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My Top Ten Moments of 2015

2015 was such an incredible year that picking just ten moments was a challenge. But after much debate, and strolls down memory lane, I finally settled on ten, although I could have easily done twenty! So without further ado, here they are my top 10 favorite moments of 2015:

10. Crossing the Chain Bridge in Budapest

9.  Poising in Front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague

8. Sipping Hot Wine and Ice Skating in Vienna

7. Exploring Santorini by 4-Wheeler

6. Road Tripping Through the Sunflower Fields of Tuscany

5. Riding Matching Pink Vespas through Tuscany with Shannon

4. Frolicking Through the Snow in Austria on the Sound of Music Tour

3. Meeting up With My Family in Paris

2. Strolling (and Laughing Uncontrollably) Through Montmartre with my Best Friend

1. Watching the Sunrise in a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia

Ashley B
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Outfit: Color Craze

Suite dress (last seen here) // coat // scarf (old, similar) // purse (old, similar) // pom-poms // shoes // sunnies // tights (my favorite)

It is so weird to think that this time last week I was bundling up every day in Florence and now I am wearing flip flops in Florida. I have to admit, I miss the cold weather. As annoying as wearing tights every single day can be, I really enjoyed all of the layering. Layering gives you so many opportunities to play with color, texture, and pattern. And you know how much I love color and mixing prints!

I still can't get enough of this yellow coat and it makes me so sad to think I won't get to wear it for awhile. Hopefully Florida will finally see winter, or I will just have to travel somewhere chillier.

Ashley B
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Arrivederci Florence

Well, I am officially back in the US. It feels weird, exciting, and a little sad all at the same time. Don't get me wrong, I am happy to be home, but it definitely feels like the end of something special.

Describing this past year as something special is probably an understatement. I had almost a full year to research in the archives of Florence and along the way I visited a ton of new places. It was the best of both worlds -- adventures in the archive and adventures around Europe. I visited four new countries (The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) and fifteen new cities (Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Verona, Prague, Dublin, Cannes, St. Tropez, Nice, Monte Carlo, Amsterdam, Santorini, Ischia, Procida, and Cappadocia). That is the best part about living in Europe, the proximity of so many incredible places and the cheap flights and bus rides that can take you there on a weekend whim!

For now, however, I will console myself with all of the things that I missed. I am looking forward to getting back into shape and getting back on the 90%-vegan wagon (I made it about 4 months in Italy with that before I gave up... cheese is everywhere!). I also pretty much went a year without cable TV and decent WIFI, so I am not going to lie, having those back will be nice. And of course, there will also be lots of Target and Dunkin Donuts runs now that I am home.

Naturally, there will be plenty that I miss from life in Florence. I loved walking everywhere and constantly being surrounded by history and gorgeous architecture. I will really miss stopping by the fresh market next to my house each morning to purchase locally-grown fresh fruits and veggies. I will miss my Florentine friends and spending my days in the archive. But that said, I am looking forward to getting serious about writing this dissertation.

Having the chance to live almost a full year abroad was absolutely incredible and I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to do so. I am also lucky, because even though the end of this year is a little bittersweet, I will get to return to Florence to work this summer.

Ashley B
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30 Tips for Studying/Living Abroad

1) Bring Earplugs
Student travel equals budget travel, which means you will have lots of people sharing rooms (hotels, dorms, and hostels) and enduring long bus rides. Tuck a couple pairs of disposable earplugs into your bag so that no matter what sleeping situation you find yourself in, you will be ready.

2) Pack Less, Budget More
Most students over pack and under budget. You won't need as much clothing as you think you do and you will definitely need more money. I have never heard a student say, "I budgeted too much, I have so much money." It is almost always the reverse.

3) Photocopy Important Documents
You can also snap a pic on your phone. Having copies tucked safely in your apartment and back home will make your life so much easier if any of your important documents (passport, ID, credit card, etc.) are stolen or misplaced.

4) Buy a SIM Card Abroad
This is the cheapest and easiest way (in Europe for sure), you can read more about using your cell phone abroad here.

5) Learn the Language
Or at least attempt to -- "hello," "thank you," and "please" go along way in any language and country.

6) Get in Shape
Traveling requires a lot of walking and luggage hauling. You will enjoy the experience more and your feet will hurt a lot less if you aren't completely out of shape. You don't need to train for a marathon, but putting in the effort to hit the gym or walk more before departure will go a long way.

