Molly Ashbaugh's Italian Adventures

Italy Study Abroad Summer 2013

Rome

For our third travel break, most of us decided to go to Rome, since we were meeting everyone there on the last night and flying back to America from Rome. We knew that there would be a lot to see there, so we decided to leave early on Monday and spend all day Tuesday and Wednesday in the center of Rome where all the attractions were. When we arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon, we decided to relax a little bit from our traveling, and then headed to Hard Rock for dinner. It was nice to eat a hamburger and ranch dressing, considering we had been eating pasta and pizza for 4 weeks. I also discovered while abroad that Italy doesn’t have ranch dressing – anywhere – except for Hard Rock, so I was very excited about that! After dinner, we decided to call it a night since we had an early and busy day the next morning.

            Tuesday morning, we woke up early because we had a tour scheduled for the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:00. We took the very crowded metro to Enjoy Rome, which is who our tour was scheduled through. We got our headsets and set off with our tour guide to the Vatican museum first. I was really glad that we got a tour guide, otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to go first or what everything was. My favorite part of the tour was St. Peter’s Basilica. Inside, it was filled with sculptures, marble, paintings, frescos, and gold covered from floor to ceiling. There was so much intricate detail on every inch of the basilica that it was almost overwhelming, but amazingly beautiful at the same time. It kind of just takes your breath away when you walk in. After our tour, we decided to try to walk back to our hotel from the Vatican City. It was very hot, and I think we must have overestimated ourselves because by the end of the day we were just dying to get back to the hotel and take a shower. The walk was nice though because we saw a few landmarks on the way – like the Spanish Steps, Trajan’s Column, and the Theater – so it was definitely worth it.

            Wednesday, we had another busy day in Rome, starting with the Colosseum. I think this was my favorite attraction while in Rome – it was just so powerful and beautiful – even in its ruins. It was so weird to think that Roman men used to go into the Colosseum to fight each other and animals to the death – as entertainment for the people! I could not even imagine something happening like that today. It is a good thing human and animal rights have evolved into what they are today! After touring the Colosseum, we took a break for lunch, then toured the Roman Ruins. It was cool walking the same streets that the Romans used to walk, and imagine what it looked like before the city was in ruins. It was interesting to see how some buildings stood up better than others – like the town hall and the church. After the Ruins, we decided to go back and shower and get ready for one of our last dinners in Italy. We found a nice restaurant right next to the Trevi Fountain, and went to see it before dinner when it was light outside, and then after again when it was dark and all lit up. It was beautiful both times, but even more magical at night. The lighting really enhanced the carvings and sculptures of the fountain and made the water sparkle.

            Thursday, we decided to get up early and take a taxi to the beach (where we would be spending our last night all together with the group). We were very glad we got a taxi, because we heard horror stories from some of the other girls who took the metro and ended up having to walk a few miles in the heat. We arrived at the hotel, dropped off our bags, grabbed a quick lunch, then headed out onto the beach. It was a black sand beach which made it even hotter then it was, and the ocean was filled with rocks so it as hard to walk in the water, but it was beautiful and relaxing getting to just sit on the beach and people watch (even though we all got a little burnt by the end of the day). That night, we met up with everyone from the program for dinner and had a great time on our last night together in Italy. It was pretty bittersweet to me, because although I was anxious to get home, I knew I would miss all the girls and the friendships I made here (and the gelato).             It was sad when we all had to go our separate ways the next morning to the airport, but I was glad I was with the majority of the group for our flight home, so I didn’t have to say goodbye too soon. We also found out while boarding the plane in Rome that the luggage people were on strike – so we wouldn’t be getting our luggage when we arrived back in the U.S. We were all pretty upset about this news, and were just anxious to find out when we would be getting our luggage. It’s been a week now, and still no bags, so fingers crossed they arrive soon!

