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Christmas Holidays Part Two: Italia!

It was a whirlwind ten days after the beginning of break – the day after I left my homestay and visited Wales I went to Italy!  I was really excited because, for those of you who don’t know, my parents are obsessed with Italy and lived there for two years.  I’ve pretty much been hearing about Italian food, language, hand gestures, cities, art, and natural beauty for my whole life.

DAY ONE: When I arrived in the country, I quickly realised that my lack of an Italian vocabulary wouldn’t be a problem.  Basically everyone I talked to spoke English.  This would have annoyed me if I spoke even the slightest bit of Italian or if I were going to be there longer than a week, but as it were it was kind of a practical necessity.  Soon I met up with Lauren (who has been studying there this semester) in Termini, the main train/bus station in Rome.  She brought me to her apartment, and I loved everything about it!  It is in Trastevere, an area of the city which is usually ignored by tourists but is in my opinion the coolest part of Rome (that I saw).  It is made up of winding streets which you will get lost in VERY quickly, it contains beautiful piazzas, and its shops are restaurants are amazing.  If you ever go to Rome, don’t ignore it just because it’s on the other side of the river!!!  Lauren’s apartment itself was really cool too.  It had wooden beams in the ceiling, which I love, and a pretty view of the nice street below.  That night I ate my first Italian pizza, which was as fantastic as the hype made it out to be.

DAY TWO: The next day I tried Italian coffee, full of high hopes because both Lauren and my mom said they didn’t like coffee until they went to Italy.  However, I still found it almost impossible to finish my cup.  Oh well.  It was at this coffee shop that I also made my first attempts at using Italian.  It was basically a fail, but I guess “at least I tried” pretty much sums up that breakfast!

Next Lauren took me to Piazza Navona, a beautiful square in the middle of Rome.  She left me on my own here because she had her own business to take care of, and I went on to see all of the main tourist sights of the city.  First I went to the Pantheon, which was very close by.  This was the beginning of my realisation that I know next to nothing about Roman history, art history, or religious history.  So basically I thought the Pantheon (along with the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, and Piazza del Popolo) were…really pretty.  I actually liked the Trevi Fountain in particular, though.  I know this sounds really weird, but it just seemed…cosy to me or something.  For some reason, it was nicer than I expected because it was squeezed into a little square.  I don’t know.  Just go see it for yourself!  Anyway, after I saw those places I walked back to Piazza Navona where I’d agreed to meet Lauren.  This is when I had my first gelato!  The Kenyon in Rome people (Lauren’s study abroad program) have found a place called Frigidarium which sells the BEST GELATO EVER.  If you go to Rome, you MUST go here!  Then I walked around the area a little with Lauren while she made some purchases.  After relaxing at her apartment for a little while, we then went out to get apertivos.  This means that we went to a restaurant where you buy a drink for eight euros and then get an all-you-can-eat buffet with it.  It was delicious!  I had a glass of white wine and a lot of pasta!  Finally, I got a chocolate cannoli at a different shop.  SO GOOD.

At this point my impression of Rome was that it was crazy (crossing the street was terrifying), dirtier than England, and probably the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen.  You would not believe how small the streets are in which the Italians drive, and everywhere you looked there was a Roman ruin or some kind of incredible architecture.

DAY THREE: The next day I toured what many would say are the main attractions of Rome – the ruins.  First I went to the Colosseum.  It was one of those places which you don’t even think about much because it’s just so famous that you know you will go there, but when you actually see it you get why it’s such a popular tourist spot.  It was very cool and…well, you know about the Colosseum.  Then I walked around the ruins of the palace (which must have been HUGE) and the Roman forum across the street.  I particularly liked the forum.  When I was looking at these places, at first I found myself thinking “this is kind of cool…but it’s also kind of a pile of rocks”.  But then I heard a tour guide saying that all of the brick I was seeing would have been foundations for marble buildings back in Roman times.  Then my imagination really kicked in, and I realised how incredible all of these places would have been in their time.  It was very cool.  Also, it was probably 65 or 70 degrees and sunny – basically paradise if you’re coming from an English winter.

