Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 3: Vamos a Venice 

Previously on Our Great Italian Adventure: The next morning we were heading to Venice! We took a fairly early train because we were only going to have one full day in Venice. We went back for more blueberry filled croissants and then headed to the train station early, because we were not going to have a repeat of the Rome to Florence train situation.

Photos for Venice here.

We made it on the train and figured it would be smooth sailing (smooth riding?), until after about a half an hour, when they announced that the train would be delayed by 90 minutes. -sigh- It was going TOO well. Fortunately, we didn’t have anything planned for right after we were supposed to arrive. But still. 90 minutes is a long time to be delayed with no explanation or compensation. (Technically, we could be compensated. But we had to wait 24 hours until after our train arrived, and then go in person to a TrenItalia office and we could receive 25% of our ticket price as credit to buy another TrenItalia ticket. So basically if you’re a tourist, they can do whatever they want and you can’t get anything back. Annoying.) Fortunately, we had plenty of time to check in to the hostel and get lunch before the gondola ride that Catey planned for us. It was really beautiful. Although, it did give me sailing class flashbacks that I was not a fan of. I’m not afraid of boats (I was on my uncle’s fishing boat this summer without a problem), but something about how close the gondola is to the water, and the slight heeling that happens when the gondolier turns the boat brought me right back to a year ago, where I was very unsuccessfully piloting Sunfish and ending up in the lake. But other than the slight panic it gave me, I really enjoyed it! (Similar to my Cliffs of Moher experience. Mostly excitement, slight terror.) Venice is really a precious city. It has the painting like quality that Florence has. It was dark by the time we finished our gondola ride, and we wandered around for a while, exploring St Mark’s Plaza before heading to the vigil mass at San Zaccaria’s for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. There was only about 20 people there, half of which were little old Italian ladies who kept smiling at us. The priest was one of the cutest little old priests I have ever seen, and he had a smile that could make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. San Zaccaria’s is a beautiful little place. For dinner, we got more pizza. The waiter spoke the funniest English. He had clearly learned it from watching American movies. He kept calling us Charlie’s Angels and using really odd phrases. On our way back to the hostel, we noticed that some parts of Venice turn into a total ghost town at night during the off-season. It was creepily empty. A note about Venice in the cold: the canals smell better than they do in the summer. We did get a few whiffs of what my family used to call “river butt” when we lived by the river in Titusville, but it wasn’t ever-present, as I’ve heard it can be in the summer.

For our whole trip, we had really good luck with weather, except for Friday. Considering we’re traveling in December, I’d say that’s pretty good luck. But this day, it stayed below 44° and never stopped raining. It was a light rain, but it never let up. But since this was our only full day in Venice, we were not going to let that stop us! We started our day with the Galleria della Academia. Not the one in Florence, the one in Venice, obviously. It was large and had some very nice pieces, as well as some really interesting information on art restoration. (I think that is so fascinating.) At this point, I think we were all suffering from what I like to call Acute Museum Fatigue , which is where you’ve seen approximately 700 museums in the span of a week and all the Madonna and Childs and martyrs’ deaths and portraits of rich people and ancient sculptures  start to run together in your head and your brain begins to turn to mush. Despite this, we still enjoyed this museum a lot. From here, we continued on to St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco). It is famous for its intricate  mosaics and its extensive use of gold. It is extremely impressive to see. Unfortunately, there was no sunlight coming in the windows because of the bad weather, so we couldn’t see the top of the ceiling hardly at all. We were pretty sad about it, but accepted it for what it was. Once you’re in to the museum part of the basilica,  you can also go outside a few stories up and you have a nice view of the plaza and the water. Before we left, Shannon noticed they were having an organ concert a little later, so after going through the museum we decided to go get some coffee and come back. We were supposed to go to Duke’s Palace, but the ticket office closed earlier than Catey thought so we couldn’t go. Fortunately, this meant we could go to the organ concert. When we came back, they had all the lights turned on! The entire ceiling was illuminated. It was absolutely heavenly, and everything was shimmering gold. I spent the whole 20 minute concert staring at the ceiling. We were so happy we got to see it!! It really worked out perfectly. We had an early dinner at a what was basically the Italian version of a diner, and headed back to the hostel early. Shannon had lost a contact and had a headache, the weather was still bad, and we had a plane to catch in the morning, so we decided to get home early to pack and shower and get some rest. Well, when we got back, our room was freezing.  The heat the first night had worked great, but it had turned off during the night and was off in the morning. We figured it was a fluke or a timed thing. Because they are pretty stingy with heating in Spain, we didn’t think too much of it. But it was very cold in the room, and it quickly became apparent something was not right. There was also no hot water. I went over to reception to find out what was going on. Long story (relatively) short, reception was technically closed, but there was a student working the desk. Apparently they ask the students who live in the adjoined complex to work at the desk one hour a week. I knew none of this was the poor girl’s fault, but she wasn’t terribly helpful. After taking her to our room to show her that the heat in the hallway was off too, and that there was definitely no hot water, she decided it was probably best to call someone. Considering that she didn’t know how to rent Catey a towel, I was not shocked to find out she didn’t know how to fix the heat. She called the owner and kept trying to tell me that she was sorry, and that she didn’t really work here, and how the heat being broken was the city’s problem and not the hostel’s, and how I would just have to be patient. I hung out in reception because it was warm in there. After an hour, I asked if she had any updates, and she said the owner had fixed it. I made sure to take down a phone number I could call just in case it never warmed up in our room. Of course it was still freezing in our room for a while before the heat caught up, but eventually it did warm up and we were able to sleep well before our busy day. So, y’know. It could’ve been worse but it also definitely could have been better. That’s how most of the problems we had on this trip were. Frustrating, but not the end of the world.

