Spring Break: UK and Italy

Spring Break: UK and Italy

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven’t written in awhile, I have a busy couple weeks of traveling behind me. I began my journey at 2:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 9.  After sleeping in a friend’s room so as not to disturb my roommate, we met our traveling companions in the downstairs lobby of Reid Hall.  One of the girls on our trip hadn’t woken up to her alarm, so after waking her up and giving her an ultimatum to “be ready in 2 minutes or else” we ran down the street to catch our bus.  Soaking wet and out of breath, we reached the bus stop in the nick of time and started our journey to Stansted Airport.  After arriving and boarding our plane, we found ourselves stepping off the bus in Rome around 9 a.m.

Immediately we were confused, as the signs were written in Italian and we had only vague directions about how to find our hotel.  However, after finding some English-speaking hotel and shop owners, we finally saw the sign for Hotel Cialdini on the side of an apartment-like complex.  Unfortunately, the hotel was located in the middle of one of the sketchier areas of Chinatown and consisted of one floor within a tenement building set back from the street.  The hotel staff – one owner and one cleaning woman – spoke no English whatsoever, and communication with them proved to be a challenge for the entirety of the trip.  After checking in with the help of a translator that the owner called on the phone, we put down our bags and set out to explore the city.

Since we’d planned to talk to the hotel staff and had no bearings from which to find important monuments, our group of five decided to take a “hop on hop off” bus tour around Rome.  The tour took us to many of the major Roman ruins and monuments, including various basilicas, the Colosseum, Vatican City, the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain, the Altar Della Patria, and the Castle Angelo.  We were able to depart from the bus and take another of the tour buses circling the city at any of these stops.  Our first major stop was the Colosseum, where we ate a lunch of crusty, cheesy margherita pizza as we gazed over our shoulders at the crumbling ruins of the Colosseum in awe.  I’ll talk more about this later, as we decided to pay the next day to enter the Colosseum.  We also got off the bus at the Castle Angelo, a monument of which I hadn’t previously heard but that was beautifully constructed.  It was surrounded by the Tiber River and two beautiful bridges containing large, rounded arches.

After seeing St. Peter’s Basilica, the impressive domed cathedral located in Vatican City, at sunset, we took the bus home to our hotel.  We had considered finding a place to hang out after the conclusion of the tour, but after experiencing catcalls and rude comments from Italian men in the creepy area near our hotel, we decided to retire early.  My friends Emily and Kelly, both blond with blue eyes, certainly stuck out among the dark-haired, dark-eyed Italians, and as a group we decided that Rome was not the best city to try out new nightlife.  After our key didn’t work due to the remnants of someone else’s key stuck in the lock, we made an interesting phone call to our angry Italian host, who was not happy that we’d called him while he was with his friends down the street.  Eventually, with help from the hotel owner’s son (who spoke fragments of English), they were able to fish out the broken key from the lock and let us into the hotel building.  Unhappy about our living situation but overjoyed with the gorgeous scenery we’d seen that day, we went to bed and woke up early the next morning to continue our tour.

The next morning, we had a breakfast of McDonald’s muffins and headed on the metro to the Colosseum.  After experiencing the slow, crowded, smelly nature of the Rome metro, we were even more grateful for the relatively clean and quick London tube system.  Nevertheless, we arrived at the Colosseum, paid twelve Euro to enter, and began exploring the Colosseum.

Sophie at Colosseum Out of all the sights I experienced in Rome, the Colosseum was definitely my favorite.  The crumbling stone walls and remnants of white marble seats surrounding the structure were truly incredible.  After looking down into the depths of where the gladiators prepared for battle, unsure of whether or not they’d come out alive, I felt lucky to be able to see such a crucial part of history.  There were also cats wandering around the Colosseum, which according to legends are due to the Cleopatra’s love for cats.  Supposedly, she brought them to Rome and that’s why they still inhabit the Colosseum.  I liked this legend and even got to pet one of them that I found inside the Colosseum!

