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Packing: A Long Weekend in the Amalfi Coast

top // tunic/cover up // shirt // white shorts // floral shorts // bikini // hat (similar) // sneakers // 

It is officially summer because I am off for three days in the Amalfi Coast! It has been a busy couple of weeks and I am looking forward to a little break. The 3-day Amalfi Coast trip (in my humble opinion) is the best trip FlorenceForFun offers, and I am excited to head down and take pictures of students enjoying the fun and sun. If you are planning on studying abroad in Italy, make sure you add the Amalfi Coast to your must-see list!

And don't forget to follow along on Instagram!

Ashley B
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How to Conquer Rome in Two Days

Rome is an amazing city. It is also an exhausting city. It is crowded with tourists, scorching in the summer, and packed with must-see monuments, churches, museums, and piazzas. While I recommend devoting at least four days to Rome, it can, if need be, be conquered in just two. But only if you are prepared and organized for an exhausting, but exhilarating, two days!

Step 1 - Divide and Conquer
Rome may not have been built in a day, but if you divide the city in half -- anchoring each day with one of the two major sites, the Forum/Colosseum and the Vatican -- it can be conquered in two! I like to draw a line down the center of the city, grouping the Forum, Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Capuchin Bone Church into a one-day itinerary, and the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, Castle St. Angelo, Trastevere, Jewish Ghetto, and Campo di Fiori into another one-day itinerary.

Step 2 – Plan, Plan, Plan
If you are short on days in Rome, it is essential that you don’t waste any of that precious time waiting in Rome’s long (and hot) lines. The biggest offenders are the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel and the Roman Forum and Colosseum. I like to make these the first visit for each day. So day one would start with the Forum and Colosseum (don’t forget to start at the Forum rather than the Colosseum, you can read more of my Italy travel tips here), and day two would start with the Vatican Museums. You can reserve the Vatican here and the Forum/Colosseum here.

Step 3 – Start Early
Because there is so much to see in Rome, you have to get an early start. It will also help you avoid some crowds and the hottest part of the day (obviously, this is more important in the summer time). The Piazza Navona and St. Peter’s Basilica are both especially magical in the early morning hours.

Step 4 – Hydrate, Wear Sunscreen, and Dress Appropriately
Long days of sightseeing are taxing on the body, so make sure you have slept, are hydrated (the fresh spring water throughout the city is the best), slathered in sunscreen, and wearing comfortable shoes and church-appropriate clothing. And don’t forget to pack a snack!

Step 5 – Hit the Ground Running
Once you have planned and prepared yourself mentally and physically, it is time to tackle Rome! Here is the itinerary I would recommend:

Day One:
8:15 am Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
9:30 am Colosseum
11:00 am Piazza Navona (don’t miss Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and gelato at Tre Scalini)
12:00 pm Lunch Break (here are some tips for selecting restaurants in Italy)
1:00 pm Pantheon
2:00 pm Trevi Fountain
3:00 pm Spanish Steps (don’t forget to window shop down via Condotti)
4:30 pm Capuchin Bone Church (creepy, but a must-see)
5:30 pm Take a break (you earned it) before dinner. Or, if you are feeling adventurous head to San Pietro in Vincoli to Michelangelo’s amazing Moses sculpture

Day Two:
7:30 am (For the really adventurous) See St. Peters Basilica in the early morning, sans crowds and with gorgeous light
9:00 am Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel
11:00 am St. Peter’s Basilica, if you don’t see it in the morning (make sure to use my shortcut)
12:00 pm Castle St. Angelo
1:00 pm Explore Trastevere (make sure to eat in this area)
4:00 pm Cross over the Isola di Tiber and into the Jewish Ghetto
5:00 pm Campo di Fiori
6:00 pm Take a break before dinner, or if you want more, visit the Domus Romane

If you have more time in Rome, I highly recommend adding the following sights:
Borghese Gallery (and park)
Markets of Trajan (the world's first mall!)
Basilica of San Clemente
Capitoline Hill and Museums

I hope this helps you conquer Rome, and as always feel free to email me if you need any travel advice!
Ashley B
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Milan Expo

Before a couple months ago I had never heard of the Universal Expo. I started seeing commercials for it when I arrived in Italy this past January. I was curious, but never really looked into  it. Until last weekend when Anna asked if I wanted to go with her (her company FlorenceForFun will be offering day trips from now until the Expo closes at the end of October). I didn't have any plans, so I figured why not? 

