Study Abroad Journal

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

The Trip I Dreamt of as a Child: April 18, 2016

We all remember as children thinking “Wow, I would love to go ____.” Well when I was a kid and I saw a picture of the Amalfi Coast, that was my fill in the blank.

Coming to Italy, it was one of my main goals – to get myself to the Amalfi Coast and guess what? I did. Last weekend.

Let me tell you: kid version of me would have been over the moon. But so was adult me!

I booked this trip when I got here back in January with 4 of my girlfriends to make sure that I was going to get to Amalfi. Well finally, last weekend was the weekend that I was going to live my dream.

I took an 8 hour bus ride to Sorrento, Italy – a part of the Naples territory in Italy. We drove in at 2 o’clock in the morning and all I could see was the lights of the city that was built into the rock from a seat away from the window but it didn’t matter, I was already in love.

This trip could not have come at a more perfect time since it was my last trip of my study abroad experience and it was a perfect one to end on. Not to mention I was getting a little anxious about going home so this trip was going to slow me down a bit – which I needed.

When the group woke up in the morning, we walked to the port of Sorrento and took a Ferry to the Island of Capri, Italy. The ferry was massive and unlike anything I have ever seen (or remember seeing). When we got on the island, we were introduced to a woman who was a native of Capri and she had her own Limoncello stand. At the stand, she had a sort of creamy, cold, limoncello drink that was to die for! I could have had four more…but I didn’t!

Shortly after, we boarded a smaller boat and we were going to take a sail around the entire island of Capri. During this, we got a chance to take to take a detour in a small boat (and I mean SMALL) into the Blue Grotto or as I like to call it, the Blue Gatorade because that is exactly what it looked like. All 5 of us got in this tiny boat with an Italian man who was rowing and went into an opening that was only ONE meter wide!! We were thinking “were not going through that little opening…are we?” but oh, yes we were. It was so small that seconds before we entered, we were told “LAY DOWN” by the main rowing and so we all squirmed to lay down and thankfully, we made it! Once in the grotto, it was like nothing I have ever seen in my life it was indescribable.

Getting back on the boat, we sailed around the island a bit more and there was the chance to swim but I do not like cold water!! We got back to the island and had lunch. Of course I got pizza because 1. We were in Napoli and 2. I think everyone knows my love for a good pizza. The rest of the day we shopped around, had a Granita (this is the famous drink of Amalfi, a lemon slushie with fresh squeezed blood orange and vodka). They were as amazing as they sound. We also went into the garden of Capri and it was bello!!

Back on the ferry to Sorrento at the hotel, we had dinner waiting for us: Gnocchi, chicken and french fries! Who could ask for more?

The next day we woke up to finally: a beach day!! We headed onto the bus to Positano where my heart lies still. It was so stunning – when you think of Amalfi, you think of Positano. We arrived on the beach and didn’t move from there all day – unless it was for the sandwich shop, Vini e Panini or for a strawberry daiquiri. I actually got some sun that day and am looking tan these days!!

We were so tired after our beach day and when we got back to the hotel, we had lasagna, cod fish and some salad. It was a perfect dinner to end the evening.

The next day we were thankful that we had a good sleep the night before because that day, we were heading to Pomeii. It was surreal that I was going to a city that I had learned about my entire life! When we got there it was just as I pictured. We had a demonstration at a place that made corral jewelery and that was quite a sight. After that, we met our 75 year old tour guide that was going to take us on a two hour tour through the ruins of Pomeii and that was Nicola (Nikky the Pomeii Expert) and boy was he! Nikky was quite the pip and he made the tour so amazing. Every time someone sneezed, he reminded us that it was because we needed to drink more wine! (I won’t oppose that).

After our tour through the amazing ancient ruins, we had lunch, and yes, I had pizza…again. After that, I decided to explore some souvenir stands and I was asked by one of the vendors if I was Italian, I answered, “si,” he started having a conversation in full blown Italian and I full blown understood him…whoa what an accomplishment. We had a nice conversation and when we said goodbye, he gave me a free postcard because my “Italiano é brava” I was so excited because finally, I really felt immersed in the culture. In this moment, I knew it was the right decision to come abroad.

