We got a great workout in Florence.

We left Rome Monday morning to take a train to Florence. We were staying with Amanda’s friend Lexi who studies abroad there so she met us at the train station to take us back to her flat. After settling in, Sarah and I decided to explore the city a little. Our first stop was the Ponte Vecchio, where we browsed the jewelry shops on it and pretended like we could afford any of it. We went into some more shops around the bridge area, got gelato, then walked around basically the whole city, passing the Duomo, Piazza Signoria, and some famous churches.

The Ponte Vecchio

That night Lexi wanted to take us to a family style restaurant since she knew a lot of the waiters there. Let me tell you, I have never had so much food in one meal in my life. They first brought out the most addictive bread, then for our antipasti they brought tomato bruschetta, eggplant bruschetta, buffalo mozzerella with cherry tomatoes and balsamic. Then they brought a meat platter with prosciutto, turkey, salami and some other meat, then roasted eggplant, zucchini and peppers. And then for the pasta there was penne with red sauce, penne with a spicier red sauce and tortellini in a truffle cream sauce with mushrooms, and then lemoncellos for dessert. It was all so amazing! And it was only 15 euros each (there were 9 of us who went), which also included 4 bottles of wine and 2 large bottles of water. After dinner, we went over to the bar part of the restaurant and hung out for a little while before going out. Fabio, the owner of the restaurant, and one of the waiters, Berat, decided to come to the club with us. We went to YAB which was a suave club with some awesome dance music. We had a lot of fun; a great first night to kick off our stay in Florence.

The next day since we had warm, beautiful weather, we decided to tour the Duomo and climb the dome. The Duomo is a gorgeous building from the outside. It is made out of pink, white and green marble with intricate carvings. It’s so extravagant looking. However, the inside was less than impressive. It was pretty plain, except for a giant fresco in the dome. We got a closer look at this fresco while we climbed the dome, where we discovered that it actually had some pretty disturbing things in the hell part of the painting. 463 stairs later, we reached the top, completely out of breath. We burst out of the dim interior of stone spiral staircases into the bright sun light on the balcony atop the dome. We had a clear day so we could see the whole city of Florence for miles in all directions. It was breathtaking.

The Duomo

After a not as exhausting climb down, we went to the outdoor market where I bought some Italian souvenirs for my family. While we were leaving the market, there was something going on and the police had to be called. We never figured out what happened, but I did fall in love with one of the police officers. And by fall in love, I mean I dragged Sarah with me to sneakily follow him around on his whole investigation so I could stare at him for as long as possible. I can’t help their police uniforms are adorable and I have a weakness for Italian men anyway. After my love left, we walked around a little more, saw the church of San Lorenzo, a fort, and even more churches. For dinner, we went to a restaurant where I had the best pizza I’ve ever had in my whole life. That night we went to an English pub (a little taste of home, aka London) and an Irish pub to see the Elon shirt on the ceiling. We also ran into the waiters from the night before and decided to go to Twice, another club, with them. We weren’t a fan of this club though because all the guys there were very creepy, so we left fairly early.

For our last day in Florence we went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the Statue of David. It was amazing. It was much bigger in person than I expected it to be. Everything about the statue is so detailed, from the curls in his hair to the veins in his hand. After the gallery, we decided to go to the Piazza Michelangelo because we’d heard the views of the city from it were amazing. We followed signs to it but the way you would normally go was closed for some reason so we had to hike up some extremely steep streets until we reached the top, which was quite exhausting. We first found a church at the top which also had excellent views of the city. After taking a lot of pictures there, we moved on to the Piazza Michelangelo. The views of the city were panoramic from up there. And it was sunset which made it all the more gorgeous.

View of the city from the church atop the hill

That evening we went to a Spanish restaurant with some friends Sarah knew. After dinner, we went to a club called Fullup for our last night in Florence. One of the waiters from the previous nights worked as a bartender there too so he was able to get us into the VIP section which was a lot of fun. The next morning we left for Venice.

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There is no entrance to the Roman Forum.

Italy: 10 days. 3 cities. 1198 pictures. 20 meals of pizza and pasta. 7 different flavors of gelato. 100s of creeper comments by Italian men. 17 souvenirs. 1 unforgettable fall break.

Since there is just so much to write about each city I visited, I’m doing individual posts for each place. I’ll be starting with Rome, where I spent three and a half days.

