Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I'm back in America now! Home sweet home. I started slacking a little towards the end with keeping up to date on everything I did... May slipped by faster than I realized. Since Morocco, I also went to Paris for 3 days (incredible, minus the stomach virus I caught on the way home), Segovia and La Granja for the day, and Toledo. I had a great time in all of these places and I especially loved Toledo. It was breathtakingly beautiful and was full of rich Spanish history that you could almost feel just by walking down the street.

Our final weekend in Alcala was probably the best weekend of my life so far. Once finals were over, we had nothing to do but spend time with each other and the place we had grown to love. Some highlights from the final weekend:

Thursday - CrusaCrawl
Each room made a special drink to share with everyone and then the whole group went from room to room. The final stop, once we took the 2p to the Plaza (singing obnoxious American anthems the whole way), was haircuts hosted by the homestays. We chose the Don Quijote statue as the ideal spot because of its great significance as a mainstay in countless drunken photos. There was a fair amount of chaos involving uprooting a tree at a World Heritage site, but nothing our group wasn't used to. Then we made our way to Cancan where they had shirts honoring our final night there.

Friday - Closing Ceremony, dinner in Madrid with MJ and our professors, JOY
Our closing ceremony at CIFF marked the official end of our academics in Spain. Matt and John gave a little speech (stand up routine?) that was hilarious. Audrey made a great slideshow of pictures and videos that summed up our semester wonderfully! Afterwards, we hung around, had some tapas and drinks and relished the beautiful weather. Later that night we all met in Madrid for a final dinner with Maria Jose, Ivan, Tanguy, and Lindsey. I'm definitely going to miss paid-for-by-Loyola dinners! We convinced them all (except Lindsey) to come out with us after to Joy, one of our favorite places on Fridays. We all had a blast and Tanguy was especially hilarious with his dancing! I never had him since I wasn't in the marketing class but he was so entertaining at Joy that I almost wish I took that class to see what he's like on a regular basis.

Since we weren't able to make the annual spring Craigsfest, we decided to have our own Spanish version. The day was beautiful so we were able to hang out on the balcony of the boys' room. Everyone tye-dyed shirts and wore them around. Even though we just hung out, played games, and danced I had a blast! It was definitely 10x more fun than Craigsfest has ever been and I couldn't imagine a better way to end the semester.

If you couldn't tell already, I miss Spain so much! The people I went abroad with were so fantastic and I can't imagine what my experience would have been like if they weren't all there. I made so many great friends, had the time of my life, got to explore new cultures and people. This is an experience I will never forget and I am so glad I took the opportunity to spend the past 4.5 months learning about myself and others in Spain! Ya echo de menos, España. Hasta luego, porque no puedo decir adiós.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


That would be Arabic for Morocco! (or Maroc, or Marruecos, depending on where you’re from). Which is in AFRICA, in case you didn’t know. I’ve now been to 3 different continents! Exciting. Although I realized that Morocco is much more Middle Eastern than African in terms of culture, architecture, language, etc. We arrived in Tangier in the early afternoon on Friday, a quick flight despite the 2 hour time difference. The owner of the house we were renting sent for a big van to pick up all 14 of us from the airport (which could hardly be considered an airport – it was much more like a single hanger.) Our driver’s name was Chergy, which was absolutely hilarious. Anyone else think of Fergie? Hence his new nickname, Chergalicious. We were driven to Assilah, our town along the coast. Our house was located inside the Medina, which is the old part of town, walled off from the rest of the stores and restaurants. I couldn’t even contain my excitement when we got to our house. The view from Caitlin and I's room: It was absolutely incredible. Three floors with ocean views and a rooftop terrace where we watched the sun set over the water every night. I know I’ve said this after every trip we’ve taken, we this has been incredible!! The weather was perfect – hot but not scorching and sunny every day. We had two women that cook and clean for us. We got breakfast, which consisted of strawberries, jam, these thin crepe-type pancakes, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee, and dinner! The first night we had cous-cous, the second night fish, the third beef and the last night chicken. It was all SO delicious.