7) Travel on Weekends
Make the most of your time abroad by traveling on the weekends. If you're in Europe you can basically see a new country every weekend. If you're in Florence, I highly recommend traveling with my friends at Florence For Fun.

8) Bring a Universal Power Adaptor
I like the universal ones, instead of country-specific, because if you do travel on weekends you are prepared.

9) Buy Your Straightener and/or Blow Dryer When You Arrive
Even when you use a voltage converter and adaptor, these items never seem to work properly (unless they are dual voltage). Fortunately, these items are not very expensive and easy to find abroad and it will save space and weight in your suitcase (you can read more of my tips for space and weight saving here).

10) Bring Comfortable Shoes

11) Take Lots of Pictures

12) Be Open to Bus Travel
As someone who gets car sick, I was not excited about the idea of a 10-hour bus ride to Budapest. But I bought some motion sickness pills and settled in with a pillow and a blanket and it wasn't terrible. It is one of the cheapest ways to travel and once I arrived in Budapest, it quickly became worth it.

13) Pack For All Weather Scenarios
This is important especially if you're planning on traveling. It may be mild in Florence in the fall, but you might want to ski one weekend in Switzerland or lay on the beach in Santorini.

14) Buy Travel Insurance
Again, especially true if you want to travel. And even more important if you are flying discount airlines. You can find good plans online and customize them to your travel needs.

15) Invest in a Good Camera and Large Memory Card
You will take a ton of pictures and they really are the best souvenirs.

16) Bring Something Sentimental
Bring something that reminds you of home for those days where you are tired, grumpy, and missing home.

17) Be Adventurous
Be adventurous in all things -- what you eat, where you travel, and what you do! Some of my most amazing experiences were when I put my fear aside and just went for it.

18) Stay Hydrated
This might seem like a non brainer, but when you're busy traveling and tap water is not free like it is back home, you often forget. Make an effort to drink lots of water, even if it's more expensive than you think it should be.

19) Set Goals/Make a Bucket List
Setting goals and making a bucket list will keep you motivated when your tired. Traveling every weekend and living in a foreign country can be exhausting, but it is so worth it.

20) Explore Alone
While traveling with friends and other students is fun, exploring on your own and learning how to navigate and interact by yourself in a foreign place is very important.

21) Pack Lots of Ziplock Bags
There are just so useful when you travel, trust me!

22) Plan, Plan, Plan!
Traveling is so much easing and cheaper when it is well planned. Take the time to research where you are going and what you want to do and book ahead whenever possible.

23) Sleep When You're Dead (Not Traveling)
Don't go into a semester abroad expecting to have lots of time to relax or that you will come home well rested. It is a once in a lifetime experience, which means it is completely worth all of the early mornings, late nights, and long travel days.

24) Learn How to Read a Map
Your cell phone may not always work, so it is nice to be able to fall back on an old-school map. It will also give you a better sense of the city, which will help you navigate.

25) Buy Toiletries When You Arrive
This saves space and weight when it comes to packing. You can read all of my space and weight saving tips here.

26) Dress the Part

27) Keep a Journal or Blog
It is a great way to keep track of all of your adventures and it lets your friends and family follow along.

28) Conquer Public Transportation

29) Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card
Most travel cards minimize exchange fees and international purchase fees, plus you can earn miles or points for your next adventure.

30) Get an Extra Battery for Your Phone
Between Google translating, mapping your location, and taking a million photos, you phone battery will betray you. I absolutely love my Mophie case. It has been a life saver on numerous occasions.

Ashley B
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Outfit: Weekend Layers

beanie (similar) // scarf // tee // jacket (similar) // jeans (similar here and here) // purse // flats (old, similar)

I have to admit that dressing for actual seasons this past year has been really fun, challenging at times for this Florida girl, but fun. This past week in Florence, the weather has been all over the place. It is so weird to me that you can leave your house in the morning and it is one temperature, but then you leave work for lunch that same day and it's actually colder! Or just yesterday, this thick and cold fog rolled into the city around 4 pm. It is crazy how quickly the weather can change here.

Thank goodness for blanket scarfs! Love or hate the trend, I have become completely addicted. They are so useful for unpredictable weather, I always keep one in my bag just in case. They are also amazing for travel in general since they can actually double as a blanket. I also love this comfy blue stripped tee from J.Crew. Stripe tops are super versatile wardrobe staples, and I love to mix them with all sorts of patterns, like plaid and leopard.

