One of the worst things about being a DCU student is probably the length of our summer holidays. As one of the unlucky souls who didn’t manage to escape on a J1 this summer, by mid-July the novelty of being home had truly worn of , but I still had two months to wait. So what better way to deal with this summer time sadness than to book a cultural excursion to bell Italia?
Day one: A 4.30AM alarm is probably the worst start to any holiday, but these things must be endured to ensure seats on the cheapest flights. A few hours later, our plane hit the ground at Rome’s Ciampino airport and I stepped off into intense, sweaty heat. Straight away, the frenetic energy in the historic city was palpable. We’ve all heard the stereotype of Italian drivers; well it’s 100% accurate. Flying down main streets, turning into back alleys, driving through pedestrianized zones, we even heard a “Mamma Mia.” After a local lunch, we set off for one of the world’s most famous fountains, Fontana di Trevi. If I could use two words to describe this 86ft high, 161ft wide Baroque masterpiece – under construction. The mass of scaffolding and absence of water left us incredibly disappointed. Lesson learned, do your research. We then walked through the city to the impressive Spanish Steps where we saw our first functioning fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. Thousands of tourists descend on this landmark every day and we even spotted two brides having their wedding photos taken. We returned to the city centre for dinner by the Pantheon. Carbonara, gnocchi with pesto, followed by tiramisu and a walk to Piazza Navone, our first day and night was straight out of the Lizzie McGuire movie.
Day two: We had decided that the Vatican was a must do so we got up early and took a bus to the other side of the city to explore our religious sides. St. Peter’s square is an impressive sight, however the queues to get in were so uninviting that we forked out €46 each to skip the queues and be led on a four-hour trip around the museums, the Sistine Chapel and the rest of the Vatican; a costly but worthwhile decision. We heard anecdotes about Michelangelo, jokes about Raphael, and were able to understand the spectacle that is the roof of the Sistine Chapel. We then headed home to sleep off the heat exhaustion and sore legs before heading back into the Trastevere region for dinner. The Trastevere area is also renowned for its cocktails, and a €20 for a litre of a cocktail of your choice, I would recommend Rome on those drinks alone.
Day three: We arose early to catch a morning train to Florence. As soon as we arrived, the difference between the two cities was strikingly obvious. Calm and relaxed, Florence is one of the most laid back places I’ve ever been. We were a short walk from the centre of Florence and on our first day we visited the Santa Maria Cathedrale, ‘Duomo’; the massive free standing Dome, Piazza della Signoria, the leather markets, the Florence food market and, of course, the Statue of David. The city was very easy to navigate around and everything seemed so close together, it was a massive change to Rome, but the quality of food and wine at dinner that night was no different.
Day four: It was still dark when we left the B&B but the sky was brightening as we walked. We crossed one of many impressively constructed Florentine bridges, and walked up to Piazzle Michelangelo, a famous viewpoint with a statue of the man himself. At 7am we watched the sun rise over the mountains and country side, it was an incredible sign and also great for my Instagram. We then walked to Chiesa San Miniato, and along the river to Ponte Vecchio – the famous bridge which has shops hanging off it. By this time it was 8 o’clock we were a short walk from the Uffizi Gallery, so we went straight there to avoid the queues. If you have an appreciation for art and history you could spend hours there. Our final night in Florence ended with a shopping trip to the local leather shops and markets, followed by another night of unbelievable food, wine and ice cream.
Day five: Our final day was a bit of a rush. Italian buses seem to come and go as they please so we struggled to make our train back to Rome. We made our way to our final hotel, which was right beside the Colosseum. The view was equally impressive inside and outside of this historic landmark and the history is as interesting as history gets. The tour included a guide to bring us to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as well and lasted 3 hours in total. These three landmarks are riddled with character and history, a permanent fixture on the to-do list in Rome. We were staying so close the Colosseum and it was very convenient, but the area wasn’t as nice as where we first stayed, just outside the city. The atmosphere was different, not as friendly, and it wasn’t as well kept. But once again, the restaurants lived up to the rest and our last meal was just as enjoyable as our first, the ideal end to the ideal trip.
My bank account balance says I’m poor, but I’m feeling culturally enriched. Italy, I will be back.