Okay….so my last month in Spain was amazing but so busy, which is why my blogging has been kind of slack lately.
I remember riding in the car with my mom on the way to the Atlanta airport to catch my plane to Spain. I was so nervous. I was worried that my host family wouldn’t like me, that I’d struggle in classes since they were all in Spanish, that I’d be really homesick, and that I’d have a hard time making friends. Looking back, I can’t believe how nervous I was. I love my host family, I have made life long friends, my classes have been great, and Skype/Facetime/What’s App has really reduced any homesickness I may have had.
Since my last month here in Spain was so busy, time seemed to fly by. April started off with a visit from my best friend, Paulie Howell! Back before I left for Spain, Paulie told Lizzie and me that she would come to visit us during Wofford’s Spring Break. The three of us have lived together for the past two years so the thought of us going four months without seeing each other was out of the question. As soon as Paulie found out when Wofford’s Spring Break was, she booked her tickets to come visit. Unfortunately, the three of us weren’t able to be together because of travel conflicts, so Paulie spent the first part of Spring Break with me in Alcala and the second half with Lizzie is Barcelona.
Like when my parents came to visit, I woke up early to take the bus to the airport where I was waiting when Paulie came through arrivals. I immediately ran to hug her. We’ve been best friends since freshman year and have lived together since sophomore year and even though we What’s Apped all the time and had Skype dates, I had missed my best friend so much. The first day that Paulie was in Spain was a relatively lax day. I remembered how tired I was after I first got over here so I knew she wouldn’t be up for too much. We took the metro to the main train station in order to drop of Paulie’s luggage before we set off to explore in Madrid. Paulie and I were planning on coming back into Madrid the next day, so for her first day in the city I decided to show her Puerta del Sol. I showed her all of the street performers and we of course took a picture on the plaque marks not only the center of Madrid but the center of Spain as well.
After walking around this for a bit and taking pictures, we then went to Plaza Mayor, another popular spot. It’s lined with old government buildings and like Puerta del Sol, there’s a bunch of street performers. There was also a brass band playing in the center of the Plaza. I’d visited Plaza Mayor my first weekend in Spain, and it was so funny how the change in weather can completely change the vibe of a place. When I visited there the first time, it was so cold and not too many people were out in the pit was like visiting a completely different site. Restaurants lined the plaza and everyone was sitting at small tables drinking sangria and nibbling on tapas. We then went to the Mercado de San Miguel, the huge market one street down from the plaza. This was Paulie’s first real experience seeing Spanish food; the market is filled with vendors selling all kinds of tapas, paella, desserts, and other amazing food. I bought Paulie a croquette to try and she of course loved it. I mean who wouldn’t love fried rolls of yumminess filled with mashed potatoes, meat, and cheese. After exploring the market for a little bit longer, we decided to head to head back to Alcala so Paulie could rest up for a bit.
Once we got to Alcala we checked into our hostel, Hostel Complutalense. Okay, so in Spain there’s a difference between a “hostal” and what we generally think of as hostals. A “hostel” is more in line with what we might consider to be a Day’s Inn. In Spain, alberque de joventudes are what we generally think of as hostels. Those are your dingy, 8-bed room places, where you always wanna take an extra long shower once you get back home. So, if you’re in Spain and you see a “hostal” check it out; they’re actually pretty nice.