The next morning, we had a 10am flight to Barcelona. We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport bus and plenty of extra time at the airport too. Everything went off without a hitch, which considering the bad luck we had had with transportation, was nothing short of a miracle. We even had time for a yummy breakfast in the airport, including fresh squeezed orange juice and a last cup of Italian espresso. We flew Ryanair again, which if you read my blog about Dublin, you know my feelings about, but we had some beautiful views of snowy mountains on our flight.

TO BE CONTINUED IN A FINALE

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Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 2: Friends in Florence

PREVIOUSLY Our Great Italian Adventure: The train was old, and they turned the heat off half way through, and we got off one stop too early ( we just got on the next train), but we made it to Florence in one piece. (Part 1)

Pictures for Florence

We arrived hungry, and when to a restaurant across the street from the hostel, which was pretty good. This time, we actually did have a private room, which we were thankful for. ( A note on our hostel in Florence: We stayed at Leonardo House, which is not named for DaVinci, but for the owner and seemingly sole operator, Leonardo. He was so sweet and accommodating, and the hostel was probably the cleanest and most comfortable one we’ve stayed in during our semester of travel. And it was only 57€ a person for three nights! Highly recommend.) So we were in Florence! And now I didn’t have to worry about plans because Shannon was in charge of this leg of the trip. Tuesday morning we went to a cafe where you could get an espresso, a croissant, and fresh squeezed orange juice for 4€. We got blueberry jam filled croissant, and it was basically a jelly filled donut. It was sinful, but delicious. The orange juice was amazing too. They’re big into fresh squeezed OJ in Europe (or at least in Spain, France, and Italy) and I am all about it. Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the espresso in Italy is heavenly. I know they’re famous for it, and rightly so. It is amazing. Spanish espresso is much better than what I’ve had in the US, and Italian espresso is much better than Spain’s. It is extremely smooth, with no hint of acidity or bitterness. Just dark, dark, caffeinated yumminess. And it’s usually only 1€. I don’t know how I’m going to survive in The States without it. Anyhow, enough about breakfast. Our first stop of the day was the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is a relatively small museum, but it has one very important piece: The David. He is a sight to behold. We’d already seen the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, so it  was amazing to see this third masterpiece of Michelangelo. I learned about him in elementary school, and again in my AP European history class but I would really like to know more about him. If anyone has an interesting biography to recommend, let me know. Again, the David is one of the most famous pieces of western art, so to see it in person is impressive. The detail, the movement, the expression, and the sheer size of the sculpture are all breathtaking. Catey fell in love with him and was very sad to have to leave him behind. We eventually convinced her to leave, and we went to get some lunch. We picked up some sandwiches to go. As has been the trend in Italy, the workers were very accommodating and made sure we got exactly what we wanted. The sandwiches were delicious- and they cost less than 5€. They even had a little dish for us to pick buttons out of for good luck (which, after our train “ordeal,” we needed!). That was the trend of food in Florence. Friendly staff, affordable, and delicious. We ate our sandwiches in the Piazza della Signoria, since we were blessed with another beautifully sunny day. We were soon surrounded by pigeons and finches, but we didn’t mind them too much. We followed lunch up with gelato, naturally. I thought I would be really missing out because of my dairy intolerance, but most fruit gelati have no dairy in them at all. Lots of  places also have a dark chocolate one that is dairy free too. This place had a dark chocolate with orange gelato that is probably my favorite thing ever. We even came back the next day to get more. The “very small” size is only 2€ and is still more than enough frozen dessert to satisfy you. (Especially if gelato is sometimes a twice a day occurrence.) After our