Later, we were bused most of the way up Mount Vesuvius but the tour gave us the opportunity to hike up the last 20 minutes. I still can’t believe that yesterday I hiked an active volcano…and Mount Vesuvius at that – a volcano that once had the power to destroy 5 cities, and I was walking on it. I could not believe it. Not to mention, I was overlooking the city of Napoli where my grandfathers father came from – it was one of the more magical moments of my life.

At the end of that moment, it was time to hop on the bus and drive 8 hours back to Firenze, a place I will always call home. I read most of a book on the bus and it made the time fly by. With just 12 days left here in Florence, I had a lot to reflect on and think about.

This trip to Amalfi really had a lot of importance for me and I had a blast while learning about myself and about one of the places some of my ancestors are from.

I already miss Amalfi but I will just have to come back some day!!

Ci vediamo a presto, Amalfi.

XOXO Rae

10 Ways I am Making the Rest of my Time Here Worth Every Second

  1. Spend more time alone: I came here for me, right? Yes! My plan for the next 5 weeks here is to learn the most I can about myself while I am virtually secluded: not a lot of WiFi, no family here, not many responsibilities and all the freedom in the world. What better conditions to learn about myself than that? I am taking a trip to Milan tomorrow as my first solo trip and I am so excited to see my capabilities and get out and see the world from only my perspective.
  2. Try to slow down when I walk: A lot of the time, when 2:30pm hits, I like to practically run home from school! I get all sorts of crazy looks for my fast pace walking but honestly, at the end of a 6 hour school day, all I want to do is get home! However, seeing as I only have 5 weeks left, I want to slow down (get the Euro speed) and actually be able to look around and take in all the sights before I have to leave them.
  3. Finally buy my leather bag and purse: I have been eyeing a bag since I got here and I also have been checking the leather market for the perfect leather jacket. I am finally this week going to buy the souvenirs I want for myself and just do it! I am going to gift myself with something really special from Florence because I did it, I conquered my fear of spending 4 months away from home and to me, I deserve some leather.
  4. Go to all my favorite places: Whether it is a cafe, a panini shop (Pino’s), a dinner place or gelato, I want to hit up all my favorite spots once (or maybe twice) starting in April because really, who knows when the next time is I will see them.
  5. Force myself out of my language comfort zone: So it is really easy to speak English here no problem – a lot of people speak English. However, I am getting comfortable with Italian and I really really need to start testing my skills and trying it out. After all, people make mistakes all the time. Once I do it once, I will have the confidence to carry it out for the rest of my time here.
  6. Do really well in school: It of course is hard to stay focused here but one of my main objectives is to end up with grades that really make me happy. After all, these grades ARE going on my transcript…(;
  7. Write more: I have been pretty good so far with writing, I journal a lot (I haven’t for a while), I have this blog, I am writing for Flo’n The Go and I am a Style Guru for College Fashionista! Hey…that sounds like a lot when I write it all down. However, I know with all of my free time I could be writing a bit more.
  8. Make sure my friends here know how thankful I are for them: It is true what they say, your abroad friends are more like your family. Living with people is definitely hard but I wouldn’t have it any otherway. My friends here are lifetime friends and they have seen me at my best and definitely at my worst. We’ve all been there. What’s important though is that I spend as much quality time with them before this magical dream is no more.
  9. Take advantage of the nice days: It has been really sunny here and I feel like I haven’t been soaking up the sun as much as I should. However, from here on out I want to have a positive attitude and go out on the nice days and just be outside (it does rain a lot here).
  10. Drink some more wine: Don’t take this the wrong way but seriously, the days of a really good bottle of wine for $5 are going to come to an end really soon. Why not get a couple more bottles and celebrate life with friends and good, cheap vino.

I will leave you all with some pictures and love. I can’t wait to see my parents in Firenze soon and I also can’t wait to come home and be so grateful for everything I have at home: family first and foremost, friends, a car and American food!! Until then, I will be making the most of my time here in this beautiful country and keeping those 10 ways in mind as I finish up my last 35 days here.

XOXO Rae

The “I am a month into my Abroad Experience” Feeling: February 16, 2016

So it seems like just yesterday that I was leaving JFK to start my study abroad experience – well it wasn’t…reality has kicked in (sorta) and it has been officially over a month! I truly cannot believe it.

I am guessing the “honeymoon stage” that everyone talks about is over (I mean how could it be…I am in Florence) but I know what they mean.

