Top Ten Tips for Packing Luggage

Flying somewhere? Taking a road trip? Studying abroad or finally taking that vacation? Trying to find room for your favorite sweatshirt or maybe those Christmas presents? Wherever you are heading and whatever you are bringing, these ten tips will help to take the stress and frustration out of packing and unpacking. As a perpetual mover and traveler, I have sharpened my organizational skills and have been called “Mary Poppins” (remember the lamp she pulled out of her small upholstered bag?) on more than one occasion. I am proud to say that I have never been charged fees for overweight luggage and friends/family are always surprised how much I manage to squeeze in seemingly small spaces. Thus, I give to you my tried and true tips on how to pack wisely and make room for those extra pair of shoes you really don’t want to leave behind. Continue reading…

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Leonardo Lost: Seek and Ye Shall Find

This is hands-down one of my favorite stories. I mean it has it all: mystery, Renaissance celebrities, top-secret government sting operations, and a little Dan Brown-esque art history (that is actually FACTUAL). Also, for us at Select Study Abroad, it is particularly close to home. Not only is Leonardo da Vinci our BFF and not only do we personally take students to the scene of the “crime,” but our very own professor, Rab Hatfield, was involved, wrote a book on the subject, and gave us the opportunity of meeting (on several occasions) the man behind the mystery (No, not Leonardo! Read on!).

So the story goes like this:

There was this little thing called the Florentine Republic. It had a tough time over the years (those darn Medici are so troublesome), but at the very end of the 15th century it had been reinstated and things were looking good. Now, if you are a little republic in the Renaissance looking to flex your new governmental muscles there a couple things you can do. One of them just happens to be harnessing the artistic power of some of the most coveted and respected artists of the day to do your bidding. Lucky, for this little republic, they just happened to have access to two of the most significant artists available: Leonardo da Vinci (technically he is from Vinci, but whatevs) and Michelangelo. You know…no big deal.

So, you take these two BIG names and you give them a BIG project: decorate the massive walls of the Sala del Gran Consiglio (also known as the Sala dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo Vecchio (the government building in Florence). In 1503, Leonardo was commissioned to fresco the “Battle of Anghiari” (a battle famously won by the Florentines) on one of the long walls of the rectangular Sala. He had finished his preliminary drawing (called a cartoon) and had begun painting it by 1505. In typical Leo fashion, however, he used a very experimental technique and before the brushes were dry the wall was already having problems. Continue reading…

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Florence’s best kept secret and the city’s best restaurants

If I had a euro for every time someone asked me “what is your favorite restaurant in Italy?” or “where was the best meal you ever had,” I would be a wealthy woman and probably have purchased my own villa by now. Fortunately, my answer to all of these questions is the same – Davide’s. Now, for those of you who have had the pleasure of eating at Davide’s in Florence, Italy you know what I am talking about. You would also know that Davide’s is not the name of an actual place; it is instead wherever Davide Sama (restaurant owner extraordinaire) happens to be on any given night. Impressively, he owns and manages many restaurants in Florence…4 and counting. They are not chain restaurants. While the menus and ambiance at each are similar (i.e. friendly, cozy, welcoming, and always beyond satisfying), they are unique and serve a variety of different delicious Tuscan specialties. Chances are you will not find these establishments listed in your Rick Steves’ or Lets Go! guides. Trust me, this is a good thing. Correction: this is a great thing.

These places (listed below) are generally unassuming smaller restaurants, outside of the Florence city center (where restaurants are filled with over-priced and underwhelming tourist menus) and filled with happy locals (see map below). Continue reading…

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The Other Side of Rome

Been to Rome before? Seen this, done that? Well…maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. Here are some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path things to see/do that are not always an easy walk down one of Rome’s breathtaking cobble-stone streets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth every ounce of effort to see. Maybe you need to go back. Hopefully, it will be with Select Study Abroad. Continue reading…

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Tuscany Bike Tour: Put The Fun Between Your Legs!


When people ask me for travel tips or recommendations for fun things to do in Florence one of the first activities that comes to mind is the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour. Of course some other, more obvious, sites come to mind as well. However, the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour has proven to be one of few SURE THINGS when it comes to the satisfaction and enjoyment of countless friends, family members, and students I have recommended it to.

Two happy customers about to hit the road

Anyone, regardless of age, athletic ability or inability, interest or disinterest in wine can appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of such a tour. A few years ago, I moved from Florence back to the U.S. unsure if or when I would return. I had a long check list of things to do and see before my departure. I spent hours planning where I would spend my last dinner, what I would order, what my final gelato flavor would be, and which route I would take for my last Florentine walk. With one day left to enjoy in Italy there was clearly only way to spend it – with my closest friends on the Tuscany Wine and Bike Tour. Here is why… Continue reading…

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