Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Italy

Oh Italy, I don't know if it was the food, the wine, or the people, but you had a way of making me feel so at home. You were new and exciting, with so much to see, do, and explore, and yet I felt like I had known you my entire life. The ability to be just that, a new place, and yet so familiar, is quite the special quality to possess, and you had it Italy, oh did you have it.

Italy was a country I was really looking forward to visiting before my trip had even begun. In all honesty I was most excited for the food more than anything else (ha), and although the food was most definitely the best of the entire trip, Italy had some other pleasant surprises waiting for me. Because we were hitting three major cities, Venice, Rome, & Florence, we ended up spending about a full week in Italy. Considering all the places we visited over the month, spending an entire week, out of four, in one country was such a bonus. In doing so, I really felt like I got a feel for the culture, more so than in other countries where we only stayed a few days at most.

All in all, it didn't take me long at all to fall head over heels for Italy. As I said before, it felt like a familiar place I had known my entire life. I think it would be near impossible to not love this wonderful country. I'm not sure my words can even come close to doing Italy justice, but I will give it my best shot! Grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) and get ready for how I spent a week in Italy. Enjoy!


VENICE



Venice was our first destination in Italy, however technically our first stop was in Verona. On our way from Switzerland we stopped for the afternoon to explore the city that was made famous by Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet'. Although our time there was short, we spent it window shopping, wandering the streets, and having the first of what would be many gelatos! 

We stayed a bit outside of Venice, in the seaside town of Lido de Jeselo. Our hotel was literally right on the beach, which was just amazing and allowed for watching the sunrise and possibly a moonlight dip in the Adriatic sans clothing! Checked both of those off my bucket list! My favorite part of the location of our hotel was being able to fall asleep each night to the sound of ocean. I would sit outside on the balcony before I went to sleep and just listen to the waves crashing on the shore. It was one of the many small moments throughout the trip that made my heart so very happy and reminded me how extremely lucky I was. 

Venice itself was incredible - the fact that an entire city exists on small islands separated by canals is just amazing. We had a walking tour around the city and saw all the major landmarks - Piazza San Marco, St. Marks Basilica, and the Grand Canal. After the tour we got a glass blowing demonstration,  as hand blown glass products are a specialty of Venice. Unfortunately the day we spent in Venice was probably the worst weather we had the entire month, and we spent the day trying to stay as dry as we could as it down poured outside. Despite the weather, we made the most of it - you can't complain when you're in a beautiful new city! Of course, when in Venice you have to go on a gondola ride through the canals, so we did just that. It was amazing winding through the canals, and it really gave you a different perspective of Venice. To dry off and then try to stay dry we spent the majority of the rest of the day sitting in a restaurant drinking cappuccinos and wine, and just enjoying each other's company. It was wonderful.

On our last night in Venice, we headed to a family run winery outside of the city for a wine tasting. I was under the assumption that it was going to be just that, a wine tasting, but it was so much more than that. It honestly ended up being one of my favorite nights of the entire trip and left me with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. Not only did we get to taste many delicious wines, but we got a full home cooked meal, and the father of the vineyard sang Italian opera to us. I felt as if I had been welcomed into their home, and I couldn't help but feel as if I was a part of their family. It was such a wonderful night. I left with a happy heart and three bottles of wine (!) - which miraculously made it home to the States intact!

Venezia, I will be back for you and your mysterious charm, and I can't wait to get lost exploring your streets again. Thank you for the many memories I took away from you - I promise I won't forget any of them!


ROME




     
 



Rome felt like taking a trip back in time, while also having modern luxuries at your fingertips - the best of both worlds if you ask me! I honestly had no expectations out of Rome like I did from other cities on this trip, and I think that made the city that much sweeter to explore. We started off our time in Rome with a moonlight walking tour through the city. Seeing the city lit up at night was even better than during the day - it was just that much more romantic and beautiful. Some highlights of that tour included seeing the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. Oh and of course a quick stop for gelato, which was the best I've ever had! After we headed to dinner at a spot recommended by our tour guide and had not only a delicious meal, but a great time. Lets just say that Italians are very generous and down for a good time! Since it was a Saturday night and we were in Rome, we found the most perfect bar to grab a few drinks at afterwords. We met a few locals and spent the remainder of the evening talking to them and then dancing the night away. It was the most perfect way to kick off our stay in Roma.

