Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lifelong Dreams Fulfilled in Rome and Florence

The first word that comes to mind when the place Italy is mentioned has to be pizza or pasta. The land where vine ripe tomatoes are turned into delectable sauce that is highly sought after. Coming from an Italian family myself, I was very eager to explore the land of endless vineyards and amazing food. So as part of trip #3 on the "7 cities in 5 weekends" trip, we took our favorite (because it's the cheapest) airline, Ryanair, from Dublin to Rome! Our plane departed at about 7am on Thursday morning and by the time we got to the airport near Rome (which may have been the smallest airport I've every been to), we took a bus into the city and arrived at the bus terminal around 12pm.
One of the first things I noticed was how cool the trees looked! It reminded me of a place tropical with trees that have big bushy tops. The weather ALSO made it feel like Florida, it was almost 70 degrees outside! After living in Dublin where it rains quite frequently and is consistently about 50 degrees, this felt like summer. Once we got to the bus terminal that was almost in the middle of the city, the first thing we wanted to do was find food. I mean come on lets be honest, what we really came here was for the food anyways, not all the marvelous history...or maybe that was just me....either way, it was bound to be a good time :). We found a small little cafĂ© and I ordered a 3 course meal for just 10 Euro, it happened to be the lunch special. I ate some of the best bruschetta, lasagna, and tiramisu that I had ever had and this was only the first meal.... the excitement for the next meal was SO REAL. We dropped our bag at the hostel and got into the touristy mindset. We walked to the Colosseum which was about 20 minutes away, taking in the beauty of the city buildings and old architecture on the way there.
From left: Me, Erin, Kelly, the only three on the trip!
After taking in the sights and wonders of the Roman Colosseum, one of the greatest monuments to have  survived the classical world, we went to Palatine Hill. It was incredible to see a lot of the remains still there and with such a beautiful day like we had, everything was in its full glory as the rays of sun cast on the features.

We walked back towards the hostel with the intentions to find some dinner along the way. We ended sitting outside at this place situated on one of the main roads in the city. We all ordered a glass of wine, even though I don't normally drink wine, it was only fit for a country where the wine is so highly regarded. I also ordered a fresh margherita pizza which, as you'll be able to guess, didn't disappoint either. We continued walking to the hostel and got gelato afterwards, another staple item in Italy. By the time we arrived back at the hostel, we had plans to naps and then go experience the night life but we ended up being to tired to rally so we all fell asleep.
In the morning, I got up around 9am to walk to the train station to catch my train to Florence, Italy to visit my cousin Noelle who was studying abroad there. She had visited me in Dublin earlier in the semester so I had promised her I'd visit while I was in Italy! And man oh man am I glad I did. The high speed train connected Rome and Florence through one of the prettiest landscapes I've ever been able to witness. Surrounding the tracks were big rolling hills with grape vineyards in every direction. It was another beautiful day out and the sun, beaming on the bright green grass, made for a train ride that, although I was planning to sleep on, made it very hard to close my eyes because I already felt like I was in a dream on the train. It reached speeds of about 150 mph and arrived in Florence around 1pm. When I got to the train station, I couldn't find wifi and I realized that I hadn't even asked Noelle what her address was, so I was just a lost puppy dog until I could find wifi. But if there's one thing I've learned from study abroad, it's to embrace all the moments, especially those where you might be lost. It's creates a mental toughness that even though you may feel lost in life, there's always going to be a way to figure things out and you have to do everything you can to make it work. So as I walked around the Florence train station with a glimmer hope of figuring out where to go, preparation met opportunity and I got lucky by finding a Wi-Fi network that worked. I received the address from Noelle and walked to her place.
Upon greeting her, we had lunch and then headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo, an overlook which provided unbelievable views of the city. To our surprise, there was also a gelato festival happening in the square! The best part was, for just 6 Euro, you got to try 14 different flavors of gelato in either a small cone or cup form. I was in heaven. This day was already off to a phenomenal start. As we walked around enjoying all different types of flavors from mango strawberry to Nutella to black cherry, I spotted a red Ferrari in a parking lot about 100 feet away. And of course, being the car aficionado  that I claim to be, I had to go check it out! As we are eye-ing up the car, taking pictures and all, an Italian man asks "Do you want to drive it?" And for that split second, I heard the little voice inside of me scream OF COURSE but the other part of me thought 'There's no way this could be possible....this is a $350,000 car and he's just going to let a 21 year old American take it for a spin? Yeah RIGHT, that's impossible." And in the split second I contemplated all of that in my head, he handed me an information car and said "Seriously, all you need is a driver's license. Just 60 Euro to drive it for about 15 min. And sure that seems like a hefty price for a just a bit of time but this is something I've wanted to do since I was 16 years old and now I finally had the opportunity to. Except one crucial part of the equation was missing.... I DIDN'T HAVE MY DRIVESR LICENSE WITH ME. My heart sank. They said a picture of it would suffice so I prayed and hoped that my roommate would be home and could send me a picture of my license because it was right on my desk. I had a limited Wi-Fi connection so I was able to message her to send me the picture but once she sent it, I couldn't download the picture! I decided to do something I told myself I would never do unless I was in an emergency...turn on international data for my cell phone....sorry mom! This was an emergency and I told myself I'd pay for any of the ridiculous international data charges that were tacked onto the monthly bill. So for 30 seconds, I turned it on, downloaded the picture, and finally my eyes lit up. I calmed walked over to my cousin Noelle and with a slight grin on my face holding back the immense excitement and said two words: "It worked". Her face lit up and she goes "Let's go!!" And it was history from there.

