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How to Navigate the Ritual of Drinking Coffee in Italy

Drinking coffee in Italy is an integral part of Italian culture. When you visit Italy, you will notice there is no shortage of bars and cafes, which serve coffee all day and well into the night. Italians consume a lot of coffee and their day is typically organized around coffee breaks. Coffee is consumed for breakfast, again around 10 am for the "pausa caffe," after lunch, in the afternoon, and often after dinner (it is believed to aid digestion).

You will likely find yourself overwhelmed the first time you enter a densely populated bar with Italians scrambling towards the counter waving their receipts in the air. I've witnessed many foreigners in the corner of the bar paralyzed by fear, confusion, and indecision. Ordering coffee in Italy is like a ritual dance and if you don't know the moves, you will be lost (with no coffee might I add)! So today and I am going to share with you a step-by-step tutorial on how to navigate and participate in this important ritual. 

Step One: Forget lines
Remember you are in Italy, there will likely be no orderly line of patiently waiting customers. In fact, if you doddle you will probably be elbowed by an elderly woman pushing her way to the bar... when in Rome!

Step Two: Know what you want
A crowded and bustling Italian coffee bar is no place for indecision. Italians are on a mission, they need their coffee quickly and they know exactly what they want. If you are looking to try something new, it's best to visit during off-peak hours. When it is busy, decide what you want before proceeding to step three. Here is a list of the basic ways coffee is served.

Step Three: STOP! Do not proceed to the bar!
It may seem natural to walk up to the bar or sit down at a table. But, nope and nope. Most Italians do not drink their coffee sitting (unless they are there specifically to socialize) and your coffee will cost twice as much if you sit. You also do not want to proceed directly to the bar. You must pay first and then present your receipt to the barista. 

Now you might be wondering why some of the other patrons don't seem to be paying first. That is because they are locals and you are not. They know it, you know it, and the barista knows it. So head to the cash register (remember there will probably not be a line and if you hesitate someone will jump in front of you) and pay first. But be sure you take your receipt, don't automatically toss it or leave it on the counter like you might back home.

Step Four: Make yourself known
Ok, so you have finally ordered and it is time to approach the bar. Again, there will be no orderly line in sight. It will be up to you to get as close to the bar as possible and make your presence known to the barista. My advice, catch the barista's eye, smile, and say "buongiorno" (bon-gee-orn-no)! 

The more Italian you try to speak, the better service you will receive. The barista will take your ticket and mark it in some way (with a pen or a slight tear) to signify he has taken your order. But wait! You are not done. Once they have taken your order, you still have to be ready to receive your beverage. If they call out "cafe" and you don't respond, it will go to someone else.

Step Five: Sip the deliciousness 
The good news is that when you take that first sip of your espresso or cappuccino all of this will be completely worth it! And you will feel victorious for successfully participating in this important cultural ritual.

Not sure what kind of Italian coffee to try? Here is a brief breakdown of the four most common ways to drink coffee in Italy:
  1. an espresso, called “caffe” (a shot of espresso, think really strong coffee)
  2. a “macchiatto” (a shot of espresso with a dollop of frothy milk)
  3. a “cappuccino” (a shot of espresso with a lot of frothy milk)
  4. and a “latte macchiato” (a tall glass of hot milk with a shot of espresso)

I think the "coffee dance" is one of my favorite Italian experiences and I look forward to my coffee break everyday. The Italian bar is a great place to people watch, chat or try out your Italian, and take in Italian culture.

Does any one have any funny stories from when you first tried to order coffee in Italy?

PS - you can find some of my favorite coffee spots in Florence here.

Ashley B
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Outfit: Simplicity

trench (old from Hobbs of London, similar) // 
top (last seen here) // jeans // boots // bag (similar)

Because of my love of pattern and color, I often overlook the beauty of simplicity. Not that this outfit is overly simple, but there is something to be said for clean lines and neutral colors. Of course I couldn't leave well enough alone and had to add a pop of pink. 

I am also not normally a huge fan of overly distressed denim, but I was surprised when I tried these jeans on a Nordstrom this past December. They fit great and are very comfortable. I thought it would be fun to pair them with an unexpected lighter and more sophisticated top. I typically wear them with tights, which gives a less severe look, but the weather was so nice last week in Florence, I decided to go for it. Of course, I would never ear them to work, but they are fun for an afternoon of shopping or an evening out. 

Tonight I am leaving for Prague (Yay!), so be sure to follow along on Instagram for all of my latest travel adventures!

Ashley B
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Best Places to Eat Vegan in Florence

Being vegan is not easy. Being vegan in Italy is even harder (you can read why I have made this lifestyle change here). But I must admit that I am finding more options than I thought I would in Florence. Since arriving in January I have found my favorite vegan-friendly cafes, restaurants, and bars, and I thought I should share!

Please note that the places I am highlighting are not vegan-only. Most of these serve meat and cheese but offer vegan options. I am also not 100% vegan 100% of the time, I try to have a 95% ratio.

