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un viaje florentino

This past weekend was my first time visiting Italy (of many more to come)!  A few months ago my Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger sent me the itinerary for their two-week long Italian vacation (super jealous), hoping that I would be able to join them along part of it.  It just happened to work out that they would be in Florence for a week, including the weekend of May 25 – 27, so Dan and I booked a trip to meet up with them! We decided to fly through Bologna and then take the train to Florence, since, with all costs included, it still wound up being about half the price.  I took the bus to the airport from my office (20 minutes door to door!) and met Dan in the RyanAir visa check line around 1pm.  Of course, there were a million people that decided to rearrange their luggage once they got up to the counter, so it took us forever to get through to security. The security line was even crazier and Dan told me it was because 99% of people that go through security it is actually their first time doing so.  That’s actually not true, but I believed him, mostly because I’m gullible, but also because people really were taking forever!!

We got in the long RyanAir line and finally after passing the ticket scanner, we were informed that we were at the wrong gate.  We had nearly gotten on a plane to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest corner of Spain!  Crisis averted, I anxiously ran to find the other gate and then waited in that line for another 30 minutes.

After a normal burning hot/freezing cold RyanAir flight we landed in Bologna and took a cab to the train station.  There were two trains to Florence leaving within the next fifteen minutes, so I was getting anxious in the ticket counter line.  There were only first class tickets available for the second of the two, and the next train was not for another hour!  We quickly paid, grabbed our tickets and ran (again) through the crowded station to our platform.  Tons of people standing there, but no train.  Taking the reactions of everyone else into count, I deciphered the Italian train status update and gathered that the train was 20 minutes late.  Once we got on it was smooth sailing for the rest of the weekend though, and we kicked it off with free wine and snacks in first class wooo!

Our hotel was only a ten minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, so we checked in rather quickly upon arrival, dropped our bags and headed over to the San Lorenzo Mercato, the infamous Florence leather market.  It was closing in an hour, but we weren’t sure when we’d make it back there (we walked at least three more times in the next 48 hours), so we wanted to check it out!  I wasn’t planning on making a purchase just yet, but I did decide to try on a jacket (or 5 or 6) just to get a feel for what I wanted and how much it would cost.  Twenty minutes later we headed back to the hotel with my new leather jacket in hand!  Usually it takes me forever to make decisions, but the fact that I loved it and that Dan and I tag-team bargained with the vendor until he dropped the “special price” over 50% is what sold me!

After phoning Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger’s hotel and showering, we met up with them right outside of our hotel to walk around the city before dinner.  We saw the Capelle Medicee, the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, Ufitzi, Piazza della Signoria y Palazzo Vecchio.  The sun was just setting and everything looked so beautiful in the light!  We made our way over to Acqua al 2, a trendy restaurant that Jackie had recommended to me, since her boyfriend James studied in Florence during the fall, and they had gone there for his birthday.  We enjoyed six tastings of fresh pastas with all different vegetables & sauces, three different filet mignons (one with blueberry & one with balsamic) and three delicious fresh salads.  It was a perfect dinner for our first meal in Florence since we got to try all different things and it really was very affordably priced.  Thank you so much for the recommendation, Jack!!  We finished the night with gelato and made plans to meet up at the leather market around 9am.

 

We started both Saturday and Sunday morning in the hotel with the free breakfast of croissants and rolls with nutella & jam, juice and coffee (cappuccino for me, café con leche for Dan), which gave us the energy to power through the long days ahead!  We spent all day Saturday driving around Chianti and the Tuscan countryside, stopping for wine tastings, fresh tomato/mozzarella/basil paninis, drinks looking out over thehills and lots of photo opportunities in small hill towns all afternoon.  It was beautiful and relaxing and certainly made up for the anxious travel day Dan and I had had the day before!

We made our way back to the city later on, enjoyed a snack of a smooth fresh pecorino (which was amazing), prosciutto de Parma and wines we had tasted and bought that day before heading across the river for a late dinner.  Mark & Ginger ate at the restaurant earlier in the week per the recommendation of their concierge but had no idea how popular it would be on a Saturday night!  We waited a while, but between the free glass of prosecco, people/food watching and conversation it seemed to pass very quickly. We had watched heaping plates of shellfish coming out to almost every table, so we knew we had to order that to share.  We also ordered a buffalo mozzarella stracciatella, which was fresh, torn, smooth buffalo mozzarella served over crispy fresh vegetables, and the traditional panzanella (Italian bread salad with balsamic vinegar and typical veggies).  After about 20 minutes it seemed the heaping pile of mussels, shrimp and clams was not getting any smaller, but when we turned around the table next to us had ordered TWO of them!!  Not only that, but when they finished those, the waiter brought out four plates of linguini with clams, one for each of them again!  We left around midnight, hoping to make it over to a gelato place that four local tour guides/waiters/etc. had recommended, but the gate was literally closing as we turned the corner.  We meandered around the city for a little while, taking in the city at night, which was absolutely beautiful.

