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Fare un Picnic

dress // hat // sunnies // earrings // basket (from Tiger) // shoes

You are probably thinking that this dress looks vaguely familiar. And you are not wrong! It is actually this uber popular dress from Ann Taylor, with a lot of adjustments lol (thank you Kelly!). While I loved the original dress design, it was just so wrong for me. Rather than sacrifice the chance to have this perfect over-size gingham pattern, I decided to shorten it and add sleeves. The dress was so long on me that there was enough fabric for two sleeves!

I love the way it turned out and it was the perfect dress to wear for a picnic in the Boboli Gardens with Anna. "Fare un picnic" literally means to make a picnic, and that is exactly what we did! I must say that Anna and I are pretty good at picnicking. We have mastered the art of sneaking prosecco, a baguette, fresh cheese, speck, and fresh fruit into the Boboli Gardens. Not that picnicking is illegal in the Boboli, you are allowed to eat there, but the guards get a little nervous when they see tons of food (which equals a possible mess they have to clean up later) going into the gardens. As long as you limit what you bring, clean up after yourself, and are discrete, they will let you enjoy a relaxing meal in the back area of the gardens.

We wanted to get a good picnic in before the weather got too hot. Saturday was our first really warm day in Florence, but it was still cool enough for lounging, sipping, and snacking on a blanket under a shady tree. While picnicking in Florida is nice, there is just something really special about picnicking in a historic garden like the Boboli. It's full of so much beauty and the people watching is fantastic. I highly recommend enjoying some fresh air and sunshine in the Boboli Gardens (and Bardini Gardens) if you visit Florence.

Ashley B
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Florentine Leather

jacket (from David Leather, similar option here) // top // skirt // sunnies // c/o Dagne Dover tote // mules

There is nothing quite like a soft and supple leather jacket. It makes you look instantly cooler and it looks great when paired with soft, famine silhouettes. Leather is definitely something worth splurging on here in Italy, but you need to make sure you understand the leather business in Florence and how to spot value and quality over a heavy and flattering sales pitch (which you can read more about here).

When I arrived in Florence there was still a bit a chill in the air, nothing like freezing Paris, but definitely perfect leather jacket weather. I purchased this skirt in Paris at one of my favorite Parisian stores, Sandro (which is substantially cheaper over here btw). I loved the contrasting colors and the shape. The Parisian sales lady was hilarious, she went on and on about how French women didn't have the backside to pull off this skirt. I was already sold on the skirt, but her flattery definitely removed any doubt I had about purchasing (I'm sure she uses this technique on everyone lol).

I played off the contrasting white and black pattern of the skirt with the black leather jacket and white accessories. You will be seeing these white Celine sunnies a lot this summer. I am sorry, but not that sorry because they are amazing! These Via Spiga mules are another recent purchase and surprisingly comfy, so  I decided to pack them as my one fancy pair of shoes for the summer. The thicker heel means I can actually navigate cobblestone in them.

While it is not a holiday here in Italy today, I am in the Amalfi Coast with students this week! Follow along on Snapchat (HinHH) if you want to see more.

Happy Memorial Day!


Ashley B
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Wine Tasting in Tuscany, San Vito

dress (so comfy!) // hat // sunnies // earrings c/o Kendra Scott // sandals

To really see, experience, and taste Tuscany you can't just visit Florence or Siena, you must venture into the countryside. There is nothing quite like the charming countryside of Tuscany. And one of the best ways to experience this charm is to visit or stay in an "agriturismo."

Agriturismi dot the countryside surrounding Siena and Florence. They are typically small agricultural farms that grow grapes, olives, and/or other agricultural products. Most of these estates produce limited runs of their own wine and olive oil, which you can taste or purchase. Some are small B&Bs while others are larger luxurious estates with amazing amenities for a relaxing weekend away.

You can't go wrong with any agriturismo in Tuscany. All are small operations that focus on producing quality local and traditional foodstuffs, and since they are farm-to-table (and many of them are also organic), the meals (and wine) are amazing!

I have been fortunate to stay in several agriturismi over the course of my years in Italy. Tentuta San Vito is an estate that I have been visiting with students for more than 6 years. Located just over a half-hour outside of Florence, it is perfect for a quick afternoon trip. We take students to learn about their organic wine and olive oil production. After touring the estate and cellars, students get to sample several of San Vito's unique wines (the Madiere Tuscan red is my favorite) while eating a homemade farm-to-table meal overlooking acres of vineyards. As you can see from the photos the estate is stunning and so very Tuscan.

For the occasion I wore this fluid bell-sleeve dress. The weather was perfect -- a slight breeze with just a hint of spring chill left in the air. I loved the way the wind would catch the lightweight fabric of this dress. It is so hard to find comfortable and easy to wear dresses that are still flattering, so when I do, I scoop them up. I'm so happy I grabbed this one on sale just before I left and I am even happier with how it captured the feeling of San Vito's gorgeous estate for what will likely be our last taste of spring.


Ashley B
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Buying Leather in Florence

If you have ever strolled through the street markets of Florence then you have experienced the onslaught of catcalls, promises of huge discounts, and desperate attempts to grab your attention in order to sell you a leather handbag or jacket. Don’t let the charm, compliments, and fake smiles fool you, leather is big business in Florence and it has been for centuries.

While many want to indulge in some “Florentine quality” leather that was “made in Italy,” the process of actually purchasing something can be overwhelming and intimidating. Between the ridiculous discounts offered and aggressive workers who will say absolutely anything to make a sale, you’re left wondering how you could possibly walk away with a quality piece at a decent price.

Well, have no fear. I sat down with a friend of mine in Florence who works in the leather business for a very candid interview (he didn’t shy away from any of my tough questions). From this interview I have compiled everything you need to know when purchasing leather in Florence.