Our flight left for Rome at 6:50am on Friday morning which meant we had to leave for the airport at 4am. Not fun, especially when you only get 2 hours of sleep. Similar to our Germany trip, I had booked a taxi for us since the Tube doesn’t open til 5:30am and it’s cheaper than the Heathrow Express if you have 3 people splitting the price. So we get to the airport in plenty of time and Amanda had read online that our flight was out of Terminal 3. Well, Sarah failed to inform us that the boarding passes said Terminal 4 until after our taxi drove away. We ran inside and found out that the only way to Terminal 4 was via train, which didn’t open til 5:30 and we probably wouldn’t make our flight in time. Panicking, we ran outside and asked a couple bus drivers if there were any buses going to Terminal 4. Obviously there were not. There also were not any regular taxis outside, because really, who needs a taxi at 4:30 am? After asking and being rejected by 2 prebooked taxis that had just dropped people off, we were about to cry. Finally we saw one more taxi driver who Amanda ran up to and goes PLEASE I’ll give you 20 pounds to drive us to Terminal 4. First childhood rule broken: don’t talk to strangers. After the look of confusion left his face he agreed to do so and we hopped in his car. Second childhood rule broken: don’t get in the car with strangers. The man drove like a maniac to get us to the Terminal in time (which was 10 minutes away). He also offered us lemon candy which we willingly ate to calm ourselves. Third childhood rule broken: don’t take candy from strangers. After rejecting everything our parents taught us, we finally arrived safely at our terminal, flew through bag check and security (after being randomly selected to have my bag scanned…this always happens to me. Do I really look like a sketchy person?) and made it to our gate right on time. As soon as we got on the flight we all immediately fell asleep. I’m sure we looked like quite the attractive trio: Amanda curled up in a ball on the seat, Sarah with her head back and mouth wide open, and me passed out face down on the tray table. I came out of my sleepy haze just in time to see us flying over the Swiss alps, which was absolutely breathtaking. We flew into Rome Fiumicino, which is right next to the beach, so it made for a pretty landing. We had to take a bus shuttle from the airport to the city center and then find our hostel from there. Luckily we didn’t have any trouble and our hostel was a nice little place right near the train station (convenient). All the staff there were such nice Italian men who gave us maps and highlighted routes for us to take to each major sightseeing destination.

After settling in and getting lunch (we learned when you order what you think is a slice of pizza, you just get a whole pizza), we decided to go to the Colosseum! Now, I’ve studied Ancient Roman history about 3 times and it falls right behind Ancient Greece as my favorite thing to study. The whole walk to there I tried to contain my excitement but I couldn’t hold it in anymore when I got the first glimpse of the Colosseum through the streets. I squealed and smacked Sarah with my map several times out of excitement. It took everything in me not to run down the street. After having a photoshoot on a bridge in front of the Colosseum, we decided to go in.

So excited.

Tickets were 12 euros and granted us access to both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum ruins. Walking into the Colosseum was a surreal experience. The first thing that you notice is how big it is. Seeing pictures of it doesn’t give you a correct sense of just how massive it is. There are multiple levels and you don’t realize how high up they go until you actually climb them. Second thing that hits you is the history this place holds. It was so crazy to remember everything I studied and be standing in this place that I’d heard about for so long but felt that I’d never see. It was also a bit eerie to think about what went on in there; the gladiator fights, how many people were killed, animal fights, etc. We walked around each level and got some amazing views of the city and the ruins around the area.

View of Rome from the Colosseum

We also were there around 4pm which made for the most perfect lighting (yes I am a photography nerd) so I have some beautiful pictures. After the Colosseum we followed signs to the entrance of the Roman Forum which was supposedly 200 meters away. Begin confusion. Suddenly the signs stop and we arrive at a gate which seems a bit too small to be the entrance. The gate is also closed. We stare at it for a little while then decide that can’t possibly be it, so we continue walking. After determining that we had walked more than 200 meters, we decided to turn around and go back to the main area around the Colosseum. We walk up a path next to the Forum that still does not lead to an entrance. We stop and ask a woman at the exit of the forum where the entrance is. She tells us to go back the way we came. We ask her if the entrance has a gate. She laughs at us and says no. We walk back the first way, even further then we walked before. We even walk all the way around the forum and still find no entrance, just stone walls. We finally give up since the Forum closes in 30 minutes and apparently no entrance exists anyway. We walked around Rome for a while, saw some big historical buildings, had dinner and went to bed early since we were exhausted.

