FLORENCE FILE #011: MOST EXTRAVAGANT FIELD TRIP EVER IN PARIS

Florence Files

This is the story of the craziest week of my life. Buckle up, it’s a lot.

On Sunday, October 30th, I woke up at 3am, grabbed my expertly packed backpack… and walked to school. I was going on a field trip. This was never my idea of what happened on a field trip either, but when you go to fashion school, especially fashion school in Europe, Paris Fashion Week qualifies as a field trip, so we departed Polimoda at 4:30 for the completely empty Florence airport, where we departed for France. After arriving in Paris and dropping our bags at our hotel in the 9th arrondissement, we were handed our Paris metro passes and the schoolwork began. We started with two guided retail visits to Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, two of the first department stores to ever exist, legendary retail locations, and meccas of hyperluxury. Think of them like malls, if malls only sold $500 baby booties and had three-story Louis Vuitton stores.

As a broke college student, these stores were torture, but as a fashion major, I was in heaven. Two and a half years of professors encouraging me to “use my retail eye” on store visits led up to this moment, as I went around from section to section salivating over all of my favorite designers in one place. I probably spent about an hour just in Saint Laurent, The Kooples, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, and Marc Jacobs, but due to our group’s time constraints, I had to move on. Both Printemps and Galleries Lafayette have gorgeous stained glass domes to let light in, since they were built before stores even had electric lights, and Galleries Lafayette had a roof deck which offered sweeping views of Paris. This was the first time I got to see the Eiffel Tower, and it was incredible.

 

I got even closer to the Eiffel Tower that night, during our boat tour of the city from the Seine, after a stop inside Notre Dame and a very Parisian dinner of…Chipotle. Listen, we were craving Mexican food and for two girls from New York, a month and a half is a long time to go without a burrito! Regardless, the boat tour was stunning, and we got to the Eiffel Tower just as the lights went on for the 9pm show. Exhausted, we headed back to our hotel and settled in for the night.

 

Monday was probably our busiest day. The first part of our day was dedicated to the main reason for our visit, Tranoï. For my non-fashionistas, Tranoï is an incredible showcase of the innovation, talent, and art coming out of the fashion world and puts these creatives in touch with the global buyers looking for these fresh ideas. The collections shown are in accordance with Paris Fashion Week, so all collections on display were for Spring/Summer 2019. Tranoï is split up between two venues, Palais de la Bourse and Carrousel du Louvre, so we visited both. Standing outside of Palais de la Bourse, I was really nervous. We had several big assignments that centered around observations and interviews conducted within Tranoï, and we were the only students allowed to be there. We were instructed to be flies on the wall, not interfering with the buyers and sellers, and if interviews had to be conducted, they had to be done efficiently, not irritating the vendor and not intruding on a business deal. Absolutely NO photos were to be taken. I walked inside, white-knuckled, with my Muji pen in one hand and my little black notebook in the other, taking it all in and observing everything I could, taking note of anything that jumped out at me. We continued on to our second venue at Carrousel du Louvre, where I was less nervous, but just as intent on getting as much information as I could. 

 

 

Since we ended near the Louvre, we were given a quick lunch break and then headed to the art museum for the remainder of the afternoon. As someone who has always had such a deep interest in art and history, the Louvre was like a lifetime achievement for me. I tried to see as much as I could, but just like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s impossible to see everything. I did get to see the Mona Lisa, but alongside the Mona Lisa I actually saw Shia LaBoeuf and FKA Twigs on a date! 

 

 

After going back to the hotel to throw on sneakers, sweaters, scarves, and our newly purchased 5 euro berets, a few of my friends and I headed to the Eiffel Tower to grab some crepes for dinner, some wine, and hang out on the lawn to watch the sun go down and the light show sparkle every hour. It’s something so cliché that everyone does while visiting France, but it’s so worth it, and it was definitely one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-here moments.

