So I realize I’ve been on quite the hiatus here, and I can cite my twelve-day Spring Break trip to Italy for that one. I traveled with five friends, and was lucky to meet up with others, as well as family, along the way.
We started out on the most hectic note possible. Like everybody else in Madrid, we were trying to get out of town before the Huelga—the National Strike—on Thursday. After a lot of confusion and miscommunication, we were lucky enough to get a Wednesday night train to Barcelona to start out our trip. Come the next morning, I witnessed one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen firsthand. In response to labor reforms, the Spanish went on a 24-hour strike from work. Those brave souls who had the guts to show up for the 9 to 5? Well, they experienced something like this:
Looks pretty tame, I know, but things got crazier. After a day on the beach, the only thing that was “open,” my friends and I had no choice but to enter an open business to grab dinner. Bad timing kicked it. As we ordered our fast-food sandwiches, a mob of people ran down the street. The cashier closed the gates to the restaurant quickly, and we were shuffled upstairs, where we remained for two hours. Outside, we watched dumpsters burn, a la protesters, and rubber bullets fly, a la police. Sorry, Mom and Dad, probably not what you wanted to hear…but it’s part of the story. We later learned that the actual protesters were pretty tame, as we had seen in the morning—it was the teenagers and twenty-somethings who got inappropriately rowdy. The adults only wanted a peaceful protest, with graffiti as their worst weapon. Still, a little ridiculous in my opinion. It was an interesting first impression of Barca, to say the least. The best part? Midnight on the dot: street cleaners came out, bars and restaurants opened back up…these people were serious about their 24-hour time limit.
The rest of Barcelona was great—I’m excited to return with my family. Sagrada Familia was one of the coolest churches I’ve ever seen, and Gaudís Park Güell was equally as cool. We also saw a fantastic DJ at Opium, a dance club right on the beach.
Sagrada Familia: under construction for 130+ years
Next, it was off to Rome. Rome has probably always been in my top three places to visit, and, no, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was inspired by the Lizzie McGuire Movie. After a very satisfying first Italian meal the night we got in, it was up at 6:30 AM to meet my mom’s sister, Jill, along with Dan, Annie, and Matthew at the Vatican. It was obviously great to see family, and to truly relax for a few days. The Vatican was exciting to see, and made even better by our bubbly Italian tour guide.
Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican
We spent the rest of the day walking around Rome. This included a trip to the Burberry Store by the Spanish Steps, where Annie and I were offered glasses of champagne. I only mention this to express the vast improvement over our last trip to Burberry, in Chicago, ages 9 and 11, where we were found sporting the classic scarves as bonnets, put in the corner, and supervised by an employee while our moms looked around.
The next day we saw Old Rome—the Pantheon, Coliseum, and Roman Forum. The area around the Pantheon was the Rome I had been waiting for—narrow, cobblestone streets, adorable restaurants, street musicians, and lots of life. We then headed over to the Trevi Fountain, which, as touristy as it is, was one of my favorite parts of the city. Everybody was so happy to be there, and the mood was probably only helped by the elaborate proposal that took place while we were there. We capped the night with snacks at one of the ritziest hotels in Rome, which Madonna is reported to frequent, which we were told to check out for the atmosphere. I think we all agree that the overpriced food was the worst we had in Italy—proof of Italy’s unbelievable knack for cuisine.
Annie and I
At the Coliseum
Yep, I’m the creep who took a picture of this.
Next, my friends and I headed off to Naples. After warnings from Mom and Dad to stay away, we compromised by taking overpriced cabs the mere four blocks from the train station to Pizzeria Da Michele. Being a Punch fanatic, I had to find the best real Neapolitan pizza, and rumor had it this was the place. Da Michele was founded in the 19th century, and only serves two kinds of pizza—Margherita and Marinara. Let’s just say we inhaled them, and left Naples completely satisfied and fully content in never returning for any reason other than this pizza.
As if one oversized meal wasn’t enough for one day, we were later pleasantly surprised to find that our hostel in Sorrento offered a four-course home-cooked Italian meal at their cooking school. The best hostel in the world, no contest. The next day, they took us out on their private boat for a day-long tour of Capri and the Blue Grotto, paired with the best Caprese sandwich I’ve ever had. I loved being back on the water, and though I’m sure my seasick friends would beg to differ, found the ride to be even better than the island itself.
Our digs for the day
Our lame, tired selves could barely get through dinner for the 5th night in the row, but early to bed was a good call, as we woke up early the next day to visit the Amalfi Coast. The seven euro bus ride along the world-famous coast road was enough, but the towns themselves proved to be out-of-this-world, and definitely worth revisiting for a week or two…or forever. Positano brought us down 900 steps to the beach, and I wont pretend my weak legs weren’t violently shaking by the end. Ravello, with it’s famous gardens and villas, was absolutely breathtaking, and Amalfi brought me some great homemade pasta, unreal lemons and limoncello, a local specialty, and a beautiful sunset.
Positano’s famous cliffs
In the gardens at Villa Cimbrone, Ravello
Amalfi at sunset
We took the train to Florence the next morning, where we were greeted by Anastasia’s friend Hailey, nice enough to host us, and Gusto Pizza, the best in Florence and a close second to Da Michele. I had pesto—one of our favorites to make when I was younger.
The food and gelato was great in Florence—I think I was lucky enough to go to four of the best restaurants. The best part, though, wasn’t this, nor the Duomo or the Ponte Vecchio, which I had heard all about. It was the David, brought to life by our tour guide Bernie. Thanks again to Aunt Jill for the recommendation. Bernie is one of the most passionate and captivating people I’ve ever met—easily better than any professor in my three years in college. He spoke about the David for over an hour, and none of us could take our eyes off of him. The information he gave was fascinating—that Michaelangelo sculpted him from a rough piece of marble rejected by four artists before him, that he was attacked by a mad sculptor a few years back, that NASA considers him one of ten things that best represents life on Earth. The best story, though, came when he told us of his tour with the Jersey Shore cast members. He quoted Snooki in asking if David was happy with his portrait when it was completed. Yes, a first testament bible character was thrilled to see his “portrait,” completed only 1500-some years after Christ. She also asked, “did kids actually have little wings back then?” Needless to say, Bernie got a big tip, and we enthusiastically shared his business card with just about everybody we met.
On the Ponte Vecchio
We rose early the next day for a wine tour of Chianti, which is in theory awesome. We were a bit taken aback, however, by the three-hour hike in the rain, and the guide who, at one point said, “to me, wine is wine.” This was almost redeemed by a visit to the “secret bakery,” which opens at 2 AM each day and provides students with to-die-for chocolate croissants. Obviously we couldn’t make it past 1 AM…I’m beginning to question whether we’re Madrileños anymore.
It was all well and good, since we rose early to watch an Easter Ceremony outside the Duomo. After noon we headed off to Pisa, took the obligatory pictures, and took our last train to Milan for the last night. The last day in Milan was a nice relaxing change of pace. We shopped where we could and window shopped where we couldn’t then finished off with Apertivio with my friend Colleen, who studies in Milan. Apertivio, the Milan government’s way of getting the people out into the city before the typical 10 PM dinner, brought us six dollar drinks and a fantastic spread of Italian appetizers.
Chariot “blowing up”—Easter Ceremony in Florence; brings good luck for the coming year
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Duomo in Milan—one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen
A delayed flight brought us back to Madrid at 1:30 AM Tuesday morning, so I’m still letting it sink in that I leave tomorrow night for a weekend in London. Just as Lizzie McGuire told me to go to Rome, London has called since the Parent Trap—I know I won’t be let down.