Category Archives: Travel

The Hunt for Scones: London Round 2

Warning:

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If you don’t like British guys turn back now.

So the last week in February was “winter break” in France. “Winter break?” you may ask. “Isn’t that the same thing as Christmas Break?” Well while the two may be synonymous in the US, in France winter break is an extra break for either one or two weeks at the end of February!

 

Don't question it
Don’t question it

So I decided to take full advantage of this fortuitous break and head over to the UK and visit London and Edinburgh… and a couple places in between.

I actually headed out to London by myself and spent the whole day wandering the city alone since the girl I was travelling with had class that day and wouldn’t arrive until late that evening. But since this wasn’t my first time in London I wasn’t worried. So after I hopped off the train and dropped my bags at the hostel I immediately went to Covent Garden, a cute little shopping area to buy some of Whittard’s Vanilla Shortbread tea which has to be the best tea I have ever had in my life – and I’ve had a lot of tea!!

I'm serious about my tea.
I’m quite serious about my tea.

Then I walked to this tea room I had looked up earlier, fully intending on grabbing lunch and then tea and scones there, but then I chickened out when I walked up to it. This would be my first time ever eating lunch by myself okay?

If only I could've had lunch and tea with these guys.
If only I could’ve had lunch and tea with these guys.

So I decided to go eat at Wagamama, an Asian noodle chain restaurant that is absolutely delicious. They don’t exist in Paris so that’s how I justified it. And so I ate lunch by myself for the first time (in a foreign country at that) and I survived!

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I was feeling quite proud of myself and independant at this moment so I mustered up the rest of my courage and walked back to the tea room and finally got to try scones in England, complete with clotted cream and jam.

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I was in food and tea heaven.
I felt as fancy as Tom Hiddleston
I felt as fancy as Tom Hiddleston

Then after my leisurely (two) meal(s) I decided to walk all the way to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater since it included a long stroll down the River Thames:

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Then I took a guided tour of the place complete with various theatrics and a summer camp full of kids cheering to “destroy” the “dragon” that was “burning” down the theater.

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In the gift shop I stumbled across the Shakespeare manga collection in the gift shop and I just had to take a picture:

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I’ll admit it. I bought “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was too unique to pass up!

After making my purchases, I walked all the way back to the British Museum. Man that was a long walk! The British Museum was thankfully free and I arrived just in time for a guided tour/explanation of the Rosetta Stone which is a stele inscribed with an official decree in three languages: Ancient Egypt hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. Since we already had knowledge of Ancient Greek, this stone tablet allowed us to begin to understand hieroglyphs!

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This rock is over 2000 years old.

I wandered past lots and lots of mummies… including Cleopatra’s!! and then stumbled across an exhibition on English propaganda during Napoleon’s time! As a French major and a history fan I laughed quite a bit:

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Napoleon would be the short guy.

Afterwards, it was pretty late I went back to my hostel to wait for my friend to arrive! My first day “travelling” by myself wasn’t too bad, but I was definitely feeling starved for human interaction by that evening!

The next day I re-did some of the typically touristy things such as the London Eye and the Tower of London with my travel buddy… and I stumbled across this in the Tube:

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The secret’s out!!
Nevermind. They've clearly known about this power they've held over us for quite some time...
Nevermind. They’ve clearly known about this power they’ve held over us for quite some time…

After the London Eye we went scone hunting which led us to a saturday market full of food… But no scones.

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I ended up grabbing some cheap, delicious Indian food for lunch, because the Brits understand Indian food a lot better than the French do!

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Following our first failure to find scones, we continued the hunt for the next hour, until we finally stumbled across a place that had tea and scones. Then I was presented with this conundrum:

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To add milk, or not to add milk to my Earl Grey tea?

Well, I added milk and didn’t really taste a difference…

Sherlock would have approved though
Sherlock would have approved though

But the scones were out of this world! One was with dark chocolate covered cherries and the other contained an assortment of fruits like apricots and blueberries!

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After our little tea break, we headed to the Tower of London to see the crown jewels (Moriarty wasn’t there unfortunately) and then we we went to Baker Street for dinner and passed by 221B Baker Street to find, much to my surprise, that the museum was still open!

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Then we had dinner at Nando’s, a Portuguese chicken restaurant chain that once again, does not exist in Paris! They have this wonderfully spicy lemon and herb sauce and I couldn’t go to London without stopping by again!

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The next day was essentially my whole reason for going back to London:

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The SHEEP. Just kidding, that’s Stonehenge in the background.

