Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Italy, Italy, Italy!

As promised, a giant Italy post! Complete with pictures of my escapades, of course ;) 

Day 1 and 2: We arrived at ABIA and hung out until it was time to board, whereupon we flew to
Me and M.M. on the flight to Chicago
Chicago. There was snow EVERYWHERE in Chicagolike, real snow :D It was great. Then we boarded our British Airways plane and had a 7-hour overnight flight to the London Heathrow airport. My first time in another country! That was awesome; so exciting. One of my friends brought pepper spray, however, not knowing it was illegal in the U.K., and so she got caught in security, and they called the police, whereupon her little pink pepper spray can was "seized and destroyed." I have a feeling none of us will be forgetting that story anytime soon ;)

Locks on Juliet's gate
Day 2 cont.:  After getting off the looooooong flight in Milan, we met our tour guide, Francesca, got on a bus, and traveled to Verona. Actually, most of us were exhausted and just slept on the way, so I'm not sure how long our ride was, or which cities we passed through on the way >.< Verona is little, quaint, and cute; I really liked it. We visited Juliet's (Giuliette, in Italian) house, where people lock locks on her gate with their names and the name of their lover, so that their love will be unbreakable. Adorable tradition, by the way :) After some free time, we went to eat at a cute, little family-owned restaurant that served amazing tortellini. 
Tortellini from the Ristorante Enocibus
That was definitely the best meal we had on our entire trip :) Then we got back on the bus and headed for Venice, where we reached our hotel. One of my roommates, however, was in the other girls' room and graciously decided to stay there so she wouldn't come back and wake us up. However, we didn't know this. So M.M. got up at about 2:30 in the morning to make sure she was still alive ... which consisted of knocking on everyone's doors to see if she was inside. She found her, but not until after waking up everyone else ;) Fun times.

Look at this horse. He made it in two minutes. Amazing!
Day 3: Venice! My favorite city. Early this morning, we took a ferry out to Guidecca Island to watch a glass-blowing demonstration at the Murano glass factory. Let me tell you, this guy was amazing. God really blessed him with glass-blowing talent. Hence that he made a beautiful vase and a glass horse in under two minutes. Afterwards, we were allowed to shop in the store, where, unfortunately, everything was very expensive. One glass bead was €10. I was very disappointed, as I really wanted to buy something, but I wasn't willing to spend all my money on the first day of shopping. But! I found the Imperfections Table, where the imperfect items were being sold at half-price. I found this beautiful blue little glass cup which apparently had an imperfection (I couldn't find anything wrong with it) and got it for €20, even though it was originally €22 at half-price, because the very sweet saleslady saw that I didn't have chance and told me I could have it for €20 :) That made my day. After we all finished shopping, we met our tour guide for the afternoon. She led us around Venice and told us all about its history. Afterwards, we had free time, during which M.M. and I wandered around, looking at various shops and just enjoying the day. When our free time was over, we returned to St. Mark's Square and I went with the group who was going to ride gondolas. I mean, how can you go to Venice and not ride a gondola?
Gondolas in Venice!!
So we rode gondolas, and that was amazingthe precision with which the gondoliers have to steer down those narrow waterways is just breathtaking; it definitely takes a lot of talent and strength to be a gondolier. I was thoroughly impressed.
     Once we came back, we went to the Doge's (Prince's) Palace for a self-guided tour. That was neat as well, though we left pretty quickly and went to hunt down some gelato. Ah, gelato ... <3 More on gelato later. After this, we took a boat back to our hotel, whereupon we ate and then went out to the Adriatic Sea (which was literally two minutes outside our hotel room) and stuck our toes in the cold ocean and gathered some shells before returning and going to sleep. Venice was so gorgeous; I loved how the city was so deeply integrated with the sea, and how everything was just so exotic and beautiful. There were even seagulls everywhere! Totally wouldn't mind living there one day :) 

