The Island of Beyond is Heartwarming, Engaging, and Remarkably Relevant

Last winter, I had the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Atkinson’s heartwarming story, The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. The middle-grade author has released her newest title, The Island of Beyond, a charming story of adventure, friendship and so much more.

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Eleven-year old Martin is perfectly content spending his summer playing video games or perfecting his toy soldier town of Martinville. But his father has other ideas. He believes that Martin should be “more of a boy.” Go on adventures, explore the great outdoors, and most importantly, try new things.

Which is exactly why his parents have decided that he will be spending his summer with with his great aunt on the island of Beyond.

“Listen to me, Martin. This is a chance of a lifetime. You’ll get to spend an entire month doing all kinds of amazing things- learning to climb the highest tree and catching enormous frogs and holding your breath for two whole minutes while you explore the bottom of the lake.”

To Martin, this sounds like a complete nightmare.  While he has lived in the comforting suburbs of Delaware his whole life, Beyond is more than just a change of scenery for him.  Aunt Lenore’s house is one of the very few left on the island, and with no cable or cell service, there is little connection to the outside world. Not only has the house itself begun to fall apart in time, but Aunt Lenore has become senile and forgetful with age. So although his father claims to have spent the best years of his own childhood here, he isn’t quite so sure.

His first couple of days on the island are anything but pleasant.  That is, until he meets Solo, the mysterious local boy who he has been warned about. Martin is deeply intrigued by Solo – perhaps because this boy is everything that Martin isn’t – he is brave and fearless, independent, and totally at ease with himself, the wilderness, and the world. He finds himself looking forward to their daily adventures together.

During his summer, Martin learns that not everything, or everyone, is always as it seems.  Solo isn’t just a wild boy who can teach him how to canoe, swim, and climb trees. His unexpected friendship with Solo is unique and special ; allowing for Martin to grow, to gain a sense of wonder for the world, become more confident in himself, it even teaches him how to love. And as for old Aunt Lenore – she isn’t crazy at all, but surprisingly intuitive. Aunt Lenore tells Martin that he has it – a genuine curiosity for the world. He’s smart and eager.  He’s different than other boys at that age. Nothing like his father was at his age. And that’s a good thing, she assures him.

Martin finds something he has been searching for for a very long time -Acceptance. “I had never felt more like myself than I did here. No one acted like I wasn’t normal. I could be whoever I wanted to be.” Middle-age readers can resonate with the protagonist’s desire to fit in, as well as his quest to conquer some of his deepest fears. However, readers of all ages can relate to Martin’s quest to accept himself for who he is.

Atkinson’s ability to craft beautiful stories with an underlying message is what truly makes her stand out as an author to me. She understands her audience perfectly -their strengths and weaknesses, even their biggest fears. She knows what they want to say and puts into words for them.

Younger readers will surely appreciate the mystery and unexpected twists of the story. For the child who could benefit from pausing the video game, The Island of Beyond is a book that will surely entertain. But with its captivating message, the novel will appeal to readers far beyond its middle-age audience.

You can purchase her book on Amazon.

For more information about her books and author visits, visit Elizabeth Atkinson’s website.

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Dear Juliet : My Journey to Verona

While in Italy, I decided to take a little trip by myself to Verona,  Italy.

Verona is where Shakespeare’s beloved novel, Romeo & Juliet took place. I was especially intrigued to visit Verona after learning about Club di Giulietta, or Juliet’s Club.

People from all over the world write to Juliet to share their stories of love and heart break and to ask for her advice. For more information about Club di Giuletta, I encourage you to take a look at this article  here.

So although my journey may not be one of heartbreak or love I  decided to write this blog post in letter form to Juliet. Happy reading.

Dear Juliet,

As much as I love to travel, I will be the first to admit that the idea of traveling alone is a little frightening. This summer, my brother spent two weeks backpacking through Europe by himself. When he first proposed his idea to me – an intricately planned journey through England and Iceland – I thought he was crazy!  But when he came back home with so many amazing stories, I was truly inspired.

As ready as I was to broaden my horizons and set my foot in a new country, I had my doubts. The idea of studying in Italy sounded exciting but the idea of leaving everything I knew behind was a little frightening – and it was a huge step for me.

I have always loved to explore new places, but not often on my own. Just the thought made me incredibly anxious. But while studying abroad in Italy, there were places I wanted to visit. And there just wasn’t always someone to visit these places with.

So rather than wait around and find someone to go with, I decided that Verona was one of the places I would visit on my own.

Verona is located only two hours from Florence by train. Although I wasn’t traveling a long distance, I was doing something that I truly wanted to do and not letting anything stop me.- not any of my doubts, and certainly not my anxiety.

On a rainy Friday morning, I stepped foot in Verona. I checked into my hotel , I received a map from the concierge and headed to Piazza Bra. 

Located right in the middle of the piazza is Arena di Verona, a conserved roman amphitheater. It was fascinating to witness something that had been so carefully preserved after years and years.

Then, I  headed towards my main destination, the Club di Giuletta,  hoping that I could finally respond to at least a couple of the many beautiful letters that are sent to you. Just for one day, Juliet, I was hoping to be one of your personal secretaries!

But my destination was actually a lot more difficult to find than I had anticipated.I asked people on the street for directions,  and most of them had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, or they thought I was looking for the house of Juliet. Nobody knew anything about this  so-called”club”.. So here I found myself lost in the middle of little Verona.