After checking in, Paulie took a long nap to recover from her jet lag while I went home to pack and overnight bag and grab my stuff for school the next day. After a few hours, I went back to the hostal to wake up Paulie so we could head out to dinner. I first took her to La Media Pinta, the first bar that my friends and I went to in Alcala. We both got sangrias and caught up on things going on at Wofford and everything going on here in Spain. After our drink, we went to a tapas bar that Ian recommended: Qunito Tapon. It was so delicious. I got my favorite Spanish tapas for Paulie to try, like patatas bravas, tortilla española, croquettes, and a fried egg dish. After dinner, we were both tired so we put on a movie and went to bed. The next morning, I let Paulie sleep in while I went to my grammar class. Luckily, I’d saved my absences so I was able to skip my afternoon class, and Paulie and I went back into Madrid. We started the day off by going to the Prado. I’d been there before when I’d visited Spain with my parents a few years ago, but I hadn’t been back during my semester in Spain. Paulie really loves art so I knew that we had to go. We got there around 1pm and didn’t leave the museum until at least 4pm. I had forgotten how big the museum is. Every time we walked into a room, there would be a hallway leading to six other rooms. In the beginning, we started off looking at each piece, reading the description and commenting on the things we liked about it. Then, we began just looking at the pictures and occasionally pointing out things we liked, but after about the 4oth room, we’d walk to the center of the room, do a 180 degree turn. If there was a piece we really liked we’d point it out, but if not, we’d keep walking to the next room. It’s a great museum and there’s so much incredible art like La Menina by Velazquez; it’s just a lot to take in. Luckily, since I was studying in Spain and had both a student visa and an ID card from the University of Alcala, I was able to get into all the museums for free. After the Prado, Paulie and I got a light lunch at a café close to the museum. We split a plate of hummus with crackers and veal. It was so delicious and satisfying. The weather was also perfect; it was warm outside, but wasn’t unbearably hot like in South Carolina, so it was nice to just sit outside for a while. I love Spain so much better in the spring than in the winter.
After lunch, I took Paulie to Parque de Buen Retiro, the same park that my friends and I went to on our first trip to Madrid. Again, the difference in the park from back in December to then in April was incredible. So many people were out roller-skating and sun bathing, and the little pond was filled with paddle boats.
- Parque de Buen Retiro
Since it was so nice outside, Paulie and I rented a boat for an hour. Our paddling skills were a little rough in the beginning, but we eventually got the hang out if. The little lake was full of people out in boats and it was really interesting to watch the interactions between the boats. Some of the boats were of couples, so were just guys, and some were just girls. A lot of the guys kept going up to the girls’ boats and pretending to run into them to they could flirt and try and pick up girls. They were all so obvious. There was one boat of two guys that kept following our boat and taking our picture; they weren’t even trying to hide it. We’d be looking directly at them and they’d start snapping away. It was the weirdest thing. Finally, we were able to get far enough away but after we got out of our boat and started walking around the boat, we saw that the two guys had found a new boat of girls to follow and take pictures of. So strange.
We kept walking around for a while and at around 7, we left the park and went to a restaurant that some of my friends had told me about, El Tigre.
It’s a tapas bar, and for 7 euros, you order a drink and they bring you out a huge plate of all kinds of tapas and the biggest cup of sangria that I had ever seen. The plates were full of Iberian ham, stuffed mushrooms, cheese, tortilla española, and amazing bread. Some more people around were given croquettes and patatas bravas in their tapas plates. It was so delicious and so cheap for the amount of food we got. It was also a true tapas bar because there were no seats, you just stood around a little bar and threw your napkins on the floor when you were done with them. It was a great atmosphere. After we finished, we headed back to Alcala and were going to meet up with Ian, but it was getting a late so we all decided to just stay in and watch a movie before going to sleep. In the morning, I went to school. I had to stay at school all day because that afternoon Jess, Megan and I had a presentation for our Spanish cinema class, but luckily my teacher late me leave after we presented. I met up with Paulie for lunch at La Surena, where we ordered way too many tapas since we were starving. We split a flat bread, chicken fingers, and patatas bravas. We wrapped up the rest of our food in napkins and brought it back to the hostal to munch on later. Yes, I am a poor college student so I do things like wrap food up in napkins to take home. I’m not really sure if Spain does the whole “doggie bag” thing.
After lunch I took her to the convent so she could buy the special almonds for her mom. The nuts are amazing, but even if they weren’t I’d still go there to buy them because the element of secrecy during the transaction is so cool. I don’t remember if I explained this in my first blog, but at the covenant, you never see the nuns faces. When you walk in, there’s a wall that shows the different box sizes and prices and when you decide what you want, you ring a little bell and there’s a little revolving shelf where there’s a nun on the other side who takes your order.
