Think You’re a Travel Expert? Take this Quiz to Test Your Travel IQ

So you’ve traveled the world, or at least dreamed about it for years, and think you know everything there is to know? Test your travel knowledge below. Answers are on the bottom. But don’t cheat!

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Travel quiz over Italy.

You aren’t trying to cheat are you?

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Positive?

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Here are the answers! 

1.  Venice, Italy, is made up of 117 islands which are formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon. The canals serve as the city roads so boats are the main form of transportation.

2. The Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy, houses a tooth, vertebrae, thumb and middle finger that scientists and historians cut from Galileo, a famous renaissance astronomer, during his burial ceremony.

3. Rome, Italy. During the days of the Roman Empire, all the empire’s roads radiated out from the capital city to all the different provinces.

4. Parma, Italy. It was monks in the area around Parma who first started making a distinctive hard cheese during the Middle Ages. The concept of naming foods after their place of origin dates back to the Roman Empire. It was known as caseum paramensis in Latin, and locals shortened this to Pramsàn, in dialect.

5. Pompeii, Italy, was mostly destroyed in 79 AD when Mont Vesuvius erupted covering the town in ash and pumice. The objects that lay beneath the ash, including thousands of human bodies were well preserved and show what life was like for the residents.

6. Verona, Italy, was the home of Shakespeare’s feuding families in his play Romeo and Juliet. The city of romance has more than just star-crossed lovers and balconies. It is also the home of the summer opera festival which is held in an ancient, well-preserved Roman amphitheater, known for its famous acoustics.

7. Pisa, Italy. Construction began in 1173 on the tower of Pisa and took 334 years to finish. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built on marshy, soft ground causing the tower to start leaning by the time builders got to the third story. The tower is around 56 meters tall, aka one must climb about 296 steps to reach the top, and has a lean of 5.5 degrees (about 15 feet or 4.5 meters). Between 1990 and 2001 the tower was stabilized and the lean was partially fixed. It is thought that with the restoration work done on it, the tower should be stable for the next 300 years.

8. Milan, Italy. World Fairs (also called Expos) are held every five years. This year’s theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. More than 140 participating countries will showcase their technology for a sustainable future and some of their best dishes. Located in the northern area of the 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area, the Tree of Life stands as a celebration of the theme.

9. Turin, Italy. In 1844, Angelo Moriondo patented his steam driven “instantaneous” coffee beverage making device. Now, this drink is such a tradition that it is not even called by name. It is called un caffè because it’s the default drink. It must be drunk fast – the word espresso is freely translated means a cup of espresso coffee served quickly– and be prepared for the jolt of caffeine because has a higher caffeine content than other coffees.

Let me know how you did!

Le Vespe Café: An American Breakfast in Florence

Big breakfasts, for me, rank right up there as the cure for all the side effects of a hangover.

I’m sure you know the feeling. You’re eyes are slits to block out the blinding light, your phone’s battery on red and your background a picture of randos who look like they’re having a great time. You feel drained of all energy and starving to replenish the depleted get-up-and-go.

An Italian breakfast of espresso or cappuccino and a small croissant won’t even get you out of the red. What you need is a big breakfast.

To keep in the European mood but still get a large American/English breakfast, turn east on Via Ghibellina in Florence and keep a lookout on the left side of the street for Le Vespe Café or you’ll walk right past it.

Le Vespe's store front.

Le Vespe’s store front.

This rustic little restaurant was recommended to me by a friend who has been living in Florence for almost seven months. I cannot stress enough the benefits of finding yourself a friend in the city. Not only will it save your taste buds but also usually your pocket book because they’ll help you dodge overpriced touristy places with hit or miss service.

Le Vespe Café is a Florence gem and perfect for breakfast after a long night on the town.