Yet being lost was an experience in itself that I actually do not regret one bit…

I met quite a few interesting people, and every one of them tried to help me as best as they could. I met one really friendly young Italian woman who spoke English was more than happy to help me. I told her what I was looking for,and as we walked we talked for a while. She was also living in Florence and was currently visiting Verona for the wine festival.

She led me to the House of Juliet. Although it wasn’t what I was looking for, it was really nice of her to take the time to walk me there.  I saw the wall where thousands of people have left notes and pictures for you. And of course, your statue that is believed to good luck. 13487299_1394084887274034_565166881_n

We agreed we would stay in touch, and after we parted ways, I was still determined to find what I was looking for. Later during the day, I wandered back to the street where my map had first led me, and sure enough, I found it! I must have missed it because it was almost hidden, set back from the rest of the street in a stone alcove. I had made it there just ten minutes before it closed!

So unfortunately, while I did not get the opportunity to respond to any of the physical letters, one of the secretaries informed me that the club receives thousands of emails written to you, Juliet.After I told her about how much I loved to write, she encouraged me to leave my email address with her so that she could send me some of these letters and I could respond to them.

I was mostly inspired to visit Verona because it’s where your story took place.As I am beginning to discover new things, people, and places on my own, I couldn’t be more content.

Thank you Juliet for giving me this opportunity to venture out on my own and truly enjoy every moment in Verona.

Yours truly,

Lisa

P.S. Of all the places I have visited in Italy,  Verona remains one of my favorites. “Parting is such  sweet sorrow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Athens : Discovering Beauty Amongst the Ruins

Not all of my spring break was spent relaxing on the beautiful island of Corfu. This past week, I was also able to spend some time in Athens, Greece.

greece4For years, Greece has been facing  severe economic hardship. These hardships are more evident in some areas than others. While I was in Corfu, I was taken aback by the beauty that surrounded me. While I noticed some abandoned buildings here and there, I wasn’t able to truly witness the  devastation until I visited Athens.

Greece currently has the highest poverty rate in Europe – an estimated 20,000 are homeless- and as I walked through the streets of Athens I was able to witness this crisis firsthand, especially during the night time.  There were countless people -even young children- sleeping on every side walk and street corner.  It was truly heartbreaking and devastating to witness.

So why would anyone want to visit Athens? The city may not be the most beautiful in the world, and is instead poor, decayed, and suffering. But traveling is all about gaining a full understanding of the world in its entirety, both the good and the bad. While it was  saddening to witness the crippling poverty and other impacts of the Greek recession, it certainly made me put things into perspective.

Athens is rich in history and culture. The city of Athens is built entirely among ancient ruins. There are ancient temples preserved amid  bustling shopping centers.We  visited Kerameikos, an ancient cemetery right in the middle of the city.

The ancient ruins are perfectly woven into modern Greek society. The Acropolis- literally – nearly blew me away. Among these monuments, the Parthenon was the most magnificent. It was amazing to visit something that I had previously only read about in textbooks.

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We also visited Aeropagus, or Mars Hill, where, according to the bible, Apostle Joseph stood preached  Christianity to the people of Athens.

It’s the little things that made Athens beautiful to me. Like how the Acropolis lights up at night, standing proud and tall over the city below. The way the people here welcome you with open arms. Sitting in an authentic Greek restaurant trying new foods – tzatziki, kebab, gyros, and more. Witnessing beautiful street art and walking through ancient ruins that have been so carefully preserved. I am truly grateful to have experienced Athens.

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Corfu and the Curse of the Pink Palace

On most spring breaks, I head back from school to my hometowm of Smithfield, Rhode Island and spend the week sleeping, watching Netflix, and catching up with a couple friends from home. Nothing too exciting.

This spring break, however, was one for the books.  I had the opportunity to travel to Greece with some of my best friends. After a 4 hour bus ride and a 19 hour boat ride we finally made it to our first destination – Corfu!

“Sexy ladies!” is the greeting we received  upon groggily stumbling off the boat. Socrates was our enthusiastic, sometimes comical, always crazy bus driver. He would be transporting us from the ferry to the Pink Palace, as well as any day trips we took from the Pink Palace while we were in Corfu. Bus rides with him were a little frightening – he always drove way above the speed limit – and they were never boring – it seemed like he was known by every inhabitant of Corfu.

As we neared our destination, I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the beautiful blue ocean in front of me. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.I knew then that Corfu would become one of my favorite places in the world.

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The Pink Palace was unlike any hotel / hostel I have ever stayed at. All of the buildings were pink and if you walked down the 121 Pink Palace steps, you would arrive at the Pink Palace Palladium.

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This is where we ate dinner and had our legendary Toga party – We were given ugly satin pink sheets that we each made into toga dresses – this wasn’t as easy as it sounds – and we participated in the traditional Greek plate smashing ceremony. Opa!

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Further down past the palladium – and the endless lemon and orange trees- were more hotel rooms, a Jacuzzi, a beach bar, and of course- the beach. We spent a lot of time walking the beach, collecting sea glass, laying on the deck getting our tan – or for me, my burn- on.corfu4

After three days at the Pink Palace, we departed for Athens (see my next blog post, as I think my experience here deserves a separate  post on its own). Leaving the Pink Palace was bittersweet – I loved spending my days by the beach and our nights dancing away at the Palladium. As we boarded the Pink Palace bus for the last time, I had a feeling that I would someday return to the Pink Palace.

