Rome

As I stood in the sunshine overlooking the Roman Forum and quietly taking it all in, I was entirely overwhelmed with happiness. Throughout the week in Italy there were moments of stress, chaos, and uncertainty, but those small instances were eclipsed instantaneously by the radiating joy of falling in love with a place.

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The Roman Forum

Rome was most certainly not built in a day. On our first morning, Leonora and I awoke early to wander the streets and were amazed by the history and the beauty that surrounded us. On the way to grab breakfast and visit the Colosseum, we passed ruins I have only dreamed of being able to see for myself. Throughout our time in Italy, we were blessed to have beautiful weather that only added to the magnificence of the city.

Day 1

After our morning wanderings, Leonora and I headed over to the Colosseum to sign ourselves up for a tour group. We joined a group of 11 others and were able to skip the line to see the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum in a couple of hours with a licensed guide. All 3 of these spots blew my mind. Palatine Hill is a slightly underrated activity that was one of my favorite things to see! Our tour guide was a huge guy with a linebacker build from Florida – I guessed that he played American football immediately and I was right! He actually lives part time in Rome so that he can teach American football in Italy. Something about his bellowing American way of guiding the group made me feel right at home. Here are my favorite pictures from the tour! I highly recommend joining one of your own if you visit. Not only do you get to skip the line, but you might make a new friend and having a guide really makes each location come to life.

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The Colosseum

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This is an ancient hippodrome once used for races!

After lunch, we took the afternoon to explore the city a bit, passing through several famous squares and of course, the Trevi fountain!

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Sing to me, Paolo!

This day ended with the best all-around meal of the trip so far at an adorable wine bar where we were able to eat outside. The star of the night was this white chocolate fondue with Italian cookies and my Chianti wine. Pictures do not do it justice!

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Day 2

 

I spent the entire last day of the trip in denial that it was coming to an end –  although I have to admit that I did miss Oxford and Logan House in a weird way, especially after our overflowing hostel shower! After my first great tour experience, I was eager to do another. I woke up early and headed out by myself to explore Vatican City. The tour I joined here included the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. In total, this tour took about 2.5 hours and was, in my opinion, completely worth the money. I also made a new friend in my tour group and was thankful to have someone to chat with as we took in the sights.

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Keep in mind that when visiting the Vatican Museum, it is IMPOSSIBLE to see everything. It has been estimated that if you were to spend one minute looking at each item, it would take you 4.5 years to see everything. I am amazed that over the course of hundreds of years, so many priceless items have been created. I could’ve spent a week in Rome just exploring various museums. A pro to having a guide in the Vatican is that they will lead you to the museum’s highlights and tell you all about them. My personal favorite room was a long narrow hallway with an ornate gold ceiling and tapestry maps hung on the walls. Hidden secrets like Jesus’s moving eyes following you as you walk and a double-sided face that look both into the past and the future can be found in every detail.

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This statue is considered the most beautiful in the world

I also enjoyed both the Sistine Chapel (known for its ceiling painted by Michaelangelo) and St. Peter’s Bascilica! The grandeur of these buildings is unparalleled. It also amazed me to remember that I was technically standing in another country! Vatican City is the smallest recognized country in the world and spans only 2 miles.

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

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Unfortunately, when I made the trek over to the Pantheon later in the day I found that it was closed due to a mass service. However, I was still able to peek inside and appreciate the impressive architecture from the outside. I took a moment to sit on the fountain and enjoy some of my last moments as I listened to an Italian street performer sing his heart out.

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The Pantheon

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The trip wrapped up beautifully as we ended with the best pizza and gelato of the trip thanks to one of Rachel’s friends studying in Rome. My Italian adventures are memories that I will not soon forget. Ciao for now, Italia!

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Italy Trips Vatican City

5 Reasons to Visit Siena

Out of all of the cities we visited throughout Italy, Siena was the only one I could really picture myself living in. A nice break from the busy city life, Siena is a less-visited oasis of beauty, wine, and local flavor. We only stopped for one night but I am so glad that we did!

Since we only had one night, we took advantage of the town’s relaxing vibes and you should too! Here’s why you should say ciao to Siena!

