Location: Rome, Italy
One Day to See it All
Sean and I finally connected around noon and after fueling up on, guess what, pizza, we were ready for his big day in Rome. Sean has been studying in Milan for this entire semester, and has seen quite a bit of Italy and other countries, but somehow his travels never took him to Rome so we had exactly one afternoon to show him as much as possible. Fortunately my week of exploration helped me plan a realistic route and we did, in fact manage to hit a lot of the big stuff.
We started off heading to the Colloseum. This was my third actual visit to the structure, but my first time inside so I was excited to finally get to see it. We walked the grounds, took a sufficient amount of pictures, then moved on. We had a lot of ground to cover
We made our way back to the city center via the Roman Forum. I finally got to see it up close! And it was pretty impressive. Although Ill admit it was actually more spectacular when seen from far off as a whole than any one piece up close.
When we got to the center I showed Sean the Vittoriano and then headed up the Via del Corso. On our way, I remembered that antique gelato shop was on the way so we treated ourselves to the sweet one last time! We couldnt sit still long and as soon as our snack was gone we were on our way again to see the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, and the Spanish Steps. It was funny that only a week before Id been led around this same area and had no idea where I was and now I was showing someone else around as if I was some sort of expert (which I wasnt, but I was doing the best I could with what I knew).
We were running out of time (we were meeting Fede and Ila for an apperativo later) so we cut down to the Bascilica di Sant Pietro. Sean got to see the main square and get an idea of where the Vatican was and all that jazz. As much as I wanted to try and go into the Sistene Chapel, we didnt have much time left and we were both pretty tired from walking so much.
Ironically we still had a long walk ahead of us to get to the bus stop. By the time we got there we were both in a lot of pain, and of course we had to wait for another eternity for a bus to actually come. THEN we had to go back to the train station, pick up Seans luggage, THEN we had to take the subway to meet the girls, THEN we got lost and walked the wrong way for about 6 blocks with Seans suitcase in tow, THEN we had to go back to the subway station so the girls could find us again.
Ultimately we made it to our destination and happily imbibed our wine and snacks, but the journey to get there was long. I dont know that Ive ever been happier to sit down in my life. Drinks were great and it was really nice to spend my last night in Rome all together doing something nice.
It was a weeknight, though, so eventually we had to head home and everyone went to bed shortly after we got there. It was sad because we were leaving early in the morning and I anticipated a rushed goodbye, but what could I do? I went to bed
Location: Pisa, Lucca, & Florence, Italy
Easter in Tuscany
DAY 1: Pisa
We had to get up super early to catch our train to Tuscany so by 7am we were out the door and walking 15min with our luggage over to the subway station to get downtown. Fortunately we arrived quite early and had time for a coffee before we boarded the train. It was a pleasant enough ride, with comfy seats and a little table in between us so we could entertain ourselves on our computers.
When we arrived we didnt know exactly how to get to our B&B so we tried to ask for directions. No one knew exactly where we should go, but we ended up on a bus going in the generally correct direction. Someone on the bus told us we should get off, which was right, although we probably should have gotten off one stop before. We were on the right road, but since we had already passed the B&B, we werent sure which direction to walk in. I looked at the addresses and guessed a direction, which of course was wrong in the end, and we walked the wrong way for about 15min. Mind you this road had no sidewalk, a lot of cars going very fast, and eventually ended up in a completely undeveloped wooded area which is where we were when we finally decided to call the B&B and see where the hell we were.
Eventually we found our way and checked in. The place was nice enough, but it didnt have any common area and no internet and the only channel on the TV in English was BBC World News so we were a little worried about what we were going to do in the evenings. But we couldnt worry about that all day so we dropped our things and left to go back into town. We grabbed a ride with one of the B&B owners and found the main street pretty easily.
Pisa is a very famous place for one thing, the tower. And theres a reason for that. Because there is NOTHING else there except one main street with a bunch of shops and cafes and then the square with the tower and this beautiful cathedral. When you finally make it to the end of the road and find the square it is pretty spectacular. Although the tower was actually smaller than what I expected. I mean it was really neat and it is REALLY leaning, but its only about 5 stories high. You cant even see it from the city center.