 

 

On Tuesday morning, we headed to the neighborhood of Marais, which is like if the Upper West Side and SoHo had a baby, to visit Merci, a concept store founded by two retired industry super-execs who wanted to say thank you to the industry and city they loved. It was a merchandising student’s dream, a feast for the eyes. Carrying everything from luggage to clothing to books to homewares, Merci was really my dream store. While it was pricey, it was stunning, and every piece left me wanting to take it home. I soon fell just in love with Marais as I was with Merci, as the neighborhood had everything I adore about New York. As we strolled around on our way to lunch, I couldn’t help myself from stopping inside every boutique and thrift store. Upon the recommendation of our professor, we got falafel for lunch from a place that she said has the, “Best falafel in the WORLD!” I was a skeptic, but she was so, so right, it might have actually been my favorite meal that I ate in Paris. Sheer perfection. Perhaps Marais tugs at my heartstrings so much because it was a Jewish neighborhood for much of the early 20th century, becoming an LGBT hotspot in the 1980s, and is now a grungy-hip neighborhood, much like a lot of New York.

 

 

Full of falafel, we headed to Li Edelkoort’s offices, the headquarters of Trend Union, for a lecture and presentation. For those not as literate in fashion, Lidewij Edelkoort is a Dutch trend forecaster who dictates pretty much everything you see. No, seriously. She founded Trend Union, one of the world’s top trend consulting agencies, and releases bi-annual forecasts to her clients for color, design, and lifestyle. We were privileged enough to spend two and a half hours in a big white room sitting on very chic, uncomfortable benches watching one of her right-hand men teach us about how exactly she came up with this trends and how trend prediction works exactly. It was probably my favorite fashion thing that we did on this trip because I find Li Edelkoort so fascinating and really believe that she’s one of the greatest minds in fashion that no one really knows about.

After my awesome afternoon at Li’s office, we took a trip up into the hills to the highest point in the city to visit La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a massive neo-Byzantine cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart that watches over all of Paris. The inside is stunning, and we were lucky enough to visit while mass was going on, so we explored the outer chapels while listening to the organs echo throughout the cavernous vaults. We didn’t stay for long, because we had dinner plans back near the hotel, where I had probably my best dinner during our time in Paris. I tried escargot for the first time and loved it, probably because I love seafood, and had some amazing salmon as an entree. We had grand plans of exploring Paris’s nightlife while we were there, but with our early wake-up times for our school visits and jam-packed exhausting days, we really didn’t have any choice but to have drinks with dinner, maybe pop into a bar for a bit, and then go to sleep as soon as possible.

 

 

Wednesday was our last full day in Paris, and we started the day at Fondation Louis Vuitton, LVMH’s art museum/concert hall/event space hybrid just outside of the city. The building itself, designed by one of my favorite architects Frank Gehry, was a piece of art, and we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the structure and get the views of Paris from the roof deck. Downstairs, we saw the collection that they had on display, which featured the works of the brilliant Jean-Michel Basquiat.

 

 

Continuing on with our luxury-themed day, we headed to the Champs Élyseés where we first stopped at the iconic Arc de Triomphe before arriving at the Louis Vuitton flagship store for the tour. The store was, of course, gorgeous, but it was so interesting to see the mix of people, from tourists looking to splurge a little on a small wallet to billionaires being ushered into private rooms where they purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. After leaving Louis Vuitton, we continued on shopping down the street and exploring the neighborhood, grabbed some lunch, and happened upon the Princess Diana memorial at the exact spot that she was killed. It was really unexpected, but really beautiful. Our final appointment of our trip was at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which I was SO excited about because YSL is one of my favorite designers of all time. The museum is his former residence and office, but most of the exhibit focused on his body of work, specifically his use of Asian inspiration. The top floor featured his working space where he produced his collections, and to see his desk with the ashtrays and pencils still intact was really special. Afterwards, we decided to grab some of Laudrée’s iconic macarons, which were so adorable and so delicious!