The Nutty Nuns!
After you place your order, she spins the shelf and you put your money inside and spin it around and once the nun takes your money, she spins the shelf again and your nuts are inside. It’s such a cool process. After that, we kept walking around the city and I showed her all of my favorite little restaurants and shops, as well as many historic sites like Cervantes’s House. It was closed when we got there so we just took the typical picture with the Don Quixote and Sancho statues.
After exploring the city for a while, we went back to the hostal to shower and get ready for the night. We met up with my friends for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Rustys, before trivia. Paulie and I were still pretty full from lunch so we split two tapas. At trivia, Paulie and I were on a team with a guy from the US and a girl from France. To no one’s surprise, our team did not win or come even close to winning. Oh well. After trivia, Paulie and I hung out for a while before heading back to the hostel for the night.
Hanging out at The Green
The next morning, I had class and a few presentations because Thursday was the start of Spring Break or as they call it in Spain, Semana Santa! After school, I went back to the hostel to hang out with Paulie and finish up a few last minute homework things before going back to my house to pack for Semana Santa. I had to pack enough stuff for 10 days, so I was at my house for a while, figuring out what all I wanted to bring. After a few hours, I said my goodbyes to my host family and headed back to the hostal. It was pretty late, so Paulie and I went to dinner once I got back. All semester, I had been telling Paulie about my kebab obsession so we went to a local restaurant, Alli Babas for kebab. So kebab is one of the best foods ever invented. For those of whom you don’t know what kebab is or have never had it, let me just say that you’re missing out. Kebab is a big pita pocket filled with amazing shaved lamb, tomatos, lettuce, and yummy sauce. Also, it’s incredibly cheap. In Spain, there are kebab places everywhere. I think in Alcala we probably have at least four kebab places and Alcala is a small town. I think kebab may be the food I will miss the most after I leave Spain. It’s just amazing. Just thinking about kebab right now makes me hungry. I don’t think I can put into words how amazing it is. You’ll just have to go have one. After kebab, we walked around Plaza de Cervantes and grabbed some ice cream before heading back to the hostal.
Struggling to pack
The next day, I was going to Rome to start off Semana Santa with Jess and Nancy. We all found different ways to get there, so none of us had the same train or plane rides. I was taking a train at 6am to Barcelona and then catching a plane to Rome. Paulie took the train with me to Barcelona so that she could meet up with Lizzie and begin the second part of her trip. So, on Thursday morning at 3:30am, Paulie and I woke up and took a taxi to the train station in Madrid. We would have taken the train into Madrid but it doesn’t start running until 6am so we just split the cost of a taxi. We were worried about running late or missing our train so we left extra early. When we got to the train station, we were so early that the station hadn’t even opened yet so we sat on our suitcases outside while we waited for the station to open. It finally opened at 5am, so we went inside and then waiting some more to get on our train. Since we bought our tickets at different times our seats weren’t together but decided that as soon as the train took off, I’d go get Paulie and we’d go to the dining car for breakfast. For some reason, I have never been a big fan of breakfast food, well at least in the morning. I’m usually that weirdo who will eat a sandwich or pasta for breakfast and then an omelet for dinner. So while Paulie got toast and jam, I got a grilled chicken sandwich with honey mustard. I’m weird, I know.
After breakfast we went back to our seats and I immediately fell back asleep. Next thing I knew, our train was in Barcelona and Paulie and I met up to go find a taxi. Lizzie had class so she was unable to meet us at the train station, so I made sure that Paulie had the address of her hostal written down and I made sure she got a taxi and that her taxi driver knew where to take her before grabbing a taxi. After Paulie good to go, I grabbed a taxi to the airport and my Italian vacation.