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But I did not think that this day of return would be so soon. After spending a night in Athens, we departed early the next morning to leave for Santorini. We got to the port with all of our luggage only to find out that all the boats to Santorini had been cancelled due to extreme wind conditions.

We headed back to our hostel in Athens,  Hotel Fivos, sad that we would not be able to go to Santorini but hopeful that perhaps we would be able to leave the next day. Soon, however, it became apparent that going to Santorini wasn’t going to be an option at all. Instead, we would be returning to Corfu and spending the rest of the week at the Pink Palace.

I was pretty upset. After all, Santorini had been my most anticipated stop in Greece. I fell in love with the beach of Corfu, and enjoyed the culture and history of Athens, but I had dreamed of visiting the black sand beach and walking in the same steps as the girls from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. However, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason – and although I may not have the opportunity to venture to Santorini anytime soon, I believe that one day I will make it there.

I began to look on the bright side – I had loved Corfu and it seemed like the best possible alternative. So as we headed back to Corfu, I was determined to make the most out of the rest of our spring break.

Our second visit to the Pink Palace was also an interesting one. There were three other tour groups who arrived at the same time as we did, so the place was packed! The Palladium had to open the second floor in order to seat everyone for dinner, and afterwards we attended our second toga party.

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While at the Pink Palace, we also decided to visit the Old Town of Corfu, escorted by the one and only Socrates. We stopped at a cafe and enjoyed some delicious Greek frappes, got fish pedicures, and did some shopping. Bryana and I each bought a necklace with Greek symbols. Mine represents infinity and unity and hers represents eternal life. Most people to go to Greece to purchase jewelry with the Matisma, or evil eye, which is supposed to ward off jealousy and bad luck.

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We also stopped for lunch at a small, family-owned traditional Greek restaurant. While veal was the recommended dish, I played it safe and got chicken and potatoes- which were delicious.

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After dinner, we had Loukoumades , which were basically small balls of fried dough. Mine were filled with chocolate in the middle and drizzled in white chocolate and pieces of oreo cookie.

Although my spring break trip to Greece took a couple of unexpected turns, it was an amazing week I will never forget. As we left the Pink Palace for the second time, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would actually be my last time leaving that place.

 

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Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg

Almost three weeks ago, I visited two countries in one weekend – Hungary and Austria. I am very late in writing this blog post due to being caught up with midterms and afterwards, a ten day trip to Greece, but I decided that this particular weekend trip was still an amazing experience I should post about.

We left on a bus Thursday night with SmartTrip and were supposed to arrive at our hostel early Friday morning –  but one of the students on the trip forgot his passport, and so we did not pass border control. The bus driver had no choice but to go back and take him to the nearest train station. Then, we went through border control again and a couple hours later, we finally made it to our first destination – Budapest, Hungary.

After dropping our belongings off at the hostel, we took a walking tour through Budapest. It was especially interesting to learn about how Hungary’s involvement in WWII.

First, we visited the German Occupation Memorial, which was built as the government’s way of dealing with the past and stating that Hungary wasn’t responsible for sending some 450,000 Jews to their death during the occupation. The memorial created a lot of controversy, and to protest, people actually created a “living memorial” – personal belongings, photographs, candles, stones, and more.

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Next, we visited The Shoes on the Danube Bank , which was the most saddening but moving memorial I have ever visited. There are 60 pairs of rusted shoes – all of different shapes and sizes- lined up against the river to commemorate the Hungarian Jews who were lined up and shot by the river during the winter of 1944.

Although we visited many buildings, monuments, and even went to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, this memorial was truly the one thing that stuck out to me the most when I think about my experience in  Budapest.

The next day, we stopped in Vienna, Austria.Our hostel was located right by a huge open air market where we spent much of the day walking , shopping, and tasting food. Bryana had a Falafel, and I tried a Käsekrainer, which was a sausage filled with cheese in a baguette. It was delicious.

After Vienna, we headed to our last stop of the weekend – Salzburg. Here, we toured the gardens where the Sound of Music was filmed, visited Mozart’s birthplace, and walked across the Love Lock Bridge.

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By the end of the weekend, we were all pretty exhausted from traveling. We had spent a lot of hours on the bus after all, but the experience was 100% worth it.

In the lobby of our hostel in Vienna, there was a wall with various inspirational travel quotes. One of them really stuck with me. It said “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.” Upon visiting a new place, it is common to have fears, doubts, and worries. As humans, we fear the unexpected. But I am beginning to embrace the unexpected and treasure it for all the places it has taken me and memories it has given me.

 

 

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Gucci : A Lifestyle and Legacy

On Sunday, I decided to visit the Gucci museum, or Museo Gucci, which is located right here in Florence in Piazza della Signoria. This Italian luxury brand was first found in Florence in 1921 by Guccio Guccio.

The exhibition consists of three floors of beautiful, vintage Gucci fashion – handbags, dresses, scarves, belts,  shoes, and  even a Gucci upholstered Cadillac .

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But there’s more.. There are items that complete nearly every aspect of the Gucci lifestyle- tennis, golfing, and hunting goods, parlor sets, fine china, glasses, thermoses, lamps, picnic sets.

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The museum starts out with pieces that have the classic red and green stripe and diamond logo that are still on many of the Gucci products today. Here, you can also see some beautiful vintage luggage sets and bamboo-handled bags.

