Third Stop: Rome!

The next stop for five days was in the beautiful city of Rome! Not only was I spending the first week in April in Rome, but I was spending my birthday in the ancient city.

The weather in Rome was a nice change from the wind and rain from our previous trips. Before heading to Rome, one of the things I was looking forward to was the food! The first meal I had in Rome was a pizza filled with prosciutto. I knew from that first meal that Italy was not going to disappoint!

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The first place I visited was the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum was overwhelming, amazing, but overwhelming! There was so many things to look at. In every direction, there was beautiful art that I wanted to capture in my mind forever. It took my breath away at the amount of work that went into making these masterpieces we know today.

From my time at the Vatican Museum, I learned two things:

  • Be VERY careful: I learned before traveling about the thieves, but also keep in mind for the people trying to sell you a bag, selfie stick, tour, whatever. Be mindful and smart.
  • Be in the moment: I made the mistake of missing the most important piece in the Vatican. I was so focused on taking a photo of the overall picture, I forgot to take the finer details in. Put down the phone and just take it in.

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Aside from the Vatican. I saw the Colosseum and I was in awe. I’ve always saw this on television and photos that actually being there left me speechless. I remember taking photos and realizing how unreal it looked. I also had the opportunity to go inside and explore it’s history. I was surprised at the information I’ve already knew. (Thanks SUNY New Paltz!)

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Since I went the week of Easter, I was honored to see the Pope! On Good Friday, we were able to see him and be apart of a mass in front of the Colosseum with over thousands of people from around the world. It was a surreal experience that I will never forget. Also seeing the sunset behind the Colosseum wasn’t a bad sight.

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Towards the end of the trip, I wanted to fulfill my Lizzie McGuire dream of seeing the Trevi Fountain. Now, I knew beforehand it was under construction, but I was in for a surprise.

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Tip #3: Don’t assume things are going to be like the movies or the way you wanted it.

Even though it was HEAVILY under construction, it was still great to see it and throw a coin, even if no water was running.

Rome was filled with so much great history and delicious food. I had an amazing time and wouldn’t mind visiting Italy again.

TAMsterdam

I AMsterdam

I AMsterdam

Hello all!

I have returned from my most recent adventure, Amsterdam, or as I have been referring to it as: TAMsterdam.  Amsterdam was very pretty, I must say that.  There was a ton of water, there are canals everywhere.  Our tour guide assured us that it was the Venice away from Venice.  There were also a ton of bikes.  Our tour guide told us that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam.  Although this fact sounds crazy, I must believe it to be true.  There were bikes everywhere!  You had to make sure not to get struck by one, while crossing the busy streets.  Amsterdam is relatively small as well.  You can take busses, or trams around, but walking is just as simple.  Plus with walking, you really can take in all of the sights!

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11208675_10153329129773921_6733189024393518330_nWe arrived late Thursday night, and just hung out.  But we awoke extra early Friday morning in order to visit Anne Frank House.  I tried to book tickets in advanced online, however the first available tickets were for July 4th!!  Needless to say that would’t work.  I will be back in the US then!  Luckily for me, my friends are troopers.  So Friday morning Heidi, MK, and I headed off to the long line that would await us.  We rose early enough though, so the line really wasn’t too bad!  I was very pleased that we got to the museum, and still had plenty of the day left to explore Amsterdam.

Patatje Oorlog with Heidi & MK

Patatje Oorlog with Heidi & MK

Ok I know I always go on and on about food in my blogs.  But hey can you blame me?  Food is a big part of travel!  Amsterdam was no exception.  I found it similar to London, in the sense that it had such a mixed bag culinarily, something I did not expect.  First off we had to have the fries.  Why oh why must sauce cost extra?  Of course I am going to buy sauce, because what are fries without it?  So why must I be charged extra for this necessity?  I must say I prefer Belgian fries from Brussels to Amsterdam fries (mostly because the ones I had in Amsterdam were frozen), but the sauce is better in Amsterdam.  It may sound weird but the Patatje Oorlog is a must try!  This concoction consists of peanut sauce, mayonnaise, and onions.  It is super unique and super yummy!

