Italy Recap (Part 2): Concamarise + Northern Adventures

As I prepare to leave for school next week, I'm still looking back on pictures from my Italy trip and wondering how it could be possible that just a week ago I was sitting in an arena watching "Madame Butterfly" in Verona. While Rome was beautiful, there's something about being in the countryside that gives you a totally new perspective.

Here's a quick recap on my week in the Northern Italian countryside:

The Villa: Our villa was located in the tiny town of Concamarise, just a 40 minute drive outside of Verona. And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. The one major restaurant there was a Mexican place. We went on our first night just to check it out, and it was absolutely hopping. I swear the entire town was at the restaurant. The food was OK, but nothing compared to the tex-mex you can get in the states.

The villa itself was arguably the biggest building in the whole town. In fact, the town revolves around the dairy farm that the villa was located on. That being said, we legitimately had cows on our property. And cats. And peacocks. Pretty crazy stuff. But this villa was no farmhouse- it was a beautiful, old building filled with antiques. My favorite part? The pool. I loved eating breakfast there every morning.

Venice: A vacation in Italy wouldn't be complete without a day-trip to Venice of course! The endless crowds and ridiculously priced souvenirs aside, Venice really is a beautiful place. We had great weather for visiting the city- sunny and nearly 80 degrees! First, we visited St. Marks basilica and skipped the line, of course! It was truly a stunning space (tip: if you're planning to visit any place of worship in Italy, always bring a shawl to cover your bare shoulders if you're a woman- it's required).

After a quick look inside and some shopping, we did the super-touristy thing and took a gondola ride! I thought it would have been cheesy, but it was incredibly fun. Plus, the gondolier gave us a little history lesson, too! If you're planning on going on a Gondola ride in Venice, the best thing to do is get on in a one of the side canals and ask the gondolier to bring you along the quieter routes. That way, you won't have to deal with the crazy crowds.     

Soave: Easily one of the best parts of the entire trip. We visited Cantina di Soave, a winery in the town of Soave, and went on a very informative tour followed by a fantastic wine tasting. Shout out to our amazing tour guide, Marco, who taught me everything I need to know about wine- this was my first wine tour being of age! We took the tour and tasting with a family from the Netherlands who were also on vacation. Five glasses of wine and many snacks later, everyone was best friends. The wine was seriously tasty- especially the dessert wine.

Padua: Basically the Italian version of Cambridge, Padua is a thriving college-centric city. We visited with my mom's penpal and her husband whose daughter went to the University there for a year. We visited a few churches and did a lot of wandering around. Padua was definitely one of my favorite cities. The architecture was just brilliant and the city was so lively. The best part? Stopping for drinks in the big square- apperol spritz for me, of course!

Verona:  Out of any city we visited, Verona was the one we spent the most time in. Yes, there's a replica of Juliette's balcony (though I suppose it's not a replica since she really didn't exist), but the famous romance of Romeo and Juliette isn't the only reason to see fair Verona. Verona has a lot to offer in terms of food- there are many non-touristy places to eat. But it also has a large marketplace, great shopping, and tons of good people-watching spots. I met up with two friends from home in the city. Together, we window-shopped, ate apricots straight out of the box, and enjoyed some cocktails. Seeing friends in foreign countries is the best!

Oh, and let's not forget about the opera! My mom was very gung-ho about seeing the opera at the big stadium- think, the Colosseum in its glory days. We saw "Madame Butterfly," which was beautiful, but also a bit strange, since it's an opera about Americans and Japanese and is sung in Italian. Talk about a melting pot. Here's a good tip if you ever find yourself at the opera in Verona- buy the seat pads and read the synopsis beforehand!

Now it's just a few more days until I finally leave. Home feels a bit lonely now that all of my friends are gone away to college, so I think it's about time that I head off.

Until next time!


Italy Recap (Part 1): Roma!

An eight hour flight and a six hour layover later, I'm finally back in the good ol' US of A. Italy was fantastic- lots of food, wine and family. Maybe a little bit too much family at times, but it was nice to be together for one last hurrah before I head off to school. Here's a quick recap of what went down on the first couple days of our trip which we spent in Rome:

Day 1: The worst part about traveling? Getting there. Plane rides are never fun, and I always end up super achey afterwards. We had a seven hour layover in Madrid and decided to make the best of it by heading into the city. We spent the first part of the morning at a little cafe drinking hot chocolate and eating churros (of course!) Afterwards, we headed over to Retiro Gardens to explore. Then, we went to the Prado museum for all of 20 minutes to catch a glimpse of our favorite pieces- Leda & the Swan, and Las Meninas!

