Friday, May 8, 2009

A Bike Ride through Tuscany






First off, it is 4am in the morning here and I cannot sleep so I decided I would post a blog since it really has been too long for those of you who follow us. So I hope you get as excited reading this current blog post as much as I am just in thinking about what to say!

This Friday (May 8) Meg, Lizard and I all decided to do this Tuscan Bike Tour that we heard tremendous things about. We met this morning at 9.50 am on the bridge just upstream of the Ponte Vechhio. As we approached the meeting spot we immediately realized that this was more of a tour for young married couples, rather than three single (obviously not Meg, but get the picture) college students. All together there were about twenty of us, and as eager as everyone was for this tour, we quickly became acquainted with the other group members...which made the trip just as much, if not more fun.

So from the bridge we took a 30 minute bus ride through the hills of Chianti surrounding Firenze, to our meeting point at a 12th century Castello(castle). At the castle we were given a brief history of the castle, a tour on how they make there wines and oilve oil (which the current Count and Countess have been doing since their first ancestors built the castle), and then we were given samples of their wines and oils (which were superb by the way!). Once we finished the tour we all were fitted for our bikes and prepared to set out on our 25km bike ride through the Tuscan Valley.

Now one key thing to note as I describe our tour this afternoon, is that the three tour guides/ owners and instigators of the tour were so much fun! The two guys were Scottish brothers and the girl is in her late twenties, from California and went to CU Boulder! They were all young and hilarious! The guys were probably as much fun for us as we were for them, since as I mentioned before, this tour typically draws the married and coupled crowd! The chemistry of the entire group including the instructors was like that of a camp! Everyone acted like they had known each other for years, as we cracked jokes with each other and played off other peoples comments...the people in itself were just so much fun! The Scottish brothers (Rolin and Andy) were so so so cute and hilarious...you probably assumed that I was thinking that as you started this paragraph so I might as well be as open as I always am and straight up admit my yet again attraction towards the opposite sex of two upper-twenties Scotsmen (can you blame me?!) Anyways...

The bike ride was absolutely, positively gorgeous!! It was a perfectly clear, blue, sunny day at about 75 degrees at the hottest! I honestly cannot put into words the beauty of the Tuscan valley, (if you have seen it you can understand me on this one)but it is literally breathtaking! The first part of our ride was relatively easy, mostly downhill or flat. And as we coasted through the hills, my senses went into ecstasy overdrive! You know the feeling you get when you smell something beautiful? Like the reason we open every scent of Yankee Candle and smell it as long as it appears new to our senses, and the reason we specifically make a lap through Bath and Body Works just so we can engulf ourselves in the richness of the scents...well welcome to Tuscany in the Spring. Every plant is rich in blossom, I literally would get alternating scents of lavender, chamomile, roses, honeysuckle...it was so unbelievable unreal! Sorry that is a lot of description but again please understand my excitement of this tour!!...

So our next stop was at a family owned Ristorante were we had a full course of salad, wine, bread, appetizers, entree, cappuccino, and dessert! So in typical Italian tradition, the meal was not lite, even in the midst of an active day. So after lunch we hopped back onto our bikes for a 25 minute coast to our dreaded location--the base of the half-mile hill. Now let me give you a bit of preface on this hill. When we were looking at reviews for this tour online, every single person mentioned how remarkable the tour was but how dreadful, terrifying, and upsetting this uphill stretch was. People were remarking on their pretty terrific weekly physical activity and how it was too difficult of a climb for even them to handle. However, in our young and sprightly attitudes towards life, we decided we wanted to take the challenge of the hill instead of jumping into the van with the 15 other people. PAIN would be a good word to describe it. I was praying the whole time that CAD had not caught up to me enough that my heart would spontaneously burst from my chest, because at the rate it was going...it was a bit frightening! But I am proud to say that Meg and I rode up the whole way! It was a bonus reaching the top of the hill and being affirmed by the two Scotts that we were in the top of the very small percentage of people who have been able to do it...as they said to Meg and I "So it's not just beauty you have to offer, eh?" Clearly as you can imagine, I blushed for a good five minutes afterward! So at this point Meg and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves in spite of our shaking legs.