Every day consisted of roughly the same thing – we wake up, eat our great breakfast, and then either tan on the terrace or shop in the Medina (pictured below), eat an incredible dinner and then hang out for the rest of the night and play cards. The group has been so much fun. There was 8 of us in our house and then 6 more in the house around the corner. Our house was bigger so we would mostly hang out there. One day we decided to venture out of our routine and go into town to find someone to take us to Paradise Beach, a beautiful private beach we heard about. Instead of taking a taxi, we got these horses pulling flat, wooden carts to take us. We didn’t realize how far the beach was and it was so rocky we kept thinking we were going to fall off! It was such a funny adventure though. The beach was so beautiful, which made the whole trip worth it. There was only one other group on the beach – a bunch of older Spanish women. Our drivers stayed and hung out with us, playing hacky sack and stuff. The water was great and so refreshing. The whole day was amazing. I was pretty bummed to have to leave.

In many ways, Morocco was exactly how I expected it to be but it’s different to expect something and then experience it for yourself. This was my first time in a predominantly Muslim Arab country and it made me realize how little I understand about their culture. We obviously stood out since we’re light-skinned and none of us girls have been covering ourselves like women in their culture do. It’s very rare to see a woman in town, much less one with her shoulders, hair, and knees exposed. They definitely understand that we’re tourists but it doesn’t stop them from staring and making comments.

It was great to get a relaxing trip where we weren’t rushing around trying to see everything we possibly could in a short amount time. This was exactly what I needed before getting bogged down with final exams and papers approaching!

Viaje a Galicia, El Escorial, y Madrid con Papá

Dad arrived Thursday morning while I was still in class and managed to make to Alcala fine, following my directions! We had planned a trip that night for Galicia, which is the northwestern most providence of Spain, right above Portugal. We were set to fly out of Madrid that night. After I got out of class, I met him in the plaza and we stopped back at my apartment to drop his luggage off and introduce him to Eleu! We got some tapas in town before walking around Alcala. I showed him all the important stuff, which didn’t take too long! We got to go into Cervantes’ house and museum and inside the University of Alcala, which is beautiful. Then we headed into Madrid to catch our plane to Santiago. During this time, we heard about the volcano in Iceland that had erupted and was causing issues in Northern Europe in terms of travel. The airport was a madhouse, with people waiting everywhere. Luckily, our flight wasn’t impacted but it was such a process waiting in line for our passport checks and then getting on the flight itself. It took off about an hour after it was scheduled to, but given the trouble in the rest of Europe, that wasn’t bad. The airport was chaotic and Dad was exhausted from his previous red-eye flight the night before so we were both relieved to finally be on our way.

The weather forecast wasn’t too great for A Coruña, which is located where the sea meets the Atlantic Ocean at the northwestern most part of Spain. It turns out that we had a great day and the weather was perfect! Sunny and warm. We walked around the coast and the city all day, just enjoying everything. The view of the water, especially from our hotel and the Torre do Hercules, was so blue. I’ve never seen the Atlantic look so beautiful! Spending the day here was a great idea. We went to the Torre do Hercules, the oldest still working Roman lighthouse from the 2nd Century, and climbed to the top. We also saw the Town Hall building in the Plaza de Maria Pita (pictured below) and countless churches and convents which were so old and beautiful. There were so many scattered around the modern city. We struggled a little to find a new restaurant for dinner since there were tons of bars and cafes but no nice, sit-down restaurants. We ended up at a tapas place which was good because we got to try pulpo, which is octopus, a Galician specialty. It was actually very good.

Our next day consisted mainly of traveling since we were flying back out of Santiago, a 45 minute train ride away from A Coruña. Our flight was in the afternoon, so we had just enough time to stop by the Cathedral in Santiago, which is magnificent. St. James is actually buried there and it is the destination of one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world – the Way of St. James, through Spain. It would have been nice to go inside, but we didn’t know what awaited us at the airport so we didn’t want to be late! Everything worked out fine and we were back in Alcala in time for dinner.