The Duomo
Day 4: We traveled to Florence today, again by bus. We ate lunch and then took a guided tour of the city, where we saw the Duomo, which was probably the most impressive architectural feat I saw in Italy. We toured it and some other church and then went to see a (short) leather-making demonstration in a factory. The prices at the factory were waaaaay high, so I don't think many of us bought anything. Afterwards we had some free time. I don't really remember what we did ... probably just looked around at the markets. Probably ate some gelato, too. Then we ate dinner, hung out for a while in our hotel rooms (actually M.M. and I went sliding down the stair bannisters :D ), and then had some deep conversations before going to sleep. 
       We had a free day the next day, and M.M. and I went shopping with P.W. and her mom. They mostly looked at fashion shops and bought some cute purses, shoes, and clothes. P.W., M.M., and I kinda struck out
Giant sandwiches!
on our own after a while, though, and that was super fun. It was wonderful to just have some freedom, you know? We could go wherever we wanted, and I really loved being able to do that ... and pay for my own stuff and manage my money :D Weird thing to be happy about, I know, but hey
I'd never really done that before. On our way back, however, we ran into this Jamaican guy who offered us "free" bracelets and we were perfectly happy to take them ... until he asked for Euros. None of us had any change, and he got so upset that it was almost funny. He yanked the bracelets back and went off muttering, and we all just kinda stared at each other and then proceeded to head back, very perplexed and slightly amused. Interesting experience, indeed.


Assisi from atop a mountain
Day 5: We headed to Assisi today, which involved our bus going up into the mountains, as Assisi is situated a little ways up in a mountain range. It was beautiful here ... although the Catholicism of the city was extremely overwhelming and honestly, a little creepy. There were crucifixes and statues and rosaries and crosses everywhere; most of the stores were entirely full of these things ... enough is enough, guys ;) But we traveled to a castle that frankly looked like it belonged in Ireland, and it was very cool to get to explore it; I enjoyed that a lot :) Afterwards, we took a guided tour of St. Francis' Basilica, and that was interesting. I'm just not into old churches, though. I had much more fun just roaming around and shopping and visiting the fake Irish castle :) Then we packed up and headed for Rome! We checked into the hotel, and then some of the group went on a night tour. P.W., M.M., and I did not, however; we stayed in our room and talked for a while and then went to sleep.


The Colosseum
Day 6: We went to the Colosseum today. For some reason, it wasn't what I was expecting ... and I wasn't all that impressed by it. Strange? Yes. I don't know why it didn't impress me. Oh well. Then we visited the Roman Forum, which was interesting but not mind-blowing. Then we went to the Vatican. Also didn't know what to expect here. The chapels and churches were pretty, yes, but there were just so many statues and paintings of popes and saints! C'mon, people, are we worshiping the saints and popes, or God? It was unsettling, especially since there was an entire, huge room of twenty-foot statues ... of the Greek pantheon. Um, what? Since when do the Greek gods belong in the Vatican? I think they had their religions confused. Anywaythe tour included St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, and when we finished our extremely looooong tour (12:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.), we ate, had a little down-time, and then visited the Trevi Fountain. It was indeed impressive, although it was also full of Greek gods and goddesses. Then we went back to the hotel and slept.

Day 7: Part of the group woke up early and went to visit some early Christian catacombs. M.M., and I did not, but we were stuck at the hotel until the others came back ... which was 2:00 in the afternoon, and by then our day was kinda wasted anyway. But we discovered an amazing little sandwich shop around the corner that was very cheap and very good :D When the others got back, we went shopping again (I think ... I don't really remember what we did). Oh! We went to a gelato store with 150 flavors! :D That was AMAZING. Gelato is just a superior form of food in general. I wish I could have sampled more flavors, but there were just way too many to choose from.
GELATO.
      I think I've numbered the days incorrectly, but this was our last day. Oh well.


Day 8: We packed up very early in the morning (3:45) and rode to the airport, whereupon we boarded and flew back to Heathrow. Then we headed for Austin ... on a 10 hour flight. I used to like flying. No more. But we arrived safely and soundly back at ABIA at 6, and then I went home and relayed my adventures to my parents :) 


All in all, a wonderful week. I really wish the Scotland/Ireland trip had won, since I want (and intend to) live in Scotland someday soon, but Italy was amazing, too. I'm not sad at all that this was where we ended up going. It was my second choice behind Scotland/Ireland, anyway :) I made a new friend, learned a LOT about Italian culture, saw some beautiful sights, and realized how big the darn world actually is. And I got some practice handling and managing my own money :) This trip was a real blessing, and I'm so thankful my parents let me go. I will definitely be traveling abroad again as soon as I can. Andhere's the stuff I bought: 

 Some awesome Italian combat boots, a leather purse (my first purse ever, actually), a keychain from every city I visited (except Milandidn't have time :/ ), and the little glass I bought from the Murano glass factory in Venice. Such a memorable and amazing trip!! If you ever have the chance to visit Italy, do it; it'll be well worth your time and money :) Arrivederci, y'all!

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