Best Breakfast -- Le Vespe 
Le Vespe offers several vegetarian and vegan dishes, but my favorite by far is their tofu scramble breakfast wrap. It is delicious (well priced) and gives me my breakfast fix when I need it (breakfast is my favorite but is not a big meal for Italians).

Best Panino -- Pinos
Mr. Pino has taken to calling me "Miss Vegan" because I order the same thing every time I go - the Vegan. This panino is sooo good! It is focaccia bread (which is just flour, water, salt, and oil) stuffed with roasted potatoes, sautéed spinach, sun dried tomatoes, eggplant, and topped with a spicy red sauce. I probably eat this at least three times a week!

Best Asian -- Dim Sum
I recently discovered a new dim sum placed (called Dim Sum lol) and it is delicious. Unfortunately there is only one vegan/vegetarian option, but it is still worth it and the tea is amazing.

Best Veggie Burgere -- Il Principe
Il Principe makes one delicious veggie burger on focaccia topped with whatever veggies and sauces you would like.

Best Soy Cappuccino -- La Milkeria
I miss cappuccinos, but fortunately more and more places in Florence are offering soy milk. La Milkeria has the best!

Best Health Food Restaurant -- Miso di Riso
Unlike the places mentioned above, Miso di Riso doesn't just offer one or two vegan or vegetarian options, the entire restaurant is dedicated to organ, macrobiotic, vegan, and raw foods. 

Best For Quick Meals On The Go -- Love Life
Love Life is a cute little juice and smoothie bar that offers a variety of quick and healthy meals on the go... and juice and smoothies of course. They make fresh soups, salads, and my favorite, couscous. They also brew fresh American coffee, just saying.

Best Grocery Store -- Drogheria Pegna
This store is like the Fresh Market of Florence and offers all sorts of hard to find foods. Chia seeds? Check! Vegan croissants? Check! Almond milk? Check, check!

Best Gelato -- Grom + Gelateria dei Neri
Finally, don't worry there are vegan gelato options. Lots of places have started offering soy and coconut milk gelatos. My personal favorites are from Grom and Gelateria dei Neri.

And don't forget, there are lots of naturally vegan Italian dishes you can get anywhere -- Ribollita (the most amazing Tuscan bread and veggie soup), a variety of red tomato sauces (with basil, spicy, veggie, etc.), bruschetta (just make sure you are saying it right), and veggie risotto (but ask for no cheese).

Buon appetito!
Ashley B
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Outfit: Vienna

hat // bow (last seen here) // blouse (old, similar) // coat // jeans // scarf (old, similar)
boots (from Florence) // gloves (from Florence) // purse (old, similar)

Vienna was beautiful, but so cold! Even in my warmest wool coat, blanket scarf, gloves, and wool hat, I found myself shivering a bit whenever we stopped walking. Fortunately, the ice skating and warm mulled wine following our walking tour warmed me right up (you can read my recap of Vienna here)! Vienna felt like a very chic and elegant city and while I probably would have been warmer in my fair isle wool sweater, wellies, and puffy coat, I felt like I had to dress the part for Vienna. Don't worry, I only took the blanket scarf off for photos (if you look closely you can tell how cold I was!). I stayed bundled in my blanket scarf all day.

I am thinking of heading to Prague this weekend, which will have similar if not colder temps. It has been unseasonably warm in Florence for the past couple weeks, so I am kind of looking forward to getting bundled up again. My impression is that Prague is a bit less regal and more picturesque. Cue the colorful wool sweaters and blanket scarves!

Has anyone been to Prague? What shouldn't I miss?

Ashley B
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Florence Guide: Gilli

What - Caffè Gilli

Where - Piazza della Repubblica, 39r

When - Daily, 7am - 7pm

Wearing - One of my favorite Kate Spade dresses

Why - Because sometimes you just need the elegance of a traditional Italian Cafe

Opened in 1733, Caffè Gilli is a Florentine institution. It has survived the end of the Medici dynasty, Napoleon's occupation of Florence, the unification of Italy (which Florence was briefly the capital of), and two world wars. Walking inside is like stepping back in time. The ornate and elegant decor transports you to nineteenth-century Florence when the cafe was home to the Florentine literati and frequented by artists and painters. 

Today waiters in tails attend to tables of white linens while and interesting combination of men in suits and enchanted tourists sip overpriced coffee. Yes, the coffee, hot chocolate, and confectionaries are overpriced, but they are delicious and the experience is one of a kind. Should you ever find yourself visiting Caffè Gilli, be sure to look for one of my favorite historical photos, which was taken in front of the cafe in 1951. It is called "An American in Florence" by Ruth Orkin. As an American in Florence, there have been numerous times when I have completely related to the woman in this photo!

Don't you just love places that have such history?

