Since I want to adequately describe each and every taste, sight and experience I had over my wonderful tour of Italy and France this past week, I will be covering one city per post. We started the trip in Rome, where we stayed for three days...
FRIDAY, MARCH 5
Our alarms went off at 4 a.m., but we all jumped out of bed with enthusiasm and excitement, ready to start our nine day tour of Europe. Colleen, Caroline, Tara, Molly and I took a cab to the airport to catch our 6:55 a.m. flight. The trip got off to a bit of a rocky start when Molly stepped on her brand new sunglasses while we were still in the visa check line in the Dublin airport. Then, upon boarding the plane, we encountered the hell that is Ryan Air's carry-on size checker. We all had backpacks and small suitcases as our one free carry-on, and even though they all were regulation size in terms of dimensions, we were not anticipating having to fit the bags into a narrow cage in order to be allowed onto the plane. So because I couldn't fit my backpack in this annoyance of a cage, which is much smaller than the overhead compartment I might add, I had to check it. A backpack! In the process, one flip flop and my raincoat came loose, so I carried them onto the plane. If anything were to happen to that bag, I'd have a sandal and a light jacket to get me through a week of traveling.
So we flew to Rome, passing the spectacular Swiss Alps on the way, and landed in Rome, where I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my bag come off the plane. Whew.
We arrived at our hotel-like hostel, complete with a clean, private bathroom, complete with bidet! Molly kept thinking it was a foot bath, but thankfully she never tried to use it.
The first thing I noticed once I got to Italy, besides the gloriously warm sun, was that I could not speak any Italian. Yes, I know...duh, I've never learned. But it actually caught me off guard because it was the first time I had been to a country where English and French are not spoken. I actually kept responding "oui" instead of "si" because the um I have no idea what they're saying, but I'll go along with it part of my brain apparently only outputs French.
We set off to the Coliseum for the first leg of sightseeing for the day. Talk about impressive. The contrast between the modern Roman city and the ancient ruins and architecture was so different from anything I had ever seen, and so interesting.
We stepped inside the Coliseum and the sky opened up, but the pouring rain didn't stop me from running around and snapping pictures.
All I could think about was how much Eileen, the archaeology minor, would love to see this. I kept wishing she was there to give me history lessons and get all excited and giddy about something that I saw as a plain old rock. We walked around the city a bit more after leaving the Coliseum, but at that point, the downpour was matching our groggy moods so we headed bak to the hostel for some much needed sleep.
We woke up from our naps refreshed and starving, so we went to Ristourante La Tavernetta for dinner, where I had hands down the best plate of lasagna (sorry Mom- yours is a close second!). The pasta literally melted in my mouth, I barely had to chew.
The bill came and we experienced the European cover charge for the first time. You want to put your butt in a seat? 2 Euro each. It was a learning experience, and we asked every restaurant thereafter what their charges were before we sat down.
We walked to the Trevi Fountain, my favorite place in Rome.
We learned that if you throw one coin over your left shoulder into the fountain, it means you will return to Rome. Two coins means you will meet your love in Rome. Three coins means you will be married in Rome. Get ready for some destination weddings, because we all threw in three coins. Why not?
Then we had our first of the many helpings of gelato on the trip. I stuck with basic chocolate, but it was nothing less than rich, creamy perfection.
We called it a night pretty early so we could catch up on some sleep for the next big day of sightseeing, but not before doing a bit of shopping. I found a pretty little mosaic charm to add to my necklace of charms from Nana. I think it completes it quite nicely, if I do say so myself.
SATURDAY, MARCH 6
We woke up and got chocolate Nutella croissants, tea and coffee for less than a Euro at a little cafe next to our hostel. The tea and coffee are so cheap, Starbucks actually don't do well in Italy since the drinks are overpriced and not as yummy.
We met up with Colleen's friend Catherine, who is studying in Rome for the semester, at the Vatican Museum. I knew that the Vatican was surrounded by walls, but I really had no idea just how massive they were until I saw them in person.
Catherine is an art history major, so it was wonderful to have her as a guide through the museum. Here are a few of my favorite pieces:
We were headed toward the Sistine Chapel, but kept getting excited about every ceiling, thinking it was THE ceiling, but we were always wrong.
