Italy was probably the most awaited destination for us, especially since we wouldn't let ourselves eat any ice cream before we got there, in anticipation of the gelato.
The journey into Italy was definitely not the most desirable. We were taking an overnight train from Barcelona to Milan and then Milan to Florence. There were six of us and cabins have 4 people in them so we drew to see who'd be the 2 people on their own. I was one of the unlucky people who had to share the room with the two random people. The two random people were two Italian women who knew no English. They also started off not knowing each other, but were somehow best friends by the end of the journey. In any case, they were both smokers and even though we were in a non-smoking cabin, they started smoking as soon as me and Renata left the cabin. We just hung out in the other girls' cabin and the smell wasn't actually too bad so I fell asleep okay... UNTIL I was woken up by the stupid conductor who wakes people up like 45 mins before their stop. One of the women's stops was like 2 hours before ours so I got woken up in the process. This was like 6:30 am. This would have been okay if she'd have gotten up quietly and left. But the other woman was really stupid and decided she wanted to get off with her new friend. This caused a huge commotion because her ticket was for Milan and the conductor still had her passport. Then the two women went outside to smoke and got caught. So THEN, we had the Italian police and drug dogs come into our room at like 7 am. They made us all get out of bed and take out all of our suitcases while the dogs sniffed them. Needless to say, I could not go back to sleep and our stop wasn't until 10 am so I was one very unhappy camper.
Thankfully, Italy was uphill from there. In Florence, we saw: the very pretty Duomo cathedral church thing and climbed up to the top of the dome for a great view, Michelangelo's David sculpture (amazing!), the Medici Palace, Palazzo Vecchio, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge that has a really cute tradition of lovers going up there and guys locking padlocks to a certain sculpture thing and throwing the key away as a symbol of their undying love, and we saw the Pizzale Michelangelo, which has the most amazing and free view of the city. We also took a day trip to Pisa, which is an hour away, to see the leaning tower of Pisa. This was very cool, but I was also surprised by how short the tower is. It would be a really lame tower if it didn't lean.
We also met up with a bunch of the kids from the Stanford Florence program, who were really cool. We went out to some bars with them on a Monday night, which was awesome. My only complaint was the bad customer service in Florence. They have so many tourists that they really don't care about them and people can be very rude. But it was a great city, other than that...
ROME and AMALFI COAST
We took an amazing, high-speed (one-hour) train to Rome, and I think this was my favorite city overall. It was SO beautiful. There was so much history and beauty at literally every block. There were big fountains and sculptures EVERYWHERE. We were there for the day before and day of the Pope's funeral (we hadn't planned it like that), so the city was packed with people, but they were pretty much concentrated around St. Peter's Basilica, so the other attractions weren't too bad. Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel closed the day we got there to prepare for the enclave of Cardinals to pick the new pope, so that kinda stunk.
But we saw: the Colosseum, Roman Forum ruins, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican Museums, Villa Borghese, the pretty plazas, and the monument of Vittorio Emmanuel (a beautiful building that you don't ever really read about). Angela and a friend of hers from Florence hung out with us in Rome on the last day, which was cool. We also found the most amazing gelato place call San Crispino that's been featured in the NY Times and Gourmet magazine and the fruit flavors there were just unbelievable. You actually felt like you were eating an orange or pear or apple. If you're ever in Rome, email so I can give you directions to this place.
Crazy story: I ran into my IHUM TF in a McDonald's in Rome!!! It was insane. She doesn't even teach at Stanford anymore because she's in New York with her new husband and baby (they were all just vacationing in Rome). But she saw me in McDonald's and called my name. I couldn't believe she remembered it, but she was my TF for winter and spring and I am a very memorable person ;-) But that was just totally crazy! FYI, McDonald's was totally our friend during this trip: cheap, reliable food, where you can always understand the menu!
We went down to the Amalfi Coast with Angela and her friend for a day, where we planned to spend our second to last day just relaxing and lying on the beach. Unfortunately, it rained the entire time. The coast was still beautiful and we had a blast with our newly expanded group, but getting wet wasn't so hot.
We went back to Rome on Sunday because we were flying out of there on Monday morning. We got to go back to the amazing gelato place and then we went to St. Peter's Basillica because we hadn't been able to go there before. We went to St. Peter's Square, which was awesome, but arrived just in time for Sunday mass, which was the first one since the Pope's death so the place was PACKED. It was gorgeous from what I could make of it, but I could barely see anything in the church, which was a little sad....
On Monday, we took a bus ride to the Rome airport, got on our flight, and then a two hour bus ride to Oxford. But I am finally here and it is SO nice to have a real bed and home and internet and just be in the same place for more than two days. I loved the whole traveling experience, but there is no way I could do it for more than two weeks. I am glad to be home (or the Oxford version of it)...