That Sunday was one of Maria Jose’s trips to El Escorial, which is right outside of Madrid. El Monasterio de El Escorial is one of the richest historical locations in Spain because of the period that it represents. During the reign of Felipe II in the 16th Century, the Spanish Empire was the most powerful in the world. In many ways, El Escorial is a symbol of not only its creator, Felipe II, but of Spain. At his time in the history of Spain, the king wielded the most power. As the Spanish Empire grew in the Americas, King Felipe II wanted to build a monument to the incredible power of Spain in the world and give due credit to God, who enabled it. The theme that was reiterated many times by our tour guide was the Felipe’s intentions in building the Monastery was so that ‘kings would live like monks, and monks would live like kings.’ This was very evident in the décor of the palace section. Felipe’s rooms were surprisingly small and unadorned. Everything was very plain and he appeared to live very simply. It was interesting to compare this to the current Royal Palace in Madrid which I have been inside. It is the exact opposite of the palace in El Escorial. Although we were not able to see it, the actual monastery is much more ornate and decorative than the king’s quarters.

One of the important parts of the Monastery is the Basilica, which is the focal point of El Escorial. It was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome and has the same layout and structure, but on a smaller scale. The Basilica was beautiful and the altar piece was especially impressive. The frescos on the ceiling show the different styles of painting used over the time the monastery was built. It is very clear that the main motivation behind the monastery was religious and Felipe II put a lot of effort into making sure that was apparent. The whole building is dedicated to San Lorenzo, who helped the Spaniards to win an important battle. Therefore, the monastery is a tribute to him. What I found interesting was that even the structure and shape of the outside pays homage to the way San Lorenzo was executed – on a grill. The altar of the Basilica is actually the handle of the grill and 11 meters below is the Royal Mausoleum.

The mausoleum under the monastery houses most of the royal families of the past, with a special chamber for the kings and queens, beginning with Carlos all the way through the current royal family. Juan Carlos and Sofia are the only ones that will not be buried there due to lack of space. The design of the room is much more elaborate and does not fix with the rest of the interior of the monastery. This is because Felipe II’s father, Carlos, was actually the one who requested this type of room be created before his death. It was incredible to be in the room with all of the past monarchs of Spain since the 16th Century. The other big section of the monastery is the library, which contains many of the forbidden books of the Spanish Inquisition. At the time, anything written that challenged the Catholic Church was banned, but Felipe II kept a portion of the books in the library in El Escorial. Another interesting fact about the library is that the ceiling was painted to look like the Sistine Chapel, except it also served a practical function as a system of dividing the library into sections by subject such as philosophy, theology, mathematics, etc. It contains many very old texts, protected by the way they are shelved, which is different from usual. Instead of having the spines face outward, they are faced inward, against the wood where the leather protects against the moisture from the walls and thus preserves them longer. It was a great learning experience for me, especially after studying the architecture of the monastery in my Spanish Art History Class.

Monday we went in to Madrid for the day and I gave Dad my own walking tour, starting in Plaza Mayor and working our way to the Royal Palace. After that, we went to Retiro Park and walked around for a while. It turned out to be another beautiful day so it was nice to be outside. That night we went to this great sushi place that Mike had found before and taken us to. It was delicious! The next day we went back into Madrid after an adventure trying to find a new way to get to Dad’s hotel which led us through the town of Coslada searching for a taxi. We eventually got back in to Madrid, grabbed a bite to eat at VIPS and headed to the Prado Museum. After that, we went to Ventas, where the Plaza del Toro is but unfortunately tours for the day were already over so we could only see it from the outside. We definitely crammed a lot into the six days that he was here visiting but it worked out really well! It was incredible to see Dad since I miss him and my family so much! If only Dusty could have came…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Póg mo thóin!