So before I start explaining Semana Santa, I need to back track a little bit. I knew that I wanted to travel somewhere for Semana Santa. I didn’t care where; I just wanted to travel. From probably about the beginning of my semester Jess and I knew that we’d go somewhere together for Spring Break. At first we were thinking Ibiza or the Canary Islands, but they’re both pretty dead until June. After we struck that off our list we looked into Greece or maybe a small cruise, but both options were way too expensive. Nancy really wanted to go to Italy, so the three of us decided to travel throughout Italy for Semana Santa. Megan, Diana and Lindsay were also doing Italy for Semana Santa, but they’d already made their plans, so Jess, Nancy and I decided to be our own little travel group. We met up one day in mid February to start figuring out where we wanted to travel to and after a while, we decided on Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre. We hadn’t planned hostals yet so a few weeks later, Jess and I FaceTimed for over four hours looking into hostels and apartments for our trip, as well as how to get to Italy and the best way to travel around. After forever, we decided to stay in Rome for three days, Florence for two days, and Cinque Terre for five days. We were going to stay in hostels in Rome and Florence, and since we’d be in Cinque Terre for the longest, we found an apartment to rent.
So back the traveling, I was the first to arrive in Rome so I caught a shuttle that took me to my hostal and check the girls and I into our room. Jess and I made all the hostal reservations together so I couldn’t remember who’s name which hostal as in. When I got to the front desk to check in I told them my name. I had gotten an email confirmation for this hostal so I figured that it was in my name, wrong. Jess had only forwarded me a copy of the confirmation so after about 10 minutes of trying to get the guy to find my name using every combination of von Keller the reservations might be under, I pulled up the email to show him that I wasn’t crazy and did have a reservation, when I realized that the reservation was in fact under Jess’s name. Crisis averted. After I finally got up to our room, I chilled for a bit while I waited for Nancy and Jess to arrive. Nancy got there about 45 minutes after I did, so we went grocery shopping and explored for a bit while we waited for Jess to arrive.
We made it!
After we got back from grocery shopping, we saw all the texts from Jess. Not only had her plane been delayed, but someone went through her suitcases and stole some of her things as well. Needless to say, we could already tell that this was going to be the trip of struggles. We waited in the hostel for Jess and finally, she arrived. She was mad and tired from all of her traveling and to make things worse, whoever went through her stuff stole her sneakers, which she had just bought. Some of her luggage had been lost so she only had the clothes she was wearing to make things worse. We let her hang out in the room, while Nancy and I went downstairs to make dinner. We had assumed that all hostels would have kitchens, but we were wrong. This hostel only had a microwave and a few plastic bowls, which made making pasta very difficult. We still managed to make yummy pesto pasta with blood oranges and bread and brought it up to our room so we could all eat together. This was a really nice hostel. The bathroom was separate from the actual sleeping area but was still part of our room. It was a four bed room but no one was in the fourth bed so we were able to spread our stuff out around the room and have some privacy. After we ate dinner we all passed out; we were so exhausted from traveling all day.
The next morning, we woke up and Nancy and I showered. Jess didn’t want to leave the hostel until her luggage got there because she didn’t have a change of clothes and didn’t have her shower stuff. She didn’t want us to miss out on our time in Rome so Jess told us to go out and explore and that she would text us when her luggage arrived. Nancy and I found a free walking tour so we walked around the city exploring a bit on our own before the tour started. We went to an old church and saw a statute of Poseidon, which I obviously had to take a picture with.
Oh hey, it’s Poseidon
Roming around Rome
We made our way to the Spanish steps, which was the meeting place for our tour. We got there really early so Nancy and I got our first gelatos. I got a mix of tiramisu and a flavor called zappa ingles; both were so amazing. We walked around a bit before our tour started and found a spot to pick up free wifi so we could text Jess and see if she was going to meet up with us on the tour. Her bags hadn’t been delivered yet, so we planned on meeting up after dinner.