It took me a while to walk around all of the ruins, so that’s basically all I did that day.  At night Lauren and I went to a restaurant in Trastevere where I got DELICIOUS pasta.  I then got a chocolate cannoli.  Oh God, my mouth is watering…what I wouldn’t give for a cannoli right now…

DAY FOUR: Sadly, due to a family crisis Lauren had to leave very early the next morning.  I was a little nervous about being alone in a city where I didn’t speak a word of the language, and I was also a little lonely without Lauren there.  But in any case I took the metro to Vatican City that day and saw the basilica.  It was amazing, but again it contained a lot of art that I didn’t really understand.  I was beginning to understand why my mom always told me to take an art history class before I went to Europe.  Ooops.

I had a lot of time after this before I really wanted to be back in the hostel, so I decided to find a pasta place suggested by my guidebook.  It was dark at this point, my feet were in a TON of pain from walking so much, and it was a bit of a trek.  However, I really didn’t want to go back to the hostel and just sit there.  So I walked in a sort of paranoid mood to the restaurant, only to realise that I had no one to sit with so it would be a bit pathetic to go there.  Instead I got pizza at the place next door, which was decent but not like the other pizza I’d had in Rome.  Then I walked all the way back to Vatican City to get gelato at another place recommended by my book (yes, haha Ciara and Dana).  This gelato wasn’t even as good as Frigidarium, but let me tell you, I had ONE LICK of that gelato and the lonely, stressed, exhausted mood I’d been suffering under was GONE.  Not to use the word magical but…it was kind of magical.  Gelato is amazing like that.

I liked the hostel where I was staying for the most part.  It had all the essentials (along with a BIZARRE toilet.  the flusher was a little metal bit above your head.  I was so confused the first time I tried to use it that I had to ask for help, and though the guy made me feel stupid for asking, NO ONE WOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT BUT AN ITALIAN.).  ANYWAY.  The hostel was great except for the fact that I got placed in a room RIGHT off the lobby and literally right next to the door leading outside.  It was really annoying because you could hear everything going on in the lobby.  It actually didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, though, because people were pretty much quiet after midnight at the latest.  Still, I would have liked another room better.  I liked all of the roommates that I had while I was there.  I stayed in a four bed all women’s room, but there were never more than three people in the room at once.  Actually, I didn’t like EVERY roommate.  The first night there was a girl from Turkey who I bonded with when we both realised that we didn’t want to talk to each other while we weren’t wearing out glasses because we’re both basically blind.  The other girl that night was from China, and she was annoying.  The Turkish girl and I were about to go to sleep when she came in with her computer, complaining about “how she could possibly do anything in the dark room”.  Then she asked the Turkish girl and me to unplug our electronic devices so she could charge her computer.  Annoying.

DAY FIVE: But very early the next morning, 5:45am to be exact, I left them both when I got up to go to Florence.  That’s the city in Tuscany that my parents lived in for half their time in Italy, and I’d heard so much about it that I’d always wanted to go there.  You can take a train to Florence in about an hour and a half, but it’s pretty expensive and I am very poor.  So instead I took the cheapest and longest train ride, which took four hours.  Like I said, though, I really wanted to go.  In retrospect, I definitely don’t regret it.

I got to Florence in the late morning, and my immediate feeling was one of loneliness.  It was slightly depressing going alone to a place I associated with my parents.  Also, the great Italian weather had left with Lauren.  While it wasn’t as cold as England, it was pretty much rainy for the rest of my stay in Italy after she had gone.  However, I really enjoyed the city.  The first thing I saw was the Duomo, the church with the famous Dome in the middle of Florence.  It is extremely impressive on the outside, but honestly the inside was far plainer than the other churches I’d seen in Italy.  After that I went to Piazza della Signoria, where I knew there was a copy of the famous David statue.  I seriously think my mom might be in love with this statue, so I knew I had to see it.  I thought the real one was in the museum behind the fake one, but when I realised I was wrong I found myself wandering the city to figure out where the correct museum was.  In this wandering I found a really cool square with a market in front of a beautiful church.  I really like markets, if you haven’t figured that out already, so I had fun there.  Eventually I did find the museum and the statue.  As usual, I feel like I can’t appreciate famous art as well as I should, but I’m glad I saw it (partially because my mom probably would have disowned me if I hadn’t).

