Travel Break 3

 

            After a full week of final assignments and projects, an emotional call of bad news, a little drama in the air, and eleven restless girls itching to explore Italy, our third travel break could not have fallen at a more perfect time.  We had so much fun hosting the Meredith alumnae and having dinner with our sweet host families, but we were ready to finally make our on schedules and relax.  Sad to leave Sansepolcro for the last time, but excited to finally experience the Rome life, five of us girls took off with all of our belongings on our backs to enjoy our final days in the beautiful country we had grown to love and adore.

            With our well researched travel plans, we managed to board each of our trains without the slightest bit of trouble, and we found our way to Rome just a few hours later.  The part we didn’t have planned, however, was how we would manage to reach our hotel from the train station.  The eleven mile walk wasn’t ideal with our luggage, so we began to hunt for a taxi.  This sounds like an easy task; however, we didn’t have an address for our hotel.  We only had walking directions, and none of the taxi drivers spoke great English.  I suppose we just assumed that Hotel Texas was a well-known place, but apparently it didn’t occur to us that Rome was one of the biggest cities in Italy.  Also, it was a struggle to find a taxi big enough to transport all five of us.  It was one conflict after another, but we managed to resolve each problem, and landed a cheap taxi ride from a very sweet Italian man.  The first night, after getting checked in to our hotel rooms, we decided that it was time to experience a little bit of American food.  We made a reservation, and headed to Hard Rock Café to enjoy a relaxing meal after a long day of travel. 

            The second day began bright and early with a scheduled, small group tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.  Thankfully because of our pre-purchased tickets and our group tour, we were able to skip the mile long line that lead to the Vatican entrance.  With the new Pope having just been appointed, it was very exciting to visit “the Holy See,” and witness the place where this very famous man resides.  When we walked in, we came upon a landing with an open view of the beautiful Vatican City.  As we continued to walk through the museum, we witnessed many sculptures, paintings, frescos, tapestries, and other incredible artwork that were all significant to the Roman Catholic Church, and the Vatican City.  The details and the talent portrayed in the artwork are unbelievable, and I found it especially interesting that each piece of art had a great deal of historical importance.  Along the tour of these infamous places inside of the Vatican City, we then traveled to the Sistine Chapel.  When I think of Rome, I first think of the Sistine Chapel, and for that reason I was more than excited to see what all of the praise was about.  The Sistine Chapel was beautiful!  Every inch of the walls and the ceiling were covered with gorgeous paintings and frescos.  Each painting represented many of the characters and stories throughout the Bible.  My favorite part of the entire chapel was the ceiling.  On our tour, we had twenty minutes to walk around and absorb the chapel, but I stood in one spot and marveled at the beauty and the talent that went in to creating the tall, artistic ceiling.  The last stop on the tour was Saint Peter’s Basilica.  This particular site is also very prominent to the Roman Catholic religion, and I was excited to see it with my own eyes.  When we walked in, I was completely stunned by the size of the building.  It was absolutely huge!  However, they didn’t let the size of the building get in the way of decorating.  The Basilica was designed to perfection with the large amount of art, tiled designs, wallpaper patterns, statues, and alters.  We walked around for an hour, just taking in the beauty that was before us.  We also stood in line to personally witness the preserved body of Pope John XXIII.  I was amazed out how the body looked.  It literally looked as if he could have died yesterday.  We ended our tour and spent the rest of the day walking around Rome, enjoying some of the authentic food, visiting the shops, conquering the subway system, and treating ourselves to all the gelato we could eat.  It was a long, hot, and tiring day, but it was one of the best days we’ve had abroad.  We ended the night even more excited for the next day’s adventures.

            The next day we set off to finally visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  Considering this is one of the most famous monuments in the world, I was beyond excited.  Luckily, when we arrived at the Colosseum, there was only about a five minute wait so we were able to purchase our tickets and head right in.  The Colosseum was so much bigger than pictures portray, and more amazing than a picture could possibly do it justice.  It’s fascinating that something this big was built nearly two thousand years ago, and still remains standing today.  We climbed to the top of the Colesseum, and looked down on the beautiful view of the city.  It was also odd to stand where spectators once sat, and think about the performance that was happening down below.  I couldn’t possibly imagine this form of entertainment existing, and it gave me chills just standing there and thinking about it.  Leaving the Colosseum, we spotted a very cute, outside restaurant placed directly under the branches of a very large tree.  We stopped for lunch, and enjoyed one of the best meals we had ever eaten.  Rejuvenated and ready for more adventure, we then headed off to visit the Roman Ruins.  It was a lot of fun walking around, seeing these fascinating sites, and visiting some of the mini museums filled with ancient artifacts.  While walking around, we also discovered a very beautiful view of the back of the Colesseum, and together we spent a view minutes just relaxing at the top of a rock, and taking in the beauty that surrounded us.  We spent the rest of the day shopping on the streets of Rome, and enjoying our last day in the city.  It was truly a great day!   