I’d always wanted to visit Stonehenge, but to tell you the truth I’d never had any idea where Stonehenge actually was! Turns out it’s only an hour or so outside of London, so I bought a ticket for a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath and basically got on a bus and was taken everywhere!

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After our little jaunt at Stonehenge we travelled to Bath, the location of Roman baths (hence the name) which were considered sacred at the time because they believed a goddess lived in the natural hot spring.

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My reason for going? It was also mentioned several times in Jane Austen’s novels as a chic vacation getaway!

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Of course I couldn’t leave England without eating Fish and Chips at least once:

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And then the next morning I woke up to an owl tapping at my window holding a letter in its beak… so off I went to Kings Cross Station!

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I will be continuing my study abroad at Hogwarts University!!!!

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But before heading off to my “new school,” I took a trip to Scotland which I will describe in my next blog post!

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Back in America For an Hour

This past weekend Sweet Briar, the program I’m studying abroad with, took us on a day trip to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

The land of the American cemetery was given to the Americans following WWII so I was technically back in the United States for a brief hour!

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Our professors even “allowed” us to speak English while we were there, except I forgot and kept speaking French.

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While there I realized that without the sacrifices of so many men and women, I would not be here in France today.

It is notoriously cold and windy in Normandy so the night before I had a conversation with my host family that went something like this:

Host Mom: “Emily, do you have a scarf?”

Me: “What? Of course I do!”

Host Mom: “No, like a real scarf and not just one that looks pretty? One made out of wool or something to keep you warm?”

Me: “Ha. No I don’t have one.”

Host Mom: “What about a bonnet?”

Me: “A what?”

Host Mom: “You know like a hat!”

Me: “Uh no.”

Host Mom: “Well what about gloves? Do you have any gloves?”

Me: “I’m from Texas…”

I'm sorry that I'm Texan and I don't understand the cold!!
I’m sorry that I’m Texan and I don’t understand the cold!!

Basically, my host family ended up lending me their ski wardrobe, which I was very thankful for because despite the clear skies and the sun, the beaches were still freezing cold and windy!

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Showing off my mittens

We were also accompanied by a couple of tour guides who didn’t really do much besides walk us down the beach and point out a couple memorials with all of the information about the landings written down on them.

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Our first view from the beach

We walked through the part known as Omaha Beach, where some of the American forces landed during the Allied invasion of German-Occupied France.

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I really like this seafoam

Then of course, no visit anywhere is complete without seeing and photographing the local inhabitants of today:

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Thank you hand, for distracting the cat long enough for me to snap a picture

Cultural Remark: French dogs are remarkably well behaved. Seriously, dogs get on the metro all the time and most don’t try to run after other dogs or show any interest in passing by pedestrians!

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Our trip to Normandy was in brief, very short. We spent about two hours total on the beach itself before we had to head back to the train station in Caen to catch our train back to Paris.

This past week I’ve also still been super busy with my internship here and a bunch of applications for internships and advising have come out recently so I’ve been working away on them instead of updating my blog like I should!

But I promise…

scotland

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Prague: Defenestrations and Lots of Meat

This past weekend I jumped on a plane and travelled to Prague with a couple other students from my program. During the month of December, Prague has their celebrated Christmas markets and I was lucky enough to find a hostel just off of Old Town Square. We arrived at night time, checked into our hostel, and then headed out to find dinner.

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But not before stopping for a few pictures in Old Town Square. On the left is the Astronomical Clock and on the right is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

We stumbled upon a cute little restaurant off of the square and once we had sat down and ordered drinks, the question of the evening became “Are these things edible?”

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They were pretzels… I think, but no one else at the other tables touched them. Also we weren’t entirely sure how long they’d been there.

 

They had a list of Czech specialties on the menu so I decided to try goulash with bread dumplings.

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It was really good, but I have to admit the “dumplings” were a little odd. Czech dumplings are like extremely dense and chewy pieces of bread. Ideal for soaking up goulash soup, but very heavy.

 

Unfortunately Czechs don’t label their menus very well and I was too stupid to ask if the apple strudel we had for dessert contained nuts so I spent the night throwing up.

The next morning was beautiful though and we planned to meet up with our other friends in front of the Astronomical Clock and then take the free tour that our hostel offered.

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Me in front of the Christmas Markets and Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

However, it turned out that the friends I had come with had no interest in history, or actually seeing anything in Prague besides the castle so I was like:

Yeah I'm going on the tour. Bye!
Yeah I’m going on the tour. Bye!

