Ciao! A semester in firenze

10 days, 5 girls, 4 cities, 3 countries, and LOADS of memories later... I made it out of spring break abroad addition alive and well! Here's a quick low down about my all the fun I had exploring Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Nice!

I must admit, I was pretty stressed about leaving Florence for spring break (silly, I know). Wednesday night I was feeling the pressure as I tried to balance my time studying for the two midterms I had the next day as well as packing everything I needed for 10 days in a carry on suitcase. I'm a bit of an over-packer, hence my 70 lb suitcase on my original journey to Florence, so I was definitely feeling overwhelmed trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. Thankfully, everything fell into place on Thursday as my two tests were easy-peasy and my packing skills improved tremendously. My roommates parents arrived in Florence just as we were heading to the train station, so after a quick introduction and good-bye, we were off! I felt a tad homesick when I saw my roommate run and hug her parents. As much as I love being abroad and don't want to leave this beautiful city, I can't wait until I'm finally reunited with my fam back home! My friends and I jumped on a train to Pisa, and after an hour or so delay at the airport, we were finally off to Amsterdam!! We ended up not getting to the airbnb until around 12:45am due to a couple missed turns and misguided directions, but alas, we made it safely. Our little apartment for the weekend was, to put it nicely, messy. Laundry was left in the washing machine, only one towel was provided for four girls as well as a pile of dirty clothes in the bedroom; however it did the job. In preparation for the busy morning ahead, all four of us quickly passed out upon minutes of arriving to our home away from home.

We gave ourselves a little bit of a break on Friday morning, allowing ourselves to sleep in smidge, but we finally made it out the door around 10am. Our first stop, Bagels and Beans. One of my roommates actually lived in Amsterdam for a summer with her family due to her Dads job, so all week she RAVED about this bagel shop. It definitely did not disappoint. I ordered a yogurt and granola bowl and a cinnamon raisin bagel with walnut honey cream cheese. YUM. After breakfast, we explored the city for awhile. Amsterdam is a lot bigger than I was expecting!! We bought a 48 hour transportation pass and it ended up to be a life-saver! I couldn't get over the adorable houseboats lining every canal and modern, hip boutiques that filled every street. Each one looked better than the last which ended in the four of us shopping for longer than expected. It took a lot of will power, but I ended up not buying anything. Finally, we stumbled upon the IAmsterdam sign. I've seen this iconic monument in countless pictures, so it ended up to be a little underwhelming. Nevertheless, we still snapped a couple pictures and moved on. Our next stop, The Van Gogh Museum. This was one of my favorite parts of visiting Amsterdam. Seeing all the beautiful pieces and learning more about Van Gogh was really interesting! Unfortunately, Starry Night was not featured at the museum. Looks like i'll have to visit the MET! Before heading out to dinner, we stopped back home for a quick cat nap. Since it was St. Patricks Day, we made our way to a popular Irish bar that was featuring live music. We stayed for awhile but it ended up getting so crammed that we decided to leave and check out a couple different bars. After a couple hours of dancing, we headed back to our not-so-nice airbnb to sleep.

We had another activity filled day on Saturday but just as we were heading out the door, one of the girls I was with realized she couldn't find her passport. Surprisingly, she stayed extremely calm. We all decided it was a good idea to retrace our steps from the previous night. After looking for an hour or so with no luck, we decided it was a lost cause. The US Consulate didn't open again until Monday, so there was nothing to do except wait it out. After the nightmare I had traveling back from Ireland, I was thanking my lucky stars that it wasn't me who lost my passport. We had a tour booked at the Heineken Brewery so after reassuring Mary that everything would be okay, we were on our way. The forecast for Friday and Saturday were rainy and cold, so thankfully most of our activities were inside. The Heineken Tour was extremely cool, but didn't quite draw the same excitement as the Guinness Tour. The tour ended with a couple complimentary beers but we had to speed up our pace because we had a canal tour booked as well. This was another event that was high up on my favorite list! The views of the buildings from the water were extremely charming. After some deliberation, we all agreed that the the buildings looked like extra large chocolate bars. Before heading out to dinner, we made our way to a neat look out point where we were able to see all of Amsterdam. The views were amazing even with the fog and rain, so I found it hard to imagine what it looked like on a sunny, spring day. With another recommendation from my roommate who lived in Amsterdam, we headed to a Thai restaurant for dinner. After an enjoyable meal with great conversation, the four of us decided we had to check out the Red Light District. This was a very odd experience. I couldn't help but feeling extremely sad for the half-naked girls standing in the windows waiting for customers. I felt even more nauseous when I saw men enter or leave the girls "shops". We all agreed it was sad to think about what situation these girls must be in if they had to resort to this type of work. Thankfully, our attention was quickly diverted to a happier subject matter as we watched the Badgers take down Villanova in order to enter the Sweet-Sixteen! We immediately started joking that the red lights signifying the Red Light District were on honor of the Badgers win...wishful thinking, of course. To celebrate the win, we ventured to a bar and danced to fun, throwback music. One of the girls, who doesn't really care for late nights, was too tired to make it past 10 o'clock so unfortunately, our last night in Amsterdam ended earlier than most of us would have hoped because we couldn't/wouldn't let her go back to the airbnb alone. Can't win 'em all.