            On our final day in Rome and in Italy, we backed our bags, called a taxi, and headed straight to the hotel where we would meet the rest of the group.  When we heard that there was a beach next door to our hotel, it was a synonymous vote that we spend the last day on the beach. We each rented beach chairs, and headed to the beach for the remainder of the afternoon.  We spent the day just relaxing and reflecting on the past five weeks and the friendships that we had made.  Watching the ocean roll in and feeling the breeze fly by, I realized just how blessed I have been to have this opportunity.  It finally hit me that our trip was coming to an end, and I was filled with emotion.  Happy to be traveling back home, yet still sad to leave, I knew that Italy would forever have a special place in my heart.        

Travel Break 2

            For our second travel break, a big group of us girls took off for what we were sure to be an amazing few days filled with warm weather, beautiful views, and no homework.  After we all split up and went our separate ways for the first travel break, I was excited to be taking this adventure together.  Once again we designed a very detailed itinerary and the six of us headed off for a fun-filled three days in Venice and Lake Como.

            Since we had already mastered the train system my nerves were much calmer than last time, and I felt myself getting more and more anxious to finally arrive in Venice.  Going to Venice has always been one of my dreams, and I could hardly contain my excitement during those very long few hours of traveling.  When we finally arrived in Venice, Laura Beth, Katie, and I broke away from the group and went to find our hostel, since the six of us would be staying in different places.  We were a little nervous as we walked in the front door, but to our surprise, the lady at the front desk spoke perfect English, and was more helpful that we ever expected.  We placed our things in our room, gave ourselves a quick tour of the hostel, and headed to the bus station to meet Leia, Molly, and Ashlea for a wonderful dinner in the heart of Venice.  The food was delicious, the view was amazing, and the people were so kind.  That night we walked around the streets, in to a few of the specialty shops, and just took a few hours to take in the beauty that surrounded us.  Venice is an absolutely gorgeous place. 

            The next day we woke up early, excited to be spending an entire day in Venice.  The six of us jumped on the first gondola ride we could find, and received a very detailed tour from our new friend, Sebastian.  We then took a very scenic walk around Venice making many stops along the way.  Our final destination was the Saint Mark’s Cathedral, and although the church was undergoing some renovations, the view was absolutely breathtaking.  I was overly impressed by the amount of intricate designs and the amazing architecture.  Our entire day was very low key, and filled mostly with sightseeing and shopping, but it was a beautiful day, and I had so much fun spending it with my new Meredith friends.

               After a great day spent in Venice we packed all of our bags, and the next morning we boarded the first train for Lake Como.  To say that Lake Como is beautiful would be an understatement.  There is nothing quite like seeing the Alps above a large body of water.   Witnessing this view made it very hard to hold back my emotions and I could not help but think to myself how great God is that he could create something this lovely.  We checked in to our hostel, and found a quiet, sunny spot out on the lake so that we could lay out, read our books, and relax after a long morning of travelling.  Searching for a little more adventure, us girls decided that it would be fun to rent a motor boat for an hour, and give ourselves a tour of Lake Como from a different perspective.  Six, twenty year old girls renting a motor boat was probably not what the owner had imagined; however, he gave us the key without any hesitation.  I sat in the driver seat, and off we went for a mini excursion on the lake.  This one hour boat ride turned out to be one of the best hours of the entire break, and I had so much fun bonding with the girls and getting to know them a little better.  The rest of the night was spent playing cards and relaxing by the lake, but it was certainly a great day!

            Not wanting to waste any minute of our travel break, we woke up first thing Thursday morning, boarded our ferry, and headed back to the train station.   On our way back to Sansepolcro, we made a quick detour by Florence.  There were so many things that the six of us wish we had done during our day trip to Florence, and several things that we wanted to go back and buy.  With backpacks still on and all of our belongings in our hands, we spent about three hours walking around the beautiful city of Florence once again.  Walking around with all of our baggage was certainly not the ideal situation, and after about three hours we were all exhausted and ready to call it a day.  Luckily, everyone had gotten exactly what they came for, and we were all ready to head back to our Italian home.