Day 2: When we finally arrived in Rome, it was time for a serious nap. By 8 o'clock we were ready for dinner and took the concierge's suggestion of a place called "Mamma Angela's Trattoria." It was some seriously good (and authentic!) food. I had Pasta alla Romana followed by Veal alla Romana- clearly I was hungry for some classic Roman fare. We then headed back to the hotel for some more sleeping.

Day 3: The Vatican was our first stop of the day. There are some crazy mile-long lines to enter the museum, but my mom was smart and got us "skip the line" tickets ahead of time. A few more Euros, but a lot less waiting. Seriously, if you ever have the chance to skip the line, do it. The Sistine Chapel was really beautiful, but not nearly as big as I thought it would be. Still, it was worth seeing. Afterwards, we ate at a little pizza shop that had the most delicious combinations of ingredients (think rappini, beets, and eggplant all on one pizza).

After heading back to the hotel for a little bit of relaxation, we stopped by the hotel bar for drinks. The Italian version of "Happy Hour" is called "Apperetivo," where you have a drink and get some free snacks (potato chips, peanuts, olives) along with it. If you've never had an Apperol spritz before I highly recommend it. It's this bright orange cocktail that has Apperol (a bitter liquor), Proseco (the Italian version of champagne) and orange flavoring. It's super tasty and all the rage in Italy. Seriously- every table at any cafe will have someone drinking it!

Next stop was Eataly (which you can read more about here ) and then we went out for dinner and gelato.

Day 4: On the fourth day, we hopped on train for a 45 minute ride to Tivoli gardens. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous and there were lots of great photo ops! Not a ton of flowers, but lots of greenery and water features. I felt like I was in a fairytale. Later, we stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant in the area. My dad and I both had Margherita pizzas (his personal favorite) and the setting was just too classic.

At night, we made our way over to the Trevi Fountain to discover that it has been closed. I was pretty upset that I couldn't have my "Lizzie McGuire Movie" moment. So instead of dwelling on the loss we went out to dinner at a gorgeous restaurant that had the best outdoor setting- lots of flowers, vines, and lights.

Day 5: We spent our last day in Rome at the Colosseum and the Forum. The line for the Colosseum was ridiculously long, and we didn't have much interest in going. So instead, we hopped in the much shorter line for the Forum. The Forum is great because you can explore at your own whim. It really feels like you're being transported back in time. After our day of exploration, we had a lovely lunch (al fresco, of course) in which I had the best tomato and mozzarella salad ever.

To go out with a bang on our last night, we went to this super-fancy restaurant for drinks. Each of our cocktails cost $35, but were well worth it, if you ask me (my dad is a different story.) We didn't want to eat our meal in that restaurant because it was so expensive, but we also didn't want to run around Rome looking for a restaurant. So, instead, we ended our Rome experience at Mamma Angela's once again. Oh, and they even gave us free champagne!

So that's Rome for ya. Look out for a post about the rest of my trip later this week!

Ciao for now!           


Bits & Bobs

I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Whether it's for school, for writing, for fashion, or for life in general, I'm always finding things that get me excited. Sometimes I find these bits of inspiration online or in the real world. And I always want to share what I'm excited about with other people. One of my closest friends and I (*cough* you know who you are) are constantly sending each other Facebook messages with links to articles, videos, and even clothes that we find enjoyable or inspirational. It's quite a fun way of communicating, actually.

So here are 5 "Bits & Bobs" that are getting me excited this week (so now I have even more friends to share with!): 

This will definitely be the hot topic in the UK over the next month or so. On Thursday, September 18th, just a few days after I start classes, the Scots will be voting on their Independence from the UK. If they gain independence, the Scots will be negotiating with the UK on the terms of their independence. I'm not quite sure where I stand on the issue, because while I've read countless articles on it, I'm not Scottish and I feel that I still don't know enough. But being the raging American liberal that I am, I suppose I should be for Independence... right? 

I'll admit it. I'm not much of a book reader. Much less, a fiction reader. Most of my reading takes place online through articles, and if I am reading, I'm usually reading nonfiction. And more often than not, that work of nonfiction will be an autobiography of a comedian. 

