Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bangers and Mash

One thing I've learned from my study abroad experience, is that some of the best things come from spontaneous actions. Four weeks ago my friend Nina and I were discussing how we each had a free weekend and wanted to find some place different to visit. She told me that she has a friend that we could probably stay with in Dublin.  As if Dublin weren't enough, we decided to squeeze Edinburgh into the trip as well! Within 24 hours we had booked our flights to Ireland and Scotland. Our flight landed us in Dublin around 5 and I have to say adding another stamp to my passport felt pretty great. 

When we arrived in Dublin we met up with her friend for dinner, where I enjoyed my first hamburger in almost 4 years. We then walked around Dublin for a bit before calling it a night. Our morning started at about 7am, and our first stop was Trinity college. The campus was absolutely incredible with its green lawns and rich history. We got in line to see The Book of Kells and ended up skipping out on the 12€ ticket by pretending we were apart of this elderly French tour group. Once we were inside we marveled at the incredible history before us, and we starred wild eyed at the oldest books in the world. We then toured the campus some more before leaving to find keoghs cafe. 

They are known for their gourmet muffins, so we ordered one each as well as some much needed coffee. Our route from the cafe took us by the Dublin Castle, Christ Church, the famous Molly Malone statue, and finally to the Guinness store house. In the store house we toured all seven floors and learned all about the production, marketing, and even the proper pouring technique. After our tasting we were starving and on the look out for an authentic Irish lunch. We came across a charming cafe where I ordered fish chips and mushy peas and Nina ordered the infamous bangers and mash. With our stomachs happy we decided to hop on the 20 minute train ride to the stunning peninsula of Howth.

We walked the coast and admired its green islands and icy waters.  I felt so calm starring out onto the dark eerie waters.  I honestly think I could have stayed there all day, but there was only so much we could take of the chilly wind. Our lunch was beginning to ware off so we headed back into the city in search of more Irish cuisine.  We didn't realize there was a huge football match going on, so we were a bit surprised to find every pub packed wall to wall.   We decided on a place called O'Neill's, and it was just as packed as the others.  After stumbling around, for what felt like an eternity, a little Irish voice shouted in our direction, "you can sit here!".  

Her name was Chevon, and like most of the locals, she was born and raised in Dublin.  She had three friends sitting with her that were all tour guides in the city. They introduced us to a little game called "guess where that tourist is from" based on the stereotypes. It was quite fun and Nina and I even played a few rounds. We ordered shepherds pie and watched the game with our new friends.  Once the game was over we left our new friends, and explored the city a bit more before calling it a night.  The next morning we took a taxi to the airport ready for what adventures awaited us in Edinburgh.

Mollie Anna

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Weekend in Marradi

If you are studying abroad or simply looking for an authentic experience in Florence, then Living The Dream Getaways is something you should check out. A few weeks ago a friend and I met Grant Isaacson, who works for LTD Getaways, and he explained his passion for giving people the opportunity to experience a different side of Italy.  The tourist cliches are good and a must for traveling in Europe, but some people seek more than just pasta and Duomos when visiting this great country. So, my friend Madelaine and I decided to book a mountain getaway on a whim.

Our Friday started with an hour train ride north of Florence to the small town of Marradi. There we were warmly welcomed by our guide for the day, Grant, and his two helpers, Jane and Susan. The two women loaded our packs into their car and drove to the villa where we would meet them later for dinner.  Grant lead us on a historic walk through the town of Marradi. He stopped every so often to tell us a bit of history or simply admire the townsfolk.  After our tour we hopped on a 20 minute train ride over to the next town (and to the neighboring Italian province of Emilia-Romagna), Brisighella. 

Our first stop through town was the historic Via Degli Asini. I would be lying if I said we didn't stop to crack a joke or two. From the street we climbed the 300 steps to the top of the clock tower where we enjoyed a refreshing view, glass of wine, and some cheese.  You can see the entire city and all its beauty from the tower. From its rolling hills to its colorful architecture, Brisighella is so breathtaking and picturesque. 

After our snack we hiked over to the hilltop castle and enjoyed another incredible view of the city.  Once we were done exploring the castle, we walked down the road to refill our wine at a pay at the pump style winery.  All of the wine is supplied by the local grape-sowers of Brisighella. Not only is this style novel for those who are used to buying wine by the bottle, but the wine is also local and delicious. We retired to the park after our walk for a delightful picnic and an entertaining game of people watching.  

