DIY: How to Bind Your Own Books & Journals

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I recently took a fine arts course in bookmaking and had to go through the entire process of making a book, from start to finish: writing, layout, printing, and binding. I was able to produce a slightly larger book because I had access to the correct printing tools, but you can easily create a small book of your own on letter size paper.

I won’t go into the technical aspects of bookmaking (i.e., InDesign, how to print booklets, etc.), but I will go over the basic steps needed to bind your own books! You can use this technique to make homemade notebooks and journals as well — they look beautiful and are so much more fun to write in when you’ve produced them yourself. And you can go crazy with selecting the perfect papers and creating your own covers.

(NB: This is a pretty detailed post, and I tried to include as much information and helpful instructions as possible in case you want to make your own books, notebooks, or journals. Feel free to just browse through the photos if you’re interested in getting a feel for it!)

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Before you begin, you will need the following items. All of these can be purchased at an art supply store:*

  1. Enough paper for your book, each sheet to be folded in half, of the proper grain direction
  2. 2 sheets of slightly thicker paper (card stock works perfectly) for your flyleaf
  3. Supplies for your cover: either a thick card stock if you want a softcover book, or book board and book cloth if you want to make a hardcover book.
  4. Bookbinding thread (or, if you want to save money, a really thick, coarse thread)
  5. Bookbinding needle (aka just a really heavy needle)
  6. An awl for hand-punching holes (this is the one I use)
  7. A bone folder (if you want to be a perfectionist; otherwise you could just use the edge of a pencil for folding and creasing)
  8. An X-Acto knife for cutting, with replacement blades
  9. A surface to cut on: a cutting mat is ideal, but a piece of cork board is an easy and cheap alternate
  10. A good ruler
  11. PVA glue
  12. Glue brush
  13. Waste paper to contain glueing

*I know some of the above items can seem daunting to find, and some of the terms confusing. They are really not! Binding a book is a very exact process, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. You just need to pay attention to the details before you begin if you want the best results.

To make this a little less confusing, let’s discuss some basic terms for bookmaking.

  • Signature: A signature is a booklet of “text” pages (which can be blank if you’re making a notebook) in your book. Each signature is folded, hole-punched with an awl, and sewn as one set — so you don’t need to sew each individual page, just each signature. If you look at spines of some books, you can see these page groupings (although not all books have them).
  • Text block: All the signatures that make up the “text” pages of your book. Only two signatures are excluded from the text block: the flyleaves.
  • Flyleaf: Fancy word for the first and last signatures of a book. The flyleaf doesn’t have writing on it, and its main function is to allow you to attach the cover (if a softcover, you the flyleaf is reinforced and becomes the cover; if a hardcover, the flyleaf is glued to the back of the cover). Generally, the flyleaf is a thicker paper, like a card stock. Open any hardcover book and you’ll see the flyleaves at the front at the back.
  • Grain: All paper has a “grain direction” — one direction (long or short) will be weaker and easier to fold along than the other. I cannot stress how important grain direction is. If you want your book to lie flat and not pop open, you need to have proper grain direction. Most art papers will tell you the grain direction, otherwise you can test it for yourself: gently push against the long edge, and then short edge, of the paper as if you were going to fold it. Whichever edge gives you the least resistance is the way the grain runs — so make sure you cut your pages and structure your book so that you are folding along the grain at the center. The grain in your cover and flyleaves should also parallel the grain of the paper for the text block.
  • Bookboard: A hardcover board used to make hard covers. You can find it in the bookmaking section of any art supply store. It looks tough, but you can hand cut it with an X-Acto knife by making lots of shallow cuts along the edge of a ruler.
  • Bookcloth: Special cloth used to cover bookboard. Can be fabric or leather, and you can find many varieties online and in art supply stores. Also has a grain.

Here are some diagrams to explain all that (click to enlarge).

Basic grain direction:

grain direction diagram

Signatures (as viewed from the spine):

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Flyleaf in a softcover book:

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Flyleaf in a hardcover book:

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Now that all the technical terms are explained, you can begin producing your notebook or journal. (Again, these same steps work for a printed book, but I won’t be covering them here.)

