Student Series! Life in Pompeii

Pompeii was a lost city for many years. The remains of the city were discovered by an architect, Domenico Fontana, in the 16th century. Later on in 1997, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of this city are located nearby Naples, Italy.

Note: It’s an EASY day trip from Naples! I’ve been to Pompeii twice, summer and winter, and it was increadible each time.


So, what’s so special about this city? Well, in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, causing volcanic ash to cover the city of Pompeii. The ash covered up the whole city, and Pompeii was completely erased from the map for centuries. The ash also froze the town creating molds of the people in their final moments. These molds show us what Pompeii’s society and everyday life looked like.

The Pompeians went to work right when the sun rise. Farmers began farming, marketers started working, and all the shops were opened and the streets became very busy of citizens. In the afternoon, they might relax after a long meal, go to the amphitheater, or some other entertainment. As the sun started setting they start headed back to their houses to have supper which normally consisted of olives and eggs, and if they were upper class, meat and fish. Ancient people usually ended up going to bed pretty early, by out standards, because the streets weren’t safe at night and there were no artificial lights besides candles.

The wealthy houses in Pompeii were often arranged around a courtyard and in order to get to their house, they would have to walk through a narrow street façade that had no windows and was very ordinary. The inside of their houses were highly decorated with mosaics and fantastical frescoes covering the walls (guess it made up for the lack of windows!)

Almost all well-to-do houses included:

  • 2-3 rooms
  • Small kitchen
  • A Basin- a place to store water
  • They cooked their food by putting a pot on tripods over burning wood or charcoal
  • Very few citizens owned ovens at this time so they had to go to a Baker to bake their bread
  • A living/family room (they used this room when they would eat and/or host company)
  • A garden full of useful plants in their courtyard

TEMPLATE- Student Series!


Windmills & Tulips

On our last day in Amsterdam my husband and I decided to get out of the city to see some Windmills & Tulips. I know how incredibly cliche this sounds but I don’t care one bit! It was on the top of my Netherlands bucket list and gosh darn-it I was going to go do it. To make logistics a bit easier for us we decided to do a guided tour…in the end that was not our cup of tea but it was an overall gorgeous (and sunny!) day.

Windmills & tulipsOur bus ride was broken up in to two major chucks: the morning was a windmill/countryside tour and we switched around noon to go to Keukenhof, the most famous tulip garden in the world.


Our first stop for windmills was Zaanse Schans, a little neighborhood with a few working windmills. Most of the group went inside to learn about the inner workings of windmills while Will and I walked around the town taking photos and enjoying the rare sunny Netherlandish sunshine.

IMG_2908IMG_4885IMG_7402IMG_7435IMG_7453IMG_7468IMG_7480IMG_7531Volendam & Marken

After the windmills, we got shuttled off to Volendam to learn about traditional Dutch cheese and wooden shoe making. Although informational, mass tour guide lectures aren’t our thing and we kinda just wandered around.

IMG_7532IMG_2148IMG_7534FullSizeRender 7.1IMG_7500IMG_8489After lunch we hopped on a ferry to Marken, which remarkably looked like Cape Cod, then hopped on the bus for part 2…the tulips!

Keukenhof Gardens

This tulip garden is actually opened from March until May and we happened to be there on the first day they were opened this year! I was so excited. Now, it was a bit early in the tulip season so we didn’t get to see the garden in “full” bloom but there was plenty to see and the greenhouse had absolutely gorgeous variety. Every row we walked up was something new. Just enjoy the photos below!


Amsterdam Day 2

Amsterdam day 2Our second day in Amsterdam was pretty relaxing, we didn’t have too much on the radar at the start of the day. But here’s what we ended up accomplishing:

  • Free diamond tour at Gassan Diamond factory
  • Wandered Vondelpark
  • Popped into a secluded begijnhof
  • Joined a river cruise
  • Downed some jenever (Dutch gin)
  • Walked around the gorgeous neighborhoods

Well that didn’t seem like a lot before I wrote it all down, but I promise it was a leisurely day. 🙂 Read about Day 1 in Amstedam HERE.

