Just got back the other day from our week-long trip to Italy and it was, well...fabulous. It is too hard to talk about all at once, so I will take it day by day. It's a bit of a blur so hopefully I won't mix up the days!
It was a long day to get there because we flew out of Helsinki so we had to make the journey on the train from Tampere and then catch our flight. Our flight was a bit late so we didn't get into Roma until 11:30, when of course we were supposed to meet Craig at 10:30. So, with our bags in tow we took the metro to Craig's stop and eventually found his apartment and knocked down his door. :) We dropped off our things and he took us on a wonderful midnight tour of pretty much all the big sights north of ancient Rome. Everything was lit up beautifully and it was fun to have Craig give us his tidbits of history as we walked. We ended up at Giolliti's Gelato and made it in just before they closed at 1 am. Craig says it's the best and it was quite delicious. Just the beginning of our process of becoming gelato officianados. We finally made it back to our hostel at 3 am and boy was I tired.
Midnight tour: St. Peter's Basilica
We made our way back over to Craig's side of town to hit the Vatican Museum, but sadly it turned out to be mysteriously closed. So after some delicious gelato served by an old man in an adorably classic red vest and matching ice cream hat, we went to St. Peter's Basilica and I have to say it's probably the most beautiful church I have ever been inside. Every inch is decorated or sculpted or gilded in some elaborate fashion. The square outside is also quite a sight. The columns that surround it are massive in scale and it is a beautiful place to just sit and relax and people watch.
After giving our feet a moment to rest we headed over to this building, the name of which I cannot recall. Anyway, it is near the stagnant river and Craig had told us that it had some of the most beautiful views if you climbed to the top. So we did, just at dusk, and it was lovely.
View from the top of the building overlooking the river.
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
The square at St. Peter's Basilica
First stop on our gelato tour. :)
Our hostel, The Yellow, had some brochures for walking tours of the city with mother-tongue english speakers, as they were called. So we decided to do one of those. Beforehand, of course, we had to get some gelato at Termini before hopping on the metro. We met the tour near Circo Massimo and we had a great guide, Chris from Idaho, who was an expert on all the history of ancient Rome. Luckily he was also humorous and didn't take himself too seriously so it was a fun tour. We saw Circo Massimo, the Mouth of Truth (really just an old sewer cover, woo hoo!), the Jewish Ghetto, where Julius Caesar was killed (it is now an official cat sanctuary, and yes, the cats have papers), the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum from afar.
We stopped in the middle to have lunch at an adorable local hole in the wall near the Pantheon. I had a delicious pizza and we sat and chatted for a bit as a group. There was also an adorable Italian woman who runs the place who kept saying "Mange! Mange!" when Meg couldn't finish her pizza. I wanted to take her home.
That night we ate at Mama Angela's Trattoria across the street from our hostel. I had spaghetti carbonara, my favorite, and it was delicious. We also sat next to a really cute older couple from Vienna who were nice to chat with. I felt like such a grown up, sitting there drinking wine at a nice restaurant and chatting with a random old couple. Haha.
Gelato at Termini before our little walking tour. Delish!
At the Pantheon!
Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo.
The Colosseum from afar.
We decided to head back to the Roman Forum and the Colisseum to actually buy tickets and do the whole deal. We bought tickets at the Roman Forum and did that first so we wouldn't have to wait in line at the Colosseum (thank you, Rick Steeves) and both were amazing! The Roman Forums were really neat to just walk around in and imagine what it must have been like back then. We eventually made it to the Colisseum and it's really just hard to explain how cool it is to be there in person. We learned from our tour guide that back in the Gladiator days, the government would put on shows in the Colisseum for basically 2/3 of the year, for free. It's pretty crazy to think that battles and shows would be taking place there almost daily. Also, it's HUGE. Hard to explain unless you are there, I think.
We made a quick stop at the Trevi Fountain, which was sadly riddled with construction people and yellow construction hats. We had some lunch near there and for the second half of the day we went back to the Vatican Museum and actually made it in this time. Probably overall my favorite museum that we saw in Italy. They have rooms and rooms of gorgeous white marble sculptures. The Bernini ones were especially beautiful. They had rooms and rooms with busts lining the walls an inch apart from each other. It was pretty amazing to see them all together and examine each and every one. The draping and the realism is incredible in person. Let's just say I thoroughly enjoyed our little walk through.
When we were done we met up with Craig and did a little grocery shopping with him, which was really fun. They have tiny little grocery stores that are really fun to look around in. We helped him buy some ingredients and some wine to have for dinner. Now that I think of it, this was probably before we went to the Vatican. Oh well. Nonetheless, we ended up at Craig's place for a delicious dinner of spaghetti with cream and prosciutto, and of course, a nice helping of Parmiggiano Reggiano. Yum. Sadly the Soccer game was not on TV so we hung out with his roommates and spent the evening chatting.
At the Roman Forum, among the ruins!
The Colosseum. Whoa
It's huge. HUGE.
In the Vatican Museum. Sculptures galore.
My Favorite one.
Craig making us delicious dinner on his pull out ironing board. :)
Our final day in Rome. We went to the Villa Borghese and it was majestically beautiful. It is this massive park that would probably take at least 2 hours to fully walk through. It has big gorgeous trees and ponds with ducks and fish and sculptures and pathways and it's really beautiful. It's also fun because it's not so touristy. It's a little bit more out of the way and there are locals running or taking their children to the pond or walking their dogs. It's fun to know that the real italian people come up there to enjoy it just as much as tourists do.
