I think it’s fair to say I do a good bit of traveling. One of the dangers of traveling around a lot is not falling into the habit of buying a lot of souvenirs. It’s a slippery slope where you see one thing that’s so unique and of course you want something to remember the trip when you get home. Plus shouldn’t you buy your mom something? What about grandma? Or your friend who absolutely just love that necklace? And oh wow is that a handmade basket? You definitely cannot find that in the U.S.

Pretty soon you’re a bit poorer and your luggage is a lot heavier.

A few years ago I decided to really be aware of what I spend on souvenirs especially from places I’ve been to several times. This didn’t mean ruling out souvenirs entirely, but instead focusing on something that had meaning to me and I could really use. That item for me is jewelry. I try to buy one piece of jewelry from each country so that when I wear it, I can remember my time there. My price point is pretty low (under $50), and it doesn’t add much weight to my luggage.  The bracelet above is from L’Accademia. One of my classmates here had one, and I thought it would make a very nice memento of both my time in Florence and of taking classes. It was 8 euros, so in addition to being pretty, the bracelet hardly breaks the bank.

If I’m buying something for someone else (like my mom), I try to make sure it’s something she can really use. A t-shirt might be a good bargain, but is that person going to wear something from a place they’ve never been? I’m a big fan of gifts for the kitchen, like food or the wine bottle stopper above. My mom loves wine, but bringing back a bottle of wine isn’t always practical (especially not when I’m traveling to Russia for several months on this trip first). This is small enough to fit in my suitcase without adding much weight, and isn’t a glaringly obvious souvenir.  

Loving Italy

I have been having such an amazing and productive trip. I finished my Italian lessons, I’ve seen so many interesting places, and I’ve handed in nearly sixty pages of a draft of my dissertation.

I have lots of thoughts on all of those things, but it’s my best friend’s last night in Italy so there is prosecco that needs our attention.


I had the best few days as one of my closest friends came to visit for a long weekend. I have lots of pictures to share, but I am so exhausted from running around & this nasty little bug we both picked up.

I’m spending this extraordinarily hot day recouping from the weekend & catching up on all the boring stuff I’ve been putting off like laundry and applying for grants.

The above picture is from our Sunday trip to Lucca, and was made with the Rhonna Designs App. I’m still trying to get the hang of it, but it does make for fun pictures.

Mastering Gelato

I’m doing my best to try every flavor of gelato Florence has to offer. With the weather reaching well over 90 degrees every single day, stopping at a gelateria on the way home makes the heat a little less deadly.

Despite being a diehard chocolate fan, I think my favorite flavor so far is lemon-sage. It’s the right combination of tart & savory. Pistachio comes in second much to my surprise.

My instructor at school let us in on the secret to great gelato. You need to get it from a place that keeps the gelato covered. The places that have giant mountains of gelato don’t make it themselves. The ones that keep it in covered tubs are the truly outstanding ones. I tried both types, and the difference is really easy to see (taste?).

Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying more flavors. If I remember anything from my math classes in college it’s that a larger sample size means more accurate results.

Io abito…

One of the hardest things to plan for this trip was where to live. I knew that I’d have a few guests coming to visit me so that automatically ruled out the dorms (also, at age 32 the thought of dorm life again gives me chills). I also knew that I had a pretty set budget and Florence is sort of crazy expensive when it comes to real estate.

My first stop was Sabbatical.Com because I figured it would be a pretty safe site. However, I didn’t have much luck. It seemed like everything was rented out, and the prices were at the upper end of my price range. There also weren’t a lot of reviews of the places, and I spend enough time on the internet to be wary of anything that looks too good without reviews supporting it.

That brought me to Airbnb which is a vacation home rental site that is established enough to have a good pool of places to choose from with enough reviews to make me feel comfortable. It took me forever to pick a place that I wanted for my stay here. Not because there were too few, but too many! There were so many gorgeous houses and apartments, it really came down to what I was looking for in a place. Did I want to be in the countryside with my own little house overlooking the wineries (yes!), but did I want a 35 minute bus ride everyday on Florence’s notoriously late public transportation system (no). Did I want to be in the center of everything so it was easy to get around (yes). But did I want to pay $2500 a month for that convenience (definitely not).

So after much searching, I found the place I knew I really wanted. It was just out of my price range, but I wrote the owners hoping for a deal because of two things: 1. that I would be considered a long term rental since AirBnB also places short stays and 2. I would be in Florence, a notoriously quiet month for locals as many Italians go on vacation for the entire month. My gamble paid off, and the owners gave me a really fair deal for a really wonderful place.

How wonderful? Well, I sort of live in a palace. How cool is that? It’s a recently renovated palace just off of S. Spirito, a street that I really liked the first time I visited Florence a few years ago. It’s full of small cafes & coffee bars. I’m just outside the center of the city which means that I’m far enough away all the tourist activities that I don’t have to deal with loud, crowded streets or pay $5 for a bottle of water. I’m also close enough that I have about a 10 minute walk to school and a 15 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio for days that I want to do tourist things. It’s also right in what I think is the antique district because there are tons of antique furniture stores and furniture repair shops in the area. Last night as I was walking home from class I also noticed a few artist studios right on the corner with painters working with the doors wide open so I could peek inside. It’s lovely.

All in all I’m really so thrilled with the choice of apartments in Florence. I used AirBnB to book my Russian apartment, and hope I’ll have the same luck there.