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28 July, 2015
Summer Getaway: Italian Style
Milan is hot.
I remember riding to the beach when I was a child, peering out of the car window to catch a glimpse of the ocean. At nineteen years old I still have this very same excitement which was in full effect on the train ride to Monterosso, the town I visited in Cinque Terre. The countryside which looked exactly like that of my hometown in Virginia was quickly replaced with ocean views and villages lining the mountains. I watched the royal blue water turn white as it crashed against the massive brown rocks protruding from the sea. This train ride was like a front row seat to an art show thanks to Italy's endless beauty... It was a nice change from my usual train experience which consists of an Amtrak jaunt from D.C. to NYC where the scenery is questionable. I paused to think about everyone back in the States and I thought of the beach trips of my childhood as the train barreled through the coast on the way to Cinque Terre. When I arrived in Monterosso I immediately felt the familiar breeze of the Italian coast which was so refreshing after the intense Milan heat. I wasted no time exploring everything Cinque Terre has to offer from the seafood to the sunsets. This weekend trip was incredible from start to finish (re: train ride) and I urge you to visit the region if you have the opportunity. It is an ideal weekend trip for those who need to see the ocean in the summertime like myself. Be forewarned that the beaches here are very different than those of the Caribbean as these do not have white sand but small smooth pebbles. I personally love these little "rocks" because I didn't have sand in every crevice of every bag I own after going to the beach. You know exactly what I'm talking about! Sand and pebbles aside, this beach getaway was ideal. I caught up on some sleep while sunbathing, I ate deliciously fresh seafood, and went full fledge mermaid in the ocean as per usual. No matter where I am in the world, when it's summer I am longing for a dose of the beach. Cinque Terre and Monterosso provided me with the perfect summer getaway.
24 July, 2015
Every day I wake up in Milan reminding myself that I am in fact waking up in Milan. The fashion capital of the world. The cultural hub of Italy. The city that has something for everyone, especially people like me who think about fashion every second of the day. Giorgio Armani is a constant reminder of my current reality in this city of chic. I am studying in his very footsteps at The University of Milan. I walk to class with Mr. Armani each day. I see him everywhere... On the train, on the street, in the stores, and in the attitude of the Milanese people. His brand identity has infiltrated the city to an unbreakable level.
|2015 campaign celebrates 40 years of Armani|
The people watch every move Armani makes, hoping to reach the level of class and sheer elegance for which the brand is renowned. Each collection exudes a look of sophistication in a way that is approachable, making the clothes appealing to all ages and all backgrounds.
|The legend himself: Mr. Giorgio Armani|
I can't help but think of Armani every time I see an Italian man wearing a perfectly tailored suit or when a woman is wearing a dress so delicately cut and sewn that it looks as though it descended straight from heaven. Armani's innovative designs and creative mind reintroduce Italian fashion with each and every collection, changing the way the world dresses. It is no surprise that Armani has dominated the industry for the last 40 years and with that I say... Here's to the next 40.
23 July, 2015
V E N E Z I A
The stereotypical image of handsome Venetian men steering gondolas around in red striped shirts and adorable hats is a very accurate depiction of what one can expect in this glorious city. Immediately I understood why this place is such a staple in the tourist destinations of Italy. The people here have a deep sense of pride unique to their region of the country and act differently than the people of Rome or Milan. Venice offers an experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. If you ever find yourself in Italy wondering what to do with a free weekend, book a trip to Venice. The atmosphere is both electrifying and relaxing, you won't want to waste a single minute exploring this stunning city. From eating homemade pasta by the water to getting a private boat ride to my hotel at night... I fell in love with Venice.