delicious food, we headed to the Pitti Palace, where the Medicis lived. On our way, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and I really thought  we had fallen into a painting. The river and the buildings and the trees and every looked too perfect to be real. When we got to the palace, it was bigger than Shannon remembered it being, and we wandered around for almost two hours without seeing everything. It had the royal apartments, but it was mostly an art museum. I cant imagine living in that kind of opulence. It seems like it would be overwhelming! I learned all about the Renaissance for the first time in fourth and fifth grade, and reading about the Medicis brought me right back to that. It was very cool to spend a few days in a city that was so important in that pivotal period. Travel tip: If you are in Florence, and don’t have time to see the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Uffizi, and the Pitti Palace, this is the one I would recommend skipping. It was cool, but I would definitely prioritize the other two. Shannon had planned for us to go to the Bobobli gardens after the museum before going up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset. We hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time though, and Catey and I were pretty beat. We hadn’t done that much that day, but we had walked about 10 miles the day before, and it was catching up with us. So we decided to sit down with some coffee before heading to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This place is up on a hill, so you have to climb a lot of steep stairs to get up to it. We were sucking wind and starting to question Shannon’s judgement until we reached the top. The sun, already low in the sky at 3:30, was shining golden light over the whole city of Florence. There were low clouds in the distance, giving the city a fuzzy quality and really making it feel like a painting.

sunset in florence 11There was a man playing guitar and singing songs that everyone likes, like “Hallelujah” and “Imagine.” Couples, young and old, families, and groups of friends, were all sitting on these steps, enjoying the view. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and dream-like. (You can see a video I took here.) I’m glad we took pictures, because otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve believed it was real.  Shannon really took the cake with her planning on this one. Down the stairs, we could see people looking over another ledge, so we went down to see what the view was like from there. It turns out what the people down there were looking at was a professional model shoot! There was girl in a beautiful black dress doing a photo shoot. They had a multiple cameras, trucks, wind machines, and a man whose whole job seemed to be hair-spraying the model. The poor girl looked like she was afraid she was going to topple off of the ledge they had her on, but she was being a real trooper about it.  Her dress was beautiful and I said, “Wow, that dress is gorgeous, but that kind of cut only looks that good on girls as thin as her. I could lose all of the fat in my body and my hips and ribs would still be wider than hers!” I wasn’t even trying to be self-deprecating. I was just observing how slight that girl was and how that dress looked good on her body type. (If you know me, you know I have no problem with my body type at all.) Shannon and Catey were agreeing with me, when this American man standing in front of us turned around suddenly and said, “You could pull it off, girl. You could pull it off.” before walking away. It was so sweet and funny,  and we couldn’t stop laughing about it. The sun was setting for real now, and the sky was being reflected beautifully in the river. We took some more pictures, but then decided to go before it got too cold.

It was too early for dinner, so we decided to wander for a bit. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a Christmas market. There were tons of stalls selling food, candy, spices, ornaments, soaps, things made out of wool, pretty much everything you could want. I bought some candied orange peels, and Catey bought this cinnamon roll thing that was seriously delicious. We browsed the stalls until it was an acceptable time to eat dinner, and then headed to a place Shannon’s dad had recommended to us for dinner. It was a really cute and affordable place, and the food was very yummy. After dinner, we met a friend of Shannon’s for some more gelato. (We ate a lot of gelato on this trip.)

