I’ve been everywhere, man

Many things have happened since my last update, so I’ll try and sum it up in a succinct, less rambling way.

Here’s where I’ve gone since my last update:

On the 23rd of May, my roommates and I went to Cinque Terre for a day through the Bus2Alps program. This particular program attracted me because it was the cheapest advertised, and when we went to actually sign up, it was even cheaper due to promotional codes. For 19 euros, we got transportation to and from Cinque Terre in a private bus, a train ticket to travel between the five towns, entrance into the national park, and the wonderful company of our guides.

armband

I have to say, it was probably the best 19 euros I have spent while here. The bus ride was maybe two hours and once we arrived, we got on the train and traveled to the first town. There wasn’t much to do there, but the sights from that one town was enough.

town1

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townselfie

We unfortunately had to miss the next two towns, as our train was cancelled.

The next town was lovely, and that’s where we ate lunch. I’m not a particular fan of sea food (otherwise known as frutti de mare, or the “fruit of the sea”) but I was told it was to die for. I had a panino, and it was pretty good. There was also an antique car show going on, and we saw this

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Then we started our hike.

They will try to fib you off with “it’s kinda strenuous”. It is “kinda strenuous” in the way that a hurricane is “kinda windy”. It is brutal for the first 45 minutes. Hundreds of steep, uneven stone steps litter the first stretch. I had to stop about eight times (probably more) in the first half hour to catch my breath (guess who doesn’t go to the gym that often… heh). After that, I did not feel one iota of guilt about the huge margarita I was inevitably going to be drinking on the beach. I probably could have had five of those before I equalled out the caloric output we went through to get to the top of that hike. It was the P90X of nature.

Anyways, I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely worth it. I don’t care how out of shape you are. It doesn’t matter if it takes you three hours, go do it. I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen something so beautiful in my entire life. It it wasn’t number one, it was definitely in the top five. If I wasn’t already out of breath, it would have taken my breath away.

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hike2

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The last part of the hike is still physically demanding, but not nearly as much. Me, Ms. Susie Couch Potato, had no problem with the last part.

The hike ends on the beach, and let me tell you, we were ready for it. It was a pretty hot day, and the water was refreshingly cold. I kicked back and enjoyed the splendid scene unfolding around me.

The bus ride back home was quiet, probably because we all passed out from exhaustion.

In conclusion, any student who studies abroad MUST go on this trip. It was cheaper than some of the pasta dishes you can buy here in Florence and it was ineffably beautiful, not to mention quite a lot of fun. Bus2Alps, once again, delivers.

My next big trip was the adventure to Roma the second weekend of our semester.

I felt almost detached from reality walking through the city. This is the kind of thing you hear about, and I’m seeing it first hand. Everything is incomprehensibly old. You hear about these things being 2,000 years old and it’s easy to say to yourself “yeah, okay, I get it” but when you’re standing there staring at it, it is so difficult to wrap your head around the concept. There are 7 billion people in this world and not one of them has a great great great grandmother that was old enough to see these things built. It got me to thinking that, in essence, we’re viewing all of this in a almost nonsensical way. In some way, these ruins are just the same as any mountain or stretch of land. We stare at these old relics in wonder, yet, we don’t stare at ourselves with wonder, nor the dirt that we tread on. Our bodies, the dirt, the earth around us and those ruins are made up of things that existed when the universe was only a flicker. What, really, is the difference between ourselves and those ruins? Why don’t we view ourselves with the same amount of awe?

Things got pretty existential on this trip.

Our first day was spent at the Vatican. It was a very long tour and by the end of it, I felt like a zombie. The radio system our tour guide was using was on the fritz that day, and combined with the enormous number of people, it got a little uncomfortable towards the end. The Sistine Chapel made our zombie shuffle worth it, though. I wish I had been able to take a picture, not because I wanted a picture of the art on the ceiling, but because our faces were all hilarious. We all looked approximately like this.

birds

After that, though, were all pretty happy for the tour to end, truth be told.

Our hotel was interesting, to say the least. The four of us got one key. Without the key, you couldn’t even turn the lights on in the room. You had to slip the key in this little slot by the door, and only then could you turn on the lights. The room was pretty clean and functional in every way it needed to be. Whenever you wanted to leave, you’d have to turn the key in at the front desk.

The complimentary breakfast was nice. Good coffee, fresh pears and peaches, cereal, eggs, thinly sliced meat and cheese, fruit juices, yogurt, croissants, danishes, it was all delicious.

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The dinners we were provided through the program were okay. Not the best food I’ve had in Italy, but not the worst either.

The location was less than ideal. We were far away from pretty much everything. The bus, or a taxi, was necessary to see the heart of the city. One of our hotels was above a strip club, and apparently Saturday nights are the nights that the strip club is a happening place.

The next day was the Coliseum. Have you ever heard someone talking about something and making a big deal about it and you get this inflated expectation, only to be kind of let down by the real thing? Well, that’s kind of how the Coliseum was for me. I expected it to be, I don’t know, more colossal. It was still awe inspiring, don’t get me wrong, but people made it out to be so much larger than it actually was. And I didn’t realize that the majority of what’s standing isn’t what the original was made of. The majority of the structure is brick and mortar, which was added as an attempt at restoration many years after the Coliseum was originally built. Still cool, but a bit of a let down.

coli

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The rest of the tour was spent meandering through the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Imperial Forum, and Capitol Hill. I greatly enjoyed this tour, 1) because I could actually hear our guide and 2) because it was enriched with a multitude of fascinating stories.

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We ended the tour at Venezia, where we were given free time. My friends and I ate at The Glass, which I would highly recommend. It had great lunch deals and the pizza was delicious.

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Afterwards, we wandered around the city. There are plenty of shopping opportunities. Piazza Venezia is surrounded by hundreds of different shops ranging from small mom and pops to global stores like H&M. I broke down and bought this jacket for myself at a tiny shop right off of the Piazza.

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That night, we had another acceptable meal through the university. Afterwards, we took the bus out to the downtown and went out. We went to a small bar called the Ice Club. This place is exactly what it sounds like; the entire bar is made out of ice, from the bar table, to the walls, even to the glasses! For 15 euros, you get in, you get a parka, and two free really good drinks (if you bring a map with you and show it to the guy at the front desk). I highly recommend this experience.

ice ice baby

It’s not the only bar in the city, obviously. If you’re feeling homesick, there’s an American bar called Sloppy Sam’s on the west side of the city. The sign says it all.

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Our third and final day was spent at the Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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trevi

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steps

We ended our day in Piazza Venezia, where we walked back to our busses, boarded, and got on our way back to Florence.

I was going to go into the more domestic aspects of my last two weeks, but this post has gotten rather long and I think I need to start updating more frequently, so next time, which will hopefully be sooner than the last two times, I’ll let you in on the little secrets and mundane aspects of Florentine life.

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