Turns out the Universal Expo, or Expo for short, is the modern day incarnation of the World's Fair. Every five years a location and theme are selected and hundreds of countries design, build, and host a pavilion on the fairgrounds. The theme for the 2015 Expo was "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life." Most of the tents did some sort of presentation or display concerning global food production and sustainability. I did find it a bit paradoxical that this massive complex was built to promote sustainability, yet the entire exhibition is temporary and built only for this exposition. 

Pope Francis actually came out against the Expo and the Vatican's participation. Yes, the Holy See had it's very own pavilion, in which they displayed an important Tintoretto fresco. Francis declared publicly that the Expo "obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development." Vatican City actually paid €3 million for its own pavilion before Francis's appointment to the papacy. I'll admit, I see Francis's point that spending 3 million on a pavilion to talk about food sustainability and hunger doesn't actually feed anyone. At the same time, I doubt this is the only money misspent by the Vatican... and then there is the Vatican Bank... But I digress... 

I will be honest, I was not overly blown away by the 2015 Expo. It was a fun day, but it felt like a theme park with no rides. After admiring the architecture, you would wait in long lines to spend 10 minutes walking through displays inside each pavilion, some of which, like the U.S.'s (sorry guys), were pretty boring. The better pavilions, like Qatar, Columbia, and Thailand had very long lines. For me, the highlight was the food. I know I shouldn't complain, but the lack of cuisine diversity in Italy gets to me after a while. I miss Cuban, Thai, Mexican, and Indian food the most. So naturally, we did a lot of eating at the Expo. We started are morning grazing the pastries in France, lunch snacking on tostadas (and margaritas) in Mexico, and the afternoon stuffing ourselves with dumplings. And then there were the mini pancakes in the Netherlands. I am still full.

So would I recommend going? Sure, why not. But as you can tell, I am not overly enthusiastic. It was a fun day, but I certainly wouldn't go over seeing the actual city of Milan (the fair is not near the historical center of Milan). Go if you have the time, but if you don't make it, there is always Dubai!

Is anyone going to (or has gone to) the Expo? What did you think?

Ashley B
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Outfit: Summer Ready

The Rose Garden just off of Piazzale Michelangelo is one of Florence's hidden gems. Especially in the spring when everything is in full bloom. Last week Emily and I headed up there to snap some pics and celebrate her last day in Florence.  Until that day the weather in Florence had been surprising warm and sunny for early May. That Friday, however, it rained basically all day. But we got lucky, the weather finally cleared and Emily was able to enjoy one last Florentine sunset from the Rose Garden and Piazzale Michelangelo. Since then, the weather has been up and down -- rainy and chilly one day and warm and sunny the next. I am ready for summer, but I am not sure if Florence is!

As I was creating this post, I realized everything I am wearing is pretty old and no longer available. But it is a pretty simple outfit formula (and one of my favorites for summer travels) -- striped popover + floral mini + cute straw hat -- so I created a more recent alternative below. And because it is Memorial Day (back home anyway, I have to work today) all of these items are on sale! 

top  // skirt // hat // bag // espadrilles 

Have a great Memorial Day!

Ashley B
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Weekend Reading

Well it has been a long time since I have done a weekend reading post! I figured it was about time, especially since I have some more travel coming up and this might be my only chance for a while.

Obsessed with this beach coverup/tunic for summer. I also love this one.

A great list of TV shows to binge watch. I am currently 20 episodes into Pretty Little Liars (#sorrynotsorry).

I picked up this adorable lemon bag in the latest Kate Spade surprise sale. And this dress - that I have been lusting over for forever - is finally on sale (with an additional 25% off with YOURS at check out).

