Week 4: Amsterdam

Ciao Ciao!

I’m going to preface this post by saying that if you continue to read this, please note that I did not do anything illegal while in Amsterdam (according to Dutch law). I am a law-abiding citizen (shoutout to Alden for teaching me the rules) and the events that occurred this weekend were done completely with a “YOLO” mentality. For those of you who are unaware of pop culture, YOLO means “You Only Live Once”.

Anyways, this crazy weekend started on Thursday afternoon with a flight out of Florence. Flying out of Florence is actually so much more convenient than having to take 4 trains just to get to an airport. Fast forward and after a nice plane nap we landed in Amsterdam, where the airport was literally a mall and was just a happy place to be. I was definitely vibing with Amsterdam from the start. Of course it only helped that I found freshly sliced mango in the airport and ate 2 packs of it #healthy am I right?! We then left the airport and soon realized it was a mistake to take a taxi, which charged us almost double what Uber charges for the same trip. Rule of thumb: when in doubt – UBER! Once our overpriced taxi arrived at the Volkshotel which was awesome and very different. The only part about that hotel that I disliked was the fact that they thought chains hanging from the ceiling acted as a proper door to a shower, which just makes it awkward. After settling in, we took a little trip to the city and made our first stop at Topshop because I couldn’t contain my excitement about going to a European store. No worries though, mom, I surprisingly left empty-handed. But in all seriousness, just smelling that place was enough to make me happy to be honest. That night we went to a random insignificant Chinese place for dinner and then we went to our first coffeeshop (if you know what I mean). At our first coffeeshop 3 of us had to leave because we didn’t have our original passports on us, so we ventured down the street to a different one with green mood lighting, which made me feel like I was getting the real Amsterdam experience. After stopping for french fries, we went back to the hotel for a night of some quality sleep.

Friday morning we woke up and went to The Pancake Bakery, where I had the most incredible “Dutch Pancake” with stroopwaffels baked into the pancake dough and covered in whipped cream and cinnamon ice cream. I couldn’t justify having just the pancake, so I paired it with a nice hearty side of scrambled eggs. All food things aside, we then went to The Bull Dog which is Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshop. Good times. After The Bull Dog we went to get french fries which were incredible. Next we went to the I Amsterdam letters (see above) where my friends and I took some basic photos and also got somewhat of a cardio workout climbing. It’s definitely more difficult than it looks!

The second part of Friday after our naps was much more intense and emotionally exhausting, so now it’s time to get ~serious~. We went to the Anne Frank House which was a pretty awesome experience. Anne Frank is such an iconic figure, and having gone to Jewish school my whole life I had learned about her life story so many times. It almost felt surreal being there. The museum itself was also incredible in how it made her story seem so human. The photos of her look like they could be anyone I know, and it gave me goosebumps to be in the place where her family hid for so long. I also thought it was awesome how quiet everyone was in the museum. Each and every person knew to respect where they were and stopped to read every single sign, which I admit I rarely do at any museum. At the end of the museum tour, we had the opportunity to reflect upon the experience and my friends and I sat down to share our thoughts, which I definitely thought was a cool idea on the part of the museum staff. Just like Anne Frank did, we were encouraged to share our thoughts and reflections about her life. I thought about how even though I had visited the concentration camps in Poland, for some reason it didn’t feel so real until I saw the annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for so long. It was almost as if seeing the camps I had seen the place where the horrible things of the Holocaust happened, but I hadn’t had the opportunities to see somewhere that Jews lived, though I had seen old synagogues. It was real that people hid in that place to save their lives, and it was so incredible to see how it was right in the middle of a pretty busy area. After seeing the living quarters when we learned of the fate of the other residents of the annex, it was crazy to see that many of them were sent to and killed at concentration camps that I had visited and stood at, though I had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam after the fact and most of them were fated to never leave the camps which I walked out of freely. These pretty much sum up the emotional thoughts my mom recommended me share in this weeks blog post. So here you go, mommy – you’re welcome.

Moving on to the rest of the night, we then went to all you can eat sushi at Sumo, which was sickening. It was 5 “rounds” of food, and we were allowed 5 dishes a person for each round. I can’t talk about it more because it literally makes me nauseas thinking about it. Funny to note, however, that the place actually charges you for food you don’t finish, and we gave up trying to eat it, so I may have smuggled some sushi into a napkin and tossed it into the bathroom to save us some extra fees. After Sumo we went to another coffeeshop and then to the most disturbing show of my life. If you’ve heard of the Red Light District, I can now confirm the rumors are true. Women are dressed provocatively standing in windows pretending to dial their call line so men will call and “book” them (honestly not sure what the right term to use here is). In the midst of this weird part of town, they have things called “sex shows” (better known as live pornos). I will not go into any detail and refuse to. All I can say is, the majority of the show was spent with my snow hat pulled over my head and I wanted to leave the whole time. To be honest, the entire time I wanted to just walk up to one of the girls in the show and change her life like people do in the movies, though this desire to change someones life was likely just a side effect of our earlier stop at a coffeeshop.