We went to the Galleria de Borghese also, but I don't really remember anything too special about it. Lots of renaissance paintings, etc. We saw a lot of those.
After a quick run to a local pizza shop (the real kind where they chop up your pizza and weight it) to get some delicious pizza and soda, we went over to Via Corso (one of the main shopping drags) and looked around and eventually found Zara! Yay. After doing a little damage there we eventually made it back to Termini to catch our train to Florence. We made it to florence in the evening and made the long (well, not that long, but it seemed long) trek to the hostel with our backpacks and other bags. The hostel turned out to be really really nice and we ended up just having dinner in their little restaurant and hitting the sheets.
At the Villa Borghese gardens!
The Galleria de Borghese.
First day in Firenze! We were trying to make our way over to the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Museum near the river, but first we got distracted by the bustling and winding market that filled the streets. They have cashmere scarves (4 euros!!!!) and leather bags and keychains, adorable embroidered aprons, and all the typical tourist gear, too. We bought a couple scarves and eventually made our way to the river and walked along it until we hit the Ponte Vecchio bridge. The walk was lovely, even though it was a bit cloudy out. Florence has a completely different energy than Rome does, and I noticed it right away. Florence is mellow and artsy and feels like the people there are not in a rush like in Rome. There are fewer modern distractions there and it seems very self sufficient and content to stay a little behind the times.
The Ponte Vecchio was bustling with activity and is lined with high-end jewelry shops that were fun to look at. We went to the Uffizi and made a reservation for later so we could skip the line. In the meantime we had some lunch in the nearby square. Then we went to the Santa Croce church nearby. It's a beautiful old church and you can definitely see the medieval influences in the architecture and design. We managed to also swing by the local flea market, even though it was siesta so not all the shops were open. There was some fun stuff there and if I lived there I definitely would have bought many things!
We made it back to the Uffizi just in time and made our way through. I was somewhat dissappointed, considering the 14 euro price tag, but the two famous Boticellis mostly made up for it. We saw both "The Birth of Venus" and "Spring," which is one of my favorites. They were incredibly beautiful to see in person and much bigger than I imagined. We were so exhausted after the Museum that we just went back to the hostel to hang out. Passed by the market on the way back. Bought more scarves. I think by then all of our walking around Rome was catching up with my feet. I literally felt like I might fall over most of the time because my feet might just decide they had had enough. Luckily the hostel had good food and wine that would put me to sleep for a good night of rest.
The church of Santa Croce.
In the Piazza by the Uffizi Gallery.
The Ponte Vecchio on the river.
Busy on the Ponte Vecchio.
Adorable. Piazza Independenza.
Last day in Firenze! We went to the Accedemia in the morning to see the David and what can I say? Wow. I had no idea it was so massive. This seems to be a theme for Italy. It was pretty spectacular when you turn the first corner of the museum and there he is, in all his glory. Everything else in the museum seemed pretty boring after that. No offense, renaissance paintings.
I got some overpriced but delicious pasta at a cafeteria style place and then we headed off to the church of Santa Maria del Fiore! This is where the famous Duomo is. We go inside the church and it is quite pretty but sort of similar to the Santa Croce church. So i of course decide to make the trek up the 463 steps to the famous Duomo. Meg doesn't want to go because it costs 6 euros so she goes to sit and write a postcard while I go in. It's definitely an exhausting climb up and I am amused by the sign that says "This trip is not recommended for people with heart disease." By the time we get to the top, I fully understand. Before you hit the top you can get out right below the massive frescoed inside of the dome and walk around the perimeter. Up a few more steps and what is basically a stone ladder and you emerge to one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. A photo does not do it justice in the slightest. It was busy but you could tell that everone was really enjoying the moment of seeing the view. I sat on a bench and relaxed for a while to rest and take in the view.
I eventually made it back down, although I have to say I got a bit dizzy from the endless winding staircase. We went back to the market and found a few more things to bring home. I got a couple really nice leather little purses that were made in Florence, so they will be a nice reminder. I was really sad to leave Firenze so soon. I kind of felt at home there. The mood there was so nice and I could definitely see myself living there and really enjoying it. Florence was kind of how I always imagined Italy to be, in the best way possible.
At the church of Santa Maria del Fiore!
Inside of the Duomo.
View of the Piazza from the Duomo.
The wonderful view!
We made it back to Roma by evening and dropped our stuff off at the hostel before heading over to see Craig one last time. He made us another delicious dinner (this time of pasta with cheese and hot dogs! yum.) and we hung out for a while and decompressed a bit. We decided that a late-night donut run was in order and Craig new of a great place that had really cheap, delicious donuts. We made our way over there and it was a lovely little treat. We decided that since it was our last night in Italy, we should also get some gelato before heading back. So, we did. And my my was it delicious. I went all out and got a nice big cone. We sat outside for a while with Craig and his friend Phil and had a nice long conversation. I was definitely sad to leave Rome, too. But...real life awaits. :)
End of the story. We made it back to Finland in one piece after another long day of traveling. I loved seeing Italy and it was full of seeing even more amazing things. The people were extremely friendly and kind and it was a wonderful experience. I can't wait to go back someday. I will be looking forward to it.
So long for now.
Or as the italians would say...ciao!
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