to study abroad it HAD to be Italy. My Grandparents left Italy in the 60’s to come to America to start a new life. They along with multiple other family members began their new life in NYC. They took all their knowledge of living in southern Italy as farmers in the mountains and took that to the Bronx.

Years later here I am. A senior in college going back to Italy to get in touch with my roots. Although Milan and Selvacava the town in which my family came from are 7 hours apart. Similar culture values are found here in Milan. I have been easily able to recognize food and language relations as my family has.

I really am lucky to say that my italian language skills have purely strengthened since I have arrived. I cannot say I am fluent but I am very conversational and I can understand very well.

The food is incredible. Everything is so fresh and so flavorful. Any restaurant or pizza place you go to you know you’re getting a good deal. Most meals are between 10-15 euros which means you will get a big full plate that will leave you quite full.

There is something special here called Aperitivo where you get a drink which can be non-alcoholic for about 5-10 euros and you have access to a full buffet of fantastic Italian cuisine. This is something I will miss extremely when I go back to the U.S.

But here I am..Una Ragazza Italiana.

 

 

La Città Alta

Buongiorno tutti! I have been meaning to post for awhile now, but these last few weeks have been crazy and unexpected! Long story short, don’t get injured while abroad–you’ll end up spending precious travel time in the dreaded emergency room or in bed with Netflix. Not fun!

Anyway, I finally had some visitors from my side of the globe last week. My brother, Matt and his friend, Dan, booked a trip to Milan, giving me the opportunity to show them all of my favorite nooks and crannies of this beautiful city. It reminded me why I am going to have a hard time leaving this place in a month. Yes, a month. Time sure does fly when you’re living the life in Italy.

I showed them some of the main tourist attractions, though I am certainly not a tourist here. I finally went inside the Duomo, which was absolutely amazing and worth the wait. We had some of the best hot chocolate afterwards since “cioccolata calda” is basically a cup of warm melted chocolate. I’m not sure I can ever drink hot chocolate again in the States, but that just means I have yet another reason to come back and visit my city.

We also took a day trip to one of my favorite places I have been to since I came to Italy, a city called Bergamo. It only takes an hour to get there from Milan by train and is one of the most beautiful and magical cities I have visited. Once you step off the train and exit the station, you walk straight for about twenty minutes and pass all of the touristy restaurants and shops and come to the “Funicolare” which is basically a lift that takes you to the older part of the city, Città Alta. Its name, “tall city”, comes from the fact that it sits above the rest of the city and offers a spectacular view of everything beneath it. As you ascend on the lift, you can look out the window and watch as the path you just followed becomes tinier and tinier. Città Alta, in comparison to Milan, is small, quiet, and quaint. There is no hustle and bustle, no loud sirens, and no one bumping into you as they rush to get wherever it is they are going. It is a calm and serene city with winding, narrow streets and the most adorable eateries, cafés and shops. We began by exploring and walking around, grabbing cappuccinos, and popping in and out of stores and pasticcerias. The further we walked, the better the view became of everything beneath us. We followed narrow pathways that were probably private and meant only for locals, but who was stopping us? We were able to capture the sun setting over the land beneath us and stood in awe as the city became dark and lights began turning on one by one.

We could have stayed there for a week and even joked about moving there. Finally, as it started to get dark and closer to the time we had to catch our train, we began our search for a dinner spot. Most restaurants in Italy do not open for dinner until around 6:30-7, but it was 5:00 p.m. and we were ready to eat. We stumbled upon a tiny restaurant that had only five or six tables, but luckily we beat the dinner rush. I had one of the best pasta dishes since I have been in Italy. It was meat ravioli with a sage and butter sauce and certainly hit the spot after a long day of walking. My brother and I both got the tiramisu, which was better than any tiramisu I have had before.

We tried to stall a few times when it was time to take the funicolare back down and walk to the train station. We were not ready to leave Bergamo behind. Matt and Dan were just as pleased with the day trip as I was, and we all decided we would have to come back again. I already decided I want to take my mom and sister there when they come next week, and I highly recommend it to anyone else in the area!

