Italy Week 1
Italy Week 1:
This has taken me much longer to write than I ever anticipated, so I apologize for the delay. I am currently completing this on a train headed to Prague, which is a journey I can’t wait to share with you.
I want to start by saying, I have seen things that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. For those just joining this journey I am studying abroad in Florence Italy. My journey started with a week-long course titled ‘Cultural Introduction to Italy’. To give a brief description, this class starts in Rome travels up Tuscany to Florence a week before regular courses start. During this week we tour various locations and have interactive experiences that would not be provided if you were traveling there on your own. I’m still digesting all the things that I saw, and am thankful for the friendships I made during this course. This course was one of the best decision I have ever made. From day 1 I knew that I had made the right choice. I am filled with such gratitude.
Something that I wasn’t remotely prepared for was the amount of walking I would be doing starting day one. Our first day I walk a little over nine miles, which has become the norm over my stay in Europe. During any given day I am averaging 7-10 miles, with my most mileage being 14.6 miles in one day. Let’s just say my feet haven’t stopped being mad at me since I got here a month ago, and the blisters at the base of my heels seem to be a permeant addition to my life.
Day 1: Rome
Day one was one of our busier days, so there is a lot to talk about. We started by meeting our tour guide (who would be with us for the next two days) in front of the Colosseum. That sentence alone makes me pause. My first day in Italy I saw the Roman Colosseum, which is a site I never thought I would see in my lifetime. We were able to go inside and walk around learning about the history of this location. One of my favorite facts was that before they deemed the colosseum historical and decided to preserve the building, people would come and take pieces (limestone, marble, rock, rods, etc) and use it for other construction. Pieces of the colosseum are found in varies parts of the city. Next our tour guide took use to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. We were on Palatine Hill on the hour, and they shot off the cannon/smoke up the hill to recognize the crucifixion of Peter. In the Roman forum we saw where Julius Cesear was stabbed, and where his ashes were laid to rest. At this point we broke for a long lunch. When we picked back up in the afternoon, we visited Piazza Navona, Patheon, Fontana di Trevi, and the Spanish Steps. While at the Fontana di Trevi a few of the students and I threw a coin in the fountain for good luck (it definitely feels like it’s worked). After these stops, we had the remainder of the evening to ourselves to explore. I had the most wonderful fish and my first gelato.
Day 2: Vatican City
We had an early start on day two so we could catch a bus to make it to the Vatican City to see St. Peter Basilica. We got there a bit earlier than our tour guide, so we were able to take some pictures. I’m very thankful we went early because the crowd was very small (we didn’t have the wait in line to get in), and we were able to truly enjoy the beauty of St. Peter’s without massive amounts of people. St. Peter’s was absolutely breathtaking. I’m at a loss of words at the amount of detail, mass, and holiness present there. A few of my favorite facts from this stop were: the church was built on top of the body of Peter, and his remains were recovered and are present in the church. The pope is the only person able to go into the room where they remain. The other fun fact is that Michelangelo originally did not want to paint in St. Peter’s! He had to be coaxed into the job by the Pope.
After our stop we had some free time to eat, send postcards, and explore. We met back at the hotel to load our luggage and leave Rome, and transfer to Bomarzo. Our first stop was the sacred Wood of Bomarzo. We then went to Villa Lante in Bagnaia. This was my first exposure to villas! Renaissance gardens do not have flowers; their main characteristics are greenery, water, and symmetry. It was very cool to see the use of water. The garden was terrace which allowed the water to move down through fountains and canals into a central fountain surrounded by a maze of greenery. We then made our way back to the hotel where we had supper on this beautiful patio.
Day 3: Vella Farnese
We are back on the bus and on the way to Caprarola were we visit the Vella Farnese. I think this was my favorite villa we visited! It used to be a Midlevel fortress. The inside of the main building is a pentagon with an open ceiling, surrounded by two levels of a wrapped balcony. All the walls and ceilings are covered in detailed art that you could easily spend hours looking at. In the back there is a large garden/path leading to a secluded second house where you find the traditional Renaissance Garden themes. At this point we traveled to a restaurant, and I was very thankful for the invention of motion sickness medicine. We then made our way to Giardino dei Tarocchi. There is no good way for me to describe what this is, so I highly encourage you to look it up. The artist who created it dedicated her life to it, and passed away before it’s completion. Other artists were able to finish it because of her detailed sketches/plans.
