Well, looks like I’m in the final countdown of my time here in Barcelona. 37 days until I am back in the United States and I cannot wait! I have enjoyed my time here. I’ve gone places that I never thought I’d go. Who can say that they made a wish in the Trevi Fountains or lived off crepes while in Paris for the weekend? I never thought I’d get to travel to Germany, let alone Amsterdam. Going to Amsterdam was one of my life goals ever since seeing pictures about it. If I could go back to one place again, it’d be Amsterdam. This is all coming from a person who has never gone to an overnight summer camp, let alone out of the country, so I am proud of myself for doing this. But in saying that, I am ready to be back in the States. I miss my family, and I miss my friends. I feel like I’m missing a huge chunk of my niece’s life! Her birthday is in the beginning of April, and I am literally so sad to be missing that celebration. I miss being able to smile at people in the streets without getting stared at. I also miss Wofford. I loved Wofford beforehand, but I love it even more. People always say that Wofford is one big family, and I can see that now. I can’t wait to visit once I’m back. I also can’t wait to wear shorts in public without getting strange looks! Upon saying that, here’s my blog about my adventures to Prague and Rome….
Katie, Tara, Grace, and I left for Prague early Friday morning. We finally landed around 2 pm. We got a taxi to our hostel. My first impression of Prague was that it was beautiful! The roads were windy and there were cute little houses. It actually reminded me of Lookout Mountain in the way that some of the houses were clustered all together. We had a little trouble finding our hostel, but we eventually found it! After we set our luggage down, we headed out to the St. Charles Bridge and to find the John Lennon Wall. It was pretty cool and super decorated. Definitely wasn’t expecting that. We then headed back to our hostel to meet up with four other people from IES. We were all starving so we went out to search for dinner. There were 8 of us total, keep in mind. We first found a restaurant that had goulash- the Czech Republic staple. We walked in, and the bartender said “Not a chance”. We thought he was joking, but he was not and we walked out the door. We finally found a Mexican restaurant (I don’t know why we decided this was a good idea). I had a hamburger and some other people had salmon. Our waiter asked where we were from and of course we said the United States. We finally left the restaurant, but on our way out one of the girls in our group was stopped. She came out to get us and told us that we had to tip. We thought this was strange because we never tip in Spain. We tipped around 300 Kroners. We asked Grace what the waiter said once we got out of the restaurant. She said that he said, “You’re from the United States, aren’t you? You’re supposed to tip.” We asked if this was the custom at our hostel. The guy in charge that night said no, of course not. So we got scammed out of some of our money, which we were not pleased about.
Saturday morning we woke up and decided to go on a walking tour. It was POURING. Of course I didn’t pack my rain boots, so I was a little miserable. We first stopped at the astronomical clock, which is the third oldest in the world. It was beautifully designed. We then passed a little café called “House of the Black Madonna”. Our tour guide explained that everything inside of the café is cubist style. Everything is in the shape of a cube! How cool is that? We then came across a weird statue. It was of Franz Kafka- one of the most famous of the Prague Jews. He was also one of the most popular novelists of the 20th century. The statue was actually based on 2 short stories that he had written. We then passed by a Jewish synagogue. We then came across a metronome. Originally, there was a huge statue of Stalin. However, the people of Prague didn’t want that statue there. So they used dynamite to blow it up! The metronome symbolizes the time lost during communism in Prague. We then passed by a building that created Gestapo uniforms, ironically located in the Jewish quarter of Prague. My favorite thing that we talked about was a Jewish synagogue, now a memorial. Inside, every single name that was killed in the Holocaust was listed. However, in 1978 the Communists destroyed it. After the fall of Communism, it was restored. In this memorial is a collection of paintings and drawings from children in one of the concentration camps. The Nazis presented this concentration camp as a “model Jewish settlement”, or a retirement for old folks. 15,000 kids went into this camp. Only 100 lived. They were killed because they were deemed a threat because they would avenge the death of their parents. The paintings and drawings are the last traces of the lives of the children. It is so sad, but I found it so interesting at the same time.
At the end of the tour, we learned all about how Communism started in the Czech Republic. It started in February 1948. There was free education and everything. Communists just didn’t want the people to think for themselves. We learned all about the torture that people would go through. In 1968, interestingly, we learned that there was a period of reform. It was a move away from the regime, due to a new leader. However, this did not last for a long time.
After our walking tour, we headed up to the Prague Castle and Cathedral. We had to walk up a bunch of stairs, but we were in for a surprise at the top. At the top, there was a double rainbow stretching all over Prague. It was absolutely beautiful, and it made the miserable experience in the rain worth it. The inside of the Cathedral was equally as beautiful. It had so many stained glass windows!
Sunday morning we didn’t do much since our flight left relatively early that morning.
Now for my trip to Rome…
My friend Kristyn flew into Barcelona on Monday. Kristyn was one of my very first best friends that I made at Wofford. I met her as a freshman when she was a junior. Before even going abroad, Kristyn told me she wanted to visit me. Once I landed in Barcelona, she told me to pick a date for her to come. It seemed like forever until she would get to Barcelona, since we planned it all the way in January. Once she actually got to Barcelona, I knew the program was winding down. Having Kristyn with me all week was having a little piece of home with me. It was great to show her around Barcelona, and she certainly helped ease all of my anxiety.