Sunday morning, Dan and I headed over to the Galleria dell’ Accademia bright and early to see the David.  We didn’t have a reservation, but we actually made it into the museum in 15 minutes.  The statue was so impressively huge and detailed, I couldn’t believe how all of the photos I had ever seen of it did not even do it justice.  Dan made me snap this picture, even though it wasn’t allowed!!  I was freaking out they would kick us out of the museum, but of course no one even noticed.  The Prisoners were also very interesting, unfinished works by Michelangelo which make the sculptures seem like they are stuck in the blocks of stone.

We met up with Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger at their hotel around 10:30, stopped in the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia, an ornate, beautiful pharmacy belonging to the church and then made our way across the Ponte Vecchio and up to the Piazza Michelangelo for the great view of the city.  We also stumbled upon a beautiful rose garden that I would highly recommend visiting!  It’s down the far left side of the Piazza, toward the Boboli Gardens.  I love stumbling upon things like that, and it was great to not have a set agenda because we could take the time to explore!!  While making our way over to see the Pitti Palace, we passed a church that was built in the year 1078 too!  We were getting so hungry passing pizzeria after pizzeria, but were determined to make it to Gusta Pizza, James’ favorite pizza place during his semester abroad.  It was definitely worth the wait, I got an arugula pizza and Dan got one with spicy salami.  As if that wasn’t filling enough, we had to stop at the gelateria from the night before.  A small cup of tiramisu gelato & pear ricotta gelato put me in a serious food coma, the perfect state in which to get on the train back to Bologna.

       

 

The weekend was a perfect balance between touristy site-seeing and relaxing, and I’m so happy we got to spend it with Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger.  Thank you guys so much for everything, and enjoy the rest of your trip!!  Hope everyone else had a great weekend too.  Ciao, amores:)

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las navidades en praga

{Christmas markets & cathedral in Old Town Square}

One of the places at the top of my list to visit while living in Madrid this year was Prague.  So when my family and Dan’s parents began to entertain the idea of travelling a bit while they were in Europe visiting us for Christmas, I automatically jumped at the chance to persuade everyone that Prague was the best place to go for Christmas.  The good news is that I was right!

I started planning our trip to Prague over Christmas weekend back in November and was just about finished just before el Puente de Navidad when I posted about the itinerary I was working on.  We got to see nearly all of the greatest sites in the city in the three short days that we were there.

Friday night (December 23) we arrived around dinner time to a concert in the square outside of the apartment we were renting.  While everyone else changed and settled in, Dad, Dan, and I went to the grocery store with the hopes of buying all sorts of ingredients for Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres and Christmas morning breakfast.  However, we realized very quickly that not knowing a word of Czech made it a little difficult to know what exactly we were buying.  Instead of our original plan, we opted for things we could actually tell what they were by looking at them: oranges, eggs, milk, cereal, tea, coffee, etc. and of course the ingredients for Mom’s legendary Christmas breakfast, Pear, Raspberry & Mascarpone Bruschetta (click for recipe… you MUST try it).

Sorry for the digression, but if you try that recipe you will understand that it was completely worth it!!  Dad had found a restaurant that looked good, was open later than most other restaurants in the city, and appeared to be right by where we were staying.  After wandering around the New Town for about 30 minutes with Czechs giving us directions like 50 meters that way, 100 meters that way, etc. we realized it was literally directly behind the apartment.  We toasted to Dan’s birthday, a wonderful Christmas, and that we were all celebrating together, but retired early since I had a long day planned for us.

Saturday morning, Christmas Eve, we woke up a little later than expected, but weren’t bothered since we were all on vacation and were really there to be relaxing after all!  There was a little upset over Dan realizing he had lost his coat between the airport and that moment and his watch also breaking, but we put it behind us and had a really fun-filled day.  (If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you saw that it actually miraculously appeared in our apartment when we got back from being out all day!)

We headed into the Old Town Square where the largest and greatest Christmas markets are in the city.  There we bought gifts for the yankee swap we had planned for Christmas morning and tried all sorts of sausages, cheeses & hot wines.  When it began to rain we headed into a café for tea and cookies to warm ourselves up.  Afterwards we explored the Jewish quarter and caught a glimpse of the Charles Bridge on our way home.  We had dinner at a great old beer brewery which served 1 liter beers (Oktoberfest status) for the equivalent of 4 EURO!