After the hill we had about a fifteen minute stretch to our ending point back at the castle. It was so so much fun...we ended around 5pm and we felt like we had just gotten started! We were so sad to say goodbye to everyone, but I can confidently say that this tour was by far my favorite thing I have done while being abroad. All of the dynamics of the day made it one that I will undoubtedly remember and cherish for the rest of my life! I hope I didn't bore you too much with such a lengthy post...until next time!!

mb

Monday, April 27, 2009

Paris



Paris....wonderful wonderful wonderful! We loved everything about it...the Eiffel Tower, Croque Monseur, the Louvre, musee d'Orsay, Andy Warhol exhibition at the National Gallery, the best pastries the world has to offer, crepes, baguettes, Notre Dame, omelets, Arch de Triumph...etc. The people were so nice and friendly (contrary to what you always hear)! We kind of had a goof at the airport on our way home though, and of course we didn't figure it out until the night before our airport left at 7AM. So we had to be at the airport at 5AM, and the hotel we were staying was about 1.5 hours away, so technically we needed to leave around 3 AM in order to get there in time, but we soon found out the last train left at around 12 AM, so our plan was to leave at 12 and sleep in the airport. So around 11 at night we got kind of worried because it was daylight savings, and we didnt know at what hour the time was going to change, and we didnt want to miss our only way to the airport. So we packed up in a hurry and just left. But then we found out that we could only go to a certain point by train because the rest of the trains had already stopped running. So we went as for as we could, and then had to get a taxi for the rest of the way. They were really nice and showed us the secret door to go in the airport because technically the airport wasnt open until 4. So we walked in and found a cozy place by the escalator on the freezing marble floor away from the homeless people and slept until about 5. It wasn't until we woke up that we actually realized how cold it was...
Boy were we glad to make it home!! We slept until 8pm that night!

Howth, Ireland....a tiny fishing village outside of Dublin





London and Liverpool




Friday, April 17, 2009

Liverpool, Home of the Beatles

In previous blog I forgot to mention how crazy/great it was to be in an English speaking country again! We kept catching ourselves saying si and grazie and forgetting that people could actually listen to our conversations when sitting on the metro or walking around. It was also a HUGE relief to know you could walk up to someone to ask for help or directions, something we are not used to here in Italy.
On to Liverpool..

Liverpool was one of my favorites just because the people were so nice!! Of course we never have any idea where we are going upon first arriving at our new destination, but the people in Liverpool were constantly helping us! After walking to about 5 different bus stops, we finally made it to our hotel. Thanks to Lizard, we stayed at the most amazing hotel(or it seemed like that after coming from the hostel)with the most comfortable beds, chocolates on our pillows, English tv, and a huge continental breakfast. I think this is also what made the Liverpool trip so good. Unfortunately, not the best weather in Liverpool, but that didn't stop us from our Magical Mystery Tour! We rode a crazy neon tour bus around Liverpool and got to the sights of the Beatles including, their homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, and much more. We got to hear tons of great stories from our tour guide who actually knows Paul McCartney! We were laughing the whole just because it was such a funny experience and because half-way through Tiff leans over and asks "how many people were in the Beatles?"
Another thing we loved about Liverpool was the accents..they were crazy and nothing like in London. It was really like another language, and most of the time we didn't even know what they were saying, but it was so fun to listen to.
Liverpool night we headed to the Cavern Pub where the Beatles used to play and listened to this guy do a lot of Beatles and oldies covers...i think one of the most fun nights on the trip. It was such a fun atmosphere in this small underground pub with all of these people just singing along and having a good time and dancing. We just sat in the corner, sang along, and took it all in.
I think that about covers Liverpool and London even though I'm sure I left things out, so I will have to have Mary Beth fill in...

Up next..Dublin!! (and pictures!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our whirwind of a spring break...only a month late

There is so much to say about our spring break trip that I don't even know where to begin! It doesn't help either that we waited a month to post about it, so sorry if some details are spared or forgotten. Hopefully the pictures will do justice! So we visited 3 countries and 5 cities in 10 days!! It was a whirlwind but a very fun one! Surprisingly, there were only a couple mishaps and a few moments of frustration and we all survived each other..even Cole who was with 4 girls!!

Stress #1 (before the trip even began)- waiting in the check-in line at the airport not knowing if our bags were going to make it on board because they were almost definitely oversize and overweight. Apparently these discount airlines are very strict with carry-on luggage, but we chose to do it anyway. So while no one was looking we walked over to the little metal box you have to be able to fit you bag into to carry it on and of course none of ours came even close to fitting, even with shoving. After frantically worrying for an hour, the lady didn't even look at our bags because apparently we had already checked-in online. It was a close one...

