Mondays in Florence

Florence In August

I often hear the following from clients: “I’ve been told that I shouldn’t visit Florence on a Monday because nothing will be open.” To that I say, au contraire–Mondays are a great day for visiting the less-frequented sites and hidden gems of the city. Sure, the major state museums like the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, and the Accademia will be closed, but there are still plenty of places to explore. Plus, most of the shops, restaurants, and cafes also remain open on Mondays now–so you can get your fill of delicious Tuscan fare and unique Florentine goods any day of the week. Below I’ve listed my favorite spots to visit on Mondays.

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Midwest Is Best: Eating My Way Through Kansas City

Oh nooooo I had two paragraphs of this written and then changed computers and it disappeared! Shucks gosh darn it.

Well, I’m not going to rewrite those two paragraphs. Long story short: I took a whirlwind, long overdue weekend trip to Kansas City to visit my pal Hannah (half of the amazing Florence for Free team). If that girl isn’t getting a cut from the KC tourism board, she should be! Not only did she talk up KC until I came to visit, but she took me on a world class city tour. And obviously, we ate a lot.

So when I say a whirlwind trip, this is what I mean: hop a flight after work on a Friday and arrive in KC around 9pm or so, see the city Saturday, and then Sunday evening back on the plane to go home. We packed a TON in, but there’s definitely stuff I didn’t get to see. Also, we attempted to ghost hunt at (by which I mean: go into the lobby of) a hotel I can’t remember the name of that is supposedly haunted, but we were thwarted by not being able to find the entrance. (There was construction and remodeling, okay? It was confusing). The point it, we packed a lot in, but there’s enough to warrant a return trip. (Pics were taken on my crappy cell phone camera and are, apparently, super low resolution. Sorry).

The Roasterie, Kansas City.

The Roasterie, Kansas City.

Saturday morning we “slept in” until about 8 am (sadly, this is sleeping in for both of us). Knowing we had a full schedule, our first stop of the day was The Roasterie. The Roasterie is a specialty coffee roasting company based in KC that air roasts their beans. Tours of their roasting facility are available, so we coffee’ed up and learned about coffee beans and roasts. The tour was really fun and informative, and the tour guide did a fantastic job.

OH MY GOD I just opened this to finish and the draft didn’t save the last five paragraphs I wrote! This is probably a combo of WordPress apparently not autosaving and me being an idiot and forgetting to save before exiting. This post is cursed. Clearly. Or maybe it is a sign I should just sit down and write it and not take three weeks, but STILL.

Out of frustration, the rest of this post will be bullet points.

Getting excited about the menu at Joe's.

Me getting excited about the menu at Joe’s.

  • Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que: It is delicious, it is in the back of a gas station, and it is on Anthony Bourdain’s list of places to eat before you die. Go eat there. Yum. French fries also v. good.
View from Liberty Memorial.

View from Liberty Memorial.

  • Liberty Memorial: Great view of the city. LOTS of wedding parties taking pictures. Windy.
Interior of Union Station, Kansas City.

Interior of Union Station, Kansas City.

  • Union Station: Cool old train station with bullet hole souvenirs from the mob. (OR ARE THEY?)
  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Giant lawn full of shuttlecocks (hehe), good for laying out. Also: art in the museum. Nice collection. Rembrandt!
Shuttlecock! At the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City.

Shuttlecock! At the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City.

  • Bella Napoli: Honestly some of the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. And I really love tiramisu.
  • Kansas City Public Library: Coolest parking garage ever. EVER. You have probably seen pictures of it before on random internet articles with titles like “Top 10 Libraries You Won’t Believe!” or some such. It is pretty awesome though.
  • There was one more place we ate at, but unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place. It had a lot of crazy interesting food and flavor combos. We got these wide, thin cut fries that came with guacamole ketchup (delicious), vanilla ketchup (interesting), and blood orange ketchup (it was red. Also, I still don’t know if I liked it or not).
Kansas City Public Library.

Kansas City Public Library.

Now I am going to physically hit save, and when I go home tonight I will upload photos that will probably be of dubious quality because they were taken on my phone, and publish.

Update: Photos have been added, but I can’t be bothered to fix the formatting, because my frustration level with this post is at an unhealthy level.

