By Yelena Wermers
College student, blogger, theater geek and music lover who is currently studying abroad in London. Follow Yelena’s blog here.
| Spring break was actually our first time out of London since we arrived here in January. Sure, we had taken day trips, but most of them were in the country and not that we don’t love London, but we were excited to finally get out and see other parts of Europe.
Our first stop was Rome. We took an early flight out of London and arrived in Rome around 1 pm. From there, we took an hour bus ride to the city center, where we had some time to kill because we couldn’t check into our AirBnB until 4 pm. We walked from the bus station and towards the Colosseum. On our journey there, we passed a pastry shop and decided to get some sweets because we hadn’t eaten in a bit and well, food is amazing in Italy. Tori and I bought these truffle looking chocolate balls. To this day, we aren’t sure what they were exactly. They were the consistency of an undercooked donut with chocolate sprinkles covering the outside of them.
We spent about 20 minutes taking pictures and exploring the general area, where we also saw Altare Della Patria, which is a monument built to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. To be honest, I thought the building was an art museum. The architectural design and just general size of the monument amazed me. At this point, it was raining and we all had everything we owned on us due to the fact we decided to just bring one backpack each so that we didn’t have to deal with checked luggage for the entire trip.
After getting the run down of our AirBnB, we all relaxed for a few hours to nap and charge our phones because it was only 4 pm but we had all been up for at least 12 hours with minimal sleep.
For dinner, we went to an area that our AirBnB host recommended. He said it was a younger area and that there were a few colleges in the area. On top of that, Billy’s sister recommended a restaurant that was in the area so we decided to eat dinner there. In true Italian fashion, we all got some kind of pasta or pizza dish and decided to split a bottle of wine because it’s Italy and who doesn’t love a good glass of wine?
And then we got our first gelato of the trip from Alla Scala Gelateria. I got stracciatella and chocolate because those are usually the flavors that I get when I go to Little Italy in New York City and I know that NYC would most likely not compare or come close to what I could find in Italy, but I needed something to base my gelato experience off of. To be honest, the gelato was good and at the time I thought it was the best gelato that I had ever put in my mouth. While we ate our gelato, we walked along the water for a bit because it was a nice night and the bridges looked beautiful all lit up.
Across the river was Castel San Angelo (which was featured in the Lizzie McGuire movie, for all of you Lizzie fans out there). Castel San Angelo is basically where the Pope would escape to if the Vatican was attacked. A few blocks down on the same side of the river was the Roman Supreme Court (the Supreme Court of Cassation) and I’m not sure if you guys know the Amanda Knox story, but Billy is a passionate Amanda Knox fan so we decided to get a closer look at the building to see where Amanda Knox had been acquitted.
From there, we realized that we were close to the Trevi Fountain, so we decided to stop by. When we got there, we threw in our coins (right hand over the left shoulder – like a true Italian) and made our wishes. We took all our touristy pictures and witnessed a proposal before we continued our journey home. On our way home, we walked past the Pantheon and a few important town squares before passing out after a long day.
The next morning, we started the day early because we knew that we had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. The day started at the Vatican City, the smallest state in the world. Although the line looked long, it moved pretty quickly and efficiently. We walked inside of St. Peter’s Basilica and it was too beautiful for words. Here we saw the burial site of St. Peter, one of Christ’s apostles and also the first pope. His tomb is directly below the altar of the high Basilica. Also in the Basilica was Pieta, a sculpture made by Michelangelo depicting Jesus on Mary’s lap after the crucifixion.
We decided to walk to the top of the dome to get a view of the Vatican. I’m not going to lie to you: we did take the elevator half way up still managed to all be out of breath by the time we walked up the 320 steps to the top. The steps were worth it though. The dome offered a 360-degree view of the city and who doesn’t love a good view?
From there, we walked a few blocks towards the Sistine Chapel because there was no way that we were going to be in Rome and not see Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.
There are genuinely no words to describe looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and seeing the four years of work that Michelangelo put into it. I can’t even draw a decent circle, let alone paint a masterpiece onto a ceiling over a period of four years.
(They said no pictures, but we still managed to sneak a few).
From there, we walked back to the Colosseum because although we saw the outside the previous day, we really wanted to go inside. One of the things our AirBnB host told us was to make sure that while we were there, although the architecture and design are insane, we need to remember what the purpose of the Colosseum was and how that affected the Roman people. Thinking about this while we were inside did give a different feeling to the experience.
Located close to the Colosseum is Circus Maximus, which is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. It was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome. None of us really knew what to expect, but at first glance, we all seemed a little disappointed to see a large green space with a few remains at one side. However, there was a very good gelato place at the further end of the Circus Maximus where Liz and I got the most amazing dark chocolate gelato. (For the record, this gelato was better than the gelato that we had day one, but still was not the best gelato we had).
