My Roman Holiday
Traveling abroad is one of the most incomparable experiences one can have. I may not ever be this age, with these opportunities again so I am trying to make the most of it! They say in the end, you only regret the chances you didn't take. Traveling with a group of girls just as clueless as you can be a little scary and stressful but its a learning experience for all involved. You also can't be afraid to look stupid because your going to look like an idiot in a foreign country for the first time no matter how hard you try.
Before break my Saint Mary's roommate Paige came to visit me in Ireland! I was able to visit her in Spain a few weeks prior and it was awesome to able to show her around. We hiked in one of my favorite towns in Ireland, Howth and showed her around Maynooth and the cobblestone streets of Dublin. I showed her what I have fallen in love with in Ireland and the local hangout spots including none- other than the Roost. We already started discussing plans for our multi-cultural dorm next year with Irish and Spanish themes. The following week, for my spring break, I was able to spend time traveling with a few friends in the beautiful Italia.
I originally thought that Italian would be a piece of cake, being similar to the Spanish language, but no. I did learn the basics to get by and thankfully through sign language and some English speakers we made due. I even considered studying in Rome but after visiting I am glad I choose Ireland and don't think I could see myself living in Italy.
The first day we arrived and walked around the streets of Rome to get a feel for the place and saw the Colosseum at dusk. The following day we were able to visit many of the top spots including the Pantheon, Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, and more. We tried to walk everywhere that was possible but it was difficult because our hotel was on the far southern end of Rome so a metro was needed. That night we went out with some friends of friends who studied in Rome and we were able to see what the night life was like. We were in a student area so there were a lot of study abroad kids but the Italian lads were very friendly and sweet even though I knew no Italian! Again like in Spain, alcohol is much cheaper in Italy than in Ireland which is a rip off...
Friday Maddy and I got up early to visit the Catacombs just south of Rome. This was one of my favorite visits and one of the only tours I paid for as well. I didn't pay for many tours in Italy because not only am I a broke college student, but some things (not all) are hyped up to be more than they are. The Catacombs were a were levels underground and were filled with slots carved out of hard mud rock for the dead. There are an estimated 1 million people were buried there over the centuries; there was also six ancient popes buried in a special chamber that we viewed. Later that day we explored more around the city of Rome and met up with some friends for dinner at a local italian/american place Tony's, where there is free water (rare in Italy) and decently priced food. Everything in Rome was very pricey, either that was normal or just because of the influx of tourist for Holy Week. After dinner we splurged at Ol' Bridge Gelateria with amaaazzinggg gelato. My favorite combo was the yogurt & pistachio. I'm actually really glad we don't have gelato in Ireland or the States cause oh boy my glucose levels would soar.
For the weekend Maddy and I decided to visit the Vatican on Holy Saturday thinking it would be less crowded than on Easter. It was still extremely crowded but we were able to see Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican as they were setting up for Sunday mass. And to finish off our last full day in Rome we revisited the Spanish Steps, and ventured to a very high spot with a balcony that looked over all of Rome. This had amazing views and also some markets by local vendors. Here we found the BEST cheese I have ever had in my life. We forgot the name but I am pretty sure it was some sort of Romano with pepper and I will spend the rest of my life searching for it.
On the final day it was Easter Sunday. We all woke up at the crack of dawn, and thanks to friends family connections we were able to get tickets to Easter mass with Pope Francis! Any body is able to come and listen to the mass but we had special seats that were set up in front of the alter so that we could enjoy the all -italian mass. The entire mass was so beautiful, and even though I wasn't sure what he was saying could follow along from memory. There were points that he spoke in many different languages. there was also over 4 million people who had come to listen to mass, only a limited number with us in the seats.
Its funny because I am not even Catholic, but going to catholic schools for so many years now I have an appreciation for the mass, the sacraments, and traditions. Seeing Pope Francis drive around in his pope- mobile a few meters from us was something I will never forget. This was probably my favorite experience in Rome; It was very different being away from family at a time usually spent with all my loved ones, but this will be an Easter I will always cherish.
Rome itself is very large and busy and you can turn any corner and find ancient ruins smack dab in the city. I thought it was neat how preserved everything was but wished I was there to see it back in the day without all the modernization. Other than that it was very international but still quite touristy for my taste.