 

 

 

Our very last day in Paris was spent at a place that I’ve dreamed of visiting for as long as I can remember, the Palace of Versailles. We caught the hour-long train ride out of the city to get there when it opened so that we could squeeze it in before our flight later in the day. It was so magical! I love history, art, and architecture, so it was the perfect combination of all three. While the interior of the palace was amazing, the gardens were by far my favorite part. We spent what felt like forever exploring the miles and miles of trees, ponds, fountains, and flowers. Even though we didn’t get a ton of time to explore Versailles, I was really glad that we got it in before we departed.

 

 

Thursday night we finally ended our marathon Paris trip to begin another jam-packed trip in Ireland!! I’d promise that you’ll hear about that soon but at this point, who knows. Thanks for sticking through almost 2,000 words, I really do appreciate it. Have you ever been to Paris? If so, what was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below!!

xx

FLORENCE FILE #010: ÜBERKAMPING AT OKTOBERFEST

Florence Files

Yep. I did it. I went to Oktoberfest. The hallmark fall semester study abroad trip. And I loved every minute of it.

On Friday, October 21st, I arrived to my classes looking like a vagrant turtle, carrying a giant backpack in anticipation of my journey later that day. When class ended at 4pm, Gabby and I made our way to the train station and set our for Bologna, where we would catch our flight to Munich (for those who don’t know- when traveling in and out of Florence, many opt for the Bologna or Pisa airports instead of Florence Peretola because they are cheaper and generally well-connected to Florence by bus and train). We departed Italy on Air Dolomiti that evening (a Lufthansa partner and a lovely little airline!) and landed in Munich around 9pm. After what felt like years trying to understand the Munich U-Bahn subway system and taking a total of three separate trains over about two and a half hours, we arrived at our accommodations- a campground.

When we were searching for accommodations way back in early September, Oktoberfest seemed like a black hole of expenses, considering prices are astronomical around their busiest tourism period of the year. This is when we found Stoke Travel, a Barcelona-based company that organizes campsites for some of the biggest parties and festivals in Europe. We chose to go with their glamping package; a two-person tent with beds, sleeping bags, and an outlet, along with breakfast, dinner, and all-you-can-drink beer and sangria from 8am-10pm.

We didn’t exactly know what we were getting ourselves into, and this feeling grew tenfold when we arrived at the campsite in the dead of night. We were greeted with beers and pretzels by the very Australian Stoke employees, who then directed us to the considerable check-in line. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us; arrive Friday night, leave Sunday night. As we waited on line, the staff continued to keep the drinks and pretzels coming to placate the masses, and after a few minutes, I felt like I was standing inside a pub rather than on a winding line to a check-in desk. We made conversation with those around us, learning about how they got here, why they were in Europe, and what brought them to Oktoberfest. The time seemed to be going by quickly, but it was pretty late by the time we got in our tent, so we promptly rested up in anticipation for the next day’s shenanigans.

Saturday was the very first day of Oktoberfest, so the beer halls in town didn’t open until noon, when the parade of kegs finished and the mayor of Munich poured the very first beer. We wanted to be in town before the festivities began to get a look around, and I’m really glad I did. One thing I definitely didn’t know going in was that Oktoberfest isn’t just beer halls and gardens, it’s also a huge carnival and fair, with an entire amusement park and tons of food booths and mini shops. Traditional Bavarian food was served alongside fair classics like french fries and ice cream. After surveying the fair grounds, we looked around for a place to settle in for the day. We didn’t have reservations at a beer hall, which would’ve had to have been made months and months in advance, so our only options were to wait on a massive line for a table or drink elsewhere. We wandered into the Hofbräu Festzelt, one of the biggest tents, where the line was already astronomical an hour before drinks began flowing, so we walked outside where there were tons of empty tables. After asking a waitress, we found out that the tables actually weren’t reserved, so we found ourselves a table in the garden and ordered waters in anticipation of the beers coming within the hour. We sat down at the perfect time, because after twenty minutes, the entire garden area was essentially full.

