Italian Adventure: Part Two

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but after a whirlwind semester of constantly being on the move, I am balancing a busy summer of an internship and a job! Now, with a few hours of free time, I can finally write my last post about my travels!

Halfway through our Italian Adventure after a lovely tour of Milan from my cousin and exploring the romantic city of Venice we headed a south to Florence to get a taste of Tuscan living!

The four of us on the Ponte Vecchio
The four of us on the Ponte Vecchio

With only exactly 24 hours to spend in Florence and four days of walking and exploring starting to wear on us, we had to be smart about our time (and our money which was running low at the end of the semester). We decided to hit one of the “can’t miss” aspects of Florence that found us right in the center of the old city: Basilica di Santa Maria di Fiore better known as “The Duomo”

Santa Maria di Fiore
Santa Maria di Fiore

The intricate detail on the outside of the basilica made for a more interesting experience while we waited in line to enter. But, I was surprised, it did not match the simplicity yet elegance of the inside of the church. Save for the detail on the dome itself, it was a very stark inside. So, to get a closer look at the artwork on the dome, Phil and I decided to take the steep hike to the top.

Those 467 steps (sometimes getting the feeling that you were climbing a ladder rather than a staircase) had me feeling it in my leg muscles for the next three days, but were quite worth it. The entire climb took about an hour and a half as traffic going both ways had to squeeze through the small passageways. But, while waiting in line to begin, we were lucky enough to strike up a conversation with the guys in front of us that turned into a friendship by the time we reached the top!

New friends from California in Florence!
New friends from California in Florence!

Not to mention, the view was quite remarkable and worth the trek:

Firenze (Florence), Italia
Firenze (Florence), Italia

Because of the short time we had to enjoy the city, we had to choose to skip one important thing: viewing the statue of The David. I have learned to start keeping a list of things to do when I come back!

So, after a quick dinner (at McDonalds–even world travelers just need a quick and cheap bite to eat sometimes) we were on our way to our final city of the semester: Roma.

rome 5

Advice from friends and family was “Beware, Rome is intense”. That was the best way they could describe the ancient city that serves as a top destination for history buffs (like Phil), architecture lovers, and anyone who comes to Italy, really. But, I have to say, doing everything in Rome (PLUS the Vatican) in two days was even more intense. It was a good thing we had learned the power of good walking shoes…

Our first day itinerary was as follows: take the Metro into the city to be at the Colosseum by 10am to purchase our “Rome Tickets” which got us into the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (where Roman emperors like Julius Caesar and others lived) across the street. After touring those three sights we took a much needed lunch break. After lunch: walk through the Parthenon, sit and speak Spanish on the Spanish Steps, and see the Trevi Fountain by day and by night. While it doesn’t seem too hard hitting in writing, it was the walking and never really slowing down that was.

The places that stood out the most to me were:

The Colosseum: the most iconic monument in Rome, maybe even in Italy. The fact that we stood inside and understood what it meant to sit as a spectator at the past events held there was unbelievable.

What a spectator would have seen in the days of Spartacus...
What a spectator would have seen in the days of Spartacus…

I even participated in a gladiator fight of my own!

This photo cost me 5 euro...
This photo cost me 5 euro…

The Roman Forum: a place I could have spent hours. What it looks like at first is an organized mess of Roman ruins that they have collected and charge people to see. What it really is is a taste of what life was like in Roman times, and the remains of buildings and other structures to prove it. We walked down the “street” to the old senate building where a plaque stood telling of how Julius Caesar gave a speech there, remains of temples, the market, even a brothel! Everywhere is something new (yet very VERY old) and suddenly you feel thrown back in time.

The Trevi Fountain:  an intricate yet completely gaudy work of art is located near the Spanish Steps. When Bernini finished, it was known as one of his best works–to everyone except for a store keeper who’s shop overlooked the fountain. Proclaiming it as “ugly” and “over the top” he said he couldn’t stand the sight of it. So, Bernini solved that and built a giant urn to block the man’s view. The urn still stands today!

Making a wish with a coin into the Trevi Fountain
Making a wish by throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Vatican City: No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the center of Catholicism and the seat of the Pope: the Vatican. We were fortunate to rent an apartment close by for the weekend, making it an easy trip to tour St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum where the Sistine Chapel is. If visiting, I would recommend taking an entire day to see these points of interest. The lines can take hours and pushing through the hoards of tourists would get stressful if you were in a rush to do other things. Instead, relax and enjoy the pure beauty of the basilica, always tilting your head up to view the detail on the ceilings. It is also a fantastic people watching place!

St. Peter's Basilica in the background
St. Peter’s Basilica in the background

If touring, remember to keep the dress code in mind: no skirts or shorts above the knee, modest necklines, and sleeves on shirts and t-shirts. After an hour or more in line, it would be awful to get turned away at the door! Also, there is no place to sit down inside, and if you invent a place to sit down, they ask you to kindly stand up or sit outside…oops.

Thus concluded our Italian Adventure and our semester. Returning to Madrid the next morning (Friday), before our flight home on Saturday, I found myself walking around Madrid with bitter sweet sentiment that I was leaving, yet excited to get home. I know I will go back but now it is a question of when. Until then, I hope to keep up this blog to serve as a guide for fellow students studying abroad who are looking for travel tips and points of interest. Thank you all so much for reading, it has really been a pleasure to share my experiences with you!

 

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