Week 14: December 3rd-Decmeber 9th

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That’s a wrap. Our internships were over and the week was empty so to speak. In this lapse in activity, there was only one thing to do: go to Italy. Our rather rushed agenda led us to plan everything loosely. We planned out our residences and flights and trains in advance, but the other stuff was more “on the fly” so to speak. A lot less regimented than our Paris trip, but we were alright with that.

Armed with dinner from Pret a Manger and a Running Magazine, we awaited our evening flight to Rome. Despite our lack of research, the trip from the airport to Termini in Rome and then to our hotel was painless. It may only have been an hour difference in terms of time zones, but it still took getting used to. We knew we had to rest up before our big day ahead of us.

The next morning, the first challenge was ordering breakfast from a cafe. Oh boy. Breakfast was an oddity in Italy. We ate in a self-service type bar. I thought America would be the nation to advocate for a stand-up breakfast, but Italy beat us to the punch. We then went out on a sightseeing bus to our first destination: the Colosseum. Home of the gladiators, horrid deaths and some of the steepest stairs in Europe. Our biggest question at this destination concerned the ground level of the venue. Was it some type of support system or was it some type of underground network from a conspiracy novel?

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Our second stop of the day was Citta Del Vaticano, a private entity of religion, architecture, and artistry. After waiting in a short line, we entered the beautiful basilica…for free. Every turn in the basilica featured a massive fresco, marble sculpture, or something to make you do a double take. The gold-clad intricacies were enough to make your head spin. We were even able to purchase holy water from the Vatican! While in the vicinity, we decided to go to the Vatican Museums to see the Sistine Chapel. You could have probably guessed that no pictures were allowed. While we respected the art and the rules of the museum, others weren’t so keen. Countless amounts of people tried to sneak pictures of this masterpiece. It was despicable to see people Instagram-ing the Sistine Chapel with their iPhones and iPads.

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Shaking off the shame for the actions of fellow tourists, we then set out from the trifecta: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. First, we would like to state that the signage in Italy is poor. Even though we had a map and rather decent sense of direction, we still struggled to find some of our points of interest. We overcame this setback by finding the Trevi Fountain with no problem. The most exciting part of this particular hunt was hearing the fountain from a few blocks away. It was wild to see how they transformed the entire back of a building into a beautiful fountain that towers above all who stand in its shadow. After this success, we scanned the map and set out for the Spanish Steps. This was another episode of poor signage and getting a little lost. Regardless of the time spending finding it, we made it. We would have missed it too if we didn’t see all of the camera flashes below us. This success led us to our final destination before dinner: the Pantheon. We found it without any trouble, but its exterior was less than…appealing. The exterior looked beaten up by the elements, but the interior impressed us. Pristine walls and ceilings surrounded us. Even the perfectly round hole in the domed roof looked fake because it was so pristine.

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Our second day in Rome also marked our last day in Rome because our train to Florence left a little after lunch. In the mean time, we took the liberty of checking out of our hotel and absorbing as much culture as we could before departing. Without question, this lead us to the Roman Forum. Our ticket to the Colosseum also got us into the Forum without a further charge. Needless to say, as students, we were thrilled not to pay more. We wandered around the lower level and snapped our obligatory pictures of the ruins and wondering what once stood there. As we meandered back towards the Colosseum, we noticed paths leading to a whole other area. Upon reaching the peak of this hill, we were confronted by the Stadium. There is no other way to describe it than grandiose and thought provoking. All of the historical sights that we saw in Rome simply floored us and we made it back to the train station to Florence still in awe.

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Only a short train ride transported us though the scenic Italian countryside to Florence, or Firenze as the locals call it. With our overstuffed backpacks and naiveté, we walked from the train station to our hostel with directions printed from Google Maps. KJ was a great navigator and we found it without any problems. We were happy that Florence is small enough to walk everywhere. After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we walked back to the epicenter of the city: Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore…or Il Duomo for short. Not only did we visit the interior of the Basilica and walk laps around its decorative exterior, but we ascended all 463 steps to the top of the dome. YES. 463 narrow, old, decrepit, cold, steep steps to salvation: a view of the entire city. It was worth it. Seeing the city from that angle was priceless because no other buildings match Il Duomo in height. We could see straight over the building tops to the mountains.

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On the whole, Florence was much more relaxed than Rome because of the lack of congestion and less crucial points of interest. We were able to see Michelangelo’s original “David” on our second morning in Florence. Once again, we struggled with the pains of seeing (mainly American) tourists taking pictures of this beautiful masterpiece with their phones and degrading its integrity with Instagram. After this, we walked to the Palazzo Pitti Firenze and Giardino di Boboli across the river. Here, we met the most friendly cat ever. This little ball of fur curled up in both of our laps and let us pet her. We decided that it was a she and she made for some great photo-ops. The gardens were HUGE. We trudged up the inclines and carefully descended the declines to reach beautiful views of the city. It was all too grandiose to be able to take in at the moment. We rounded out our stay with some mindless browsing and enjoying the views from Ponte Vecchio.

On this trip, we learned a few things: trust your instincts, walk as much as possible, don’t say “i’ll see it some other time,” and that salvation can be found in a proper Caprese sandwich with San Pellegrino Aranciata. Italy, we love you and we’ll be back soon.

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