Over the Alps and through the boot, to Italy we go.
24.03.2016 - 29.03.2016
After a friend's birthday weekend trip to Dusseldorf, Germany, we embarked on what I would consider the best trip yet. Of course, I say that about every trip I go on, but Italy is something special. I've always wanted to visit Italy ever since I can remember; I read a book when I was much younger about an orphan who lived in Venice. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to visit Venice this trip, but no worries. I will definitely be making the trip back. It was 5 of us friends and 5 amazing days.
My long Easter weekend through the boot of Europe started with a beautiful early morning flight over the Alps to Milan. If I was a pilot, this would be where I would want to fly all the time. Visiting the Alps in person was breathtaking--seeing them from above was even more stunning. All of a sudden there were these huge snow covered mountains below, almost like a white blanket had been ruffled up. Even though they felt so close that our wing might clip a particularly high one, the behemoths were transformed into a wrinkled sheet no larger than my airplane window. It was awesome to see the mountain range from a different perspective, and I could easily see where these little valley towns like Kitzbuhel, Austria fit into the landscape. Complete with a fly-over of Lake Como before landing, we spent about 5 hours walking around Milan and exploring what it had to offer before heading on to Tuscany. On this high speed train ride I realized just how small the world is--we met and talked to some recently graduated students who knew one of my good high school friends really well.
When arriving in Florence we walked directly to the hostel, only to find out that it didn't seem to exist. There was no huge welcome sign or friendly lighted name; only a number and a plaque, as we found out after calling the hostel owner. Apparently we were lucky not to have our reservation canceled--we had arrived after check-in and he had to come back by scooter to let us in. It ended up being a quaint and cozy small-scale operation which was right in the center of town. The town of Florence, speaking of which, was exactly what you might imagine an Italian city to be: tight streets, bustling crowds, fresh air, gelato. There was so much to do, from shopping in genuine Italian-leather markets, to climbing the duomo (basilica/church), to watching the sunset and riding bikes through the hills. It was perfect. Oh, and you can't forget the free wine for students at dinner.
Rome, too, was as cool as anything. We averaged about 13 miles a day walking, and saw pretty much everything you can see. The first day we knocked out just about the whole city, criss-crossing from famous-cool-old thing to old-cool-famous thing. We arrived around noon, had a small lunch, hit the Coliseum, site of the Circus Maximus, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Altare Della Patria, Spanish Steps (for the sunset, of course), and numerous churches and smaller things. There are literally so many historical things you get accustomed to seeing old buildings and taking them for granted. Day 1 in Rome complete. Day 2 we took a deeper dive into some things. Day 2 happened to be Easter Sunday, and we managed to squeeze into the Vatican City and attend the 10am mass with about 100,000 other people. I was not able to meet the Pope--maybe next time--but it was still an experience of a lifetime. For the afternoon and evening we reserved the Coliseum and Forum ruins, probably with the same 100,000 people. The Coliseum was huge and imposing, but the other ruins I think made a bigger impact on me. They are scattered over the entire city, with the most concentrated around the Forum and one of the 7 hills of the city. Circus Maximus (though only a portion "stands") supposedly held 250,000 people, which absolutely blows my mind. 2,000+ years of history stood before us in this open field of walkable ruin, and was bathed in a warm orange sunset that evening. Even after 2,000 years and being 99% crumbled, what they built is still impressive today. Day 3 was planned on being Pompeii and Naples, but the weather turned German and was rainy and gray all day. After a sub-par bus tour (don't take GLT tours), I appeased my classical roots and rode bikes on the Appian Way, a famous road that was depicted in a scene of Respighi's Pines of Rome (everyone should listen to this piece). It was used back in the Roman times and is still around today.
Wow this post was long, so I should end soon. I will remember this trip forever (just like I will every other trip here) for its beautiful history, pushy but kind people, warm weather, and good company. I learned that world is so much smaller than it seems, yet still so full of beauty.