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Monday, May 30, 2016

I can't believe I'm already in Geneva and that Erik is headed back to the United States right now. The past two days have gone by in a swirl.

Our last full day in Italy was amazing. Most the interesting parts were in Florence. We saw the David statue (which is enormous!) and various other works of art. Then we got one last pizza at a place called Mr. Pizza right near the Duomo. We also stopped by a grocery store so I could buy spice mixes to bring home... I have no idea if Italians actually use them, but they were a lot cheaper at the grocery than at the little tourist shops.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the beautiful city of Florence and take a train back to Rome. It was weird being back in Roma Termini... it felt like such a long time had passed. Then we took the train to the airport, and a shuttle to the hotel for the night. It was a nice hotel, but that meant everything was expensive. No one wants to pay 4 euros for less than a litre of water!

This morning, I got up at 4am and got to the airport by 5:15. It was rough. I then flew from Rome to Zurich, then Zurich to Geneva. The second flight was 1/2 an hour in the air, which I thought was a little silly. I then paid through the nose on a taxi to the program site, which wasn't fun. The good news is, the rest of the day was spent unpacking, grocery shopping, cooking, and exploring the neighbourhood.

I haven't taken pictures of Geneva yet but I will be doing so soon. It's a little weird because I'm a temporary international student rather than a tourist, so I'd like to pretend that life is normal here. There are so many things I'm already learning about Switzerland... like how expensive it is. I'm also learning that it's a country that focuses on freshness and closeness to nature. There is such respect here for ones' surroundings, it's really lovely.
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Saturday, May 28, 2016

I need to start out this post by saying that I 100% intend on returning to Florence some day in the future. There's something intoxicating about this city. I don't know exactly what it is... the food is outstanding, the gelato is delicious, and the city is old and enchanting. Today we went to to the two big things to do here-- the Duomo and the Uffizi.

We hiked up over 400 stairs to get to the top of the Duomo! The view is amazing-- you can see the entire city of Florence, the Tuscan countryside, and various neighbouring towns. We decided not to climb the bell tower, which is pictured above. We were inside the Duomo very briefly because apparently my shoulders were not covered enough to be let back in. Ugh, whatever. 

Then we stood in queue for the Uffizi for over an hour. The Uffizi is a museum that is definitely an acquired taste, though I think everyone should go there if possible. There are a TON of paintings of Jesus as a baby, on the cross, and getting taken down from the cross. If you're not a religious art person, it could probably get stale really quickly. But if you have any sense of appreciation for how significant the works there are, it's an amazing experience. It has sort of been a bucket list item for me since I was a child. 

This is by one of my favourite painters, Artemisia Gentileschi.

So, Florence has been great, even though we've been getting eaten alive by mosquitos.  We're going to try and see the David tomorrow and eat a few more of Erik's favourite things before heading back to Rome. It's hard to believe that this amazing trip is coming to a close! I already cannot wait to return to Italy someday. 

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Friday, May 27, 2016

We finally made it to Florence! Florence is sort of how I thought all of Italy was going to look. It's the most beautiful place. It seems like every corner has something to look at. It's been interesting being here with Erik because he knows this city. He studied abroad here with his university four years ago!

We didn't see anything major today because we got in around 3pm because there were no trains in for about forever today. We spent a long time in Venezia Mestre station at a coffee shop. It was not very fun. We did see outside  the Ufizza, where there are statues of the great artists. I only took pictures of the ones I recognised.

Here's a copy of David that stands outside. It's pretty cool, but I can't wait to see the original tomorrow. 

Based on the horses and the water-themed nymphs around this statue, I think this is Neptune/Poseidon. Still not sure though. 

Erik outside the FSU dorm where he lived for 6 weeks!

Me eating gelato. My aunt wanted me to eat the "most chocolately gelato possible", and since I was finally wearing a dark colour I went for it today. I balanced it out with some panna cotta flavour, which was smart because the chocolate was so rich. The gelato melts almost as thick as its frozen consistency, which is amazing. 