The next day, Shannon had big plans for us, starting with Il Duomo. Unfortunately, even though we had “skip the line” tickets, we still waited about 30 minutes to have our tickets scanned, at which point they told us we needed a reservation to go up the dome. It turns out we did have a reservation, but we just needed to click on a different link in the confirmation email. There were lots of other tourists confused about this, too. Considering this must happen every day, you would think that the staff would be pros at dispelling this confusion and rectifying the situation. This was not the case, but we eventually got everything situated and made in the door, if an hour later than we expected. The ascent up to the Dome was more brutal than I expected it to be. I’ve climbed several lighthouses, and I expected it to be like that. But the 400+ steps of Il Duomo were more taxing than any of the other towers I’ve climbed. Also, at some points it gets very narrow and steep. I would not recommend it if you don’t like enclosed spaces. But wow-was the view worth it. You can see all of Florence and it is breathtaking (not just because of the stairs). Also, you get to see the inside of the painted dome of the church, which is impressive. Unfortunately the interior walk way is surrounded by a  very high clear plastic wall, making it difficult to take pictures. But the pictures you can take from the outside are great! After we descended from the Dome, we poked our the museum of Il Duomo that was included in our ticket before meeting up with Shannon’s friend again for lunch. We went to a place called Panini Toscani that is right next to Il Duomo, and I had what is in the running for the best sandwich of my life. The man who I think runs the place clearly loves his job. He was downright jolly. He lets you (makes you) sample their three cheese and three meat options before choosing what you want on your sandwich. All of their products are fresh and authentically Tuscan. And all of their cheeses were sheep cheeses so I could sample all of them!  I settled on a smooth, creamy sheep cheese, with a fennel salami on a seeded wheat bread, with arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers as my toppings. And then they heated it up. Yum! And only 6€! My grandpa told me the best food he had in Italy was in Florence, and I would have to agree. We, of course, followed this up with gelato. With happy tummies, we conquered our next museum: the Uffizi. This is where the Venus is housed, along with other gorgeous Botacelli pieces. His works were my favorite of those we saw in the museum, but there was so much to see there. The building itself is also impressive.

After the museum, which took a while because it is huge, we headed to the laundromat.  Packing for 10 days in a carry-on necessitates a load of laundry, especially when you have cold weather clothes with you. We managed to clean all our clothes without shrinking anything or flooding the laundromat, so we were feeling pretty successful. We decided to celebrate with something we were all craving: Chinese food. I know it sounds funny, but we have been ~deprived~ of our Asian favorites in Oviedo. Asturias has Asturian food and essentially nothing else. (I was trying to explain to my host mom how good Asian food is, and she said that there’s a Japanese restaurant or two in Oviedo, but they don’t go there because it’s too modern for their taste. She said, “ We have Asturian food, which is delicious and has variety. So why would we need anything else?” From what I can gather, this is the general sentiment in Asturias.) So, for three American girls who normally eat foods from all different kinds of cultures, the opportunity to have Chinese food was irresistible. Also, one can only eat so much pizza in a week. The place we found was amazing. We had spring rolls and Oolong tea, two of my favorite things ever. And then I had curry rice with spicy Thai style chicken. For desert, I had this gummy rice ball, rolled in toasted coconut and filled with black sesame paste. It wasn’t what I thought it was when I was ordering it, but it was really good! So while it is a little funny to say we had Chinese food in Italy, we had no regrets because it was delectable.

The next morning we were heading to Venice! We took a fairly early train because we were only going to have one full day in Venice. We went back for more blueberry filled croissants and then headed to the train station early, because we were not going to have a repeat of the Rome to Florence train situation.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 1: Roaming in Roma