21 July, 2015
Sometimes I see an outfit so perfectly executed from head-to-toe that I want to personally congratulate the style genius wearing it. No matter where I am in the world, the very first thing I notice about a person is what they are wearing. I do this not because I am judging but because I am inspired by absolutely everything I see. For me, fashion is not about who has on the most expensive labels or the newest collection of the season but it is the way one puts an outfit together that inspires me the most. Too often I feel there is a misconception of what it means to be fashionable. No longer do we live in a world where owning a luxurious wardrobe is only for those with massive amounts of money. True story: thrift store items can rival designer pieces when paired correctly. The market for fast fashion is better now than it has been in many years, providing the public with trends from the runway immediately after the collections are shown at Fashion Week. It thrills me to see certain items in stores like Forever 21 or Zara which only exist because a major designer showed pieces like them in that season's collection. This essentially makes the desirable looks from major runway shows readily available to the masses. What could be better?
If you are searching for inspiration, come to Milan.
Each time I step outside I am greeted by a million of my closest Milanese friends, each one dressed to absolute perfection. Young and old, rich and poor, it seems as if every person here has a knack for putting together an outfit. The occasion is not important because the Milanese have impeccable style even if they are simply going to the supermarket at 8AM. It is important to note that not every person here is drenched in Prada and Gucci with handbags costing more than my college tuition. I am the first to commend the people who are in fact fortunate enough to wear these incredible designs each day but for most people these items are just fun splurges every now and then. The Milanese have a deep-rooted respect for high fashion but they do not rely solely on designer items to achieve a stylish look. This is how I think true Milan fashion is revealed. When properly executed, mixing the highs and the lows can achieve a sophisticated and fashion-forward look that is absolutely swoon-worthy. Don't focus on the things you cannot afford or the things you are afraid to try. Focus on the assets you have and determine what you can do to work with your current style situation. Take a note from the Milanese book of fashion and embrace your personal taste and style. Who knows.. maybe I will even personally congratulate you for being the style genius that I know each one of you are!
|Milan street style 2015|
|Milan street style 2015|
16 July, 2015
Traveling brings out the very best in people. I KNOW I KNOW, you have probably read travel propaganda millions of times in cheesy Pinterest or Facebook posts. I will refrain from preaching on why you should travel or why I love to travel. I will say however that even if you aren't sure traveling abroad is your thing, I promise you will return with a better sense of who you are as person than you would ever discover in the comfort of your own home. Comfort is a funny thing, really. I much prefer to be in a constant state of movement, physically and figuratively. It is natural to want peace and stability in life but I much prefer change over comfort. Traveling is all about change and escaping the hideous thing called your comfort zone.
Here are five things I've learned from my own adventures abroad:
1. Hug and kiss your precious Wi-Fi goodbye. I am the first to admit I am addicted to my iPhone and there is not an ounce of shame there. Let's be real, we all have important things to do on our phones and it is difficult to go without internet. Long gone are the days when a phone was used just for phone calls. Nowadays, internet connection can make or break a person's entire career! While I do not have a foreign cell phone, I do have a global plan through my carrier. This is a total preference thing and something you can decide based on the amount of time you will be in a different country. With my plan I am allotted a certain number of minutes and text messages but no internet unless over Wi-Fi. This is a bit difficult sometimes because I love sharing my day on Instagram but often have to wait to post until I am somewhere with Wi-Fi. The beauty of this is that I can direct my full undivided attention to the sights in front of me, which is important in such an incredible city like Milano.
2. Fine dine with house wine. Don't fall into the trap of ordering a wine out of your price range just because you think it will taste better. Unless you are knowledgeable about the different grapes and regions you prefer, don't bother trying to decipher a wine menu that you may not be able to afford. In countries that heavily export wine like Italy and France, the house wine is sure to do the trick. They have this down to a science and I can assure you it will taste just as good as the bottles that are three times the price of the liter of house wine. I've had both and I can confidently tell you I will always order house wine over a fancy shmancy bottle because I trust the quality. Worst-case scenario, you can mask the taste with a piece of glorious crusty bread drizzled with fresh olive oil or creamy butter. Yeah. Voice of experience here.
