I decided to go to Italy on the spring break of junior year of college 2009. I went because I had some money from an on campus job and because I tried the very foolhardy idea of traveling to another country to win someone back - Don't ever do this. Now; however, her and I have a wonderful friendship - so all is well. More importantly, she was a fantastic tour guide as she was practically fluent in Italian and she provided excellent translation for me. Due to my Latin knowledge of Spanish and French, Italian became easier to figure out than expected.
Anyways onto the travelogue! I would be visiting Firenze (Florence), Pisa, Vatican City, and Roma (Rome). I really wanted to visit Sienna but time and money didn't work like that. My wonderful tour guide showed me how to get to my hostel in Firenze when I got in. The next day we some great sights in the city such as: the huge Duomo in the center of the city, Ponte Vecchio, the Medici Piazza (Plaza) and some other plazas. Another interesting tidbit, is that this was the first time I traveled to a country alone. While my tour guide essentially made the travel one with friends, the best way to travel, I was still alone for most of it. Other highlights from the sights were the Tivoli Gardens, that have a little too much green, Fiortine Stadium - my first foreign soccer stadium! There was also the Statue of David; which was magnificent and the first Michelangelo I would see in Italy. In terms of museums, the Donatello and history of Duomo museums were cool for a low cost. Last, but not least, the Uffizi; which is known for Sandro Boticelli's Birth of Venus, was a glorious sight.
Beyond the sights, some of the other fun things that occurred in Firenze were haggling for a leather jacket on the San Lorenzo markets - I still have it!!!! The glorious food - I didn't have pizza in Italy until later in my stay - it ruled-, why bother when you can have Crostinis, pasta, real hot chocolate, which is a melted chocolate bar, various pollo and patata mixes, gelato for days - Gelato dei neiri is the best-, and paninis! The food was really that good, healthy and fresh - straight from Tuscany! Another cool dining aspect was going to an apertivo where you pay for a drink and then you can have an all you can eat mini-buffet. I've seen this here and there throughout my travels and I think more places need it. Also, we went out to a bar for a friend's celebration. My tour guide knew the DJ and the Italians can get down from riding the train, you know what I mean, around the bar, lifting people behind the bar, and old ladies trying to dance with me while I try to fend them off. Then there's the secret bakery, 2 euros for fresh pastries in the morning before the man makes his deliveries; a place you would only know with that local advantage. Another fun fact is, while I don't know if it's still there, the taxi with the crazy designs. There's also little mini-buses if you don't feel like traversing the super walkable city. I also had some quirky hostel mates: people from Wisconsin & Ohio, English hotties, the cool and charming receptionists and the snoring Thai brothers. Something else I remembered was that St. Patrick's Day was that week. It's weird to see Americans doing American holidays in other countries - something I'll never do.
I headed to Pisa to see, of course, the leaning Torre of Pisa. That trip was really cool, fun and I met some Americans on the way, who I had fun exploring the city with. It was confusing to get there at first and the Italians did not want to speak English. In my opinion the Italians are still the rudest people, but I came at them with Italian anyways. While at the Tower, the field and little chapel right next to the tower are cool too. It is also way too expensive to climb that tower. Furthermore, they have leaning shot glasses, which have become another travel item for me as well.
Riding out of Tuscany, as my tour guide friend headed to Sicily, she gave me a recommendation that has always been in my head "Go to Rome!!" Duh! I was about almost 2 hours away on the fast Eurostar train; why not go to one of the most known capitols ever! Rome wasn't built in a day, but I saw it in a day and made serious use of the smartest tourist subway around. A subway that stops only at the tourist stops - how convenient.
Starting off, I would see the glorious Colisseo (Coliseum). It really is that amazing and cool; kind of like seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Colisseo was just awesome in every way. I kept looking at it and some Italians took my photos in and around it. Right nearby, I wandered around the Roman Fora (Forum), which basically has standing remnants of Ancient Rome and almost complete columns and structures from that time. If you ever look at my Facebook pictures of Rome, I think these are the most striking. After that, I started hitting the little stuff like the public square, the square Republicca, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fontana and the Pantheon, which apparently has amazing gelato nearby that I couldn't find. I closed the night with my multicultural hostel before I wandered late night on the outskirts of Rome for debauchery, which I may talk more about someday. When I was out there, I really wondered how I would get back, for it was the most lost I've ever been in another country. Somehow it all worked out and I made it back through buses, trains and taxis. Thus, the outskirts of foreign cities are very sketchy unlike American cities in which the center city can be sketchy.
On the next day, I woke up super early to go to the Musei (Museum) Vaticani and Vatican City itself. If you go early, you beat the insane amount of people traffic that occurs later on. I went through the museum twice - only time I've done that with a famous museum - just to see the Sistine Chapel twice to sneak some pics. I've never seen such an elaborate painting from Michelangelo: Judgment, God and Adam, the phases of Genesis, it's wild; Boticelli helped some around the sides too. Rafael had a lot of great work in the Vatican Museum as well.
Onto the Vatican itself. No, I didn't see the pope but I did climb the St. Basilica de Roma, which has some really strange and cramped stairs the higher you get up. Once you get to the top, the view is worth it, as you get to see Roma's amazing layout - o those Europeans and their river cities. Other notes in the museum are the popes' gravestones and the Pietra, Mary holding Jesus, which is another work of Michelangelo. That being said, I think that the Pietra, along with the statue of David, made some of the most brilliant creations in the country. Before I left Rome, I would continue my dad's Hard Rock Cafe shirt tradition of getting shirts from all over the world for him.
And with that, I have written my thoughts on the unique and cultured Italy. Maybe someday I'll see Venezia, but I'm ok for now, as I had a grand time in the cities that I did see. I highly recommend Italy, as it is up there for favorite countries I've been to and may be the favorite of Europe so far.
Buonosera and Buona fortuna!