Eleanora and I had our first trip without most of the normal group and it was wildly successful! (She gets the credit, since I took a backseat in planning this, and most of our other trips…) But we both agreed that Dublin was one of our favorite places we visited and we’re SO glad we choose to go there instead of Amsterdam with the rest of the group. We arrived in Dublin around 7:30 and grabbed the shuttle to our hostel, which was right along the Liffey River in South Dublin. Our first encounter with the Irish people who were so friendly and helpful was the bus driver who stopped right at our hostel even though it wasn’t on his route! Everywhere we went, I was surprised by the friendliness of all the Irish we met. I instantly felt comfortable in the city. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and checked in before heading to Mom and Aunt Nancy’s hotel. Since it was just the two of us, we decided to go for the cheapest room which was with 4 other random people. Definitely a true hostel experience! But more about that later. We went to their hotel and Mom went out to dinner with us. Since they had been there for 2 days before we got there, she already had a favorite fish and chips place which was perfect for what we were looking for. It was sad saying goodbye after dinner but I know it’s not too much longer now before I go home and I had a great time while they were here!
The next morning we got up early for breakfast (toast and coffee) before heading to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour. I really enjoyed the tour and we got a pint of Guinness at the end, which was good after hearing how it was made. I think I appreciated it more. We also got a nice view of Dublin from the top of the storehouse. Before heading to our next stop, Kilmainham Gaol, we stopped at a little family run pub for lunch. It had a great authentic feel to it and I’m sure we stuck out obnoxiously with our big Guinness Store bags. We headed to the Jail (Gaol) after lunch. I knew it was a famous jail and a must-see in Dublin, but I didn’t know a whole lot about Irish history going into it. Our tour guide was really interesting and told us about the prisoners that were held there, especially during the Irish Civil War and during the Easter risings of 1916. Many were political prisoners that were held and executed there. It’s also been the set of over 80 films and I thought the east wing looked vaguely familiar. Lots of interesting history that I didn’t know about previously. After the jail we tried to go to the Jameson factory but we realized we’d get there too late so we headed back to the hostel to freshen up before getting dinner. For dinner we went to a highly rated Japanese restaurant (I know, but we had 4 whole days to eat Irish food, right?) because we were both craving sushi so bad! This was the night we went all out – drinks, multiple courses, desserts, the whole nine yards. All of it was delicious. After dinner we didn’t really know what to do. We were full and tired but didn’t want to miss out on the night scene. On the way back to the hostel we saw the one pub, Fitzgerald’s, playing live music so we decided to stop in for a pint. The duo singing was a riot! They played some Irish songs mixed with pop tunes. Pink Floyd and Britney Spears mashup? Amazing. Eleanora and I each had a pint of Bulmers, an Irish cider, so good. After leaving the bar we talked the whole way home about how we could see ourselves living here. I seriously loved Ireland and it would be great to move back after college! Not sure how feasible it is, but I’m keeping the possibility open.
The next morning we woke up and went on a walking tour that hit most of the main stuff in the city: Dublin Castle, St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, Christ King Church, Temple Bar, etc. It was such a good tour and it helped me to understand and appreciate Irish history even more. After the tour we took the train to Houth, a fishing village on the coast. They had a great farmer’s market where I got the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It was so huge but I had to get dessert too because they looked amazing, obviously. We sat on the rocks for a while and looked out at the ocean. It was so beautiful. Later, still stuffed, we decided to go to the movies instead of dinner. It was great to go to a theater and know the movies would be in their original format! Read: English. We saw Remember Me – really good, but a little sad! Before heading home we stopped at a place in Temple Bar for a pint.
Our third full day in Ireland was great because we got to see the actual countryside. We took a day tour to Wicklow and Glendalough in the south of Ireland, near the coast. The views were incredible – the coastline, the mountains, the green farmlands, the lakes, waterfalls, etc. were fantastic examples of nature’s raw beauty. Many of the places we stopped were the scenes of movies such as Braveheart, P.S. I Love You, Excalibur, and Reign of Fire, just to name a few. We also saw Bono’s huge mansion on the coast, still under construction, and Van Morrison’s house as well. We stopped for lunch in a little town called Larough where I ate Beef and Guinness Stew – delicious! Our tour guide was a little old Irish man who tooks all through these towns and St. Kevin’s Monastery where, of course, I took tons of pictures for Dad. It made me really interested in my family history since I know my great-grandparents were from Ireland. We got back from the tour in perfect time to catch the last tour of the day at the Jameson distillery. Free whiskey tasting at the end and a free glass of whiskey… can’t beat it! We got to taste the difference between Jameson, Jack Daniels, and a premium Scotch. All very strong but I could definitely taste the differences. For dinner that night we went to the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin. Really great atmosphere at the place and we ended up hanging around for a while after dinner. Later we went to Temple Bar and watched song live music before calling it a night.
I mentioned earlier the ‘true hostel experience’ that we had and there’s no other way to say it! When we first went to our room, no one was there but there was bags and stuff on the beds/in the bathroom and the first thing we noticed was that there was all male products. Later that night when we got back from dinner, two of our roommates were already asleep in the first two beds. One was bald and heavily tattooed; the other was gray-haired and rather large. We climbed up to bed and went to sleep anyway. The next morning when we woke up, all of our roommates were already gone so we took our time getting ready. When we were almost ready to leave, a guy around our age came in and introduced himself. He was from Germany but spoke great English. Another girl came in while we were talking and got right in the shower so we didn’t really get to meet her. Those two and Grandpa (our affectionate nickname for the large gray-haired Irishman) were only there that first night, but Jared, tattooed, bald guy who we later found out lives in Barcelona and enjoys yoga and meditation, was there all 4 nights that we were. The next day we got another round of randoms that we never met. Our last night there, Ramon, moved in. He was a Spaniard from the Basque Country, but he had lived in France for a while and was currently moving to England to get his International MBA. He was really nice so I forgave him for the awful snoring… All-in-all quite a different experience for us, but an enjoyable one! It was great to meet so many different characters.