3. Water water everywhere, so drink it. I won't be held responsible for any hospital bills you may incur from a parasite and/or virus. Just saying. However, I will be responsible for sharing my experience with tap water from other countries. I have been to Paris a few times now and each time I have bought liters and liters of bottled water because I was told the water was unsafe for foreigners to drink. One of my family members had a bad experience with it many, many years ago and this has never really left my mind. I was hesitant about drinking the tap water in Milano because I was unfamiliar with the sanitation laws in the city and let's face it, I can't just drink house wine 24/7. I have had zero problems with the water in Italy and while in some countries the water is a real issue of concern, I do not feel that it is in countries like France or Italy.
4. Sleep when you're dead. I have a lot of stuff to do guys. I mean a lot. I can't imagine my life any other way... I need to have something on the horizon every minute of the day or else I will go insane. There is never a time that I don't have something to do. I left those days far behind and now all I do is go, go, go. I used to sleep in as much as I could but now I set an alarm that goes off before 7AM almost every morning. I rarely go to bed before 2AM but as I mentioned in a previous post, I wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated thanks to double shots of espresso and really great under-eye cream. Bottom line: don't miss a moment of seeing the city you're traveling in for a few extra hours of sleep. That is tragic! Get up and get out. You will be so glad you did.
5. If you feel overdressed you're doing it right. This is a good rule to have in general but especially when you are abroad. It doesn't matter if you pay close attention to fashion or not, when you travel you are representing not only yourself but also your home country. What would the outfit you are wearing right now tell a foreigner about your country? If you are proud of where you come from, you should be proud of the clothes that you wear. You wouldn't wear a raggedy t-shirt and tacky pants to make an important first impression so why wear something like this in a situation based entirely on first impressions? You don't have the chance to talk to everyone you see on the metro or in the street and 90% of the time your outfit will be the only thing people notice about you. Americans are FAR too comfortable wearing sweatpants, leggings and even *cringe* pajamas in public. These articles of clothing are simply unacceptable and a real embarrassment in places like Milano and Paris where fashion is something placed on the same level as food and water. Again, voice of experience. Rule of thumb: don't wear something you would be embarrassed to see yourself in on the front page of a newspaper or magazine.
Follow along with all of Ashley's travels via Snapchat: itsashleycook
15 July, 2015
This energy is fantastic. Since the day I arrived in Milano I have felt what can only be described as a tremendous sense of urgency. This is not the same pressing feeling I get when I am studying for finals or rushing to get out of the door on a busy morning, but a positive feeling rather. Even though I rarely get to bed before 2:00 AM, I always wake up with an inexplicable amount of energy. At first I blamed it on adrenaline and the excitement of being in a brand new city but now I'm aware it is something much greater. I (happily) blame Milano. The people approach every single day with an awareness of their reality along with a permanently positive attitude to combat any problems they may encounter.
Interestingly enough, every Italian professor I have had for my study abroad program thus far has outrightly said that Italy is in the middle of an economic crisis. Pause. Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? 2008 recession. United States. The depression was palpable no matter where I was. Everyone was utterly consumed with the inescapable situation at the time that they seemed to forget life was marching on ahead of them. The Italians are handling their current situation a bit differently to say the very least. The professors who admit their country is in a financial crisis were not looking to throw a pity party. The street merchants who barely make a living in a decent economy are not selling out and standing in an unemployment lines. The shopkeepers are certainly not closing their doors left and right. Almost everyone offers me a reassuring nod or a warm smile as if they are trying to communicate that everything is just fine, because it is. The chain reaction phenomenon began in Italy a really long time ago.
It is clear that the Italians cherish life far too much to fester their emotions into something they can't immediately control.
