by Megan Elliott
This semester, I am studying abroad in northern Italy, and we just had our first opportunity to travel. Short side story before the real action is unveiled…On Friday afternoon, I went for my first run in Italy! Class was cancelled, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity. It was quite enjoyable, with the exception of the lady I came across walking coyotes. One leashed, the other not. Needless to say, I will never be running alone again.
Getting to Florence proved to be an adventure within itself. Two friends and I took the later bus, unaware that everyone else from the program took the 4 o’clock bus. Poor planning on our part led us frantically asking around Paderno what bus stop we were supposed to wait at. Then we had the challenge of knowing what stop to get off at because no one spoke English…all we got were nods. After one bus switch (and we’re not entirely sure that was even necessary), we made it to Castlefranco, where we were taking the train to Florence. We didn’t realize the bus stop would be across the town from the train station. None of us had data on our phones, so looking up directions was out of the question. Luckily, we met a nice gentleman who showed us the way, and we made it with time to spare. On the train, we ran into about thirty others we knew from the program. We had one transfer to a high speed train, and I was fined €100 for not having the correct ticket. I stupidly booked a ticket for the following day and they are real sticklers about it. That put damper on the night, but it could only get better from there! And it did. Once we arrived in Florence, myself and four other girls checked into our hostel, cleaned up, and went to a well-known “study abroad” bar called the Red Garter. Though typically not my scene, I had a wonderful time and even sang karaoke in front of the crowd. It was so great! We left very late and went back to the hostel…which smelled like sewage. It was a clean room, with our own private bathroom, but it smelled awful; however, it was better than the alternative—sleeping outside!
The next morning, with a mere four hours of sleep, we went to explore Florence. We searched and haggled for great deals on leather bags and boots and wallets, all of which were so wonderful to smell. The main attraction Saturday was the Duomo. It was beautiful—like nothing I had ever seen before. We paid for a pass that allowed us into all four areas, including the climb up the Bell Tower and the top of the Duomo. The extremely narrow, steep, and dark stairs summed to about 950 steps in total. The views were indescribable. Late in the day, we walked to many different plazas, saw the David statue (among many others), and had a less than enjoyable dinner. With a group of fifteen people, we were roped into some touristy place right off one of the larger plazas, and paid too much for too little. Rick Steves was right when he said never to eat at those places because the food was not authentic at all. Luckily, all was made right after some tasty gelato, a carousel ride in the plaza, and a delicious Bellini later in the night.
Sunday morning, we attended to mass at the Duomo…in Italian. It was something I’m glad I did, but probably will not do again! The church was freezing cold and we didn’t understand a lick of it. The group of girls did a bit more shopping, and then we met up with a larger group at Ponte Vecchio, the gold bridge. There are jewelry dealers across the entire bridge selling beautiful, expensive rings, bracelets, and necklaces…alongside the street vendors selling selfie sticks and umbrellas, of course. We then made our way to the Michelangelo Plaza, where you could see all of Florence. I was disappointed that it was a bit foggy, but the hike up (hills similar to San Francisco) was well worth the view. A crafted sandwich for lunch and gelato were desperately needed, so we split up to satisfy everyone’s taste buds and found a lovely café in an alley. It was the cutest place and the sandwiches were only €3.50! We sat and talked for a few hours, enjoying ourselves and not realizing the passing time. Everyone met up at the train station and we boarded with fewer complications. My group forgot to call a taxi for when we returned to Bassano (no surprise there), but luckily there was one waiting that hadn’t been reserved. We made it back in record time, all of us nauseous, but experiencing Italian driving first-hand.
Overall, it was memorable weekend chalked full of lessons learned that I will use going forward. Italian architecture and history is something that the USA cannot replicate. It takes a little common sense, a lot of flexibility, and a great sense of humor to survive studying abroad. 🙂