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My favorite part of the museum, however, was the room full of evening dresses worn at the exclusive events by the most prestige and elite – Blake Lively, Hilary Swank,  Cameron Diaz. Pictures truly cannot do justice to these beautiful pieces of couture. Each gown was immaculate with tiny details – layers of ostrich feathers, tiny beading and diamonds. This exhibit especially adds to the overall sense of glamour that the Gucci evokes. It was amazing to be able to get up close to each of these beautiful pieces.

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Another exhibit that also really stood out to me was Flora World, which  consisted of beautiful handbags, dresses, and scarves with bright floral patterns. This collection was vibrant and youthful, setting a new mood to the brand.

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Aldo Gucci, Guccio Gucci’s oldest son, once said “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” Although I can only dream of owning a Gucci bag, visiting the museum gave me the opportunity to witness the outstanding beauty of the fashion brand and examine the craftmanship and careful detail that went into each piece. It truly was an experience I will never forget.

 

 

 

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Flowers in Florence & Beers in Barcelona

In Florence, men walk through the streets trying to sell you flowers. Red and white roses to be exact.  In Barcelona, the streets are crowded with men trying to sell you cans of beer. Why any one would buy a beer from a stranger on the street is beyond me, but nonetheless, I LOVED Barcelona.

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Bryana, Allie, and I decided to go to Barcelona through Bus2Alps, a  tour operator that offers really great travel deals for students. But instead of taking the bus, we chose to fly to Barcelona instead. This allowed us to avoid a long bus ride, and stay a whole extra afternoon and night exploring Barcelona. Bus2Alps provided our accommodations at the St. Christopher’s Hostel.

I had never stayed at a hostel before, and it was pretty strange  at first only because I had never experienced something like that before -I’ve always had my own room with plenty of space. We were placed in a room with six bunks and had a shared bathroom. All of the people we roomed with were supposed to be other students who were also traveling through Bus2Alps, but due to a rooming issue, this was not the case. But we made friends with some girls who were from Spain that were staying there. – I wish I had taken Spanish in high school, but Bryana understood Spanish and could communicate with them pretty well. It’s always interesting to me to meet new people and learn new cultures.

Everything about Barcelona was absolutely beautiful, but my favorite place that we visited was Park Güel, which was designed by architect Antonio Gaudi. And believe me -Parc  Güel is not your ordinary park.

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The amount of detail that went into designing the park is absolutely astonishing. It is filled with billions of tiny recycled tiles that form these unique, beautiful mosaic pieces of art.

It captures Gaudi’s style, the essence  the Spanish Branch of the Art Noveau, known as el modernismo. He also was a strong supporter of ecology so he chose to use recycled glass and ceramic materials in much of his work.

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The park itself is high above the city and you have to walk up what feels like a billion steps to get to it. It’s like the walk the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence,  maybe even steeper! But of course, the walk is totally worth it!

Much of Gaudi’s work was greatly influenced by nature, and this is evident through many of the park’s components, such as the giant lizard fountain in the park.  The park also has many walking trails for visitors to explore.

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During our walking tour of the city, we  visited Parc de la Ciutadella. Although it wasn’t as magnificent as  Parc  Güel, it was still pretty beautiful. In the center of the park is a waterfall and fountain that was also designed by Antonio Gaudi. We also walked through the Arc de Triomf.

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Besides giving us awesome recommendations of places we should visit and taking us on walking tours of the city, our Bus2Alps tour guides  brought us out to bars and clubs at night.

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On Saturday night, we went to a massive dive bar called  L’Ovella Negra. This was my favorite place we visited because it was really spacious, super casual, and lots of fun.

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Afterwards, we went to a nightclub called Opium, which was located right on the beach. This club was unlike any  I had ever seen before, with dancers hanging from the ceiling and people dressed in costume walking around on stilts.

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We  also visited the George Payne Irish Pub, which had karaoke and had a similar feel to The Red Garter, one of our go-to bars in Florence. We also went to Placa Reial, a square that is busy with people during the day sitting and eating, and at night-time it transforms into a popular bar square. There, we went to  Jamboree Dance Club.

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During our stay in Barcelona, we tried some authentic Spanish cuisine. We stopped at an open market called La Boqueria.

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It was huge and had just about every kind of food you can imagine – although I only came for the guacamole, since guacamole apparently doesn’t exist in Florence and I had been craving it for weeks. We also stopped and got churros. In Spain, it is common for people to dip their churros in chocolate. It was probably the best thing I have ever eaten!

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Since Italians only drink cappuccinos, we really missed our iced coffee..and we were super excited to find out that Barcelona has a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts on almost every corner – we even had a Starbucks right across the street from our hostel.

While most restaurants in Florence are strictly Italian, Barcelona offers a wide selection of nice restaurants that appeal to almost every culture. Our first night in Barcelona we actually went out for Mexican. People in Spain also love fast food. They have McDonald’s, Burger King, and their own fast-food chain, called Pans. People go to authentic Spanish restaurants for tapas, or appetizers/snacks, but tapas are eaten as the main course.

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On our last day in Barcelona, we had breakfast at Flax & Kale. This was one of the many  places our awesome tour guide Nikki recommended to us!

Everything about our trip was amazing, and I have to say that Barcelona is my favorite destination thus far. While I am happy to be back home in Florence – it truly feels like home now- I hope that one day I get to visit Barcelona again.

My next destination is in two weeks and I will be traveling to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg. I am super excited for this trip and I can’t wait to share more of my travel experiences with you! For now, Arrividerci!

