A Northern Getaway
This week’s field trip included visits to the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. I visited both the Coliseum and the Roman Forum on my previous trip to Rome, but they we just as amazing the second time around. I can’t help but try to imagine the Romans’ daily routine in the 7th century, when they attended gladiator fights at the Coliseum.
Friday was the Italian holiday, Giorno Della Liberazione (when America came to Italy’s aid in World War Two), so Thursday night my roommates and I took a train to Florence. We had a true traveling-on-a-budget train experience. We opted for the slower, cheaper train, that took three and a half hours instead of one and a half, but cost only 20 euro compared to 50. We spent the first hour of the ride standing, but luckily after about an hour the train got less crowded and were able to sit. We arrived in Florence around 8:45 p.m., and when we saw a McDonald’s in the train station, we all agreed that it was necessary to satisfy our American craving for a Big Mac. It’s funny because in America I go to McDonald’s maybe once a year, but it just sounded so much better in Italy (maybe it had just been too long since I had eaten a hamburger). I must say it does indeed taste better in America, and is cheaper there, too.
We hopped on another quick train to Lastra a Signa, the closest station to my roommate’s house, where we stayed for the weekend. When we got off the train, there were no taxis waiting, so we went into a bar and asked the lady who worked there if she would call one for us. About fifteen minutes later, this big white van pulls up in front of the bar. We all laughed and joked, “what if that was our taxi?! That would be so funny!” The driver walked into the bar, and it was, indeed our taxi. We joked with the driver and sang along with him to American music on the way to my roommates’s house. About fifteen minutes and 20 euro later, we finally arrived at her house. It was BEAUTIFUL. It had six bedrooms, the comfiest beds, and a pool that overlooked the rolling Tuscan hills. It was the perfect weekend getaway from our tiny apartment in Rome.
We spent all of Friday afternoon under the Tuscan sun by the pool. The air was filled with the sound of various birds and the neighbor’s children playing outside. It was so relaxing. When we realized there was absolutely no food in the house, we walked down the street to the bar and wiped them clean of all of their panini and pizzete (little pizzas). The barista laughed at us, but nothing else (and by that I mean the one grocery store and one restaurant) was open since it was a holiday.
That night we decided to head into Florence for dinner. We walked towards the train station, about a 45-minute walk, but we hoped to catch a bus on the way. Even though Google maps told me there was supposed to be a bus, things were not looking good. When it started to rain, we sat under a covered bus stop and contemplated whether we should walk the rest of the way, or go back to her house. We must have just had amazing luck because the neighbor drove up about a minute later and offered us a ride to the station. Once in Florence, we wandered through the main piazza of the Duomo and across Ponte Vecchio in search of one of my roommates’s favorite restaurants. I insisted on making a stop at the wild boar statue to rub its nose in hope of returning to Florence. This was my third time in Florence, so I figure it must have worked the previous two times! There happened to be a free rock concert in the piazza of the Restaurant. It was an Italian band that we had never heard of, but we joined the crowd and pretended like we knew every word to every song. It was a little bit of a different crowd, seemed to be the hippies of Florence. After a while, the pushing and shoving became a little bit too much, but it was a great adrenaline rush! We had an amazing dinner of calzones, mushroom and truffle pizza, and risotto – well balanced, I know. We went into Florence knowing there was no bus back, so we had to beg a taxi driver to drive us all the way back to the house, which wasn’t hard, but ended up being very expensive.
I woke up at 5:30 Saturday to catch a bus and two trains to Milan. My friend Selene (who lives in Savona, Italy and goes to college in Milan) spent a year studying at my high school my junior year. Selene, her boyfriend and her friend Francesco met me at the Milan central station. In Milan they have an app similar to Car2Go, so we used that to find a car nearby that we could drive to the city center, then leave it parked wherever. It happened to be a cute little fiat 500. We ended up eating at a burger place; I told Selene I had yet to try an Italian hamburger, so she insisted I try one. It wasn’t bad, but it definitely did not compare to an American burger. We ended up sitting at lunch for two hours just catching up. Afterwards, we walked through the main park of Milan and found a spot on the grass to people watch, then walked through the castle, which led to the Duomo. There, we sat on the steps of the statue in the middle of the piazza and people watched some more. There was a guy filming a dance video and children tossing seeds into the air for the pigeons. As I watched tourists take pictures in front of the Duomo, I wondered where they were from, what brought them to Milan, and where else they were traveling to. We saw so much that afternoon, but at the Italian pace, and it was perfect. We headed back to their apartment and I rested before dinner. We made a simple pasta with red sauce, and didn’t end up eating until about 10:30. At around 1am, we went out to the “discoteca” (club) for a night of dancing. It was fun because they played all American music, so we were all able to sing along. Although not everyone speaks English in Italy, I feel like dancing is a common language that allows us all to relate. We didn’t return home until 5am, which it very common in Italy, and ended up sleeping until 2pm the next day.
Although I didn’t spend my last weekend in Rome, well, in Rome, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way with any other people.