Spring Break – Florence (Part II)

Pursuing a lighter morning in Florence after the night we had in Cinque Terre, my friends and I dropped our plan to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David statue, and instead opted for some much needed sleep.  We spent our morning walking from our hotel, across the famous Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, to the Boboli Gardens on the other side of the Arno.


Ponte Vecchio, reaching across Florence’s river, the Arno


Giardino di Boboli

The sun, confirming our pressed-for-time decision to visit the gardens instead of the museum, shone over the sprawling estate of the Giardino di Boboli.  For 10€, tickets included entrance to the gardens, a small porcelain museum, and a costume gallery.  The manicured plants with accompanying statues and fountains made for a pleasant stroll, but the highlight of the gardens was the view from the terrace at the rear of the property.  The most elevated point of the complex yielded perspectives of both the city of Florence and the Tuscan countryside.


Though my friends and I planned for the gardens, we spent more time than expected in the Pitti Palace costume gallery.  This low-profile feature celebrated Italian women in fashion and design.  I was interested in learning about a few lesser known women in fashion history, and could not pull myself away from the outfits and accessories on display.


Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella

My travel research on the city of Florence led me to the discovery of a less popular tourist attraction: the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.  Established in 1612, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy is one of the oldest operating pharmacies in the world.  It offers an authentic, back-in-time experience with both corresponding and contrasting products.  One can purchase anything from (almost) original formula stress-relieving mints to up-to-date night creams.  With a price range from 5€ to too much, anyone can bring home a piece of 17th century Florence.


Gucci Museo


Continuing on with our under-the-radar destinations, my friends and I visited the Gucci Museum for a story of true Florentine fashion.  The Friday night reduced rate of 5€ granted us access to all four floors of the museum, displaying chronologically the story of Guccio Gucci.  From luggage, to cars, to handbags, to gowns, visitors learned of the evolution of the Gucci brand and its relationship and impact on the creative world today.  One of my favorite parts of the museum was the Film Foundation feature.  Because of Gucci’s partnership with the Film Foundation, working specifically on film restoration, a room of the museum was dedicated to a generous loop of restored film clips.  A similar experience to that of the costume museum in the Boboli Gardens, it was a pleasant surprise to be interested in an aspect other than what I had anticipated.


Trattoria ZàZà

Students studying in Florence recommended Trattoria ZàZà for dinner, an affordable restaurant with an absurdly long menu.  As soon as we sat down, I could tell it was an establishment designed for abroad students: the menu was available via QR code in over five languages, the cheesy decor and dim lighting made it feel like an oversized bar, and there was not a diner over the age of 30.  To share, my friends and I ordered truffle fries, off of their specific Truffle Menu, which were tasty but were in need of more truffle, and baked peppers in special ZàZà sauce, which were bland.  I got a calzone that appeared huge but was really just full of air, and tasted not at all like I was in Italy.  ZàZà is great for a large, specifically international group looking to eat cheap, but the rest of us can do much better.



Destination Locations



Pace, Amore, Firenze


Week 8/9 – Recap

I am academically halfway!  It’s crazy to consider that I’ve finished learning two entire semesters of Spanish in just eight weeks.  I’m excited to be completing my classes and improving my Spanish skills, but regretful to realize that my time abroad is truly flying by.  In my two months of residency in Spain, I’ve also developed conflicting feelings about the people, country, and culture.

Studying abroad has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  I have learned a lot about myself from both the triumphs and the challenges.  Without years of hard work, patience, focus, and support from family (thank you, Mema and PopPop, for your generosity, and help in making my travels possible), I would not have been able to pursue my passions of exploration and discovery.  I am infinitely grateful to have the opportunity to analyze foreign behaviors, and consequently, analyze myself.  For as easily as I have accepted Madrid as my new environment, however, there are some things, both theoretical and physical, that, as an American, I still value.  With the upmost acceptance and affection for Spain, I list some constructive complaints, followed by a few compliments, that I may have to learn to live with should I decide to make Europe my future home.



  • Smoking and then going to the gym seems dysfunctional to me.  I don’t care what you do to your body, but when it affects mine, as I smell a mix of sweat and smoke seeping out of your pores from the next treadmill over, we have a problem.
  • Best $9.99 I’ve ever spent.  My BRITA filter water bottle compensates for the disappointing and inconvenient absence of water fountains in this country.
  • Peanut butter alone requires a map and a good recommendation to obtain, so you can forget about finding Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.
  • I drink it when I’m sick. I drink it when I’m tired.  I drink it want to be healthy on-the-go and I’m too lazy to cut up an apple. Though not always as nutritionally beneficial as they seem, tasty Naked Juice does not exist in Spain
  • Between Auntie Anne’s and Philly Pretzel Factory, I’ve never experienced soft-pretzel withdrawal.  I guess Spain is too far from Germany to have adopted the salty snack.
  • “If we had them, they’d be in the aisle with the Mexican food.” Jalepeños are universal, Spain!
  • So maybe Goldfish are a stretch, but can I at least have Cheeze-Its!?
  • It’s mid-March and I am no closer to getting a Shamrock Shake. I know I already complained about it, and I know it’s only for one month. But still.
  • I’m not going to blame Spain for neglecting cottage cheese.  It’s definitely not an international favorite, though it is one of my favorites.
  • Grapes?  You can find them in most grocery stores.  Seedless grapes?  Nothing in Spain is that easy.  Except the metro.