When noon rolled around, dozens of waitresses poured out of one door, each fisting about a dozen steins. For the next few hours, the beers just kept coming out of that door as the thousands of people kept ordering. When inside a beer tent, you cannot consume outside food, but one of the nice things about being in the beer garden outside is that you can get your beers from the tent’s waitresses but bring in whatever outside food you want, so when we started to get hungry, Gabby ran out to the booths along the street to grab us some pretzels. After a few hours, we decided to put the beers down and check out the fairgrounds some more. We headed back to the campsite for dinner and continued the party there, as everyone slowly arrived back from their day in the city. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip, since Stoke had hired a bunch of bands from Australia to come and play little sets while everyone hung out and partied in their sweats, exhausted from the day.

The next morning, we packed up our things, checked out of the campground, and headed into Munich to sightsee. This was a little difficult, since Munich adheres very strongly to the concept of using Sunday as a day of rest. Very few shops are open, and many attractions have limited hours. We lucked out though, because the first Sunday of Oktoberfest is always the costume parade, where the people of Munich dress up in their traditional dirndls and lederhosen and watch the parade of floats, horses, and marching bands in the city center. It was so cool to watch and definitely something that not a lot of people get to see, which made me really grateful to be there. After watching the parade for a bit, we traveled into the heart of the city to check out sights like the Rathaus Glockenspiel, Munich Cathedral, and the Court Garden before heading back to the Munich airport on the U-Bahn. I wish we could’ve done more museums or walking tours, but due to time and our huge backpacks it was a bit impossible.

I left Munich feeling exhausted, but really excited for the trips to come, as our first weekend voyage came to an end. I got to watch the sun set over Germany as we flew away, and was actually able to see the lights of Oktoberfest from the plane window. I probably know the least about the 25% of me that is German, so it was really special to be able to visit not only the country, but the region that a big chunk of my lineage is from and engage in a culture and tradition that is really happy and beautiful.

xx

FLORENCE FILE #008: PIT STOP IN PISA

Florence Files

Let’s make this quick.

The Monday after we hit Cinque Terre, we made the voyage to the home of one of Italy’s biggest architectural blunders turned tourist traps, Pisa. The company that we had booked through, Smart Trips, which consists of younger guides who hit all the important historical notes and then let you explore on your own, wound up booking us with another guide group due to lack of enrollment. This would’ve been fine, had we not been literally the only people under 55 in the group.

Nevertheless, we stayed with our tour group as we visited the beautiful duomo and baptistery that accompany the infamous bell tower. You may be a little confused, since Florence is the home of the duomo, but actually it’s time for the most earth-shattering fact of all time; duomo doesn’t mean dome. The term duomo actually comes from the latin word domum, meaning home, since a duomo is simply the home, or seat, of a bishop. The dome is the cupola. So with that out of the way, we went inside their duomo, which looked suspiciously Florentine. This could be attributed to the fact that the entire inside of the church was refinished by the Medici after a fire, or to the fact that many of the designs can be attributed to Francisco Pisano, a Pisan (obviously) whose renaissance works are all over Florence. We finished our tour at the one and only leaning tower of Pisa, where we rushed to get our pictures in while grabbing some pizza before heading home.

How’s that for speed? I should be able to get another rapid-fire blog post out tonight before covering Oktoberfest over the weekend. If anyone has any recommendations on how to spend a little free time in Paris, let me know in the comments!!

Xx

FLORENCE FILE #007 (KINDA): FOOD HEAVEN IN MODENA

Florence Files

This is piggybacking off of 006’s apology, but in my haste to document my perfect day in Cinque Terre, I failed to cover my awesome day trip the weekend before!

Two Saturdays ago, my school ran an extracurricular trip to Emilia Romagna for tours and tastings at a caseficio and an acetaia outside of Modena to explore the process of producing the region’s world-famous parmigiano reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar. Between the two site visits, we stopped in the city of Modena to walk around and grab some lunch.

