Back from a week of running around Italy and feeling like I better write about it quickly so I don’t forget any of the good stories! I’ve heard so much about Italy, especially Florence since Gonzaga has a program there in which many of my friends have participated. It’s really nice to see what life is like for them in Firenze and have a better understanding of a place that has impacted so many of my friends. However, I didn’t immediately fall in love with Italy. Some people seem to love everything about it: the language, the food (ok, I admit I LOVED the food!!), the Italian attitude, the crazy driving, etc. At first it took a little adjusting (for instance, why do the Italians always act like you’re annoying them? For some reason it’s a problem when you hand them a 10 Euro bill when something costs 5 Euros. They give you the disgusted look and saying something like “Don’t you have anything smaller? Coins?!” I’m not sure why that’s a problem). Anyway… but by the end of the week I had a good feel for it and really enjoyed my time there. Rick Steves was my best friend on the trip, I took him everywhere with me and sometimes referred to him on a first name basis. I usually said something like, “Oh that’s the main square in Siena. Yeah, Rick said that it’s the best square in all of Italy!” Thank you, Rick. Italy in a nutshell went something like this: I ate gelato everyday I was there, splurged on a couple of really good meals, saw a lot of churches and art, made it to a total of four different places, saw some GU friends and even managed to find the sun at the end of the week!
For a more detailed version keep reading! After a full day in Florence on Tuesday, Lucas and I took the train to Siena for the afternoon on Wednesday. Siena, along with Pisa, competed with Florence back in the day to be the best city. Florence won, so Siena is a lot smaller and more of a Tuscan town, than a larger Tuscan city like Florence. It’s built on a huge hill, with curvy little streets and no sidewalks and you just wander your way around to all the different shops. I went to the Duomo there, which, as Rick said, has a “busy interior.” It was pretty intense with art everywhere, frescoes on the walls and really intricate mosaic floors. But after my twentieth church visit in Italy (ok, maybe it was only my fifth church visit), I realized that when they were built it was just a big competition to see who could build the prettiest and biggest church. And now they serve as tourist attractions with annoying entrance fees and have very little community involvement or congregation. They seem to lack what makes up the church—PEOPLE! Kind of sad when you think about. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but when contrasting those churches with the church plants and “mega” churches that are popping up all over the U.S. it’s just interesting to consider the change and differences in churches. Something to ponder…
Anyway, Siena was cute, but after wandering for a half day I had seen most of it. Oh, I can’t forget that Siena is where St. Catherine is from, so one of the churches there has her shriveled up thumb in a glass case and her head on the altar of one of the side chapels… awkward and a little gross. Moving on . . . Thursday morning I got up and toured some places around Florence, the Pitti Palace and connecting Bobeli Gardens, the Baptistry outside the Duomo, Church of San Croche, wandered some of the street markets. Then once Lucas was done with class for the day, we hopped on the train and went to Cinque Terre, fives towns on the Northern coast. I had also heard a lot about it because Gonzaga takes students there on a weekend trip, and it did not disappoint!! In fact, I think Cinque Terre and Chamonix are in a tie for my two favorite places I’ve been so far. Makes sense, one is mountains, the other ocean and when growing up in Seattle how could I not be naturally attracted to those places?! There is a beautiful seven mile trail along the coast that connects all the towns. There are spectacular views and I experienced sunshine and warm weather!! I even wore a tank top simply because I could, and I hadn’t experienced such warm sun in probably six months. It was amazing!! There was a minor train issue on the way there with it stopping at a station about fifteen minutes away from our destination and shutting down. There was a significant amount of yelling in Italian before we had any idea what was going on, and since we were out of the main tourist zone there wasn’t any English, so we hopped off like everyone else and had to wait about an hour to catch the next one coming through in the same direction. Lucas laughed while I watched nervously. If there was yelling like that in the U.S. someone would have started to throw punches, but instead the Italians just wanted to yell, perhaps simply for the sake of yelling. It all worked out though, so Lucas and I got in on Thursday night to Monterosso, the northern-most town and went to a great seafood restaurant. It’s important to note that this is the region of Italy where pesto originates. So of course we had a HUGE plate of pesto pasta that was phenomenal (Dad, you would have been so proud!) and some local seafood. I’m hungry just thinking about it again.