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Above: I used a decorative flyleaf for my book.

1. Cut your paper, and assemble your signatures. Decide what size you want your book to be and make sure you account for the fold. For example, if you want each page to be 8×9″, each sheet of paper will be 16×9″. I would recommend no more than four large sheets per signature (so 16 pages in a finished book). If you are using thicker paper, you can do two or three sheets to make sewing easier. You should aim to have at least three signatures in your text block, in addition to your flyleaves — otherwise the book will look weird. Make sure your grain direction runs along the fold (as pictured in the first diagram for an 8×9″ book). Also cut your flyleaves at this point (the equivalent of two 16×9″ sheets if your book is 8×9″), and make sure the grain for those matches. Fold each group of signatures (and your flyleaves, separately) and cement the crease using your bone folder (or the edge of a pencil, but a bone folder is better).

2. Create a transfer paper. The transfer paper is a sheet of paper that shows you where to punch your holes for sewing, so that the holes align between signatures. The transfer sheet should be the height of your book . Fold in half lengthwise and keep folded. Widthwise, fold in half, then fold the ends in about 1/2-3/4 of an inch, then fold in half again. Unfold, and mark “holes” with a pencil as indicated. Lie your transfer paper flat on your cutting surface so that one long half is against the surface, and the other is perpendicular. Using your awl at a 45 degree angle (just estimate it), punch holes using the guide marks on the transfer paper. Unfolded, your transfer sheet should look like this, with the Xs indicating approximately where to punch holes:

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3. Punch holes in your signatures. Use your transfer paper to do this: align the transfer paper inside each signature, making sure either the top or bottom is always aligned. Use your awl to punch through the transfer paper and all the pages of your signature at a 45 degree angle. Make sure you punch all the pages per signature at one time. Repeat for each signature and the flyleaves.

4. Measure your thread. Measure the amount of thread you need using this count: the height of your book (generous), times the number of signatures (including flyleaves), plus two. You can thread your needle by flattening some of the thread near one end with your bone folder, threading the needle, pushing the needle through the flattened area, and tightening.

5. You are reading to begin sewing! This is where it gets a little tricky, but the stitches are easy and completely manageable. First, you’ll be sewing on your cutting surface. Assemble your signatures in the correct order (the way you want your book/notebook to read), and then place your book, front cover side down, with the page edges facing towards you. Flip the top signature towards you, so that you are looking at the spine (note: this should be the last signature in the completed book — the back cover flyleaf). Always start with the back of the book and work your way to the front. In all of the following diagrams, you are looking directly at the spine of the book — which is what you should see while you are sewing.

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6. Start from outside the signature on the right side and always pull the thread in the direction you are sewing. Push the needle through the first hole, then out through the second, and so on, until you reach the end. Pull the entire thread through, leaving a loose tail (about 3-4 inches) at the right side of the book. Flatten the signature with your bone folder.

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7. Place the next signature on top of the first. This will be the second-to-last signature in your completed book, or the last signature of your text block. Now you will be sewing in the the opposite direction, back towards the beginning. Go through the first hole on the left, and out the second. Then, loop the needle under the section of thread that remains on the outside of the first signature you threaded. Go through the third hole, out the fourth, and repeat this process until you reach the right end of the second signature.

8. Tie a square knot to secure the first two signatures. This is pretty straightforward: right over left, then left over right. (So you’re basically just tying two regular knots.) Be sure to tighten the thread as much as possible and flattening the book with your bone folder before securing with the knot. Always work on on a flat surface while sewing, and try and keep the book as flat as possible, with the spine aligned (preferably at the edge of a table).