First stop...LONDON
We arrived Friday evening and headed for the hostel. It might have taken an hour to get there, but I'll have to say we have become very skilled at grasping each city's transportation system (or maybe that is just Cole and I and everyone else just follows). For our first hostel experience, it was not a bad one. Quite the opposite of what I was expecting, we came in around 11pm to get ready for bed and found everyone in the room sound asleep with lights off. So we scrambled around in the dark and in our shared floor bathroom to get ready for bed. Oh and found someone sleeping in the bed Cole was planning on sleeping in, so we all re-arranged in the dark. Quite an experience! Hostel experience #2 eating our cereal with spoons that had just been used by someone else. Our first day we took a free tour of London that we had found an ad for in the hostel. Starting with the changing of the guard, we got to see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Parliament...all the things you need to see while in London..and all for free! We then grabbed some lunch and had a picnic in Hyde Park, one of the most beautiful parks I have seen. We were lucky to have great weather, so we relaxed in the park along with everyone else! We wondered around some more, across London Bridge and by the Globe Theater and then called it a day. Sadly one of the highlights of London was eating that night at Texas Embassy... some good old Mexican food. After another night of getting ready in the dark and a morning of eating cereal out of bowls and spoons other people had just finished eating out of, we headed to the Tate Modern. (I'm not complaining, I loved the hostel!) The Tate Modern was great! MB will elaborate more because she absolutely loved it! We also found that if you don't plan, you get a really late start to your day. Cole and I found a really fun market that had tons of food and home-made goods, lots of hand-made bags and clothes..it was a lot of fun and we ate way too much food. We also went to Kensington Palace and got to see all of the Queen's dresses and Princess Diana's gowns. Kensington gardens were beautiful..there were people practicing archery in their back yards!! It was just like a movie, very peaceful and picturesque. While we were at Kensington, MB, Tiff, Lizard, and Colleen went to Hillsong which I know was quite an experience!

Stress #2- figuring out how to get to Liverpool the next day because of course we waited until the night before and all the ticket prices had gone up..so after going to 3 train stations, we finally got tickets and ended it with dinner at McDonalds (a frequent stop for us).

Next stop...Liverpool

Sunday, April 12, 2009

here are some more of the pics...dont forget to read the blog below!




Yes, we did it. But really what else is there to do in Pisa?






So this happened several, several weeks ago…but I am taking charge with this blog business and I am recording everything we have experienced and not yet shared! On the 1st of March Meg, Tiffany and I decided to meet our best guy friend (studying at another school here in Florence), Kyle Bonney, in Pisa. He was flying into the Pisa airport from Spain and none of us had yet to experience the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Now when I say “experience” really all I mean is: look at the tower, take your creative/goofy pics with the tower and maybe take a stroll along the grounds of the Pisa Duomo...but literally that is all there is to do in Pisa.

We went on what we thought would be a casual, beautiful Sunday afternoon; however, in the typical March-Italy weather we got rain…and a lot of it. But that didn’t stop us! We walked from the station to the tower, took maybe too many pics in hope of creating some fa├žade beyond the ordinary, and then grabbed some quick, cheap lunch. After lunch we started back to the train station when we passed by these funky bicycle carts that sat four people. As you would expect, we made our Pisa adventure a little more interesting as we four steered a cart (of which I was the driver) through the main, busy streets of Pisa for the 30 minutes we were allotted. We made things a bit more exciting as we went the opposite way on one-way streets, tried to navigate ourselves without a map in a city that we were in the least bit familiar with, and tried to treck with the motor vehicles on the busiest streets of Pisa. All said and done, Pisa was accomplished and a lot more fun than we had all anticipated! I hope you enjoy our pics! Keep checking the blog more frequently…we have much much much more to come!

-Mb

Monday, March 9, 2009

I love where I am!!

There are so many things to say about Florence, then Italy, and even in a larger scale Europe. I am going to be honest and say that I would be totally fine with never leaving! At least once a day I remind my roommates how much I love Florence, and how I just love being here. Here are a few things that make Florence "e il meglio che c'e!!"