After leaving the Colosseum we wandered through some other ruins, stopping at the Altar della Patria.  The altar is a magnificent white building with black statues of horsemen on the roof.  These statues can be seen from miles around, and while the altar contains a tomb of the unknown soldier (similar to the one I saw in Arlington National Cemetary in the states), it was apparently a favorite meeting place of Mussolini during World War II.  After visiting the altar we also made a stop at Michelangelo’s steps, designed by Michelangelo himself and containing beautiful statues at the summit.  We also made a gelato stop, and although I had experienced Italian gelato a couple years prior, my friends enjoyed the ice-cream like dessert and it was just as good as I remembered.

Next we traveled on the metro to Vatican City.  Unfortunately we were there TWO DAYS before the new pope was picked, which was a sad event when we turned on the T.V. to see masses of people in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Still, the building was exquisite and it’s still interesting to say that I was in Vatican City when there wasn’t a pope.  The city contained masses of sightseers, but we also saw several groups of nuns wandering around before entering the basilica.  In Vatican City we also made a spur decision to stop at a pizza shop on one of the side streets.  This turned out to be the best pizza I had during my entire trip to Italy.  Now, a week later, we’re still talking about how good the “Vatican pizza” from the tiny street pizza shop was as we eat our gross Regent’s refectory food.

After leaving Vatican City we went to our last stop, the Trevi fountain.  Although by the time we reached the fountain it was pouring rain, we were all taken aback by how beautiful the carved stone sculptures were.  The Roman figures were awe-inspiring and we all agreed that the fountain was one of our favorite parts of Rome.  After making a wish and throwing in our coins, we found an Italian restaurant in which to eat our last dinner. I had raviolis with feta and spinach that were delicious, and we enjoyed dinner as we watched the rain pour down outside.  Once we left the restaurant we had an extremely difficult time asking for help regarding our early morning flight.  At the main terminal we were sent from desk to desk by rude workers, and eventually we gave up and asked a woman at a nearby Best Western how to get to the airport for five in the morning.  Although we felt guilty once she realized that we weren’t Best Western customers, she still gave us the number for a taxi that could bring us to the airport.  Grateful for her help, we called the number and were out on the street at 3:30 the next morning to meet our taxi.

After arriving at Fiumicino airport, we waited for our flight to Venice and departed.  Happy with the sights we’d seen but less thrilled with our sketchy accommodations, we were slightly apprehensive about the apartment we had booked in Venice.  We were due to meet three of our friends once we arrived, who had stayed in the Swiss Alps for the first three days of break but were meeting up with us for the end.

We arrived in Venice around nine a.m. and immediately began exploring.  Although we couldn’t check into our apartment until three, we decided to first figure out where it was for future reference.  This proved to be a smart choice, as we soon discovered that the streets of Venice are so narrow, curved, and similar-looking that they seem to be maze-like.  Eventually, with help from many Venetians along the way, we found the apartment and set out to explore.

After about five minutes in Venice I was already in love.  The charming canals, beautiful Murano glass shops, and cute Italian restaurants gave Venice an entrancing feeling I’ve never experienced anywhere else.  We spent most of the afternoon completely lost but enjoying every minute of our explorations.  The fact that every time we took out a map we received queries of “do you need help?” also were a nice change after the rude bus workers of Rome. Eventually, we made our way to St. Mark’s square, the magnificent open square of Venice.  Here, St. Mark’s Basilica, Dodge’s Palace, a hub of canal gondoliers, and various beautiful statues are located.  After admiring the sights of the square we made our way back to the apartment, overjoyed to meet our school friends who’d been in the Alps (and also had a great time).  We met the owner of the apartment and were delighted to see that it had plenty of room for all eight of us, was in a nice area of town, and had a large living room in which to sit.St. Marks Basilica

That night we all enjoyed a large Italian dinner, where I had the best pasta I’d eaten all spring break – linguini with garlic and fresh pesto.  Although I love pesto at home, the pesto in Italy is of a completely different breed and is better than anything else I’ve had in America, London, or anywhere else. Afterwards, we bought gelato from a funny Italian man who insisted on giving us samples of every single flavor.  Happy to be in such a peaceful place, we returned to the apartment and woke up early the next morning to explore.