Ah Florence. To be honest I didn't even know what was in Florence but I was up to find out. I really enjoyed the size compared to Rome and even though there were tourists, the locals were very friendly and inviting. For the first half of the morning we spent time wandering the streets of leather markets. The streets are filled with vendors selling and bargaining leather goods. I was not personally looking for anything but it was fun watching my friends bargain for cheaper fine crafted purses and leather jackets. Apparently this is the place for leather goods in Italy and we ended up making a friend with one of the sellers who told us who had the best merchandise.
I visited the Cathedral which was made of a white and green stone with magnificent detailing and carvings. There are many cathedrals scattered throughout Florence which are very old and they all hold unique architecture and history. There is also a famous bridge that has houses and shops built on top of it. All these shops are fine jewelry shops that most can only gaze at through the windows. If that bridge were to burn down that would be quite unfortunate and expensive. We were told to go to the Micheal Angelo point of the city which has panoramic visions of the entire city. It was a hike but the views were breathtaking. A older Italian man was singing with his guitar on the steps and we savored the landscape while listening to his melodies.
One of my fond memories was when Maddy and I were walking to dinner and bumped into a young suave Italian guy. We just started chatting and he found out that we always dreamed of riding a Vespa (cue Lizzie McGuire riding on the back of a Vespa around Italy in the movie). He asked if I wanted to ride on his Vespa where he could take me to the northern terrace that over-looked Florence. Wowza was that hard to decline but I couldn't leave poor Maddy stranded in an unknown city alone... but next time I come to Florence, Nicola, next time. We then skipped along to a pizza place where we had some of the most delicious pizza I have ever had! The chef even made it into a heart for us American girls. Afterwards we bought wine and tiramisu to take onto the bridge to enjoy while the sun was setting. Such a tough life.
On our last and final destination, we traveled more north to the coastal town of Riomaggiore of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre was lovely and warm with majestic mountains lined with terraces and small towns tucked in the valleys speckled with colorful houses. I was glad we saved this place for last because instead of historic sight -seeing we could relax and enjoy the beauty. Cinque Terre is made up of 5 coastal towns, we stayed in the first town, Riomaggiore. The first day there we settled in and walked around the town. We realized it was very touristy but still quaint and enjoyable with warm breezes that let us whip out our shorts and sundresses. They had amazing seafood and plenty of gelato. I have a feeling that the tourists eat more gelato than the actual Italians do, but I could be wrong.
The second day we woke up at the crack of dawn to prepare to climb over the hills to reach the farthest of the 5 cities, Monterosso. All the easy paths were blocked because they were marked "dangerous" so we attempted the extreme hiking trail which was legitimately straight up the mountain. I did this all in my sundress and sandals, because its breezy and I needed some good tan-lines. After the first hill took us over an hour we decided that once we hit the second town, Manarola, we hopped on the next boat fairy. This ended up being a splendid idea because it gave us a beautiful view of the coast line and all of the Cinqure Terre towns.
Once in Monterosso, the largest and most popular of the 5 towns, we grabbed some lunch and headed to the beach! I was already a little rosy from walking around in the sun the previous day, so you can imagine what laying out for hours by the water did to my untouched Ireland- pale skin. First time my body had seen the light of day considering I came to Ireland from the dead of winter in Michigan. After soaking in all the rays we could handle ,we grabbed some gelato and decided to take the train back to our town, because hiking 5 hours back was just not going to happen. We enjoyed our last few hours sitting out on rocks watching the sunset over the sea.
Our last stop was Milan but we only had an hour before our flight so we did not see much. They say there's not much to see in Milan anyway. Italy itself was very beautiful, rich in history and culture and I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation. We had pretty good weather comparative to Ireland... but I still think I would visit Spain again. Maybe its because I can speak the language, or maybe its something about the people of the vibe but Spain will always be in my heart.
After multiple planes, trains, automobiles and boats, I made it back to the motherland. There is something about being back in Maynooth that is comforting and gives me the feeling of home. I only have about a month and a half left here in Ireland which is sad to think about but I know I am so fortunate to be able to have these experiences, travel and meet so many new people. Thanks Mum and Dad for making this possible!
Next up: finals