Saturday we woke up and went to a Dutch breakfast place which was cool and had a unique layout. We then went to the Heineken Experience, which turned out to be a lot of fun! We learned all about the process of brewing beer and the end of the tour had some cool interactive exhibits which were pretty enjoyable. After Heineken we grabbed lunch and went on a canal boat tour, which I found pretty interesting; it described the buildings and the history of the city of Amsterdam. I enjoyed myself a lot, even though by the end of the boatride all of my friends had passed out in their seats. Saturday night after dinner at an Argentinian restaurant we went to a comedy show called Boom Chicago. I also tried a space cake, which really did nothing, so I don’t even know why I mentioned that. Aside from the fake cake we bought, the comedy show reminded me of Whose Line is it Anyway? which I LOVE and it was actually so funny. One of the actresses also looked like Kristen Wiig, so it was definitely a win. Sunday we basically spent the entire day traveling, which really isn’t interesting so I’ll skip that part.

All in all, Amsterdam was a beautiful city that I really loved, despite how wacky the laws and some of the people may be. Everyone there just seems so happy and the buildings are gorgeous, as well as the views of the canals. For next week’s post, check back in for some details about Abroadfest, which is possibly the most “scene-y” weekend of abroad, second to Dublin. See ya in a week and hope you enjoyed!

Ciao for now,

BCow

 

 

 

Week 3: Interlaken

Ciao Ciao!

I couldn’t wait to write this post because Switzerland was just the most amazing weekend. I had to put it all in words as soon as I possibly could to even attempt to do it justice. Here goes my best shot:

Thursday night we departed Florence by bus for a long seven-hour journey to the Swiss Alps. Despite the lengthy trip, the movie choices were quality selections and made the limited amount of legroom tolerable. We stopped once on the way at an awesome rest stop, which is worth noting because in comparison to American rest stops this one was top notch gourmet. After a short nap we arrived to Hotel Alpenrose in Wilderswil (a small town just a few bus stops from central Interlaken). Considering it was around 3am, we were all exhausted and slept until Friday morning.

When we woke up, we decided to explore the town after a quick breakfast. We quickly learned that the prices in Switzerland are outrageous. My friends and I literally got up and walked out of a restaurant because there was a “special” for $16.50 lunch. And yes, that meant that a Caesar Salad alone would cost 16.50. After seeing the absurd prices, in an effort to please my mom who would have probably questioned why I spent $16 at a pub, we left to find a new place to eat. I’m guilty to say that for a few moments I seriously contemplated eating lunch at McDonalds, but we finally ended up at a place called Ox, where I got a traditional Swiss hash brown-type dish with mixed vegetables, which was quite delicious despite being super expensive (again, sorry mom).

After brunch we went to the most incredible chocolate store ever to get our hands on some authentic Swiss chocolate. Let me tell you – that stuff is NOT overrated. I don’t know what kind of cows or milk or cocoa beans they’re making there but whatever they do, they’re doing it right. One thing I realized about chocolate stores in Europe in general is that they all seem to have some sort of chocolate model of male private parts, and sometimes chocolate boobs; Europeans are honestly just bizarre sometimes. Not to get too sidetracked with that, my favorite chocolate came from this store called Läderach. Whatever that word actually means, in my mind it translates to heaven in a bite. After shopping for some chocolate, we attempted to go see the lake only to miss the bus, so we just decided to head to the rental store to prepare ourselves for night sledding and pick up some ski gear.

Fast forward to 6:30, when we met up with the company to journey out to night-sledding in the Alps. We picked up our sleighs and took a cable car to the top of a mountain, where we were given instructions regarding how to steer and red lights to wear on our backs so we werent lost. The sledding was actually incredible. It wasn’t the traditional hill that you have to climb up and then slide down, but a groomed trail on a mountain that was so much fun and actually involved quite a strenuous core workout. Good thing I burned some calories doing that, because after sledding we ate traditional cheese fondue which is made with Swiss beer (unclear how I felt about that), and some pasta that was fine but nothing in comparison to what we have in Florence. Then we returned to our hotel and went to bed to prepare for an early wakeup for skiing on Saturday!