Venice & Lake Como

For the second travel break of our stay in Italy, I travelled to Venice and Lake Como with Leia, Ashlea, Laura Beth, Katie, and Amanda. We took the train from Arezzo to Bologna and on to Venice. Leia, Ashlea, and I were staying in the main part of the town in a hotel, and the other girls were staying in a hostel about 20 minutes away by bus. On the first night that we arrived, we went to our hotel to check in, and noticed the elaborate decoration right off the bat. There were very intricate details everywhere, big chandeliers and tons of shiny metals and glass. We headed up to our room, and the décor didn’t stop there. Our room was very elegant and Victorian-looking, our duvets and walls were covered with red fabric, and we even had a giant chandelier in our room as well. For some reason the antique-look and style reminded me of something in the twilight zone, and it just didn’t seem like a real place that people stayed on a daily basis. It felt very elegant and classy, and I just loved all the intricate and elaborate detail and history that went into this hotel. We then met up with the other girls for dinner, at a nice restaurant over-looking the water, and enjoyed a delicious and relaxing meal. After dinner we browsed the local shops, and learned that handmade glass was one of Venice’s expertise. The shops were filled with everything you could think of made out of glass – jewelry, ornaments, figurines, wine openers, etc. Another thing we noticed while in Venice was the large amount of masquerade masks and souvenirs of the masks. Venice is also known for its performing and visual arts, and there were many plays, musicals, ballets, operas, art galleries, etc., on almost every block. I would have loved to go see one of the shows or galleries, but since we were only there for one full day, we simply did not have time to do everything or see everything there was to see. 

The next day in Venice, we got up really early in order to get the most out of our experience. We decided to start our day with a gondola ride, before it got too hot and busy. Our gondola captain’s name was Sebastian, and he toured us around Venice, showing us what certain buildings were and giving us a little background about the city’s history. He told us that Venice has been subjected to many flash floods, and showed us how high the water line got during these floods. Many buildings even had to be closed down on the first floor because of the flooding. The gondola ride, while beautifully scenic and relaxing, was also very interesting to see how the people in Venice lived as compared to other cities in Italy, as well as in America. For example, the city is completely on water, which means that there are no roads or cars. Instead, people use boats to get around everywhere, or they walk. On our ride, we even saw a “garage” for boats, which was funny. We also saw a construction boat, with building materials and everything. It was weird to see boats as the primary means of transportation, as we are so used to cars and buses, etc. We spent most of the day walking to Saint Mark’s Basilica, which was so grand and breathtaking. I had learned about the basilica and its surrounding piazza in art history, and seeing it was even more amazing and spectacular. Just standing there in the middle of the piazza and looking all around you just really takes your breath away. Unfortunately, the building was under construction, so we couldn’t get the full effect – but nonetheless, it was a great site. The rest of the day was spent with a boat ride back to where we were staying, and walking around the city and shopping.

The next day, we woke up super early to get an early start to Lake Como. We took the train from Venice to Milan to Varenna  on Lake Como. The view was spectacular. We stared in amazement at the lake and the surrounding mountains from the train, and then took a boat across the lake to Menaggio, where our hostel was. We dropped our bags off at the hostel, “rented” a towel for 5 euro, then walked down to a beach that the people at the hostel told us about. This “beach” was really just a little inlet covered with rocks and pebbles. We sat for about 5 minutes and enjoyed the scenery, then decided we needed to find something productive to do with our day. We walked into the town to try to find kayak rentals, but they didn’t have enough for all six of us to use. Instead, they offered us a motor boat that we could rent for an hour. Us six girls were a little nervous trying to maneuver a boat around with little experience, but we decided to go for it anyways. The people running the rental company simply asked for one of ours driver’s license, showed us how to work the boat, and let us go off on our own. In America, this would have never happened. One of us would have had to have the proper boating license and paperwork – which none of us had –  and we probably would have had to be a lot older in order for someone to trust us girls with their boat. In any case, we were excited to get out on the water and just relax in the sun and enjoy the scenery. After the boat ride, we spent the rest of the day walking around and hanging out at the local restaurant/bar playing cards and eating, before we headed back to our hostel for the night. The hostel situation was a little uneasy and unclean, but we decided we could stick it out for one night and head back early the next morning.