If you order a latte, they will give you milk

Florence In August

DSC04245_FotorItalians take their coffee very seriously. They like their espressi piping hot and richly flavored, their cappuccini smooth and topped with cloud-like milk froth, and their caffè macchiati perfectly balanced. As a result, nearly every tazza (cup) of caffè that you sip in Italy is going to be amazing, whether you find yourself in the fanciest cafe of a city center or standing at the airport bar waiting for your flight back home. Plus, this is the only major European country that DOESN’T have a Starbucks, which should let you know that Italians really value their style of coffee.

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Boston: The Granary Burying Ground

Looking out at the Charles River, Boston.

Looking out at the Charles River, Boston.

I briefly lived in Boston in 2014. I was there for nine months (that’s briefly, right?) trying to figure out how to live in America again and trying to find a job that would hopefully make use out of my Art History MA degree (so naturally I ended up working at a tech startup, haha). I had been to Boston a handful of times before moving there – family vacations, visiting my sister, that sort of thing.

Now, in my family, a family vacation isn’t a family vacation without at least one insanely long hike in insanely hot weather through a city (or up a mountain, or in a desert, etc). The hike usually ends in some sort of mutiny. The mutineers will generally refuse to take a further step without the promise of ice cream or Chinese food or getting to “sleep in” a bit the next morning. So, when we did a family vacation to Boston, we OBVIOUSLY were going to hike the Freedom Trail from start to finish. The Freedom trail itself is only 2.5 miles long, which might not seem like a lot, but when you’re walking in the summer and stopping to go into every historical site of interest along the way, it adds up (especially because we decided it would be a great idea to walk from where we were staying to the start of the trail). From the Boston Commons all the way to the USS Constitution, we marched through Boston. My particular memories from that hike include eating lunch at Faneuil Hall, visiting the Paul Revere House, posing with the duck statues on the Commons, getting to sit for a few minutes in the Old North Church, and finally, blessedly, reaching the USS Constitution at the end of the day.

The Boston Commons

The Boston Commons.

I also remembered seeing some pretty cool graveyards, and when I moved to Boston I made sure to check them out. The big one is the Granary Burying Ground just east of the Boston Commons on Tremont Street. I popped in a few times when I was strolling past, or if I had a friend in town. It’s free to visit, and the handy maps/viewer’s guides that are available at the entrance provide a lot of interesting information.

The Granary Burying Ground was founded in 1660, which makes it the third oldest in the state. It was built when the city’s first graveyard (King’s Chapel Burial Ground, a few blocks east) ran out of room to accumulate the growing (dying?) population. The land was originally part of the Commons, but various bits and pieces were taken to be used by public buildings – including the Granary (from which the cemetery eventually got its name).

The Granary Burying Ground, Boston.

The Granary Burying Ground, Boston.

Interments stopped in 1880, but it’s estimated that the cemetery holds nearly 5,000 bodies. If you take a quick glance at the headstones, though, there are definitely fewer than that. In fact, there are 2,345. This is because oftentimes one headstone would mark the burial plot for an entire family, with the marked grave containing multiple bodies. Most of the gravestones are simple slate, with a few in the more expensive marble. As you wander through, some will catch your eye – either from the unique marker, or the famous name engraved on it.

The giant obelisk in the center marks the resting spot of the parents and relatives of Benjamin Franklin (you’ll have to go to Philadelphia to visit Ben himself).

You can also find the grave of revolutionary Samuel Adams, and (my dad would be disappointed if I didn’t point this out) if you go to the Beantown Pub across the street, you can have a cold Sam Adams while you look at a cold Sam Adams.

A cold Sam Adams...get it? GET IT?

A cold Sam Adams…get it? GET IT?

Other notable names include Peter Faneuil, benefactor of Faneuil Hall, which you’ll see if you continue along the Freedom Trail; John Hancock, of signature fame; Paul Revere, of late-night rides and silversmithing fame; and according to popular tradition, Mother Goose. (Popular tradition is wrong. Sorry).

Paul Revere grave marker.

Paul Revere grave marker.

One thing I always really enjoyed examining was the tombstone artwork. Boston was founded by thePuritans – a group of people that were not very thrilled with the idea of religious imagery or icons – but gravestone images were an outlet to exercise a little artistic expressions. One you’ll see a lot is this one:

Grave marker detail of a soul effigy, Granary Burying Ground, Boston.