At 7:14am I woke up to knocks on my door from my friends to realize that I had overslept (oops!). I got ready super quickly and went to the rental store to pick up a helmet and the rest of my ski gear. We then took 2 trains that together took about an hour to reach the top of the mountain. It was snowing a LOT, but the views were still breathtaking. After doing one run, my friend dropped her glove and it conveniently rolled down a black trail, which is a lot more intense in Switzerland than it is in the U.S. In addition to not being able to see five feet in front of you, the trail had surprisingly large patches of powder, which I ended up appreciating because they padded my numerous falls on this trail. Overall, I still feel like a rockstar for skiing a Swiss Alp black diamond. Special shoutout to Mount Snow for preparing me for this momentous occasion. We then continued to ski in the beautiful mountains (the pictures don’t even do it justice!), and at around 4pm we headed back to the hotel. Sunday morning we took a long walk to Lake Brienz, which is gorgeous and if you look at my photos (see above) it looks like I’m standing in front of a green screen. The long walk was definitely worth it, though!

That’s pretty much it for my Swiss adventures in Interlaken & the Alps! Check back next week for updates on my weekend trip to Amsterdam (though I can’t promise you’ll be getting all the details).

Ciao for now,

BCow

Week 2: Praha

Ciao Ciao,

Reporting to you live from my slightly comfortable bed in Firenze on this wonderfully rainy Monday evening. I’m sure you are all very anxious to read about my travels to the Czech Republic. Lets just start off by saying how grateful I am that I chose to study in Florence. I never thought I would be so relieved to come back to Italy, but after 4 train rides totaling almost 5 hours and 2 flights on Czech Airlines, I guess it makes sense. Takeaway #1: In the future I will be flying out of the Florence airport because Milan and Rome are not as close as they seem. Even though a lot of time was spent getting from place to place, I am very thankful that I have travelled alone so often back and forth to Michigan because it really has prepared me for traveling confidently and comfortably.

In other news, we arrived in Prague Thursday evening and I was pleasantly surprised with my hostel. However, even though I was impressed with the cleanliness I still used my sleep sack and microfiber towel because bed bugs are a legitimate fear – to the point that my roommate claims I slept-talked about bed bugs. She also claims that I also shouted in my sleep “I feel so successful, I booked my appointment!” There’s no significance to sharing that, I just thought it was funny and so me.

Anyways, Friday marked our first full day and we started with a tasty brunch at Bakeshop followed by a walk to the Old Town Square, where we took photos and climbed the astronomical clock tower. In case you are wondering, I made it to the top without the elevator OR my inhaler. Rock on. After we climbed the tower we walked over to the Charles Bridge for another photo op, and then found ourselves at the Lennon Wall, which was definitely underwhelming at first. Once I really got to look at it, though, it became much more interesting to me and the smaller-than-expected size didn’t bother me anymore. My friends and I took a few basic pictures (see above for a solo photo shoot photo), and then it began to rain so we walked back over the bridge. There, we got “Trdelnik,” which is basically a cinnamon thing lined with chocolate that is the shape of a giant piece of rigatoni (you can clearly guess where my head’s at right now). It was really great even though it was slightly nauseating because it was so sweet. Don’t be fooled, however, because the food went downhill from here. After a quick nap and a little Netflix viewing on my phone, we went to a vegetarian restaurant called Radost for dinner. Being a veggie myself, I was super excited to order what I thought was going to be sautéed veggies over mashed potatoes, but ended up being veggies drowned in cream sauce over enough mashed potatoes to feed a small country. It wasn’t horrible, but it was not what I expected and was definitely not nearly as awesome as the food I’d been eating the past 2 weeks here in Italy. Friday night we went out to Lucerna, which is actually an unreal club. They play 80s and 90s music, and it was so much fun/overwhelming seeing every single person I’ve ever met in my entire life in one place.

Moving on to Saturday, after getting past our initial exhaustion, we ate a pretty solid brunch at Globe Café and then stopped off in the Jewish quarter, which we briefly got to explore despite the area being pretty quiet because it was Shabbat. We then started walking to the Prague Castle. After quite the strenuous climb, we arrived at the top where there was awesome views and a really beautiful palace/cathedral (guilty that in Europe I have a hard time telling the difference). We took more photos, of course, and then on the way down we stopped at the Toy Museum. It was very small, however the second floor of the museum celebrated 50 years of Barbie (even though the poster that said “Happy 50th Barbie! was printed in 2009). I’ve never seen more Barbies in my life, and they had Barbie versions of everyone from Sandy to Yoda to a pregnant Barbie whose stomach could be removed to find a baby inside, because that’s totally how it works! All in all, the castle and museum were both pretty cool places and I got corn on the cob on the way down, so I can’t complain. Once again we all went back to the hotel for a snack and an afternoon nap, and then we went out to dinner for the worst sushi of my life, where I was fortunate enough to be the kosher vegetarian girl who found shrimp in her miso soup. They also apparently serve Edamame frozen in Prague, even though the menu clearly said “Boild,” but I guess it’s my bad for expecting much with spelling like that. On the way home we stopped at a weird convenient store that sold everything from winter hats to swords (not kidding) to chocolate bars and then went out, only to give up waiting on the line and come back home to sleep. Speaking of sleep, as I sit here in bed coughing like a barking dog and wishing I had a nebulizer, I’ve learned my lesson that a human being such as myself cannot sustain partying 4 nights a week. You’re welcome mommy.