So I went on the free tour all by myself which started off at the Astronomical Clock:

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And then we walked through the Jewish Quarter and everything on that side of the river. I was unfortunately too distracted by my guide’s excellent storytelling (and his attractive face) to take many pictures. Defenestration is now my favorite word in the English dictionary. It means to throw someone out of a window and apparently the act is quite addictive for the Czechs and Bohemians.

Part of the reason I’m so interested in the history of Prague is due to A Discovery of Witches and the series by Deborah Harkness. It’s quite possibly my favorite series ever. In the second book the main character travels back in time to Elizabethan England and she ends up spending quite a bit of time in the court of Rudolf II in Prague. Basically, he was the slightly crazy Holy Roman Emperor with a penchant for collecting oddities, especially one related to the occult. His lifelong quest was apparently to find the Philosopher’s Stone and thus caused the science of alchemy to flourish in the city.

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Old Town Square and the Christmas Markets again

So I was understandably quite upset to learn that the Swedes sacked Prague in 1648, stealing all of Rudolf II’s collections where they remain to this day in Stockholm. I guess I’ll just have to plan a trip to Stockholm now because the Codex Gigas (Devil Bible) is just too creepy to miss!

The Jewish Quarter itself was spectacular even though the reasons behind its excellent preservation are rather sinister. Hitler had planned for Prague’s Jewish Quarter to be a tourist attraction and museum for the “extinct civilization”…

After the tour was over I went to lunch with two friends I had met on the tour and by this point I was definitely thinking that solo travel might not be so bad. Free tours and hostels really give you the opportunity to meet like minded people and since you’re travelling on your own, you can do whatever you want to!

For lunch I ended up having another Czech specialty: roast duck, with more bread dumplings and a side of cabbage… possibly. I wasn’t quite sure.

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The duck and cabbage were fantastic, but I think I was only able to eat one of the dumplings because they were so heavy!

 

Then I headed over to the other side of the river with my new friends…

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It was kind of nasty weather all day, but that just meant that the city looked even more mysterious!

 

And we stopped to see the John Lennon wall, which was quite recently painted over all in white by some students in order to allow “new messages” from this generation to be painted.

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It was still stunning.

 

Then we headed back across the river in the direction of our hostel and we stumbled across a building in Old Town Square with the name DALI written in big letters. Turns out it was a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali, Alphonse Mucha, and Andy Warhol!

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Melting clocks! (Dali)
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Just me and some Warhol’s

 

The next day I decided to go off with my new friends (instead of the friends I came with) and I went on another guided tour by the same group, but this one was dedicated to the castle and the other side of the river.

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View over Prague.

 

Lots of interesting stories followed as we meandered through the castle, a monastery, and the remnants of communist authority in Prague.

Then I went to lunch and had another Czech specialty: Chicken Schnitzel!

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It was fantastic. The Czechs really love meat.

 

Then I saw potato dumplings on the menu and decided that I had to try them in place of the bread dumplings. I shouldn’t have done it.

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I think I was only able to eat one. They tasted just like the bread dumplings: heavy, chewy, and dense, but they were made out of potatoes this time.

 

Then I spent the rest of my time in Prague just wandering around the Christmas Markets and the area around Old Town Square.

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Here’s a close up of the Christmas tree!

 

And then grabbed a latte, because I’m a coffee addict, before heading back to the airport.

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This is the definition of beauty.

 

All in all Prague was amazing and I wish that I’d had more time to go inside each and every synagogue and church. I’m so thankful that I had the courage to break off from the group and go on that tour by myself, because I was able to make two new friends and generally have a much better experience than if I had stayed with the group whose interests differed so much from my own!

Now I just have a week left in Paris before I visit a friend in Spain and then head home for Christmas break!

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David, Gondolas, and More Gelato: Italy Part Two

Day two in Florence started off with a croissant and cappuccino at our hostel. Italian croissants are actually quite different from their French cousins as they are a bit denser and sweeter like brioche. (Here are some links to the first part of my vacation to Athens and then the first half of Italy)

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My cappuccino probably started out with a cute little heart in it… Then I added sugar.

Then we headed over to meet David.

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I was overjoyed. One more bucket list item crossed off!

Then we visited the Medici Chapel and haggled our way through Florence’s famous leather market before grabbing lunch at the jam packed  Trattoria Da Mario where we were thankfully able to find seats in the basement. I ordered the Tuscan pot roast which was a fantastic decision. The meat fell apart under my fork.

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Then when we were walking through the streets we stumbled upon another Grom, an Italian gelato chain.

Me spotting Grom
Me spotting Grom
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I got the crema come una volta again, sticking with my favorite creamy lemon flavor.Oh and that’s the Duomo in the background.