Ashley B
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Outfit: #BudapestOrBust

coat // scarf (old, similar) // gloves // sweater (last seen here) // 
beanie (last seen here) // jeans // boots // bag 

I felt like my packing for this three-day trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg was on point! It's always a struggle not to bring too much or too little, and for this trip I (finally) felt like I got it just right. Each outfit was comfortable and weather appropriate, and forced myself not to pack any extra items.

I knew we would be walking all day, everyday so I wanted something cute yet comfortable and, above all, warm. Once again my Hunter Tour boots have proven their worth. My feet stayed dry and warm and didn't hurt one bit! I layered tights under my jeans and my favorite Madewell wool turtleneck under my coat for extra warmth. There is nothing worse when you are traveling than being freezing cold or having sore feet, so I always make avoiding those situations a priority. I am a connoisseur of comfortable, yet stylish, travel shoes!

What are your go-to travel outfits for cold weather?

Ashley B
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Verona in Love

I was lucky enough to spend Valentine's Day in Verona for their annual Verona in Love Festival. Let me tell you, Verona gets love and all things adorable. The city itself is incredibly charming, but on February 14th, they really play up their romanticized past. The city was adorned with hearts (everywhere), restaurants served special couples menus, chocolate sellers filled the streets, couples strolled hand-in-hand, and at 6 pm the entire city stopped for a one minute kiss.

I am sure most of you associate Verona with the story of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare set his most famous work in this enchanting city. Of course, Shakespeare's story is completely made up, and he never went to Verona, but that doesn't stop the city from embracing the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Many contend that Shakespeare based his story on two earlier Italian versions of the story. In both Italian versions a young couple fell in love despite their feuding Veronese families. Whatever the truth maybe, today the city has artfully combined myth and memory to provide tourists with ample "historical" sites dedicated to Romeo and Juliet.

The more recent film, Letters to Juliet, popularized the tradition of leaving letters to Juliet. Yes, you can write a letter to Juliet (although you send it through the Italian mail addressed to Juliet, Verona, Italy, you don't leave them in/on a wall if you want an answer) and the secretaries of Juliet will answer. They have been answering love letters for the last 70 years! Seriously, this city gets love... and tourism!

But Verona is more than the love story of Romeo and Juliet. In fact the city has a long and rich history. The city dates from Etruscan times and became a key point in Roman trade. In fact Verona boasts the third largest and best preserved Roman amphitheater in existence (it is so well preserved it still functions as a venue for concerts, operas, and various events). After a period of decline following the fall of the Roman Empire, the city reemerged as an important commercial and cultural center in the 12th-14th centuries. The city continued to flourish until it was occupied by Napoleon in 1797. Because Verona has always prided itself on its architecture and ancient foundations, the city has taken great care throughout the centuries to preserve its beauty. This attention to detail gives Verona a clean and elegant feel and makes each little street positively enchanting!

Personally, if I had realized how charming and historical this city was sooner, I would have made a point to visit before now! Fortunately, it is a relatively-short train ride away and I am sure I will be returning soon.

Verona may be in love, but I am in love with Verona!

Has anyone else been to Verona?

Ashley B
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Outfit: Spotted

Dresses are so much more versatile than people give them credit for! When most people think about packing and creating versatile wardrobes, they turn to separates first. But dresses can bet just as versatile in a capsule/packing wardrobe as separates, you just have to think outside the box a bit. I love layering shirts underneath or sweaters on top of dresses. And, of course, you can't go wrong with the addition of a pussy bow!

blouse (old, similar) // bow (last seen here) // dress // tights // bag // boots

I scored this Kate Spade dress on major sale at Nordstrom just before I left for Italy (runs very small). I liked that I could layer it for winter and still wear it in the late spring and summer as a more casual, sleeveless dress.

I have to say that I am surprised that I am 30 days into my winter packing capsule and I have yet to run out of outfit inspiration! I have only purchased three items since arriving and I haven't even tried to steal pieces from my spring capsule. I thought I would grow tired of my capsule sooner, but I am really enjoying having a small, well curated closet to choose from each morning.

Happy Monday!

Ashley B
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The Hills are Alive

On the third day of our whirlwind long weekend, we headed to Salzburg, Austria, which is famous for being both the city of the historical von Trapps and where the movie, the Sound of Music, was filmed. Naturally, I was all about going on the Sound of Music tour!

The tour is so fun, they load you on a bus and take you to six different locations where the movie was shot (two palaces, a garden, the church where they wed, the famous gazebo, and the convent where Maria lived). As you travel to each location your guide gives you interesting facts about the movie and the historical family. There is also a sing-along on the bus!

Being from Florida, I couldn't get over the snow and how beautiful everything looked covered in it. Not to mention the views everywhere we went were absolutely stunning!

In addition to singing and frolicking in the snow, I also had the BEST apple strudel of my life! No idea where we were (it was the middle of nowhere), but it was incredible... I still dream about it. And of course, no Sound of Music tour would be complete without twirling in the hills (just wish we'd had clearer skies or maybe a drop of golden sun)!

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!

Ashley B
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