I'm not saying every person here is sitting on a gondola eating Buffalo Mozzarella not giving a single thought about the economic turmoil, although I may be on to something with that strategy. In all actuality, they are simply living the way they would if the economy were in perfect condition. They take time to savor. This holds true for everything from the picture perfect outfit one wears to go to the grocery store to the countless hours one spends in a restaurant on a weeknight. This careful observance of what other countries refer to as life's mundane moments is what separates Italians from others. If they are a depressed society they certainly do not show it. If they are unhappy with their life, they have a superb way of hiding it. I appreciate their continual sense of urgency to get things done all while maintaining a genuine zest for whatever life brings.
13 July, 2015
Emilio Pucci is a major icon in the Italian fashion industry. Although he is from Florence, his designs rule the runways of Milano fashion week each season inspiring other designers to recreate his famously delicate silhouettes. I was a fan of Emilio Pucci long before I knew I would be in Milano this summer. I am in love the femininity that is a constant theme in the collections. The looks shown are always delicate and ladylike which is something I find refreshing in the midst of our normcore street style era.
I have been in Milan for almost three weeks now and every time I step out of my room I witness a wide-ranging variety of fashion. The looks here are so incredibly well-done and put together I have to take a moment each day to pause and consider how amazing the Italian style is. I often find summer fashion the most difficult for people to maneuver because there is a very fine line between provocative and "just trying not to die of a heat stroke so I'm wearing as few clothes as I can," but not for Emilio Pucci. In his latest collection, he has demonstrated how to dress with class and elegance even when the Milanese heat tries to drown you in a pool of your own sweat. I promise this happens.
Since I am currently in the fashion capital of the world (saying that never gets old), it is only right for me to share what I am witnessing firsthand. Emilio Pucci Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear collection by Creative Director Peter Dundas has successfully influenced the fashion of the Milanese. When I watched this show live online I immediately became obsessed. The flowing gowns in this collection have ornate prints worthy of being in an art museum. Each model had a complete look that encapsulates what summer in Milano feels like. The colors, textures, and silhouettes are the epitome of classic Italian style. The women here do not use the summer heat as an excuse to wear clothes that reveal too much. They simply choose the right materials like the ones seen in Emilio Pucci's Spring 2015 collection.
10 July, 2015
|Discussing the "yes" moments with Michael|
I believe in the power of yes. It is my favorite word. My heart fluttered with joy the other night when my main advisor for my study abroad program said, "I really don't like being told no..." I can relate. I have often been told that I need to be a "yes machine" in the early stages of my career, never telling a boss that I will not do something. This is absolutely vital but unfortunately some people do say no because they think they are above doing a certain task, which ends up making him or her look lazy. My yes philosophy has been in full swing during my time in Milano.
Italy cleanses the soul. The people, the fashion, the food, the architecture and the history all combine in a perfect harmony of sheer happiness. I have laughed and smiled more in the past week than I did my entire senior year of (EW) high school. I never miss an opportunity to try something new and because this is my first time in Milano, everything is new. Imagine the feeling you had as a first grader waking up on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement nearly impossible to contain... This is how I feel every morning. My bed sits right in front of a floor-to-ceiling window looking out over Milan. Although I only get about five or six hours of sleep each night I still have the energy of a first grader on Christmas morning. In Milan, there are no limits.
I try to have this philosophy back home but the American way of life prohibits me from truly being carefree. For example, in Milan I have had Luini's Panzerotti (orgasmic fried pockets of dough filled with melted cheese and fresh ingredients like pesto or tomato and mozzarella) about six times. Wine at noon? Absolutely. Going to bed at 4 am? Yes. Shopping after every class? DUH. This endless cycle of joy is only available to those who say YES! Whether you are in the middle of nowhere small-town USA or in a city like Milano, always say yes to the great things in life. Because I choose to say yes, I am madly in love with my life. People who do not say yes are constantly wondering why I never stop laughing or smiling while doing everyday activities like riding the metro or walking down a street. No matter where you find yourself in this world, always say YES to the things that make you happy.