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1) It’s off the beaten path

Quite simply, Siena is the perfect place to enjoy the slower way of life, tell stories about, and visit again. Particularly since we visited in February, the town was almost empty of tourists. We had great conversation with a couple locals and found that people were eager to help us out – something that we didn’t find in every city we visited. We only had time to stop for a single night and I am already dreaming of a summer visit to Tuscany full of horseback rides, long walks, and winery tours. Siena would be the perfect place to visit for a relaxing vacation, family stop, or couples retreat.

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2) Perfect break to stop and rest

If you have more than a week in Italy, consider taking a break in Siena or somewhere in the Tuscan countryside to stop, rest, and breathe. Personally, I am much more of a green grass over a city type of gal and Siena refreshed me both physically and mentally. One of the things that I love most about Italy is their go with the flow mentality. Punctuality is not all that important, and although it can be frustrating, it also forces you to stop and take it all in. During our time in Siena, we moved more slowly than in the city but still saw a lot. When we weren’t relaxing in our gorgeous Airbnb apartment, we walked the hilly streets, taking in views of the gorgeous cathedral and Duomo and gorgeous homes we daydreamed about living in. As you walk, it is nice to peek around corners because you never know what you’ll find. There are also lots of sunny piazzas (squares) to sit in when your legs start to burn thanks to the steep hills. While exploring, we came across a beautiful wishing well and a very strange escalator that apparently is a preferred method of “travel” in the hills (not pictured). During our stay, I also purchased a few authentic Italian leather items!

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3) Gorgeous views everywhere you look

Like most of Italy, Siena is breathtakingly beautiful. However, this countryside spot is stunning in a different way than urban Venice, Florence, and Rome. Visiting allowed me to really get some perspective on Italy’s diversity. As your train turns the corner into Siena, prepare to be stunned. This little town is tucked into the mountains and had beautiful weather even in February.

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4) Delicious food and wine

It is hard to fully enjoy Tuscany without a glass of Tuscan wine in your hand! Thankfully, there are many restaurant options in Siena that allow you to eat outside and soak up the sun as you devour your pizza and and contemplate your wine options. While some restaurants were closed down for the winter, we were very content with the places we chose.  In some cases – what you hear is really true and wine is cheaper than water! Dining here was such a treat.

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5) Easily accessible

Best of all, if you’re planning a trip to Italy, Siena is an easy stop to add whether you’re headed north or south. We chose to go south and take the train from Florence to Siena (only an hour and a half ride for 9 Euro)! And afterwards we headed from Siena to Rome. Taking the train is definitely our preferred method of travel because it is inexpensive, relaxing, and a great way to see more of the country than otherwise possible.

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There ya have it! If you decide to visit, all I ask is that you take me with you!

Italy

Florence


As is usually the case with travel, we arrived to Florence on Sunday night a little bit tired but a lotta bit excited. After the tourist craziness of Venice, I think that we were all ready for a bit of a break.

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Hello, Florence!

It was a bit of a hike to our hotel (shout out to Rick Steves for the recommendation) and we took a moment to rest before heading out for dinner. We ended up stopping in one of the first places we saw – an adorable and rustic organic Italian restaurant. The food really lived up to the place’s appearance and we left refreshed and ready to walk around the city. We decided to head towards the more historic district of town and plan the next day out.

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The Duomo

We walked through little cobblestone streets admiring fancy things in windows of stores and taking in the beautiful weather (a welcome change from England) when we suddenly turned a corner and BAM, there it was.

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I will never forget this moment of pure and utter awe and inspiration. We all stood, awestruck by the Duomo’s beauty and grandeur. I cannot even imagine living in Florence and coming across buildings like this casually. We spent a good chunk of the next couple days climbing and studying the building and it is one of the most majestic and incredible things I have ever seen in my life.

Still captivated by the Duomo, we ate breakfast with it looming in the background and then bought some tickets that would allow us full access for 24 hours. We also made a reservation to climb the dome the next morning. With our 15 Euro ticket, we were able to view the museum, church chapel, climb the bell tower, and climb the dome – neither of which were easy feats – but both of which are incredibly worth it. Each climb is 400 steep, narrow, windy stairs to the top. Most of the time, people are going both directions and part of the climb involves smushing yourself against a wall and side stepping across people. My calves are still rebelling against me a little bit. I am proud to say that we saw Florence from three of the best spots in the city.

Views and a local taste

A trip to Florence is not complete without seeing the city from above. Here is a collection of pictures I have acquired of this gorgeous city from various spots. Florence is an absolute must-add to any travel list.