 

Sunday, we enjoyed a relaxing morning of the already mentioned amazing breakfast along with pastries Dad bought at the only open bakery (Starbucks, haha!).  We also had a great time of doing the yankee swap, with gifts including marionettes, beer steins and giant Christmas ornaments.  Despite the rain, we decided to walk to the Prague Castle (not my idea).  It was about 30 minutes of uphill in the rain (read: miserable), but it was really cool to see the other area of the city and the entire fortress where the royals used to live.  We stopped to have some soup, beers and pretzels afterwards, which made Rina very happy since she had been dying to try these pretzels since we had seen them.  On the way back to the apartment we took a detour to the John Lennon Wall, which may be my favorite part of the entire city.  It’s just covered in beautiful Beatles and John Lennon quotes about peace and love.  It was a great way to end our touring for the day.

Rina and I had made a reservation for Christmas dinner at COMO Restaurant about a month ago before even realizing that it was directly across the square from where we were staying!  We had a leisurely, delicious meal; the perfect way to end our short but sweet holidays together.  I even got a pink martini (nom) and tiramisu, my absolute favorite!

All in all, the weekend was jam-packed with site-seeing, but we still managed to fit in some quality relaxation time of Christmas movies, cheese and crackers and afternoon naps whenever possible.  It always makes me a little sad to be visiting such amazing cities that I know our families would love, so it was amazing to be exploring a new city with them, especially during Christmas time.  Thank you guys so much for everything, and I hope you had just as much fun as I did!

Feliz navidad (de nuevo y un pocito tarde!), amores:)

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¡feliz navidad!

   

{2010: NYC; 2011: Madrid}

Seeing the Christmas lights, tree, and windows in New York City must be one of my favorite things in the world; it just always gets me in the Christmas spirit (as if I wasn’t already!)  But this year it has been a little harder to get into it, since I’m not at home or anything!  Instead of leaving it at that, a year without infinite Christmas joy, Dan and I treated ourselves to a night of Spanish Christmas lights and a few out of the ordinary treats at Mercado de San Miguel (think oysters, a bottle of good wine, and a fabulous dessert coffee) for our official one year anniversary last week.  I’m happy to say I am certainly in the Christmas spirit after that night, and absolutely CANNOT WAIT to see our families this week!!

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londres, te amo

For the first time in the past three months, I’ve visited a new city that I think I like better than Madrid.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Madrid.  There’s so much history, so many museums, great weather, great people, and a great lifestyle.  What I mean is that I could actually picture myself living in London for an extended period of time.  It reminds me of New York City in some way, while it still has a rich European history.

Though I know it’s not that interesting to read the play by play of my life, you have to read this one because I assure you will be falling out of your desk chair laughing!  Thursday night we caught the 5:30pm EasyJet flight from Madrid Barajas to London Gatwick.  I had previously purchased EasyBus tickets from Gatwick to Brompton Road, Central London for the bus that left at 7:25pm.  I knew we would be cutting it close, but we wanted to make it to Esme’s grandfather’s house for Thanksgiving dinner as soon as possible.

Here’s the great part:  EasyJet told us we had to check Dan’s suitcase when we got on the plane because it was full, but we knew we wouldn’t make it if we had to go to Baggage Claim, so Dan ripped the ticket off as soon as we got past the gate, hahaha.  Then, we walked off the plane at 6:55pm.  From there, Dan and I ran through the terminal and down the stairs, not knowing how far nor to exactly where we were running.  We speed walked down the moving sidewalks and get to Customs.  We scribbled our landing cards with information about ourselves, where we’re staying, etc. and got into the Border Patrol line in just a few minutes.  At this point, the bus was leaving in 12 minutes.  There were about 10 people ahead of us and ONE person at the non-EU/EEA Customs counter.  Yay for American passports…  Anyway, with less than 10 minutes remaining, all of a sudden five more employees showed up, and the line went by in an instant.  After explaining to the kind man that when I wrote “4” under length of my trip, I really meant 4 days, Dan and I ran up the stairs, around the corner, out the main entrance, and down to the bottom floor of the parking garage to get on the EasyBus with one minute to spare. After a round of high fives (with just ourselves), a British music selection by Dan, and a few other confusing mishaps regarding buses, pounds, and maps, we finally made it to Eric’s to eat the remains of the Thanksgiving feast and chat with everyone over desserts.