 

 

 

 

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There’s No Place Like Rome

This weekend, we decided to live it up like Lizzie McGuire and take a trip to Rome.

After almost missing our train, we made it to the Tiburtina train station which was walking distance from our hotel, The Not-So-Best Western Blu. Although the hotel wasn’t the greatest and the staff seemed extremely annoyed by the presence of us annoying  Americans, they gave us two free bottles of wine that were labelled DOC (controlled designation of origin) – which as I learned in my wine course, is a very high quality wine.

Anyway, after dropping  off our luggage, we headed back to the metro station because we wanted to explore central Rome. Since we each needed some good luck , we decided to go to the Trevi Fountain first.

This in itself was a little bit of a challenge because Rome is HUGE – nothing at all like little Florence! At first, the Rome Metro was confusing to navigate, so we had to find someone who spoke English who could help us.

The Trevi Fountain, or the Fontana Di Trevi, may have been crowded by other tourists such as ourselves but it was such a beautiful and breathtaking sight!

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Although there are many fountains in Rome, this one happens to be the largest and most magnificent one. It is also one of the oldest water sources, and was constructed in 19 BC by Agrippa,  son-in-law of Emperor Augustus.

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The central figure of the fountain is Neptune, god of the sea. The statue on the left of Neptune is holding a horn filled with fruits and is supposed to represent abundance, while the statue on the right is holding a cup that a snake is drinking from, representing Health.

In 2013, the fountain was in desperate need of repair and so it was closed while fashion house Fendi restored it and reportedly spent $2.2 million doing so. Today, people from all over the world visit the fountain and make a wish as they toss their coin in the fountain.

treviThere are so many myths about the coins! It is believed that if you toss a coin in the fountain, you will return to Rome again someday. Some say tossing two coins means you’ll  fall in love and three coins means you’ll get married  in Rome.

I tossed at least three coins. 🙂

After the Trevi Fountain, our next stop was Vatican City  to repent our sins!

As expected, the lines to go inside of Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica were extremely long so we decided to just walk through St. Peter’s square instead.

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There are guards everywhere, and there are barriers all around that prevent tourists from standing in front of the Basilica. To do so, you must wait in line. On a Saturday especially, you could spend an entire afternoon waiting in line, so many people buy tickets to skip the line. Regardless, it was still amazing to be there and admire the beautiful buildings, columns, and statues from the outside.

Vatican City is also known as “The Holy See” and is referred to as a city-state. It is home to only about 800 residents – many of them are priests, nuns, and high ranking dignitaries.

St Peter’s Square is surrounded by colonnades, or long sequences of columns.In the center of the square is an 83 foot Egyptian obelisk, which is pretty interesting. I did further research to find its connection to the Vatican and  discovered that this obelisk (pictured below) has been there before St. Peter’s Square was even built. It is 3200 years old and weighs 350 tons. A ship was actually constructed for the sole purpose of delivering the obelisk to Rome.

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After we left Vatican City, we stopped at a Trattoria for dinner.  In Italy, there are osterias, trattorias, and ristorantes. A trattoria is more formal than an osteria but less formal than a ristorante, so it falls in between the two. We were expecting authentic Italian cuisine, but we saw that there was fettucine alfredo on the menu, which is not actually Italian. We each decided to order it anyway and the pasta was freshly made and delicious.

That night, we decided to exploliz.jpgre the Rome nightlife. After going to a couple of bars, we ended up at the Abbey Theatre Irish Pub.  One of my friends who was with us had a couple of friends who were studying abroad in Rome who met us there. Everyone there was super friendly and I even met some Americans who had gone to school in the states and found jobs abroad. The pub had great music and we all had a great time. And everyone sang to me for my 21st birthday 🙂

The next day, after checking out of our hotel and before heading back to Florence, we went to visit the Colosseum.

The Colosseum is massive, so it was impossible to capture it all in a picture and my pictures certainly cannot do it justice! The Colosseum  is an iconic symbol of Rome’s fascinating history. This stone amphitheater that was used for sporting events, battles, celebrations, and more.

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Our trip to Rome was an interesting one. The city was extremely crowded and hectic, but it was a great experience all the same. And even though I didn’t find Paulo to sing to me, I got to spend my Valentine’s day and birthday weekend with my best friends while exploring the beautiful city!

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7 Reasons Why Gelato is Better Than a Boyfriend

Currently in a long-term relationship with gelato.

Here’s why.

  1. Italian gelato is one-of-a-kind.

If you have tasted true authentic Italian gelato, you already know that it is nothing at all like American-style ice cream. It’s only a hundred times better!

It is made with morGELATO2e milk than cream, fewer egg yolks – or sometimes no eggs at all!- has less fat in the base -approximately 10%-because it uses more milk than cream.  Temperature is key, as gelato is served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream. Each of these factors help account for its light yet creamy, but one of a kind taste. There are no duplicates.

2. Gelato is smoother than any guy you will ever meet.

Literally. While ice cream has a heavy, thick texture, gelato is silky smooth because it is churned at a much slower speed, and uses much less air in the freezing process.

3. You will never get sick of gelato

With so many different flavors to try, its pretty hard to pick just one to try, nevermind find the time to try all of the delicious flavors! There are fruity flavors like peach, strawberry, lemon, coconut and so much more! There is also amaretto, pistachio, Nutella, and my favorite – chocolate hazelnut!

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4. Gelato is always there for you. 

You can find it at nearly every street corner and even in the frozen aisle of the grocery store here in Florence!