Please look at my pictures! http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2039684&id=1091100120&l=d8f4a18a51

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Semana Santa y Pascua con mi familia

Holidays here are a little weird because they don't feel like holidays at home because I'm so far away but Easter this year was incredible. Having Mom and Auntie Nan here with me for it was truly a blessing. We to Mass in the Cathedral Magistral in Alcala after the procession of Jesus and Mary floats. We had great seats up front and I was able to understand most of it. After Mass, we went to Cafe Hemispherio for drinks and tapas and I forced Mom and Aunt Nan to try chorizo and tortilla. I showed them around Alcala the rest of the day. Luckily the weather was beautiful so everything looked that much better. We finished the day with drinks at Burrito, a favorite spots of those of us studying here.

Monday morning we went in to Madrid and I showed them Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and the Cathedral. We took a tour of the Royal Palace, which was incredible because we only saw 22 of the 2800 rooms but they were so amazingly decorated in a beautiful Baroque style. For lunch we went to Mercado San Miguel, a market that's been in that spot since the Middle Ages and has all different kinds of foods to eat. I had them try torrijas, a Semana Santa specialty dessert, and churros y chocolate. We finished the day walking through Retiro Park, one of my favorite spots to relax and enjoy the weather on a nice day.

Tuesday they came to Alcala to have lunch with Eleu. She had ham, cheese, and salmon and cream cheese as appetizers and she even got out wine for the special occasion of having guests. The main course was a seafood paella, which was delicious! Mom and Aunt Nan didn't stop complimenting the food the whole time. For dessert we had strawberries and cream. It was such a great lunch and I'm so glad they got to meet each other! After, I headed back to Madrid with them since we were going to see a Flamenco Show that night. Mom wanted to go to the Prado Museum so we were able to do that before dinner. I gave her the cliffnotes tour of the masterpieces in the Museum and my favorites. We got back to the hotel and dressed for the show. We got some dinner in Plaza Santa Ana before the show, which was incredible! We had a great table right near the stage so we had a great view. All of the dancers and musicians were fantastic and all 3 of us really enjoyed it.

The next morning they left to spend the last few days of their trip in Ireland, where I met up with Mom for dinner one last time in Dublin before they had to head home.

Barcelona - Gaudi, Mi familia, y un noche de bailando

Well suffice it to say I was exhausted coming into Barcelona after gallivanting around Italy for a week. But I heard Barcelona was a great city so I was excited to visit. Not to mention Mom and Aunt Nan were meeting me there!