07 July, 2015
"Italians do not eat to live, they live to eat."
This quote perfectly sums up Italy's contagious love of cuisine. From the southernmost tip of Sicily to the very top of Milano, food is an essential part of happiness. No one is obsessing over fad diets or juice cleanses. Kale doesn't take center stage for Italians like it does (for me) in the States. They have so much respect for their food and where it comes from and how it is grown which translates to the highest form of SELF-RESPECT. Italians are a million times more conscious than Americans about what they put in their bodies. No crazy chemicals and no GMOs. Just pure and wholesome ingredients prepared in a way that satisfies the mind, body and soul. Italians are aware that everyone has a unique body type and I firmly believe they do not try to drastically alter what God gave them by restricting their food intake. They don't over-indulge, they simply enjoy. The portions here are normal and one never needs a "to-go" box like in an Olive Garden where portions are so ungodly they could feed a small village. This approach to food has made me realize that instead of concentrating on what I shouldn't eat (OMG carbs), I should concentrate on what I should eat. I hope you will join me in celebrating the joy that food provides when viewed the right way. Stop wasting your life and your happiness by analyzing every inch of your body and trying to force a change that is not meant to happen. If you were born with protruding collarbones and mile-long legs, embrace it. If you are so curvy that it is hard to find pants to fit properly, own it. Being healthy doesn't start by killing yourself on a treadmill. It starts by feeling good about yourself. Thank you, Italy for showing me that food is truly the key to this inner peace. Food is a celebration and a true work of art for Italians.
05 July, 2015
This country has my heart and it is certainly not letting go. The people approach life each day as if it is a celebration. This vibrancy is seen in the clothes they wear, the foods they eat, and the way they treat those around them. Rich or poor, this trend runs deep in Italy. The people work hard and with a great sense of pride, from the construction workers to the real estate moguls. Note: they don't work so hard that they forget to enjoy the opportunities they have each day. This is something I immediately gravitate towards, as I have this same attitude. For me, waking up with a healthy mind and body with a healthy family constitutes a perfect day. This is exactly the sort of appreciation the Italians show. They do not rush, but they are not lazy (except the occasional siesta). The thought each person puts into his or her appearance is unparalleled. Fashion is not all about money and it's certainly not a competition the way it can sometimes feel in other parts of the world. For the Italians, dressing well is a form of self respect. The Milanese in particular feel it is their duty to dress in a way that presents the very best version of themselves. Clean, polished, and elegant. Women are happily trotting along the cobblestone streets in heels and almost every man is in a perfectly tailored suit carrying a fine leather briefcase. Nothing thrills me more than being out-dressed by a little old Italian woman doing something as mundane as fetching groceries. Italians put a conscious effort into everything they do, no matter how small. They bake their bread fresh and scoff at the frozen food aisles of American supermarkets. They take pride in where they come from and place significant value on tradition and family. We can all learn something from the Bella Italia way of life.
04 July, 2015
Much like Andrea Bocelli, I too found my love in Portofino. I took a scenic trip from Milano to Genova to Portofino. I enjoyed the 360-degree views of everything from sprawling countryside, Roman architecture (casual), and the dark blue Mediterranean water. After stopping at what can only be called a five star Exxon gas station complete with a giant crystal chandelier, we soon arrived in Genova. Note: this is not to be confused with The Princess Diaries fictional country Genovia, for there were no young Anne Hathaway sightings. Genova is a port city sitting right on the coast that dates back to the very beginning of Italian civilization. It was vital in transporting materials and weaponry for both WWI and WWII. Its location has provided the region with a lucrative economy.
It is always so interesting to visit a city like this that is not very widely known. I didn't realize Christopher Columbus lived in Genova until I walked right up to his house, now a historical monument of sorts. Incredible! There are things one simply can't learn in a history textbook, like the local culture. For lunch I enjoyed freshly made pasta with squid and tomatoes but the real treat was indulging in the area's speciality, focaccia bread. They only eat focaccia baked the same day of consumption and they shudder at the thought of anything different. It was simply delicious with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Swoon!