It has a cute rustic café atmosphere with mismatched chairs and flower tiled tables. I went around 10 am, with my book stowed under one arm, and found it quiet and uncrowded. (This is a novelty. Because it is so small and intimate it is usually packed, so I would recommend getting a reservation, especially for Sunday brunch.) They were playing an incredible playlist of American music, many of them oldies, which I found myself humming to.

My breakfast of French toast and sausage.

My breakfast of French toast and sausage.

I ordered a smoothie, French toast and sausage. I barely had time to read a few pages of my book when my food was set in front of me. (Though I have heard that their service can be a little slow sometimes so be prepared because you might have to wait.)

The French toast was melt in your mouth. Soaked in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the bread absorbed the Canadian maple syrup I dribbled over it magnificently. The smoothie was refreshing and I could taste the fresh fruits (have I mentioned how good the fruit is here?!?!) in every sip.

Le Vespe Café is a must visit for a full American breakfast/brunch, and don’t worry about getting up early because they serve breakfast until 5 pm, as it truly should be.

Even if breakfast isn’t your thing, Le Vespe Café offers a large lunch menu to choose from. With everything from grilled cheeses to karaage fried chicken, they cater to all kinds of taste from Japanese, Firenze, Canadian and American. It is also a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free friendly café.

For drinks they have juices and smoothies. They are also a bona fide bar so they have a large selection of alcoholic beverages.

This small restaurant is the perfect place to rub elbows with locals, tourists and study abroad students who are mooching off the free wifi and the amazing coffee.

Le Vespe Café

Address: 6R Via Ghibellina, Florence, Italy

Phone Number : 055 388 0062

Hours :

10-23 Tuesday-Saturday

11-16 Sunday

Menu

#FlorenceProblems

Living in a foreign country for months on end comes with its own set of problems, ones that aren’t always experienced when just visiting for a short time. Three-fourths of the time though it is these “problems” that make the experience of living abroad great.  For me, these “problems” have been some of the highlights of my trip. They remind me that there are “problems” everywhere but some places’ “problems” are just a tad bit more fun, especially Florence’s.

1. The take away pizza box is bigger than your front door.

Pizza Box

To fit a pizza through the door it is required to tilt the box slightly causing some of the yummy pizza juices to leak from the pizza.

2. Netflix isn’t a thing here, which means neither is Netflix binging, so you have to go out and actually do things.

3. It is so hot you sweat off all your makeup before anyone gets to see it.

4. They won’t let you lick the chocolate wall at Venchi’s.

chocolate wall2

The sweet heavenly smell of chocolate drifting from Venchi’s can be smelled from down the road.

5. Eating dinner takes as long as half a day of work.

6. You can’t eavesdrop on people’s conversations because you don’t understand enough Italian.

7. Anytime you walk by a monument you risk the chance of being beheaded by a selfie stick.

selfie sticks

The Duomo is one of the largest, if not largest, tourist attraction in Florence. Trying to walk past is like going through an obstacle course and requires a lot of bending and dodging.

8. You have to play the guessing game at the grocery or risk using all your limited data trying to figure out which of the meats is ham.

9. You’re getting kissed more by mosquitos than Italian guys.

10. Time is an abstract thing. So, meeting times are always up for personal interpretation. AKA you’re never considered late in Florence.

11. You can’t seem to get it through to the guy selling roses that you’re traveling solo and don’t want to buy a rose for yourself.

Chris Palermo

Street vendors in Florence are relentless when selling their wares and are undeterred by the word no. (Photo by @chris.palermo)

12. Having to press the google translate button (found at the top in the search bar) every time I visit a website.

I’d love to know your biggest travel “problem”! Share below!

Celebrating the American Fourth in Florence

“So do they celebrate the Fourth of July in Italy?”

Yes, this was real question asked by one of my American friends the last time we skyped. I nicely explained what the Fourth of July was celebrating. (For those of you who aren’t sure it is day our forefathers told Britain to back off because America was now an independent country.) I

After the short history lesson, I told her, because there were so many American study abroad students, Florence had its own Fourth of July celebrations. Mostly in the age old American Fourth of July tradition – drinking.