Tomorrow we'll see inside the major sites of Florence. In the meantime, I'm going to crash out. Sorry if this post is weird, we had wine with dinner and fancy shots by this guy nicknamed "the Einstein of shots". He made me some strawberry chocolate thing that was pretty delicious. 
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Venice is the epitome of a place that you think it knows what it looks like, but pictures fail to do it justice. Even the ones I took walking around today don't quite capture the beautiful city. I should admit that I wasn't entirely certain what the international hype was all about... and I still don't entirely get it. This attitude is similar to the one I hold for New York City- I appreciate both places for what they are. The number of tourists in Venice were amazing considering it's not peak tourist season yet.

Anyways, we took the local bus from Piano di Sorrento (over an hour) to Naples, then a 5 1/2 hour train ride from Naples to outside of Venice proper. The Italian countryside is really beautiful so I found the train ride really fun. Erik bought the first Song of Ice and Fire (the books they turned into Game of Thrones) so he read that for a bit on the train. After getting into our hostel, we went into Venice. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here's my Venice photos.

We had dinner in Venice before heading back. Apparently the restaurant we ended up going to was a hot spot, and while we didn't have to wait, other people did. We had a table on the corner by the stairs down to the water. It was a really wonderful evening.  I'm so excited for Florence tomorrow. 

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Today was probably the most laid back day Erik and I have had so far while on this holiday. We got a super late start out of our cute B&B, which had a nice breakfast laid out for us. Then we took the train to Erculano. It took about 45 minutes from Piano di Sorrento, which wasn't too bad because we were sitting.

 I've wanted to go to Herculaneum since I was little and read a book about how they found the skeletons there. Pompeii is larger and more famous, but they did not find much/any preserved organic material there. Herculaneum is smaller because only 1/4 to 1/3 of the site is excavated. The town was also richer than Pompeii, so the art is supposedly better. I've only been to one site so I can't say either way, but I'm glad we went to Herculaneum. There wasn't much of a queue for tickets at all, and the site was not overly crowded.

I took rather a lot of photos, so I compressed some into collages for ease of viewing.

Us! The rooms we are posing next to are actually next to each other, so imagine a thicker wall in between us and that's actually rather what this house looked like. 

To my parents, my aunt, Erik's mother and anyone else concerned... yes, we'll get more pictures together. Especially since our next city is Venice, though only for a night.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Today was a more laid back day than the three crazy first days in Rome, and it was much needed. Erik woke up with a fever and was pretty miserable, but we had to get out of the hotel by 10:00 which seems to be standard around here. After dragging our suitcases to Roma Termini station and grabbing a delicious pastry along the way, we booked a train to Naples. We actually ended up taking the Prima (first) class here because it was only 10 euros more and we didn't want to hang around Termini any longer than we had to. The train from Rome to Naples was about an hour long since the train moved up to 300 km/h! The Italian countryside is really beautiful and I loved being on the train.

Once arriving in Naples, we had to take a metro-style train to Piano di Sorrento (which is not Sorrento proper). It felt like we were on that thing for 100 years because it was packed, we were standing the whole time with our luggage, and it was crowded. Supposedly it "only" took a bit over an hour as well, but I don't know if I believe it.

We got to Piano di Sorrento and found out that our B&B is actually a room in an elderly couple's apartment. I think it's pretty cool because the area is more local than incredibly resort-y Sorrento but not that far away. After a short rest, we went to Sorrento.

This view~

Building of interest. 


Pretty ruins.

Sorrento is a little town that specialises in limoncello and being beautiful, so it was nice to wander around and shop all afternoon. We finally got to try some of the famous liquor, which is pretty strong but pleasant. That didn't stop us from eating amazing gelato at Gelataria Zini-- oh my goodness, the lemon cream gelato tasted like heaven. I'm sure my mother, who loves lemon, would have eaten a gigantic cone of it if was there.  Anyways, we bought limoncello to take home before having an early-ish dinner. Since we haven't actually done a long drawn out Italian dinner with many courses yet (on purpose, we've had long drawn out dinners though), we decided to do one tonight. The house wine and octopus starter at  La Lanterna were delicious. I don't normally like red wine and I've never had octopus prepared in a Western style, so I was very pleased with both.