Grave marker detail of a soul effigy, Granary Burying Ground, Boston.

This decoration is referred to as a Soul Effigy – a skull (sometimes, like in this cased, winged or flying) that represented the soul flying to heaven.

So there you have it! A super brief look at the Granary Burying Ground.

(Pssst….if you want to see tombs instead of tombstones, check out my past posts on the English Cemetery and the cemetery of San Miniato, both in Florence.

Throwback Thursday: Dublin

I have been working on a draft of this for literally months – I can’t quite figure out how I want to format it, and then I keep thinking “why bother posting it?” because it had been so long since I went there. But I will soldier on and give it a go.

Okay, throwback Thursday to Dublin! Firstly, my Dublin trip was in October of 2013, so nearly a year and a half ago, which is AGES, and the past five years I’ve been remarkably bad with keeping up my diary (shocking, isn’t it?), so I am mainly relying on my memory (ooer) and old pictures (thanks, Facebook) to recount this trip.

So, October of 2013, back when I was still living in Italy, my pals and I decided to take an extended weekend trip to Dublin. Why Dublin? Lots of reasons! One: They used the Euro so we wouldn’t have to deal with currency exchange (you think I am joking but you underestimate our laziness). Two: We heard good things (everyone is friendly! You’ll get a break from speaking Italian! Full Irish breakfast! Beer!). Three: We had some friends there to visit. Four: I’ve always wanted to go, which is pretty much the best reason ever for trips.

I went into this trip knowing pretty much nothing about Dublin and Ireland, which was a new thing for me. Usually when I travel somewhere, I already have a pretty thorough knowledge of the history (I mean, as an art history teacher in Italy, I had to). My friends had been there before, though, and I have to admit, it was kind of exciting going in blind. Every attraction and site was appealing because I didn’t go in knowing there was a set list of things I wanted to see.

River Liffey, Dublin.

River Liffey, Dublin.

With that in mind, I’m just going to talk a little bit about the big touristy attractions we DID do, and some of the parks we went to, and some of the food (our motto is and always will be “Eat your way through [city here]”).

The Sites

Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainhaim Gaol

Kilmainhaim Gaol

Now, one thing I do in preparation of almost every trip is google something. A specific something. Specifically, “most haunted places in X.” Why? I don’t know. Because I love ghost stories, despite being a serious skeptic. (And I do mean serious. I honestly don’t believe ghosts exist. But I have seen every single episode of Ghost Hunters. SO ADDICTING).

So Kilmainham Gaol popped up. Kilmainham Gaol played a daunting role in Irish history and the struggle for Irish independence from its construction in the late 18th century until it was decommissioned in 1924. Overcrowded and with ghastly conditions (especially during the famine, when there was a massive influx of prisoners charged with stealing food and begging), it held men, women, and children (the youngest prisoner recorded was 7 years old). It’s history is fascinating and heartbreaking – here’s a link for the official guidebook, which will give you a much better sense of the history and importance of the site than I can. (Like I said, I went into the trip, and still am but now to a slightly lesser degree, woefully ignorant to Irish history).

Kilmainhaim Gaol

Kilmainhaim Gaol

We hopped on a bus, battled stormy weather, and went on a tour with the most delightful, informative, pleasant tour guide ever. I wish I remembered his name, but I don’t. I’m the worst. After taking a peek around the museum, our tour began. The building itself is an imposing structure (…duh, Em, it is a jail), and the bleak weather outside seemed particularly appropriate. The tour was engaging and very informative. If you’re a history buff, regardless of what your preferred era is, I would definitely recommend it. Fact of the matter is, history becomes a lot more real when you’re on-site.

Also, I did not see a single ghost, and thus my belief that ghosts don’t exist continues on unchallenged.

Guinness Storehouse

So that same day after our jailhouse tour, we decided we needed to do something to lighten the mood. Touring the Guinness Storehouse seemed like the logical follow-up to the Kilmainham Gaol tour. Yes, sure, it is a bit touristy. Okay, very touristy. But we were in Dublin AS tourists, dammit, and we wanted to enjoy a pint from the Gravity Bar while enjoying a great view of Dublin!

