Category Archives: weekend trips

Guten Tag!

A quick note…

Well, the semester in Rome has now officially come to a (rather dramatic) end, and I have found myself in Germany for the week! So far, Beth and I have been to Rothenburg and Munich, and today we leave Munich for Berlin. I LOVE Germany so far!!! It is definitely one of my favorite places that I have traveled to. It’s wonderful… and I especially love being here during Christmas Market season! I fly back to the States on Sunday, and I am starting to get more excited about coming home though. I think once I finally get there after all of my traveling, it will be great. 🙂 Okay, well, I have to go make one more quick round around the Christmas Market before we leave!



Playing catch up; Rounds 2 & 4: Visits to some of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Venice & Florence.

In the past weeks, I’ve done a far amount of traveling around Italy as well. Halloween weekend I headed to Venice with my friend, Emily, and last weekend, I ventured to Florence with another friend, Carly.

To go to Venice, Emily and I got up bright and early on Friday morning, following the J-Force Halloween party the night before. (I was Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s for Halloween, if you’re curious.) Since we had been up late the night before, we were both pretty tired, but we had a 6 hour train ride to get to Venice, so we had plenty of time to rest on the way there!
After arriving in Venice (at sunset!—so beautiful), we checked into our hostel, found a place to eat dinner, and then wandered over to St. Mark’s Square, where we spent the rest of the evening eating gelato and wandering around. I’ve decided that St. Mark’s is magical at night; it’s one of my new favorite places in all of Italy. Various cafes on the square each have orchestras that take turns playing music, and lots of people hang out there, and we even saw some couples dancing. So cute.
Since we were essentially only there one full day, we spent most of Saturday just wandering around trying to see as much of the Venice as we could. We started off at St. Mark’s again, where we went inside the Cathedral. It was so beautiful (like everything else in Venice)! From there, we basically just worked our way up the Grand Canal, just wandering wherever we pleased.
It was a really relaxed day overall. Besides St. Mark’s, there’s really not a lot of big sights to see in Venice; the main sight is really the town itself. Venice has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Rome is beautiful too, but in a completely different way from Venice. Venice feels perfectly preserved; I spent half the weekend expecting to turn a corner and run into people in 16th century clothes. It’s almost eerie at times. I took so many pictures that day because every corner that I did turn seemed to be more beautiful than the last. That kind of beauty never gets old no matter how many times you see it. Emily and I literally felt like we were walking around in a painting all weekend.
We also ate a lot of excellent food that weekend and cheaply too, which is always nice. Oh, and I had the BEST gelato of my life in Venice, as per Rick Steve’s recommendation. It was chocolate mousse gelato, and it was fantastic. Emily and I finished Saturday evening at St. Mark’s again, before heading back to our hostel in preparation to get up early and head back to Rome.
Then, last weekend, Carly and I took a whirlwind trip to Florence! We made it short and quick because we both wanted to make sure we spent part of the weekend in Rome, but we still were able to fit plenty in. Even though we were barely in Florence for 24 hours, we managed to visit the Duomo, climb the Duomo, go to the Academia and see Michelangelo’s David, go through the Uffizi, eat a great dinner, get gelato, and even get some shopping in! Whew. Like I said, it was definitely a whirlwind trip, but a great one all the same.
I visited Florence when I was in Italy for 3 years ago, but it was so nice to be back there again. It reminded me of the all the reasons why I loved it so much to begin with. Florence just has such a good vibe to it; it reminds me of all the reasons why I love Renaissance history.
We also stayed in the nicest hostel EVER in Florence. It was called Plus Florence, and it was amazing. There was a pool, steam room, restaurant, bar, etc. They even gave us towels and little containers of shampoo for free (unheard of behavior for a hostel). It basically felt like a hotel, and it was approximately 16 euros a night. So fantastic.
So there’s a summary of some of my past weekend trips! I still have Egypt to write about, but hopefully that will be coming soon. That will be an epic entry, I assure you.
But for now, I have to finish up some schoolwork, and then go to bed to get up bright and early to meet my friend, Kate, at the airport tomorrow morning! She’s going to be here for the rest of the week, and I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see her! 🙂
To the remaing adventures ahead!

Playing catch-up; Round 1: A brilliant weekend in London.

To backtrack a bit, my first weekend after Fall Break, I traveled to London! I flew to London by myself, but once I arrived at Heathrow, my dad met me there. We spent most of the weekend with my Uncle Bill (who is British), his sister, and her family.

It was a fantastic weekend (or rather “brilliant,” as the British would say). As I’d already been to London a few years earlier, I already knew that I would love the city (which I do now more than ever before), but being there again was wonderful! Unlike a lot of the traveling I had been doing up to that point in the semester, London was extremely relaxing. Instead of running around and doing tons of sightseeing, we mainly just hung out, went to the pub, walked around, went to the pub, ate, and oh yeah, went to the pub again. (You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.)

In all seriousness though, it was so nice to experience a city the way that locals would experience it. I actually felt like I was living in London for a few days rather than just frantically running around trying to see every touristy site ever. Staying in a real house instead of a hotel or hostel definitely helped enhance that feeling as well.

I hardly saw any of the typical tourists sights –no Big Ben, Parliament, or Tower of London–and didn’t set foot near a museum this time around when I was in London, but I feel like I actually saw London; I actually experienced London as more than just a tourist.

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot this semester is the different approaches people can take to traveling and what suits me the best. While I do love to sight see and visit museums and other historical sites, I think it is also really important to find that critical balance between doing things in a place and just taking time to just be in a place. London was a weekend of being, and I loved it.