1. Artisans. If you are an artist, you buy a shop and everyday, all day, you work in your shop painting, sculpting, hat-making, sewing...people pass by your shop and look in the window to watch you at work. What an amazing life- everyday you do what you love and are passionate about!
2. Window Shopping. Every store has elaborate displays with incredible clothing. Plus there are stores everywhere! Such incredible shopping, it is really ridiculous!
3. Every Italian has a beautiful dog. Every dog wears an ensemble. Every dog goes grocery shopping or clothes shopping with their owener -- taking a break in between by just popping a squat on the street to pee or poop.
4. Absolutely zero sterotypes. This is just one of the most incredible things. I love being here because you wake up every morning and put on whatever you're feeeling for the day. Clothes are an expression of personality, individual taste. There is no way to group people together, it's beautiful! Everyone is confident in their own expression. I have become a mood dresser for sure! Meg and I have been trying to figure out what our style is, and until just recently we came to a conclusion: we dress the way we feel-- it is so much less stressful not having to try to place yourself into this mold other people create for yourself!
5. Work out videos. Some of you may know that Meg and I brought several workout videos to 'do' to keep us fit here in Italia. Well the problem occureeed when the videos required weights and we thought that bringing more clothes was more important than packing ten pounds worth of weights. So...what did we do to resolve this? Only in Italy can you use wine bottles as weights in your work out videos! Please picture it: me holding a one legged squat position while I use two wine bottles as my free weights in a bicep curl. Only in Italy, right?!
6. Pastries. There is ALWAYS an amazing pastry shop around every corner. Meg and I are currently in the process of becoming freinds and regulars at this incredible pastry shop around the corner from our house. every day there are new pastries filled with nutella, mini chocolate pies, sfogli and so so so much more!!
7. Gelato. Meg and I are getting so nervous about coming back to the states and not having a delicous secret gelato shop to complete our lunch or dinner. Waco really needs to hop on the train with this Gelato business. If you are reading this and are an entrepreneur, I beg you to start a gelato shop out at Baylor. You would bank!!
8. Italian Food. OH MY GOODNESS. The food here is incomprable. I am able to eat parmesan with just about every meal (Amy I know you would feel like you were in Heaven just like I do when they bring a huge bowl of parmesean to you at every meal)! I really could not even begin to describe how _______ this food is. (You could fill that blank with just about every honorable word you could think of and it still would not suffice.)
9. Sunsets. Sunrises. Breathtaking, remarkable... it is insane! When I go running I run lungarno (along the Arno river) and by the end of the run I am crossing the bridge just in time to see the sun rising behind the Montagne di Italia! It is like nothing you have ever seen before!! And recently my roommates and I have started this tradition of going once a week to Piazza di Michelangelo (which overlooks the entire city of Florence). We bring a bottle of wine and some cheese as we watch the sun set over the city of Florence. It is indescribable. Literally the sky is scattered with an array of pastels......aammaazziinngg!
10. Chill. I have never been so relaxed in my entire life. I have not been stressed once since I have been here. I love love love it!! Every dinner we plan for at least a two hour session, there are no 'to go' coffees. If you want a cappuccino you go to a cafe and you sit while you drink your cappuccino, and then you leave. It is the way life is meant to be spent-- relaxed!

This is the first list of the many resons I have for loving Florence. There will be more to come..trust me! And I also want to apologize for the grammar, spelling, etc. Meg is not with me to check this over before I post! She is always the good writer...im just letting you know my thoughts which are a bit scattered (like me)! Ha well I hope you enjoy this little insight of our lives!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ode to Nutella


Ode to Nutella

Sweet, o so sweet,
Why no sooner did we meet?
The very presence your scent,
Chocolate-hazelnut, begins my descent.
More and more I desire,
The sweet taste of your attire.

When I dip into you,
Parts of me become anew.
Parts of you seem to remain,
In the crevasse of my domain.

On my lip you will stay,
Until, my saliva melts you away.
Why must your stay be short lived?
When there is so much more you could have gived.
I need no other to satisfy,
Please be replenished or I will die.


This is a poem my roommate wrote in the midst of a Nutella high. It is currently written out on a poster and hanging in our kitchen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Where would we be without Samuele...


This is our friend/tour guide Samuele


"And this is the biggest anchor in all of Europe." -Samuele
"Really!"-Us
"I don't know, probably."
And that is how the tour went.




Samuele never went anywhere without his drum or his recorder; He would play them up and down the streets.



Mb and Samuele hit it off as you can tell.


Meg & Mb in Italy

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dream continued...