I honestly can't believe I have lived in Florence for almost a year. It seems surreal, like I just got here. It is crazy how quickly time can fly. While I am happy to be going home for a bit (I will be back to Florence to work this summer), I can honestly say I am going to miss dressing for seasons and bundling up!


Ashley B
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Christmas in Florence

jacket // sweater (old, similar) // popover (old) // skirt (this year's version) // beanie (old, similar) // sunnies // purse (old, similar) // shoes // gloves

There is pretty much nothing better than Christmas in Florence. Florence loves Christmas and it shows, down every street and in every store window. Each street strings up different festive lights and two giant trees decorated with the Florentine giglio are put up in front of the duomo (cathedral) and in Piazza della Repubblica. There are also special light projection shows that run every night on famous building facades and major piazzas throughout the city.

But my favorite Florentine tradition is the German Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce. Who doesn't love hot bratwurst and sauerkraut, mulled wine, and Hungarian chimney cakes? Oh my goodness the Hungarian chimney cakes... absolute heaven (especially the cinnamon one)! In addition to the delicious street food, the market also sells handmade items, Christmas decor, and lots of candy. The best part about this market? It is only a five minute walk from my apartment.

If you ever get the chance to experience Florence at Christmas, take it! It is hard not to be in the holiday spirit here. Going home to warm Florida, however, is going to be strange.


Ashley B
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Weekend in Milano

sweater (old, similar) // brocade skirt (similar) // sunnies // hat (similar) // gloves (purchased in Florence, love these) // bag // boots

Can you believe that I only have one week left in Italy? Me neither! Time has seriously flown by since August. The weekend before last, Anna and I decided to have one last girls weekend together. We wanted to road trip to Slovenia, but with very few days left to spare, we opted instead for a quick girls weekend in Milan. I love Milan, but I rarely go! It is definitely Italy's biggest and most modern city. I mean they even have 24-hour grocery stores and pharmacies (unheard of in the rest of Italy).

Of course, the biggest reason to go to Milan is the shopping. Even if you can't afford the Italian designers, strolling the main shopping streets of Via Montenapoleone and Via Della Spiga to see the incredible window displays and amazing fashion is still worth it. When we walked past Celine and I saw these incredible fuchsia sunnies, I could not resist! But here is the thing about Milan, things are often available there that you can't really get anywhere else. I tried to find them online, but they were hard to come by. I found the style, they just aren't available in fuchsia outside of Italy/EU (from what I can find).

Armed with fashionable statement sunnies, Anna and I spent the rest of the weekend sightseeing and exploring our favorite sights. My favorite is Milan's gothic Cathedral. It is absolutely stunning and unique. From afar it looks like intricate lace. Up close, however, you realize just how massive it is. I love how they let you climb the duomo and explore the architecture up close.

Other sights in Milan that should not be missed are the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, Ambrosian Library, the Medieval Piazza dei Mercanti, and Castello (castle). I also love the little Medieval Via Fiori Chiari where fortune tellers still offer tarot card readings. In addition to sightseeing, Anna and I splurged on a nice dinner at CurĂ² and then grabbed a drink on the nearby street of Corso Como, which is full of nightlife.

Sadly, I will spend my last weekend in Italy packing, which I am sure will be a nightmare. How did I acquire so much in one year (don't answer that!)?


Ashley B
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Outfit: Juxtaposition

dress (similar) // coat // hat (love this one) // sunnies // scarf (and reverse here) // tights // socks // gloves // bag // shoes (old, similar)

I love getting dressed in the morning. I love trying on different outfits and mixing up my old pieces in new ways. And, I especially love experimenting and trying unexpected combinations, like this red lace dress and black pom-pom beanie. I think the juxtaposition between the dressy lace and casual wool beanie and windowpane scarf just works. Also, I was cold and need a hat lol.

I have also learned the trick for wearing your favorite knee-highs and thigh-highs in colder weather, simply wear them over nude tights. I have become so accustomed to wearing tights everyday, going home to Florida for Christmas is going to be so weird!

Sadly, this little red lace dress by Paul and Joe is sold out. But, I have found several great alternatives below because red lace is always a good idea and perfect for the holidays. And as you can see, red lace can also be dressed down.


Ashley B
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