Our bus departing to Brussels didn't leave until 230pm on Sunday so we had the whole morning to get check a couple more boxes off our to-do list. It was extremely cold and rainy that day but it didn't stop us! We decided to check out the Tulip Museum first. Holland is extremely well known for their beautiful flowers, specifically Tulips, so it was fun to learn more about them. Oddly enough, Tulips didn't even originate from Holland! Amsterdam has a beautiful flower field a little outside the city that we were hoping to visit, but the window in which the flowers bloom to when they cut stems to cultivate the flower bulbs is only a couple days. After the Tulip Museum, we headed to the Anne Frank. The tickets for this museum sell out MONTHS in advance, so by the time we were on top of our game, they were all sold out. It was still extremely humbling even to stand outside the Secret Annex. Looks like i'll be needing to make my way back to Amsterdam to hit up all the hot spots that we missed, especially renting and riding bikes throughout the city. I'm definitely okay with that! Before we knew it, it was time to make our way to the bus station. My friend who lost her passport, Mary, had to stay an extra night in Amsterdam in order to make it to the US Consulate the next morning. Thankfully, two of our other friends from Madison were staying in a hostel in Amsterdam so she was able to stay with them. The sheer fact that she wouldn't be alone be less frightening to leave her behind. I absolutely loved everything about Amsterdam which made leaving that must harder. But how could I complain when I still had three amazing cities ahead of me?! The icing on the cake... the bus to Brussels was nearly empty, meaning I got an entire row to myself!

It was chilly and rainy when we arrived in Brussels three hours later (just our luck) so we went straight to our hostel. Much to my surprise, our hostel was really modern and clean. We got a recommendation from the front desk worker for dinner, so after some down time, we meandered out to an authentic Belgium restaurant. Judging from the line out the door, we knew this must be a great restaurant. Once we were seated, a waitress came over and explained to us that there was no menu, only five specials. She rattled through the options quickly and so I ordered ham on the bun (or so I thought). When my food arrived, I realized I had ordered ham on the bone. I was not disappointed with my meal because it was EXTREMELY delicious. I left the restaurant happy and full, as did the two of my other friends. Thankfully, all three of us were on the same page and decided to go back to the hostel and spend the rest of the night relaxing. I was happy for the early bed time tonight.

Without much previous knowledge on what to do in Brussels, we left the hostel in the morning to explore the city. Soon, we stumbled upon the towns center. Large buildings with gold and shiny facades enclosed a huge square. It was gorgeous. After marveling over the buildings, we moved on to wander deeper into the city. A couple wrong turns later, we found a couple beautiful gardens and churches. I wasn't too pumped about our stop in Brussels, but I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty Before we knew it, our stomachs were growling and we realized we completely forgot to eat lunch. The only logical thing to eat: Belgium Frites. I'm not sure what we were all expecting out of these supposed superb fries, but they were definitely nothing special. Regardless, we ate them happily. After we got our taste of these frites, we went back to our hostel to rest our feet. Much to our surprise, Mary was waiting for us! She had spent all day in the US Consulates office trying to get a new passport and finally had made it to Brussels. The gang was back together. Josie wasn't feeling the best (probably thanks to those frites) so Olivia and I headed back outside to show Mary around. We were still so full from our late lunch that we decided to skip dinner and go to a bar famous for the the Guiness world record for beers on drafts. The bar was three stories and every single wall was filled with posters and interesting signs. Clearly this was the place to be because it was packed with young adults like ourselves. We stayed here for awhile talking and getting to know each other before we decided to cap off our night with another famous Belgium food: waffles. We picked one of the hundreds of waffle joints and sat our butts down in the city center to eat them. The buildings were lit up and sparkling and were even more beautiful than during the day. Although our time in Brussels was short, it was even better than anticipated. For some odd reason, I was a little salty about making a pit stop here instead of spending more time in Amsterdam or Paris, but after the day was through, I was extremely happy. Half way through spring break!

