Ever since Easter Weekend, it has been raining nonstop here in Italy. This is good for the country, because apparently it was getting so bad they were going to shut the water off to all the residential buildings during certain hours of the day if the drought continued. While I’m happy I will still be able to shower when I want, it doesn’t really make a nice time for traveling. Well, this was the last excursion hosted by my program, API. SO SCARY. I’ll hold off on my leaving freak out for another day.
This last excursion was a day trip to Lucca, a small town in Tuscany. We started out our normal walking tour of the city, umbrellas in hand. Our tour guide, Gabrielle, was absolutely hilarious. When he introduced himself he said his name and then said “Like Gabriel, the angel that told Mary she was pregnant… We don’t have anyone named Mary here do we?” Clearly, this was going to be a good tour that started on the city walls. Lucca is one of the only cities in Italy that still has its original city walls. They are also about 12 meters wide, making them the widest walls in Italy. They were originally made to protect them from an invasion of Florence back when the Florentines were taking over all of Tuscany. However, they were never needed. Lucca was a rich city that made a lot of silk clothing and traded all over Europe. The Spanish actually threatened Florence to leave Lucca alone so they could still trade with them, so Lucca was left alone. The walls now have a garden on the top of them.
For Easter weekend I went to the Amalfi Coast (as I had mentioned in a pervious post, and you are all such religious followers you’re probably thinking how stupid of it is for me to remind you.) I had been excited about it for weeks considering I booked the trip with my two friends, Jori and Jessica, about two weeks into being here. What could be better than sitting on a beach sipping frozen drinks, right? Well if only the weather had the same plans.
Leading up to this weekend all over Italy it has been a very dry season. A lot of their summer crops are dying due to a lack of water, aka strawberries are going to be RIDICULOUSLY expensive. But this weekend, the first real beach weekend I have planned, Mother Nature decides that she now wants to give Italy some water. Forecast for the weekend: Friday night - Sunday night = rain.
I am kind of behind on these entries because all of the different places I went on Spring Break put me behind. But I will be caught up by the end of this week I promise.
The weekend after Spring Break we had an excursion planned with API called “Under the Tuscan Sun.” They took us around different parts of Tuscany in order to show us what small town life in Italy is really like. First stop was Sienna. We did have a walking tour but it was more to just show the ways of life of the people rather than monuments. It was a beautiful city and it reminded me of a mini Florence.
After Spring Break, I expected life to go back to semi-normal; back to classes, cooking, no longer living out of a suitcase or on a bus. While all of that did resume back to normal, there were two things that did change. Both were explosions, but instead of destruction, these brought tourists and mosquitoes.
I live in Florence, so clearly there are going to be tourists here at almost all times of the year. I knew it was going to get busier as the weather got warmer and as time drew closer to the summer, but I never expected to have this much of a change within a week. It has gotten so bad, that I have to leave for classes 10 minutes earlier than I normally would, and 15 minutes earlier if my walk to class passes the Duomo. In this explosion of tourists I have come to realize why the Italians act certain ways. I always thought it was really rude when Italians would just run straight into you when you’re walking down the street instead of taking the half step to the side. Well now I understand that they are like this because tourists are rude. They stand in the middle of the only walkway and leave the non-walkway areas completely open while taking pictures of the city. They stop in the middle of the sidewalk to check a map instead of stepping to the side then checking it. They don’t move when you ask politely. If I had to deal with that day in and day out of my life, I’d get pissed off and run people over too. Oh wait, I do have to deal with it, and yes I have taken the same approach the Italians do.
We arrived after a long night in Barcelona at about 10 am. Our rooms of course were not ready so we dropped off our bags and then started our walking tour. First we went down Las Ramblas, the main drag of the city. On Las Ramblas was our first stop, the Boqueria Market. It was like the Mercado Centrale in Florence, only bigger. They had fresh fruit juices in all kinds of combinations. I personally got Strawberry Mango and it was so refreshing. The next stop was the Christopher Columbus monument which was right next to the harbor. This was the first look at the ocean I had in a long time, not including Venice because those are more classified as rivers. The sun was shining and the weather was warm. It felt like it was late May more than it was late March. We then headed to the Casa Baltó, a famous building designed by Antoni Gaudi. We then headed up behind the Casa Baltó and saw the 1992 Olympic Stadium. It was not as large as I pictured it to be. We then continued with our Gaudi tour to see the Güell Park that was designed by Gaudi. And to finish up the tour we ended with the temple designed by Guadi, La Sagrada Familia.
We arrived in Paris at about 6 pm on Tuesday. We quickly wanted to settle into our rooms and then get some dinner with the guides. When we got to the hotel it was not at all like any of the other hostels we were staying at. It was actually a hotel so you’d think it would be nicer? Well, don’t let the names of things fool you. This “hotel” was not as nice as any of the hostels I’ve stayed in. Andrea, Elisandra, and I were staying in a room together which was only made for two people. It had a queen size bed that was shoved up against the wall, and a cot next to the bed. The bathroom consisted of a sink and a shower that had tiles missing. The toilet was out in the main hallway. We also had a communal shower/toilet combo right outside our door. There was one working outlet in the entire room and it was meant for the mini fridge. Moral of this part of the story: don’t think that hotels are always going to be better than hostels.
We left Amsterdam in the morning and were headed to our next destination, Brussels. Unlike all of our other destinations we were only there for about 3 hours, so this entry is gonna be a little one. Everyone on our program had the exact same idea: eat as much as possible before time runs out. The time we were allotted doesn’t give you enough time to find any kind of monument or see anything all that important, but it is perfect for wandering the streets looking for food. Brussels is known for its beer, fries, mussels, waffles, and of course chocolate.
Next stop on the crazy week of Spring Break was Amsterdam. The bus got into the city at about 6:30 pm. We all were very tired from a very long bus ride. At our hostel, we were lucky enough to get fed both breakfast and dinner for free. Side note about our hostel: at breakfast they had PEANUT BUTTER. Literally the best part of this trip was I took about 25 packets of peanut butter. After settling in we had dinner in the cafeteria, then Andrea and I were lead by one of our guides, Bruno to the center of the city.
I know I have been M.I.A. lately, but I have had limited access to internet or I have been very busy trying to get back into the swing of things after Spring break! 10 days of traveling through five of Europe’s most popular cities: Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Barcelona.
First Stop: Berlin. We arrived in Berlin around 10 am on Friday morning. When arriving at the hostel, they did not have our room ready so we changed in a public bathroom and moved straight on to the walking tour. We saw the Bunker where Hitler hid during the end of the war, the hotel that Michael Jackson held his baby out the window, the Holocaust Memorial, and the remnants of the Berlin wall. It was all very powerful to see that much history in a short amount of time. As American as I am about to sound right now, I don’t care; I was really excited to find that they had Dunkin Donuts in Berlin. During the tour we snuck off an got some iced coffee and it literally made my day.