Ciao tutti!

Arrivederci NY, Ciao Italia!

Summer 2016 was a season of different feelings. The reason for this is because you are living in a world where soon you will be leaving to experience something new. Even though your physical body is here in the present, your mind is already gone into your new adventure. Your head becomes solely dedicated to the future and all that will and can happen. You begin to have ideas of what could be. Your new adventure becomes a fantasy.

I have never left the country before and so taking this opportunity my senior to study abroad I had to. I chose Italy because of my strong Italian heritage and values. I wanted to strengthen my language skills as well. Milan is a city that is really center to many other European countries too so it will give me the culture experience I need.

This was my first time ever flying. So of course my worries were mostly surrounded with the experience of being on a plane for the first time. I was less worried about the feeling of being in Italy only because I have Italian blood in me and I grew up with a strong Italian culture in my household. I was ready for Italy but maybe not the plane.

The initial take off was emotional. All that was in my head was saying good bye to my parents. Thinking of how they are feeling seeing their first-born first child to ever leave the country. I was saying goodbye to NYC my state of NY. I was finally lifting off.

I remember meeting Jenn, the other student from New Paltz in my program at the airport; and within a couple hours I woke up on the plane walked a few seats over to her and said “WOW, Jenn I just cried when I saw France”. It was a funny moment because I just met her and I am revealing how emotional I am.

I couldn’t have prepared for this trip anymore than I did. I think since it is a life experience you just have to be ready for anything to happen. This experience came to me at the time in my life when I knew it was ready to grow up and get real with my life.

Battle with Customs

Before I get into the title of this post, I wanted to discuss something not quite as depressing… In the image above, you will get a mild glimpse of the raucous crowd outside of Vicente Calderon Stadium, home of the beloved La Liga football club, Atletico Madrid. The stakes were very high in this matchup, for it was a Champions League game against one of the premiere football clubs in all of Germany, if not the entire world, Bayern Munich. Now I’ve been to my fair share of sporting events in the United States, from playoff games at Yankee Stadium, to star-studded battles at Madison Square Garden.

However, I can easily say I have never been to any sporting event quite like this one. People were dancing and singing in the streets with reckless abandon prior to the game and the police couldn’t seem to care less. Inside the stadium was even more surreal. In sporting stadiums in the United States they constantly are playing music, trying to start chants, having performances between every little break in the action. From the second the referee blew the whistle every fan in the stadium was locked in, no stoppage in play, no music, just the well synchronized songs and chants of the crowd. It felt so much more cultural, so much more embedded into the fabric of their society, and it was truly amazing to be a part of.

Now to the depressing part I was talking about. Never and I repeat never send medication from the United States to Spain. Ever. I don’t know if this is how they do it in the rest of Europe, but it is truly a nightmare. My parents tried sending me some medication about a month ago and customs seized it without us knowing. Eventually I got a letter from them outlining what I had to do, which ended up being a very bureaucratic and tedious process that no one wants to deal with. After completing these steps and submitting the required documents I received an email from them saying that in order to acquire my medication I would need a Spanish citizen to go to the airport for me, pay the customs tax for me, and sign off on it for me. The worst part was they told me I would need to submit a photocopy of this Spanish citizens ID with their signature on it within 72 hours of the email. After frantically going to the international office at my school, speaking with the US embassy in Madrid, and making a variety of other calls, they all agreed with me that this was a bizarre request and alas I was not able to make the deadline, losing the battle and my medication to customs.

The two biggest takeaways one should take after reading this post: 1. If you’re in Spain, try to go to as many soccer games as you can. 2. Make sure before you come to Spain that you have enough medication to last you for the duration of your stay.

PS: The beaches in Valencia and Barcelona are beautiful, but be careful with your phone if you go to Barcelona! (I got my phone stolen on my second night there, another hassle not worth getting into).

Next stop: Halloween weekend in Amsterdam!

Checking In


Buonanotte tutti! Or, I suppose it’s still the afternoon for my friends and family back home. The past two weeks have been filled with so much exploration and adventure and I am not complaining.