On Friday morning we got up, packed up and started our hike through the other towns. The second town Vernazza was probably my favorite, but they are all perched on the steep hillsides and go right down into the beautiful blue/green water. While we sat in the sun eating a blood orange (very tasty and popular in Italy), we met a woman named Karen from Boston when she offered to take our picture. She was very friendly, and we sat and talked with her for a while and learned that she had moved to Italy to be a chef for a few months. Since we still had three other towns to get to, we said goodbye and kept hiking. So after some gelato (of course), a little nap in the sun and some more hiking we made it to the last town. As we walked through the tunnel leading us to the shops and restaurants, someone from behind yelled at us and came running up. It was Karen! Lucas and I were both incredibly confused why anyone in Cinque Terre would be trying to get our attention, but she had taken the train and made it to the last town in the same time that we had hiked the whole thing. She was obviously just really grateful to talk to some friendly Americans in English so we ended up going and having a couple glasses of wine with her at the end of the day. Pretty sure we learned her life story, laughed quite a lot actually, and enjoyed the sunset from the deck of the wine bar. Not bad at all… in fact, it was spectacular. The whole day of good weather, being on the coast, hiking, seeing cute towns, meeting random people and eating good food made it without a doubt one of my favorite days of traveling so far!!
Unfortunately, we had planned to head back to Florence on Friday night and though Karen tried to talk us into staying another day and we probably could have found a place, we headed back to Florence that evening. On Saturday morning I went to the Uffizi and saw many of the must-see pieces of art in Florence. Then my friend Molly from GU, who has been studying in Munich all year, arrived in Florence to visit! I hadn’t seen her since last May and it was so great to hang out again!! We grabbed some lunch (my third time having gnocchi, so good!!) and then took advantage of the good weather by taking a bus out of the Florence city center, up to the overlooking hills and went for a little hike/wander. I can’t completely call it a hike because, though it was a hike for a while, we didn’t make it to the other town we were supposed to and ended up following the road back to where we started. But there were some really incredible views of postcard perfect Tuscany. As Lucas said, we were under the Tuscan sun, how cute 😛 At one point when we lost the trail (the guidebook was a little vague), we found what we thought was the continuation of it, so we headed down a pretty heavily wooded path for about a minute until three Italian police officers came walking up. The didn’t really speak English, but suggested through a few words and hand gestures that we not go that way. They didn’t seem overly concerned about it, but they said something that sounded like there was an “auto bomb” down the path, and since we really had no idea what they were talking about, we decided to turn around. Ha, it was actually really funny. We weren’t ever really in danger at all, but we just laughed at how absurd it sounded, and then guessed at what might actually be down the “auto bomb” path. Of course, we had another good dinner, saw a few more GU people in Florence, went to church at the Duomo Sunday morning and then had to get on the train to head back to Rome to catch my flight. This is when I experienced one of the craziest travel encounters I’ve had so far: I got on the train in Florence and was randomly assigned a seat. I ended up sitting next to a woman who lives near Mt. Vernon, WA. We talked the whole way to Rome (about an hour and a half, Annie- I’m telling you, you have to start talking to strangers, it’s so fun!!) and found out that she is the aunt of one of the girls I played soccer with on Queen Anne. When she said she had family that lived on Queen Anne I just knew there had to be some connection… and of course there was. I probably haven’t heard of that family in 10 years since they moved away, but I definitely remember them and it was highly entertaining to share stories. Another great random encounter, makes traveling so fun! Finally made it back to London after a two hour delay on my flight. I flew into the new Terminal 5 here at Heathrow, which is kind of a big deal since it just opened three days ago and had some serious baggage issues in the beginning. My host dad works for British Airways dealing with the ground crews, so he’s had quite a busy week. But I managed to get my bag without too much trouble and see some of the new terminal (not the same for some of my classmates who had canceled flights!). Hard to believe spring break has come and gone and now I’m onto the second half of the semester! I’m really glad to be back in London. I realized while I was away how much I do like it here. I don’t necessarily want to jump back into classes… but that’s another story 🙂 Paris this weekend with Devan, but after that I’ll be traveling mostly in the UK for the rest of my time abroad. More to come. Thanks for sharing in the adventures with me!! Better get some sleep now after all this running around, Much love!