We shelled out the 16 euros and carried on our merry way. While it was touristy, it was truthfully a lot of fun. I personally got a sort of amusement-park-meet-Rainforest-Cafe-but-with-beer vibe. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve done a number of brewery tours before (Steven’s Point Brewery!) but this one was designed more as an interactive museum. Huge displays explaining the history of brewing, the technicalities of how beer is made, how it’s stored and transported, and Guinness’s tradition of advertising and marketing.

Learning beer facts at the Guinness Storehouse.

Learning beer facts at the Guinness Storehouse.

We even took a little detour to participate in a demonstration about how to properly taste a Guinness.

By the time we reached the Gravity Bar at the top floor, we were more than ready for a rest and a pint. Fair warning: we got to the top in the evening and it was nearing closing time, so the bar was absolutely packed. We had to throw elbows to get our beer, and then circle like vultures to find a little bench to squeeze onto. The nighttime view of Dublin, though, was pretty awesome, despite the clouds.

The Parks

St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square

St. Stephen's Green, Dublin.

St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

While our jail tour and Guinness day was drizzly, wet, and windy – basically the perfect weather for haunted jails and breweries – we did get some sunny days, and took advantage of it! We soaked in the sun and the greenery at St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square. St. Stephen’s Green, one of the city’s largest, was just delightful to walk around in. It was open. It was, as one might guess, very green. There were swans. There was art. It was lovely.

We also checked out Merrion Square – we had heard about the Oscar Wilde statue there, and wanted to see it in person. It was everything we were hoping for.

Merrion Square in general was also super cool to walk around – a bit more wooded, the winding paths made it seem like we were walking in a jungle, completely closed off from the surrounding city.

Merrion Square

Merrion Square

Mr. Wilde.

Mr. Wilde.

The Food

Lastly, but not leastly, food! We ate at quite a few different places while we were there, enjoyed a full Irish breakfast (seriously, guys, black pudding is delicious and underrated), drank beer. There are two places that really stick out when I think back to our food there, so I’ll just stick to those.

The first is Bank on College Green. This was actually the first place we went (after our hotel) when we landed. We were exhausted and hungry and cold, so maaaybe that made it seem more magical than it was, but still! It was beautiful inside, and we felt fancy, but the prices were reasonable. Determined to stick to regionalish food, I ordered bangers and mash, and it did not disappoint.

Delicious, delicious porridge. Note the cream and honey. And fruit. Also present but not pictures: Irish breakfast tea.

Delicious, delicious porridge. Note the cream and honey. And fruit. Also present but not pictures: Irish breakfast tea.

The other place we ate that really stuck out to me was a cafe/restaurant called Avoca. The cafe is actually part of a store – it’s on the top floor. While you might not think that a cafe perched on top of a mini department store is worth checking out, this one totally is. We went there twice for breakfast/brunch, and both times it was amazing. So amazing I even took pictures of the food.

YUM.

Well, that wraps up my extremely delayed and probably poorly-remembered recap of my Dublin trip. Til next time!

2015

Hello! So I definitely still have a 2015 resolution of keeping this blog rolling and testing out different types of posts, but the year started off hectic and crazy – in a good way! I went home for the holidays and left with a job offer, so January saw me packing up from Boston and making my triumphant return to the Midwest – Chicago, to be precise. Suffice to say, the first month of 2015 was pretty jam packed – a cross-country move, apartment hunt, and new job all in a few weeks. So far, a good start to the Year of Em.

Beautiful Chicago!

Beautiful Chicago!

Haha, just kidding. I moved here in January, it's cold as balls.

Haha, just kidding. I moved here in January, it’s cold as balls.

Now that things are slowly starting to settle (I have furniture of my own in my room? Not stuff left behind/pre-furnished? For the first time since….um…since…), I’m hoping to get back to blogging a little more regularly. Even though my life isn’t as exciting as it was when I was traipsing around Italy. Sigh.

Like I mentioned back in this post, while I want to keep a bit of a travel angle to this blog (more US-based now, obviously. There are only so many throwback Thursdays I have planned out, and only so many trips out of the country I can make (or dream about, more realistically)), I’m also going to branch out and blog about other things. What other things? Eh…I’ll figure it out eventually. Mainly it’s just fun to write for no reason. It’ll probably end up being a mix of silly stuff – pop culture, books, travel. Nothing too serious.

Oh, one final thing: My amazing friends over at Florence for Free have been nominated for ITALY Magazine’s blog awards in Best Single Travel Post! Go vote! (I mean, if you want).