Last weekend I went on one of the most amazing trips of my life to Amsterdam. This city is so perfectly picturesque and even though all 165 canals look generally the same, I snapped a picture of every single one we passed. Despite the chilly weather, I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Every bridge and side street is filled with tons of bikes, as they are one of the most popular forms of transportation there. The people there were also extremely friendly and were always looking to lend a helping hand to a seemingly lost group of American girls. Though we were only there for a few days, we were able to see so many things. We visited the Van Gogh Museum and the infamous “I (Am)sterdam” sign because we obviously had to take the cheesy pictures in front of it. Afterwards, we took a tour of the Anne Frank house which left us feeling a bit emotional and uneasy, but it was an unbelievable place to see. We traveled about the city via tram and absorbed all of the beauty before us and tried to explore as much as we could in just a single weekend.

Today I returned from an equally as beautiful city, Firenze. Florence has been at the top of my list of places to travel to for a very long time and it did not disappoint me in any way. Unfortunately, the first night we arrived it rained. Hard. The entire night. After getting settled in our apartment and purchasing some umbrellas, we decided to make the best of it and braved the storm. We ended up at a great little bar/restaurant for most of the night recommended by my friend Erica who studied abroad in Florence last semester. It was a perfect place to spend a rainy night. The next day we signed up for an all day tour of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano, and Pisa! This was honestly a wonderful tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area(Best of Tuscany Walkabout Tour). We took a coach bus to all of these places and were given time to explore each area after the tour. The tour also included a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Chianti Wine Vineyards(pictured) which is an organic farm that makes wine, olive oil, and other Tuscan treasures. Before leaving for Milan this morning, I stopped at the Central Market and purchased a few of Florence’s finest genuine leather goods, which was a perfect end to my trip.

Until next time….arrivederci!

Hope This Helps!

I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.

Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!

An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.

Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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Venezia, tu é bellissima!

Last night I returned from one of my favorite trips so far-Venezia! The City of Love was as beautiful as all the pictures I have seen on Google images. My friends and I were able to book the trip just a few days before leaving since traveling within Italy is pretty simple. We took a train from Milano Centrale station Saturday morning and arrived in Venice in the early afternoon. As soon as we exited the station, we were met by a gorgeous view of the Grand Canal. The sun was shining so perfectly onto it that it glimmered as we all stared in awe. The whole weekend still feels like a dream.

We snapped a few photos and walked down one of the narrow, winding streets. We stumbled upon a cute little pizzeria and grabbed some food before exploring the city. Before we could even place our orders, the waiter gave us the WiFi password and said “I know…you have to put all of this on Instagram.” (He wasn’t wrong…) After lunch, we walked around a little and took a taxi to our Holiday Inn located about ten minutes from the main part of the city. Ironically, this was much less expensive than any of the hostels we could find, not that we were complaining! After freshening up a bit, we headed back to Venice and did what we were all daydreaming about since the day we left for Italy-a gondola ride! We did it at the perfect time since the sky was still somewhat bright. The ride was absolutely amazing and so peaceful. We floated down little “streets” passing by many homes and restaurants. We wanted it to last forever. Afterwards, we had dinner right along the canal.

The next day, we took a boat to San Marco, another breathtakingly beautiful part of Venice. We took so many pictures because the water looked extra blue and sparkly that day. In my opinion, the trip was way too short since there are so many parts of the city, each with their own unique characteristics.

Some of the other trips I have taken were to Cinque Terre, Brusson, Fort Bard, and Lake Como. I have yet to be disappointed by any of these places. I feel so lucky to have the ability to travel to so many places while I study here. Milan is a great location for traveling since it is close to many popular cities, as well as other European countries. In just two weeks I will be traveling to Amsterdam! Each place that I have traveled to has been more and more beautiful, but I have to say Fort Bard offered the best views I have seen so far(picture featured above). I still scroll through all of my pictures in amazement and cannot believe I was able to see it in person. I was able to take a tour of the fort itself and each successful level of the fort offered an even more incredible view than the previous one. I’m hoping to go back before I return to the U.S. just to experience it one more time.