Overall, this travel break was the most fun and relaxing. Venice and Lake Como were my favorite places in Italy so far, and places I would go back to someday if given the chance. The culture is very different between the two – Venice was a lot more touristy and fast-paced, whereas Lake Como would be the place to go to just get away from the everyday stresses and clear your mind and relax on the water or take a trail hike and enjoy nature.

Monterosso al Mare : Cinque Terre

For the first travel break, I headed to Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre with Leia, Ashlea, and Mollie. Before coming to Italy, I knew I wanted to spend one of my travel breaks at a beach town. Two years ago, my mom, dad, and sister visited my brother whole he was studying abroad in Spain, and then went on to visit other countries in Europe such as France, Switzerland, and Italy. While visiting in Italy, my parents went to Cinque Terre and just seeing pictures from it and hearing stories, I knew that is where I wanted to go on one of my travel breaks. Leia and I had class together before coming to Italy, so we decided to go ahead and book a hotel at Cinque Terre. Since Cinque Terre literally means “Five Lands”, there are five different towns connected to each other by small foot trails. We chose Monterosso al Mare as our primary destination because it is the town where the main sandy beach is. After coming to Italy, Ashlea and Mollie expressed interest in going to Cinque Terre, so we happily invited them along with us. 

The town of Monterosso was about 4 hours away from our home in Sansepolcro. On the first day of our travel break, we took an hour bus ride to Arezzo, where the closest train station was, then travelled by train for the rest of the way, making three connections along the way, changing trains in Florence, Pisa, and La Spezia. As soon as we made our way through the final tunnel to Monterosso, we were absolutely taken aback at the small glimpses of sea and waves crashing of the breathtaking views at Cinque Terre. This fueled our excitement even more, and prayed for warmer weather – as it had been cold and rainy in Sansepolcro for the whole week prior. When we first departed our train, we headed into the town and searched for our hotel. While walking to find our hotel, a man stopped us and asked us what we were looking for. We told him the name of our hotel, and he told us to follow him. Hesitantly, us four girls followed this man back down the hill and past the train station where we came from. We finally arrived at a different hotel that was not the same one that we originally booked, and the man introduced us to another man and told us he would take care of us. The man at this hotel led us up to two rooms, which were very small and bare, and reminded me of something you would see at a hospital or a hostel. The man then told us that the original hotel we booked was under construction and that our reservation had been transferred. This was concerning to us, and something just didn’t feel right about this place. The man then insisted that we hand over our passports until we pay with cash, when we already booked with a credit card. This was definitely something we weren’t comfortable with, and we decided to use or basic human instincts that something just wasn’t right about this place, and decided to try to find another hotel in town that we could stay at. Thankfully, we came across a hotel that we had seen on the way in that was right on the strip at the beach that had a room to fit us four. The woman at the front desk was really nice and even gave us a discount. The hotel was really nice and even provided us with a continental breakfast. It was truly a God send that we used our basic instincts and got out of an uncomfortable environment, and into a comfortable and accommodating environment, so we could enjoy our stay while in Monterosso. That night, we ate at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the beach, and I enjoyed a plateful of pasta with pesto sauce – one of the delicacies well-known to Cinque Terre. 

The next day, we slept in and spent the morning shopping and walking around the town of Monterosso. The weather was a little chilly in the morning, but warmed up enough in the afternoon that we could lay out and get some sun at the beach. That night, we ate at a nice restaurant that was underground underneath our hotel. We all tried the lasagna which was very good. Our last day in Monterosso was spent hiking a small trail along the cliffs, and seeing Il Gigante, a giant statue of Neptune, up close. We then spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach, and ended the evening with a delicious dinner at a prestigious restaurant called L’Ancora della Tortuga, located up in the cliffs of Monterosso. The space that this restaurant was in was actually used as a bunker during WWII, which I found very interesting.

Overall, this travel break was definitely worth it and I had a great time just relaxing on the beach and not having to worry about schoolwork or any responsibilities. Although the experience started off a little rocky with the hotel situation, we managed to really learn from that situation and I feel as though we are more confident and better prepared if we are faced with a similar situation in the future. I really enjoyed Monterosso al Mare, and would love to go back and visit the other four towns in Cinque Terre someday.

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