Our favorite gelato shop is Don Nino, located right by the Duomo.

5. Gelato doesn’t play games.

What you see is what you get. You don’t have to play any guessing games . Each flavor is equally enticing and delicious !

6.  Gelato will never make you cry

…until it’s gone, that is. Or, until you step on the scale.

7. You don’t have to share Gelato with anyone…

Unless you want to, that is. After all, sharing is caring!

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Culture Shock! My First Week Abroad

As most of you already know, I am currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy. So far the journey has been a little crazy but ultimately – AMAZING!

That isn’t to say my journey here didn’t have a rough start… Air France lost my luggage!  I was totally overwhelmed. Not only was I in an entirely new country, but I had none of my belongings!  I was stupid enough to pack only one change of clothes in my carry on. Fortunately, H&M exists here, and I was able to purchase a few pieces to get me by until my luggage was finally found.

Of course, I am extremely grateful for my wonderful and fabulous roommates. In total, there are six of us. Four of us are from SNHU so we knew each other before the trip. This definitely put me at ease, especially since we are all Fashion majors and share many of the same interests. We also have two other roommates from Albany, New York and they are some of the sweetest people I have ever met!

Together, we are slowly- but surely- adjusting to the many cultural differences that exist here in Florence, Italy. Things are certainly a whole lot different here….

Shopping at the Grocery Store

To save some Euros, we figured it would be a good idea to not eat out all the time and buy some groceries. You know, fruits and veggies, yogurt, eggs, bread, peanut butter…

But peanut butter doesn’t exist here! You literally cannot find it anywhere.  Italians really love Nutella there are jars of it EVERYWHERE – and Nutella flavored candy bars, gelato…but alas, no peanut butter.

As I looked up and down the refrigerated section for eggs, I began to get a little impatient.  That’s when I realized that Europeans keep their eggs at room

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Our first night in Italy we celebrated with some Sangria.

temperature.

We also  picked out some apples and oranges, and brought them to the register. The cashier gave us a confused look and pointed to a scale. That’s when we realized we actually had had to weigh our own fruits and vegetables.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention -we have to pay for plastic bags!

But the great part of shopping at the grocery store is the wine. You can buy a good bottle of wine for as little as three Euros, cheaper than buying water!

Conserving Energy and Recycling

Italians only get up to six hours of heat in their homes per day. We also have to be mindful of how much electricity we are using, as we will have to pay the difference if it goes over 200 Euros in a month.

Guidelines for recycling here are very strict.  All paper and plastic must be separated from the rest of our garbage, and failure to do so results in HUGE fines. Not only that, but we cannot let any hair go down the sink or shower drains, and we cannot let any food go down the kitchen drain either. We have to be super super careful! And if we throw out a piece of paper that has our name on it (such as a receipt) and don’t recycle it properly, we are in big trouble.

Also, nobody here has drying machines. Our own washing machine is located outside on our porch. We have to hang all of our clothes outside to dry!

  Eating Out at Restaurants

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The Springtime sandwich at Pino’s. This sandwich shop is my new favorite. Absolutely delicious!

Although Italians here do not tip the waiters/waitresses, each restaurant typically has a cover fee  of about 2€ per person. Also, every restaurant we have been to has charged us for water, which comes in tall glass bottles and you can either have it served sparkling or still.

Italians also typically order three to five course meals. The antipasto, the primo, the secondo, the contoro, and the dolce. But I have ordered one dish and been satisfied with that.

We recently ate at Dante’s, which is a very nice Italian sit-down restaurant. There, I ordered penne with salmon and zucchini. They served us wine and after we finished eating dinner, we were each served a shot of Fernet, an amber-colored, syrupy, bittersweet Italian liquer. Italians commonly drink  this after their meals as a digestif.

Italians move very slooooow

Americans are extremely fast-paced. They are always on the go and moving towards their next destination. Italians? Not so much.

As my friend and I were walking towards our first class of the week, Tuscany and Its Wines, we somehow realized that our class didn’t start at 12:30pm, it actually started at 12:00. My apartment was located about twelve minutes away from the class, and it was already 11:55…

As we quickened our pace, we realized that nobody else was doing the same. Nobody was in a rush and everyone was walking slowly and taking their sweet time.

And that’s just the thing..Italians love to sit, relax and absorb every second of their day. In those five minutes we were rushing to class, I couldn’t appreciate this aspect of their lifestyle, but now I totally do.

Italians will sit, enjoy a glass of wine, and chat after a meal. They will stop in street cafés and read for an hour just because they can. They take the time to enjoy their surroundings for all that they are worth, and this is something that I am learning to embrace.

Language Barriers

Upon arriving to Italy, I was under the impression that pretty much everybody here spoke English.

But I was wrong! Although there are many people here who are fluent in English – especially merchants and waiters, there are others who barely understand it.

The first night, my roommate and I decided to explore the city a little. We also wanted to do some shopping at H&M and Zara  but we needed some help. We stopped several people on the street  for directions, all of whom had difficulty comprehending what exactly we were asking.

Although we finally reached our destination, we realized that communicating with Italians was a lot more difficult than we thought it would be. It took a lot of time and patience, and I struggled to recall phrases and words  that I had picked up from my guide books and Rosetta Stone.

The entire experience makes me more determined to pick up the language while I am here. I am also certain that my time here will succeed in making me a more cultured, well-rounded human being.

SO. MUCH. WALKING.