For dinner that night, we went to La Montecarlo, which is a restaurant recommended to us by our AirBnB host (honestly shout out Pietro). In our opinion, this place seemed like a very authentic, family run, casual Italian restaurant. There were loud Italian waiters screaming at each other from different places in the restaurant, a family feel and a lot of laughter from both customers and the staff. Here we ate more pasta and more pizza.
All we ate in Italy was pasta, pizza and gelato. I would like to emphasize this.
Just because this was our last night in Rome, we walked back to the Trevi Fountain and made one last wish before heading home to get to bed because we once again had an early morning the next day.
Fun fact about the Trevi Fountain: All the money that gets thrown into the fountain is collected and goes towards subsidizing a supermarket for the needy in Rome.
Although we had to travel on our third day in Rome, we still woke up early to see the inside of the Pantheon because to this day, it’s the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and it is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings due to its constant use. On top of that, The dome is unique because of the hole that was built into the ceiling which allows in natural light (and rain).
After that, we made our way to the Spanish Steps, which were featured in Roman Holiday, a film starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. But, most importantly, the Spanish Steps are the setting for many important scenes in the Lizzie McGuire movie.
After a quick break at the Spanish Steps, we started our hour walk towards the bus station, where we’d be getting on a four-hour bus ride to Florence. Although the hour walk with heavy backpacks was a little miserable at the time, it was enjoyable because we were able to see different parts of the city that we wouldn’t see otherwise because they are off the tourist track.
Personally, I slept most of the four-hour bus ride from Rome to Florence, tired from all the late nights and early mornings.
We arrived in Florence around 2:45 pm and walked from the bus stop, through the market and directly to our hostel because after carrying the backpacks around all day, we wanted nothing more than to drop them off and not be carrying the extra weight around with us.
None of us had ever stayed in a hostel before and the hostel we had in Florence definitely destroyed any normal hostel experience we might have in the future. Due to the fact that we were visiting Florence during an unpopular time, we got the shared space for six people for just the five of us, which was nice because we didn’t have to worry about being loud and waking up a random person.
We had a loft with two beds while the other four remained on the first floor. We had a private bathroom and kitchen with a towel warmer. Beyond that, we had two large windows that overlooked the streets of Florence. If you looked out of the window and looked to the left, you’d be able to see Il Duomo. which was less than a 10-minute walk from our hostel which was clutch because we had all fallen in love with Il Duomo almost immediately.
For dinner, we went to Mercato Centrale, which was just a block or two from our hostel. After not eating lunch, we got pastries, desserts, and pizza from the market. To be honest, the mozzarella cheese that was on the pizza was one of the best cheeses that I’ve ever consumed in my entire life. Either that or I was starving due to the lack of eating that day.
After dinner, we walked to see Il Duomo up close for the first time. The sun was starting to set and I can tell you that was the first time that I genuinely believed that I was going to cry because of the beauty of a building. Tori and I stood there for a solid five minutes unsure of what we should do with ourselves. Should we take pictures? Should we appreciate her? Should we cry? (In case you’re wondering, we did all of them.)
We walked through Piazza della Signoria and observed some statues that were outside for a few moments before walking through Piazzale delgi Uffizi, where the Uffizi Gallery was located. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or money to go into the museum itself. At the end of the museum was a bridge that overlooked thwater and Ponte Vecchio, which is the oldest stone arch bridge with stores along the top. For dinner, we tried to do this pasta dinner which was more family style and recommended to us by a friend, but ended up eating somewhere random because in case you didn’t know, good food is expensive. That night, we went back to the apartment and just talked while enjoying some cheap Italian wine.
The next day we went to Tuscany for a WINE TASTING. To be honest, the first thing we booked for this whole spring break was this wine tasting. We planned everything around this wine tasting. We just wanted to drink wine in the Italian countryside because that’s boujee.
Our tour was lead by a wonderful young, Italian girl named Veronca who managed to give us a history of the area as we were driving an hour to Tuscany from Florence and a drunk Italian song after the first vineyard.
The first vineyard was exactly what I imagined a quiet and small vineyard would look like. It had cute patio furniture and barrels with a gate out front that was covered in plant life. Inside, we met some of the family who owns the vineyard and taught how to properly enjoy wine and the correct way to hold a wine glass. From there, we were given five wines and plates with bread, cheese, a salad, and crackers. We tried different combinations of the wine and food before trying three different oils (the truffle oil being the best, in case you were wondering). Personally, the first white wine we had was my favorite and the cheese that you could pair it with was so so so good. We ended the tasting with a desert wine. When you dipped the biscuit into it, the biscuit tasted wonderful. However, the desert wine by itself was my least favorite wine of the day.
Our second vineyard was about 20 minutes away and had more of a farm feel to it. Here we learned about the wine making process and saw the steel containers where the wine was mixed and how they are cleaned. Most importantly, there was a dog and a few other animals at the vineyard and well, I’m going to let you know that I was a little tipsy after the first vineyard and petting dogs and a horse just made me happy.