Gassan Diamond Tour

We spent about an hour on a free, private tour learning all about the 4 C’s (I can’t really remember what they are right now…lol) and then we got to handle diamonds that literally equal my yearly salary. That was scary! Our course, as with any industry tour, they went you to buy something at the end but we happily walked out without purchasing anything. Although, if you are in the market for diamonds, their prices were competitive.IMG_6999Vondelpark


Interested in my travel style on this trip? Click HERE.

Amsterdam Begijnhof

IMG_7310IMG_7307IMG_7308River Cruise

What a great way to really see the city! There are a bunch of different cruise lines to shop around. Most take about an hour and include audio information.

Read more about Amsterdam vs. Venice.

IMG_7039IMG_7037IMG_7028IMG_7080IMG_7093IMG_7056IMG_7111IMG_7138IMG_7160IMG_7167IMG_7180Dutch Jenever

Jenever is a 300-year old Dutch gin recipe that is really well-known for its smooth flavor. I personally hate gin with a passion but “when in Rome,” right? Our waiter, seeing our lack of expertise, explained the way to drink jenever with a beer chaser. That did not go down well but it was an experience.

Read more about the foods of the Belgian and the Dutch.

IMG_2055IMG_2056FullSizeRender 7


Amsterdam vs Venice

Two famous cities of canals! Although they are initially similar in their city planning, in truth, these cities could not be more different. Each one is beautiful in its own way, it just depends on what you like. Here is my opinion on these two curious canal cities!

amsterdam vs venice

Getting Around 


In the simplest sense, Amsterdam is an organized, planned city while Venice feels completely random and organic. Essentially, their city planning matches their history. On one hand, Amsterdam’s UNESCO canal rings are feats of modern engineering with a long-term planned program of concentric arcs of canals that are connected with perpendicular canals. This makes the city incredibly easy to navigate because it just all makes sense.


Venice, on the other hand, is a cacophony of alleys, streets, bridges, and dead-ends. This is certainly not a UNESCO Site because of its mathematical plan, but for its insanity. Venice was founded in the 5th century and slowing grew out into the ocean on 118 tiny islands. This organic and long-time growth (as opposed to long-term, planned growth) makes Venice a maze of small winding alley ways. Your best bet is to throw away that map! Know where the major things you want to see are located in relation to your accommodations and then just enjoy getting lost because its inevitable anyways!

Read more at the blog Becoming Italian Word by Word: Walking Venice in the Italian Language 

Famous Markets

FullSizeRender.1Amsterdam is famous for its Bloemenmarkt, or flower market, overflowing with tulips at the right time of year. The market actually consists of floating barges stationed along on Singel between Muntplein and Koningsplein. Easy to find and totally worth a stroll through, even if the tulips aren’t in full bloom yet. And if you are wondering, yes you can bring tulip bulbs home – just make sure they are the “international travel approved” ones.

IMG_7920Venice is alternatively famous for its Rialto Fish Market that teems with the ocean’s bounty every single day starting at 7 am. You can find nearly every variety under the sun but some Venetian specialties are cuttlefish, octopus, canoche (a mix between a shrimp and crab), and schie (tiny shrimp).  Even if you are not a seafood lover, its fantastic to walk by and watch Venetians haggle, argue, and swap the day’s news in this packet covered market.

Road Rules

IMG_6728Bikes rule the streets in Amsterdam and if you are brave enough, it is an awesome way to get around (personally I did not have the courage!). Be careful! The Amsterdam bikers are professionals and they don’t mess around. Always double, triple check before crossing the street or sidewalks, you can’t always hear the bikes whizzing by. Alternatively, a canal tour is a great way to get your bearings and see a lot of the city in an hour or so.

248087_10150195758208541_1821853_nWhere were going, we don’t need roads.”

That iconic line from Back to the Future essentially sums up Venice. No cars, and hardly any bikes or scooters; nothing but boats and boots. Although gondola’s are Venice’s iconic mode of transportation, I don’t suggest them. They’re expensive, cheesy, and really not the best way to see the city. Alternatives? Walking will allow to you get leisurely lost in the back alleys but you will be limited on your “point A to point B” capabilities. The vaporetto, or water bus is the best way to get around and see the city from the water – as it is meant to be seen.


IMG_7201IMG_7902The architecture of Amsterdam and Venice could not be more different and lot has to with their geography. Amsterdam is in Northern, Protestant Europe which tends to be more reserved and practical. While Venice has always been known as a city of excess and glitterati. The fantastic architecture is best seen via boat so I would high suggest booking a canal tour while in either city!