At 5, Nancy and I wandered back to the Spanish steps to find the free tour. We wandered all around the steps and the little square in front of them and after about 15 minutes, we finally found the tour guide. He gave us a quick history of Rome and Italy. Did you know that the United States is actually older than unified Italy? I definitely didn’t. The guide took us all around Rome, taking us into important churches, showing us little centers, we went to the Pantheon, he showed us where the designer Valentino lives and we finished the tour at the Trevi Fountain. While the tour was very informative, the tour guide was a jerk. He was rude to the people in our group, he spoke poorly of his own country, and was very disrespectful at one of the churches we visited. You’re not supposed to tour a church while mass is going on and you’re definitely not supposed to take pictures. Well we went into a church while Mass was going on and a man at the church asked us to be quiet and not take pictures. Our tour guide got an attitude with the man and told him that the state funds the churches through tax money so technically our tour guide was paying for the church so he could do whatever he wanted to inside. It was just really rude and uncomfortable. I really think this guy should reconsider professions.
When we got to the Trevi Fountain, Jess called us and told us that her bags had finally been delivered and that she’d showered and was ready to meet up with us. We headed back to the Spanish Steps because it was the easiest place to meet up at. Once we met up, we all found a small little restaurant because none of us had eaten since breakfast that morning. So for those of you who don’t know me that well, pasta is my favorite food in the world. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; actually, I have definitely eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner before, so being in Italy for a week was amazing for me. I ordered a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, and sweet baby Jesus it was amazing. I knew I was going to love Italy. Nancy got a big pizza and Jess had pasta bolognese. Yum. After dinner, we headed back to the Trevi Fountain and had more gelato. Trevi was packed with people but luckily we found a little place to sit and eat our gelato before we threw our coins into the fountain.
We all threw our coins in and took tons of pictures before heading back to the hostel.
CIEE takes the Trevi Fountain
The next morning we woke up early and grabbed breakfast before catching a metro to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Wofford does the Colosseum
The lines were crazy long and it was a tad expensive to actually go inside of the Colosseum so we just walked around outside of it and took pictures. We toured the Roman forum before catching a bus to the side of town where the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica are. Fact: In Italy, bus drivers don’t check to see if you have a ticket. Buses run on a type of honor policy, although I didn’t see anyone swiping a bus ticket. So, if you want to test your luck and try and get a free bus ride, Italy is the place to do so.
We spent the second half of our day at the Vatican. Luckily for us, the man at our hostel told us that the best time to tour the Vatican was after 1pm, so we only waited in line at St. Peter’s for 30 minutes and there was no line to get into the Vatican.
My new friends at St. Peter’s
We toured the Vatican Museum and saw all the art that lead to the Sistine Chapel. There kept being signs that said the Sistine Chapel was in the next room, wrong. We went through gallery after gallery after gallery before we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Yet again, my class with Dr. Schmunk paid off because I recognized so many of the pieces of art that we saw. It was so cool to be able to see the art that I studied in person.
Oh hey, I studied this.
After we finished exploring the Vatican, we started heading back to our hostel when we almost found ourselves in the middle of protest. We took the metro back to our hostel but the stop that was supposed to take us to our hostel was closed. Since we don’t speak Italian we had no idea why, so we got off on the stop one past ours. When we began walking back to our hostel, we noticed that more police officers and police cars out than had been earlier in the day.
Getting ready for the riot
In addition, there were a few helicopters circling the area. On the walk back to the hostel, we passed a big government building, I’m not exactly sure what building it was, but there were about 20 Italian police officers surrounding the front of the building. They all had big shields out and armored trucks kept driving by. At first, we thought an important government official may be in the city or a foreign government official was in town. We waited across the street for a while in hopes of seeing what all the commotion was about, but after about 30 minutes we gave up and headed back to the hostel. Later on that night, we met up with the other girls for dinner and told them about what we had seen. They told us that there was a big riot/protest in town that day, which is why so many police officers were out and helicopters were out. I think that fact that we were almost caught up in the middle of a big Italian riot is pretty cool, although that wasn’t the exact words my friends used to describe it, but it’s still a pretty cool story.