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9. Add the third signature. For this signature, you will be sewing right to left again, as with the first signature. Go through the first hole on the left, out the second, and loop under the thread segment for the second signature only. Always, always, only loop under the thread for the signature directly under the one you are currently sewing. Repeat until you reach the left end of the signature, then tie a kettle stitch: push the needle towards the back of the book, going between the previous two signatures and before the final hole, and pull the needle out in the direction you are sewing (in this case, to the left). Pull the thread through to create a small loop. Loop the needle under the loop and pull straight up to tighten. (Again, remember to tighten all your thread and flatten your book with a  bone folder before this.) Repeat this step (with mild differences, depending on whether you are sewing to the right or the left) for all the remaining signatures. Here’s a slightly more detailed diagram of the kettle stitch:

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10. Finish the last signature with two kettle stitches. Essentially, the last signature (which will be your front cover flyleaf) is added the same way as all the other text block signatures, except you will secure it twice with the kettle stitch. Trim the excess thread to about 1 inch, but no further (if having it stick out bothers you, carefully secure each bit of excess thread to the spine with a dab of PVA glue).

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11. Once the text block and flyleaves have been bound with thread, add the covers to your book. There are many ways to do the covers, and you can get creative with them. Here, I’ll go over two very basic ways to do covers: softcover and hardcover, both with exposed spines (although it is fairly easy to modify so that the spines are covered). The initial diagrams I used to explain the role of the flyleaf can also be helpful in visualizing these two alternatives.

Softcover:

Notice that each flyleaf creates four pages within your book, and that the interior two pages of each flyleaf can be glued together to create a thicker cover. While you can elect to glue them directly together, it is more prudent to glue a piece of card stock between them as reinforcement, so measure out a piece the size of your book (slightly smaller so that the edges don’t stick out), keeping proper grain direction in mind. Slip a sheet of waste paper between your flyleaf and text block to catch runoff glue, and keep it from ruining your book. Then, apply glue directly to the entire card stock insert (not the flyleaf paper) on one side, and attach to the interior flyleaf page on the right (the left if you are doing the back cover). Smooth with your bone folder to avoid bubbles, and repeat with the other side of the card stock to create a softcover. Then, you’re free to decorate the cover however you like — applying a label usually looks nice.

Hardcover:

This is a bit more complicated because you need more materials, so I’ve drawn out the key steps (click to enlarge):

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Essentially, you need to measure the size cover you would like out of the book board (again, be conscious of the grain). Remember to add a little extra length and height so that the cover hangs over the edge of the text block a bit — I recommend 1/8 of an inch per side. Don’t forget that you don’t want overhang on the edge with the spine — so you’ll add 1/8″ to the width, and 1/4″ total to the height of the book. Next, spread glue directly on the bookboard, and place on the cloth cover you would like for the book, keeping the grain lined up. Be sure to smooth out immediately with your bone folder. Cut about a 3/4″ around the edge of the bookboard, and then cut off the corners as marked in the diagram. Before measure the 45 degree angle, leave a bit of edge the thickness of the bookboard (you can use a piece of scrap bookboard to do this). Glue each edge of excess cloth onto the back of the bookboard — place glue directly onto the back of the cloth and stand the bookboard up to press the edge in before folding the cloth over. Secure with a bone folder. Do two opposite edges first, then the next set, being carefully to glue the corners in. Repeat to create the back cover. Secure the hard cover to the flyleaf by applying glue directly to the first page of the flyleaf (remember to use waste paper) and pressing the cover onto it. Smooth out imperfections with your bone folder, and repeat for the back cover. Add a label to your front cover (or not), and you’re good to go!

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Congratulations, you’ve just made a book!

Whew, okay — I think that’s it in terms of the technical process. To expedite the process of hand making gorgeous notebooks, journals, and personal books (all of which make great gifts, by the way), here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Be precise. Try not to skip the little steps — these are what truly make your book look well done. Specifically: pay attention to cutting precisely, grain direction, tightening your thread constantly, pulling in the direction you are sewing, and ALWAYS using your bone folder to flatten paper.
  • Be creative! Above is the basic formula for bookbinding, but experimentation makes it great. Use an art paper for your flyleaf (or, if you’re doing a hardcover, cut art paper to the size of your flyleaf, place it inside the flyleaf, sew it into the book, and glue to the interior pages of the flyleaf). Experiment with different ways to design your cover — labels, collage, etc.
  • Learn how to cut properly. When you’re hand cutting anything, always, always cut towards yourself. Stand up to give yourself leverage, and hold your ruler firmly in place as you cut against it.
  • Take your time. Sure, bookbinding can take a while. But its kind of like knitting (or, at least I assume so) — its relaxing as a result. This goes hand-in-hand with being precise.
  • When it comes to glue, thinly and quickly cover the entire surface you are applying glue to. Start at the center of the surface and work your way out with a brush to get an even coating.
  • Quality of materials will make a big difference in the final product — especially the paper you use.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you have any specific questions!
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Five 30-Second Summer Book Reviews