Red Velvet cake twinning with MK

Red Velvet cake twinning with MK

Beyond fries, one must have Stroopwafel, cheese, Indonesian food, and Poffertjes.  Stroopwafel is incredible, not only do we need it in the United States, I am also kicking myself for not bringing some back to Milan.  We bought a package of these thin wafer like waffles, sandwiched with caramel in the middle.  The bag was surprisingly heavy!  They are sweet, but not too sweet, and just an overall satisfying snack.  Indonesian food is very popular in Amsterdam.  Although I spent more on it then I would have preferred, it truly was one of the best meals I have had abroad.  We all shared a bunch of small dishes, with a big bowl of rice.  This is one of my favorite ways to eat, so you can try everything.  As for the Poffertjes, they are tiny dutch pancakes.  We dipped them in butter and mugs of hot chocolate.  There were other culinary gems, including my fave RED VELVET CAKE.  But that is not as exotic.

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum

We ventured to the I amsterdam sign to take some touristy pictures, and then we were off to the Van Gogh museum.  These tickets we had booked online in advanced, so we got them for less money, which is always a good thing!  The museum was actually really big.  I was quite tired, so I felt I could not take it in, to the best of my ability.  But I powered through as best I could.  Not being a huge art, or museum fan, I liked how interactive the museum was.

Skinny Bridge with MK & Heidi

Skinny Bridge with MK & Heidi

The next day we decided to sleep in, and walk around.  We went to the Skinny bride, because I had heard a lot about it.  Amsterdam was one of the places where I really just compiled tips from everywhere.  We got some food tips from Buzzfeed, some tips from Kara (who visited during spring break), as well as some tips from a guy named Alex we met at a club in Milan a few weeks prior.  Fun fact, Alex too is a SUNY student, a Binghamton Bearcat studying abroad in Amsterdam.  The world is a tiny place!

The big flaw I must point out has to be the amount I spent on bathrooms.  I should not have to pay to pee.  But Amsterdam was after my pockets, more so than any other destination.  So make sure to carry extra change with you!

We embarked on a lengthy but entertaining walking tour.  Our night ended shortly after dinner.  And we woke up the next day to head back to Milan.  Lucky for me, our bus was running behind schedule so I could get my touristy I amsterdam photo, alone.  This was the greatest pro of flying so early in the morning.  Although after how early we flew from Dublin to Milan, any flight after 8pm seems like a piece of cake, mmmmm like that red velvet cake I had in Amsterdam 😉  Till next time readers!

Tamara

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Under the Tuscan Sun

Boboli Gardens!

Boboli Gardens!

Study abroad changes you in ways you can never begin to imagine.  This is something that my sorority sister Kimberly instilled in me before I left for Italy.  Kim had the life altering experience of doing a summer study abroad program in London.  At first I wasn’t really sure if Kim’s hypothesis would prove to be correct.  However, I must say after three months abroad I truly feel like a new person.  One way I have changed is my adventurous spirit.  I have always been independent, the truth being that in originating from New York City, it is pretty much a character trait instilled at birth.  I needed to be independent in order to get around my humble home.  However, I learned quickly while abroad what a difference there was between being independent and truly having an adventurous spirit.  Sometimes I tend to doubt myself, my capabilities, and abilities to succeed in difficult obstacles.  Time and time again I have wanted to reach for the phone to call my parents and have them fix the obstacles in my path, but time and time again I have amazed myself with my resourceful attitude in order to fix any problem that comes my way.  I don’t think I realized how many problems I would need to fix abroad, things that I had never had experience with in the United States.  Plus I have the added challenge of a language barrier making it even more difficult to get things fixed.

As you see from my blogs, I have certainly been traveling the world.  This past weekend (despite being opening weekend of the expo in Milan) I decided to explore once again.  Unfortunately for me, my friends abroad did not have the same desire as I had to visit Florence.  I felt, how could I come to Italy and not see Florence?  So despite a lack of travel companions, I decided I would venture to Florence regardless.  Many people take solo trips abroad, however I was not sure I could succeed in this daunting task.  I delayed every step of the planning process.  I enjoy doing abroad research, so I was happy to find hostels, food, transportation, and activities.  But when it came time to book these things, I did not find motivation to do so.  I think I just kept waiting for someone to change their mind and want to come with me.  Finally right before my Ireland trip, I figured I want to book my hostel.  I needed something to be set in stone before I leave for Ireland.  So of course, since the trip was in one week, most of the marvelous hostels I found (one including a pool & sauna) were booked.  I had no choice but to settle.  I did go off to Ireland though with the satisfaction that I had managed to book something.