Day 4: The Sea
We started this day by transferring by bus to the Bay of Baratti. Here we had a guided tour of the Etruscan Necropolis. We don’t know much about the Etruscan’s because they used perishable items like wood to write. The only things we know are what the Roman’s and the Greek’s had to say, and they did not talk very highly of the Etruscan’s. From what I gathered, the Etruscan’s were an industrial civilization, were quite tall, and had strong women. Next, we made our way down the road to spend time at the beach. This was my first time seeing and swimming in the ocean/sea. It’s crazy to say that my first-time swimming in the ocean/sea was in the Mediterranean Sea. I’m so thankful for that, and my peers were overjoyed for me. After a quick lunch on the beach, we went to a winery, where we were given a tour and a tasting. We had two reds and one white, and I loved them all. I didn’t grow up with wine present in my household because my parents don’t particularly enjoy it, so labels don’t mean much to me. I think this allows me to enjoy wine without being influenced by label or region. This wine was DOCG certified, and it was interesting to learn about the certification process. We were then on our way up the coast of Northern Tuscany to check into our hotel, and grab a bite to eat on our own.
Day 5: Cittadella di Carnevale
Back on the bus we were headed to Viareggio. This is where we toured Cittadella di Carnevale. I was skeptical when we pulled up to this spot because I saw a large rundown clown in the back and a big lot with massive storage unit/garages. I should have known better than to question where our instructor Cecilia was taking us. At this location they made massive floats (50 ft tall) for a famous parade that happens only once a year (expect this year! They are doing two to make up for 2020). All the items are papier-mâché! There was a museum we were taken into that had part of the old floats, part are political and others are themed (wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, etc). Next, we were off to the city of Pietrasanta for free time and exploration.
Day 6: Cinque Terra
This was one of my favorite days! In the morning we trained to Cinque Terra traveling past the towns the Disney movie Lucca is based off. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Cinque Terra, do it. We landed in the town right before Cinque Terra so we could hike the national park connecting the two towns. This hike was intense because it was incredibly steep and narrow with a lot of people passing in opposite directions, but the view is worth every moment of sweat and strain. I facetimed my parents when I was at the top (4:30 am their time), and was so happy when my mom picked up. It was incredibly special to share that moment with them. I was relatively emotional at the top because as I looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, the shoreline, and the boats I felt like all the hard work it took to get to this point was worth it. I’ve had several moments like this where I find myself crying from the overwhelming amount of gratitude I feel to be on this journey. When my mom picked up and shared to view present in front of me I asked “is dad awake?” “well no.” “Wake his ass up, he needs to see this”. I laughed at the familiar groggy voice of my dad saying, “it’s beautiful”.
After the hike we had the rest of the day to explore the town. I spent several hours in the sea swimming, floating, and jumping off a large rock. At the end of the day, we hopped back on the train and made our way back to the hotel. A day full of gratitude and memories.
Day 7: Our final day
We found ourselves up early on a bus to go rent bikes. I loved riding my bike when I was a child. I loved going fast, doing wheelies, and making my grandparents watch how fast I could go. Now, I take cycling classes, but that is not the same thing as riding a bike. I hadn’t been on a bike since around middle school, so I was mildly nervous to hope on one in a group, in a city, in a foreign country on an early Sunday morning. Thankfully this is a biking city, there are many people riding in gear, training for a race, or riding for fun. There is a downside to this, since people are constantly on bikes, cars expect you to be an expert. I can thankfully say nothing bad happened. I didn’t hit any cars and no cars hit me, which is good. Turns out I still love riding bikes! We then went to a high-end market, and then clambered back onto the bus and made our way to Florence for the first time. I was nervous. But if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that you have to start scared. Starting scared is how I got to Italy.