Seeing as the summer is drawing to a close (and I haven’t posted any book reviews in a while), I thought I’d summarize my thoughts on a few of the books I read this summer — and hopefully give some of my recommendations to add to your August reading lists. These were all great reads for me (I don’t say that lightly, by the way), and I highly recommend all of them, although the subject matter and writing styles differ a lot between the books. Anyway, let me know what you think, especially if you’ve read any of these yourself!

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1. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Admittedly, the fact that I read this on the beach in Italy probably makes it seem a lot better than it is. However, Tom Rachman’s debut novel is pretty wonderful, and I would read it again in a heartbeat (that is, if I didn’t already have a hundred books in my “read this now” queue). Tracking the lives of individuals involved with an English-language newspaper in Rome (from readers to publishers to copy editors), Rachman weaves a stunning narrative that doesn’t quite come together until the very end…which, of course, is what makes it so perfect. Each chapter reads like a little insight into the life of each individual, and explores their personal struggles as well as their relationship to the newspaper. Rachman is gifted at painting vivid, realistic, and raw characters, and even though each chapter is relatively short, his writing (which is very clear, by the way) packs a punch, as he pulls out distinct details from each character’s life. Bit by bit, the reader is also fed the story of how all these lives intertwine — both intentionally and unintentionally — which kept me hooked until the very end. Perfect beach reading, very fresh and original, and overall just fantastic writing.

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2. The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik, a novelist and writer for The New Yorker, is one of my hands-down favorite authors, and he particularly excels with his memoirs. I read one of his other memoirs, Paris to the Moon, a year or so ago, and fell in love with his writing style — it’s sharp, witty, intelligent, and yet decidedly unpretentious. The Table Comes First is less of a memoir than Paris to the Moon, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Although it’s a 300-page volume on one seemingly simple topic, food, there is never a dull moment in Gopnik’s writing. Incredibly cultured, his wealth of knowledge shines through as he weaves together food’s history, philosophy, and its criticisms alongside personal experiences on the topic. It’s really a brilliant read, and I highly recommend this for all a) foodies, and b) francophiles.

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3. Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary

If you’re looking for a good briefer on the history of Islam and the Middle East, look no further. (Okay, I know most of you probably weren’t looking for this. That being said, it’s totally relevant to the world today, and will seriously enhance your understanding of current events. So go read it!) Ansary’s book is widely regarded as one of the best histories of Islam out there, and his writing style is simple and understandable — this is not some stuffy book intended only for academics. What I love about Ansary’s writing is his humor, ability to synthesize, and that he doesn’t assume his readers have any prior knowledge of the topic. It reads like an engaging historical narrative, so if you’re into non-fiction/history, this is a good pick!

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4. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Rushdie. It’s still banned in many parts of the world and can be controversial in many respects (the book is partly a re-telling of the life of Mohammed, and Rushdie includes narrative elements which run contrary to the Muslim faith), but that’s part of what makes it an interesting read — it’s equal parts entertaining and relevant to our understanding of society today. I’ll admit, though, this is a tough book to understand without a lot of background knowledge of religion (and not just Islam), as well as historical events. I would recommend reading some sort of analysis to better grasp the major themes. This reading guide is a good start (and doesn’t give away the plot — just use it as you go from chapter to chapter). However, it is still an entertaining narrative, and Rushdie is a phenomenal writer — so I’d recommend this for anyone that really appreciates more complex literary styles and long, intense novels (think Beloved).

