As soon as December hit I knew I had just over two weeks to make the most out of my remaining time in Europe and I knew that I wanted to spend my last weekend abroad in Valencia, so that left me with one weekend left to travel. After countless weekends of travel all over Europe (an unreal feat that will only hit me once I get back Stateside), coming to the realization that one excursion remained was rather shocking. That being said I knew exactly where I wanted to go, Florence. For some reason, and I have no idea why, this city had been on my list of places to visit the entire semester. I was able to gather a group of 8 close friends who were all thinking the same thing, “one weekend of travel left? Let’s do it big.” The plan was put into motion and a day later I had my tickets booked for Italy. Cities featured on this trip: Pisa, Florence, and Rome.
The first week of December absolutely flew by with our excitement for Italy and before we knew it we were crammed into our small seats on a RyanAir plane ready to take off. Just under two hours later we landed in Pisa raring to go and immediately hopped a bus to go see the tower, you know, the one that leans. We had already booked our bus into Florence so we had about a four hour gap to get to the tower, take your typical touristy pictures, grab lunch, and get to the main bus station.
As we were riding along the bus we were distracted by the beautiful Pisa sights…well actually Pisa doesn’t really have much to offer so we were just chatting until we stopped and some local said, “Tower. Now.” We hopped out of the bus and walked a few minutes until we saw it. Prior to laying my own eyes on it I wasn’t very convinced that it could be leaning that much, but wow. The degree of this tower just does not seem to add up. I still can’t wrap my head around how this tower seems to ignore the law of physics. After taking three pictures and waiting an hour for the girls to create a massive portfolio of every pose imaginable we made our way to a quiet restaurant. We sat down and ordered shortly after, pizza and wine for everyone. For the next four days there was a theme of pizza, pasta, and red wine for everyone. Not the worst order.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The first of many pizzas
That night we made our way into Florence. Our apartment was a 20 minute walk from the bus station so we took that opportunity to get some fresh air and see a little bit of this city. From the first minute, my standards were through the roof and Florence did not disappoint. Five minutes later we were walking past the massive Duomo, lit up by a full moon.
The Duomo in Florence
A side view
A little tired from all the travel in one day we decided to sit down for dinner. This was the best dinner I have had all semester, and not just because of the amazing food. Somehow we decided to go around the table telling our favorite three memories of our time abroad and then raising a glass to it. All of the memories from the entire semester came back and we spent hours laughing with one another. I am truly thankful for the friends I have found this semester and I know I am going to keep in touch with every one of them.
My friends: A little dysfunctional, but that’s nothing new.
We all woke up the next day and while the girls were taking their time getting ready the guys were making plans: Duomo, City Center, Michelangelo’s David, Ponte Vecchio (Bridge), and finishing the day by looking over Florence as the sun set with a marvelous view thanks to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The entire time we were walking around the city I had a huge smile on my face. Looking back on it, I can easily say that Florence is one of the best cities I have ever visited. I love that place and I want to go back ASAP! Here are some pictures to give you a glimpse into the beauty I was seeing at every stop:
The daytime face of the Duomo
The copy of Michelangelo’s David statue that stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
The view off the Ponte Vecchio
Florence at almost sunset
Me in Florence. What a view!
Unfortunately, we were only in Florence for a day and a half. Fortunately, our next stop was Rome. We took a three hour train into the city of Rome and took a short metro stop to our apartment. By now, traveling had become second nature. The feeling of getting into a completely new city and figuring your way around it is liberating. That night we took an initial visit to the Colosseum and saw the impressive building in all its glory. The Colosseum lit up in the evening is a special sight. We proceeded to walk around the city for a long time and found our way into a church, the Pantheon, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (random, I know, but a very impressive building), as well as the Spanish steps. Dinner? You guessed it: Pizza.
The Colosseum in the evening
The organist in this church was playing Christmas music!
The Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
Early Sunday morning we found out just how close we were to the Vatican City by walking 20 yards from our front door and passing through the Vatican Wall. Walking into the main plaza (Piazza San Pietro – St Peter’s Square) of the Vatican we found ourselves in the midst of hundreds of people. At first we thought this was a normal occurrence on Sunday, then we were informed that in 30 minutes the Pope was going to address everyone. What luck! Needless to say, we stayed put and shortly after the Pope appeared from a window. He was speaking in Italian so I wasn’t able to pick up on much (I thought Italian and Spanish were more similar than they are) but I did understand a few things!
St. Peter’s Square
Seeing the Pope in person must have drained our resources of luck because we soon found out that everything in the Vatican Mueseum was closed because of a holiday. That meant no Sistine Chapel…! After a minute of sulking we rebounded by heading back to the Colosseum to actually go inside the building (we watched Gladiator the night before and were in the mood to get an even closer look). Our luck came back to us with free admittance. Without a doubt the Colosseum meets up to its hype.
The interior of the Colosseum
Me (far right) with my friends at the Colosseum
That was a very brief overview of my four day trip to Italy. There was a lot more that I got around to (including an impromptu dance party at a random book store in Florence) but I can’t include everything or this would turn into a thesis length blog post. Everything in Italy was amazing and Florence lived up to everything I had hoped for. That was one of my favorite excursion, thanks to great company and beautiful cities. I can’t wait to get back to Italy.
As I write this I am trying to get my head around the fact that I only have about a week left in Valencia. Everything is starting to feel very bittersweet because we are trying to do as much as possible, knowing that we don’t have much time left in Europe. Valencia has become a home for me and I do not think I am ready to leave it just yet. I will be enjoying this week to the fullest but I know my next blog post will be very difficult to write. Now I’m going to go play fútbol with my little host brother!