Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Today marks the final week of my stay in Firenze. I know I said I was going to keep up with posting, but I've grown lazy and my travel euphoria is making its descent (so yes, I'm still alive - no one has to go Liam Neeson on me). I don't know what day I'm on, but I can count the number of days I have left in Europe: 10 (on the 11th I head home). It has been a journey not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I'll get to the nostalgic rant when my trip comes to a close, though; there will be plenty of time for that.

I just had an intense déjà vu that I'm not sure where it came from. Hm. That's not important. What is important is to record the events of the past, I don't know, week and a half maybe? I suppose I'll begin with Roma...

Ahh, Roma. Now that's a city I could fall in love with (never as much as London, but it's up there). The five-hour bus ride didn't seem so long because the countryside in Italy holds some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Sunflower fields, sprawling vibrant meadows, rolling hills. It is divine - I wouldn't mind frolicking in them one day. I could actually enjoy the views this time as I wasn't drunk or hungover. I certainly learned my lesson from last time. Some people can do that - props. I'll take a good night's sleep and some fresh eyes for a new adventure.

We arrived in Rome around noon, and I was surprised to see a city that looked so similar to Firenze. Tall buildings towered over the narrow streets, and it was actually quite small. I expected this giant city all wide with the Colosseum in plain view, but it looked relatively normal when we stepped off the bus. I decided to tag along with some new people because there was some turbulence in the apartment, and I had planned on meeting a ton of new people while I travelled anyway.

The sky looked troubled, but I decided not to take my umbrella, believing the sun would conquer the clouds. Always listen to your intuition. Three girls from the program and I decided to go on a hunt for food and found a street full of restaurants. Unlike Firenze, the hosts were incredibly aggressive. Some followed us down the street, persistently pleading us to eat at their restaurant, some offered free services if we chose their restaurant, and some would just tear apart neighboring restaurants, claiming their food was fresh and superior to the others. All we wanted was some cheap, delicious pasta to hold us over until dinner. We finally went back to one that had decent prices, and the host offered free bruschetta. How could we resist?

We sat down, perused the menu, and waited for the server. After he attended to us, we asked about the bruschetta we were promised. He became hostile quickly and refused to give us some because one of the girls didn't order a dish, even though the rest of us did. The debate escalated quickly to the point that a cappuccino was chugged and we told him to cancel the order because we were leaving. Yeah, we know this isn't our home and things are done differently, but nobody had to get chewed out. That's when round two of our hunt commenced.

A heavy drizzle began with only two of us having umbrellas - at least someone was smart enough to listen to the little voice saying, "Just in case it rains..." We roamed - ha! "Romed"- around for awhile as the sky darkened and thunder boomed around us. This definitely wasn't just a typical rainstorm. We quickly headed back toward the meeting place and found a small pizza joint. It ended up being cheaper than expected and quite delightful. Being the cheapskates we are, we decided to find a bench or something to sit at as it costs extra to sit at a table in/outside restaurants. We found a short wall to plop on, and then it hit. The torrential downpour with gusts of wind and lightning strikes crackling one after another. The trees and the two umbrellas we had gave some protection, but we were definitely on the Strugglebus trying to eat our pizza. These tiny flower leaf things kept flying into my cappuccino, too, but I managed to enjoy my lunch.

It was fun to hang around and get to know other people on the program because many of us just stick to the people in our apartments. Although it's convenient, it's refreshing to see some new faces. We made light of our rain troubles and met up with everyone else to begin our tours of the Vatican City. This, by the way, is the smallest country in the world. I can officially say I've been in two countries at once. Anyway, the Vatican Museum is incredible to say the least. So much art and history are held in this ancient edifice, and it's an experience that simply cannot be described. I'm not an expertise in the arts, but I do appreciate the beauty of such stunning artifacts.

Our next stop was to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I was itching with anticipation to see this. We learned about this incredible work of Michelangelo's in my honors arts and humanities class, so I definitely felt a greater appreciation for it than many of the other pieces I had seen since being in Italy. Pictures are strictly forbidden, but they wouldn't have done it justice anyway.

Never have I experienced such a connection to a piece of art in my life. I shuffled in amongst the dozens, maybe hundreds, who had also traveled all this way to view the ceiling. I gazed up, wide-eyed. My jaw immediately dropped as the fresco swam into my vision. A warm tear rolled down my cheek as this experience enveloped me. Another warm streak and another followed. It's one thing to read the Bible, but it is a most divine experience to gaze at its scenes artfully crafted by the hands of Michelangelo. The world had stopped in that moment, and I could see the roots of my faith so clearly.

The tour continued on to St. Peter's Cathedral - the largest in Italy - where its size was incomprehensible. I knew it was enormous, but my mind couldn't quite fathom it. I finally realized it was because the edifice was so proportional that the size of each part simply couldn't be understood. This was gorgeously puzzling, and I adored every minute. I'm not Catholic, but I wouldn't mind attending a mass in there.

We were then released for free time. I didn't buy anything because, honestly, souvenirs are overrated. I always look back and wonder why I bought that keychain or mini model of some monument that sits on my shelf collecting dust. Instead, I've learned to absorb the experience and take some pictures. Plus, I'll have wonderful stories for my friends and family that a magnet or postcard can't tell.