The second day we went to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. After waiting in line for about an hour we finally got into the Vatican. We walked around through the museum and large halls of statues that, while interesting, were not enough to overcome my excitement to see the Sistine Chapel. All the ceilings in the Vatican buildings were gorgeously decorated; gold ornate decorations, paintings that actually looked like sculptures, and paintings depicting different scenes. However nothing compares to the Sistine Chapel. When you first walk in, it takes your breath away. It’s almost overwhelming there’s so much to look at. I automatically found the Creation of Adam painting and went from there. Seeing it in real life was so surreal. It’s so obvious just how talented Michelangelo was. Much to my disappointment, we were not allowed to take pictures inside of it. After the Vatican Museum we headed over to St. Peter’s Basilica. It was huge and the inside was so exquisite.

St. Peter's Basilica

We also got to see the Pieta, the sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, which is actually Michelangelo’s only sculpture that bears his name. I also couldn’t believe I was seeing that in real life. Growing up, my Mom and Dad had a small replica of the Pieta on their nightstand and I would always look at it. I never knew what it was until I was older and then seeing the real thing was once again, a totally surreal experience.

We walked along the river back to our hostel and saw some more historical sites, including the Castel St. Angelo and the Piazza del Popolo. That night we hung out at our hostel with some Spanish people we met who were also staying there. It was fun because I got to put my two years of Spanish to work, seeing as they only spoke about 2 English words.

Our last full day in Rome, a guy who worked at our hostel mapped out a walking tour for us that would take us past the major tourist sites. We started our journey at the Trevi Fountain, where we all threw coins in, guaranteeing our return to Rome.

Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain

We next saw the Pantheon, the giant dome with the hole in the ceiling. Then we went to Piazza Navona where we sat on the fountain there and people watched for a while. Moving on, we next reached the Spanish Steps. I was a bit disappointed because there were no flowers on the steps like you always see in the pictures. I wonder if this has to do with the season. But we still joined the hoards of people on the steps and sat and people watched again. We then headed up to the Medici Villa where we got so amazing panoramic views of the city. Sarah left Rome that evening to visit a friend in Florence a day early, so Amanda and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice last dinner in Rome. We searched Trip Advisor to find a good restaurant around our hostel and came up with one called Babbo’s. It was rated the 6th best restaurant out of the 2032 in Rome, so we knew we had to go. The restaurant had a quiet, cozy atmosphere, and would have been the perfect setting for a romantic Italian date. We started our meal with an amazing antipasti of Buffalo Mozzarella and tomatos, and then had main meals of pasta (perfectly aldente) with broccoli, olive oil sauce and pecorino cheese for me and shrimp risotto for Amanda. We finished our meal with an apple torte in cream sauce and then got complimentary biscotti dipped in Sherry. It was seriously the best food I’ve ever had. It’s worth going back to Rome just for that.

The next morning we got up to go to St. Peter’s Basilica again to climb the dome since we missed out on that the other day, but unfortunately there was about a 2 hour wait and we would have missed our train. We asked a guard (who looked like an Italian version of Bradley Cooper) if there was any way we could skip the line since we didn’t need to go back into the Basilica, but sadly there was no way around it. So instead we had a relaxing Italian breakfast and then hopped on our train to Florence!

I had to condense my pictures into the slideshow for this post so please look at those and if you are friend with me on facebook, there are about 120 pictures of Rome on there!

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Finding Beauty Within

Raise your hand if the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “beautiful” is a big city. I’m guessing your hand isn’t raised. Not many people consider a big bustling city to be beautiful. However, there are things that make each city beautiful; you just have to find them. The beauty lies within.

Let’s first talk about the literal side of things. What inspired this blog post is Queen Mary’s Gardens in Regent’s Park. Regent’s Park is a huge park in the middle of the big city of London (it’s where I went paddle boating on my birthday). I’ve always thought it was beautiful but Sunday I went to Queen Mary’s Gardens, which makes up the inner circle of the garden. It was the most perfect day outside, 65 degrees and sunny (not a cloud in the sky), which is very uncharacteristic of London at this time. The gardens have every type of rose imaginable, all with the most unique names, from Razzle Dazzle to Remember Me; Sexy Rexy to Lovely Lady.