But I cannot even begin to tell you how great this book is. I was hooked from the start, and author Jess Walter had me engaged through the bitter end. It takes place in many locations- Cinque Terre, Santa Monica, Edinburgh (!!) and Idaho. And it will certainly take you on quite the journey. Walter's writing is as fluid as the Italian seaside and each of the many characters is very distinctive. It's a wonderful summer read for the beach, the pool, or the porch.  

I still haven't pulled the trigger on anything yet, but I've become absolutely enamored with the clothes at this store. I've seen Jack Wills before, with its iconic preppy pink and navy stripes, but for some reason I always had it pegged for a kids store. But now that I'm going to the UK for school, I've been introduced to this lovely British gem of a chain-store (my student card gets me a discount there). Reasonable prices and quality materials? My kind of place.  

Right now I'm sweet on this skirtthis sweater, and this dress.
Street Harassment Video via Upworthy 

In this video, a woman wears a hidden camera to show how many times she gets harassed in one day. Granted, she is in a "rougher" neighborhood and is wearing what would be considered more "provocative" clothing, but it drives home a point, nonetheless. There are also some really powerful interviews with women who have been harassed on the street before. 

Personally, I think this is a big issue that a lot of people don't see. Catcalling is a gateway to bigger actions, and those who say that catcalling is simply a compliment to the woman aren't exactly seeing the whole picture. If you're in for a mega-scroll session, read the comments on the video. It will certainly have you seeing both sides of this issue. 


At first, I was convinced that this was an American company, since there's one in New York City. Little did I know that the first Eataly was actually created in Turin, a city located in Northwest Italy, and grew into a successful, international business from there.

If you haven't been to one of Eataly's many locations (only 2 so far in the US, though), let me tell you- it is fab-u-lous. Especially if you love food/grocery shopping as much as I do. My dad thought it was like a super-sized Whole Foods, my mom thought it was like Chelsea Market in NYC, and I thought it was like Wegman's. I think my mom hit the nail on the head with the Chelsea Market comparison.

As soon as we entered the massive store in a somewhat run-down neighborhood in Rome, we immediately started ooing and ahhing at all of the Italian delicacies- from fancy jams and chocolates, to cured meats and delicious cheeses. Then, we spied the little vendors on the first floor of the store, and just had to make our way over to the dessert section. We each had a mini panacotta in a shot glass. Heaven. After that, there were three more floors to explore- the second was filled with pasta (fresh and dried), and the third and fourth consisted of numerous restaurants. Each restaurant featured a certain type of ingredient- cheese, meat, fish, pasta. We were so overwhelmed by all the options, that we ended up going back towards our hotel for dinner instead of eating in-store. Maybe next time!

More Italy updates to come when I arrive home on Saturday night. Just a couple more weeks until the big move!



Vacation: Unplugged

Oh. The. Irony.

I feel a bit silly writing about the benefits of unplugging on vacation as I sit typing on my laptop with my iPhone plugged in next to me. Just a few minutes ago, I was totally stressing because of the lack of wifi here in the Italian countryside and the necessity of me posting this tonight.

But the thing is, vacation is not all about being completely disconnected from work, the people at home, or the world around you.

What I've realized is that keeping myself completely away from my phone and laptop is often more stressful than being connected all the time. A missed email here, a missed text there... and suddenly there's a lot to catch up on. And for me, it's really the instagram photos that get to me. It really bothers me when I'm not completely up to date with the latest pictures because then it's like this eternally scrolling page.

That being said, when you're on vacation, you're on vacation. You should be spending time out and about and with family and friends. My trick is to not completely unplug while on vacation- but to set appropriate limits on "screen-time." Here are a few tips for achieving that balance between being totally connected and technology-free while on vacation:

Establish A Time: It's important to have boundaries while on vacation, especially with technology. If your hotel has free wifi, then how about allow yourself to only use your phone while you're in the hotel? Or, better yet, try setting a specific time for when you'll be plugged in. For example, only use your tech items for an hour before bed.

Dine Sans Technology: A big pet peeve of mine is when people use their phones at the dinner table. Or lunch table. Or breakfast table. Or in any situation that involves food. That being said, I am absolutely guilty of doing so myself. Nowadays, lots of restaurants in major cities across the world will offer free wifi. And it isn't too difficult to hack into a nearby service, either. But try to refrain from using your phone during dinner. It's disruptive, especially when you're around lots of other people. Enjoy each others company. Enjoy the wonderful food. And only take your phone out to take a #foodstagram (totally fair game).