When in Rome, the Colosseum is a must see, and we started off our second day in the city exploring the inside of it in complete awe. It is absolutely amazing that something so old has stood the test of time, and it's even more amazing that I was able to stand in the same exact structure that the ancient Romans did. Since the Roman Forum was right next door, we headed there after the Colosseum, and once again, I was blown away by the history and the longevity of some of the structures. We were so lucky to have a really great tour guide who explained the history and what it would have been like back in ancient Roman times.

A trip to Vatican City, technically our eighth country of the trip, was planned for our last day in Rome. I had no idea what to expect of the Vatican other than what I had seen on television in the past, and it ended up being so much more than I imagined. We spent a little bit of time in the Vatican museum where our tour guide showed us some of the highlights - it is amazing how many historical artifacts have been preserved and our now on display in hundreds of museums across the world. The rest of our time at the Vatican was spent admiring the Sistine Chapel ceiling and St. Peter's Basilica... both were amazing.

On my last night in Rome, I spent the evening with new and old friends. I enjoyed a delicious pasta dinner with my new friends, followed by gelato, of course! After that, I met up with an old friend and his girlfriend, who had been traveling around Europe for a few weeks as well. It was so amazing to get together with a longtime friend and share stories of each other's travels while enjoying a bottle of wine in such an amazing city. It was the most perfect way to end a perfect three days in Rome.

While at the Trevi Fountain, I threw a coin over my left shoulder, which legend has it ensures my return to Rome. However I have a feeling that I will be back to Rome regardless of that coin. You were truly wonderful Rome, and I will see you again.

FLORENCE



 


Florence was our last stop in Italy before heading to the French Riviera, and after coming from Rome, it had high expectations to meet. And it did! I loved Florence, just as much as I did Rome, and almost every other city I had visited up till this point. One of the best parts about our stay was the location of our hostel. We were literally a ten minute walk straight into the city center, Piazza del Duomo. It was amazing to step outside the doors of the hostel and really feel like you were already in the heart of the city. On our first evening there, we had a guided walking tour of the city, which started at the beautiful Duomo and took us all around Florence. Some highlights of that were getting to go inside the Duomo, seeing the Ponte Vecchio, the amazing shopping (to die for), the replica of Michelangelo's David in Piazza della Signoria, and the famous leather shops. The leather was a big hit, and we all ended up going back after the tour ended to buy some of our own authentic Italian leather goods! We ended the evening having dinner outside in the Piazza del Duomo, where I had views of the Duomo, had my first ever Aperol spritz, and had the best pizza of my entire life. Pretty successful first night in Florence if you ask me! 

On our second day in Florence, a ton of people headed to Cinque Terre, but I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I decided to hang back in Florence and do a little exploring on my own for the day. {Side note: I will be back to visit Cinque Terre - I hear it is a must see.} As sad as I was to be missing Cinque Terre, it did give me another full day to explore Florence, which I wouldn't have had otherwise. I had a nice relaxing morning before starting my day by heading to the Gucci Museo, which for anyone who is interested in fashion is a must do. I loved learning about the history of the company and about how it has progressed over the years. For only seven euros, it is definitely worth checking out and the Gucci cafe and restaurant was super delicious! After a great lunch, I did a bit of exercise and hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which had the absolute most breathtaking views of Florence. It was absolutely beautiful. As I mentioned before, the shopping in Florence is to die for, which is no surprise as Florence is one of the big centers for fashion in Italy. Although no part of me could actually afford to buy anything, it was still so fun to just window shop and pretend. 

To end my time in Florence, I actually met back up with my friend and his girlfriend as they had just arrived in Florence earlier that day. It was an added bonus to see them again and we enjoyed a pitcher or sangria (I was prepping for Spain!) as we sat outside and enjoyed the night. I gave them my own recommendations of things to see and do while they were there before heading home for the night. On my way back to the hostel, I grabbed one last gelato and enjoyed it in total bliss as I thought about not only how wonderful Firenze had been, but how amazing Italy had been. A week in Italy had gone by and I was eternally grateful for every single second I was there. As sad as I was to say goodbye, I knew it was only the beginning and that I would without a doubt be back to Italy someday. In the meantime, ciao bella Italy, I will think of you often and dream of the day I return. 

xo. G

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