So here we go…

1) There is no mom and pop
Since leather is such a lucrative trade, it has evolved into a massive business enterprise. Most leather stores own a stand or cart, shop, and boutique. All are working together to get your business. It is also not uncommon for one investor to own shares in multiple leather shops. In addition to this, there are not that many tanneries or factories in Tuscany/Italy to begin with, so most of the jackets are coming from same suppliers.

2) Educate yourself
There is a difference between the following terminologies thrown around when buying leather:

“Real Leather” – Real leather is an empty promise and doesn’t indicate quality, just that some animal skin was tanned and used in the creation of the bag or jacket. Obviously, you want real leather, but you can get that anywhere. This is not enough of a promise; you want more, otherwise you might as well go into a chain retail store. A lot of this "real leather" actually comes from China or other places in North Africa/the Middle East. If you want high-quality leather, you should look for items made from calf or lambskin.

“Made in Italy” – You want your leather to be real and made in Italy, but this too can be misleading. In order to qualify as “made in Italy,” 33% of the item must be produced or manufactured in Italy. That’s it. So that means the leather could come from Morocco or Turkey and then be manufactured in Italy.

“Italian Quality” – Italian (or Tuscan) quality is really what you are looking for in addition to the first two. Italian quality means that the leather was treated and dyed according to traditional (non chemical) Italian techniques. Bottom line, the type of skin used and the tannery process determines the quality of a leather jacket.

Here are some tips for spotting Italian quality:
You should be able to see the texture of the animal skin.
If the leather is real, it cannot be perfect or free of imperfections.
The texture of the leather should feel soft and buttery to the touch.
The color will be more muted and natural, not fire engine red.
No leather is fire and waterproof. Do not fall for this promise.

3) Have realistic expectations
Like anything, you get what you pay for. A quality short leather jacket in Florence is going to cost between 200 and 350 euros, anything less simply cannot be Italian quality. If a shop offers you 50% or 70% off, they have already marked up their prices to offer such deals. Leather sells well year-round in Florence, so there is no liquidation or sale season. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, it is best to find a salesperson you trust. Just remember they are there to sell and will likely do anything to convince you to buy. If you want to visit my friend (who I obviously trust), you can find Aria at the David leather shop on Via Por Santa Maria, 56/red.

4) Haggle
You absolutely can and should haggle on the price of leather goods. A good haggler will shock the salesperson with a very low opening offer to see their reaction. Also, don’t be afraid to walk away. There are plenty of shops and you should definitely shop around (ask for a business card in case you decide to return). Finally, many of the carts/stalls (and even boutiques) hide their inventory to create the appearance that there are only a couple or your favorite items. Don’t fall for this and don’t be afraid to ask for a new item from the back when you purchase.

One final note if your traveling with an agency or cruise ship, many of these guides bring you to specific shops because they get a commission from your purchases. Not that this is inherently a bad thing, just something to be aware of when you’re shopping. Don’t be afraid to venture elsewhere.

Bottom line - Don't be intimidated. Leather makes a wonderful souvenir, just educate yourself so you buy quality and every time you wear it, it will remind you of beautiful Florence.

Happy leather shopping!

Ashley B
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Florence: My Home Away From Home

I am so happy to be back in Florence. Although it seems like it has been a year (in reality it has only been 4 months since I left). After spending all last year living in Florence, it is a bit surreal to be back.

I am living on the opposite side of town, which makes it feel like a completely different world. Everything is the same but different. Of course, that is what Tampa felt like when I returned last December.

Working with students again has been exhausting but exhilarating. I forgot how much fun it was to experience Florence through their eyes. I think the experience of being abroad has already rocked their world, we even had one student who had never been on a plane before (you can read why I am such a fan of study abroad here). Some of them are really into taking photos, which is basically a dream come true for me.

The group is large (60+ people), but so fun (one of my students even joked that he was going to start a blog Museums and Manpris, as in capris for men lol). They have great attitudes and are generally excited and interested in seeing and learning about everything. We have been here less than a week, but we have already climbed the Duomo, ventured into the countryside (more on that soon), visited some churches, hiked to Piazzale Michelangelo, and sampled lots of local food and wine (you can follow our adventures on Snapchat - HinHH).

The group had a bit of trouble adjusting to traveling in such a large group at the start, but they are coming around nicely (you can read my advice for traveling in a group here). Our schedule for the month is intense. The goal is to give them a taste of everything Italy has to offer. That means we are go, go, go -- Siena this Friday, Amalfi next week, Venice the week after that, followed by day trips in Montepulciano and Pienza before heading to Rome (all with classes in Florence sprinkled in between). I am already tired, but it is so worth it. They remind me why I love teaching and working with study abroad.


Ashley B
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Oops A Daisy

fabric // dress pattern // sunnies // clutch // shoes (old, similar)

Ok, one last Tampa post before you are inundated with all things Italy and Florence.

This dress was my second dress making success (you can see my first one here). I followed the same pattern, but got a little crazy and added a bell sleeve, which turned out to be a great idea. I also substituted the half pleated, half gathered skirt the pattern called for with a full box-pleat skirt. It doesn't even look like the same dress. It is amazing what you can do with one great pattern.

Like my other dress, I also created this fabric via Spoonflower. I was inspired by this Dolce and Gabbana shift that I LOVE but, obviously, could never afford. It also pairs perfectly with Kate Spade's adorable "Oops a Daisy" clutch and white daisy sunnies.

This dress definitely came to Italy with me and you will be seeing it a lot! I am sad that I won't be able to keep up with my sewing over the summer, but I am sure there will be plenty to keep me busy and lots of European designers to inspire me. I plan on visiting the designer fabric store while in Florence.

Have a great Monday, and I will have a complete update on Florence tomorrow!


Ashley B
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