 

Lost in the roses

 

In the center section, there is a large grassy area surrounding by the roses where families, couples and friends laid out enjoying the sunshine. As we walked around the outer part of it, there were paths that branched off to other areas. One area reminded me of Alice in Wonderland because it had large maze like hedges, spiral trees and crazy types of plants. Another area was a labyrinth of more roses! There was also a pond with weeping willows and a water fall leading into it. It was so gorgeous and everyone seemed so happy. Seeing all this beauty and happiness made me feel like my life was perfect and I didn’t have a care in the world. It’s nice to just pause and admire life sometimes. Some people talk about experiencing bliss and I finally feel like I’ve found it on this trip. It’s not something you can go looking for, it just happens. You’re just walking around and then suddenly you just get this swelling feeling and you feel as though you just want to scream with joy because you’re overflowing with happiness. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this feeling since I’ve been here and I’m sure it won’t be the last. As a matter of fact, it happened again a few days later.

 

The Pond in Queen Mary's Garden. Pictures just don't do it justice...

 

Example two: crossing the Jubilee Bridge. Sounds like an odd place to suddenly be filled with bliss but let me set up the scene for you. The Jubilee Bridge crosses over the Thames River. It’s 7pm (which means its dark) on a chilly fall night. Notes of a jazz song float down the bridge to greet me, courtesy of a sax player  playing romantic songs for the couples on the bridge. As I walk across the bridge, I look to my left and see the skyline of modern London. The twinkling lights reflected on the Thames while the breeze blew in the scent of the ocean. I then look to my right to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was such a beautiful contrast to have this city that’s so modern on one side of me and then a gorgeous historical part of it on my other side. I closed my eyes and breathed in the cool air and the scent of the ocean, absorbed the sounds of the jazz music, opened my eyes and felt totally at peace with the world. It was that same feeling of bliss, but in addition to screaming with happiness, I wanted to cry at how beautiful life can be sometimes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me to capture that moment, but I plan on going back to do so.

On another note, I am leaving at 4am (in 6 hours) to fly to Rome! I am spending my fall break traveling through Italy for 10 days. I’ll be starting in Rome and then going to Florence and Venice. I’ve wanted to go to Italy for basically my whole life and am so excited I’m finally going! I’m sure I’ll have many more bliss moments (and lots of pictures) to share with you! Ciao!

This is long overdue….

Since Ruth yelled at me for not updating in a while (but then kept me from doing so with an hour long skype conversation- but it’s ok because I’m so glad I got to talk to you!) I figured I should probably stop being lazy and fill you all in. (This whole never having homework thing is bad for my motivation.)

I think I last left you with the Natural History Museum. Since then I have been to Buckingham Palace, the London Zoo, the Tate Modern, East End gallery openings, seen Hamlet at the National Theatre, and celebrated my birthday!

Buckingham Palace was stunning of course. The inside was fit for a queen (haha get it, my attempt at a pun), with elaborate decorated ceilings and walls, ornate furniture and gorgeous paintings. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so unfortunately you’ll just have to believe me when I assure you it was amazing. After the tour I had profiteroles at the cafe on the terrace behind the palace and then walked through the scenic gardens. It was so crazy to see this huge garden with a lake just in the middle of bustling London.

 

In front of Buckingham!

 

Since I love animals, we couldn’t pass up going to the London Zoo. It’s a huge zoo with such a large variety of animals. They even had an aquarium within the zoo. In addition to the main animals, they also had a petting area where I frolicked with sheep and took silly pictures with a llama. If you know me well, you know that I love otters and much to my delight the zoo had about 10 adorable otters. They were all burrowing together and rolling around and being silly. And what do I love just as much as otters? Meerkats, which the zoo had plenty of, and much to my delight there were 3 fuzzy little baby meerkats! I’ve never seen babies before so of course I spent a good 15 minutes squealing and trying to convince myself not to jump in the exhibit and steal one.

 

Is this not the cutest thing you've ever seen?