I went to Italy! I realize that I start almost all of my blog posts this way, exclaiming that I’ve been some where. But I don’t know how else to start these things! So I guess that excitedly saying the name of the place I’m going to tell you about will have to do. But yes, we went to Italy. We had two days off of school (we thought we had three but our coordinator told us wrong), so we took the week off and went to Italy for 9 days, leaving Friday night and coming back the following Sunday. We started in Rome, then took a train to Florence, and then to Venice. Then we flew from Venice to Barcelona on Saturday morning because that was the cheapest flight back to Spain, and then spent the night in Barcelona before heading back to Oviedo on a 10 hour train (where I wrote the majority of this). I went with my friends Catey and Shannon. The three of us went to Dublin together, and I have traveled with them separately as well. They are great travel buddies. Since planning what to do in a city is a lot of work, we divided the work between the three of us, so each of us planned what to do for one of the cities and then was in charge while we were there. This worked out perfectly because that meant that we each only had to worry about the itinerary in one of the cities, and the rest of the time we were just along for the ride. I planned Rome, because that was the place I was most excited about. Shannon planned Florence because she has visited all three cities and Florence was her favorite, and so Catey planned Venice. We worked together to pick a thing or two to see during our short time in Barcelona.

I’m going to split up posts between our different destinations, because otherwise the post would be entirely too long and overwhelming to read. Since it is practically the length of a book, I am posting it in chapters. This is pretty much a play-by-play of what we did. If youre looking for a more concise version, I’ll link to Shannon’s. But if you want to read my blog, you’re gonna have to read about what kind of gelato I had and what color purse I bought, because that’s the stuff I want to remember when I read this years from now! So bear with me.  Pictures for Rome: here

Our first stop was Rome, which like I said, I was in charge of planning. The title of this “chapter” is ironic, because we didn’t do much roaming. We had a lot to see and not much time to see it in, so we normally had a pretty clear idea of where we were going. However, we did have time to wander in the evenings, after the museums and monuments were closed. (Don’t worry, I didn’t rush Shannon and Catey across the city the entire weekend haha). On our way in, both our flights were a little delayed, but otherwise uneventful. We had late flights so we weren’t to the hostel until about 1am. (Yay, cheap international flights!) Our hostel was great. It was a converted convent, and we had a semi private room. It was just our three beds in the room, but the ceiling was super high, and the walls only rose to a normal height, leaving a large gap, so we had to be quiet. But considering we didn’t pay for a private room, it was very nice. We slept soundly.

The next morning, it was supposed to be raining so I planned for us to go to the Vatican Museums. Our tickets were for 10:30, and I heard the lines (even for ticket holders) get crazy by 11, so we got up and out the door. We ended up not having to wait at all to have our tickets scanned or to get through security, which was nice. The Vatican Museums were incredible. It is insane to be surrounded by that much art and history. I especially enjoyed seeing Rafael paintings in person. The vibrant colors seem to leap off of the canvas. And of course, the museum includes the Sistine Chapel, which was breathtaking. It was not at all how I imagined it would be. For some reason, I always imagined that the ceiling was a circular dome- I don’t know why. But it was really incredible. Every single inch of that room is filled with detail. It is also a really cool feeling to see an image you’ve seen a million times in popular culture in person. The museums were really crowded,even though we are in the “off” season, but we didn’t mind. After the museums, we needed some lunch. We went to a place I had looked up ahead of time, that served sandwiches, smoothies, and juices. It’s called Fa bio’s, if you’re interested. It was very tiny but we managed to grab some stools to rest our feet. The workers were super nice and accommodating, and recommended what was best, even taking my intolerance into consideration. I ended up having a delicious sandwich with a glass of fresh pressed carrot and orange juice with ginger ( it tasted like summer!). The healthy and affordable lunch fortified us for the rest of our day. Since the forecast had said it was going to rain all day, I planned for us to go to a second museum that we could get to by metro. (The metro in Rome is easy to use but very limited in where it goes. This was the only time we were able to use it during our stay.) It didn’t really rain, it was just overcast with the occasional sprinkle, but we stuck to out indoor plans. We arrived to the second museum , which was focused on ancient Roman statues and artifacts. The ticket also included access to another museum across the street, which had huge Roman baths. By this point, it was already completely dark, even though it was only about 5 oclock. Because Spain is in the wrong time zone geographically, we lost an hour of light going over to Italy, even though the hour didn’t change. It was a weird adjustment. Anyway, we wandered through this other museum, which was mostly empty. We came across a room that was showing a film about how the baths might have looked during their use. A couple was sitting in the first row, and the woman had a cat in her lap, that was happily accepting her petting. We thought “how weird is that!” We figured it was some sort of service animal, but thought it was pretty strange. We saw the couple in another part of the museum later, but didnt see the cat anywhere near them. The lady had a bag, but there was no way the cat was in it. Catey ran back to the movie room to see if the cat was there, but it was no where to be found. Pretty freaked out at this point, we joked that it must have been a ghost cat. An ancient Roman ghost cat. As we were getting ready to leave the museum about a half hour later, we were still joking about the cat, when I noticed something move in the corner of my eye. “Oh my gosh, there it is!” I exclaimed. Shannon, who had been standing right by the kitty without noticing it nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise. But the cat was very sweet, and no sooner than we had seen her, she was in our laps, purring and enjoying the attention we were giving her. She was clearly a well taken care of museum cat. She even knew how to work the automatic doors. We told the man working the exit how surprised we were to see a cat living here, and all he said was “Oh, yes. It is nice cat.” To be fair, his English was limited.

