Party the Year Away

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Ellen Knuth
So you’ve decided to embrace your inner romantic with a season or two under the Tuscan sun? Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, you don’t have to come of age or have an illicit romance to appreciate the region’s extraordinary culture and countryside.

But if illicit romances are your thing, go for it!
However, we believe it’s semi-compulsory to get to one of the many festivals. They take place throughout the year in and around the rolling Tuscan hills and craggy Tuscan coastline.

Some Tuscan festivals have traditions stretching back as far as the 6th century. And if you don’t think that’s cultural enough, you could always check out some local frescoes or architectural masterpieces after the festivities! Here are our picks of the major Tuscan festivals happening in each season.



Luminara, Regatta of St. Ranieri and Battle of the Bridge – Pisa

Candle power!
This two-day candlelit extravaganza of Luminara celebrates Saint Ranieri, the patron saint of Pisa. The city is best known for its structurally unsound tower, but Luminara beats that for pyrotechnic drama. It kicks off on the evening of June 16, with more than 70,000 candles lighting up the palaces along the Arno river, and a fireworks display. The following day, four boats representing the city’s oldest districts compete in the Regatta of Saint Ranieri along the Arno river. A week later, on the last Saturday of June, Pisa locals parade through the city in their best medieval costumes. Even better, some then join the Battle of the Bridge, a medieval “tug of war” on the central bridge in Pisa.


Display of the Virgin’s Girdle – Prato

I think everyone needs to calm down.
Haven’t you always wanted to peek at the Virgin Mary’s Girdle? For most of the year, Prato’s most revered relic is kept under lock and key in the Duomo. But five times a year, with much medieval pomp and ceremony, it’s brought out on the piazza to the delight of the public. Two of these occasions are September 8 (celebration of the nativity of the Virgin Mary) and December 25 and 26. The rest of the time, Prato’s holy girdle is housed in the “Pulpit of the Sacred Girdle” off the facade’s right corner. Read the legend of how Mary’s holy girdle arrived in Prato in the chapel to the left of the entrance in Agnolo Gaddi’s fresco cycle.


Carnavale – Viareggio

Attendees are urged to adhere to the “business casual” dress code.
Always dreamt of attending a masked ball in Venice? You’re thinking of Viareggio, and in fact these carnival celebrations happen all across Tuscany in the lead-up to Ash Wednesday. Join the masked pageants, fireworks, flower show and parades along the Tuscan Riviera or experience the smaller celebrations in San Gimignano and Florence. It’s your last chance to indulge before Lent!


Easter, Scoppio Del Carro – Florence

It’s not a festival without an explosion.
If you’re after a big bang, then don’t miss Scoppio del Carro, or “explosion of the cart”. It dates back to 1622 and centres on an elaborate, three-storey high wagon that is rigged to the hilt with fireworks. A fleet of garland-decorated white oxen drag the wagon through Florence to the square between the Baptistery and Cathedral. Then a dove-shaped rocket that apparently represents the Holy Spirit (who knew it was so fiery?) slides down a steel cable at full speed from the Cathedral altar. On impact, there’s a ferocious explosion (the bigger, the better the harvest) followed naturally by a parade in medieval costume.


Come rain, come snow (but hopefully come sunshine), there will always be a festival for you to attend in Italy!

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged festivals, italy, panrimo, study abroad, travel, tuscany | Leave a comment
When travel goes wrong, because sometimes it does
Posted on March 23, 2015 by Audry
Let’s face it, traveling doesn’t always go as we expect, despite our best efforts to think ahead and plan our itinerary down to to the minute. Most of us can recall a situation when a train was late, we missed a flight (or in my case, didn’t really have a flight and lived in the airport for three days – more on this later), or we just ended up in the wrong place, and these are only the most common of travel inconveniences. The best thing about travel misadventures? They’re learning experiences, and they’re part of the adventure itself, often making for great stories you’ll find yourself telling over and over years later. Read about our very own travel-gone-wrong experiences from the Panrimo staff and how we survived to tell about them!

Ellen Knuth – University Relations Manager, Kyoto, Japan


What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to have a nice night out with friends, which I did, but with a slight hiccup.

What actually happened: I was working in a rural area in Japan, but on a long weekend, traveled to the cultural capital of Kyoto to meet-up with some college buddies. After a very long, very late evening of revelry, everyone hugged goodbye and went back to their hotels. Everyone except me, of course. Because I hadn’t booked a hotel.