Our second day in Venice was mostly spent shopping at the little glass and jewelry stores around the city.  We never figured out the streets completely, since when I told myself “I need to remember this store for later,” I could barely remember what the store looked like among all the others, let alone figure out how to find it.  Our friend Zach had left with his friend from high school to visit Verona for the day, so with six girls we had nothing to prevent us from spending the day shopping.

However, we did stop for about an hour and a half to take a gondola ride.  After longingly watching the people riding around in the elegant boats all day, we decided to splurge and take one ourselves.  Split between six people it became relatively cheap, and we all agreed that this was a prudent decision.  Our gondolier was cheerful, giving us information about the city as we passed important monuments and even singing for us when we asked him.  The gondola ride was an incredible way to experience the maritime life of Venice firsthand, and the narrow canals and white arched bridges never became less beautiful.

For our last dinner in Italy, we were able to make a deal with a restaurant owner who gave us each bread, pasta or pizza, wine, and dessert for sixteen Euro.  Excited to experience a multi-course meal, we took advantage of this and had a lovely last dinner in Italy.

The next morning we woke up, checked out of our apartment, and walked outside into a complete downpour.  Since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until one, we found a pizza place in which to wait and stayed there as long as possible.  Although it was a little strange to be eating pizza at ten in the morning, we enjoyed the restaurant.  The pizza wasn’t quite as good as the Vatican pizza, but it was still incredible by normal standards and tided us over until we arrived back in London.  After taking a final group picture and buying some last-minute souvenirs, we hopped on the bus to the airport and said goodbye to Venice.

During spring break we clearly did a lot of traveling, so the last plane ride home seemed to last for days rather than a couple hours.  Finally we landed at London Gatwick and took the train to London Bridge tube station.  After wandering around for about a half an hour in confusion, I found my boyfriend Ben who had come to London to visit me.  We headed back to Regent’s, exhausted from our travels but both happy to be reunited.

Tower BridgeOver the next few days I was excited to find that I was a better tour guide than I’d thought.  I’ve begun to understand the workings of the city, and we saw all the major tourist attractions- Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theater and others, such as the British Museum and the Tower of London, which I hadn’t yet explored myself.   The Tower of London, built around 1000 A.D. and the site of famous executions of those such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, was extremely interesting and a prime example of London’s long history.

In the British museum I saw, among other incredible exhibits, the original Rosetta Stone.  We also rode the London eye at night, a breathtakingly beautiful experience due to the illuminated lights of the city. Of course, Ben had brought his trusty action figure John Cena along, so we took some pictures of him in different parts of London.  Ben also got to visit some of my favorite bars and see both a giant pelican in Green Park and a peacock in Regent’s Park (both of which I’ve never seen walking around before, but for some reason showed up while he was here).  I took him to Kensington palace, which as you might remember has a lot of overly friendly squirrels.  Since he likes petting animals I figured this was a good place, and he almost was able to pick one up. I also was coerced into trying Krispy Kreme donuts for the first time, which I have to admit are a step up from Dunkin’ Donuts at home- especially the maple glazed ones.

After dropping Ben off at Heathrow on Sunday I was forced to turn back to writing essays, a pastime I’d been avoiding since spring break.  So far, this week has been full of homework and catching up on responsibilities (like my blog post), but tomorrow brings my trip to Amsterdam.  I did go on a field trip on Tuesday to the National Maritime Museum, which was really interesting and in the adorable waterfront neighborhood of Greenwich.  We were also allowed to explore an old naval ship, the Cutty Sark, which definitely was an enjoyable part of class.  Other than that it has been a relatively uneventful week, but thanks for reading and I’ll have more to say next week about Amsterdam!

Written by Sophie White, UNH Class of 2015.