When I returned from Ireland I booked a day trip to the Chianti region, and a day trip to Pisa.  I felt I had to go to Pisa while in Florence, because they are so close.  How could I visit Italy, without seeing the Leaning Tower?  But I still hadn’t booked transportation.  I figured a train would have better availability by going to the station itself.  So the day before my trip I went to Central station in Milan to find a ticket.  Sure enough to my disappointment the only remaining tickets for Thursday were 116 euro one way.  There was NO way I wanted to pay this.  So after hesitation I dove into the world of bla bla car.  Two girls from my program had used it to get to Florence.  It is so cheap that I wanted to use it to go to Florence as well.  But once I discovered I was going alone to Florence, I wasn’t quite as comfortable with the idea.  Until of course that is, it seemed my only option.  I had to arrive Thursday, since I had a hostel reservation that night, as well as a trip to Chianti the next day.  So after lots of nerves I was able to find both a bla bla car to take me there, and another to take me back.

My next obstacle was waking up the day of my trip, to receive an email that not enough people signed up for Chianti, so they were canceling the trip.  Luckily, I decided to wake up early that morning, so I had time to deal with this situation.  I was given a refund for the trip & was able to sign up for a different trip with a different company.  Phew dodged a bullet there!

Chianti olive trees

Chianti olive trees

I was off to Florence without a hitch.  My trip was truly incredible.  There was something something so illuminating about traveling on my own, but more importantly accomplishing so much in a foreign place alone.  I was able to go where I wanted to go, eat what I wanted to eat, see what I wanted to see, sleep when I wanted to sleep, etc.  Every morning I found myself waking up early and by choice as opposed to feeling forced.  I wanted to get up and explore.  I never created strict itineraries, more like possible ideas of places I wanted to go each day.  It was such a fantastic voyage.

bought myself a little treat in San Lorenzo leather market ;)

bought myself a little treat in San Lorenzo leather market 😉

All'antico Vinaio!

All’antico Vinaio!

Friday I awoke and headed straight to the Boboli Gardens.  I took a bus although I certainly could have walked.  I walked ALL OVER Florence that weekend.  It is small, and yet every turn there is something new to see.  The view at Boboli was impeccable.  I’m so glad it was recommended to me by friend Sarah, studying abroad in Florence.  After Boboli I headed off to All’antico Vinaio for a quick lunch.  Florence had a ton of amazing looking sandwich shops, but I must say I was glad this was recommended to me by both Sarah & my Unicatt friend Kim.  The line is a little crazy, but it really is worth it.  I had no idea what to order, I just kept looking at what others had.  I do wish in retrospect I asked the men working behind the counter what they would recommend, so I could have gotten the best of the best.  However, I was quite satisfied with my sandwich.  Yum, Yum!  After the sandwich, I was off to Chianti.  Chianti was so beautiful & green.  I went with Caf tours, and I would certainly recommend that.  I booked Caf tours for Pisa as well.

Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The next morning I was off to San Lorenzo for a leather shopping spree.  My oh my did I drop some euros on leather!  I bought two purses & a wallet.  I tried on a jacket and liked it but anytime I feel rushed I don’t like to shop.  So I didn’t buy the jacket then & there.  I figured if I really wanted it I would go back.    I then headed to Pizzeria O’Vesuvio for a ricotta stuffed pie.  This was another place Sarah recommended, but it is also where the cast of the Jersey Shore once worked as well!  The pizza was delicious.  So it was pizza before Pisa.  I am very glad I got to Pisa but to be honest, if I could do it again I would go independently without a trip organizer.  I feel like I could have saved money & stayed longer.  But hey you live and you learn.  I am glad I got my picture with the Leaning Tower, because after all isn’t that the main reason to go to Pisa?  I did make sure to get some gelato in Pisa because I had some free time and that’s the perfect way to pass time.