After about an hour and a half ride outside of Florence, we started at the 4 Madonne caseficio dell’Emilia to learn about the production of parmigiano reggiano. 4 Madonne actually produces about 2% of the world’s parmigiano reggiano with just 30 employees. The only parmigiano reggiano I’d ever had was grated and prepackaged, so to learn about the entire process start to finish was pretty special. It was so incredible to see the workers manipulating the cheese at every step in the 12-38 month process, pouring all of their care and attention into the process. At the end of the tour, we tasted 12, 24, and 36 month cheese. The age changes the cheese drastically, and while all three were delicious, I opted to buy the 18-month-old cheese- a perfect blend of the crumbliness of the 24-month cheese with the smoothness of the 12-month cheese.

For lunch, we drove a few minutes to the city of Modena, one of the most famous cities in the gastronomy giant that is Emilia Romagna. When ordering food in Modena, you really can’t go wrong, since they follow heavily in the Italian tradition of heavily regional menus- nothing will be on the menu that isn’t a specialty of wherever you are. In this case, nearly everything is a specialty, especially at Trattoria Il Fantino, where I opted for ricotta and spinach tortelloni with a butter sage sauce and a glass of gutturnio, a sparkling red wine that is a crowd favorite among Emilians. The food was incredible, as expected, although I feel like you’d be hard-pressed to find bad food in Modena.

We finished our afternoon at Acetaia Malpighi, one of the only certified producers of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar) in the entire world. I didn’t know this before the tour, but apparently the balsamic we all buy in the grocery store is sadly pretty artificial. Most balsamic vinegar is classified as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which may sound official, but is actually a product made with lots of sugar and additives and made in China but bottled in Modena so that they may use Modena’s name to market. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale made in Acetaia Malpighi uses only one ingredient; cooked grape juice. This cooked grape juice is left to reduce and ferment in wooden barrels that are passed down from generation to generation, containing flavor from the batches that came before them. As the balsamic reduces, it changes barrels, and the different wood used to make each barrel adds a new layer to the flavor. After learning about the process, we tasted the difference between several types of balsamic vinegar. The older the balsamic is, the sweeter and thicker it gets, so I chose to pick up a bottle of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar for my parents, since I knew my dad would flip out over just how good it tasted. For myself, I got a bottle of white balsamic vinegar, made from white grapes and cured for a shorter period of time. It’s the only salad dressing I use now and I have no idea what I’m going to do when I run out!!

One of the reasons I was so excited to come to Italy in the first place was to try out all the amazing homegrown food, and this was such an awesome experience. I was amazed at the amount of care and attention put into every single aspect of the process, and I think especially nowadays it’s so important to care about what you eat. I definitely am motivated to go check out more tours like this!!

I know I said to expect more blog posts this week but I’m serious this time! I have to fill you in on ziplining/paddleboarding in Lucca and Oktoberfest before I head to Paris, Galway, Belfast, and Dublin this week.

xx

SEPTEMBER 2018 JAMS

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From now on, I’ll be plopping a playlist on here every month to keep you updated on what I’ve been listening to. I haven’t had a ton of time to get into new stuff due to the crazy whirlwind of the past month, but I’ve been really loving the chance I’ve gotten to revisit old favorites. Only really new song on here is the new Dua Lipa song because come on, it’s just SO good. Comment below if any of my favorites are your favorites, and if you find a new song that you like from here, let me know!!!!

xx

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/dufffs/playlist/1JvHr162JHdW58FEoEILNu

FLORENCE FILE #006 (sort of): CINQUE TERRE

Florence Files

Today’s Florence file comes with an apology on my end. Chronologically speaking, I’ve missed a post on my day trip to Modena, but that will be coming later this week, along with my Pisa and Lucca canyon posts. But I really couldn’t pass up writing about this trip first.