We wandered over to Santa Croce next and said hi to Michaelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. (They’re buried there) and then ate some fantastic cannoli at this giant open air market in front of the Basilica that was there for a festival or something.

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Then we promptly worked off the cannoli by climbing up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a superb view over the city at sunset.

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I had some authentic Italian minestrone soup for dinner, partly because I had started to come down with a cold that day!

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Florence was probably my favorite city of the trip. It was significantly smaller than Rome, which was nice and I loved the Tuscan colors and vibe that surrounded the city. Also living next to Botticelli and David would not be such a bad thing!

The next day we took another train to Venice. Wow. Don’t ever believe people when they tell you that Venice is disappointing. It was everything I thought it would be and more:

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Don’t judge me, but one of the first things that popped into my head was actually a Pokemon movie I had watched years ago that takes place in a fictional Venice!

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My inner nerd had a ball in this city.

We dropped our bags off at our final hostel and grabbed some lunch:

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More pasta because well… Italy.

And no lunch would be complete without the dessert that follows:

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I don’t even know what flavor it is, but it was good.

Then we visited Saint Mark’s square, the basilica, and the Doge’s palace all at once. Thank goodness we were at the very end of tourist season because there weren’t any lines at all!

I guess the only thing that disappointed me about Venice was the lack of high speed chases going on. After watching The Italian Job I guess I had expected Venice to look like this:

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Picture from our gondola ride.

Then thanks to Yelp we found a “fast food” Italian pasta place that served their pasta in cute little to go containers like this:

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Sorry for the low quality picture! Streets in Venice are pretty dark

The next morning I had another latte macchiato:

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And then on the way to the ferry station we stumbled across a mask store where we spent at least an hour, trying on the various Venetian masks. They were all absolutely beautiful, but pictures were not allowed in the stores.

Next we caught a ferry over to Murano island, which is famous for it’s glass which can be found all over Italy. We followed the signs to watch a free glass blowing demonstration:

That's a horse.
That’s a horse.

We ate lunch on Murano and the restaurant’s specialty was asparagus risotto:

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Guess what I had for dessert?

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You guessed right. One of these was milk flavored, which honestly didn’t taste like much since I was sick.

However I was able to taste the cannoli I ate later that day!

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There was candied fruit on the inside!

I spent the rest of the day, wandering through Venice’s narrow, winding streets. The tiny streets seemed magical during the day, but downright dangerous at night as some of them would cut off into dead ends with no warning. Venice was wonderful to visit, but I don’t think I could ever live there.

For my last dinner in Italy I had more pasta:

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However, it was spicy pasta which did wonders for my clogged sinuses!

The next morning we left bright and early to head back to Paris. I have to admit, I was very glad to be back, especially since I’d been sick the last 3 days. Travelling quickly is efficient, especially for college students on a budget, but it sure was stressful having to change cities every two days.

Some final notes:

When you’re traveling:

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Every day is leg day.

Seriously. I don’t even want to think about the number of stairs I walked up to have “picturesque” view or see some ruins.

2. Gelato isn’t vegan:

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My inner nerd is running loose.

 

3. Italian coffee is so good it will ruin all other coffee for you:

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This is hypnotizing.

But actually, I was really early for class just the other day so I decided to have my first ever Starbucks in France. I got a mocha latte. I swear I couldn’t tell if it was just hot chocolate or if there actually was coffee in it. Conclusion: Italy ruined Starbucks.

My #basicbitch inner white girl is dead
My #basicbitch inner white girl is dead

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Macchiatos, Gelato, and Pasta: Italy Part One

The next part of my Fall break (from my classes at the Sorbonne if you missed my first post about my vacation in Athens) involved a Ryanair flight to Rome, which if you’ve heard of the famed budget airline, was not actually that bad! We immediately dropped our bags off at the hostel, (which had suprisingly given us a free upgrade to a private room so essentially we were paying 25 euros a night for a hotel!) and walked past this thing:

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Is this something important? Cause I just wanted a picture in Rome…

before heading to our first meal in Italy…

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Essentially fresh tomato basil pasta, but made even better with fresh, delicious Italian pasta.

I inhaled it.

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But actually

Next we wandered around the Colosseum for a little bit getting to see the other half of the ancient world. (first half = Greece)

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Then we walked around the area, stopping by the Pantheon and souvenir shopping before grabbing dinner at a pizza place:

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Those are thin slices of ham I think and it tasted a lot better than it looked I promise.

Then we dropped by Castel Sant’Angelo to relive Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. (without the grisly murders of course) I highly recommend the book, but not the movie.