Thanks for reading! Ciao!

Class…? What’s That?


It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milan and I am officially finished with my first full week of classes here. Yes, that’s right…studying abroad in Italy is more than just traveling and eating pasta! I must say that my classes here are fantastic. I began my week with an elective course entitled “Television, Advertising, and Music: the Italian Approach to the Media” led by a professor who is in the music industry himself. I am also enrolled in a course for my major called “Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship” in which my professor has his own brewing company! My other courses are equally as good and are taught by people who currently work in the field about which they are teaching. In that respect, they act as resources and connections for all of their students. One of my professors, who teaches my Fashion Market elective, gave us the invite to several Fashion Week events, two of which I am attending today!

The courses themselves were structured similarly to my classes at New Paltz. My professors upload all of their lectures onto Blackboard so we can refer to them if we miss any notes in class. They strongly encourage participation and class discussion to further our understanding of the topics covered in class.The classes run for about the same time as my classes at New Paltz, if not a little longer. My professors are very engaging and display a strong passion for their jobs.

One of the coolest things about all of my classes this week was when the professor took attendance and I was reminded of how many different countries are being represented in each of my classes. We all went around introducing ourselves and saying where we are from. At New Paltz, I’m so used to hearing “Long Island, Queens, Long Island, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey…” but in my classes here it is more like “Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, U.S., Australia…” and so on. The list is endless. As we went around the room, each person responded with a different accent. It amazes me how so many places in the world are being represented at just one university in Milan. Luckily, I get to talk to all of them and hear about their life experiences in comparison to mine. I might even have a place to stay if I end up visiting these places in the future!

Being back in school definitely feels a little strange after being on one of the longest summer vacations of my life (close to 5 months) but it feels great. I have a very good feeling about my classes, my professors, and the things I will learn both in and out of the classroom.

Un bacione…xxoo

Life in Madrid

The very fact that this was my first opportunity to post here since I arrived in Spain exactly 3 weeks ago speaks volumes to the kind of hectic scene I flew into (and one that I was certainly not as prepared for as I should have been). Two of the most important things I’ve learned not to do while you are about to embark on your study abroad journey: 1. Don’t wait until the week before your flight date to figure out your housing accommodations. 2. Make sure you have access to Wifi when you arrive. In hind-sight these both should have been givens, but alas… maybe someone will learn from my mistakes.

Trials and tribulations aside, my limited time here in Madrid has truly been an amazing experience. The amount of friendships made from people all over the globe is a once in a lifetime experience and I know that it is only the beginning. The ESN (Erasmus Students Network) team here at UC3M provides the students with more than enough opportunities to meet other students studying abroad with a variety of trips, tours, parties, etc.

Despite the tardiness, my friend Nicolas (another fellow New Paltz student) and I are very happy with the apartment that we got. It isn’t the closest to our university or to the nightlife, but it is right next to the beautiful El Retiro Park, one of the staples of the city. The food in the neighborhood is also delicious and for the most part pretty cheap (at least compared to NYC).

Speaking of NYC, “the city that never sleeps” nickname might be even better suited for here. A theme I have noticed since being here is that these Spaniards like to do everything later. People eat lunch at around 3-5pm, dinner past 9pm, and the clubs are all open until 6am. Getting used to the time schedule here has been very difficult and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

Other than a few tours of the city and seeing some amazing art museums, I haven’t really done as much traveling or done as much sightseeing as I would like. One thing that I have done is witnessed my first bullfight last Sunday at the world renowned Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. At first I enjoyed it; the atmosphere, the culture, the history, but then it really took me by surprise just how violent of a sport it is. After seeing the way that people in the U.S. reacted to the death of Harambe, I found it mesmerizing that every Sunday in this bullring they brutally kill 6 bulls in front of a huge raucous crowd. I’m not one to talk badly about another culture, but I can’t see this sport being around for much longer (I could be wrong though).

With classes well under way things are beginning to settle down a little bit for me over here, but a trip to Barcelona this weekend awaits and I couldn’t be more excited!