The square itself is really cool. Its very grassy with people picnicking and lying around everywhere. Its kind of like a university quad in a lot of ways. And of course EVERYWHERE you look there are people trying to take silly pictures with the tower. I was a little annoyed because the tower had scaffolding on it AND a giant black wire all the way along its length that would forever taint my pictures, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was actually a lot more taken with the cathedral in the square. It was spectacularly beautiful with amazing architectural details on the front.
As we were leaving we decided to check out the market stalls. They were mostly selling leather goods since Tuscany is very famous for its leather goods. I spotted a purse I absolutely loved so I got it. I also had to buy one of those leaning shot glasses
itll make for a great conversation starter at parties!
We stopped at a café and just sat and talked for a while over some cappuccinos. It was the first time Fede and I had really had a chance to sit down together and talk during the entire time Id been visiting. She was obviously working during the week and she hadnt been feeling well so Id actually been alone more with Ilaria than with Fede throughout the week. We just fell right back into the easy conversation like we used to when we both lived in London. It was so nice.
We did a little shopping after our coffee break. It was mostly for Fede since I cant really buy anything, especially priced in Euros. We hit a few stores including United Colors of Benetton, which seems to be Italys favorite store
theyre EVERYWHERE. Fede didnt get anything, but it was still fun trying stuff and comparing styles and preferences. Shopping truly is a great bonding activity.
By this time we were pretty hungry so we found this little osteria. It was this adorable, quaint little place with traditional food and wine. I went with Fedes recommendation and had a pasta with wild boar meat in it. It was REALLY yummy. Of course the first thing that popped into my head when I heard wild boar was LOST, but I didnt say anything and just internally enjoyed how much of a TV nerd I am.
Since it was such a small restaurant we were seated about 2 inches from a table with two American girls. I knew right away they must be doing a study abroad program so I started making conversation with them. I got that they went to Penn State and that they were studying in Barcelona, but that was the extent of it. They were just not into conversing. Not even with each other! During the entire meal, Fede and I chatted and they were painfully silent! It was so awkward! Who travels for the weekend with someone and doesnt talk to them?
After dinner we were pretty beat. The Chianti we had (also a regional specialty) had gone to our heads and made us sleepy. We headed back to the B&B and watched BBC World News until we fell asleep.
DAY 2: Lucca
We woke up to possibly the most gloomy, wet, and cold Easter I have in my memory but we were determined to make the most of it. We rolled into breakfast just as they were getting ready to pack up. It actually worked in our favor since we got all the leftover breakfast cakes and such. They even laid out chocolate egg (for breakfast!). I couldnt really stomach it, but Federica was excited about it!
They told us that there were no buses running so we had to take a cab into town. Before we left we had to pay. They didnt take credit cards! What hospitality establishment doesnt take credit cards?! We eventually made it to town and had just missed the train to Lucca so we had to grab a coffee and wait for the next one. We eventually made it and easily found our way from the station to the town center. Lucca is this tiny old town surrounded by protective walls and filled with beautiful churches, cathedrals, and piazzas. Even in the cold and rain I really enjoyed this little town.
With no map or directions we still managed to stumble upon all the major points in the city, including the center piazza, which is called the ampitheater because its a giant oval. It was filled with really eclectic, interesting shops, like a place that only sold handmade soaps and another place that sold old-fashioned wine casks and other traditional Tuscan kitchen-wares. One shop was selling really nice leatherbound journals. Since I have been journaling about this trip and my book is going to be full at the end, it seemed a good idea to get a new journal for whenever I take my next adventure. So I bought a nice little brown leather journal to take with me on round two.
Of course some shops were closed because it was Easter, but it actually added to the old-fashioned effect of the town because most of the places that were closed were the chain stores. The ones left open were the family-owned, interesting shops that could have existed 50 years ago just as easily as present day.