I know that was super long, but I hope it had you laughing at the ridiculousness of my life, though it all ended well.  The rest of our trip was much more relaxed.  We got day bus passes for Friday and Saturday which let us see the city from a great height (double decker buses!) and take in all the sites rather quickly.  I would definitely suggest doing this if you’d like to see London in just a few days, as we did.  Even though we had the wonderful Miss Esme Blegvad as our tour guide, I’m sure you could get by with a bus map and a tourist map of the city just fine.

Friday, we walked around and saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, and London’s Chinatown after taking a bus to that side of the city.  We also had sandwiches and tea on the steps in Trafalgar Square, where the Royal Portrait Gallery is, and explored the Food Hall, Pet Kingdom, Tea Room, Prosecco Bar, and a stairwell that cost 10,000 pounds at Harrod’s, the greatest department store in the world… that’s just my personal opinion.

  

Saturday, Dan and I headed over to Notting Hill for a traditional English breakfast at Mike’s Cafe and to check out the Portobello Road vintage markets and shops.  Even though it was so busy, we had a great time and I even got to try on a 120 pound (as in the money, not weight…) fox fur hat, which was awesome!!  Esme came to meet us then and we headed over to the Top Shop flagship store on Oxford Street, which was INSANE.  Normally I am so overwhelmed by the flagships stores, like on Broadway in New York, but I actually managed to purchase a shirt and a super cute dress that I can’t wait to wear.  Then, we watched some footy (read: English soccer) in a great pub called The King’s Arms, picked up two kilos of various Cadbury chocolate bars, Twining’s Tea, and true fish & chips and headed home to Esme’s house.

               

This is probably going to be a busy school week, so if you don’t hear from me, please don’t get worried.  I’ll be working away, but relaxing by having great English tea and Cadbury chocolates while watching all of my favorite Christmas movies.

Pasate la semana bien, amores:)

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feliz cumpleaños a kate en barcelona!!

Last Thursday I left to celebrate Kate’s 21st birthday in Barcelona for the weekend with a bunch of friends!  Kate’s birthday was a great excuse for us to go visit her while she’s studying there.  We spent all day Friday & Saturday touring around the city, so it was especially great to have her there as our tour guide:)

At the moment, I am fairly overwhelmed with school work, group projects, co-op meetings, and all sorts of miscellaneous other things that are requiring me to be at Comillas literally 24/7 (studying on study abroad? … what a strange concept).  Anyway, because of this I’ve decided to highlight my five favorite things about Barcelona.


{Fresh figs, chocolate truffles, and calzones at El Mercat St. Josep, La Boquería}

{Views from Parque Güell}


{Bike tour of the entire city through, focusing on Gaudi’s houses & la Sagrada Familia}

{FC Barcelona v. Sevilla FC match at Camp Nou}

{Discovering everything from miniature flower bouquets to homemade fruit juices on Las Ramblas}

Hope you enjoyed the snapshots of my weekend in Barcelona!  Saludos, amores:)

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la comida de espana

Quesos

Jamones

Carnes (yes, those are brains you see)

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while about buying groceries in Spain.  For a moment, erase the idea of $200 grocery receipts for carts filled with one million different varieties of anything you can imagine.

Here, most people buy food everyday or every other day.  It is so cheap, I hardly ever spend more than 15 euro for fruits, vegetables, cheeses, bread, lunch meats, and a few other random things.  For example, I bought two eggplants yesterday for 54 cents, freshly baked baguettes are never more that one euro, and a package of six boneless porkshops was three euro.

Also, there are a million different option of where to buy your groceries.  Corte Ingles is the most expensive, but it’s also open the most, and you can find anything there!!  Then there are a number of small grocery stores that carry most everything you could need: Dia, Simply, Carrefour, etc.  Lastly, there are the fresh markets.  There are fruit stands on everyother block in Madrid; I’m not sure why.  They get the fruit delivered each morning, and it is truly delicious.  All of the fruits taste like real fruits (imagine that!) and they actually go bad within a few days because they’re not covered in pesticides and artificial gross things.  (Here’s the farmers’ market-going part of me coming out…)  Anyway, there are also meat and cheese markets to go to, but I haven’t really explored those yet.

However, I have just discovered a gem just one block from my apartment: one of the Mercados de Madrid.  You walk down the stairs and there are numerous fruit stands, jamonerias, cheese stands, meat markets, and fresh seafood markets.  Everything is completely fresh; the market is open everyday until 2pm, which allows Spainards to shop during the morning until lunch time for whatever they need for the next day or two.  I had a little bit of a field day running around looking at all of the different cheeses, meats, and fresh vegetables.   Hope you’re having just as much fun at Stop & Shop!

Salud al fin de semana, amores:)

Los resultados: endive salad with fresh blue cheese, tomatoes, and apples

& homemade calamari by Dan!

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