Like this one. Beautiful, but just your average hallway.
Then, we arrived. Enjoy the illegal photos. I was reprimanded by an Italian museum guard, but I'd say the breathtaking views were worth the trouble.
On our way to St. Peter's Basilica, Catherine took us to the best gelato stand on earth. I got dark chocolate and strawberry and have never felt more content.
We arrived in St. Peter's Square where we found the square packed with people in neon emergency aid jumpsuits. It looked like that scene out of Monsters, Inc. where the contamination crew is trying to find the child hidden among the monsters. At first we thought there was some sort of emergency situation, but through getting a few answers in broken English, we pieced together that the Pope had just addressed Italian volunteers who helped out in Haiti earthquake relief.
Then Colleen and I decided to be touristy girls, and Molly and I found the cutest Polizia in all of Rome.
The church itself is so elaborate. Gold everywhere.
We headed next to the Roman Forum, where I was once again missing Eileen and her ability to rattle off facts about Roman archeological discoveries.
We climbed halfway up the Victor Emmanuel Monument next, where we were able to get an expansive view of the city, and some delicious tomato, mozzarella and basil salads and some white wine for lunch.
Next, the group split up a bit and Molly and I went to the Internet cafe/laundromat/hostel down the street to send quick emails. There I am with my purchase of a piece of luggage that would fit through the Ryan Air checkpoint.
The two of us then had a lovely dinner of arancini di roso (fried rice and mozzarella balls), bruschetta and tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza. Yes, all we at was bread, cheese and gelato for the entire trip. How people study abroad here and don't put on some serious weight is beyond me. I would literally eat all the time.
SUNDAY, MARCH 7
Molly, Colleen and I left for the Vatican in the morning, grabbing a tasty pastry along the way, to make the afternoon mass at St. Peter's. When we walked in, we saw a huge crowd of people, but we figured there was some sort of event going on, so we proceeded into the church to wait for Catherine and her brother and sister.
Then we got a text from Catherine: "Did you see the Pope? He's outside!"
We booked it out of the church and hurried our way into the crowd, where the Pope was indeed addressing everyone from his window. The Pope. Il Papa. We were in awe. He spoke in several different languages and English long enough to welcome visitors from Boston! We can pretend he was referring to us.
We then headed back inside to attend Mass. Even though it was in Italian, I was able to follow along since I knew what I would say in English at certain times.
Colleen, Molly and I then climbed the 551 steps to reach the top of the dome atop St. Peter's Basilica. These marked the first of many, many stairs that we would pay to climb throughout the rest of the week, but the view was well worth the cost. Halfway up, we could look over the church and see the grand mosaics, which I found especially beautiful.
Then we got outside.
The stairs gave us quite the workout, so we sought out a pizzeria upon leaving the Vatican. We found one with delicious mozzarella, tomato and basil pizza and a telepathic server. Without even prompting him to figure it out, he guessed correctly that Molly is from New Jersey, Colleen is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I am from Boston (eh, close enough). It was pretty funny and really freaky at the same time.
We returned to the best gelato place once again, except this time, I added french vanilla to the mix. Heaven! Just thinking about it now makes me hungry for another.
We hopped on the Metro to the Spanish Steps, which were extremely crowded, but beautiful. The sun felt amazing. We climbed to the top (for free!) and bought little watercolor paintings from one of the many artists.
We were all dragging, so we sat for a few minutes (Molly got a little more comfortable) before heading to our last sightseeing destination of the day: the Pantheon. Again, Eileen, where were you?
For the remainder of the night, the three of us sat at the Trevi Fountain, shared a bottle of wine since there are no open container laws in Italy, watched the sun set and enjoyed some quality girl talk.
Obviously, there was a gelato break. Chocolate and Stracciatella (kind of like chocolate chip)! Yum!
We picked up some pasta to eat back at our hostel, where we went to bed early to prepare for the morning train ride to Florence for part 2 of our travels.
Rome was breathtaking and so rich with history. By this day three, I already felt so accomplished, that I had really taken advantage of my time in Europe to see the major sights. I had also fallen head over heels in love with the food and the sunny weather. And the trip only got better when I got to Florence.