The woman who led our tour is who I aspire to be in life in case anyone was wondering. Years ago, she was on a wine tour and stopped at this vineyard and ended up meeting her husband. Now she lives on the vineyard and gives the wine tours!
Here we tried three wines; one red, one white and one rose. The rose was my favorite but I prefer rose in general so that’s no surprise. With the wine, we had bruschetta that was paired with their olive oil and the combination of the olive oil and bread was just amazing, which resulted in me eating about half a loaf (probably).
After the two wine tastings, we stopped off in the little village of San Gimignano, where we ate some more gelato from a gelato shop that had won multiple awards and had a good reputation. We walked up a hill and ate our gelato while looking over the small Tuscan village and the vast landscape.
Once we got back, we all napped before meeting up with my friend Adam who was traveling alone and had just arrived in Florence earlier that afternoon. Adam’s friend previously studied abroad in Florence and sent him a whole guide on where to eat so Adam planned dinner at this restaurant that had the most amazing Gnocchi (according to Adam, Rose and Billy) and their pasta was definitely homemade and was a different pasta eating experience. We spent the rest of the night walking around Florence.
We bought tickets online for the Galleria dell’Accademia so we were able to walk up to the museum without waiting in line, which was perfect because we had a busy day ahead of us. Here we saw Michelangelo’s David. He was taller than I thought he would be for some reason (I think someone previously told me that he was small, so that’s probably why). The detail of his muscles and his arm veins once again amazed both Rose and me. I swear we stood there just staring at little details for a good 15 minutes and trying to notice different things that we hadn’t caught right away.
On our way to the church where Michaelangelo was buried, we stopped by Pino’s, which is a sandwich place that was recommended to me by two friends who studied abroad over the summer. It was evident that the sandwich shop was a favorite: I got a four-cheese sandwich and it was warmed to perfection. The crunch and little dash of salt on the bread made the sandwich a five-sense experience. To be honest, we have a video of Rose biting into the sandwich just because we loved hearing the crunch of the bread. On top of that, the man who owned the shop was adorable and just an all around wonderful dude.
From there, we walked up to Piazzale Michelangiolo (aka Michelangelo Square) for a panoramic view of Florence. I have to say, I think Florence is beautiful and probably one of my most favorite cities that I’ve ever been to. We did our souvenir shopping in the square while enjoying the view and waiting for Adam.
Afterward, we made our way to Forte di Belvedere, which is the second and largest fortress to be built in Florence. (It was also the site of Kim and Kanye’s wedding in 2014). The fort had a large green space which almost reminded me of the gardens in Versailles (not on the same scale; just the same feel). They also had a fountain and a museum which featured different types of clothing and dresses which seemed Hunger Games-ish to me (at least some of them).
Once we walked out of the front of Forte di Belvedere, we realized that we were close to Gusta Pizza, which was another restaurant that was recommended to us by both Adam’s friend and my friend so we made sure to go. The pizza was cheap and so so so delicious and a part of me was sad that I was finishing it because that meant that I had none left, but there was also no way that I was going to let this pizza go to waste. (I wish this wasn’t the only picture I had of the pizza).
After a late lunch, we walked through Ponte Vecchio and stared out over the water before heading towards Il Duomo because although the outside was wonderful, we hadn’t yet seen the inside. On the way they, we passed through Piazza della Repubblica and listened to a street performer for a few minutes before continuing our walk to the Duomo.
To be honest, I expected more from the inside of the Duomo, just because the outside was so jaw dropping. The inside was pretty, but after seeing the Vatican and already being slightly disappointed, it didn’t even come close to comparing.
Luckily, close to the Duomo was Eduardo’s, which is a gelato place that has THE best cinnamon gelato a person will ever eat in their entire life. I was a little skeptical about the concept of cinnamon gelato, but it was so highly recommended and the cute little shop had a line out the door, telling me that they have to be doing something right. Beyond the cinnamon, I got the dark chocolate gelato which was just as good. Eduardo’s was definitely the best gelato that I had while in Italy and there is no doubt about that in my mind.
For the entire month of February, it’s Carnevale in Italy, and the whole country joins the fun. Because of that, we ended up going to a few bars and enjoying the festivities, even though most of the people I ran into were Americans who were also on study abroad or on spring break.
Italy was definitely an experience and I wish I had more time there. Instead, we made our way to Berlin, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands for the second half of spring break.
About the Author
Yelena Wermers is a sophomore studying marketing at the University of Pittsburgh who is currently studying abroad in London. She is outgoing, loves to laugh and is addicted to social media. She enjoys traveling, listening to music, attending concerts and sporting events and hanging out with friends. Follow her at www.instagram.com/yelena.wermers (@yelena.wermers) or follow her blog here.