We had originally planned to rent bicycles and ride around the outer walls of the city, but we could tell it was going to start raining any second so we passed on the bikes and started walking the perimeter instead. It turned out to be the right decision because about a quarter way around the skies opened up pretty hard and I would not have wanted to be on a bike at that moment. The view from the wall was beautiful, but after walking in the rain for a few minutes I was ready to get inside some place warm and dry. We made our way back into the city and found a little restaurant to have a soup and some coffee and see if the rain would let up.
The place was warm and dry so that was wonderful, but the rain only got worse as we sat there. So when we eventually did leave we just got more drenched and more cold. But we still hadnt seen quite everything so we had a little more of a walk. There were these candy stands EVERYWHERE all over Lucca so I bought myself some sweet roasted nuts as a reward for braving the elements. It turned out to be a good decision because we didnt really have dinner and that turned out to be my meal for the evening.
When we got back to Pisa Fede was determined to find a cinema that showed films in their original languages, but we came up empty so we had to just go back to the B&B and try to entertain ourselves for the evening. We actually got lucky because they were playing 10 Things I Hate About You on MTv and since Ive seen that about 100 times I was able to recite the entire movie as it was playing. So despite it being dubbed I made a game out of it basically. It was pretty funny. I think I ruined it a bit for Fede since shed never seen it, but I think she was glad we found something we could both enjoy despite our limited options.
DAY 3: Florence
Thankful for a clear day, we packed up and headed to Florence. Upon arrival we stored our bags for the day and set off to explore the city. We only had 4 hours and a lot of ground to cover.
As soon as you walk out of the train station you can see the Duomo, which is one of the most famous landmarks in Florence. It is this enormous, stunning cathedral covered in green and red patterns. Most cathedrals Ive seen have been completely white, but this structure stood out with its creative use of color and due to its sheer size. It takes a few minutes just to walk around the entire building. We wanted to go in, but the line was long and we were worried about time so we figured wed come back later if possible.
Fede navigated, since she had been to Florence a few times before, and she led me through the citys winding streets to a medieval bridge. From far away it looked as if there were little apartments lining the outside of it. Like people lived there at one time. And maybe they did. But now the bridge houses several jewelers. There was some serious bling on that bridge! These shops were tiny too. And the way that they close up at the end of the day is probably the same way they did in medieval times. There are these huge, heavy-duty wooden planks that get pulled down over the glass windows. It would be just as interesting to see the whole bridge closed up as it was to see it open.
After the bridge, we continued exploring and followed the signs to Dantes house. His house wasnt much to look at from the outside, but we were lucky enough to come across Dante himself hanging out outside. He was a little bit strange, talking to himself and looking longingly at thin air, but it was nice to see him nonetheless.
When we were done with Dante we headed out to the giant market. It was mostly leather goods and scarves and we had a blast browsing through all the beautiful purses. Fede and I both ended up getting something in the end, but they were good purchases so I dont feel that bad. I definitely have enough Italian leather now to last me a lifetime. Or at least until my next trip to Tuscany.
By this point it was mid afternoon and we were hungry for lunch so we stopped at a pizzeria Fede knew and had my first (of many) real Italian pizza. It was lovely. Now the thing to note about Italian pizzas, if youve never had one, is that they are pretty big and they are served for one person completely unsliced. Then you cut it up with a fork and knife and generally people eat the whole thing by themselves. Its enough for two meals, which turned out to be convenient later in my trip, but it was just a completely new concept for me at that point.
Sadly, the end of our meal also marked the end of our time in Florence. We hadnt seen nearly enough and the city was so beautiful. I need to go back again someday soon. We hopped on our train and made our way back to Rome. Once we arrived we took it easy since Fede had work the next day and I had to get up, pack and meet up with my friend Sean who was coming to meet me before we headed down to Naples together.
Despite the weather, it had been a beautiful weekend in Tuscany. Three days was hopefully just a taste and Ill get to be more thorough someday in the future, and hopefully when the sun is shining so I can have that bike ride