From Firenze to Roma

It’s a sad day, folks. I burnt my sweet potatoes. I know, how dare I? But alas, it happened. Sigh.

On a less sad note, I spent my spring break in Italy, which was pretty darn amazing. Especially because my boyfriend, Ben, flew in from the Canadian tundra and I got to spend the whole week going on adventures with him and Sarah. (And if you don’t know who Sarah is or how fab she is at this point, I’m just going to direct you to any of my other blog posts within the past two months. She’s been there for it all.)

But anyway: Italy. I’ll admit I was kind of holding off on writing this blog post because a) how does one adequately describe a week in Italy? And b) typing up the post for it would mean it was actually, officially, really over.

I mean, it already kind of felt over when I said goodbye to Ben on Monday and watched the teal Airlink 747 bus drive him off to the airport while I headed home to pack my backpack and head to science class, but for some reason writing it all down feels a lot more final. Our whirlwind of a trip is a memory; a series of stories I now have locked away to share sometime down the road. Or maybe actually right now, with all of you.

First stop, Florence.

Buongiornio, Firenze!
Buongiornio, Firenze!

Ben arrived in Dublin late Friday afternoon, after a slight delay in London. Sarah and I met him at the bus stop around the corner from our apartment and guided him back to the lovely Apt. 29. We kept it pretty low-key that night, taking a brief stroll around Dublin after dinner because we knew we’d have to be up before the sun to catch our flight to Roma. Oh, travel.

Anyway, the trip to Florence was pretty easy, with the exception of one terrifying moment as we were attempting to catch our train to Florence from Rome, when Sarah got locked in a bathroom and I panicked and Ben did some running but don’t worry because it all ended up fine in the end.

And then we were there, in Florence, struggling down some cobblestones with our suitcases and trying to find our apartment. Which we found when our cute little curly-haired AirBnB host leaned halfway out a third floor window and waved excitedly at us calling, “Sarah! I come get you!”

This city is beautiful.
This city is beautiful.

Our apartment was super swanky, and we spent our first night in Italy strolling aimlessly around the city and eating pasta in a tiny little Italian osteria nearby. A pretty good first night if you ask me.

Visiting Florence for us basically meant seeing lots of art, which Sarah was able to expertly identify based on a book she’d read. Meanwhile, Ben and I stood and pointed at paintings, saying, “I like that part.” “Oh yeah, like the swirls?” “Yeah! And the colors are nice, too.” Clearly we’re art buffs or something like that.

Oh, and churches. There were lots of churches, too. This one is Santa Croce.
Oh, and churches. There were lots of churches, too. This one is Santa Croce.

The highlight of Florence though was definitely the Duomo, a massive cathedral that towers in the center of city. I’m pretty sure we climbed at least 1,000+ steps in one day to get to the top of the bell-tower and then the dome itself, and it was well worth all of the effort. It was a little chilly and more than a bit windy, but the views were incredible. The city looks like a sea of burnt orange and sunflower yellow rooftops, and way off in the distance you can see the mountains reaching for the sky, little villas dotting their slopes. I could have stared for hours.

Ta-da! The duomo itself!
Ta-da! The duomo itself!

Other highlights of Florence included the Boboli Gardens, Bargello Museum, Uffizi Gallery, Santa Croce Cathedral, and the Galleria dell’Academia, where we saw Michelangelo’s David and a collection of his unfinished sculptures, called Prisoners.

Sarah cheesin’ it up at the Boboli Gardens.

And before we knew it it was Tuesday morning and we were off to Rome. We got to the train station early and found our platform without a problem. Honestly, it was kind of nice to just sit back in the train car for an hour or so and watch the Italian countryside pass by. We were only halfway through our trip, but I was already beginning to feel a bit worn out by all we had seen and done. I know that probably sounds like an incredibly privileged thing to say, and trust me when I say that I recognize just how lucky I am. If you had told me a year ago I’d be spending my spring break traveling around Italy with two of my closest friends, I’m not sure I would have believed it.

I mean, look at that view.
I mean, look at that view.

But it’s still a bit overwhelming. It’s a good kind of overwhelming, but tiring nonetheless. It makes you appreciate the peaceful moments when they come around. So I sat back, ate a PB&J, and enjoyed the view.

And then we were in Rome! We stopped in at our apartment and then headed off to the Borghese Gallery across town. It was an art museum, but honestly, the really impressive part was probably the building itself. Every ceiling was intricately painted and the woodwork was carved beautifully. I had a headache and didn’t feel too well, but at least I was surrounded by beauty.

Someone actually lived here.
Someone actually lived here.

The two days were filled with visits to the classic Roman tourist attractions, starting with the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hills. We meandered along the pathways and soaked up the Roman sunshine and history. By the time we were done there, we were starving, so we stopped off for paninis and then headed back out onto the streets to see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

Oh, hello Colosseum.

This was also the night when Sarah and I ruthlessly sent Ben out into the streets of Rome by himself because our AirBnB hostess didn’t leave us enough toilet paper. We could have gone with him, but we were cold and tired and basically forced him to go alone. Poor Ben. He was a good sport about it though, and I hope he knows how much Sarah and I appreciate him. So after Ben returned safely home and we all cocooned ourselves in blankets for the night, we got some rest before our visit to the pope.