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It is full of the magic you’ve heard about – cobblestone streets, terracotta roofs, and hidden neighborhood gems to explore. I am extremely envious of those who have called this city home for study abroad. Paige, a member of my sorority family, is one of these lucky gals. She hooked us up with a fantastic list of insider-tips and places to explore. On our second full day of Florence, we ventured to the neighborhood she called home and got crackin’ on the list. We started the afternoon with a tour of the Santa Croce church, sprawled across a couple acres and full of centuries old art and courtyards.

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Next, we ate at her favorite sandwich place All’ Antico. We saw the line before we saw the place. With a tiny location on each side of the street, this place dishes out huge Italian sandwiches better than your wildest dreams. Rachel and I both agreed that this was the best sandwich we’ve ever had, and for only 5 Euro!

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Finally, after some afternoon explorations, we trusted Paige once again to guide our path for our last night in the city. We set off on a 20-minute steep uphill walk to Piazza Michaelangelo for the most rewarding view I have ever seen: Florence from above at sunset. This little hidden gem is perfect for a relaxing evening with friends or a significant other. It was not nearly as crowded as we expected, even on Valentine’s Day, and the climb up made it so much sweeter.

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Art, Culture and a Magical City

Spending Valentine’s Day in Florence was nothing short of magical. We saw several amazing views, went to Galleria D’Arte Moderna, wined and dined, and fell in love with the city.

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There are so many more museums and experiences to be had in Florence and I hope that I have the opportunity to return one day. The people here were so kind and welcoming to us. Even though there were other tourists in the city, the friendliness and loving vibes put us at ease throughout our stay.

From museums to shopping to late night gelato runs, there is really no way to have a “bad time” in Florence. There is absolutely something for everyone here and I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone who has visited and failed to fall under Florence’s spell. I am now on a train headed for a quick stop in Siena before our final three nights in Rome!

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Italy Trips Uncategorized

Venice

 

This week is our first school break and in typical European fashion, a few friends and I made the decision to spend it in Italy!

Italy has been on my “travel bucket-list” since I was a kid and I’m so glad that I’m finally getting to experience it with some great friends by my side. I am traveling with fellow Teaching Fellow Rachel, and two friends that I met at St. Clare’s – Morgan, who is from Chicago, and Leonora, who is from Sweden. We are taking Italy on in true backpacker fashion with no set itinerary and only our feet, phones, carry-on baggage and friends’ advice to guide us.

The arrival

We took off EARLY (and I mean early) on Friday morning to hit our first stop, Venice. After a 3:30am wakeup (yikes), 4:40 bus ride to Heathrow (double yikes), and brief layover in Frankfurt (not so bad), we made it to the Marco Polo airport in ITALY! I still cannot believe that I’m here. The four of us sleepwalked through the airport, navigated ourselves into a cab, and into our Airbnb located right outside of centre city Venice.

Sleep deprived and starving for a good ol’ carb-filled Italian meal, the adventures began. Before we get started, let me give you some quick and dirty advice on taking on Italy:

(Semi) Pro-tips

1 – Get some Euros before you arrive to avoid the hefty airport fee and any awkward situations (more on this later).

2 – Be cautious at grocery stores especially when in the fresh produce section (you probably need to weigh your own produce and some stores are picky about touching various things).

3 – Be prepared for a language barrier, even in touristy areas. (Italians are amazing hosts and lovely people but this barrier can be frustrating to both parties involved.)

4 – Book train tickets online in advance (much cheaper).

5 – When traveling, expect nothing to go exactly as planned

6 – We had no problem staying a bit outside the city but be aware that the busses into the city will be PACKED! Keep your eyes on your pockets!

 

Exploring Venice

We chose Venice as a starting point for our Italian adventure because flights in from England are cheap and we figured it would be lovely to chase the warmer weather downwards with the train.

Friday – First night:

Let me repeat – expect nothing to go exactly as you have planned. After we checked into our Airbnb, we decided to take the bus into Venice to grab lunch and explore a bit before calling it a night. Exhausted but excited to see the city, we grabbed our bags and headed out. There was only one problem: we couldn’t get the door open. I am not kidding you folks. We tried EVERYTHING. We turned the handle every direction possible, tried various pressures of pulling, and took turns giving it a go. At one point half of the door even came off the hinges (whoops) and it STILL would not open. Morgan even crawled out a window to see if she could get it open from the front side. We eventually had to call our host and tell her that she was going to have to return. Thankfully, we finally got it open right after we had placed the call and our mission for food continued. We got our bus passes, signed up for a tour for the next day, and headed to Venice!