Josie and I opted for a cheaper option of taking a bus to Paris instead of a train so we had to get up and out of the hostel a couple hours earlier than the other girls. I was extremely tired from constantly being on the move, so I slept the entire way to France Unfortunately, we didn't have much time in Paris so we had to be extremely efficient for the entire 36 hours we were there. Before we started our site seeing, we found a cool restaurant for lunch. All four of us got burgers, and honestly, these beat any hamburger i've eaten in the states. Guacamole, spicy chipotle sauce and all. After lunch I received a text from my mom with extremely disheartening news. A good family friend had passed away unexpectedly the previous day. Before I left for abroad, I remember Julie telling me about her time in Florence. She raved about the city, rightfully so, and I just couldn't believe that I wouldn't be able to share my experiences with her once I returned to the states. I tried to continue on with the day knowing Julie would want me to enjoy Paris to the fullest; however, it became increasingly difficult. With a heavy heart, I sat in the Luxembourg Gardens counting my blessings. This was a huge reminder how precious life is, and how lucky I am to have all my loved ones accounted for. After wandering around the huge, beautiful gardens and relaxing in the warm sun, we made our way to the Eiffel Tour. We stumbled upon the monument just as the sun was setting and sat in the grass until the tower started to sparkle. The tower was absolutely stunning. Paris was dreamy.

Wednesday was our only full day in Paris and we had SO much to see. On the top of my personal list was the Palace of Versailles which is located far outside the city. Unfortunately, it didn't made the cut. Yet another city I'll need to return to. We opted to skip breakfast this morning in order to have more time to see the city. To begin the crazy busy day, we stared at Notre Dame. I've seen so many churches at this point, that it's hard to keep them straight in my mind. Like the others, Notre Dame was stunning. Large stain class panels, huge statues, and a beautiful exterior, it didn't disappoint. Next up, The Louve. I knew I would love this city... our student visa got us into all the museums FOR FREE! I'm running out of adjectives to describe various places, but the art inside The Louve was magnificent. The sheer size of the paintings, the size of entire walls, was mind blowing. After awhile, we stumbled upon the Mona Lisa. Seeing it in person was a little underwhelming, much like the IAmsterdam sign, but it was still worth fighting the crowd to get a glance. The Louve was incredibly large, so even after walking through the museum for two hours, we still hadn't seen everything. We decided to call it quits and head to our next attraction: the Arch de Triumph. We climbed the steps of the Arch and were able to see a panoramic view of Paris. Definitely one of my favorite parts of our visit. Next, we made our way to the Sacre-Coeur, a beautiful basilica located on the highest point of Paris. We went inside the Roman Catholic Church for a look around. I decided to light a candle and say a prayer for Julie, her family, and everyone that felt affected by her passing. To end the night, Josie and I decided we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle one last time. Just as we walked up to the Seine, the tower lit up. It was the perfect way to end our stay in Paris. By the end of the day, Josie and I walked 15.2 miles and 42,000 steps. My feet were killing me and my bed was calling my name.

Our flight was extremely early so we were awake and moving by 4:30am. By the time we arrived in our final city, Nice, we were all beat. It was raining when we got there, typical, so we decided to take a much needed nap. This airbnb was the best one we've had so far as each of had our own big, clean beds to sleep in. One more of our friends, Kalyn, was meeting us in Nice for the weekend to celebrate her 21st birthday, so we had some time to kill before she arrived. For dinner tonight, we picked a random bar, Wayne's, without knowing anything about it. We ate decent food, but the real fun began when the live band started playing. I'm not sure when the whole restaurant went from sitting to standing, but before we knew it, the whole bar was standing on tables dancing to the music. This was by far the best night of spring break!

It was a late night, so we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little and let the rain pass. Like Brussels, we didn't have any set plans for Nice so we allowed ourselves to explore the city on our own pace. In the daylight, I could tell how charming the city was! Every building was bright and lively- painted in pastels. We sat by the Mediterranean for a long time, just enjoying the amazingly blue water and surprisingly clear skies. After sitting for a long time, just enjoying each others company, we saw the skies getting dark and decided to finish our outdoor activities. There was a large #ILoveNice sign that we snapped a few pictures in front of, and then climbed more stairs to see an amazing view of the city. At this point, it was safe to say that Nice was my favorite city of the whole spring break. For our last night in Nice and of spring break, we decided to take a cheap train to Monte Carlo to check out the gambling scene. So TECHNICALLY, I guess we went to 4 countries if you could Monaco for about 3 hours. None of us could actually afford to gamble, but it was interesting to see others participate. Monaco was absolutely unreal. The yachts, cars, and hotels that we saw were outrageous and over-the-top. I'm glad we went, even if just for a couple hours. With spring break coming to a close, even though this entire semester feels like spring break, I felt exhausted but so appreciative for all that I was able to experience. I went back to Florence closer to three girls that before two months ago, I had never met. I'm incredibly grateful for all the memories and laughs we shared together. These past ten days are definitely one's that I'll never forget.

WOW! That was a long post. Sorry for the excessive descriptions of my 10 days of travel and fun, but not only do I want to keep you (whoever is reading) in the loop, but I also don't ever want to forget my experiences abroad...

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