My personal winner?

IMG_7909As frustrating as Venice is, it wins in this showdown. My choice has a lot to do with my overall love of Romance cultures as opposed to the orderly Northern Europe but Amsterdam’s architecture did surprise me. Venice I think just captures the imagination as a “romantic” city. My husband through would probably disagree with me (he hated Venice lol). To each their own!


Student Series! Rummaging through the Pile

While teaching in northern Italy a few years ago I researched the UNESCO Sites around me and Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps was one I did not get to go to. Funny enough one of my Humanities students this past year researched it for their blog project this past year so I can travel vicariously!


Student series! Rummaging through the PileIt’s odd to imagine that there are still preserved wooden remains of houses that were built in the Alpine region from 5000 BC to 500 BC. Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland are all among the regions of Europe that have discovered remains of these prehistoric pile dwellings. It was believed in the 19th century that these pile dwellings were platform houses but modern researchers have concluded that these homes were just built along shores or in boggy areas.

The builders of some of these pile dwellings are the first documented inhabitants of the area. Another interesting thing about these pile dwellings is that it is believed the inhabitants were the first inventors and users of the wheel in Europe. But not only are inhabitants interesting, it’s intriguing that the wood has been preserved for so many centuries. The reason behind their preservation is that they are now found within bodies of water or bogs. This lack of oxygen allowed for the preservation of organic materials, such as food, clothing, and wooden objects.

Map of pile dwellings included in UNESCO World Heritage Site (via)

The Pile Dwellings Belong

It’s interesting to think about why these sites would be part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Julie Slater from describes why she believes these prehistoric pile dwellings should belong to the list of UNESCO sites by explaining that the site would give the local people of these regions a reason to appreciate their historic cultural heritage better. Her main reasons for candidacy are for the public awareness of these pile dwellings and the protection they need. The countries involved were also encouraged to apply for UNESCO protection because of the danger the pile dwellings were beginning to fade.


UNESCO List Saves Pile Dwellings of the Alps

Not only did these pile dwellings meet the UNESCO criteria of a “testimony to cultural tradition” and “traditional human settlement,” but they were also starting to face dangers and needed to be listed as a UNESCO site to save them. Due to increases in tourism, boat traffic became heavy and at times anchors were placed in sensitive areas destroying some of the pile dwellings’ remains. Another large component endangering the remains was the draining of water for farming. This caused bogs to dry out and the area must be wet the preserve the remains, as stated before.

After the application was submitted to UNESCO on January 26, 2010, these countries expected a response no earlier than the summer of 2011. This was a long wait to see if these sites would become part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was worth the wait and in the summer of 2011, the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings through the Alps were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Amsterdam: Day 1

Amsterdam_ Day 1We took a morning train from Brussels to Amsterdam which was a little more than 3 hours; perfect time to catch up on reading, napping, and blogging! Once we arrived in Amsterdam we hopped on a city tram to Hotel Van Gogh (despite the name, it was a hostel). Our hostel was on the opposite side of the city but closer to the things we were going to be doing in Amsterdam over the next few days.

This is The Milkmaid (my favorite painting in the world and she was temporarily relocated to the Louvre – I was so bummed! (via)

Official check in wasn’t until 2 pm, so we dropped our bags off and went to eat at the restaurant practically attached to the hostel, Blushing, then we killed some time in the Rijksmuseum. This is considered one of Amsterdam’s premier museums filled with Old Dutch Masters. I had my eye to see ONE piece of art and funny enough it had been temporarily moved to the Louvre for a Vermeer exhibit…bummer!

  • Opening times: daily 9:00am-5:00pm
  • Price: 17,50 euro (adult)

IMG_2018IMG_6709IMG_6791 2After finishing the museum, we ran (literally ran!) to our appointment at the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room for a cheese tasting. I found out about this place from the an awesome travel guide on Etsy by the Overseas Escape (click HERE for the link). It was a great experience we would not have thought to do otherwise.

  • Price: 16,50 euro pp (basic Cheese Tasting)
  • Address: Singel 182

By the time we got out, my sister’s train was getting in (perfect timing!) so we went back to the hostel, met up and had a lovely dinner afterwards.


P.S. All the opinions are my own and no one compensated me for any praise I gave them!