Overall, there were many ups and downs in Prague and I’m grateful I had the experience of traveling to the Czech Republic to see the beautiful and historic city. I am also appreciative of how much leaving Florence made me appreciate it here, and how it really is true that it does feel like the closest thing you can get to a home away from home.

Check back in next week for updates on my upcoming weekend trip. Next stop: Switzerland. I’m expecting to have some awesome Swiss cheese, chocolate, and great skiing, but after my sushi experience in Prague I think I’m better off going in to future trips without expectations. Bye for now, and hope you liked my blog enough to get this far.

Ciao,

BCow

 

Week 1: Florence, Pisa, Tuscany

Ciao Ciao!

Reporting to you live from Via de’ Bardi where the pasta is just as amazing as the view from my apartment (see above photo). After spending a full 2 weeks packing and unpacking to the point where 90% of my wardrobe is still sitting at home in my room, I finally arrived to the promised land (Florence). Lucky as I am, all I had was a puny carry-on bag because the airline lost my luggage. No worries though, by night 2 I had a clean outfit to wear for my first night on the town.

On day 3 of orientation we took a trip to Pisa to see the leaning tower. I can assure you that it really does lean (which may or may not have been the first thing I said when I saw it). Despite my brutal hangover and “minor” bus-sickness, we started out the day with the best plain plate of spaghetti I’ve ever had in my entire life. We then took the classic pictures in front of the tower – stay tuned for Facebook uploads in the near future. After the embarrassment of looking like a basic tourist, we had a walking tour of the area which included a giant church and a baptistry. We got a “special surprise” in the baptistry as a guy who worked at the church sang a holy song and there was a really cool echo (there is some proper name for him but I’m a superjew so I forgot, apologies). I guess that can be considered my first baptism. So yay for learning about other cultures and religions! We then went to the church where we saw a real person’s sarcophogas which was cool but a little creepy. Aside from that, the only other notable thing was the street vendors who called every single American girl Lady Gaga and loved to say “shacka lacka boom boom,” which was bizarre.

Aside from Pisa and boring orientation activities, on Saturday we had a day trip to the Verrazano Castle in the Tuscan Mountains, where we had a wine tour and an amazing meal with the most incredible bread and olive oil and the OMG Balsamic as they call it, because when you taste it you can’t help but to say OMG. I would’ve bought a bottle, but it was 48 euro for balsamic which was just irrational to justify buying. During the tour we also learned how classy people drink and taste wine and how it’s made and all that jazz. Lets just say that after 3+ glasses of wine I had quite an incredible nap on the way home.

Obviously if you are interested in my life enough to read this, you are probably very anxious to learn how the food is here in Italia. Obviously it’s amazing – duh. Just to get your mouth watering a bit, my favorite meals have included 4 Cheese Gnocchi, Cream of Asparagus Pasta, Penne alla Vodka and Gusta Pizza which is NOT overrated – I promise you that. Aside from the food, my roommates have been doing their best to get me to like wine. So far that’s not going great but check back next week for an update on where I am with that.

While we’re on the topic of drinks, let me just say that one thing I was NOT educated about was how the nightlife here in Flo works. Then again, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for leaving at 12:30 and returning at 4am every night (sorry mom!). Space is the only place I’ve had fun so far, and it’s basically like a club that I would’ve gone to in PV (take that as you like). All of the American students buy tables in the VIP section and are brought sparkling bottles of champagne and vodka with firecrackers or whatever the exploding candles are on top. We quickly learned that it’s imperative to befriend a promoter so they can get you in. Shoutout to Marley & Brian for the awesome hook up even though I did get “escorted” out of the VIP room last night.

Aside from the money I spend on food and drinks, I also bought a leather jacket yesterday which I am beyond in love with. It’s olive green and gorgeous, and makes me feel a little bit more Italian. While it may seem ridiculous that I went in between classes to buy a real leather jacket, that’s just how it works here in Florence. I also needed a break after our ridiculously long 2 and a half hour classes, which are as unbearable as they sound. But everything else makes those brutal few hours bearable.

So basically to sum it all up, my first week was full of everything it’s supposed to: carbs, wine, historical places, hangovers, leather, a few new Italian words I can add to my dictionary and most notably a lot of getting lost and not understanding anything in Italian other than words for food.

That’s all for week one! This weekend I’m traveling to Prague, so czech (lol) back next week for some more exciting stories and adventures.

Ciao for now!

BCow