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.

Getting There is Rarely Fun

Somewhere along the way I must have pissed off the gods of travel because it has been quite a while since I’ve had a smooth travel day. Even my last short trip, a visit to see my family in Florida resulted in a misplaced piece of luggage.

This time, however, might take the cake. My flight was suppose to go from Cville to Philly to Frankfurt to Florence with just enough time between each stop (just over 2 hours) to allow me to stroll through each airport without missing my connections. I’d even have time to grab dinner at Chickie & Pete’s in the Philly airport. Right from the start my travel day went right down the toilet.

The bad weather in Charlotte meant that the crew for my Cville flight wouldn’t be arriving until well after I missed my connection in Philly. So I had two options: wait for a much later flight in Cville and hop a connection in Philly to London to Milan and then a train from Milan to Florence which would put me in Florence at 11pm on Sunday night or take a cab to DC and hop a flight to Paris in hopes of reaching Florence by 9pm on Sunday. Neither option was that great, so I went with the DC one so I’d avoid having to take a train on a Sunday (I wasn’t sure what time the trains stopped running on a Sunday).

So I made my way via cab (at U.S. Airway’s expense, thanks guys) to DC and that was thankfully uneventful, as was boarding the plane (now an Air France flight which means no miles for me, thanks guys) even though it was done in the most chaotic fashion I’ve ever seen. What didn’t go smoothly was the three hour delay on the tarmac because of an electrical failure. Oh, who doesn’t love to hear the phrase “electrical failure” on a trans-Atlantic flight? Especially when they tell you “We’re having an electrical problem with piloting system.” There’s such thing as too much honesty sometimes.

Thankfully our plane remained electrically intact for the remainder of the flight. I arrived in Paris with enough time to jump on an earlier flight to Florence, but sadly my luggage did not. It apparently enjoyed the CDG airport so much it decided to extend its stay by a day which has been a pain for me. After some freaking out (and a long discussion with myself about what really should go in a carry-on. Clothes & toiletries, less books), I realized my luggage would eventually get here, and going to school in a Mickey Mouse shirt was not the end of the world. My landlord was even nice enough to pick up some toiletries for me so that I could feel human again.

After my minor freak out, I went for a walk around my neighborhood and discovered it is absolutely lovely. Close enough to the center of the city to walk everywhere, but far enough away to avoid the crowds of tourists. I found a small bar, had a big glass of wine & enjoyed the free buffet that comes with happy hour here.

On the walk home I treated myself to a big cone of gelato. The journey here may have sucked, but just being here for an hour made the trip worth it already.

Here I Go Again

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here, but it’s been a busy year. A lot has happened in the last 10 months that have kept me busy and away from the blogging world.

First off, I’m officially Wandering Bean, ABD (All But Dissertation). The big event in the Fall of 2012 was studying for my PhD comprehensive exams, and subsequently passing them! It was exhausting, tear inducing and an experience I never have to go through every again.

This also means that I’ve started the dissertation writing phase of my career, and ohgoodness, is it way harder than I ever anticipated. It’s just so much bigger than I could have ever pictured. It’s also oddly enjoyable since I get to do two of my favorite things-reading and writing. And it’s a very good thing that I like reading and writing because dissertating means you do both of those things. A lot. All the time.

I also got to teach my own course for my university for the first time. It was a course on travel literature, and it was a really fantastic experience. I am anxiety disorder ridden and when I first started teaching, couldn’t even think of entering a classroom without medication. It is now second nature to me, and that never fails to surprise me.

I did a bunch of traveling as well with several trips to Florida to visit family, and a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate my birthday in March. I could happily live in either state.

Finally, I received two grants from my university for study and research so I’m going to be spending the next few months living in Florence, Italy and Moscow, Russia for my dissertation research. In fact, I leave in 12 days, which is shocking, overwhelming and scary. I have a ton to do before I leave. I’m really excited that I get to spend extended time in each place.

Summer Flowers

It’s fairly grey and gloomy here in my hometown so I’m missing summer quite fiercely despite my love of all things autumnal. The truth is I love summer. I wish I had just a few more weeks of it before the chill sets in. I can already see my breath when I take my dog for his early morning walk.

I find myself looking at my pictures from Puerto Rico wishing for just a couple more days of heat, swimming and sundresses.

Puerto Rico: The Big News

Despite all the chaos of our trip to Puerto Rico that included hurricane evacuations, angry roosters and lack of electricity, the trip will always be special to me because my boyfriend, now fiance proposed to me. It’s hard to be upset about all the little frustrations of the trip when something so wonderful happened too.

Bits of Boston

It happened again. I blinked and the summer is over. For a summer that did not involve any extended travel plans, I traveled way more than I ever imagined.

I’m still thinking about our trip to Boston, with all the amazing restaurants we tried. I still cannot get the mini biscuits and clam chowder of the Island Creek Oyster Bar out of my mind. One of my goals of the Fall is to replicate their Bergamot Buck, one of the best drinks I’ve ever had.

For a quick blitz of a trip, we packed so much into it, and tried so many new places.

Packing for Puerto Rico

When I taught my travel class this summer I confessed to my students that I am not a light packer. For a while I really wanted to be one of those people that could toss a pair of shorts, two t-shirts & a pair of sturdy shoes in a backpack, and be ready to travel around Europe for six months. However, I am not that kind of traveler. When I travel internationally I always use the exact same medium sized suitcase. When I travel in the U.S. I use a duffel bag. I pack the exact same amount of clothes in each, whether it’s for a week or an entire summer. I can’t help it. Variety is the spice of life, right?

Right now I’m having a lot of fun packing for Puerto Rico. We’ve got so much planned for this trip that I want clothes that are nice enough for beautiful dinners out on the beach, and things that will be light & airy for our days wandering around the rain forest of El Yunque.