Cutest (popsicle) bag ever! (I know, I know, I have a novelty purse problem.)

7 times women shut down sexist reporters.

Loving a lot of J.Crew's new June arrivals, especially this striped skirt and this striped dress (you can never have too many stripes right?) Plus everything is 30% off with the code WEEKEND.

This adorable two-legged kitten is the cutest!

One of my favorite travel resources.

A possible prosecco shortage? This is me panicking!

Buon Weekend!

PS - So sorry for the ridiculous state of my last two posts (let's just say there was an embarrassing amount of spelling and grammar mistakes). My wifi connection was down most of the week and I was scrambling to finish and publish my scheduled posts. I tried to use the Blogger app, and well, let's just say it didn't go well! Rushing + iPhone autocorrect + tiny phone screen and difficult to use app = embarrassment! But an anonymous commenter on Tumblr was kind enough to alert me to how bad it was, which was much appreciated. So happy to have my wifi back!
Ashley B
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10 Things: Amsterdam

Despite my short stay, I absolutely fell in love with Amsterdam when I traveled there with my cousin two weeks ago. We managed to see so many sights and do so many activities that are quintessentially "Amsterdam" that I thought I would share my list of the 10 things you must do in Amsterdam.

1. Ride a Bike
Biking Amsterdam is arguably the best way to see the entire city and experience an essential part of Amsterdam’s culture.

2. Lose Yourself in the Canals, especially the 9 Straatjes (9 Streets)
Just wandering the city’s intricate network of gorgeous canals is enough to entertain and delight, but a particularly enjoyable area – full of Dutch shopping, dining, and cafes – is the area called the 9 Streets.

3. Remember Anne Frank
This museum is located in the house where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi persecution and is dedicated to remembering Anne’s life. It also houses exhibitions to educate visitors on all forms of persecution and discrimination.

4. Snack on Stroopwafles and Fries
Stroopwafles are part cookie and part waffle with a delicious caramel center. And while fries are fries, it is the sauces in Amsterdam that make them extra delicious!

5. Visit Van Gogh
Learn about the life of Van Gogh as you admire a vast collection of his work, especially his golden-yellow sunflowers.

6. Climb on an “I amsterdam” sign
Located throughout the city, these signs are emblematic of Amsterdam. And the best part? They let tourists climb all over them, which makes for some fun, although crowded, photo ops.

7. Eat Pancakes at the Pancake Bakery
I think this one is self explanatory, but my advice is to be bold and try one of their more interesting concoctions, like the Mexican or Thai pancakes.

8. Stroll through the Flower Market, or Bloemenmarkt
When you think of Amsterdam, you think of clogs and canals, but more importantly, you think of tulips. At the floating flower market you can marvel at all of the beautiful varieties and even bring some seeds home to grow some tulips of your very own (if customs allows).

9. Revel in Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum
The recently renovated Rijksmuseum boasts an impressive collection of Old Dutch masters.

10. Brave the Red Light District at Night
Whether you agree or disagree with the Dutch acceptance of legal prostitution, the infamous Red Light District is worth a visit.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What's on your "must do" list?

Ashley B
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44 Tips for Traveling in Italy

I get lots of questions about living in Florence and emails asking for tips for traveling in Italy. So I finally decided to put all of my tips and advice together in one place! I hope you find them useful and please share any tips you have. And don't worry, I update this list and its links regularly!

1. Plan and Pre-Book major sights and attractions whenever possible, especially if you are traveling in mid-March (spring break) or between May and July.

2. Don't use third party booking websites or companies. 
Companies like TickItaly will charge you an arm and a leg for a reservation you could easily make on the official museum website (or officially sponsored website) yourself. Here is a list of official museum/gallery websites:
Vatican Museums
Roman Forum and Colosseum (combo ticket)
Borghese Gallery (Rome)
The David (Accademia, Florence)
Uffizi (Florence)
Last Supper (Milan)
Doge’s Palace (Venice)
St. Mark’s (Venice)

3. Avoid restaurants with pictures of the food.
You can read more of my tips for selecting restaurants in Italy here.

4. Make the most of the high-speed train. 
It is only takes an hour and a half to get from Florence to Rome or Florence to Venice, and only thirty minutes to get to Bologna! Plus the trains are comfortable and reliable. They are my preferred way to travel around Italy. You can purchase tickets online or through a local travel agent in Italy. But the easiest way is through the kiosk at the train station (and yes, an English option is available). If you are in Florence, the lovely staff at FlorenceForFun can help you get great discounts!