            While in Venice, as I marveled at the beautiful city that surrounded me, I couldn’t help but question how in the world it was created.  Of course we all know that Venice is the city built on water, but I found myself questioning, what came first.  Was it once a town that was flooded and then rebuilt, or was it all a body of water and then a city was truly built on top of it?  I was also fascinated by the means of transportation that Venice natives took every day.  At first I thought it would be so cool to substitute a car for a boat, and I’m sure it definitely has its perks, but then I started thinking about how challenging it would be during bad weather.  Also, how do the families manage flooding in their homes and businesses?  At first glance I was fascinated by the beauty of the town, but after observing the town a little closer, I become more and more fascinated at their way of life, and how carefully the city was designed.  It is truly impressive to see how they have managed to create successful lives in a city built on water. 

            Another interesting experience of this travel break was the “hostel life.”  Laura Beth, Katie, and I decided to book both of our reservations in hostels, because we were determined to get the hostel experience while abroad.  Of course we were very nervous and uneasy at first; however, at the first hostel, everyone we met spoke English.  Everyone there was around our age, traveling in just the same way that we were, and everyone was very friendly and full of great advice.  What we were scared might turn in to bad situation, resulted in us creating several new friends from all over the map.  The lady that worked at the front desk, even provided us with a map, personally walked us to the bus station, let us borrow her own personal hair dryer, and even gave us her cell phone number in case we needed anything.  We were convinced that she was an angel, but no matter how angelic she seemed, I quickly changed me opinion “that Italians don’t like Americans.”  After the first few days in Sansepolcro and witnessing some of the disgusted looks we received from Italians, I honestly felt that we weren’t welcome here.  This lady, however, was kinder to us than most American’s would be, and I realized my previous opinion of Italians was much skewed.  The second hostel wasn’t quite as sanitary or as welcoming as the first, and once again we became a little nervous; however, just as I began to have second thoughts about staying there, we met a girl who was volunteering at the hostel for the summer.  This particular girl happened to be from Raleigh, North Carolina, and was extremely helpful.  She gave us tons of insight as to what there was to do on the island, and she helped us get settled in to our rooms.  It was definitely a God send.

            Although we only spent one day in Lake Como, it still remains one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen in my life.  It would be impossible to accurately describe its beauty in words.  My favorite part of Lake Como; however, was not the view of the Alps above the lake, or the motor boat ride, but instead it was the simplicity of this beautiful place.  Of course, there were other tourists walking around, but there weren’t any tourist shops, the streets weren’t crowded with people from all over, and we could actually walk around and catch a glimpse of the simplicity of the Italian life.  The sense of family and community was everywhere.  We viewed families playing in the parks, kids walking home from school, fathers taking their children out for gelato, and families enjoying dinner together.  It was great to take a step back from all of the chaos we had experienced in the big touristy towns, and simply appreciate the Italian way of life.      

I will have to say that I had high expectations for this travel break after having so much fun in Sorrento on my first travel break, but Venice and Lake Como far exceeded my expectations.  I have gained a much greater appreciation for the beauty of Italy and the sense of family and community that is displays.  These three days were absolutely unforgettable, and I find myself getting more and more thankful for the opportunity to study abroad every day.  I can’t wait to see what Rome has in store.        

Travel Break 1

      Saying I was nervous is an understatement when describing how I felt before taking off on our first travel break.  Of course I was excited, but travelling around Italy without any adults or even anyone with experience travelling, was way out of my comfort zone.  Laura Beth, Katie, and I designed a very detailed itinerary for our stay in Sorrento.  Feeling a mixture of emotions from excitement to anxiousness, the three of us took off for our three day adventure to Sorrento, Pompeii, and Carpi.

            I have to say that I was most concerned with the travelling process.  After we reached Arezzo, we quickly realized that our train to Rome was actually a faster train and required an upgrade.  Together we figured it out, boarded our train, and took off to Rome without any problems.  However, we reached Rome with only 20 minutes until our next train departed, and again we realized that we needed to update our rail passes for our train to Napals.  After asking numerous people, being led astray, making several attempts, and asking again, we finally printed our updated tickets with only five minutes to spare.  The three of us ran as fast as we could, and thankfully reached our train just before it departed.  As soon as we arrived in Napals, we realized that people were being generous when they described Napals as “sketchy,” and we scratched all plans to spend time in Napals and boarded the next available train to Sorrento.  This particular train was filled with graffiti, beggars lined the platform, and the train had exceeded its maximum capacity.  Finally, after standing shoulder to shoulder for the entire 1 hour and 15 minute bus ride, we reached Sorrento.  In Sorrento, a very sweet lady named Roberta, met us at the station and gave us a very scenic ride to our hostile outside of Sorrento.  It was a long day of travelling, filled with lots of anxiety and learning experiences, but it was exciting nonetheless, and at the end of the day, we were quite proud of ourselves. 