After that, we headed to another restaurant I had looked up, where I had an absolutely delicious marinara pizza, which paired perfectly with the house red wine. We felt like we were really in Italy. We headed back to the hostel fairly early and fell into bed.

Th next morning, I dragged Shannon and Catey to 9am mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Maybe dragged isnt the right word, because they were great sports about it. But we needed  to go to that mass so we had time to explore the Basilica and then get a good spot in the square to see the Angelus (more on that soon!).  I can’t describe St Peter’s Basilica. I really can’t. I have seen many cathedrals since I’ve come to Spain, most of them extremely impressive (others merely beautiful), but none of them compare at all to St Peters. Fittingly, it is the cathedral to end all cathedrals. The shining marble floor is complemented by soaring ceilings, and flanked by grandiose pillars and walls all completely covered in artwork. Gold, glass, marble, and paint cover every single square centimeter of the entire massive sanctuary. It is unimaginably huge. Mass at the high altar was incredible. The statutes behind the altar are gigantic. The priest and deacons sitting beneath them were dwarfed by the giant figures above them. The center of the wall behind the altar features a circular window filled with golden glass, the middle of which has the dove of the Holy Spirit. SO. BEAUTIFUL. It is a place I loved so much that I want everyone I love to see it. There was so much beautiful art there, the pinnacle of which, to me at least, is Michelangelo’s Pieta. I have long loved this image and this particular piece, so I was super excited to see it. The Pietá is one of the most moving images of the Passion of Christ, to me. It is displayed directly to the left when you come in the main doors and it took me by surprise. No picture in a textbook or online can convey the emotion that seeing this in person does. The delicacy and care with which it was carved (over 500 years ago ) is so apparent. So much emotion can be seen in Mary’s face, and Jesus’s face looks so real. Every bit and piece of the sculpture is just right. After mass, I went back to stare at it again ( I went back like 5 times before we left) and I was so moved. It felt exactly how I thought it would to stand in front of this incredible work. It was amazing. Eventually, I did have to rip myself away from it because, as I mentioned, we had to get a good spot for the Angelus. This is when the Pope gives a reflection and a blessing from the window of the Papal apartments. It happens every Sunday at noon, when the Pope is in town. Luckily, Pope Francis had just gotten back from his trip to Bangladesh when we were there. So we saw Pope Francis! We had great “seats” (stands?).  He was very tiny from his window, but there was a screen that showed his face and we could hear him loud and clear through the microphone. It was surreal! And I got blessed by the Pope! It was crazy. A group of Spaniards next to us started a chant of “Viva el Papa!… Viva!” as he was waving goodbye.( They also call him Paco, the nickname for Francisco, which I think is adorable. )