Friday morning Kristyn and I headed to the Vatican City since my host mother said we needed a whole day there. She was right. We got there and found a tour instead of waiting in a 500-mile long line to get into just one part of the Vatican. Our tour guide was pretty good. She told us that the Vatican is a separate city of Rome, which I definitely didn’t know! There are only 900 members of the Vatican City and only these 900 members have permission to get married in the Sistine Chapel. We first went to the Vatican Museum. If you stretch out the museum, it’s nine miles long, so obviously we hit only the big stuff. We first saw the Pope’s private gardens, which are open to the public, which I thought was pretty cool. We then saw a tapestry of the Last Supper! Next was a Transfiguration of Jesus. This was Raphael’s last work before he died. He painted the top half of the painting, while his assistant did the bottom half. You could definitely tell a difference between the two painters. Raphael included brighter colors, while his assistant added in gloomy and darker colors. We then went to the “pinecone courtyard”. In this courtyard, there was a GIANT pinecone, which was apparently recovered from the Pantheon! How cool is that? A short walk away from the giant pinecone was a gold ball that was dedicated to all of the soldiers that had died in the World Wars. Also in this courtyard was a giant sculpture of Augustus Caesar. Afterwards we went back into the Vatican Museum. My favorite room was the Animal Room. Any type of animal you can imagine had a sculpture in here. My personal favorites were the lion and the dog. Afterwards, we headed to the Sistine Chapel. No pictures or videos are allowed to be taken, since it’s rude. People also aren’t allowed to talk, to show respect. The security guards definitely take their jobs seriously since they will escort anyone and everyone out of the Sistine Chapel who are disrespectful. It was mesmerizing to look at the ceilings! I don’t know how Michelangelo did it, since he had to lean back the whole time while painting. Impressive. After the museum we went into St. Peter’s Basilica. This is just another church. It was beautiful to look at! The thing I found the most interesting about the Vatican is that there were vendors EVERYWHERE. You would think that somewhere as holy as that wouldn’t allow people to be selling stuff on the street. Anyway….
After the Vatican City, we grabbed lunch and got pasta. Yum pasta. After that, I got gelato! It was so delicious. I got Stratticella. My new favorite. We decided to take a nap afterwards since the Vatican sure wore us out.
For dinner that night, we went to Alfredo’s and naturally got Alfredo pasta. It was a good choice on Kristyn’s part. Once we were back, we had a new hostel roommate. He was in the National Guard and was stationed in Cuba. We took him out to get gelato since he hadn’t had any (how can you come to Italy and not even try gelato!!!!! That was one of my main factors going…. ok not really but it heavily swayed my decision)
Saturday we decided to go on Rome’s Hop on Hop off bus. The first place we got off was at the Colosseum! Wow was it breathtaking. It was really awesome how it was partly still in tact. The Colosseum held up to 50,000 people. That is a A LOT. Part of the Colosseum had been redone, but the rest was still the original structure. Across from the Colosseum, we could see the ruins of the Roman Forum- Rome’s political center back in the day. Afterwards, we drove by the Circo Maximo. This was where all the chariot races were held! There was no original structure left behind, but you could clearly see the ring that still remained. Some people were actually running on it, which was kind of funny. After Circo Maximo, we went to lunch and got pizza. I had sausage and mushrooms on my pizza. It was pretty delicious. Afterwards I had more gelato… Stratticella again. Afterwards, we went to the Trevi Fountains. Ever since my mom took me to see the Lizzie McGuire movie for my 13th birthday, I have been dying to throw a coin into the fountains. You’re supposed to toss two coins in: one for your wish and then one so you can return to Rome one day. When we got there, we were a little disappointed. Sure, the fountains were beautiful but street vendors crowded it! I hate that. Why crowd something with street vendors?? The Trevi Fountains also weren’t nearly as big as shown in the movie, but it was still cool to get to see first hand instead of watching it in a movie. Anyway, I made my wish and then threw another coin in. (Looks like we have to go back to Rome, Dad!) Afterwards we headed to the Spanish steps, which were ABSOLUTELY crowded with people just sitting on them. Oh well, I pushed my way to the top anyway and saw the view. We then got back on the Hop on Hop off bus and headed back to Termini station, a convenient five minutes from our hostel.
Overall, the Rome trip was pretty fun. I loved being back with Kristyn, and I can’t wait to see her again so soon. I got my gelato, pizza, and pasta fix. If I go back to Italy one day, I would like to visit the smaller portions of Italy, like Siena or Venice. The Italian language is also beautiful; it shares a lot of similarities with Spanish, so I wasn’t too out of the loop. Italy truly is a beautiful city and it was a bit of a shame that street vendors and graffiti crowded Rome–oh well, that didn’t stop me from having a good time!
Until next time.