After leaving Genova with a stomach full of focaccia, I found myself in the tiny village of Santa Margherita Ligure. The beaches here, like most in Italy, were covered with little dark pebbles that look amazing against the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean. The beachgoers couldn't have looked any happier to be enjoying summer in such a place. After strolling though this perfect little beach village, I boarded a yacht that whisked me away to Portofino. I sat on the very front of the boat with the sea breeze blowing my shoulder-length hair all about. The soft scent of sea water epitomized everything summer should smell like. My jaw tried not to drop as we passed a countless number of private luxury yachts peppered throughout the water. These boats continued as we passed the bend that revealed beautiful Portofino. I knew this was the place for me after the driver of our boat pointed out Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana's villa tucked in the hillside right before my eyes. This was followed by someone mentioning that an impressive looking yacht about 15 meters away from me was owned by Chris Hemsworth. He was in the boat, you guys. I kept my composure but the excitement continued as I walked along the cobblestone streets to stumble upon Dolce & Gabbana's pop-up Portofino shop that had opened just hours before I arrived. The collection in this store will never be sold in any other location and will only be available for one month. What are the odds that it opens the day I am in Portofino? You tell me. I felt like I was in an art museum as I browsed the gorgeous store talking with the sales associates who made me feel like family. The fashion in Portofino was everything that I hoped it would be, with Italian designer stores occupying every single street. I sipped on a mint mojito as I admired the boats rocking back and forth in the calm waters in front of me. From the people to the food to the fashion, this place captured my entire soul.
|Mojito in Portofino|
|Dolce & Gabbana Portofino|
02 July, 2015
Italy really works wonders for the skin. I'm serious when I say I wake up every morning absolutely beaming. Who can blame me? Each day is sparkling with new adventures. Out of sheer spontaneity, I ended up in Switzerland today. It took approximately one hour to get to Lake Lugano from my hotel in Milano. I slept for the duration of the train ride but woke up to an announcement stating we had entered Switzerland. I had my passport ready but to my surprise I was not asked to show it even once. I entered a country without setting foot in security! As an American this is unfortunately a concept with which I am not familiar. Switzerland has a long history of peace and overall neutrality in times of foreign conflict. This provides a certain feeling of serenity that is almost palpable. Riding the train through the mountains surrounding Lake Lugano provided a 360 degree view of what must have been a million shades of blue all blurring together in slow motion. I had no idea Switzerland had this region of lakeside paradise. I'm not alone when I say I thought Switzerland had a mountain-like terrain throughout. I pictured jagged mountains with snow-covered tops with villages and towns in valleys. Lake Lugano this was not, friends! I stepped off of the train to an absolute nirvana of warm crystal clear water peppered with boaters and swimmers celebrating summer.
I embraced everything the region has to offer... From the Swiss cheese in my mushroom omelette to the ornate architecture. I gladly covered all of my bases. This is the very essence of travel. I am always thrilled to squash any preconceived notion I may have about a country or city after visiting to find out it is completely different. This is exactly what happened today. I knew Switzerland was beautiful and I knew I always wanted to visit... It was my "why not now?" attitude that encouraged this opportunity. I now have a completely different appreciation for the beautiful and unique Switzerland.
After chatting on the train ride back with a Brit fresh from Yorkshire (hello Louis Tomlinson), I was back in my Bella Milano. I ate dinner at a highly recommended restaurant called Dal Bolognese. I had Tuna carpaccio to begin, followed by a Milanese-style veal chop. The white wine nearly brought me to tears and the bread was good enough to marry. I walked back to my hotel taking in the sights of a lit-up Milano with Vespas and Fiats buzzing about on the hot cobblestone streets. This is home.
For more Milano love, add me on Snapchat: itsashleycook