 

As part of my art class, we visit museums so we went to the Tate Modern Wednesday. The museum is right on the river and we had the first beautiful day in a while for it. The weather has been perfect this weekend: sunny and 65 degrees. The museum was pretty awesome. We saw paintings by Monet, Warhol, Picasso, and Dali, in addition to some crazy modern art (kitchen appliances, huge woven carpet pieces, a giant 3 way plug). While I enjoyed the museum, I kept finding myself staring out the window wishing I could be outside running around in the sunshine (little did I know this wish would be taken literally when I had to run down the river path to get to Hamlet in time…) After grabbing dinner at Tortilla, an amazing burrito place only in Mexico, Cali and London, (it’s the new Moe’s), we wandered into a boutique where I found the most amazing dress. I didn’t want to try it on because I knew I would have to buy it but of course I fell prey to temptation. After realizing it was my birthday in 2 days and I didn’t have anything suitable as a birthday dress, I knew I had to buy it. Love at first try on.

At this point we realized we only had 20 minutes to book it down the Thames path to the National Theatre. Sarah thought we would be fine walking at a normal pace, but oh no, after checking our progress on a map, we had practically gone nowhere after a 10 minute walk. And there were 7 minutes til curtain. Cool. We were those Americans running along the Thames screaming “3 minutes! 2 minutes! 1 MINUTE!” (Our theatre teacher had strictly warned us not to be late because in England they shut you out if you’re late to a play). We flew through the front doors and asked the first employee we could find where our theatre was (there are multiple ones in the National Theatre). After a sassy response “You know they’re starting now” (Nooo, we are just sweaty and out of breath for funsies), we managed to slide into our seats right as the lights went down. Our teacher had failed to inform us that this version of Hamlet was a modern one, so I was a bit confused when the guards in the first scene came out with machine guns. At first I didn’t like the modernization of it. It was weird to see men in business suits speaking Shakespearean English, but as the play went on, it grew on me. It was done really well and even though it was 3 and half hours long, I never lost interest. The one thing I didn’t like was the look of the actor portraying Hamlet. He looked too old and had a bald spot and receding hairline. Not what I think of when I picture Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark. He was a good actor though, so I’ll give him that.

Thursday after class, Sarah and I did some shopping on Oxford Circus (shoes, shoes, and more shoes) before we had to meet our art teacher for our event that evening. As part of class, our teacher wanted to take us to some galleries in the East end of London. The East End was quite an experience. It was very artsy and definitely a different feel than the posh area we’re in. The first thursday of every month, there is an event on Vyner Street where the galleries all open and tons of people come to drink and look at art. One of the galleries had free wine while most others had 1 pound beer. And this was part of class, baha. Most of the galleries were very strange modern art and some made me very uncomfortable (ex: Ninja Turtle Sex Museum) but there were a couple that were neat. It was definitely an interesting experience. After the galleries, we headed home to go to O’Neills, the pub with live music that we go to every Thursday. When it turned midnight, my roommate Amanda screamed to everyone in the bar that it was my birthday, resulting in me being thrown up in the air by a Spanish man and his friend, Alejandro (who told Sarah he inspired the Lady Gaga song….)

Friday, since it was my birthday, we went paddle boating on the lake in Regent’s Park because we had another perfect day! It was so pretty because the lake is lined with willow trees and filled with swans and we also saw the cutest couple row boating. The man was in a suit rowing the while the girl read the newspaper. Want to be them.

 

On the lake! Isn't Regent's Park beautiful?

 

That night I wore my new dress and went to Fabric, the biggest club in London. It was so much fun! There were 3 different dance halls and it was all crazy Euro techno music. At one point, I was pulled up on stage by a pack of shirtless boys to dance, which was hilarious. I danced til I could no longer stand in my treacherous heels. Totally satisfying birthday weekend.

 

Sarah and I (wearing my perfect birthday dress)

 

 

And the back of the dress...my favorite part!

 

Another random one…

It gets dark at like 7pm here. And apparently continues to get earlier as the winter goes on…

Despite the early darkness and overcast days, for whatever reason my freckles have been explosive here. You’d think I’d spent a week at the beach or something.

There are so. many. stairs. in this town. They really like spiral staircases here too. I’m going to have the best legs and buns of steel after this trip.

Couples here are way more affectionate than Americans. They obviously don’t have problems with PDA here…And I’m not talking about in clubs or bars, I’m talking about just every day anywhere in the city.

Mom and Dad, you’re going to need to buy me all new shoes when I get home. City walking and cobblestones and whatnot have destroyed all of my shoes.

London actually does Mexican food well.