The next day we caught a train to Florence for the next part of our Semana Santa. Our hostel was five minutes away from the hostel so we were able to walk from the train station. It was too early to check in so we left our luggage there and set off to grab lunch before a guided tour through the city. Okay, I love tours and I love learning about stuff in a new city but oh my goodness gracious, this was the most boring tour of my entire life and to make things worse, it started raining halfway through and I was the only one without an umbrella. Although the tour was pretty boring, it did give us an idea of what was in the city and the places we should set off to the next day. Also, we stopped to get gelato after the tour and this was some of the best gelato I had ever had. Yes, I accidentally bought a six-euro cone of gelato but it was worth every cent.
The next day we set off early from our hostel to see Florence. We went to Giotto’s Campanile, which is the huge bell tower at the Santa Maria del Fiore, the oldest church in Florence. When you go to Florence, you can buy a ticket for 10 euros that allows you to go to the Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s Campanile and Il Duomo. You have 24 hours to tour all three, which is really helpful because all of these places had very long lines to get into.
The long trek to the top.
We climbed to the top of the bell tower and 414 steps later, we had an amazing view of Florence. We were able to see the entire city and the surrounding Italian countryside. It was absolutely breathtaking.
After the bell tower, we wandered around the city for a while, peeking into free museums, taking our typical pictures with all the statues we saw, and checking out the different flavors at all the gelaterias. We stopped by a small pizza shop that had pizzas lined up in rows. Rather than ordering a slice, you order your pizza by length and they then charge you by the weight of the pizza. It’s actually a really cool concept. This way everyone is happy since you can order the pizza based on the size you want. Jess and I split a piece of sausage and mushroom pizza. It was in pizza bliss. It was the best pizza I have EVER eaten in my entire life. Seriously, this is the type of pizza that you would slap your momma for. It was that good. I may still have dreams about this pizza. I don’t remember the name of this pizza place but it was on Via de Neri. This street is lined with little restaurants and also on the street is what is considered the best sandwich place in Florence. We weren’t able to go but there were people standing in line all the way down the street, which was definitely a good sign as to how delicious this place was. It’s called All’Antico Vinaio. It doesn’t have indoor seating but it wraps your sandwich in a brown paper so you can take it to go and eat somewhere else, like by the river or in an outdoor plaza somewhere. Definitely check it out if you have an opportunity to go to Florence and let me know how it was! After our pizza, we went to the Palazzo Pitti, which was the former palace for the Medici family. There is a big plaza in front of the palace where people can lay out and eat lunch or take a quick cat nap. We laid out on the plaza for a while and while the girls continued laying out, I explored the city for a bit to find souvenirs. After we met back up, Jess and I bought tickets to see the Boboli Gardens and the Costume Museum in the palace. The gardens were gorgeous. We could have spent all afternoon there.
There were tons of little pools and gardens to wander around. I wish we could have bought more of that amazing pizza and brought it to the gardens and just stayed there all day.
Then, we toured the costume museum which displayed the outfits of the women in the Medici family and famous Italian women during the mid-1900s. They outfits were so exquisite, all accompanied with jewelry and hats. This was such a great afternoon. I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens, but it gives me an excuse to go back in the future. After the garden, we went to tour Il Duomo but due to the long lines, we weren’t able to get in before closing so we toured the Santa Maria del Fiore, the church of the bell tower. Of course, we got more gelato. So far, my diet has consisted of pizza, pasta, and gelato. This is the life. Another hint, if you’re ever in Florence and they have nutella gelato, its not nutella-flavored gelato. They will literally put a scoop of straight nutella into your cup or bowl. While this may seem delicious, nutella is way too thick and rich to try and eat like gelato.
That night, we met up with the girls again and went to a great restaurant downtown. We initially found this one little old restaurant on the other side of town, but we didn’t check to see if they had gluten free options for Lindsay, so we found another place that Lindsay would be able to eat at. It was fabulous. I had a nice little salad and a big bowl of pesto pasta. I could so live here forever.
The next morning, we all woke up early and strolled around Florence one last time before we caught the train to Cinque Terre. We had to catch three trains in order to get to Cinque Terre and after about three hours, we finally arrived to the last leg of our Semana Santa. For those of you who don’t know, Cinque Terre means five lands in Italian. Cinque Terre is made up of five beaches and the cool thing is that you can hike from beach to beach and all five of the beaches are connected by hiking trails. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare, the only sandy beach in Cinque Terre.
