Last weekend, Elena, Kelsey, Monica and I traveled to Italy for the first time with the intent to conquer Rome and Pisa. While we all know by now that a weekend trip is never long enough to see, do, learn, and eat all there is to offer in each city, we experienced just enough in our few days to be tired with satisfaction and convinced that returning to Italy is a must.
A Thursday night flight at 9:40 seemed the perfect timing for me to go to my evening class until 7:10, hit the library to finalize and print a document, and make it back to the apartments for a cab to the airport. Of course, when you think time is in your favor – think again.
For the first time all semester, my class went over by a few minutes, followed by my computer and the five library printers failing to connect to the network, and turning my 15 minute errand after class into 40 minutes. Luckily, the darkness outside helped disguise me as I (literally) jogged from school back to the apartments to grab my suitcase and hop in our taxi. But despite my heavy breathing and fear of causing us to miss our flight, we made it to the airport and through the RyanAir passport check and security fast enough to still have to wait 20 minutes to board.
Once in Rome, a taxi driver took us to our Airbnb in Vatican City in the most thrilling and nauseating cab ride of my life. As the girl with the directions and address, I had a shotgun view of the twisting cobblestone roads as we passed cars around dark turns and jumped in front of other cars at red lights. The driver did, however, manage to stop abruptly at specific sites (ie. in the middle of bridges, on top of pedestrian walk ways, etc) to explain buildings and some history of Rome, which was fun and appreciated.
To say the least, it was a race to get to Rome – complete with a final celebration from Monica as we reached our Airbnb at 11:30 and realized we were right across from her long-craved McDonalds.
We started down the block towards the Vatican in order to beat the line of people waiting to get in, but 8 am was just not early enough. At the end of the line, we were greeted by an agency recruiter looking to set up an English tour for a “skip-the-line” advantage at a “low price.” Being impatient girls on a mission to see and learn everything we could, we paid the price – and it was worth it.
Listening through headsets that allowed us to wander, take pictures, and still hear the background without being on his heels, our tour guide took us through the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The architecture, statues, tapestries, tiling, maps, and ceilings were the kind of intricate beauty that keeps your eyes wide for hours.
After our tour, Monica and Elena somehow got lost from Kelsey and I, so in the meantime we ventured all of the way up to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. We even took the cheaper route and climbed the 551 stairs.
Finally reunited as a group before heading to dinner, we were too hungry to comply with the culture of the late dinner time. Loitering outside a nearby restaurant to check out their menu, we are certain the owner opened the restaurant early to feed us, since no one else came in for dinner for the two hours we were there, but we enjoyed our first pizzas in Rome anyway.
Surprise! I ate another “pisa” pizza today! Okay, it was more than a piece, but I couldn’t pass up the pun. On Saturday we took a train to Pisa to take a shot at holding up the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Without pre-saved directions from the train station, we were happy to find signs pointing our way to the landmark, and even happier to stumble upon beautiful views along the way. A glowing carousel sat on the side of the square where a statue of Vittorio Emanuele II stood and a small outdoor restaurant; colorful buildings and a small church lined our view down the Arno River as we crossed the bridge; and, gates were open to a botanical garden we stopped to peek into.
At the Cathedral Square, we had fun among the hundreds of other tourists leaning or holding our hands up in mid air for pictures with the bell tower before walking the rest of the grounds and eating lunch and gelato.
Back in Rome, we took to the streets and the metro with a map and a plan to see as much as we could.
After wandering through the maze of the Colosseum amphitheatre, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum for hours, we hurried over to the Trevi district to send our wishes, and those few US pennies still floating around in our bags, into the Trevi Fountain. Upset by the fact that an Italian pop star was not at the fountain looking for any of us to be his singing partner (Ref: The Lizzie McGuire Movie), we had lunch, more gelato, and walked to wind down from the day at the Spanish Steps.
Souvenir shopping, more wishes at the fountain, and observing street art brought us to our final adventure of Rome: to eat fettuccine alfredo from the restaurant claiming the “birthplace” of the dish. Our lack of map skills left us wandering, but we just happened to pass by a couple asking a policeman about – what sounded like – fettuccine alfredo. We hoped for the best and discretely followed the couple until we ended up exactly where we needed to be.
It was dinner and a show. The original fettuccine alfredo is served by a specific mixing and fluffing technique right in front of you. The thin noodles and creamy sauce was just enough to top off our weekend of walking, climbing, and spaghetti/pizza/gelato-eating to send us rolling home the next day at 5:45 am.
Follow the link to watch a video of my adventures: Rome & Pisa Weekend