June 4 and 5
Ahh another Monday in Rome. Today we had Italian and Ops as usual. We had a quiz in Italian which wasn't too bad but the night consisted of studying for an Ops test unfortunately. There are about 20 of us in the class and we all live in the same apartment complex so it works out well for studying. We woke up Tuesday morning to study a little more and then took our test in the afternoon. It wasn't too hard and although the class was 5 hours long, Professor Wagner gave us a break to go to a snack bar down the street. It was very much needed.
Today was probably one of the most interesting days I have had in Rome. We went on a tour of the Vatican City which consists of St. Peter's Basilica, the Sisteen Chapel and the Vatican Museum. It was such an amazing experience. St. Peter's Basilica may be the most beautiful thing I have seen so far. The inside is so unique with all the gold and paintings and statues that surround the building. We saw the burial places of all the old Pope's which was a different experience as well. The Sisteen Chapel, painted by Michaelangelo, was also one of my favorite historical things to see since I have been here. Our tour guide told us the history of the whole painting and explained exactly what Michaelangelo was trying to depict. Without our tour guide I would have been lost but now I feel like I know so much more. We are hoping to see the Pope give mass later next week which would be something definitely worth doing.
Today was another day full of classes at Villa Nazareth. We eat lunch everyday with local Italian boys who live at our school but take classes at other Universities. It is really fun to talk with them at lunch and hear the differences in cultures. They speak English very well and Annette and I try to work in a little Italian here and there. Mostly we get made fun of though! Later on Thursday night the Italian boys came over to our apartment and took us to where no tourists have ever been before. We went to a local place where all the young Italians hang out. It was definitely a different experience and my friends and I stood out like a sore thumb. George Bush was actually coming to Italy in a few days and there were signs everywhere with people expressing their freedom of speech. It was a big overwhelming to see that Americans weren't exactly loved in this part of town. Nonetheless, everyone was extremely nice to us and it was fun to see what being Italian for a night was really like. It was early to bed for us because, we had to catch an early train to Florence in the morning!
Today we got up early in the morning to catch a train to Florence. For those who have never heard of it, here we like to compare Rome to New York and Florence to Chicago. We got to Florence around 12:30 and went straight to our hotel to check-in. We learned that 120 euro a night for a four person room doesn't get you much comfort in Italy. (At least not what we are used to in the United States) The next thing we did was head straight to the Duomo, which is the largest dome in the world. We climbed the 463 steps to the top and saw one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. The whole city of Florence was in front of us from atop this structure. It was honestly one of the prettiest things I have seen in my life. My three friends and I stood up there for a while, mostly because we were catching our breath, and took tons of pictures. After that we climbed our way back down the narrow steps and went shopping in Florence. The store Zara became the death of all of us as we spent more money than we should have. We ate lunch at a cute outdoor restaurant and I ordered the best Gnocchi I have had in Italy.
After lunch we came back and took a quick nap at the hotel. Later that night I met up with one of my best friends who is studying abroad in Florence. My friends and I went out with a big group of Miami people and saw the apartment where they are staying for 6 weeks. It was fun to talk about the differences between our two programs.
Saturday we slept in a little, and by little I mean we maybe got 7 hours. We woke up and caught a 12:00 train to Pisa which is only about an hour from Florence. We got to Pisa and went directly to the Leaning Tower. It was so weird to see the Leaning Tower, I think because I have seen so many pictures. It's ridiculous how slanted it really is and hard to believe that it can even still stand up after all these years. My friends and I took about a million pictures of us holding the tower up and pushing it down. Everyone there takes the same picture and it's really funny to look at afterward. We think we got a few good ones that actually look like we are touching it even though we are a good 50 feet away. Pisa doesn't really have much to offer other than the famous tower but we stayed for lunch and went in a few shops and then headed back to Florence.
When we got back Sara and I went to the Accademia Museum which is home to the statue of David. The statue was one of the most incredible things in the world. Words can't really even describe how big it was. It is definitely worth seeing if in Florence some day. We walked around the museum and saw some other things but David was definitely the main attraction. Saturday night in Florence we met up with our guy friends studying with us in Rome. A big group of about 10 of us went out to dinner by the river which was really pretty at night. The rest of the night we walked around the city and explored a little more with the boys.
Sunday in Florence was quite possibly my favorite day in Italy so far. We woke up early once again and took a taxi to the meeting place of our bike tour through Tuscany. We met up with our tour guides and hoped in a bus that took us about 45 min away from Florence into the region of Tuscany and the city of Chianti. When we first got to our destination we entered an extremely old castle that is still home to the Count and Countess. We saw how wine is produced in Italy and how they store it for numerous years. We were also shown how they produce olive oil which is used everywhere here. We continued our tour with wine and oil tasting which was amazing. We were even told that all the wine produce in this particular vineyard never leaves Italy because it is too good and is bought out too quickly to even export it to the United States. Therefore, everything we were drinking was extremely rare.
We left the castle and got on our bikes for the first time. I have not ridden a bike in about 5 years so it was a little hard to adjust at first but at least they gave us helmets! We rode for about 5 or 6 miles, stopped and took pictures a few times and then ate at a little restaurant nestled in the hills of Tuscany. Included in our price of the bike tour was an amazing meal that consisted of bread, salad, pasta, dessert, coffee and all the wine we could drink.
After a fantastic meal we got back on the bikes and rode for another 5 miles or so. At the end of this 5 miles we took a quick water break (unaware of the hill we were about to climb). After we got fully refreshed we started the long trek up this 900 meter hill. All of us could only ride for about 3 or 4 minutes before we had to get off and start pushing. Between the riding and pushing and the throwing down of my bike it took about 20-25 minutes for all of us to get up the hill. It was pretty exhausting but exhilarating at the same time. Thank God there was a caf&eacute; at the top with more water!
Our bike ride only lasted about 3 more miles which thankfully was all downhill. We were pretty exhausted afterwards but it was worth it. We all got some authentic Italian wine and oil for people back in the states. We figured it would be a good gift. Then we had the bus drop us off at the train station and it was back to home sweet home in Roma!
Until next time,