Are we in a dream?

So we went to Venice this weekend for Carnavale, and let me tell you it was an experience I will probably never have again; it is hard to even put it into words. Carnavale is a huge deal here, sort of like Mardi Gras, and it lasts two weeks. We knew it would be big, but we were not prepared for the craziness of it all; we really felt like were in a dream. Upon walking out of the train station we were faced with costumes and characters of all sorts, loud music, and we were shocked to find that yes, Venice actually is all on water. We caught the ferry taxi tight outside of the train station to our hotel. It was quite a long journey considering we weren't exactly sure where we were going (We never laid eyes on a map the entire weekend). But never fear, the friendly Italians on buses always help us find our way. So after they got us to the right stop, we made it to our cozy little hotel. It was an entire other fiasco finding the bus stop once we left the hotel. An Italian boy that we asked for help literally yelled back at us three times as we kept going the wrong way and then resorted to running after us to take us the right way. We are very grateful for these kinds of people. It also helps us meet the locals, as we saw the same boy the next night on the bus and we exchanged hellos like we were old friends.

So back to the craziness of Venice...
People were dressed in huge, elaborate costumes, as you can see in the pictures. The people in these costumes are treated like celebrities as crowds of people surround them takinng their photos. They walk around very elegantly and pose for everyone to stare. The first night out we stumbled upon a massive drag queen fashion show, and that was our first eye opener of what this event was going to be like. Everywhere we turned there was a different party, music coming from every side, and the oddest combination of characters you can think of dancing together in one big jumble. My favorites were the ghostbusters and the dancing protesting pigs. What we like to describe it as is a combination of Alice and Wonderland and Accross the Universe.

The next day we got to explore ALL of Venice as we had our own personal tour guide, Samuele, a friendly Italian we met the night before. I know it seems a little creepy, but never fear mother Meg is here, and he was no creepy Italian. He was a lot fun, and he enjoyed working on his English and showing us around the city, as he was from Venice. Somehow he knew us so well, as he took us into a bakery and bought us all a pastry that he said we just had to try. We got to see a lot of the local scenes and hear about the history of Venice, although a few of his facts seemed a little out there. We had fun, nontheless. He showed us around again that night leading us through streets playing his bongo drum and recorder and introducing us to his friends. He attracted people wherever he walked because of his hilarious personality. Bess, he kind of reminded us of you!! So the night wore on, we got exhausted from all the excitement, and had to call it a night. It was an adventure, if not more!








The best gelato we have ever tasted!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Under the Tuscan Sun...






After about two weeks of rain it was so nice to see the sun this weekend. We couldn't have picked a better day to go to Cortona. This is a small Tuscan town about an hour away from Italy, where they filmed Under the Tuscan sun. It was a fun adventure, as we walked to the train station Saturday morning with no plans or schedule. We picked a destination that was leaving soon and less than $10...turned out to be Cortona! We hiked up the beautiful hill country from the train station to the town taking multiple photo stops on the way (MB wil have to post those later). It was an unexpected very long uphill walk, but the views were worth it. We spent the day relaxing and walking around, drinking hot chocolate. By the way, hot chocolate over here is far different from in the States; it is like drinking pure melted chocolate...no words can describe. So, as it got colder and our hand and toes turned numb, we frantically searched for a bus that would take us to the train station, and we made our way home. Without a map, plan, or any knowledge of the town, I would say we did pretty good.

The rest of the weekend turned out to be very relaxing. Being the only four students in the entire program who don't go out every night, we tried to be social for a few nights. It was a lot of fun, but I think watching movies in our apartment suits us best. There is a secret bakery here that is only open from 1:30 AM-4 AM. We had heard so much about this secrety bakery and its delicious pastries that we were just dying to go. So while all the other students who go are up partying and end their night with a chocolate croissant, we went to bed around 1030 only to wake up at 2 AM just to make a trip to the bakery. It was well worth it! Colleen was here to experience the delicousness with us...thanks for leaving us with such a great discovery!

We Love You Colleen!





Colleen Cooper, one of our best friends from home, got to come and stay with us for a week! She is living in North-East England working for a church and a ministry for these next five months! We had so much fun together, she got to share in our: crazy Bologna adventures, nightly Nutella treat sessions, Secret Bakery run, Piazza de Michelangelo hike, and so much much more! Here are some of the pics of our time together...thank you so much for coming down Colleen! We love you!