From the Vatican City, we headed into the heart of Rome to our hotel rooms, which were roomy, comfortable, and best of all, had air conditioning! It took us quite some time to figure out the electricity because the hotel key had to stay in a small slot by the door in order for it to remain on. It was strange. However, we had a spacious bathroom with a real tub we could take normal showers in. I napped in our bit of spare time, then we all headed to our scheduled dinner. Pizza was on the menu, so I wasn't complaining. A full belly later, I was ready to go to sleep. One of my roommates turned on the TV, and what did we find? The Hunger Games! I was a little too excited to watch it in Italian, but I soon found my eyes heavy and took the card out of the slot to turn the lights out. I wanted to be energized for day two.

The Colosseum was first on the agenda after a scrumptious continental breakfast (those are the absolute best, might I say!) The walk was shorter than it appeared on the map, and I thought it would be more... colossal (so punny! I know, I'm lame. Just accept it). Nevertheless, I stood in awe of the ancient arena. Our tour guide was fantastic! She didn't give us the lesson we get in history class, oh no - she gave us the dirty details of the place, and I loved it even more. We were allowed some time to explore the second floor, where many pictures were taken and a lap around the entire thing had to be done. I could've spent all day there, but of course, there was plenty more to see.

We went to the house of the Vestal Virgins, saw the place where Caesar was cremated, and looked over Roman ruins. So many facts flew my way, and I attempted to snatch as many as I could. The more you know, right? Our tour ended, we sadly departed from our lovely tour guide, and one of my new friends knew of a place a friend highly recommended (no pun intended; you'll see why in a minute). She knew it was atop one of Rome's seven hills (see?) we just had to go apparently. We asked our tour guide for directions and she pointed out the way on the map, but warned us we'd likely get lost. Not only did we NOT get lost, we found some of the best views in Rome. Where did we go? To look through the keyhole on top of Aventine Hill. It is famous for its view of the Vatican. If you look it up, you'll see what I saw, but naturally it's even better in person.

After my friend and I looked through the keyhole, we found a perfect little park on the hill that overlooked all of Rome. We sat for awhile and chatted about our experiences in Italy so far. We had some similar struggles and a similar personality, so it was fortunate we met. This was the part of traveling I loved. After sufficient time baking in the sun, we wandered around some more before heading back to the hotel. Dinner was in a few hours, so I took a bit of time to relax.

Dinner was delicious again with a few different courses that left me with a food baby. Many of my peers were planning on going out to bars, but I really wanted a preview of the Trevi Fountain before our tour in the morning. Expecting it to be at least a bit less crowded, my new friend and I waddled up and down the steep streets of Rome to make a few wishes. When we arrived, we were disgruntled to find a swarm of tourists snapping photos of the majestic fountain. That didn't deter us, though because it was just magical. I could've stared at the massive marble structure all night, but after almost an hour, we were ready to head back to the hotel.

I hung out in my friend's hotel room because I didn't really want to go to sleep or be in my room alone. Again, the TV was turned on, and what did we find? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! In Italian! Needless to say, we were unnecessarily giddy and watched the last half of the movie. Once it finished, I returned to my room and snuggled into my bed.

My final morning crept upon me quickly, and I shoveled down another free breakfast. I had to stock up for the last day before heading to our final tour. We walked all over Rome, visiting the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. At the Trevi Fountain, our guide told us how to properly make a wish, and I realized I'd done it all wrong the night before. My picture was perfect the night before, except it wasn't right. I redid everything the correct way, so we'll find out if it comes true. Obviously, I can't share what I wished for, but we'll see if it's granted in the future.

Once we were released for the remainder of the day, I met more people I hadn't previously encountered and decided to tag along with them. We ate lunch, and I found they were a bunch of goons like me, filling our meal with laughter and warmth. Afterward, we all headed back to the Pantheon to get a look inside since we couldn't beforehand (a mass was underway). It was magnificent as most of Rome is, and we headed to the Trajan Tower next. Here, a few of us parked and chatted for about an hour. It really is a unique experience to share this entire adventure with others, even for only a moment. With only about an hour until our bus left for Firenze, we soaked in the last sights of the Eternal City on the way to the hotel.

Drained, we retrieved our luggage, and reclined in exhausted silence awaiting our departure. Finally we boarded the bus and were ready to head back. Unfortunately, two of our people understood the time to be an hour later than the scheduled time, so we had to wait an extra thirty to forty-five minutes for them. In the meantime, an anomaly happened. Another fierce thunderstorm appeared overhead; not only was it more intense than the first, but large hail crashed down from the sky. I hoped the lost sheep would find their way soon, which they did.

I found it peculiar that we were being seen off in the same way we were greeted. I enjoyed the raging weather and watched its progress as we drove into and out of it. We returned to Firenze safe and sound with cloudless skies just as we left it. The weekend was certainly one of my favorites, and I hope I can return there one day. For the meantime, I'll be celebrating my last week of classes and my time here. Then, I'm off to Paris and, finally, home.

I can't say I'm not excited and ready to go home. I can't wait to see my family and friends and snuggle in my cloud. I also can't wait to move into my new apartment with some of my best friends. What an eventful summer. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Buonanotte! This girl needs to study for finals...

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