Wanting to celebrate Independence Day in American style? Start your day with a big American Breakfast at the Diner.

From bacon and eggs to juicy hamburgers The Diner cooks classic American dishes the American way. (Photo by Nile Guide.)

From bacon and eggs to juicy hamburgers The Diner cooks classic American dishes the American way. (Photo by Nile Guide.)

Replace the European’s small croissant and shot of espresso with bacon, eggs, pancakes and a big pot of caffè Americano. Or come a little nearer to lunchtime or dinner and grab a hamburger, fries and a milkshake

While there are no fireworks, Florence’s sky still lights up.

View from Piazza Michelangelo. (Photo by Alyssa Gregory.)

View from Piazza Michelangelo. (Photo by Alyssa Gregory.)

Grab a portable meal, may I recommend the classic choices hamburger or hot dogs, and enjoy the colorful sunset from the steps at Piazza Michelangelo.

After the sky show ends, continue the party at any, or all, of the American bars around town.

Club TwentyOne

Via Cimatori, 13/r

Light up the night at Club TwentyOne. (Photo by Club TwentyOne.)

Light up the night at Club TwentyOne. (Photo by Club TwentyOne.)

Celebrate how free you are as an American on the dance floors of Club TwentyOne. Doors open at 11:30 pm, rock the night away to American beats as the lights flash red, white and blue.

Uncle Jimmy’s

Via de’Pescioni 5/r

Uncle Jimmy's

Flip cup and beer pong start around 10 pm. (Photo by Uncle Jimmy’s.)

Love to show your American pride in your attire? Don your brightest red, white and blue or stars and stripes and head over to Uncle Jimmy’s. You might blend into all their Fourth of July décor but no worries. You can stand out and do your country proud by winning any of the many games of beer pong or flip cup. Doors open at 6 pm.

Red Garter

Via dei Benci 33/r

Red Garter

Dinner is served, American style — big, juicy and layered with bacon. (Photo by Red Garter.)

From 12 pm onward celebrate ‘Merica at their red, white and brews party. RSVP if you want a meal of wings, hamburger, hot dogs or pulled pork sandwhiches for 11 euros.

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Date a Person Who Travels

Why you shouldn't date

They are infected with the travel bug, an often fatal and long duration disease that has no known cure. Like an addict, every trip they take just seems to increase their desire. They are driven by an insatiable curiosity and wanderlust that makes routine unbearable. They are sure of themselves because they’ve gotten lost in Rome at night, lived out of a carry on for months and dealt with jet lag, time differences, conversions and exchange rates, and solved all their problems solo. They’ve been so many places and seen so many things that they aren’t your average girlfriend/boyfriend next door.