Resolution: With another friend who had also neglected basic travel prep, I got a room. Not in a hostel or business hotel, but in a 24/7 karaoke parlor. (Pro-tip: If you do your research on deals, you can rent a private karaoke room, with an unlimited drink deal, for around $35.) Karaoke rooms in Japan are usually sound proof with long couches, adjustable lighting, and a karaoke system that you can turn off if you just want to sleep. Sure, they kicked us out at 5:30am, and yes, I may have had to change clothes in a MacDonald’s bathroom, but it all worked out!

Lesson learned: Book a hotel room, it’s more comfortable!

Caroline Steer, Intern Abroad Coordinator, Panama City, Panama.


What was supposed to happen: It was my first time traveling alone internationally, but I had made this trip countless times with my family. One stop in Houston, then straight to PTY, baggage claim, customs… the usual.

What actually happened: Everything was fine until I got through customs. There was a man asking for $10 for a tourist visa to exit the airport. What? I’d done this trip so many times before and I had no recollection of a $10 tourist visa! Maybe this was new, or maybe my parents had seamlessly taken care of this fee in past trips. I checked my wallet and realized I had exactly $2. In broken Spanish, I tried to explain that I didn’t have enough money, but they wouldn’t let me through. I had no cell phone, no cash, no way of reaching my family who were likely waiting for me just on the other side of the door.

Resolution: Thankfully a kind stranger offered me $7 and I was on my way.

Lesson learned: Always ALWAYS travel with at least a little cash. And research the airport and travel regulations ahead of time, even if you’ve made the same trip before!

Michael Radke, Study Abroad Advisor, Somewhere in Mexico


What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to have had an uneventful car ride from the Cancun airport to the small village outside of Merida where I would be staying for a week.

What actually happened: About halfway between Cancun and Merida, my friend Tony and I realized that we were running dangerously low on gasoline. As there was only one gas station between Cancun and Merida, and we were approaching the gas station, I assume we would make it and there wouldn’t be any issues. However, approximately 6 miles from the gas station, the dreaded sputtering of the car’s engine occurred, and I felt my stomach drop: I was about to be stranded in Mexico. After kicking the wheels a few times, Tony and I managed to hitchhike our way to the gas station. We befriended a helpful woman from Canada who traveled back and forth to Mexico every few months, and she was more than happy to give us a ride to the gas station.

Resolution: After arriving, we filled a 5 gallon water jug with gasoline and hopped into a van with around 6 other Mexican workers, who were assisting in road cleanup. After passing our car (having forgotten exactly where it had stopped), we finally returned and I managed to jimmy the gas tank seal open with a stick. Carefully (and by carefully, I mean not at all), we emptied the jug into the gas can and managed to drive BACK to the gas station to fill the tank. Afterward, we made it to Merida!

Lessons learned: Always begin long-distance drives with a full tank of gas. Especially if there’s only one gas station between destinations.

Dominic Palazzolo, Director of Admissions, on a study abroad trip in Spain


What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to fly back to the US from my study abroad trip in Spain.

What actually happened: In 2004, studying abroad in Spain, on my return trip home, I missed a connecting flight in Paris.This was my first experience in missing a flight and I was devastated. Funny thing is that I was at the gate 30 minutes before the flight; however, since CDG airport recently had some structural damage, they were shuttling passengers out to the vessel so they closed the gate early to allow for the commute. In the meantime, my friend happened to show the gate agent the time and, in the process of tapping her watch, military officials were called over and we were confronted with automatic weapons as a precaution.

Resolution: As cooler head prevailed, we were redirected to the AirFrance travel counter and we were booked on a flight the next day. We were given great accommodations and food vouchers to use in Paris and even had the day to get to the city and see the sights.

Lesson learned: It can be pretty daunting missing a flight/train/bus – especially when you are away from home for the first time in a foreign country. My advice is: There are always other flight/train/bus – and you might get a chance to explore a city you weren’t planning on seeing. Never tap on a gate agent’s watch to show them that you were at the gate on time – they will likely not care (nor understand you) and they have the ability to call military personnel over to fix a solution.

Audry Niscoromni, Study Abroad Coordinator, CDG Airport, Paris

10387503_10152428666266558_6286799615736182279_n *photo not taken from the experience below, but the quote on that cup is spot on!
What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to hop on a direct flight from Paris to Detroit.