Important Train Tips - The high speed trains called "Frecciarossa" (which goes from Turin - Milan - Bologna - Rome - Naples - Salerno), "Frecciargento" (Rome to Venice, Verona, Bari/Lecce, Lamezia Terme/ReggioCalabria), and "Frecciabianca" (Milan to: Venice, Udine e Trieste; Genoa and Rome; and down to Bari, Lecce) require you to pre-purchase a ticket and reserve a seat before boarding (you must also sit in your assigned seat. These tickets are like airline tickets and are only good for the specific journey purchased. 

Regional trains (including the Leonardo Express from the airport in Rome to the main train station) have open seating (within each class of ticket) and can be used at any time. You must, however, VALIDATE regional tickets (or any train ticket without a seat assignment) by inserting it into the yellow box located at the train platform.

5. Don't let anyone help you put your luggage on the train or take it off.
This is a scam (mostly by gypsies) to force you to tip. If you are fine tipping, go for it, but be warned they are not the most upstanding characters.

6. Watch your bags as the train arrives and departs the station. 
Just incase somebody tries to hop on and steal something at the last minute.

7. Be prepared to lug all of your luggage down cobblestone streets and up stairs (and on and off trains). 
If your bag is too heavy or large to do this yourself, you need to rethink what you have packed! There are lots of streets and squares taxis can’t go down, so even if you cab it, you still might have another block or two to haul your stuff. Elevators can also be a rarity and you will often find random small sets of steps you have to navigate.

8. Bring a portable luggage scale, especially if you are traveling via discount European airlines. 
They are serious about bag weight.

9. Get up early every once and a while. 
Many cities, like Rome and Venice, have a completely different feel without the hoards of tourists. It is worth it to get an early start (especially in the hot summer) to get a different perspective of the city and to see many of the monuments not littered with people.

10. Always carry cash. 
Most places will not let you use your debit or credit card for smaller purchases and restaurants don’t split bills.

11. Wear comfortable shoes.
I can't stress this one enough!

12. Look up if your bank has any affiliations in Italy (i.e. Bank of America and BNL) to avoid service charges and fees.

13. Unlock your phone and pop in an Italian SIM card. 
If you have an iPhone that is out of contract (i.e. over two years old) this is fairly easy to do and Italian SIMs are inexpensive. You can read more about how to do this here.

14. Don't forget sunscreen.

15. Don't put cheese on seafood pasta. 
Despite how delicious the cheese is here, Italians do not put it on everything.

16. Leave valuables at home. 
Flashy jewelry says “rob me because I have money.”

17. Carry a copy of your passport instead of the original and leave the original locked in your room safe (or hidden in your room).

18. Separate your debit and credit cards. 
In case you are pick-pocketed, it is best to separate your debit/credit cards. I never keep mine together, so that if the worst happens, I always have a fall-back card.

19. Exchange money via your debit card at the ATM. 
This is the easiest way to get euros and ensures the best exchange rate.

20. Call your bank before leaving the country.

21. Bring a copy of your health insurance card.

22. Don't put your shoes or feet up on chairs or seats on the train. 
This is considered rude.

23. Don't sign the petition against drugs!
It is a scam to get your email and then sell it, or to get you to donate money.

24. Hold your wine glass by the stem. 
The heat from your hand changes the character of the wine when you hold the glass. Learn more tricks for tasting wine like a pro here.

25. Limit the amount of skin you show. 
This is for practical reasons, like entering churches, and because in general Italians show less skin.

26. Bread is not served with oil and balsamic vinegar. 
Although some places have started capitulating to American expectations.