The “month in” feeling is a hard one to explain: I am in between “wow I am really starting to miss Dunkin Donuts and getting my nails done and driving a car and wow this whole walking thing really kinda stinks” and “wow I can’t believe midterms are already next week and it feels like I just got here **side note I am really gonna miss this gelato when I am gone.”

See what I mean? Kinda hard to explain.

Anyways, I am making the most of my time here and doing the best I can with what I know!! I finally am starting to feel like I live here. About two weeks ago, the map of the city kinda just clicked with me and it was the weirdest most rewarding feeling in the world. I am so thankful for whatever made me get a sense of direction (maybe it’s because I am ACTUALLY growing up, who knows).

I definitely miss my parents and I would say I miss Mike but he’s sitting right next to me (: and yes, I cannot believe he is already here!!

However, when I break down my weeks and weekends it is pretty weird how fast the rest of the time is going to fly by. I am going to officially start traveling next week when I go on Spring Break and before I know it, my parents will be here.

Bottom line, time has a weird way of working itself out and though we may have a love/hate relationship with it, we can’t really control how it works. What we can do is control what we do with our time and so with that, I say…eat gelato, go to school, take pictures, learn about yourself and then maybe have some more gelato.

I will ODDLY see you all before I can say “America” but with that, I will leave you with some new pictures.

Ciao!

 

My First Trip: Rome: February 1, 2016

Oh Rome…you were not what I expected.

Your first weekend trip planned by you is supposed to be a learning experience…I hope.

It seemed as though my past weekend from when I woke up on January 29 to when I got back to Florence on January 31 was just one big learning experience.

I’ll start off by saying, make sure you check, double check and triple check the rating and location of your hostel before signing your life away..literally. I’ll just say, the hostel was so…whats a good word…’interesting’ that Google maps could barely find it…

Next, make an itinerary of most or all of your trip and explore the ways that people get around in that city. I didn’t even know there was a metro in Rome or that you had to take a taxi everywhere past midnight or you literally could get mugged.

Rome was beautiful once we got past all of the travel/stay/initial reactions period but it was definitely different from the Lizzie McGuire movie. The streets are dirty and there are many strange people…we’re not in Florence anymore people.

Seeing the Trevi Fountain and walking to the Vatican City to see St. Peter’s Basilica and Square was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.

The food I had the first night was to DIE for…oh my…God thing I walked 20,000 steps that day & thank God for the iPhone health app so I can keep track of how much I am walking just so I can eat more. The first night I had a bruschetta for an appetizer and then Ametriciana pasta (spicy tomato sauce, sun dried tomatoes and aged cheese…ya it was as good as it sounds) and for dessert I shared a chocolate mouse with a friend, it was like I was eating a chocolate cloud sent down to me from the gods of Italy.

The second day of our trip, we did a 4 hour walking tour that turned out to be 5 and it was a great history lesson from our informative guide, while seeing the sights such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Temple Ruins,and  The Rome National Monument (the wedding cake as the Romans call it).

For dinner it was an amazing experience again..I got an authentic appetizer called Montanara and it was basically a fried dough on steroids. It was puffy and smaller and had fresh mozz and great tomato sauce, is there anything better you can think of? I also had tagliatelle pasta with tomato and basil…nice and simple. To end my stressful time in Rome I got a chocolate almond cake that had a good amount of substance to it.

When I got back on the train to Firenze, I definitely was not sad but I am happy I saw the sights I saw and learned a ton about traveling and planning. I will definitely do better on my next trip.

Next weekend I will be traveling to Tuscany on a day trip and I can’t wait! Until my next thought, I will leave you with my best times in Rome in picture form.

XOXO Rae

 

What I’ve Learned So Far: January 24, 2016

You study abroad to learn, right?