  1. Nobody stays a stranger for long. People who travel are constantly meeting people. Their friend list on Facebook is full of people with whom they shared a one-time adventure. They can start a conversation with anyone, from the person in the grocery line behind them to the creepy old lady who lives in the abandoned looking house that everyone is afraid of. Half the time you’ll have no idea who they are talking about in their stories because when you travel a friendship can be forged on something as simple as being in the same market stall and reaching for the same thing.
  2. They are really good at goodbyes. Things come and go. Nobody knows this better than a traveler who is constantly leaving things and people they’ve met behind for their next adventure. They don’t become too attached because they know you can’t take everything with you when you go. Though they never really say goodbye it’s more like see you later even though they are aware that most of the people they leave behind they will never see again face to face.
  3. They are never there. Even if they are there physically, mentally they are gone. Forever planning their next adventure, they live in a day dream full of far off places. Any chance they get, vacation days, sick days, holidays, they are gone. Day trips or month long journeys, they don’t care as long as they are free to explore.
  4. They have a story for every occasion. Traveling morphs people into storytellers. Everything reminds them of somewhere else in another time. They will want to share the stories. They will rivet the crowd with their tales of getting lost on a Vespa in Italy or zip lining through Brazil’s jungle. Some might feel like they are trying to one-up everyone else when really they just want to share the wonders they’ve seen hoping to inspire you to go see them first-hand.
  5. They don’t look at the world the same way as everyone else. They have a unique way of seeing the world influenced by all they’ve seen. They don’t always agree with others and aren’t afraid to argue their side with facts and real life stories to back it up. They aren’t the favorite of all because some people find their constant curiosity and questioning exasperating.
  6. They are spontaneous. You never know what you’re in for. Plans are mere suggestions. They can always be broken if something better comes up. Travelers thrive on adventure and love trying new things. Routine kills them; last minute invites are one of their favorite things. If you let them plan dates, they won’t be your average movie and dinner. You’ll be dragged through the dirt at a local mud run supporting cancer or kidnapped and made to hike up huge hills lugging a picnic basket.
  1. They are easy going to the point that it is maddening. They don’t sweat plans that fall through. Instead they are prepared with their things-to-do list ready to go. Plans are whatever because they know the best adventures are unplanned. They don’t measure time by hours and minutes; but, instead by moments and memories. Often they show up late because they got sidetracked by a road that looked too inviting not to drive down or by a street concert they stumbled upon.
  2. They are independent. They’ve gotten lost in countless cities, ridden on trains full of strangers and shopped in stores where they couldn’t read a single thing. They’ve problem solved their way through countless trying situations. They can handle things on their own. They won’t need you; but, they’ll want you. They’ll want you to share in the adventure as a co-leader, not a passive tag along.
  3. They are considered selfish by many. They’ve spent a lot of time alone, discovering themselves. So they know what they want and will pursue it despite the constant criticism aimed their way. Their priorities are different. Often times they don’t care about having a big house or a fancy car. All they want is the ability to travel. They save up months for a week long journey to an exciting new place.
  4. They push you out of your comfort zone, mainly because they never stay in theirs. They purposely leave the comforts of home to explore the world. They eat things they can’t even pronounce, they squat over holes for public restrooms and they place themselves in countries where their only way to communicate is by energetic hand gestures. Normalcy scares them more than hopping a plane to anywhere ever could. They crave new and different things on a pretty daily basis.
  5. They have commitment issues. They can’t commit to one place because they’ve had a glimpse of how big the world is. They find it hard to settle. If you ask them their favorite travel destination they won’t be able to name just one. They’ll just get a dreamy faraway look in their eye and the stories will start pouring forth. They will always have to travel because the only people they’ve found that really get them are fellow travelers.

These traits are the baggage carried by most travelers. But if these personality snapshots leave you curiously intrigued and you’re thinking of beginning a relationship with a traveler, prepare for spontaneity and adventure because they have become an adventure themselves. Be mindful though because once you get the travel bug there’s no known cure. Get your bags packed… because you’ll be going on the most exciting adventure of your life.

Italian Wine Tasting Etiquette

Italy is full of breathtaking paradises; but, I would have to say my favorites are the Chianti vineyards.

paradise

Path from the cellar to the restaurant at Castello di Verrazzano.

I can’t quite decide if it’s the peaceful scenery that makes them magical or if it’s the wine that is so generously poured.

Secluded away from cities, things slow down even more than the typical Italian way of life in these secret nirvanas.

Driveway to Castello di Verrazzano.

Driveway to Castello di Verrazzano.

The smell of fruits and flowers clears the mind while the quietness settles it. A few days ago I visited Castello di Verrazzano in Greve which has been producing wine since 1150.

vineyards

Just some of the vineyards of Castello di Verrazzano.

I felt my body relax as I walked through the gardens. As I neared the dining room I could hear the clinking of glasses and loud bursts of laughter. Entering into the dining room, I saw Gino, an older gentleman with salt and pepper hair standing at the head of the table. He had his hand on his hip, the other holding a glass of wine, lips pursed and with one eyebrow raised. Loudly he swallowed and exhaled an hmmm. Dropping the stance, Gino begins to laugh and says, “THAT is how you taste wine like an expert.”