The next part of the day was the one which I was most excited about.  I walked to the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge which my parents also have not stopped talking about since 1985.  It WAS really cool.  It might be my favorite part of Florence.  There are a bunch of jewelry shops ON the bridge – it’s almost like there are little houses on the bridge.  It was very touristy, but I have to say that I loved it.  Then came the moment I’d been waiting for for a very long time – my search for my parents’ old apartment.  Since they talked about the year they lived there so much, I’d always planned to go to Florence during my junior year abroad and find their place.  I definitely found it, and it was really cool to picture my parents walking around on that street about five years before I was born.  (Apparently my parents thought about staying there.  I was almost Italian!!!!  No fair!!)  The Italians in the area gave me funny looks as I snapped pictures of random buildings to show to my parents.

I really liked that side of the river a lot in general.  It’s more residential, and it definitely felt homier.  I walked past a museum of a family estate that I really wanted to go into but didn’t want to pay for.  Then I experienced another one of my favorite parts of the trip – as the sun was setting, I climbed high up on the hill on my parents’ side of the river to Piazzale Michaelangelo, which is actually a parking lot.  But it’s the most scenic parking lot ever.  Seriously, the view of Florence was probably one of the coolest city views I’ve ever seen.  It’s either that or New York from the Empire State Building.

The rest of my Florence visit was basically me wandering around the city.  I probably shouldn’t have taken the 6:45am train – because I was too cheap to pay for the myriad of art museums in Florence, I had a couple extra hours there.  Florence is a beautiful city so it was nice to roam a bit, but honestly it would have been more fun with a friend.  I got a nice dinner of pizza and a little pastry, and then eventually I returned to Rome.

When I got back to the hostel both the Turkish and the Chinese girls were gone, and in the other bed there was a mysterious sleeper.

DAY SIX: In the the morning the other girl left before I could meet her.  When I got up, I didn’t really know what to do.  I know it seems silly – I was in Rome, after all.  It’s just that I’d seen the main sights and I don’t know enough about art to truly enjoy some of the other more random things that Rome has to offer.  But Lauren had suggested that I visit Villa Borghese, which is a large park with various ruins, galleries, and ponds in it.  It was pretty, but I was again feeling kind of lonely and bored.  Generally I was just getting very excited to go back to England, since I felt like I’d seen everything I wanted to see in Rome and Florence.  I was also getting sick of not knowing the language of the country, and sick of the general disorder of Italian cities.  But when I went back to the hostel, absolutely exhausted from walking and lack of sleep, the Mysterious Sleeper was in the room and awake.

It turns out that her name was Kathleen, and we bonded right away.  We were both pretty tired, so we just hung out in the room for a while and talked.  It turns out that she was an American WWOOFing in Ireland in her year after graduating college.  I decided to take her to Trastevere when she said she hadn’t had that good of food in Rome!  Little did we know that the evening would turn out to be a bit of an adventure.

As we were walking to dinner, Kathleen suddenly pointed ahead of us at the PREMIER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.  Like…the red carpet premier!  It was strongly reminiscent of my 2010 Leicester Square Salt premier experience in London with my host sister from the farm.  We managed to squeeze to the front, right up against the barrier, and one of the female stars (not Rachel McAdams, unfortunately) and (I think) the villain were there.  I didn’t recognise them, but I did recognise ROBERT DOWNEY JR.  It was so random, and so great!  However, I was extremely disappointed to find out that Jude Law, who I consider to be one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen, was not there.  I had actually started to feel faint when I thought I might see him.  Not exaggerating.

When the stars were all inside, Kathleen and I moved on toward Trastevere.  We were chatting as we walked and suddenly this young guy walking ahead of us suddenly said “you speak English?”  It turned out that he was on leave from the American military and had decided to come to Rome.  He said that he was on he way to an Irish pub someone had recommended to him.  We talked with him for a little while, and then parted ways.  However, after crossing the streets a few times we ran into him again.  We laughed a little and then moved on, but then it happened AGAIN.  This time he asked us if we were meeting up with people, and Kathleen said no and invited him to join us.  So with this addition to our party we finally made our way to Trastevere.  We found a restaurant, and Kathleen and I ordered water and pasta.  The guy, however (who’s name was Wes), meant to order a glass of wine but accidentally got a whole bottle.  He also ordered no dinner, but instead just some kind of gourmet ice cream with a filling and sugar encrusted on the outside!  Oh and also, he drank a glass of the wine before proceeding to drink the rest OUT OF THE BOTTLE.  Himself.  It was very odd.  But it was fine.  We were on a windy side street that we couldn’t remember how we’d got to, eating pasta and listening to a guy playing the accordion in the square behind us, so our lives were basically a movie.