Not only am I learning a lot in my classes about the cultural differences in Italy versus America but here is some of what I am learning about myself and about life in a different country:

  1. Take a lot of pictures but not too many, somethings are better left undocumented: sometimes it is okay to take a picture in front of The Duomo, or sitting on the Ponte Vecchio (or hugging the Leaning Tower of Pisa) but not everything is supposed to be photographed. Sometimes what we remember the most is actually what we didn’t take a picture of – like that street musician or a sunset on a Wednesday night.
  2. Eat what you want but don’t take it too far: Spring break is going to come up fast so don’t eat everything but definitely finish that pizza or get a croissant when you’re hungry in between classes – it is not going to kill you but YOIYO (you’re only in Europe once), indulging can be okay but always know your personal limits.
  3. Don’t forget to look around: even if you take the same walk to school every day, don’t forget to look up once and a while, you may even be surprised what you saw today and didn’t see yesterday. I even saw a cool drawing on my walk home today that I never noticed before. I also saw a building in a different light, or maybe it was because a truck was not blocking it. Who knows – the point is, always look around you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be alone. Too often in America we have this pressure to always be surrounding ourselves with other people. I know I fall victim to that because I am afraid of where my mind will go if I am alone – homesickness? Overthinking? Yeah, that may happen, but embrace it and be okay with it. The only way you will get over being alone is to do it more than once a week. Our minds take us to beautiful places when we have time to reflect on the lives we were blessed with.
  5. Finally, don’t forget to self reflect: I am so happy I decided to start up my blog again. Sure I may just be writing in this portion for now but the motivation is back. Not only do I blog for myself and for my readers but I also keep a journal at my bedside strictly for myself and that is where I really indulge in thought – my struggles of the day and also my high points of the day. Writing, blogging, journal-ing, whatever you want to call it can ease your mind and help you plan out your next action by reflecting on the actions that have now passed you.

I would love to take my own advice, too but sometimes it is hard. I don’t journal or blog everyday, I am not always okay with being alone, sometimes I take too many pictures or eat too much or even forget to look up when I am walking but writing down my goals for the time I am abroad makes me think about what I want to be doing and in return, I will start to do them more frequently – even if I don’t notice it.

I will exit with some photos that I took by being observant. Until the next time I have a noteworthy thought,

XOXO Rae

Intro to this section of my blog: January 23, 2016

Ciao everyone!!

I am so excited to be getting a chance to post about my time here in Italy both for pleasure and for one of my classes, Social Media Life & Business.

It has officially been about three weeks since I got here and I could not be more excited about what I have seen so far and what is to come.

So far I have explored a lot of Florence, but not nearly all that I would like to (I still have plenty of time) and I got a chance to go on a trip to Chianti (that was my first, but definitely won’t be my last) and I also went on a trip to Pisa & Lucca, both beautiful Tuscan cities.

Some of my favorite things to do here are eat, shop, walk around and see the sights…what more could I ask for!

This is just an intro post and I plan on writing more frequently but please follow along in my journey throughout Florence and other cities and countries!

I already have plans to go to Rome next weekend and to go back to the Tuscan Hills the following weekend (I could not get enough of that site and the wine).

Last weekend I climbed to the top of the Duomo and the Coppola and that was one of the more amazing views I have ever done. We went to Gusta Pizza after which is one of the more famous pizza restaurants here in Florence, especially among Americans so it was a must and I will definitely be going back.

This weekend we went to Galleria del’Accademia to see David and the fresco paintings and other statues and that was a breathtaking moment. Then we climbed Piazzale Michelangelo that over looks the entire city of Florence for the sunset.

This weekend we also went to Pisa with my school and saw the Leaning Tower (of course) and we went to Lucca, another city in Tuscany that is actually built behind a wall that goes all around the city. It was a chilly day but it was totally my fault for not wearing the right coat…ops.

Oh yeah…classes are going well too!! I am learning a lot and gaining new perspective on a lot of what I used to take for granted in the states. I am also in an Italian class that meets everyday so that is amazing exposure to the language, aside from just walking down the street and listening to conversations.

I am so excited for what is to come and I am happy to have a chance to be writing here since I am not taking any journalism classes, I have to keep up on my writing and thinking.

Check back here for more frequent posts, I will post the link on Facebook and Twitter @rbimonte092

–I promise, the pictures will be worth it even if you don’t want to read the whole post. As I see more, eat more and drink more I hope to do reviews on my blog for when future people visit Florence, hopefully my blog will be of aid to them, just as some other blogs are of aid to me.

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La Citta d’Lucca!

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At the top of Piazzale Michelangelo with the Arno & The Duomo behind me

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One of the first days in Firenze, sitting on the Ponte Vecchio

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The street I live on!!

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The beautiful David by Michelangelo

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Stairs at Chianti

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At the top of The Duomo

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The beautiful Chianti!

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At the top of The Tower, looking at The Duomo

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Hugging Pisa!