One thing I noticed as I walked through town was that there simply were no tourists. Marradi and Brisighella are like these hidden gems covered in history and beauty that tourists just haven't  discovered yet.  Florence is incredible, but as strange as it sounds it is hard to immerse in the Italian culture with all the tourists around. Here I felt like I could finally take in the pure Italian culture without a selfie stick being pushed in my face.  

After our delightful afternoon, we took the train back to Marradi where we were picked up and taken to the villa for the night.  The 40 minute car ride through the Apennine mountains was so breath taking. Everything smelled so fresh and seeing mountains again made me feel so at home. Once we arrived we immediately laid down for a nap and when we woke we found everyone out by the fire preparing dinner.

We sat around the fire drinking wine and sharing stories of the day and getting to better know one another. Being in the company of good people, learning where they come from and how they got where they are today are simply my favorite things about traveling. It's scary how wrapped up in my own life I can get, like living in a bubble. There is a whole other world out there with places to see and people to meet. 

Once dinner was ready -roasted chicken and an assortment of delicious sides- we moved to the softly lit gazebo and continued our conversation like we were old friends. We finished the evening with s'mores over the camp fire (my favorite!) and then retired for the night.  The next morning I woke to the delicious aroma of American coffee…I may have had three cups.  We enjoyed the morning over eggs, toast, coffee, and of course more lovely conversation.  We then packed up our belongings and left the villa for an early afternoon hike down the mountain.  The hike down was just as refreshing as the drive up, and I enjoyed every second of it.  Unfortunately our timing wasn’t so great and we missed our train back to Florence. 

There was no use in fretting over it so we stopped at a local restaurant for some delicious lunch and then caught the next train.  Although my time with the Living The Dream staff was brief, it was memorable.  Some of the best memories I’ve made so far on this trip have come from leaps of faith and stepping off the path.  I am grateful for my new friends and time in Marradi, and I hope to return another day!

Mollie Anna

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dear Juliet

Romper:  American Eagle ~ Sweater:  Brandy Melville ~ Sandals:  Hand Made in Florence ~ Sunnies:  Old Navy ~ Bag:  Coach

Last weekend my friend Emily and I took a day trip to Verona.  I think that Verona is probably my favorite city I've visited so far for many reasons.  It was very clean, beautiful, not very touristy, and down right charming.  After a stressful morning of catching the wrong train and trying to figure out the way there through broken English, we finally made it to Verona.  The first thing we did was sit down for lunch and plan out our day.  We turned down a random street and found a lonely cafe where the service was just as wonderful as the food was.  Our sweet waiter gave us a map for free and pointed out his favorite spots in town.  After we finished our lunch we headed to Casa di Giulietta to see the balcony from shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  

In the square we took turns writing letters to Juliet and then placed them on her wall of many love letters.  We marveled at the beautiful balcony and even managed to snap a picture with the statue of Juliet before moving on to our next stop (Giardino Giusti).  Along the way we passed a quaint patisserie where we went in and found my favorite, french macarons.  When we reached the garden I was stunned.  I have never been in a more elegant setting in all of my life.  trimmed hedges surrounded marble statues.  Tall Italian Cypress tress boarded the trail to the stunning palace.  We sat on the steps and ate our macarons feeling like the fanciest people in all of Verona.  We explored all around the gardens and eventually came upon an interesting building.  It looked like half studio and half boutique.  We hesitantly went in and found a station with many clothing designs in progress as well as some finished ones for sale.  

From the gardens we decided to hike to the highest point in Verona, Piazzale Castle San Pietro.  We accidentally took the scenic route and ended up hiking at a ninety degree angle for far too long.  The hike was incredible but boy were we tiered.  However, once we reached the top, any exhaustion we had disappeared when we saw the view.  you could see every inch of the city, and the aqua water shimmered from the sun's beam.  It was all breathtaking...literally I was so out of breath from the hike.  From there we hiked down and explored the Roman Theatre, the Duomo, and some older parts of town.  We passed a group of small children skipping as they were going home from school.  I thought to myself I would probably skip too if I lived here.  We were sad to leave but felt it was probably best for our feet (we walked a total of 14 miles!).  I hope to one day return to the beautiful city of Verona, now on to the next adventure!

Mollie Anna
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