Viva Italia

I think I’ve found the perfect place.  That might sound like a bold statement, after having only visited a select few countries this semester so far, but hear me out…

If you could choose to go somewhere with either great food, great weather, great prices, great sights, great culture, or great travel companions, which would you pick?  With all the places I’ve visited, there have been wonderful and not-so-wonderful aspects.  Where one place has had wonderful sights but awful prices, another has had great food but no notable culture.  In Italy, however, it was all perfect.  All of these things–the food, the weather, the cost, the sights, the culture, and the people.  Perfect.

The Food
Let me just start at the top: FOOD.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  You think Olive Garden is good?  Try the real thing.  I was in absolute heaven, eating Italian food at every single meal.

Unlike many of the countries I’ve visited, Italy does not offer a huge variety of restaurants.  Whereas in America you can choose to go somewhere with either American, Italian, Mexican, or Asian food, in Italy you pretty much only have one option…but who would want anything else?  Genuine Italian food is spectacular.  They offer meals in courses, with appetizers followed by a pasta then a meat and ending with dessert.  I rarely had more than one or two courses, but I did on occasion and it was wonderful.  I generally stayed on the pasta/pizza side of things (where my heart truly lies), obviously always saving room for gelato afterward.  Which leads me to…

Gelato!

Gelato!!!  It’s basically the best soft-served ice cream you’ve ever eaten, and it comes in a variety of great flavors.  We went to one Gelateria in Rome that served 110 different flavors…it was incredible.  You can combine flavors and get two or three together, and if you want my advice for future reference, get Kit Kat, banana, and peanut butter.  OH MY.  Let’s just say I had 15 gelatos in seven days…..it’s that good.

Under the Tuscan sun

The Weather
Maybe I was just excited about leaving gloomy, cloudy, rainy Oxford, but Italy weather was amazing.  I stepped off the plane and into breathtaking sunshine and sharp, dry heat that felt like Texas, and I just couldn’t stop smiling.  I knew I was acting crazy, but I couldn’t stop running up to everyone and saying, “Can you believe it?!  It’s the SUN!  It feels amazing!”  From that moment, I knew I was going to love Italy.

For the remainder of the week, the weather stayed really nice.  We were even able to wear shorts and skirts and feel comfortable.  I even got a tan.  Crazy!  We loved getting to soak up the sun that we didn’t even realize we had been missing for so long.  On a few different occasions, we stopped to just sit or lie out in the sun and breathe.  It was perfect.

The Cost
For us, this trip was covered by the study abroad program, which means our lodging, transportation, and about half of our meals were paid for, in addition to a few excursions.  As a result, this trip cost almost nothing out of my pocket, besides some food and souvenir expenses.  And that made it that much more enjoyable!  On top of that, the prices in Italy are pretty fair–food isn’t too expensive, and souvenirs are pretty standard as well.

The Sights
We traveled to three cities in Italy: Assisi, Rome, and Florence.  And prior to leaving, I was really skeptical about Assisi, wondering why we were going to some random small city that none of us knew anything about.  But it ended up being my favorite destination.

Assisi

Assisi was gorgeous–the perfect old-fashioned Italian city.  I immediately thought of the movie Letters to Juliet when we arrived, and this view was further confirmed as we walked around the stone-paved, sandy brick-building filled town.  Each turn brought a new garden alcove into view, and the hills and twists created the cutest small-town atmosphere.  I enjoyed relaxing in Assisi, walking around the city and hiking in a mountain where Francis of Assisi (who we had just learned about in class) used to live.

One of the best parts of Assisi, however, was the place we stayed.  I don’t know exactly what to call it…maybe a hotel.  It was actually a convent that the nuns opened up to visitors, and they even cook meals for them.  We received breakfast and dinner (great dinner) every day and had private dorm rooms with our own bathrooms.  The nuns were the sweetest things, and we had a wonderful experience at their convent, so blessed by their servant hearts.

At the Colosseum

The second city we went to was Rome, the big one.  As touristy as it was, I loved Rome. Our hostel was located in a quieter, older area that let us see a more local side of the city.  I got some of the best gelato here (the 110 flavor place), not to mention seeing the Vatican (including the School of Athens and the Sistine Chapel), the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Roman Forum–all of which were so incredible to see in person.  It was historical greatness overload.  But I loved every second of it.  Rome is an absolute must-see, and I was so happy with the time I spent there.

The last city we traveled to was Florence, and though I’m glad I got to go there, it was definitely my least favorite of the three.  Florence is very much a party city that attracts many young people, especially tourists and study abroaders.  As a result, it can be very dangerous, and we had a curfew of 11pm every night.  Though I didn’t mind the curfew (I actually enjoyed getting to go to bed earlier than usual), the atmosphere of the city was not as enjoyable as Assisi and Rome were.  However, getting to see David was absolutely amazing, as was the local market in Florence.  I went there on four different occasions and ended up buying something each time.  Oops.  What can I say?  They had excellent deals and genuine Italian leather.  I couldn’t pass it up.

The Culture
The Italian culture is wonderful, in every way from the hundreds of vespas lining the streets (think The Lizzie McGuire Movieit’s real) to the food to the beautiful night lights and music on the streets (think Lady and the Tramp…it’s real too).  I loved listening to the passionate language and beautiful accents and just experiencing everything truly Italian, as I had only seen it in movies before.  I’m convinced that Italy is one of the must unique and beautiful places in the world.

The People
This break was by far the best one for me, largely because of the people I was with.  While I have had wonderful friends with me on every trip, this one was exceptional because our entire study abroad group traveled together–including our professors.  I loved getting to know different people more deeply, people who I had never traveled with before.  And getting to know our professors on a more normal and friendly level was a blast.  Just being all together as one big family made the entire experience more fun, lively, and carefree, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  …I wish I could do it again!

Well, there it is.  That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all I saw, experienced, and felt in Italy, but hopefully you get an idea of how wonderful it was!  I would go back in a heartbeat, probably over the other places I’ve visited, and I would highly recommend it to anyone!  Trust me, if you go, you’ll never look at the Olive Garden the same way again.

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