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That night we suffered from Rome’s 2 line only metro system and had to walk all the way back to our hostel. But there was a 5 star Yelp rated gelato place on the way which made everything better.

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Firsr gelato in Italy: Chocolate and Original Cream flavored which was amazing.

This was where I realized that I could never live in Italy. When I was deciding what to order I made it very clear to the vendor that I was allergic to nuts. He assured me that there were no nuts in his favorite flavor and let me sample it. It tasted fantastic so I asked for a scoop of it and a scoop of cookies and cream. Of course, even the vendor didn’t realize that Italians even put nuts in their cookies and cream gelato. Stupid biscotti. I had my medicine on me though and got some new gelato after explaining to the woman at the register that I would actually die if I ate the gelato. Thank goodness I never go anywhere without Benadryl!

Of course that could actually be said for Italy as a whole.
Of course that could actually be said for Italy as a whole.

The next day we woke up bright and early and beat the crowd into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, but then had to wait an hour and a half to see the Sistine Chapel:

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It was a really long line.

The entire museum was just a massive river of people pushing through hallways full of art to get to the Sistine Chapel. The museum itself wasn’t actually enjoyable because of that, but the Sistine Chapel was stunning.

Basically Italian pasta = god.
Basically Italian pasta = god.

Then we checked out Yelp again for places to eat in the area and before we knew it we were sitting down at a restaurant that had “cheek fat” pasta on the menu. I blame poor translation.

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My cheeks and my cheek fat pasta. It was delicious and the “cheek fat” tasted a lot like ham.

We spent the rest of the day wandering through souvenir shops and various stately monuments for one thing or another. That’s the thing that struck me most about Rome. Rome was big and flashy in the classical sense. Everywhere you turned there was a new, majestic monument. I loved it! If only their transportation system was as advanced as the metro in Paris -I’ve been spoiled!

We had our daily dose of gelato from Grom, an Italian chain that is superb.

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Cafe and Crema Come Una Volta which was basically Grom’s original cream flavor, which has nothing to do with vanilla at all. It actually tastes lemony.

Then we headed back to the Pantheon for some Italian caffeine in the form of a 1.10 euro Latte Macchiatto. If it wasn’t for my nut allergy, the coffee alone would be reason enough for me to move to Italy. In Paris a decent latte costs around 5 euros!

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I only wished they had large sizes because after I scooped the delicious froth out with my spoon I was like:

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That was it for Rome and the next day we took a train to Florence and said hi to Fake David…

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Hi Fake David

Before heading to the famous deli All’Antico Vinaio that made me the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. When I stepped inside the friendly man behind the counter asked me what I wanted and I told him that I had absolutely no idea, but that I’d heard that their truffle sauce was good.

“Have you ever tried truffles?” he asked.

“No,” I said slightly ashamed, shaking my head. I don’t think I’d ever even seen it on a menu.

He cut me a piece of bread and slathered some truffle sauce on it. “Here try this and tell me what you think.”

It was a unique flavor, but delicious and I told him so. He then proceeded to make a sandwich putting in what he thought was best.

I'm not sure what's in it besides truffle sauce and buffalo mozzarella.
So I’m not sure what’s in it besides truffle sauce and buffalo mozzarella.

That entire sandwich only cost 5 euros. Totally made my day.

After that we headed into the Uffizi Galleries where I hung out with Botticelli and my favorite painting. (The Birth of Venus) Then we climbed the top of the Duomo’s bell tower where I was gifted with this magnificent view:

IMG_4013 We had to take a break after (those stairs were rough!) so logically we found some more gelato:

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If you haven’t noticed by now, gelato is to us what pie is to Dean Winchester. If it was ever nearing the end of a day where we hadn’t eaten gelato, the group would get antsy and start to look like this:

It's a necessity to life
It’s a necessity to life. Just like coffee.

We stopped by a cafe before dinner because the restaurant didn’t even open until 7 (silly Italians) and I ordered a macchiato expecting the typical tall, milky, coffee beverage and getting this instead:

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Basically an espresso shot with a tiny bit of milk.

A quick Google search later and I’d received my first lesson on Italian coffee. What I had just ordered was indeed a macchiato because an American macchiato (Starbucks caramel macchiato anyone?) is actually a latte macchiato, but we usually drop the “latte” when ordering.

When the restaurant finally opened I had some delicious ragout for dinner:

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Can you tell I really like pasta yet?

That was the end of day one in Florence and we headed back to our hostel too exhausted to even think about the supposed Turkish bath they had in the basement. Next time Florence, next time.

Stay tuned for the other half of Florence and then Venice: aka more pasta, gelato, and coffee!

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