We met Maria Jose at the train station in Madrid Thursday morning and I somehow managed to get there on time despite forgetting to change my clock for daylight savings. We took the AVE train, which is the high speed train, which was so nice. We got to our hotel and guess who was right next door to me and Eleanora?? Mom and Aunt Nan! How absurd? Obviously it was amazing to see them! We spent the rest of the day together getting food and walking around the city. That night we planned to go to the Ice Bar so of course, Mom came with. She had a blast there so we went to the club afterwards with a bunch of people and danced the rest of the night away! We all had a really good time and I'm glad she came out with us.

We got up early Friday for a guided bus/walking tour of the city, but mainly the architect Gaudi's buildings. I love his Art Noveau style so I really enjoyed seeing the buildings he designed, especially Guell Park (first picture below) and the Sagrada Familia church (second picture below) which is still under construction and not expected to be done until 2030.
Friday we also went to lunch at Els Quatre Gats, the famous hangout for Picasso and other intellectuals and artists of the period. Saturday we went to the Picasso Museum which was pretty neat. I liked seeing the progression of his paintings. After, Connor, Eleanora, Caitlin and I went to the Olympic Village where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held. Barcelona was an incredible city but I couldn't wait to get home to show Mom and Auntie Nan around Alcala and Madrid!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ciao bella!