27. You have to call a taxi, you can’t flag them down.

28. Drink the house wine, it’s delicious and cheap.

29. Start at the Roman Forum instead of the Colosseum. 
There is rarely a line at the Forum. Pick up or purchase your tickets there and when you are done, you can skip the line at the Colosseum, since you will already have your ticket.

30. Sneak into St. Peter's Basilica (Shhh!). 
If you are not on a guided tour but want to visit the basilica without waiting in another 3 hour line, you can "sneak" in. There are two ways to exit the Sistine Chapel (the end of the Vatican Museum tour). If you take the door in the back right corner (if you back is to the Last Judgment) you will head straight to the church without exiting the complex. This is how all the guides do it, so just blend in and if anyone asks, say you’re on a tour.

31. Visit the Vatican Museum at night. 
They now offer night tours, which can be reserved on the Vatican Museums’ website.

32. Skip the Vatican Museum line. 
If you find yourself in Rome without a reservation for the Vatican Museums and facing the typical 3-hour line, don’t worry you can pay (double) to skip the line. Find a shady looking gentleman hawking tours and a “skip the line” pass. These companies reserve blocks of entrance times and then sell them for double. It stinks that you will have to pay double, but it is still better than wasting 3 hours of your day. If you don’t want the tour, tell them you just want to skip the line.

33. Eat as far away from major attractions as possible.

34. Drink the water. 
The public drinking fountains throughout the city spew fresh spring water that is still brought to the city by the ancient aqueducts. The water is delicious, clean, and free!

35. The Roman Forum has zero shade, bring an umbrella or hat in the summer.

36. Opt for an aperitivo instead of dinner every once in a while. 
Aperitivi are typically served from 7ish to 9ish. You pay for the drink, usually around 7 to 10 euros, and get to enjoy the complementary buffet. Trust me it is a ton of food. You get to try new Tuscan dishes and save money.

37. Walk everywhere. 
Florence is small and the best way to see it is on foot.

38. Invest in the Florence Pass/Firenze Card. 
You get to skip the line and save money. But this only works for 72 hours, so group your activities accordingly. Click here to learn more.

39. Try new foods. 
As gross as cow’s stomach and chicken livers sound, the Florentines consider them delicacies and they are delicious.

40. Climb the Duomo's cupola.

41. Get lost.
You will get lost so why not embrace it?

42. Spend the night. 
So many tourists only come for the day and Venice is very eerie at night.

43. Take the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal (for a much cheaper tour).

44. One Venetian gondola seats six. 
To save money, pack in as many as possible, since the price is per gondola not person.

Finally, learn how to drink coffee like an Italian!

For more on traveling in Italy:
How to Make the Most of Your Semester Abroad
The Best of Italy 12-Day Itinerary 
Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling in Italy
A Day Trip Through the Amalfi Coast
Best Rooftop Bars in Florence
Rome Hippest Neighborhoods
Cinque Terre in a Day
What You Need to Know Before Buying Leather in Florence
20 Tips for Traveling the Amalfi Coast
Road Trip Through Tuscany
Ashley B
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Summer Lovin'

tote // slides (on sale) // espadrilles // popsicle bag // skirt

Well, like it or not, the summer heat and crowds have arrived in Florence. It feels like summer came out of no where this year. It got really warm in Florence really fast! And where did all these tourists come from?

While I am not ready for the intense sun, high temps, and lack of air-conditioning that characterize Italy in the summer, I am ready for some beach getaways and summer style. I have rounded up a few of my summer style essentials above (notice a color theme?), some of which I can manage to get here and some of which I will have to lust over from overseas. If anyone knows where I can get Soludos in Europe, please let me know!

Next weekend I will be heading down for three days in the Amalfi Coast (yay!). It won't feel like summer until I spend a weekend strolling through Capri, lounging on the beach in Positano, and climbing Vesuvius. I also can't wait to break out my new popsicle purse (so cute and a steal) with my espadrilles and beach tunic. On a quick beauty note, I was browsing the department store in Florence the other day and the sales lady introduced me to Dior's new summer glow collection. I love it, especially the lip glow. I also purchased a new gloss that is part gloss and part lip stain. It lasts all day without being overly drying.