Our train to to Monterosso went through a tunnel along the side of the mountain so kept get quick views of the beach, but once we arrived in Monterosso, we were in awe. It was absolutely beautiful. The water was so blue and the buildings were brightly colored. We decided to stay in Monterosso for the longest amount of time because we wanted a relaxing few days before we returned back to Alcala and began cramming for finals. Since we were in Monterosso for four days, we decided to rent an apartment for our time there so we’d be able to spread our things out and have a kitchen. Our apartment was so precious. It was purple with a queen sized bed and a pull out couch. There was a little kitchen and a huge bathroom. We had a TV but all of the channels except one news channel were in Italian, so we watched a lot of shows on MTV in Italian. Even in Italian, the girls on Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant were still ridiculous. It was really funny at points to watch an Italian movie or TV show and try and figure out what was going on. The apartment didn’t have WiFi, but there was a small cafe close to our apartment where you could buy a one euro cup of coffee and use their Wifi.
That first night, after settling in and going grocery shopping, it was pretty late and we were exhausted so we enjoyed big bowls of spaghetti while watching an American movie in Italian, trying to figure out what was going on. The next morning, we met up with the girls to hike one of the beaches. They came down for the day to hike with us, so we met them at the train station and after dropping off their stuff at our apartment, we set off on our hike. According to our map and a woman at the tourism office, the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the neighboring beach, the hike was about 4 miles and would only take 2 hours.
I have no idea what trail this woman was talking about but it was definitely not the one that we took. Seven hours and 11 miles later, we made it to Vernazza but it was 100% worth it. The hike was at times flat and at other times very steep. The trail that goes along the beach was temporarily closed for maintenance so we hike up mountain and back down to Vernazza so the trail was really rocky, but at times we had great overviews of the beach. At one point, before we realized how long the hike was actually going to be, we mistakenly thought we were half way done; this was about an hour into the trail, if we only knew.
Anyways, we thought we were halfway done at this point so we made a semi dance video to Turn Down for What. It was so much fun, even though we had another 5 hours left in our hike. There was a great overlook into Vernazza right before you go down the mountain into the city, so we stopped to take pictures and take in the Pinterest worthiness of our views (pictures of this overlook are definitely on Pinterest).
Some people in our group wanted to go ahead down the mountain while some waited to stay up there for a bit longer so we ended up breaking off into three groups. Diana and Megan went down first, then Lindsay and I were a couple of minutes behind them and Jess and Nancy stayed up there for a bit longer. This probably wasn’t the best idea because there were two ways to get down into the city and of course we all took different ways down and we couldn’t find Wi-Fi in the city to text each other. Luckily I still had a bit of data so I was able to text Jess and tell her where Lindsay and I were waiting. When Jess and Nancy came down into the city they found Diana and Megan so we were all reunited. We all got gelato and sat by the water for a bit before taking the train to Monterosso. We were not about to hike back for another six hours. When we got back to our apartment, Megan, Diana and Lindsay went down to the water and to sit on the beach, while Nancy, Jess, and I changed real quick before we met back up to go to dinner. Our apartment didn’t have wifi so we were always looking for places on the beach to pick up a signal so we found a restaurant that had wifi. We were all exhausted and sun burned at dinner so it was a bit more quiet than usual. I ordered spaghetti Bolognese, and it was fabulous. After dinner, the girls caught the train back to Florence and we went back to the apartment. I was so tired and sunburned from the hike that I slept like a baby.
