Guest Travelers, Interviews, Study Abroad, Travel

5 Weeks in Italy

A few months ago I asked my friend Alyssa about her study abroad trip to Italy and if I could interview her about it–and even though I’m late on posting this, with summer right here, and since it’s Alyssa and Joey’s wedding today (congrats!!) better late than never right?! Also, I have an exciting giveaway to go along with it–in case YOU are inspired by Alyssa to explore new cities on your own–thanks to GPS My City (more about it at the end of this post).

alyssa1Name: Alyssa Mars Hakanson

Occupation: Interior design student graduate!

Future dreams: to live and work creatively, to travel all over the world, and to always be learning.

@sramassyla on Instagram


[my grandmother] reached over to her nightstand and grabbed a framed picture of the Trevi Fountain and told me I needed to go see it for her. I told her I would, and I did.

Where and when did your trip happen?

During the summer of 2014, I spent 5 weeks in Italy studying architecture, interior design, and art. I lived in the Trastevere area of Rome; on the weekends, I traveled to Florence, Venice, Pompeii, and Minori (a tiny town on the Amalfi coast).

What was the key moment in making your decision to go to Italy?

It was actually a pretty hard decision! Although I’d always wanted to travel, I’d never been out of the country before, and it just seemed so unattainable. I’m the first person in my family who has ever “gone abroad,” and so there were so many things I needed to figure out– I didn’t have a passport or anything! But I just kept thinking, “when in my life am I ever going to be able to do this again?” The answer was, “possibly never.” My parents were so encouraging, and so was my boyfriend (who proposed right before I left).
But the final decision, the moment when I knew I had to go, was when I was talking to my grandmother, who was very sick and just a few weeks from dying. I mentioned that I might spend my summer in Italy, and she just lit up. She came to America in 1933 as a child, and she never went back. She reached over to her nightstand and grabbed a framed picture of the Trevi Fountain and told me I needed to go see it for her. I told her I would, and I did. She died that November, right around Thanksgiving, and I thought about her a lot as I was preparing for my trip. The night of my 20th birthday, my friends and I walked to the Trevi, and I felt so close to her.

(C) Alyssa M. Hakanson

What was your favourite touristy place to see and why? Did it deserve its famous reputation?
I don’t know if I can choose one! Italy has such distinct regions, and each of them has their own magic that I fell in love with. The canals of Venice, the blooming honeysuckle and gorgeous piazzas of Rome, the romance of Florence, the stunning cliffs of the Amalfi Coast… they are all so special and so unique! I felt like the more I traveled, the more I understood and the more I loved it. I can only say that I was very underwhelmed by the colosseum!
Do you remember any specific restaurants/markets you ate at, and which food do you miss the most?
Obviously, the gelato is out of this world amalyssa5azing. I made an effort to try as many flavors and as many different shops as I could! I probably spent $100 on gelato in my month there!
There was a farmer’s market in my neighborhood, and I had a banana man! I went there most mornings to get a banana and say hi before my class. He didn’t speak English, but I felt like he was my friend.
Oh! And bomboloni: Italian doughnuts. They’re so so good!
Of the places I visited, I felt that Florence had the best food: every meal was so so good!
I also had my favorite dining experience there:
We walked almost fifteen miles in our first day in Florence, and we were all dead on our feet. My feet were bleeding, my thighs were chaffed, my legs hurt, and it was 100º+ all day. So we gave ourselves a little radius around the hotel and shuffled along looking for the first place we could find. We saw a trip advisor sticker on the outside of a tiny restaurant, shrugged, and walked in. It was mostly empty– just the owner and some friends sitting around. The food was astonishingly good, just made with a passion that you could actually taste. We all ended up passing around our plates so we could try as many things as possible! But the amazing thing about it wasn’t just the food: it was the quiet. We’d been in Rome for 2 weeks, and Rome is loud and crowded! For the first time, we could hear each other talk and laugh while we ate. It was the perfect meal.

Minori, Italy | (C) Alyssa M. Hakanson

Do you have any plans to go back?

I don’t have any plans on a calendar, but I need to take Joey to Italy. I don’t think I can live the rest of my life without showing him my favorite things. I want to eat romantic dinners in Florence and hike through Pompeii and lounge on the Amalfi Coast and go south to where my grandma was born. I also want to see how my perceptions of it have changed after however many years. Will I find it more or less overwhelming? Will it still feel familiar to me? I don’t know, but I hope I’ll have the answers one day!

Who wants to go to Italy now?! It’s definitely on my travel list for the near future. And congratulations, Alyssa and Joey, and I hope you both get to travel to Italy or further soon!


GPSmyCity has offered to giveaway a bunch of promo codes for their app that features walking maps around 470+ cities. I think it’s great because it takes you on different walks around a city, besides just the tourist stuff, and if you want to hit the tourist stuff, it has great, already planned routes! Nothing better than not having to connect all the dots between 5 different landmarks you’re trying to cram into one morning. It’s a great way to explore new cities, and I’m definitely going to use it in my travels up north this summer and hopefully next time I’m abroad.

Want to enter?! Just leave a comment on this post, all comments will be entered into giveaway. 1 entry per person, and if you win, you’ll get a promo code to download GPSmyCity FREE for Apple or Android. You have until Saturday, June 25, when we’ll randomly pick winners. Thanks, GPSmyCity!!

1 Comment

  1. Anna WouldBeTraveller

    September 11, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    I’m so impressed that Alyssa went so far from home for so long! I spent a week learning Spanish in Spain this year – I only live a 2 hour flight away – but was devastated at the thought of leaving my husband and cat behind! I really hope Alyssa gets to take Joey one day – my husband came out to ‘collect’ me from Valencia, and I had completely fallen in love with the city and couldn’t wait to show him where I studied and where I ate my lunch. I would definitely recommend a study abroad trip!

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