What are your summer style essentials?

Ashley B
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Outfit: Gingham + Floral + Leopard

jacket // shirt // pants // sneakers (old, similar) // bag 

These J.Crew pants are probably the most comfortable pants I own. So I knew they would be perfect for a full (and chilly) day of sightseeing in Amsterdam. And you know I can't resist a little pattern play (you can find my print mixing rules here), so I paired them with my favorite navy gingham shirt. I swear by these Brooks Brothers no-iron button-up shirts. They are the only button-ups I can wear that don't gape at the chest, hold their shape, and aren't too long. They are worth every penny. I have had this one for a year, it looks brand new and I have never had to iron it!

Since mixing two patterns wasn't enough for me, and because leopard is a neutral, I added my favorite leopard slip-on sneakers. Perfect for a day of walking and standing in museums (museum feet are real, people!). I added my new cropped trench from J.Crew to complete the ensemble and keep me warm. I ordered this cropped trench from Italy and I was really hesitant at first (you pay about 20 percent more for things when you order them from here). It is hard to justify the inflated international price (thanks to the Euro and import taxes), but after searching Florence for a spring/summer jacket that I liked and coming up empty, I caved and ordered this. I am very happy I did, I have worn it non stop since.

This adorable little stoop in Amsterdam made the perfect backdrop to snap a couple outfit photos, and my cousin was such a great sport about it!

I think mixing prints is one of the easiest ways to maximize a travel wardrobe and look chic in the process. What are your tricks for traveling in style?

Ashley B
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Postcards From Amsterdam: Part Two

Our second day in Amsterdam was dedicated to experiencing Amsterdam’s bike culture. Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam. Looking around the city, I often wondered if there were actually more bikes than people! Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world, so it’s no wonder that bikes are the mode of transportation preferred by both locals and tourists.

It is very easy to rent bikes in Amsterdam, and I would argue that you haven’t truly experienced the city until you do. We rented from our hotel. Most hotels offer this and there are a plethora of rental agencies around the city. It will cost you about 15 euros for the day plus a deposit (and don’t worry they come with locks).

Despite Amsterdam being so bike-friendly, I was still intimated at first. Throughout the city, bikes have their own lanes, traffic lights, and rules. I wasn’t sure when to yield or when to go. To gain a bit of familiarity, we started our bike tour of Amsterdam in the park near our hotel (Vondelpark) and then biked part of the city’s perimeter before venturing into the heavier traffic and tourist areas.

With a bike you can basically see every inch of Amsterdam and I am pretty sure we did! We road and explored the city for more than 7 hours. Let’s just say we were sore when we finally stopped. As I mentioned before, we started in the Vondelpark before heading to Museumplein. We then headed back towards the center of town, stopping for a Starbucks and the flower market of course, before heading north towards the train station, a part of town we had yet to explore. We continued northeast stopping to see the historic ships docked in the harbor, random patches of wild tulips, and the only windmill we found in the city (it’s the little things). We turned back west towards the center again and stopped for photos in the gorgeous 17th century canal ring.

By this point we were hungry, so we decided to continue southwest to have lunch in our favorite part of town - The Nine Little Streets (De Negen Straatjes). This area has the cutest cafes, restaurants, and shopping. We parked our bikes by one of the (9, go figure) bridges and found an amazing restaurant for lunch, Ree 7. My cousin and I both had the goat cheese with rhubarb compote (yes, I cheated and ate cheese in Amsterdam… because culture… right?) – it was delicious! After refueling we strolled and shopped a bit before departing to find what we were told was the most beautiful canal view in Amsterdam. Groenburgwal did not disappoint. It is a picturesque little canal complete with a church on the end and a bridge full of locks on the other.