Collage I made after the experience
It was everything I could have imagined. Although I only got to drive it on windy roads in between towns, the tutor in the passenger seat let me drive it the way I wanted, revving it around turns and taking in all the sounds not only from the engine but also the people who saw the car drive by and yelled "Wow that's incredible" just as I would have if I were on the sidewalk and saw it. It was a short lived experience but I enjoyed every second of it and it honestly felt like a dream. I've driven some fast cars before but nothing to this capacity. Afterwards, Noelle and I took some pictures in front of the city overlook and then climbed to the top of the bell tower for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Panoramic views of the city
After a full day of walking around the city and plenty of excitement, we went to a restaurant called Gusta that Noelle had suggested and enjoyed some of the best meatloaf (only second to my mom's!) and spaghetti that I had ever had. By this time, it was around 9 pm so went home and got ready to go out. I got to experience the night life at one of Noelle's favorite bars because it had karaoke. And by the end of the night, Noelle and I had done karaoke together on stage to "Tik Tok" by Kesha and wow it must have been quite the sight after wuite a few beers in us :).

On Saturday morning, I woke up, said goodbye to Noelle, and walked to the train station around 11am. I arrived back in Rome around 1pm and had wanted to go to the Vatican that day to finish off the Rome trip. The other two friends that I was in Rome with, Kelly and Erin, had left earlier around 10am for the Vatican so I was fine with traveling there on my own. Luckily, I was able to take the metro to Vatican City right from the train station.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to go into the Vatican or the Sistine Chapel because the line was incredibly long and I was a bit short on time. It was incredible just to stand in Vatican Square and take everything in on the bright sunny breezy day that it was.

At about 4pm, I took the metro back to the train station in Rome and walked back to the hostel to wait to meet up with Kelly and Erin. We boarded a bus at about 6pm to head back to the airport to catch our 9pm flight. It was the trip of a lifetime. Everything fell into place very well and the food was everything I had hoped for. Originally, my family was going to come visit me in Dublin and then we were going to travel to Rome for a few days but that fell through because of my dad having a conflict with work that week. So as much as I would have loved to visit Rome with my family, I'm glad I still got to go with friends and experience all that it has to offer. And let's be honest, if my mom was with me, she would have never let me drive that Ferrari :).


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