Gusta Pizza @ Gusta Pizza

Gusta Pizza @ Gusta Pizza

That evening upon my return to Florence I ate dinner at Gusta Pizza, a place both my roommate and Kim had told me about.  I ordered the Gusta Pizza and it certainly was one of the greatest pizzas of my life!  Both of the pizzas I had in Florence were Napoli style, so I must fit Naples into my future travel plans for sure!  Gusta Pizza did have a line but it was so worth it to wait!  All good things are worth waiting for.

NUTELLA ICE CREAM!

NUTELLA ICE CREAM!

After eating my meal I hiked up Piazzale Michelangelo.  I do mean hiked!  That is quite the hill.  But upon arriving at the top you can find one of the most magnificent views overlooking Florence.  But of course my reasoning for the trek was for the 2015 Gelato Festival.  It was so cheap and I ate a ton of gelato.  Every flavor was something I had never tried before.  To be honest, after the hike & pizza I was unable to complete all of my gelato, but don’t fret I certainly made a dent.

Michelangelo's the David

Michelangelo’s the David

Sunday morning I woke up earlier then ever in order to check out of my hostel and wait on line for the Academia.  I am really not a big museum fan, and despite being a New Paltz Hawk, I am not super into art.  But my father recommended seeing the David, so I figured why not?  I waited on line for only thirty minutes!  Then even better was getting into the museum for free!  Since it was the first Sunday of the month.  So this made the visit even more worth it.  The David really is pretty magnificent!

Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village alums in Florence

Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village alums in Florence

After seeing the David I grabbed a Subway sandwich and headed to San Lorenzo to buy a leather jacket!  Then I was between a free walking tour & the Galileo museum (another place Sarah recommended).  Unfortunately for me I decided upon the museum despite breaking one of my cardinal rules.  I neglected to look up the museum beforehand, so I got there and it was closed.  Bummer!  I should have picked the walking tour!  I started walking to the tour, even though I was late.  But all of a sudden I heard “T-Litt, Tamara?”  It was my ex co counselor from camp, Sandra.  Perfect timing!  I didn’t even realize she was abroad in Florence, because so many camp friends are abroad there.  I knew she was abroad but didn’t know it was in Florence.  It was perfectly timed for me!  I spent the next two hours with her before heading home to Milan.  Safe to say this was another successful trip!

Till next time readers!

Tamara

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Next Stop: Paris!

Bonjour Paris!

It took about eight hours to get to Paris. We took the night bus and I don’t think I got any sleep. At one moment, the bus was in a ferry and yet I couldn’t even feel it! I didn’t even think that was possible.

I couldn’t believe I was in Paris as I walked to my first hostel of my long trip. It was the St. Christopher’s Inn and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Paris! Unfortunately we were earlier than our check in date, so as a result we got free breakfast from the hostel and a free walking tour of Paris!

Tip #1: Always have back-up plans. You ever know what’s going to happen. 

My friends and I were able to put our luggages in the lockers provided in the hostel before joining the group for the tour.

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The free walking tour of Paris was the best decision! I was only in Paris for one day, so I wanted to be able to see all of the city in such a short amount time. I did not only see these well-known places, like the Notre Dame and Louvre, but I got to learn about its history from my tour guide.

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Tip #2: Find out what your hostel offers and do it! This can be a once and a life time opportunity, so take chances.

When the tour was over, my friends and I ventured to see the Eiffel Tower up close (it wasn’t included in the tour). It was a long walk, but when we got there, it was breathtaking! I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, the first time I see the Eiffel Tower, I’m exhausted and my phone dies.

Tip #3: Make sure your phone is charged or you brought a portable charger. (It’s not important because it’s better to have memories than photos, but still!) 

Although I didn’t get to sleep in the hostel (long story due to poor planning), it was great to experience a day in Paris. I always dreamed of visiting the city of love and I’m glad I had the chance to!

Two small highlights of my day in Paris: I got to try a macaroon for the first time and have a crepe in France!

I also met two Australian women that were so kind and one even paid for my friend and I’s train fare when we didn’t have any.

BUTTTTTT guess what?

I returned to Paris when I left Italy! Although I was walking around Paris with my carry-on, I was glad to have the opportunity to see the city once again.