After my cousin did her lock on the bridge we set off once again, but this time we just decided to ride. We ended up on the west end of town in the Jordaan neighborhood. At this point we were about 6 hours into our biking extravaganza and we were starting to fatigue, so we decided to head back to the park where we started to lounge a bit on the grass and relax. It was Sunday so the park was full and there was a lot of amazing people watching.

We left Monday, but before departing we managed to see the Botanical Garden, Rembrandtplein, and do some serious souvenir shopping (I bought a lot of stroopwafles)! I would have loved to have more time, but I think we made the most of the time we did have and I can’t wait to return!

PS - You can read about day 1 here.

Ashley B
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Postcards from Amsterdam: Part One

wearing: jacket // shirt // pants // sneakers (similar)

Amsterdam was the last major European city on my must-see list (don't worry, I am sure I will come up with more for a new. People would often say, “I can’t believe you haven’t been to Amsterdam!” While I didn’t get a lot of time in this amazing city over this past weekend, I managed to spend two and a half jam-packed days there.

I love exploring new cities. It is exciting and there is just so much to see and do. I am sure the way I travel would stress out most people, but my cousin is very much on the same page and we were both looking forward to seeing as much as possible during our short stay.

We arrived Friday afternoon after a quick, but rather bumpy, flight from Pisa. We grabbed a cab and immediately checked into our adorable hotel just southwest of the city center, near the museumplein (this turned out to be the perfect location). We immediately headed down the main street Leidsestraat to explore. We hit our first canal and that was it, I was in love with Amsterdam. We were tired from traveling so we just wondered a bit and grabbed some fries, because... when in Amsterdam. After a couple hours of exploring, we decided to get some rest for our big day of museums the following day.

The next day we work up early and started with the Van Gogh Museum followed by the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House. You should absolutely pre-book all of these before visiting so that you don’t waste your day waiting in line (I felt bad for the poor chaps we bypassed). I plan on returning to Amsterdam to spend some quality time inside the Rijksmuseum. When you travel with someone you always have to conscientious of their time and interests, which is why I wasn’t going to torture my cousin with 4 hours in the Rijksmuseum (while I love traveling with friends and family this is why there are times that I also like to travel alone).

After a full morning of museums, and before the Anne Frank House, we stopped by the Pancake Bakery to refuel (a special thanks to Pheobe on Instagram for the recommendation). It was delicious! I am a huge fan of the savory concoctions and I never knew pancakes were so versatile (they are more crepe like). Following the Anne Frank House we decided to just wander a bit more and absorb the beauty of the city. But fair warning – there are so many types of transportation trying to run you over in Amsterdam. Beware of cars, trams, AND bikes. But more on biking in Amsterdam tomorrow because that was definitely a highlight of the trip.

One of the best parts about Amsterdam was the vast and varied selection of cuisine. I really miss this living in Florence (it is basically all Italian food, all the time). We found a great Thai place (Thai Corner on Kerkstraat) and gorged ourselves on tofu panang and pad thai.

That evening curiosity got the better of us and we decided to explore the Red Light District. Let’s just say that it was a disturbing, yet engrossing, experience. I would love to convince myself that these ladies are empowered fourth wave feminists, choosing to use sex and their sexuality to subvert patriarchal power dynamics (interesting articles which argue empowerment here, and exploitment here), but the sad reality is that many of these women are probably trapped, manipulated, or forced into this. Watching (mostly British) men gawk and approach these women as they displayed themselves in red-lit windows left me feeling uneasy. I felt bad that I was participating in their exploitation, but it was like bad reality TV, I couldn’t look away.

You are also probably wondering if I took part in Amsterdam’s other famously-legal activity, smoking pot. While I am not morally against marijuana or its legalization (I wonder how it is worse than tobacco or alcohol?), it is personally not something I enjoy. But I did at least visit a coffee shop (aka where people can smoke and consume marijuana), the one Brad Pitt and George Clooney filmed in for Ocean’s 13, naturally. Don’t worry if smoking and sex aren’t your thing, Amsterdam has so much more to offer!

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow!

Ashley B
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[name=Ashley] [img=] [description=Thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.] (facebook= (instagram=I (pinterest=