This past Sunday, a group of friends and I woke up at an ungodly hour to venture to the legendary Instagram goldmine of a beach destination that is Cinque Terre. We arrived bright and early at 6:15 am to our bus stop, where we met our Smart Trip tour group who, unbeknownst to us, was full of our friends! As students in Florence, we book so many weekend trips that we often don’t coordinate schedules with some of our other friends, and due to the beautiful weather and popularity of Cinque Terre, we gladly joined up to explore together for the day.

Cinque Terre is a particularly rugged portion of the Italian Riviera coastline consisting of five remote sister villages, connected mainly by train. These colorful little villages are notorious for their stunning beaches, colorful little hillside houses, and their reputation as the birthplace of pesto.

Our bus arrived about two hours after leaving Florence in the only village with a parking lot, Manarola. Although it is tiny, Manarola really set the tone for what was to come; technicolor buildings stacked along cobblestone paths, boats strewn about on the sidewalk as if they were parked bikes, and the unmistakable smell of fresh seafood. We continued down the path to the waterfront, only to find several rock formations in the shallows with ledges carved out for sunbathing locals. A little launch assisted many tiny boats in making their way into the calm Mediterranean, as many younger boys headed out for the day to work and play on the sea. Since Manarola is so tiny, we continued on to the next village shortly after our arrival.

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A 5-minute train ride took us to the slightly bigger village of Riomaggiore, where our tour guide was eager to show us his favorite place to eat; a Mamma Mia! themed seafood restaurant that apparently was home to the best pesto pizza and fried calamari around. I wasn’t hungry enough to buy anything, but I did have a bite of Kelly’s pesto pizza and gladly relieved Oliver of a giant calamari he was too squeamish to eat, and I can attest that it was definitely worth the hype. Once again, the rocky shoreline proved to be ideal for jumping off rocks into the crystal clear water, and after some swimming and basking in the sun, we headed off to our final destination, Monterosso al Mare.

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Monterosso is the largest village in Cinque Terre and attracts the most tourists due to its stunning beach, which is where we spent the bulk of our day. Our tour guide insisted we follow him to a great spot, and since he wasn’t wrong about the pesto pizza place, we were inclined to follow him. After about a thirty second walk from the train station, we arrived at a bar that looked like it would fit in better in Hawaii, not Italy, but still, we continued. The bar, Colpi di Timone, was famous for its drunk buckets- huge frozen mixed drinks that came in big plastic buckets, perfect for when you want a cold drink on the beach that will last you all day so you don’t have to keep going back. The crowd favorite drink was the Miami Vice, a bucket that was half strawberry daiquiri, half piña colada, but I opted for the margarona, a frozen lemon-lime margarita topped off with an ice cold Corona.

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We hauled our giant buckets down to the crowded beach and squeezed our towels together into a tiny piece of unclaimed beach, dropping our belongings and making a beeline for the water. While the beach is rocky and a bit painful to walk on, the water makes it well worth it. The water was so unbelievably warm and clear that it was impossible to get us to leave. The extra salinity of the Mediterranean came in handy by allowing us to simply float all afternoon long, laughing, talking, and taking in the stunning mountains and colorful buildings around us. A few people in our group wanted to stay on the shore and tan, which was definitely a relief because the New Yorker in me was not about to just let my bag sit out unguarded on a busy beach!

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After about three hours of enjoying the beach, it was time for us to head back home, but first, we changed out of our suits and grabbed some food for our drive home. I opted for the focaccia with goat cheese, arugula, and tomato, which was so pretty but was devoured before I could even think to get a picture. Unfortunately, while trying to juggle all of my sandy belongings while paying for my food, I dropped my phone, shattering the bottom part of the screen. My little black case from the Apple store has protected me countless times in the past, but was just no match for the Tuscan cobblestone. Regardless, it was an awesome day and definitely one of my new favorite places. Now I’m doing whatever it takes to get back onto a beach, including telling my dad to look into sailboat charter places on the Italian Riviera.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve totally been slacking on getting these up on time, so expect a ton of posts this week as I get ready to head to Oktoberfest this Friday, and then Paris and Ireland the following week.

xx