The next morning, Jess and Nancy decided to sleep in but I woke up earlier than them so I went to a café to order a coffee and use the Wifi before heading down to the beach. When the girls woke up, we all brought our towels and mini speakers to the beach to try and soak in the sun for a bit. It was warm enough outside but it was really windy, so we got a bit chilly laying out. After laying out for a large part of the afternoon, we went to get gelato before heading back to the apartment to figure out what we wanted to do for the rest of the day. We needed to stock up on groceries so we made of list of what we wanted for dinner and went to the local grocery stores to buy food for the night. I think we went a little overboard with groceries, but it just gave us more options for what we wanted to eat. That night, Nancy made arroz con pollo and we had green beans. We watched the MTV movie awards while we ate our dinner then went to sit outside of the local café to pick up their wifi signal. The café had closed so we sat on the doorstep to pick up the signal from inside. We walked around the town for a little while before heading back to the apartment for the night. The next day, it was rainy and dreary outside so we slept in a bit and once the rain had stopped for a bit, we went to explore the city. There was a huge rock by the train station that a lot of people climbed, so after exploring the city for a while, we came back to the big rock and Nancy and I climbed it while Jess chilled on the beach. The rock was very high so we got a good view of our little city. We also met a girl who was roommates with our friend Grace, who was studying in Sienna. Even though Europe is huge, it was crazy how the “study abroad” world was so small at times. Since we were in a foreign place, we loved running into Americans and seeing if there were similarities between us. I ran into a few people studying at Clemson and some from USC. Nancy ran into people from her hometown and other people in our group would run into people from their state and sometimes even their universities. It was so cool.
We walked around the town for a bit longer before heading back to the apartment to start packing. Also, since we went a bit overboard with grocery shopping, we had to cook all the food we had bought. There was a smorgasbord of pesto pasta, grilled chicken, proscuitto, rice, and more green beans. It was so delicious but we definitely did not finish all of it. That night we walked around the town again and ordered more gelato (see a pattern yet?). We also went ahead and bought our train tickets for the next morning so we wouldn’t be as rushed.
The next morning, it was pouring so we had to drag all of our luggage to the train station in the rain. It wasn’t super fun. A few of our friends from Wofford happened to be in Monterosso that morning so we met up with them for a bit before we caught our train.
Wofford takes on Cinque Terre
When we headed to the train station, Jess realized she had forgotten her bookbag at the café so she had to run back to get it and we ended up missing our train. There were other trains to our next spot but it would cause us to have to rush to catch the next train. We ended up making all of our trains but we had to run to catch most of them. In some instances we literally sprinted to catch the next train. Around 2pm, we arrived in Pisa and started heading towards the Leaning Tower.
I wonder if anyone knows I’m a tourist?
We took the obligatory tourist pictures before heading to the airport to catch our plane to Barcelona. So, while I love transportation in Europe because it’s so cheap, it can also be annoying at times as well. With most airlines, you can get the airline desk to print off your tickets, but with RyanAir, they charge you 15 euros to print off your ticket. The computer café was closed by the time we arrived so we had to rush around to different kiosks to beg someone to print off our tickets. Luckily, there was one very nice guy who printed off all of our tickets. Our plane to Barcelona was fine and we were able to catch the bus to the bus station, but we ran into a problem once we arrived to the bus station. Nancy hadn’t bought her ticket from Barcelona to Madrid yet because she thought there would still be open seats but when we got there, all of the tickets were sold out. Nancy had to wait at the bus station all night and wasn’t able to get a bus until 1pm the next day. I can’t even imagine how awful that was.
Finally, after a solid 24 hours of traveling, we made it back home to Alcala. Jess and I were exhausted and had so much laundry to do, but our trip in Italy was worth every minute. Every struggle we faced, every mishap that occured, it was all amazing and it made my Semana Santa the most memorable Spring Break i’ve yet to have.
Hopefully one day Ill be able to return to these beautiful places that i’ve visited and spend more time in each place. I’d love to hike more of the beaches in Cinque Terre or visit Il Duomo in Florence. I want to spend a day in the Boboli Gardens and get more of that life changing pizza. Hopefully I can have a chance to return to these places when I’m older, but if not, these 10 days in Italy were so amazing and I’ll never forget my crazy Semana Santa.
Okay, I promise my last blog post will be posted ASAP!! Sorry for getting slack on y’all.
- riot- disturbio
- groceries- provisiones
- hike- caminata
- to struggle- esforzarse