Whether it be going to class, stopping for a cappuccino, or just exploring the beautiful city, we do so much walking every day.

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Briana, Amber, and I outside of Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower.

And although we only have to walk up one flight of stairs to get to our apartment, most of my friends have at least three or four flights to theirs.

At first, I thought it was weird that Italians wore sneakers with all their outfits. They could literally be wearing, the classiest, most fancy outfit, and you look at their shoes and see they are sporting a bright pair of Nikes. It kind of makes sense now…My booties are seriously starting to hurt my feet.

I really don’t mind the walking. It’s great exercise, and I’m hoping maybe it will counteract all the pasta, bread, and wine I have been consuming. One can only hope.

And, with every step I take, I am discovering new and more beautiful parts of the city each and every day! I really can’t complain about that.

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As expected, Italians do things a whole lot differently, and these are just a few of the many differences I have noticed.

But we are all adjusting, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. With these girls, I am sure we can accomplish anything! 🙂

 

 

 

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Ipsy Glam Bag: Is it Worth It?

What’s better than beauty delivered right to your door? Um, nothing!

I discovered Ipsy a few months ago from two of my roommates who subscribed during the summer. They showed me the small cute cosmetic bags they received as well as the awesome brand name products that came in them! Thanks to them, this is now my third month as an Ipsy subscriber.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ipsy before, once a month you receive a beauty bag with five products – makeup, nail polish, skincare and hair related goodies. Ipsy picks the items you recieive, but you get to take a beauty quiz so that all of the items are personalized for you! It’s similar to other beauty subscription services – Birchbox, FabFitFun, and GlossyBox.

Unlike a couple of these other beauty subscription services,  Ipsy is very affordable-   just $10 per month and free shipping. With it’s low price, Ipsy promises sample and deluxe-sized, decent quality beauty. But does it actually deliver?

To help answer that question, I would like to give you a peek at was inside of my January Glam bag, the effectiveness and quality of each item, as well as how much each is worth.

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1. MR. WRITE (NOW) Eyeliner Pencil
TheBalm Cosmetics
Retail Value : $17.00
Ok, so not everything about an Ipsy Glam Bag  is completely personalized. This month, everyone received a full-sized eyeliner from TheBalm Cosmetics. The one I received is in shade Jac B. Bronze.

I was super excited to receive this product because I LOVE TheBalm Cosmetics. Great brand, great quality. I usually only use black eyeliner, so this isn’t a color I would normally pick for myself. HOWEVER, this product is such a gorgeous shade of goldish brown and I think it would be perfect for a soft or sultry eye look.

This item retails for $17.00 You can, however, purchase it for just $13.60 now on Lovelyskin.com.

http://www.lovelyskin.com/o/thebalm-mr-write-now-eyeliner-pencil?ref=gbase&gclid=Cj0KEQiAlO20BRCcieCSncPlqqMBEiQAOZGMnOoJaGtdCbPSO7oIdE50Tt0eVy-pjA2VTd-gV-eqgTIaAjvO8P8HAQ

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2. Advanced Peptide Eye Complex
Tucker Ashley
Retail Value: $20.36

I received a sample size (0.34 oz) of this eye cream by skin care brand Tucker Ashley. They are known for selling  high-quality face masks, moisturizers, serums, etc. This particular product is supposed to help fight wrinkles (which I don’t have yet), dark circles, and puffiness.

I applied the product under my eyes as directed, and it felt light and refreshing and had a very nice scent to it.  I unfortunately didn’t notice any difference in the appearance of the skin under my eyes.

The full size is 0.5 oz and retails for $29.95. You can purchase it here.
Advanced Peptide Eye Complex – for dark circles & puffiness

Personally, I’ll stick to my Baggage Handler Eye Gel by Bliss, which has an instant cooling effect when applied and is very effective when it comes to soothing that pesty under-eye puffiness.

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3. Pearl Shadow Angle Large Brush
Coastal Scents
Retail Value: $2.49

When I first pulled this out of my  Ipsy bag, I was a little upset.I definitely do not need another makeup brush, especially not an eye shadow brush.
Turns out; I was completely wrong! I was pleased to discover that this brush is perfect for adding depth to the crease of your eyelid and it also works extremely well for contouring. I found the angled tip especially helpful for contouring and highlighting my nose. The bristles are also super soft and don’t fall out – like many cheap makeup brushes often do. I have been using this brush every day since I received it.

Coastal Scents sells a wide range of makeup brushes, contouring kits, eyeshadow palettes, and so much more. Their products are similar and quite comparable to BH Cosmetics. Both of these brands are known to sell good quality yet affordable cosmetics.

Because this is a limited edition brush, you cannot purchase this exact one from the website. However, you can purchase the Classic Shadow Large Angle brush which retails for just $2.49 and is identical to the one I received in my Ipsy bag. The only difference between these two brushes is the color of the wood.

Classic Shadow Angle Large Natural

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4. Eyeshadow Trio – Falling Leaves
City Color Cosmetics
Retail Value: $5.99

I also received an eyeshadow trio in shade Falling Leaves by City Color Cosmetics. I really liked the idea of this product – it’s travel friendly, cute, and the colors looked nice. I really wanted to like this product too.

eyeshadowHowever, after swatching each shade, I found that the peachy, matte shade swatches very unevenly. The light shimmer shadow is a really gorgeous color, as is the brown, shimmer eyeshadow but these  aren’t well pigmented at all nor are they long lasting.

