One of the best parts of choosing to study abroad in a European country is the fact that there are so many amazing and different places relatively nearby. The university I’m studying at is given a ridiculous amount of vacation time; during the semester which goes from January to May, we have two week long vacations. The first of these was in late February, and I chose to use it to visit Italy, and also Edinburgh, Scotland, where a friend of mine from UW is currently studying abroad.
Italy was incredible. I was traveling with a group of 7 other people (a little chaotic at times but for the most part it worked out well!) and we travelled to Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. It would be impossible to write as much as I would like to about each of these places without ending up with a short novel, which I’m sure none of you have the time to read. So I will try to summarize as best I can.
Rome was fascinating just because it is ROME. There is so much history and culture and so many places to see. We went to the Vatican; climbing St. Peter’s Basilica was probably my favorite site in the whole city. We saw the Pantheon and the Coliseum, but my visit to these were cut short by the fact that the day after we arrived a snowstorm hit Rome and most of the historical sites were closed for the weekend! It was kind of a bummer but being from California I still see snow as an exciting occurrence so I was more thrilled to be able to see the city in the snow! In Rome I also met up with a friend from high school who is studying in Rome for the year and she took us out to a restaurant where I was able to try Cacao e Pepe, an AMAZING traditional Roman pasta dish (especially after living off my limited vegetarian options in France for the last month, it tasted SO GOOD). And of course, we also had Gelato, the best of which was from the famous Giolitti’s.
Florence I can’t even put into words because it was just the atmosphere of being in the city itself that made it so incredible. It is a beautiful city. What made Florence even more special was an interaction that occurred on our second day in the city. I was walking around the Ponte Vecchio with two friends, taking pictures, being touristy, etc, when a man came up to us and asked if we wanted a picture taken. He took a picture for us and then started talking to us; before we knew it he was showing us around the city, giving us what amounted to a thirty minute private tour of Florence by an 80 year old Florentine man. It was so amazing to hear his view of the city and be shown a side of it that few get to see.
Cinque Terre is the most beautiful place on earth. I can’t adequately describe it and even if my camera hadn’t broken (which it did, about an hour after we arrived in Cinque Terre; I tried to take a few pictures with my cell phone camera but it is not really the same..) the pictures wouldn’t do it justice. Cinque Terre is a set of 5 towns along the Mediterranean coast of Italy. There is a trail that connects them, as well as hiking trails that go up into the hills above them. The last two of the towns were recently hit with landslides and floods, and their recovering has not been easy. It’s devastating because these towns are really heaven on earth but the recovery effort is well underway
(http://savevernazza.com/rebuildvernazza/ and http://www.rebuildmonterosso.com/) and as tourism is one of the major industries of the region, the fact that tourists still travel to the towns also helps with the recovery. We were only in Cinque Terre for two nights, but we spend the day hiking the beautiful trails and at night we all cooked together and played card games. It was so relaxing and perfect and it was definitely my favorite place of the entire trip.
Venice was crazy. We arrived the last weekend of Carnivale, but the city was still packed with people. There were so many crazy costumes and crowds; we didn’t need to actually go do anything except walk around the streets all day in order to have a good time. We bought masks but they definitely paled in comparison to some of the costumes we saw. Some people get really into it and wear full on medieval gowns, complete with elaborate masks and hairstyles to match. And of course, we also went on a gondola ride 🙂
It was interesting how different Italy was from France even though the two countries are right next to each other. It was at times a little exhausting to do the amount of traveling we did (all at the cheapest rates possible, so this often meant we had to be prepared for adventures, like when the sketchy bus we took let us off on the side of the highway, instead of at an actual bus stop…) but it was absolutely worth it. I was so lucky to have this opportunity and I can’t believe that my time in Europe is only halfway over!