Florence, Italy

Italy's Florence in the Tuscan region is one of the most colorful cities I have ever seen. And so peaceful. Walking along the river, I felt as if I was in a painting. And there were always people outside. I started to understand why the Italians were known to be so passionate and happy.

Our first stop in the city was to see Michelangelo’s David. The Accademia Gallery houses multiple masterpieces from various Italian artists, including Giambologna's The Rape of the Sabines, but it was easy to see why the David was the main attraction. Going up close to the five-meter tall marble beauty and seeing the veins in his arms as if he was once filled with life was truly incredible. Seeing him in person was most definitely worth standing in line for three hours and losing my credit card at the ticket counter. In my opinion, the replica statue in Piazza Michelangelo did not compare.

After spending the morning contemplating just how gifted Michelangelo was, we headed out for lunch. A friend suggested Gusta Pizza, which is incredibly popular amongst locals. Make sure to get there before you are starving; the line can get pretty long. The shop itself is tiny, but cozy. With only three tables, we ate amongst complete strangers. Luckily, we were served our freshly made, personalized, brick-oven pizzas almost immediately. The crust was crisp, yet fluffy and the sauce so incredibly flavored. The tough decision is between going for seconds or going for dessert.

A must-do once you step foot in Italy is to go for gelato - it is a sin not to. So of course, after every museum, meal, or just when we felt like it, we headed for our gelato fix. Our strategy to ensure the most consumption: as soon as you see a gelatteria, you walk in.

The boy behind the counter of the parlor on Ponte Vecchio started flirting with Rissa when I told her to order a scoop of “baci” (translates to “kisses”). It is my favorite flavor by far - Baci is actually the name of a chocolate covered hazelnut sweet, kind of like Ferrero Rocher. If you are a hazelnut-lover like me, it is definitely something to look into. I caution you however, to sample the Nutella flavor before indulging in a scoop of that one. As much as I love eating the delicious spread all on its own, the gelato felt like a never-ending tub of frozen Nutella. It's not for the faint-hearted.

On our second day, Rissa and I decided to walk up to Piazza Michelangelo. It is a very pleasant and scenic walk up. Wherever you look, there is something to see. After taking our time, we made it to the top and the view is phenomenal - you can see all of Florence, the duomo marks the center, into the hills of tuscany. We found a place to sit on some steps nearby. As a local musician began singing, we took it all it. Truly felt la dolce fa niente.

On our last night, we decided to celebrate the end of our semester abroad with a lavish dinner in the heart of the city at La Giostra. Flutes filled with Prosecco were served (on the house) while we waited for our table. And once we were seated in such a magnificent setting - twinkling string lights intertwined with flowers and branches across the ceiling - we were served an assortment of appetizers, again compliments of the chef.

As we enjoyed our food, sipped our wine, and devoured our desserts, we were fortunate enough to have been seated next to a lively group of girls who unexpectedly were from the same study abroad program. Laughing with them about the coincidence, we noticed that across from us a very handsome group of Italians were celebrating a birthday. Crazily enough, it was the birthday of the restaurant's owner and twin brother. Our loud mouths eventually led us to befriend the entire family, the beautiful waiters and waitresses and the loving chef and sous chef, all of whom who came to our two tables at the end of the night to chat, sip on limoncello, and eventually take some shots...again, on the house.

Would you believe the night didn't end there? As I snuck off to freshen up, Rissa had convinced our waiters to give us a ride on their vespas to Twice (a nightclub, unfortunately now closed). They surprised us with our very own nighttime tour of Florence. It was like something out of a movie - one of those moments that happen when you don't necessarily think things through. You just say yes and see what happens.