Gino, the enthusiastic sage of Castello di Verrazzano.

Gino, the enthusiastic sage of Castello di Verrazzano. (Photo by Kailey Wagner)

Full of life and love advice, Gino is the go to man for any problem. And as a wine expert he is the perfect man to learn how to taste wine correctly in Italy from.

Step 1: Pour the wine.

Wine tasting at Castello di Verrazzano. (Photo by Rachel Mason)

Wine tasting at Castello di Verrazzano. (Photo by Rachel Mason)

Do not pour to the brim. You are in Italy, a place where wine flows more freely than water. You’re not at a high school party. You can always get a refill. So, pour the wine until the glass is about one-third full for white or rose wine or half-full for red wine. Room has to be left to be able to swirl the liquid.

Step 2: Pick up the wine glass.

Do not pick up the glass by the bowl! Wine is served in a stemmed wine glass for a reason. Placing your hand on the bowl of the glass warms the contents of the glass which could mess with its taste. Hold the glass by pinching the stem of the glass, close to the base, between your index finger and thumb.

Step 3: Notice the wine’s coloring.

While holding the wine by the stem, tilt the glass over a white napkin or tablecloth until it looks like the contents might spill. Stare through the glass and check the wine’s color, opacity and viscosity. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for stare intently at it like everyone else is. But, it is not the Sistine Chapel so it shouldn’t take you longer than 5 seconds to complete this step.

Step 4: Swirl it.

While still holding the glass by the stem, begin to swirl the contents of the glass. Keep an eye on the liquid though and keep it in the cup and off your neighbors. This is a slow swirl meant to release the aromas of the wine, not to try to make it look like a tornado in a cup. Also, it is not the Daytona 500, let the liquid circle the cup only a couple of times.

Step 5: Take a big whiff.

This is the step, where if you’re like me and have a bit of a nose insecurity, it becomes prominent how large your nose is. To correctly smell wine you must place your sniffer inside the glass, so far that the glass is touching your face and circling your nose. But use your judgment. If you poured a bit too much do not stick your nose so far in that it gets wet. Take a big whiff and try to identify the ingredients. There are three types of wine aromas:

  • Primary Aromas come from grapes and include fruit, herb and flower notes.
  • Secondary Aromas come from fermentation and yeast aromas.
  • Tertiary Bouquets come from aging, oxidation and oak such as baking spices, nutty aromas and vanilla.

One does not simply sniff above the glass or try to wave the smells to your nose. Smells are lost and you can’t fully enjoy the aromas.

Step 6: Take up the stance.

According to Gino’s wine tasting etiquette there is a stance one takes to taste a wine. Place one hand on your hip and with the other hold the wine glass (by the stem!). Make your face look calm and slightly bored.

Step 7: Finally, take a sip.

This is wine, not beer, so there’s no need to shotgun it. Take a sip and let it rest on your tongue for a second. Then begin to swish it around your mouth coating all the inside with the liquid goodness. You’ll register different tastes in different areas of your tongue. Then, very carefully, with the wine still in your mouth, open your mouth suck in a bit of air, this allows the wine to aerate in your mouth, enhancing the intensity of the flavors.

Step 8: Swallow.

After experiencing all the different tastes in your mouth it is finally time to swallow. Let the flavors wash down your throat and warm your tummy. After you taste the wine raise your eyebrow and say hmmmm un-committedly.

Step 9: Judge the wine.

If it was good you could flash a smile and comment on its great balance of flavors, its smoothness or just all around great taste.

If you weren’t impressed you can raise your eyebrow and offer an unimpressed mmmmmm. Then share with others what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.

Remember there is no right or wrong answer in wine tasting. It is all totally opinion based. So don’t be afraid to share your opinion. Because regardless of whether you liked or hated it you’ll have blown everyone away with your amazing wine tasting etiquette.