            Our hostile was much further outside of Sorrento than we had imagined, and when we pulled up, it honestly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.  There was no Wi-Fi, very few signs of civilization, and no phone service.  This freaked us out at first, but after we signed in, got settled in our assigned bungalow, and took a little walk around the site, we realized that not having Wi-Fi was certainly not the end of the world.  These circumstances actually provided the perfect opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better, and have a relaxing night. 

            The first morning, we woke up bright and early for our excursion to Pompeii.  Of course Pompeii is an infamous place in Italy, and I’ve certainly heard mention of it in my history classes; however, history books could never do it justice.  The three of us paid a very small fee for a walking tour of Pompeii, and I was absolutely astonished at what lied before our eyes.  Off in the distance we could see the beautiful Mount Vesuvius, and in front of us stood the ruins of a town affected by the volcanic eruption so many years ago.  What we witnessed in Pompeii was an experience that is difficult to place in to words.  We recognized the beauty of what was once a home for so many families, we were astonished at the damage from the ashes, we were surprised at the walls, statues, and details that still remained, and we felt sorrow for the families that lost loved ones during the tragic event.  Although this natural disaster took place many, many years ago, there are still countless signs of the life that once existed there.  We saw remains of churches with statues and alters still standing.  We witnessed the columns and the city walls that still remained.  We saw some of the authentic pottery that was discovered, and even witnessed some of the dead bodies that were smothered from the ashes.  One body in particular was crouched in a praying position, and it was truly a humbling sight.  We spent hours walking around this fascinating town, recognizing how large of a community had been permanently affected by one uncontrollable disaster.  It was an amazing experience, but also emotional to consider how many lives were changed forever by this one event.  It really made me reflect on how blessed I have been, and I realized how short and how unpredictable life can be.  We truly have to live every moment we’ve been given to the fullest, and place little value on the material things in life, because Pompeii is a perfect example of how quickly they can be taken away from us.

            After leaving Pompeii, we returned to Sorrento to spend the rest of the day exploring the town, visiting shops filled with handmade crafts, and indulging in the massive amount of lemon drinks, deserts, and candy that Sorrento is famous for.  Sorrento is particularly known for their hand painted glass, and we witnessed many beautiful hand painted pieces.  We even had the chance to speak with one couple to hear a little about their family business, and receive a description of the process and significance of hand painted glassware.  We fell in love with the elderly couple, and after spending time with them, there was no way we could leave their store without supporting their business.  We also quickly realized that Sorrento is known for their lemons.  I am not exaggerating when I say their lemons are the size of my head, and that there are lemons everywhere.  Lemon designs were painted on everything, limoncello was served on every street, and lemon candy was sold in nearly every store.  It was truly a beautiful place filled with so much personality and characteristics that set it apart from many other Italian towns.

            On the second morning, we walked down to the dock to board a boat waiting to give us a tour of the islands around Sorrento, and to spend the day exploring the island of Capri.  Due to a severe language barrier between the people operating the excursion, we were actually told to wait to the side, and by the time everyone else went through the line, the boat was filled, and we were told that we were not going to fit.  This of course made us very upset because we had previously made reservations to ensure that we were able to board the boat.  Thankfully after explaining our situation to another Italian, we were finally given word that another boat would be coming to give us our own personal tour.  After we finally left the dock and headed toward the islands, we realized that the view was absolutely beautiful.  We stood in awe as we witness this amazing place where the mountains and ocean bordered each other.  The water was the perfect shade of blue, the mountains and caves created beautiful scenery above the water, the coral was bright and plentiful, and the lighthouse built on top of the mountain was absolutely amazing.  When we reached land and were given a few hours to explore the islands, we headed straight for Ana Capri, and got in line for a chairlift that took us above the islands for a panoramic view.  It would be impossible to describe in words, but the view was hands down one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  There is really something about viewing a new place from a different perspective that can bring amount uncontrollable emotions.  When we reached the top of the mountain and looked down on the ocean and town below us, I found myself in tears at the beauty that stood before my eyes.  It was truly an unforgettable experience.

            This experience provided me with an opportunity to face my fear of independent travelling, witness a famous historical sight, and see firsthand some of the beautiful islands in Italy.  Of course there were many struggles and hardship along the way, but they were all lessons learned.  I am so thankful to have had this wonderful opportunity, and I cannot wait to see what the next travel break has to offer.