I couldn’t stop smiling ear to ear after we saw him. I couldn’t believe we actually saw him! Afterwards, we got lunch from a food truck and then took a bus over to the Pantheon. Well, we headed to a pharmacy to attempt to remedy Catey’s toes, which  and were being pinched by her shoes, and then we took a bus to near the Pantheon. We ended up going to a Basilica right near there first that was really gorgeous inside. Then Catey and Shannon split a canoli while I was drawn in by a leather handbag shop. I knew I wanted to buy a leather purse while I was here, and I found a gorgeous red/burgundy one in this shop that I just had to have. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but Catey talked me into it and I have had no regrets. I love it. Eventually, we made it to the Pantheon, which was pretty cool. Its one of those things where it probably would’ve been cooler if we had seen it /before/ the Basilica instead of after. From there we went to the Trevi Fountain. Now that was impressive. It was really beautiful, if crowded. And then from there we went to the Spanish Steps. When we reached the top, the sun was setting, and the view was really nice. I hadn’t planned it out that way, but we got lucky. We decided to sit on the steps and eat a few crackers to tide us over until dinner. Unfortunately a guard came over to us and told us “ No eat!” So, beware if you go to Rome. “No eat” on the Spanish steps. Who knows what damage your cracker crumbs might do. At this point, Catey’s pharmacy remedy for her toes wasn’t working, so we found her some slipper-like boot things which were  much more comfortable. For dinner, we stopped in some place we hadn’t planned on because the waitress out front sold us on it. Other than the affordable menu of the day, I think what won us over was her telling us “You sit inside. Warm.” This wasn’t the best food we had in Italy, but it was decent and they played good music in the restaurant. And it was warm. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at plaza to see a pretty fountain. There was a beautiful building there, and we could see people going in, so we decided to check it out. It was a beautiful little church, and there wad a concert happening! Two men and two women, all with amazing  and clearly profess voices, were singing beautiful classical songs, all about Mary. We only caught the last 10 minutes or so, but how awesome is that? It was such a nice way to end the night.

And before we knew it, it was our last day in Rome. We packed up and checked out in the morning, but left our luggage in the hostel so we could go to the Colosseum. On our way there, we passed the Italian National Monument which houses the Unknown Italian Soldier from WWI. It is a very eye catching building, so we went in and looked around. There’s a museum there too that we didn’t have time to see. Eventually we made it to our destination. We started with the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It was a beautiful sunny and chilly day. The Hill was really cool, and almost didn’t feel real. The ruins are scattered everywhere. We felt dumb because we couldn’t find the exit for a while, but we eventually figured it out and made it to the Colosseum. Again, I definitely recommend getting your tickets ahead of time. All we had to do was wait in a short line for security. The Colosseum was really impressive and we spent a while wandering around. I just saw Gladiator for the first time in History class in Oviedo, so I thought it was pretty cool.( I think I should probably watch it in English at some point though.) As we were leaving, we were dying of hunger, so we went to a pretty touristy place for lunch right near the Colosseum. If you can swing it, I would recommend waiting to eat until you’re farther away from this area, but we’re a group of girls with wacky blood sugar, so it was better for us to eat then. When you’re in areas like this, you will be constantly bothered by people trying to sell you overpriced tickets, selfie sticks, and crappy souvenirs. And in Rome specifically, chubby older men dressed as Gladiators will want you to pay to take pictures with them. No one takes no for an answer, but just keep repeating it firmly and keep right on walking. It worked for us. Now it was time for us to head back to the hostel to get our stuff. We needed to take a bus from the hostel to Termini station. Our next stop was Florence!  It would be about a 25 minute bus ride, and we left with enough time to have about 25 minutes when we got to the station to find our platform (we already had our tickets.) Everything had run pretty smoothly at this point, so it was about time for our luck to run out. The bus became absolutely packed after got on. And the traffic was horrible. It was only about 3:30/4ish on a Monday, so I don’t know why it was so busy. Maybe rush hour is different in Rome. I also think there might have been an accident that was causing back ups because we saw some police cars going the other way. Well, long story short, our bus took 25 minutes longer than estimated, and we ran to our platform and watched our train pull away as we got there. Perfect.We had to buy new tickets, which was another 20€. They were the same price as our first tickets, but they were on a much older train, and it was a three hour route, instead of the direct one hour route. And we had to wait a half hour for it to arrive at the station. To rub salt into the wound, it was delayed by 5 minutes. Why couldn’t our first train be delayed by even two minutes?? I was more upset about the lost time in Florence than the money, but luckily Shannon hadn’t concretely planned anything or bought tickets to anything that night. The train was old, and they turned the heat off half way through, and we got off one stop too early ( we just got on the next train), but we made it to Florence in one piece.
TO BE CONTINUED….