I was able to visit (and take photos) of the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triumph. I was able to enjoy the perfect weather and have a moment to appreciate the Eiffel Tower without taking photos with it or of it.

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Although I had fun in Paris, I still have a list of things I still want to do. Hopefully before I return home or later on in life I get the chance to visit such an amazing place again!

First Stop: London

I can’t believe spring break is officially over! I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit five countries in the course of three weeks. I’m constantly looking at my photos and my notes to realize that it wasn’t a dream.

There are so many things to cover and tell you guys, so I’m making four posts of my travels 🙂

I started my travels in London, England! London is the closest area to travel to from Wales (only three hours by bus). When I stayed in London, I stood in an Air B&B.  For those who don’t know, an Air B&B is an alternative place to stay other than a hostel. You are able to find a room in an apartment or a house that can provide you with a variety of extra things to make your stay worthwhile such as free breakfast, kitchen access, your own bathroom, and more!

It was just three of us that had the room to ourselves with our own bathroom and breakfast every morning from the host. It was also a great location, only twenty minutes from all the main attractions.

The bus became our main transportation. It was a great way to travel and admire London from the top deck of the double decker.11082650_10205409531214393_3875162331161001711_n

Tip #1: The first thing to remember when you’re traveling through London is to buy an Oyster card. I learned that the harder way when I didn’t have one and it took us longer to get to our place than it should have.

Since our first day in London was spent getting there, we did everything the next day. On our second day in, we spent it doing all the ‘touristy’ things. That included Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul Cathedral, and King’s Cross. I still can’t believe we got all that done in one day and I think we only use transportation three times!

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Tip #2: It made be hard and overwhelming, but try to plan as much as you can. We tried to do that as much as we can because there’s so much of London, but so little time.

On our third day in London, we saw other parts of London such as Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Soho, Shoreditch, and Abbey Road. London really reminded me of New York City. Each area had a different presence, a different way of making me smile.

Two highlights of that day was finding a random picture of Bradley Cooper and getting to see the Cinderella exhibition…for free!

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Our final day in London was filled with saying goodbye to our Air B&B, checking out Hyde Park which featured Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain and saying goodbye to London overall.

Tip #3: Always ALWAYS double check on plans. Communication is key! I was stuck with my luggage for about two hours because of miscommunication. So always communicate with the people you’re traveling with.

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Although the weather was never in our favor (maybe for a short while), it was still easy to travel in London. There wasn’t an area of London that we didn’t see, whether we were traveling by foot or not. I got so accustomed to traveling, I felt like I was a native in the city.

London was so fun and so rewarding with great friends. It was sad to leave London, but I was excited for the next journey. Hello Paris!

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My First Month At Wales!

I can’t believe I’m studying abroad in Cardiff, Wales! I’ve been wanting to do this since I was little. I always wanted to travel to Europe and my dreams finally came true.

Now that I’m settled in. I thought I give you a recap of what’s been having in the past month.

I traveled six hours from New York (with Amsterdam being a layover) to Wales. I got about four meals, two hours of sleep, and one movie in (How To Train Your Dragon 2 anyone?). Sadly, I didn’t get to explore Amsterdam, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to later on. However, at one point, I was more excited to drop off my heavy luggage, shower, and sleep than anything.

It’s weird being known as an exchange student. I’m always use to people coming to America and now I’m the foreigner. For the first week there was so many things to learn and see. I felt like a freshman all over again. I got a City Centre tour (small version of Time Square) and of campus (3x bigger than SUNY New Paltz). The real challenge for me was to learn how to go from campus or the City Centre to my flat. It took about three days to get it right. The first time it took about two hours in the pouring rain with a ripped up map.

My first month of classes went well. The courses I take are Reading Old English, Graphic Memoir, and The Making & Shaping of the News. So far, they’re interesting and small enough that my professors already know my name.

Overall,I’ve been enjoying my time at Cardiff!  I also made friends from different countries 🙂 I explored the area near my flat and found a lot of food places from around the world. There are also places to visit like Cardiff Bay (It was beautiful!), Roath Park, and the National Museum of Cardiff.

I still keep thinking that this is a dream and that I’m going to wake up any minute now. I can’t believe I’m here