At first glance, this city seems very industrial. There are many shops and restaurants like any town, but fewer trees in between the streets and roads. Transportation is very easy and necessary as I took the metro about twice each day. The first night I arrived, our group decided to go into the city center before heading to bed. When we got off at the center stop, this massive, ogre-like cathedral blinded our tired eyes. The Duomo of Milan is quite a sight to see and highly recommended. You don't believe just how giant it is until you are there standing in front of it. I also recommend Castello Sforzesco and more so the garden behind it. We ate a pleasant picnic here, complete with birds and ponds. There were a few nice surprises about this city. In the middle of Duomo plaza were three large white tents in the shape of bubbles. Curiosity got the best of me and I ventured inside. What an adventure! Each bubble contained dozens of new art forms, such as holographically made statues, spray on clothing, a machine that draws your face on a white board for you, and much much more. We also saw some interesting art galleries around the city, but they were always empty of people! Made for pleasantly quiet visits though.
This is the one city I wish I had more time in. When I think of Italy, this city is what I picture. Beautiful gothic buildings, old churches in open squares, Italian flags hanging from every window, and the smells of Margareta pizza wafting down the streets. We stayed with an Italian named Francesco, who showed us around Turin and explained many facts about the city. The 2006 winter Olympic games were held here, helping the city financially and aesthetically. He informed us that this year is Italy's 150th birthday, which explained the massive number of flags, birthday plates, and general cheeriness of the city. I asked Francesco about the light purple flowers I kept seeing everywhere. They are called Aubrieta and smell delicious. You know you are in Northern Italy by these distinctive pastel-colored flowers. This is also the city where I first learned about apperitivos. The Italians are so smart - at an apperitivo, you buy one drink for 5 or 6 euros, and then you can eat all you want! Or, you can buy a bottle of wine for the table for 20 euro and everyone eats all they want! They are always filled with young people, have hip music playing, and leave one feeling content in body and mind. The only other place I got to see quickly was Mole Antonelliana, or just, "Mole" to Italians. This former synagogue-turned-museum-of-cinema is known for its gargantuan proportions. This makes sense if you know that mole literally translates to "size" in Italian. It boasts being the tallest museum in the world. However, when I got there, I only had enough time to snap a picture, and run to the train because the line out the door was an hour and a half long. Que fuerte! Next time.
Sorry suitors and sweethearts, but Genova has taken my heart. If you look to the coast, you might find it hiding under the oceanside rocks, skipping down the orange and yellow boardwalk, or frolicking in the grass and palm trees. If you look to the city center, you might find it swimming in a frozen daiquiri at the apperitivo, ambling down the stone sidewalk towards the cathedral, or playing in a fountain outside of Columbus's house. Here I met my high school friend Martina whom I had not seen in over four years. She graciously let us stay at her bright white apartment and excitedly showed us her favorite places in Genova. The best tour guide and friend anyone could ask for. Some day, I will return to reclaim the affections I left behind, but until then, I am completely content with leaving them on vacation in this lustrous city.
Lively and lovely Florencia. Here we stayed with my travel mate's friend, Cindy. She is in a flat in the middle of Florence, not five minutes from the Duomo. Though the flat is rather large, Cindy also has three roommates, who also had friends staying with them. I am pretty sure at one point we had at least 12 people sleeping in this flat and making use of the two bathrooms. The view from her window on one side was of some...interesting...graffiti and the other of vegetable and fruit stands in the street below. I have to admit, though Florence is beautiful and alluring, its smell is not. Even though Italian cooking can be heavenly, this aroma is often overpowered by a mixture of fruit, vegetables, homeless people, sewage, and the river. Most of these smell fine on an individual basis, but all together they make for an odiferous and unpleasant concoction. However, upon ignoring this distinctive stench, one notices the many attractive aspects to Florence.
Palazzo Pitti. This Renaissance palace of Luca Pitti dates back to 1458 and was bought by the Medici family a century later. Today, people are welcome to enter and observe the architecture, collections of art, and my personal favorite, the breathtaking Boboli gardens. This labyrinth of trees, bushes, statues, and fountains seemingly has no end in sight. Upon cresting one hill, you will find yet another path that forks into two more. The hardest part is deciding which road to take, unaware of the destiny expecting you ahead.