I have to include a photo of me post-Lizzie McGuire moment at the Trevi Fountain.
I have to include a photo of me post-Lizzie McGuire moment at the Trevi Fountain.

Okay, so we didn’t actually meet the pope himself, but we did go to the Vatican. We stumbled off the crowded Rome metro and waded through the masses of tourists waiting at the entrance. Luckily, we’d booked all of our tickets in advance so the waits at the attractions were never too terrible, just a bit chaotic.

The highlight of the Vatican was, as one would expect, the Sistine Chapel. It didn’t feel quite as chapel-y as I had anticipated, probably because they had cleared out all of the pews and other church-like items to accommodate the swarms of people passing through. The ceiling was impressive though, and even though you’re not supposed to take photos of it I totally did. The intimidating Roman guards telling everyone to shush and shouting, “No photos!” couldn’t stop me.

An illicit photograph for your viewing pleasure.
An illicit photograph for your viewing pleasure.

After the Vatican, we slowly made our way back toward our apartment, stopping along the way to eat lunch outdoors in Piazza Navona, see the Pantheon, and stumble into a few churches. We even got kicked out of one church! Sort of. We had been at this church for about 40 minutes or so, having sat down in a pew to take in a bit more of its beauty before moving on. We were talking quietly when a slight, old Italian woman came up and shushed Ben before proceeding to tell me the romper I was wearing was “too short.” Mind you, this was a very nice and respectable romper I had just purchased the week before, and I was also wearing a long sweater over it and black tights underneath it. Not that it’s really anyone else’s business what I wear, but I believe I looked rather respectable.

Anyway, this woman continued to whisper fervently about my outfit while I stared at her, genuinely confused and not knowing what to say. Sarah took charge, shepherding us out of the church just as the woman began asking me for money. Apparently it was for Jesus. To make up for my sins. I may not be particularly religious, but I’ve been to church enough times to know that’s not how God works.

It’s a good thing Sarah got us out of there, because by the time I realized what was happening, I was extremely offended and a bit livid. Can society stop trying to make girls feel ashamed of their bodies? Is that too much to ask? Basically I was in a mini fit of feminist rage.

Let's look at some neat old columns for a moment to distract me from my anger.
Let’s look at some neat old columns for a moment to distract me from my anger.

Once I’d cooled off a bit, we headed off to another church where, thankfully, nobody commented on my attire. We then meandered through this enormous white building that I still don’t know the name of, taking some time to stare out at the city from its balcony.

Our last day in Rome was the most unexpected, but arguably one of my favorites. I had desperately wanted to go visit Ostia Antica, a site of archaeological ruins just outside of Rome. They’re supposed to be wonderfully preserved and able to give you a really accurate picture of what ancient life would have looked like. It was my one major request for our trip to Italy.

To do it, we had to take a regional Roma-Lido train from the Piramide station in Rome out to Ostia Antica. I looked everything up beforehand and planned out our route carefully. But then Rome decided to stage a public transit strike, leaving all the metro stations and the train station locked up tight. By the time we realized this, we had of course already walked the forty minutes out to Piramide station. You could say we were a bit disappointed.

But I will always be proud of this day. We easily could have wallowed and let the circumstances get us down, but instead we simply made up a new plan. The three of us set off for Villa Borghese, a massive park in the center of the city, where we had a makeshift picnic lunch and then visited the zoo. I know, I know, you don’t go to Rome to visit the zoo. But our plans had been foiled and we had already seen all the big tourist destinations, so the zoo it was.

And it was great. It was quiet and peaceful and we had such a good time walking around and making up dialogue for the animals. I even saw an elephant! She almost broke my heart to be honest, because she was exhibiting extreme stereotypic behaviors, indicating she was unhappy. But when we stopped by again later she was playing with her ball in the yard, so I’m hopeful she’ll be okay.

This sweetheart though.
This sweetheart though.

Anyway, our last day and night in Rome was pretty idyllic. After our day at the zoo, Ben and I headed out to see the Trevi Fountain at night and get gelato from a place a friend of his had recommended. And let me tell you, his friend was right because that was some delicious gelato. (Thanks, Trent. You da bomb.) I got a flavor called biscotto that was absolutely delicious.

We ate our gelato next to a fountain in the middle of Rome before ending our night. The next morning we were back on a plane to Dublin, but I couldn’t be happier with how our trip to Italy turned out. Even all of the little missteps and hiccups, like getting locked inside our apartment in Rome, helped make the trip great. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It was a trip I’ll never forget.

Ciao, Roma!
Ciao, Roma!

On Sunday I got to show Ben around Dublin a bit, despite the fact that both of us were thoroughly exhausted after our adventures in Italy. But I just had to make him pose for cheesy tourist photos in front of all the Dublin sites. So I did. And then we drank milkshakes with Abbie because we missed her and why not?

Ben is safely back in Montreal now, something I’m extra grateful for in the wake of this latest tragedy in Brussels. And Sarah and I are back on that education grind, going to class and doing homework. It’s strange that life can be so normal after something so incredible. But I guess maybe everything’s a little bit incredible. I mean, I’m studying in Dublin after all. We just tend to only see the beauty in the really big things. Perhaps that’s another reminder I’ll keep with me from Italy; there’s a bit of wonder in everything if you just stop to look for it.


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