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5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a classic. I’ve been reading The Alchemist every summer for the past six years — I’m currently on my seventh reading. Regardless of whether you’ve read it before, it’s always a great addition to your reading list, and I find that I learn something new every time I pick it up. It’s not so much that the book has changed as it is that my life and perspective shift from reading to reading — so that something new stands out to me each time. That being said, the novel (very short, by the way — you could read it in a few hours) is packed with wisdom, reading more like a fable than anything else. It tracks the life of a former shepherd, Santiago, who abandons his flock in search of his “Personal Legend” — looking for buried treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. It’s a timeless book about following your dreams (yes, I know this sounds cheesy), but all of us could use a reminder like this once in a while. A great book for self-reflection, and perfect for pretty much any time, ever.

{Images: The Imperfectionists; The Table Comes First; Destiny Disrupted; The Satanic Verses; The Alchemist}

Happy Birthday, PFB!

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Hello, lovely readers! Today marks the third — yes, third — birthday of Prada for Breakfast AND this will be my 100th post here!

I’m surprised I’ve been able to keep up with this blog for so long, and though I’ve enjoyed the ride so far, I still feel as though the best is yet to come. Blogging here has always been something I’ve enjoyed, even though it tends to fall by the wayside when I get overwhelmed with work (unfortunately). But I’ve always come back to this blog, which is significant considering that my other forays into the blogging world (all pre-PFB — and believe me, there were many) lasted less than a year.

I’m grateful to all of you who read this blog regularly, and those who just stop by every once and a while — every comment makes my day! And speaking of things that make my day, I thought now would be an appropriate time to share a couple blog awards I’ve received lately:

The Super Sweet Blogging Award, from the fabulous Standing Among Stars

As part of the award, I’m supposed to answer the following questions, so here goes…

  1. Cookies or Cake? Both? Both, obviously. But I’m probably a bigger cake fan as of late, or at least I prefer to bake cake — I find it a lot harder to mess up.
  2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate, duh.
  3. Favorite Sweet Treat? French macarons. There is an amazing food truck near my school that sells handmade French macarons…absolutely to die for.
  4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? Um, all the time.

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And second, the Very Inspiring Blogger Award from the lovely Stylish Heath (above)

I’m also supposed to share seven interesting facts about myself, so here’s a bit about what’s current in my life (in keeping with the nature of this post):

  1. Currently reading The Table Comes First, a food memoir (did you expect me to read anything else?!) by Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite authors. He has also written a fantastic memoir about his time in France called Paris to the Moon — I highly recommend it.
  2. Currently trying to keep up with my Italian through various iPad apps….not working as well as I had hoped.
  3. Just ordered these fabulous pumps from J. Crew — after many diligent months of online stalking.
  4. Finally acquired J. K. Rowling’s new book, The Cuckoo’s Calling (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) and can’t wait to get started reading it!
  5. Ordered a bunch of fonts (yes, you read that correctly) online because, well, I have my priorities.
  6. Newly obsessed with avocados — so good for you and so easy to incorporate into just about everything (need proof? look here)
  7. Working on more posts detailing my trip to Italy — get ready!

I think that about wraps it up. Thank you again to Standing Among Stars and Stylish Heath for the awards, and a huge thank you to everyone who has ever taken the time to read this blog! I can’t wait to see where PFB is a year from now.

{Image Source: Tumblr.}

Climbing Florence’s Dome

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Florence’s Cathedral (and dome) at night — from Wikipedia; I don’t have any photos this good!

Although I have now (unfortunately) returned from my forays in beautiful Italia, I still have plenty to post! We took a phenomenal weekend trip to Florence and enjoyed delicious food (far better than Venice, I must say), art at the Uffizi, and gorgeous views from the top of Florence’s famous duomo (“dome”). The climb was a little rough — 463 steps in the most claustrophobic staircase I’ve ever experienced — but the views were well worth it. Some proof:

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Florence is a small city — at least compared to Rome — and is nestled in the heart of Tuscany. As a result, the food lives up to its reputation and the city is full of Italian charm. Today, it is a hotspot for high-end shopping as well as art buffs. Historically, Florence was a  vital center of art, and many of the city’s talent painters, sculptors, and architects were pivotal players in the Italian renaissance. (Florence was also constantly in rivalry with Venice, but more on that later.) This history is critical in understanding Florence’s duomo.