  • The Madrid metro is the closest thing to perfect in Spain.  Even though it closes at 1:30 a.m. every day of the week, the signage is clear and the fares are cheap.
  • Topping any street-style, best dressed list, Spanish fashion, or European fashion in general, is simply better.
  • You haven’t had hot chocolate until you’ve had San Ginés, but even Spain’s grocery store mix is good!
  • Tapas=snacking=my kind of eating.  Though I don’t like what is served, I like how it’s served.  I prefer small meals throughout the day to a large dinner, so tapas are perfect for my snacker’s appetite.  I do miss, however, being satisfyingly full after a good, home-cooked meal.


These observations are only the beginning!  With an entire second half of the semester to go, I am well-adjusted to my new life, prepared for new experiences, and eager to discover more about, Madrid, Spain, and counties beyond.


Paz, Amor, Madrid


Week 2 – Recap

While winter storm Jonas slammed the Northeastern United States this past weekend, I am giving thanks for the exact opposite in Madrid.  We have been blessed with a few mild days, contrasting the snowy circumstances of most of my friends and family in America.  With the recent temperature increase as my guide, I think it is safe to say that I will not see snow this winter.  A piece of me would have appreciated looking out of my bedroom window on a pristine, 2-foot blanket of snow, but the rest of me is enjoying a cool breeze and the sunshine of Spain.

Winter, though, is not over, as I continue to see Spaniards bundled up and prepared for any weather.  Blending in with Madrid’s street-style was a top priority of mine, and though some of my ideas of Spanish appearance were incorrect, I am proud to say I have packed prepared to fit in.  After two weeks, and miles of city walking, I feel qualified to report on my first impressions of this season’s Spanish style and winter wear in Madrid.


Hair and Makeup

The high ponytail is here! Spanish women style this look either entirely clean and slicked back, or parted down the middle with volume.  When hair is down, women often opt for straight or natural waves, occasionally dyed lighter with highlights or ombré.  There has also been a surprising number of women with rainbow-colored hair- estimated ages from 15 to 85!

Young or old, makeup is heavy and dark.  Thick, winged eyeliner, smokey eyes, dark lips, and heavy foundation can be found on nearly every face.  Cosmetic habits, though, are often dictated by the season, winter makeup looks may change with the approaching warmer weather.



Is it a small blanket or a large scarf?  Oversized scarves are a Madrid winter staple. Often a plaid pattern, these scarves are functional, effectively blocking the January chill.

Spanish women keep their jewelry simple, opting for studs and a thin bracelet (no Alex-and-Ani-filled wrists here!), with the occasional statement necklace.



Oh, the outerwear.  Spanish women have the best winter coats!  From wool to leather to fur, in classic black, neutral blush, or warm grey, as a jacket, cape, or vest, the options are endless. Rather than a cover over clothing to stay warm, the Spaniards seem to regard a jacket as a part of the outfit, integrating it into the day’s look.



Though it is not easy to observe entire outfits when they are trapped beneath winter coats, watching from the waist-down reveals has revealed several trends.  Spaniards work their wardrobes double time (which is necessary to do with such a lack of space for clothes) by wearing wintery black tights under warm-weather shorts or skirts.  They seem to further ignore the cold with cropped pants and exposed ankles, most commonly paired with sneakers.  This look coveys a sporty playfulness, contrasting their usual luxe and polished appearance.



Everyone owns a pair of white sneakers (But the right kind of white sneakers. If you have to ask if you have the correct white sneakers to wear in Madrid, do not wear them).  Unsurprisingly, adidas Originals, like Stan Smiths, are the tennis shoe of choice, but other trending athleisure shoes, such as Nike Roches and Air Force 1’s, are common as well.

*Note:  I have not seen any Converse sneaker on a Spaniard.  To the average onlooker, they may blend in, but the locals will know that you’re an American.

If a Spanish woman is not sporting a sneaker, she is most likely wearing ankle boots. Be it black or brown, leather or suede, flats or heels, these shoes can do it all.  Dressed up or dressed down, versatile ankle boots are perfect for a Spaniard’s … but practical style.  Below-the-knee riding boots are not as popular as their half-heighted counterparts, though a few Spanish fashionistas have dared to try the over-the-knee trend, and have, of course, made it work.

Contrary to my personal belief, the Spaniards do not apply their “No pasa nada” (No big deal) lifestyle to their appearance.  Cold or mild, winter storm Jonas or not, the people in Madrid always look their best.  With winter rebajas, or sales, coming to end, it’s time to pick up some new clothes and step up my street-style game.


Paz, Amor, Madrid