What actually happened: I was returning home from my study abroad trip in France, which was the first time I’d ever traveled anywhere alone. To save money, I decided to fly standby. My dad works for an airline company, so I can fly on a very reduced fare, but the catch is my seat is not confirmed, and if the flight is full, I don’t fly. And I didn’t, for three days. Airport employees actually started to recognize me, and even started referencing the movie The Terminal (though my experience was a little different). One day in the airport when I was stranded without my suitcase (it had been checked, on the off-chance I got on a flight, and was somewhere in the airport) and without money (I had run out of cash and my credit cards had also been locked because I hadn’t told my bank I was traveling and they thought some prior purchases were fraudulent) I sat down in a state of despair and seriously thought of selling my belongings and finding a job in France to earn money for a flight back home.

Resolution: After quite a few tears, distressed pay-phone calls (#lifebeforesmartphones) back home, and very little sleep, my sweet grandma came to my rescue and bought me my ticket home. Paris to London, London to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Detroit. And done! Thanks Gram!

Lesson learned: Never ever fly standby internationally (especially in mid-July when all of France is on vacation) and before you go abroad, notify your bank and credit card companies of your plans to travel.

As you can gather from the above stories, it always works out, so expect the unexpected, go with it, learn from it, and share your travel wisdom with others so they don’t make the same mistakes!

What are some of your most memorable travel misadventures?

Posted in Blog | Tagged intern abroad, misadventures, study abroad, tips, travel, travel abroad | Leave a comment
Shetland – Add it to the list!
Posted on March 18, 2015 by Caroline
Have you ever read a book that completely takes you to another place? I just love books that cover regions outside of the US, especially those that spark an interest in a new region of the world that you may never have known existed.

I’m currently reading “White Nights”, the second book in a quartet by Ann Cleaves, all of which take place on the Shetland Islands, a small archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland.


I must admit that when I first began reading this series, I had to pull up iMaps to locate these islands, and since then, I have been absolutely fascinated by Shetland. A quick visit to the Official Site for Shetland Tourism and I was hooked – it has just skyrocketed to the top 10 list of locations I absolutely must visit within the next five years.

Some quick facts about these Scottish islands:

You’ll never be more than 5km from the sea while in Shetland.
The island chain is as far north as St. Petersburg, Russia or Anchorage, Alaska, but its ocean currents are warmer than those of other northern regions, making Shetland’s climate quite mild.
The landscape is incredibly diverse – from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs, and everything in between.
There are 22,000 human inhabitants and about 200,000 puffin inhabitants in Shetland.
At least 85 islands in the archipelago are inhabited solely by sheep, seals and birds.
Shetland ponies are unique to the area and have been living on the island chain for the last 4,000 years. After years of exporting and mixed breeding, a late 19th century society was established to “ensure the purity of the breed was retained”.
Da Nort Bank

St. Ninian’s Isle

These puffins are so beautiful they don’t even look real!

Ok, ponies in sweaters?! I can’t. As if I wasn’t already fully committed to visiting this beautiful island chain…

Typical methods of arrival to the Islands by either flight (only 90 minutes from Edinburgh) or a 12 hour ferry ride from Aberdeen. (Personally, I’d take the ferry, if only for the nature gazing.) Once you arrive on the main island, there are so many options of things to do! Although small, this region seems to have limitless activities and sights to see, so start making your to-do list now.

In her books, Cleaves describes picturesque maritime towns, brisk ocean breezes and unique Shetland culture. I’ve definitely had to investigate quite a few phrases and events depicted in Cleaves’s work. The one that particularly intrigued me was the Festival of Up Helly Aa.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 3.22.12 PM

This cultural festival honors Shetland’s Viking history, and includes some pretty expansive celebrations that seek to involve all residents and visitors alike. Occurring on the last Tuesday in January, this festival includes a massive processional, generous libations, Nordic songs, and lots of fire.

The focus of this event rests on the Guizer Jarl, who is selected by a committee to lead the celebrations. He embodies the identity of a Norse god when carrying out various rituals during Up Helly Aa and is surrounded and supported by the Jarl Squad, who march with him throughout the processional and then put on a sort of play or production in the evening.

2015’s Guizer Jarl

2014 Squad – Plucking Around

Singing, dancing, eating, gallivanting (hopefully with ponies in cardigan sweaters)… sounds like my kind of festival!

Shetland, I’m adding you to my list. Big thanks to Ann Cleaves for opening up my eyes to this area of the world – I can’t wait to visit!

(For photo credit, please click on each image)

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Posted on March 16, 2015 by Ellen Knuth
Looking for cosy wooden booths, Gaelic beer on tap and a friendly, no-nonsense bartender who will spin you a yarn? There’s a reason Irish pubs have become a worldwide phenomenon.