Finally back at the B&B and winding down before bed. We're going to try for Herculaneum tomorrow, though since we've not been feeling well I'm not sure how that will go.
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Monday, May 23, 2016

While in Rome for  the first time, the Vatican is a must.  I don't know what I was expecting there, but it completely surpassed any and all expectations. We went to the St. Peter's Basilica first, which is definitely the smart way to do things. The queues were not that bad to get into the Basilica... especially considering the queue for the museum was probably 2 hours. We started out in the Crypts of the Popes, which is definitely worth a see, before walking up into the Basilica. I probably could have spent an hour or two looking around there. It's the most enormous structure that seemed to go on forever. Apparently it's not a Cathedral because a bishop doesn't sit there... which I had no idea.

Swiss Guard, St. Peter's Basilica, where St. Peter is buried under, PietĂ 

We bought "skip the line tickets" for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel just outside of the Basilica. There were loads of people on the streets claiming to sell discounted tickets, but we decided to buy them from somewhere within the Vatican that seemed legit. It was easily the best decision we made today-- we truly were able to skip the queue! It was not that much more expensive than regular tickets, and it saved us from standing in the sun all day.

The Vatican Museums were amazing. I don't really know how to describe the experience-- everything I could possibly imagine and more was there! The difference between the sculptures in the Vatican and the ones everywhere else were primarily that the ones in the Vatican had noses. Since words don't do it justice, I took a bunch of pictures to describe the experience.

Circle Within a Circle

A Goddess Breastfeeding, plus some other people.

Perseus holding Medusa's head

I'm not entirely certain what everything I saw was called, but it was all amazing. One picture in particular stood out to me, which is below. It's a little sad in my opinion-- it clearly depicts how Christianity overruled the Roman gods. That being said, the Museums clearly demonstrate the greatness of both ancient gods and Catholicism. Sistine Chapel was beautiful, of course. You can't take pictures in there, and people were packed in like sardines, and it still was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

I found this painting really striking. Beautiful, but sad. 

I love ceilings. 

Killing of the Innocents (or similar name), a tapestry

The most amazing ceiling ever. 

After the Sistine Chapel, Erik was fading pretty hard from a cold so we grabbed some pizza and headed back to the hotel. We walked a little over 6 miles today, which means we've almost walked a marathon in total in Rome. Tomorrow we're going to take a train to Sorrento! We're actually both kind of sick... I woke up with the worst headache I can remember at 5am and slept on and off until 9:30, and Erik woke up with a cold. Hopefully we can sleep on the train, kick whatever bugs are making us miserable, and enjoy the coast.
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Sunday, May 22, 2016

I'm most of the way through my second day in Rome! So far Erik and I have walked about 9.5 miles. It's been exhausting (and our legs really hurt), but a second incredible day.

After getting up kind of late and starting the day with a Nutella-filled pastry, Erik and I went to the Colosseum. The queue for tickets was not terrible, but the queue for RomaPass holders was horrific. I'm very glad we did not buy them, because we would have felt obligated to use it. Seriously, the queue for them was probably 45 minutes long. The Colosseum is an incredibly cool structure. It's gigantic! It's really interesting to see the different layers and learn how it was used.

After the Colosseum we went across the street to the Forum. It had a very interesting museum that I really liked. It also had beautiful gardens, where Romulus probably lived, and other temple ruins.

In the Forum somewhere. 

Where Romulus probably lived. I hope it looked nicer when he was around. 

We decided to head back to the hotel because it was really hot and I needed more sunscreen... but ended up taking a nap again. We're both pretty jet-lagged! Eventually we managed to get up from our nap and went to the Pantheon. First we saw the Spanish Steps, which were closed. But we went to the Pantheon, which I was very impressed with! There are lots of cute little streets near there too. We ended up walking around that area, crossing the bridge, seeing a castle, and eventually getting back on the Metro and heading back. We're headed to dinner as soon as I post this.


The famous ceiling. 

Castle we're going to visit tomorrow. 

View of one of the bridges. 

Some observations about Rome/Italy/Italians:

  1. The Roman nose is real. People here have huge noses that practically sit at 90 degree angles. 
  2. There's a lot of weather damage on many of the structures, which is to be expected, but it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. 
  3. There's more graffiti, ancient and modern, in Rome than anywhere I've ever been. 
  4. Gelato prices vary widely depending on where you are in the city. Erik refuses to pay more than 3-4 Euros, but some places charge as much as 7 for a tiny cone.
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