Things got slightly weirder, however, when I went to Lauren’s apartment to borrow a towel from the people still staying there (the hostel didn’t have any and I didn’t bring one).  It turns out none of them were there, but their new guests (also from my school at home), Colleen and Marty, popped their heads out of the window.  Wes had gone off to examine some small art gallery and said he’d meet up for gelato later, so Kathleen and I went up into the apartment.  We chatted to the Kenyon students for a while, and by the time we finally went downstairs with the towel Wes had gone.  We finally got gelato and went back to the hostel, where we found a new roommate sleeping.

What a night!

DAY SEVEN: I spent my last full day in Italy with Kathleen and the other people we met at the hostel.  In the morning she wanted to find some sights where some of her favorite authors had lived and worked, so we walked around trying to find those for a while.  We also went into some designer stores near the Spanish steps just for fun, and I tried on some shoes at Prada.  After some AMAZING ravioli for lunch, we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel.  I know this is ridiculous, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the ceiling there and the other amazing ceilings I’d seen in Rome.  However, I thought that Vatican Museum in general was really cool.  It was kind of set up like a house – there were different ways you could tour it as though you were just wandering someone’s opulent home, and the pieces were set up almost like decoration rather than exhibits.

After seeing the Vatican Museum, I brought Kathleen to Frigidarium to spread the word about its deliciousness.  We then made our way back to the hostel as it grew dark.  At this point my feet were KILLING ME, and I was sick of being a tourist and wandering around cities.  Unfortunately, however, I had to return the borrowed towel to Trastevere, which was a long walk in the direction I’d just came from.  I also had meant to buy a present for someone at Piazza Navona, which I had idiotically neglected to do when we were RIGHT NEXT TO IT at Frigidarium.  So, I got directions to a bus which the woman behind the desk at the hostel told me would take me very close to Piazza Navona.  For whatever reason, the bus went in the opposite direction and I found myself in a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  This was fine because I knew how the metro worked (the Roman metro is actually really simple, with only two lines), but somehow I managed to go the wrong way and end up at a really creepy DESERTED station.  I immediately got on the next train back toward the center of the city cursing the evening and sick of not being able to speak English.  I got off at the Colosseum, which was the closest (but not close) stop to Piazza Navona.  I bought the gift, returned the towel, and took a bus back to Termini and the hostel.  Sadly, when I arrived I had missed the free pizza night the hostel does on Mondays, but I bought a piece instead and collapsed into a chair in the restaurant.  Kathleen introduced me to two American girls studying in Ireland, and we went with our roommate (a French girl named Sarah) and this random middle-aged Italian photographer she’d bonded with to get a mediocre dessert at a restaurant next door.

At first I was planning to stay in the hostel for the rest of the night, but when everyone else went for a walk I couldn’t resist.  An Australian guy staying in the other American girls’ room came along too.  We walked to the Trevi Fountain, which was cool to see at night, and I threw an additional two coins into the fountain (I’d thrown one in the first time I’d gone there).  Apparently throwing one behind your left shoulder gets you a return to Rome, two brings you a boyfriend, and three gets you marriage.  So…did I throw in two or three?  It’s hard to say, but being a romantic I’ll take either.  The group then moved on to Piazza Navona (so I was back AGAIN), but they were going to see the Christmas market I’d already seen on my first day.  I was also not interested in seeing the Colosseum at night, since in my epic lostness I’d managed to see that too (my dad later told me that he once leapt a fence at 1:00am and went INTO the Colosseum???).  Plus I was way too tired to enjoy anything at this point, so I took the bus back to Termini and the hostel AGAIN.

That’s pretty much it!  I was excited to return to England the next day, though I definitely loved my trip to Italy.  I am now working at a clothing store called River Island, and I am looking forward to visiting some people,travelling the UK a little, and going shopping (!).  But that’s a post for another day; this one is certainly long enough.

Now that I’m all caught up on blogging, I will soon get some sleep!

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