Ponte Vecchio. This "old bridge" is the most famous way to cross the river in Florence. The sides of the bridge are made of houses, complete with front doors and windows. As you walk down, you can look out at the river, view local art, jewelry, and buy a gelato. This is a mischievous bridge because when you are in the center, it feels like a plaza on land. But when you walk to either side, you realize you are located in the center of the river. The works of art along this bridge were some of the prettiest in Florence. There is also an interesting tradition on Ponte Vecchio - to write a person's name on a lock and hook it onto a chain by the bridge. This signifies your capture of that person's heart with the hope that it will never come undone.
Piazzale Michelangelo. This famous square atop the highest hill in Florence has a brilliant panoramic view of the city. My friends and I wanted to see the sunset from this point, but realized we were running out of time before the sun went down. And so, much like Rocky Balboa, I ran up the long, long staircase, sprinted up the streets, darted past the restaurants and shops, and finally made it to the top with enough time to catch some of the lingering pinks and purples.
The David. Though everyone has seen an image of this notorious statue in some manner, it is nothing like seeing him in person. David is stronger, taller, and more epic than you can ever imagine. What a hunk! I would definitely recommend seeing him, but get in line right when the museum opens so you don't have to wait in the dauntingly long queues. Also, don't forget, there is a fake David made out of plaster and a real David. You have to pay to see the real one.
Have you ever seen a Jackson Pollok painting? If not, take a moment right now to look at one. This is how the streets of Venice are set up. Luckily, with a map and four navigators, we were able to get around fairly easily. The huge yellow signs that said "This way to Piazza San Marco" did help though. What a sunny city! The waterways sparkle as the blue and white striped gondola men slowly paddle their passengers down the narrow routes. The Basilica in San Marco stands monumentally proud over the musicians, restaurant owners, and crowds below. People walk slowly, bringing life's pace down a notch, as if wading through the watery veins that give life to this unique city. After running around Florence, I was very pleased to move leisurely here. It did not bother me if we lost our way in one of the many scrambled side streets. My favorite part was when we found a nice edge along the water, sat down with our feet dangling, and just watched the gondolas float by.
"Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean." Unfortunately, I did not witness any family feuds or bloodshed, but I did see a pair of star-crossed lovers! In Verona, you are able to see Juliet's balcony and below, a bronze statue of the woman herself. As we approached this statue, a man got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend right before my eyes! She seemed very surprised, but happily and tearfully said yes. People clapped, took pictures, and cheered. I have to wonder, though, how will a marriage turn out from an engagement in the setting of Romeo and Juliet? For this story's ending was not terribly desirable. I hope this couple has better luck. My favorite place I went to in Verona is called Giardino Giusti. It took us a little while to find this park, but it was well worth the search. First we entered and went to the ticket office. The man there did not know a word of English, and as we knew little to no Italian, a hand-gesture dance ensued. He was very sweet and gave us a student discount and even showed us a room where we could store our backpacks as we hiked around the garden. Once we winded our way to the top, we took out our lunches and munched away while observing Verona below. In the city center, there was a parade with old army trucks cruising around. Then we noticed the American flags and asked one of the soldiers, what is this for? It was a parade celebrating the anniversary of the end of World War II. How interesting! The hotel we stayed at in Verona, Hotel Cristallo, was by far the best accommodations of the whole trip. This three-star hotel was only 22 euros per night and it included an on-suite room with two double beds, a shower with free shampoo and soap, free internet, and the most filling and sumptuous breakfast I ate the whole trip. They had yogurt and granola! Win.
And so my stay in Italy came to a close. We took a train back to Milan, slept over at the airport, and flew home the next day. While I was on the plane, I almost felt like I was flying home home - back to Virginia. But then I realized, I had one whole month left in Spain before I return there! Better make the best of my little time left.
Hasta la próxima,