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Italian pizza fulfilled every expectation I’ve ever had and seeing Venice for the first time was a dream come true. The city is crowded with tourists even in February but we did our best throughout the weekend to get lost and find some hole in the wall places. We didn’t stay in Venice long before heading back to get some much-needed rest! I slept from 7pm-9am and have absolutely no regrets about it.

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Saturday – Full day:

Since we only had one full day to explore Venice, we decided that signing up for a “hop on hop off” boat tour would allow us to see and do the most! Finding the tour’s starting point was a bit stressful, but we managed and eventually began the journey around 11:15. By traveling this way, I really feel that we got to see some of the areas not often “seen” in Venice. During the boat rides, an audio guide plays aloud and tells the stories of the sites you are passing!

Our first stop was the popular San Pedro and this was definitely the most crowded area that we were in. We spent some time getting lost down windy maze-like alleys, peeping in gorgeous churches, and walking along the water. For lunch, we stopped at another hole in the wall place that again, did not disappoint. I truly believe that you can really not go wrong when it comes to Italians and their Italian food. The ingredients are fresh, delicious, and our meals so far have been very well priced! We had about an hour after lunch to continue our exploration.

Next, we hopped back on the boat for 30 minutes up to the famous glass making island of Murano. It was strangely deserted and at first, we felt quite peaceful here. We bopped in and out of some glass making shops, bought some souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and quickly found that we had explored most of the island. We ended up with a bit too much extra time and decided to escape the cold by finding a little coffee shop. After one strike out at a small place that didn’t accept credit cards, we found an upscale café at a local hotel to snack at.

Morgan used her card to order at the bar, but the rest of us were directed to sit and be served at a table. We sat, talked, and enjoyed our coffees for a bit. After about 40 minutes, we realized that time was passing quickly and we needed to get our check. We got up to pay and discovered that the girls who had served us originally were gone and only an older Italian man (with 0 bilingual skills) remained to help us pay our tab.

He began demanding that we pay cash, and still had Morgan’s drink (which she had paid for previously) on our tab. Another problem: we did not have enough Euro’s to pay the bill. We panicked and kept trying to hand him credit cards. He continued to insist that their card machine was broken even though Morgan had just used hers to pay for her drink. He insisted that we pay in cash and gave us vague instructions to an ATM on the island. Rachel, Leonora, and I took off running desperately towards the area he described. After some struggles, we found the bank but it seemed to be closed. We ran next door and begged a restaurant employee to help us. Thankfully, he was quick to help us and showed us how to insert our credit card in the door as a “key” to get it to open.

We grabbed our cash, sprinted back towards the café, and then had to loop back the opposite direction of our boat to cross the bridge and take off full speed. This is by far the closest I’ve ever come to dining and dashing and the biggest scene I have ever caused. People were staring and pointing as we huffed and puffed our way across that little island. Our luck finally kicked in and we made it to the dock just as the boat was pulling up. All was well as we did not commit a crime and avoided having to stay on that island another two hours.

After our hour return boat, we decided to treat ourselves to a fine Italian dinner as a small reward for the crazy adventures of the day. This place was exactly what we needed. I ordered seafood risotto and we shared a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay. I got to do my first ever “taste test” to approve our choice!

Overall, the day was entirely successful and we were able to look back on both the struggles and high points as learning experiences. We got to walk through the city just as the sun set and all the lights switched on and it was a moment to remember forever.

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Sunday – Lazy morning/travel day:

This morning, we slept in a bit, had our grocery store breakfast, and got all checked out of our Airbnb before our final trip to the city!

The day was absolutely beautiful and we took the opportunity to eat our brunch outside and soak up the sun. I ordered an omelet with cheese and prosciutto and a cappuccino. As we ate and shared stories about our lives, children and puppies ran around the courtyard laughing and playing. It was the absolute perfect way to end our time in Venice.

 

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We are currently on the train heading towards Florence where we will spend three nights right in centre city! Our Italian adventure has only just begun!

 

Italy Uncategorized