Italy was the most amazing experience of my life. I fell in love with the country the moment I stepped off the plane. I’m not sure if it was the food, the scenery, or the sun. Every bit of it took my breath away! I traveled with a group of seven other the Americans, and the trip was very eventful to say the least! We saw 6 cities in 5 days, I’m not sure if exhausting is a good enough word to describe it!
We began the trip by leaving Dublin at 6:30 Friday morning. Getting to see the sunrise while flying over the Alps was a major plus, but my favorite moment was when I stepped out of the plane and immediately felt heat on my face! If I could have kissed the sun in that very moment I would have! Trouble seems to find me because the first experience I had in Milan was walking straight into a riot. After quickly removing myself from the situation I got my first taste of real Italian pasta. It was quite possibly the creamiest substance I have ever put in my mouth! I don’t understand how all Italians aren’t overweight! Milan is the fashion capital of the world, so if you don’t come there to shop there isn’t much to do. I definitely wasn’t there to shop so the rest of my day was spent wandering around and drinking wine. (Don’t worry, not at the same time!) We saw a beautiful cathedral, Duomo di Milano, as we all learned a lesson about getting hustled. When large African men tie a bracelet on your arm they expect to get paid. Some in the group gave to up to 5 euros for this tiny string, I just walked away. Safe to say the large African men aren’t my biggest fans! While in Milan I also discovered gelato!! Once again, how are Italians not overweight?!! It was the perfect afternoon, sitting in the city center eating gelato & people watching! The rest of my day was spent at a small cafe drinking wine & eating free appetizers. Apparently if you stay in a cafe for 6 hours they bring you free stuff! We made it to the train station & caught the over night train to Rome!
I am not the biggest fan of over overnight trains, attempting to sleep next to strangers is not very comforting. So when we arrived in Rome at 7:30 a.m. I was completely exhausted. But there was no time to sleep, I WAS IN ROME! This is a city I have always dreamed of! In fact, this is where I wanted to study abroad, but after advice from my sister I chose differently. Thankfully we had a friend in Rome who gave us a free place to stay as well as being our tour guide for the day! We went directly to her place and all showered, then some took naps while some went for coffee & pastries. Guess which I did? If you know me at all, you know I always choose caffeine! When we went back to get the others we began our journey! First stop, the Trevi Fountain. This is the biggest fountain in the city & one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you are ensured a return to Rome. (I threw in two!!) Then we made our way to the Spanish Steps. They are beautiful, but not quite as beautiful as the view from the top of them! After the Spanish Steps we stopped for lunch. I ordered a entire pizza for myself & ate every bit of it. I wasn’t sure if I could continue touring because I was so stuffed! The rest of the day was spent walking by numerous monuments, buildings & ruins. That is one of the best parts about Rome, one step you are seeing ruins & the next step you see a modern building. I was grinning ear to ear the entire day. Of course, I got to see the Colosseum, or the Coliseum. Let me just tell you, pictures do not do it justice! It was gorgeous! My only regret was that we didn’t get to go inside. I was in Rome the day after the Pope retired so there was no chance in getting to see the Vatican or the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t even try! Going out to dinner in Rome was another experience, the food just kept coming! I ate 2 different entrées & tiramisu for the first time! A strange discovery I made was that Italians like to eat in peace, so you can imagine 14 Americans yelling from one side of the table to the other disturbed the peace. And I’m not talking about us. There was a table of boys from Boston behind us that got a few dirty looks & even cause people to leave to restaurant!
We left Rome at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and took a train to Florence. A train ride should have been an hour and a half, turned in to four hours. I learned the valuable lesson of getting on the wrong train the hard way! At least I got on a train that had the same destination! When we finally made it to Rome we grabbed some lunch & booked a hostel. A few in the group who had stayed out all night in Rome the night before went immediately to sleep, the rest of us went exploring. We didn’t really have a plan in Florence, but it turned out to be my favorite day! We started out by going to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, it is an absolutely beautiful cathedral! We even climbed 414 steps to the top to see a 360 view of the city. I felt like I was on top of the world! While we were at the top of the tower we saw a piazza with a carousel so that became our next destination! We stopped to get gelato along the way and sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a man with a guitar singing near by. It was almost like we were locals, just taking in the day & basking in the sun (have I mentioned how happy I was to see the sun?). Next we had to make the hard decision to go to the Accademis di Belle Arti Firenze which is where the statue of David is, or go to the Piazzale Michelangelo. We chose Michelangelo. It was a perfect way to end the day. It is a quaint little square over looking the entire city. So the 3 other girls I was with sat and watched the sun set over the city while enjoying a cheap bottle of wine. It could have been a dream date if Blaine was there.
We began Monday with the Best of Tuscany Tour! The bus took us to 3 different cities; Siena, San Gimigana & Pisa.
When we got to Siena we had a personal walking tour through the city. It is a small Medieval town, & the place that twice a year the famous Palio horserace takes place. If you have ever seen the beginning scene of Quantum of Solace you have seen the horserace and Piazza del Campo. The Palio race is a HUGE deal here. Search it on youtube if you are curious! To give you an example of how serious the race is taken, last year the Pope wanted to visit Siena but it was on the day of the race so the asked him to reschedule! I also saw yet another beautiful cathedral in the city. The cathedral had art done by Donatello & Michelangelo, & the floor took over 200 years to complete. I almost didn’t want to stand on it! We had a few minutes of free time & spent it sprawled out in the piazza taking in some more of that sunshine!
The next stop was San Gimigana. This is where I got to experience a wine tasting at Fattoria Poggio Alloro Vineyard. We got a 4 course meal with a different wine each course. I can’t even put into words how perfect this meal was. I even cried at one point I was so happy, it felt like a dream! The vineyard was beautiful! After the meal I spent my time looking out at all the green and rolling hills. I took several pictures but they do not come close to showing it’s beauty! San Gimigana is also the place of “The Best Gelato in the World”, winning the award two times in a row! So naturally I got some gelato, & I can see why they are the best! I spent the remainder of my time in the city at La Rocca di Montestaffolli, a fortress that enclose an orchard. Tuscany is exactly what you think Italy looks like!
Pisa was our last stop of the day & we arrived just before sunset. We had just enough time to see the Field of Miracles and take our cheesy pictures with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Pisa is pretty small, in fact all there is to see is the Tower! One funny thing about Italy is the boys are not shy! I heard “Ciao bella!!” at least 100 times, especially in Pisa! Guys would stop what they were doing when you walked by to shout “Ciao bella!” at you, some would even follow you. The funniest was when a group of runners kept doing laps around the tower while shouting. On one lap they all stopped to hug me & ask for pictures. We ended the trip with a quick dinner & then making out way to the airport!
Italy was everything I could have imagined & more. So far it has been my favorite trip (it is also the only trip I’ve taken outside Ireland). It was funny to me that while I was in Italy I found myself getting homesick, not homesick for Tennessee though, homesick for Ireland. I am finally feeling at home here. So when we landed in Dublin at 9:00 Tuesday morning all I wanted to do was get home. While I was waiting in line to have my passport stamped I made conversation with the couple beside me. They were visiting Ireland for the week & asked where they should go and what they should see. I’m considered a local now. Weird…..