Oh, and a bit of advice for those traveling to the UK anytime soon: make sure you know the address of where you are staying because if you don’t, they will not let you through customs. And apparently, saying that your father is meeting you and you are staying with family friends is not sufficient! Ah, it’s just another lesson learned, right?

Adventures in the Cinque Terre.

This past weekend, I traveled with three other girls to Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre (which literally means 5 lands in Italian) are 5 small towns all located on or near the coast of northern Italy, linked together by a trail. On paper they don’t sound that impressive, but the Cinque Terre quickly became one of my new favorite places in the entire world.

We left for the Cinque Terre early Friday morning by taking a taxi to the train station at 5:00am! The taxi drive was crazy—the streets of Rome were almost deserted since it was so early, and the driver was going so incredibly fast. To my still-asleep eyes, everything just seemed like a blur.

In part because of the speed of our taxi driver, we arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare. We then took the train to Pisa, where we switched trains for La Spezia. Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy traveling on the train? It’s just so much more relaxing than flying, plus you get to see a lot more scenery.

We stayed in La Spezia for the weekend, which is not actually one of the Cinque Terre towns, but it was only a quick train ride away. Staying in La Spezia actually meant we got to stay in a nicer place—a hotel instead of a hostel—that was actually cheaper too!

We spent most of our time at the Cinque Terre on Friday and Saturday completing the 7-mile hike that links the towns together. We broke the hike up into two parts and did the first half on Friday and the rest on Saturday. The second half was much harder than the first, but the views/scenery were gorgeous! The last half of the hike was a lot of up-and-down action, steps, and really narrow ledges, but I felt incredibly accomplished when it was over.

As soon as we got to the last town, we went swimming and hung out at the beach! Spending time at the beach was wonderful, of course, and we then wandered around the town for awhile. We got dinner and gelato and just enjoyed ourselves. 🙂

Sunday morning, we woke up early and took the train back to Pisa. It was already pretty cloudy at this point and starting to sprinkle a little bit, but we were hoping the rain would hold off. Unfortunately, just when we arrived at the Leaning Tower, it really started to rain hard. We stuck it out for a little bit and took a few pictures before heading back to the train station, where we had McDonalds for lunch! FYI: McDonalds in Italy tastes almost exactly the same as McDonalds in the US, except that it’s more expensive. But it is excellent comfort food.

After lunch, we grabbed another train that took us back to Rome, and that pretty well wrapped up the weekend. I absolutely loved visiting the Cinque Terre and really hope that I get to go back there again someday. Overall, it was really an excellent trip!

A few more tidbits of exciting news:
Tomorrow everyone at the JFRC has the opportunity to go to a Papal Audience! I’m really looking forward to it; this isn’t an opportunity that everyone gets. Also, my parents arrived in Italy yesterday, and I’m so eager to see them this weekend when they come to Rome!

You live, you learn: A weekend in Sorrento, Pompeii, & Capri

I’ve returned to Rome yet again, and I must say that it was quite a trip. I think we all underestimated how complicated planning the logistics for traveling was going to be, which this past weekend definitely taught us. Don’t get me wrong—I still got to see lots of amazing things and had a good time, but it was certainly a learning experience.

On Friday evening, we took a bus to the subway to the train station, where we took the train to Naples. Once we arrived in Naples, we had to buy yet another train ticket to get to Sorrento where we stayed for the weekend. Once arriving in Sorrento, however, our hostel was an approximately 25 minute walk from the train station. With our backpacks. At night. On tiny, winding roads. Uphill.

Needless to say, we were all exhausted and rather relieved when we finally arrived in at the hostel! It was a pretty nice place, just in a very inconvenient location.

This was also only the beginning of the various transportation methods we employed throughout the trip that included more trains, buses, ferries, subways, cars, tons of walking, and even a rowboat!

On Saturday, we went to Mt. Vesuvius. We took a shuttle most of the way up the volcano and then hiked the rest of the way up. Seeing the crater was amazing, as well as the fantastic view from the top. It was also very appropriate considering that we went to Pompeii afterwards. Just seeing the volcano that caused all of that was really impressive.

Pompeii itself was fantastic. I loved it. Seeing an almost completely preserved Roman town was just so compelling. The history major in me was basically thrilled. However, walking around Pompeii after hiking at Mt. Vesuvius basically wore us all out so we were again extremely tired by the time it was over.

Sunday morning, we got up early and took the first ferry over to Capri. At Capri, we visited the famous Blue Grotto and did a little bit of shopping. The Blue Grotto was wonderful! It definitely looks like something that is man-made, which makes it even more miraculous that it was solely created by nature. (You have to ride in a rowboat to get into the grotto, if you were wondering where the rowboat came in.) Capri itself was a beautiful island, but it was also a little bit too crowded and touristy for my taste.

After spending some time at Capri, we took the early afternoon ferry back to Sorrento. We planned on riding a bus back to Rome, but it unfortunately ended up being full, so we were out of luck on that account. Instead we ended up taking the train back the way we had came, which was a bit stressful. However, we all got back to Rome just fine, even though we were exhausted.

All in all, it really was a good weekend, even with frustrating things that happened. There were a lot of things I learned that will be very useful on future trips, so even that wasn’t all bad (for example, I overpacked—that backpack got really heavy after awhile).

And then, I had to get up and go to class this morning! School doesn’t stop, even when I’m gone traveling for the weekend, but I really can’t complain. Afterall, I’m still in Rome!