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The Duomo as seen from the Uffizi Gallery.

So a little history, courtesy of my art history class (and because it’s actually an interesting story): Florence’s dome — a massive structure perched on top of the gorgeous church of Santa Maria del Fiore — was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, the winner of a design competition in 1418 (he’s also buried in the church’s crypts). Although the (octagonal) nave of the church was completed in 1380, a dome was never put in place until after the 1418 competition. Why? Because the architects had built a church so large that no engineer knew how to construct a dome so massive.

ingressoSide entrance to the church.

facadeFacade of Santa Maria del Fiore (“Saint Mary of the Flower”).

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The bell tower of the church — dwarfed by Brunelleschi’s dome, to put things in perspective.

Traditionally, engineers would use a beam from a large tree which spanned the width of the dome’s base. This beam was essential to construct because it gave workers a platform from which to suspend tools. Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, however, was so wide that no tree could span its width. So construction was halted until 1418, when Brunelleschi surpassed all other architects (including his rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had beat out Brunelleschi for a coveted contract to sculpt the doors of the church’s baptistry) with a genius structural plan: create a double dome. (*Okay, this is a simplification — there were many other architectural features that made Brunelleschi’s plan brilliant. But this is the core of it.) See a diagram below:

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Brunelleschi’s dome was finally built, and today a smaller dome is seen from inside the church, while a larger dome faces the outside. This shelled structure allowed workers to climb between the shells of the dome to finish construction — which is how we can climb to the top of the dome today. He also developed a new scaffolding system for workers to build inside the dome, which solved the problem of tool suspension.

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One of the flying buttresses which support the top of the dome.

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The duomo was completed in 1436. At the time, it was the largest dome ever constructed and remains the largest brick dome in the world. It is both an architectural marvel and a testament to the ingenuity of Brunelleschi — and it’s also one of Florence’s greatest (literally) tourist attractions. Although not nearly as popular as the Uffizi gallery or the statue of David, the dome was the highlight of my weekend in Florence and well worth the historic climb.

view2Have you visited Florence or climbed Brunelleschi’s dome? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Rome in Black & White

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A couple weekends ago, I visited Rome with a few friends. (I also have yet to find quasi acceptable internet anywhere in Italy, hence why this post is a bit late in coming.) The city is very much one of both the past and present, effortlessly interweaving the energy of megacities like New York and Cairo with the quaintness of Paris. It can be both vibrant — during the heat of the tourism season — and calm — 4am at the Trevi fountain — and every street has its own magic. Rome is bursting with young professionals, and it is easy to make new friends in hip, up and coming areas such as Trastevere. The food scene is also to die for — perhaps it has been the excessive amount of Venetian tourist meals I’ve eaten in the past three weeks, but almost every restaurant we visited served mouthwatering fresh caprese salads and otherwise delicious fare. (If you’re interested in some recommendations, let me know!) Although an expensive trip, Rome is a city I’m glad I didn’t miss. I will be back here someday, exploring every beautiful little thing this city — a crossroads of ancient and modern — has to offer.

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The Colosseum

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View from Castel Sant’Angelo — Dan Brown, anyone?

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The Trevi Fountain

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St. Peter’s Square
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Interior of St. Peter’s Basilica
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Interior of St. Peter’s
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St. Peter’s Basilica
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The Vatican Museum
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The Vatican Museum
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The Vatican Museum
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Vatican Museum staircase
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Vatican Museum staircase
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The Vatican Museum
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Overlooking Piazza del Popolo
If you’re ever in Italy Europe, you should block off a few days to see Rome. There’s a reason it’s still one of the most famous cities in the world, and the atmosphere here is like no other. Don’t miss it!
Hope you enjoyed these photos! Soon I’ll be blogging about visiting Florence, food in Italy, and lots of other delicious/beautiful/awesome things — stay tuned!
{Images by me. Please do not use without permission.}