Say "No" to TV: The one thing I absolutely will never do while on vacation is watch TV. Especially with my laptop (and therefore Netflix) at my disposal, it's pretty tempting to click over to a site to watch my favorite TV shows from home. But to me, TV is essentially worse than doing nothing. It's not particularly productive. I'd rather be reading a book or even just sitting outside. If I am planning on watching TV, I'm always watching either CNN, BBC, or foreign cartoons (they're hilarious- especially if they're American cartoons dubbed in another language).

How do you unplug while on vacation? Do you like to completely disconnect or have a little bit of "tech-time" every day? 

P.S. My Passport (complete with Student Visa stamp) is on its way! *cue huge sigh of relief*




Today I'm off to Italy with my parents (the "boys" will be joining us a few days later) for a much needed family vacation after two years of vacationing as an incomplete family.

With one brother in California, one working full-time in the Boston area, another just starting grad school, and me going off to Scotland in the fall, we are all officially "grown-ups." So it's hard to schedule a full-on family vacation with all six of us. But now it's finally come!

The Olia Family doesn't mess around when it comes to travel. Even when we were little, my mom always had a full itinerary at the ready- complete with restaurant reservations for every meal, museum tours, and sight-seeing details. And it was all down to the minute. While my travel-writer mom has relaxed a bit since then, our upcoming trip is certainly going to be filled with activities for every moment of the day.  

So, in the spirit of my trip, here's a major #throwback to our first trip to Italy circa 2005.

Such an actress.

Lots of gelato, of course!

Uncomfortable family photo at its finest. 

Bij and I were not having it. 

The best part of our villa in Tuscany? Ancient ruins on the property!

Vineyard views never get old. 

Camy and I taking full advantage of the pool.  

P.S. For those of you wondering, I'm not going directly from Italy to Scotland- I'll be back in the states for 11 days before I leave again. 



Let me tell you a little something about transitioning into being an international student.

It's. Not. Easy.

Shout out to all my friends (and their parents!) who came to the US at a young age and probably had to go through twice the trouble that I'm going through to get everything settled.

One of the underlying hassles that I've had to deal ever since decision-day is simply not understanding the system. As opposed to American schools which immediately start sending you mail the second you enter high school, there is very little correspondence between me (the student) and the school. I hardly received any "Welcome Information" or even an official printed acceptance letter. To be honest, I think there was a point where I thought, "Do they know I'm coming?"

In fact, I have not yet registered for the coming school year. While the majority of my friends know exactly what their schedule is for this year, I'm pretty much left in the dark until "4-6 weeks prior to the start of (my) programme."

Generally, most correspondence with UOE has been between the school and me (read: not my mom). Whether it's information about my student visa, financial aid, or accommodation, they pretty much refuse to talk to my parents. I'm an adult now (scary stuff).

The biggest headache of all, however, has been the process of obtaining a student visa. As with most big undertakings, I would encourage anyone going through the same process to start early. However, it's also imperative, for whatever reason, that you not begin the process until 3 months prior to starting at school.

After filling out endless online paperwork- nearly as long and dreadfully detailed as the Common App- I headed into the city to have my fingers scanned. And just when I thought I was done with that process, my mom discovered that I had to send in the application to New York City (along with my passport). Now I'm just crossing my fingers to see if they return my passport by next week when I go to Italy!

And then, of course, there's packing.

I've never been the best packer (why can't I just stuff my entire wardrobe into my suitcase?). And whenever I pack, I always have a major case of the "What Ifs."

What if I need to go to a fancy event?
What if I lose my favorite jeans?
What if I have to go to a theme party?

That being said, packing for something so long-term is already turning out to be a struggle and a half. Not to mention, I'm only able to bring so much stuff on a flight (aka no mini-fridge or TV). I'm sure those of you heading off to school in faraway places (even in the states) are facing similar hardships.

One of my sneakiest ways to bring even more "stuff" on a flight while avoiding checked luggage fees is by bringing on a tote bag (I just got this one in navy) as a "purse." There I'll put everything I need for the flight plus anything extra that won't fit in my luggage- ballet flats, a sweater, and maybe even socks. With the insane rates of checked luggage, you're going to want to get the most bang for your buck while flying. So teeny-tiny purses are definitely a no-no (try sticking your regular purse/cross-body in your tote!).

As far as carry ons go, I always make sure mine is as large as it can possibly be. Yes, it's annoying to roll a huge suitcase around the terminal, but it's totally worth it. Save your checked luggage for the real heavy-duty suitcase you have lying in your attic.

Anyone else having trouble preparing for college? What do you think the hardest part is?

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