‘Vamos a Italia, a mi me gusta pizza’
My long awaited trip to Italy has come and gone! Six days, four cities, lots of friends and sights to see. Almost all of our Spain group decided to take this trip so there was about 35 of us flying out of Madrid Thursday afternoon right after Literature class. Our flight was delayed a while but we landed in Rome around 8:30/9. After taking the train to Roma Termini, the main station, we were able to walk to our hostel near Barbarini. Adam was waiting for us when we got to our hostel, Ciao Bella, so we checked in and freshened up a little before heading to the Spanish Steps to meet the rest of our friends studying in Rome and head to some of their usual bar spots. We passed the Pantheon on the way… no big deal? So crazy! It was so much fun to see my friends though! The next day we got up early to go to Vatican City where we went to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Being able to see Michelangelo’s most famous work in person was incredible. It’s so big and detailed! We weren’t able to take pictures, but even if we could have, it wouldn’t do it justice. It was such a prayerful place – obviously, I got shushed by the guards more than once. Afterwards, we met up with Laura, Camille, and some of the people we came with for a little and then went to lunch with Adam and his friend. They took us to their favorite restaurant and I got amazing Spinach Ravioli. We then walked around the Castillo San Angelo and wandered the streets for a while; of course stopping for gelato near the school the Rome kids go to. We then took the metro to the Trevi Fountain and I threw a euro penny in! I finally got to see the real one after so many years of seeing the fake one at the Italian Festival, haha. Then we headed to the Spanish Steps and climbed to the top before grabbed dinner at a piazza for dinner. The food was definitely one of my favorite parts of Italy (as my wallet can attest to…) so of course I got pizza. So delicious. That night the Rome kids found a pub crawl for us to do which was a lot of fun. It was great to hang out with other Loyola kids abroad. Saturday morning, Caitlin, Eleanora, and I woke up early to get in line to see St. Peter’s Basilica. The line was really long but it moved fast so we were able to get in. I immediately got chills walking into St. Peter’s. This is the physical center of Catholicism and my faith. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to just be in this holy place. We went into a side chapel where Benediction was held and I said prayers for everyone I could think of! I could have spent hours in there. After leaving the Basilica, we went underneath to the tombs of Popes. The most meaningful to me was definitely John Paul II’s tomb. We stopped and said a prayer and I still cannot believe we were so close to someone I look up to as a religious hero. After the tombs, we climbed the dome of the Basilica (only 515 stairs…) and saw all of Rome from the top. It was cool trying to point out historical monuments. After leaving Vatican City, we went to the Roman Forum, which is one of the oldest places in Rome where the city actually originated. We saw the remains of Caesar’s tomb, the Senate building, the Temple of Saturn and a bunch of other meeting places. Palatine Hill, where Rome is said to be founded by Romulus, was also there. Next we headed to the Coliseum. It amazes me how old everything is! I finally was able to see all these places I’ve learned about in history for so many years. The Coliseum was amazing. I could actually picture the ancient Romans sitting around the stadium and watching games with gladiators and animals. Unbelievable. Since we still had a few hours before needing to catch our train to Florence, we met up with some of the Rome kids for gelato at the Trevi Fountain. Although I was excited to go to Florence, Rome was so amazing that I didn’t want to leave!
Saturday night we took the train to Florence to continue our Tour di Italia! We got in around 9:30 and headed to our hostel before meeting up with our friends studying there. They took us to a few different places and we all had a lot of fun catching up and just hanging out. The next day we got up leisurely and decided to spend the day relaxing a little and just enjoying being in Florence and walking around the city without having a specific plan in mind. We had pizza for lunch, and the gelato and waffle for desert. We walked through the San Lorenzo market which had tons of beautiful leather items. I went back the next day and got a leather side-strap purse. Since it was Palm Sunday, we went to Mass at the Duomo, which is the big Cathedral in Florence. Even though the Mass was in Italian and we couldn’t really understand it, it was a neat experience. We then went out to dinner and I had the best meal in all the time I spent it Italy. Connor, Tara, Caitlin and I met up with Connor’s cousin at the restaurant and we all spent a few hours enjoying a three course Italian dinner. I got salad with pears and prosciutto and a sweet Italian dressing, then gnocchi in a rose sauce, then strawberries in custard. Such an amazing meal! I’m definitely going to miss Italian food back in Spain (nothing against Eleu’s cooking!). The next day we got up and planned to see actual sights in Florence! First we stopped at a great sandwich place and ate lunch on the steps of the Duomo before climbing the Bell Tower to the top. After that, we walked towards the Pontevecchio which is a really old bridge, stopping on the way to see one of the two fake David statues in Florence (the real one is by Michelangelo). Then we crossed over the Arno River and went to Piazza Michelangelo which has one of the best views of Florence. That’s also where the other fake David was. We walked back over via the Pontevecchio and stopped at the San Lorenzo market where I got a purse, and Caitlin and Tara both got beautiful leather jackets. We went to a buffet for dinner since our wallets were starting to hurt a little at this point and we needed an all-you-can-eat. The next morning we got up super early to get to the Accademia to see the real David by Michelangelo. After waiting in line for an hour we finally got in and it was amazing! So much larger than I originally imagined. Around 11 we headed to the train station to catch our train from Florence to Venice.
We arrived in Venice in the early afternoon and went to our hotel to freshen up and then took the bus over to the actual island of Venice. Even though it was cloudy out, I was struck by the immediate beauty of Venice. So many little allies and bridges and canals it was adorable. Everything just seemed so quaint and much smaller than I imagined. We took our time and got lost in the streets, stopping in little shops with their famous Venetian glass, we got a slice of pizza and chocolate truffles at a specialty shop. Eventually we made it to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square, one of the main attractions in Venice. The Basilica was there but we weren’t able to go in because it was too late. The outside was beautiful though and the piazza was right on the water where there were gondolas waiting. It would have been a little too expensive to take a gondola ride but it was cool to see them all around the island. For dinner we found a little alley-way restaurant that was good – I had seafood pasta with mussels, clams, calamari, and shrimp. So good! Enough about the food? When we came out it was raining really hard so we were running through the labyrinth of small streets that didn’t seem to have any kind of pattern to them but it was still incredible. I can’t describe how much I loved just wandering around in Venice! We eventually made it back to the hotel exhausted and soaking wet but happy. The next day, unfortunately, was full of traveling. We took the train from Venice to Milan and then got lunch in Milan before heading to the airport to catch our flight back to Madrid. Of course it was delayed so I didn’t get home until after midnight.
Overall it was such an incredible trip. It went by so fast but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! It was great to see my friends that I missed and experience a new culture that I feel I’ve heard so much about but have never known firsthand. I even tried to imagine Gramps growing up somewhere like this. I loved seeing so many famous historical sights and getting to see these beautiful cities. They were all so different but amazing in their own ways. I really hope to go back some day without being so rushed!