I don’t really know a lot about City Color Cosmetics, but I have seen their products sold at Sally Beauty . They also have a full online store where most of the products are under $10.

I would not recommend this particular product. You would have to apply and reapply these shadows over and over in order to achieve the look you want – Ain’t nobody got time for that! But, if you do, you can purchase it here. http://citycolorcosmetics.com/featured/eyeshadow-trio/#.VqHEN1nj-7o

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5. Ultra-Moisturizing Argan Creme Facial Lotion with Olive Oil
Promise Organic
Retail Value: $4.41

This 0.5 fl oz sample I received is made for normal to dry skin and is great especially during the winter time when your skin needs some serious TLC.  This product makes my skin incredibly smooth. It also has a light lemon scent. I wasn’t super excited to receive this product only because I have plenty of facial moisturizers, but I like how it contains Moroccan Argan – something that I usually only see in hair products but is very moisturizing fir the skin as well.

Promise Organic is a skincare brand sold exclusively at CVS Pharmacy.
You can purchase the full-sized product for $15.00 here.

Ultra Moisturizing Argan Creme Facial Lotion with Olive Oil

The total value of my January Ipsy bag (not including the cosmetics bag itself) is approximately $50.25.
Some months Glam Bags are better than others. Each month, you are guaranteed to find products you may love or products you might not be too crazy about. Although there were only two products in my bag that I really loved this month, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will never use the other products.  I actually like the surprise element of Ipsy and not knowing what I am going to receive. It encourages me to try new things!

If you truly enjoy discovering and experimenting with new beauty products and brands, then Ipsy is for you!

Here is a picture of various products I have received in past months Ipsy bags. They include moisturizers, primers, perfume, eyeliner, exfoliating scrubs, nail polish, lip stick and more.  I can honestly say that I love Ipsy and I think you will as well!

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Add Something Sweet to Your Reading List : The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity of interviewing bestselling author, Elizabeth Atkinson. (Check it out here.) After our interview, she even sent me a copy of her newest middle-grade novel, The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. I am delighted to share my thoughts about this great winter read with you!

The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball tells the humorous, relevant, and heartwarming story of two best friends, Ruby La Rue and Eleanor Bandaranaike as they try to reach their dreams in the small ski town of Paris, New Hampshire. Ruby longs to mingle with the “Outers” – the wealthy out- of-town kids who spend their afternoons on the ski slopes, catch the attention of Paris Middle School’s very own hearththrob JB Knox, and attend the most extravagant event of the year, the Sugar Mountain Snowball. Eleanor, on the other hand, dreams of becoming a fashion designer and creating a haute couture line that can be worn by the Outers. But to do so, she must save enough money to purchase the Pluckarama 1080 Sew-Good & Embroidery Machine.

As Eleanor and Ruby wonder how exactly they can reach these dreams, they come across a psychic named Madame Magnifique.  She predicts that each of their deepest dreams will come true within four months. Her words give the girls the confidence to go out and achieve each of their goals. While digging through Ruby’s stepmothers yarn and craft supplies, they come up with the idea of starting their own business called E & R Dream Designs. Eleanor uses her creative, artistic talent to knit mittens and scarves, craft jewelry, design cellphone cases, and more. Ruby goes to various stores in the village to sell their products. The girls decide to split the profits equally among themselves.

While their crTheSugarMountainSnowBallCover_0.jpgeations are selling and their business is quickly becoming a success, the two sixth grade girls begin to face new challenges. It becomes more difficult for Eleanor to keep E&R Dream Designs a secret from her strict Sri Lakan parents, who would certainly not approve of this new business, because it might interfere with her special classes, cello lessons and other “braniac activities,” as Ruby likes to call them. And since Ruby’s stepmom and father are always working, she must still take care of her twin brothers while working on their business.  And as much time and effort they put into their dreams, not everything always goes exactly as planned. – After saving up all of her hard earned money to take a private skiing lesson, Ruby discovers that skiing is not as easy as it looks. But despite each snow ball that is thrown in their direction, the girls are able to maintain their friendship and become more strong and responsible individuals than ever before.

The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball tackles important topics such as cultural differences, the desire to fit in with a particular social group, healthy eating habits and lifestyles -each told by in the irrepressible, eager voice of Ruby La Rue. From the second she began to tell their story, I was hooked. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters, applaud their bravery, and hope that their efforts resulted in success and happiness for the both of them. The hopefulness that is stored in the hearts of Ruby and Eleanor is both admirable and contagious.

As Eleanor and Ruby work to reach their dreams, they begin to learn new things – about themselves and one another. After Ruby is invited to Eleanor’s home for dinner, she learns that Eleanor’s family- who has emigrated from Sri Lanka- has a different way of doing things. They share different beliefs, values, and ways of life.  While many things may be different between the two girls, they realize that certain things are exactly the same. “Finding happiness is the same for everyone – it can only come from the heart.” By the end of the story, the girls have learned quite a few valuable life lessons, and this is one of them.

Crafting a heartwarming tale with relevance and substance, Elizabeth Atkinson’s novel is pure and true. It embraces the idea of believing in yourself, taking chances, and appreciating the people that surround you. While this book is perfect for tween readers, it holds a strong message that pertains to any reader, no matter what your age. So cue the mug of hot cocoa, the warm fire place, your favorite comfy chair, and get to it! Pick up a copy of The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

tap-on-hair

for all my natural hair queens

The Godly Chic Diaries

BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH