Read on for an awesome day-by-day account from Sarah, detailing every activity from week 2 on the Europe Tour 2016!
July 11th 2016
While I say this for every city we visit, Florence is definitely my favourite thus far.
The girls in my room – Emily, Lauren, Hollie and Jewell – and two of the guys – Noel and Noel (yes, there are two guys with the same name on this trip) – all went out for breakfast together. Our hostel is an old florentine building in the centre of the city, within walking distance of all the famous attractions. We ate pastries near the palazzo Vecchio, and then we walked over to the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower.
I cannot count the number of pictures I have taken of this city.
Everywhere I turn, the stone streets, colourful building and clear blue sky never cease to impress me.
Although many museums were closed today, the entire city of Florence is brimming with statues and structures that visitors and locals can admire. On our way to the river, we saw many quaint shops and cafes. After crossing the Ponte alle Grazie bridge, we climbed up a steep, winding hill to get to a garden. The scenery of the uphill journey was incredible, but by the end we were all soaked in sweat. We then walked down to the Ponte Vecchio, through a lively market and the famous bridge which has houses on its sides, literally! We also passed through the stunning Uffizi Gallery, which was also closed.
We had lunch back at the pizzeria we went to for breakfast, and I had a delicious pizza. As a foodie, I’m proud to say that I have finally tasted authentic Italian pizza.
We then shopped around and returned to the hostel for our usual 5PM meeting with the expedition leader. We then had dinner together as a group at an Italian restaurant. I had pork and potatoes and we got gelato afterwards. At night, Emily and I went out looking for a pharmacy, but we ended up wandering through the luminous streets and listening to street musicians in the Piazza Della Republica. Everyone was enchanted by the city and the music.
I’m so glad to have experienced this beautiful city with my new friends. We have an early train tomorrow to Rome and I cannot wait to see what “Roma” has to offer!
July 12, 2016
Our morning began with us hastily packing and rushing to the train station to catch our train from Florence to Rome. Once we arrived at the train station, we grabbed a quick breakfast and boarded the train. The ride lasted an hour and a half and was accompanied by the beautiful scenery of the Tuscan countryside. After we arrived in Rome, it was a short walk to our hostel — the Alessandro Palace Hostel. We had to wait a few hours to check in, so we got lunch at the Yellow Bar near the hostel. We then got the keys to our room and it was definitely the best hostel we have stayed in yet: spacious and new!
After we’ve tested for a while, we decided to walk to the Trevi Fountain. I actually managed to lead us there using Google Maps, but we did have to walk for quite some time. It was worth it though, because the Trevi fountain absolutely blew my mind. It was much larger than I had expected, and we could hear the vibration of the gushing waterfalls from a block away. The statues were magnificent, and the water was the clearest turquoise blue that reflected the sun’s brilliance. Although it was very crowded with awestruck visitors from around the world, we all got up close to the fountain. All of us threw coins into the fountain and made our own wishes.
Next, we walked over to the Pantheon. We sat down on the wooden benches inside and just gazed at its beautiful ceiling.
My favourite part of the day, though, was seeing the ancient ruins from the hill top. It was so majestic, I could not help but imagine how it must have been at the height of the Roman Empire. The entrance was on the other side of the ruins, so we decided to return tomorrow to actually walk inside, as we were all tired from all the walking.
For dinner, we ate at the restaurant next to our hostel. I am absolutely in love with Rome. Italy is such an amazing country with a rich history and a vibrant culture. I cannot be more excited for tomorrow!
July 13, 2016
After having stale bread and processed ham and cheese for breakfast at the hostel, our group ventured outside and began walking towards the Colosseum. Our eyes lit up when we saw the dusty-red structure from afar, but it was even more amazing up close!
After waiting in line for half an hour, we finally got our tickets to the three ancient ruins: the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Palatine. The Colosseum is smaller than I thought it would be, but incredibly well preserved. As we walked up the brick steps of the Colosseum, we got a panoramic view of the stadium, the fighting arena, and the corridors. Moreover, the colosseum had ancient artifacts on display.
After seeing the Colosseum, we ate at an Italian buffet for €9 and continued into the Forum and the Palatine. From the goddess statue filled garden, to the caves of ancient paintings, to the remnants of gigantic columns, the ruins was astounding. Afterwards, we took a bus to get back to the hostel, but not before we got gelato, once again.
At night, we went to the rooftop party at the hostel. Two of the people in our group, Ashleh and Casey, are only with us for two weeks so they will leave tomorrow. We all hung out tonight and I know I’ll miss them a lot. Tomorrow, we are leaving the bustling city life and having an escape day at a lake. Although I don’t know much about it, I look forward to a fun and relaxing day!
July 14, 2016
We left the hostel at 9AM and took a metro then a train to the town of Bracciano. The journey took us two and a half hours. When we first got off the train, our surroundings seemed like a typical Italian town. However, after walking for a while, we saw the Lake Bracciano, which looked incredible!
The body of water spanned far out over the horizon, and the contrast of yellow-orange houses between the forest and the deep blue water made the scene appear almost fairytale-like. Perched atop a hill in the distance was a medieval stone castle. Once we walked closer to the lake, the shore was made of little rocks and ashy sand. We rented three paddle boats with four people on each one and tied them to a buoy in the middle of the lake. We then slid down the waterslide on the backs of the boats, swam, tanned, and swam some more. We played catch in the warm lake waters and ate lunch by the shore.
At 5 in the afternoon, we decided it was time to head back. The low point of the day, ironically, was having to climb up the steep hill to get back to the train station.
After a long day, we had dinner at s restaurant near our hostel. Back in the hostel room, Lauren, Abbey and I sang Disney songs and it was so much fun. Abbey is actually turning 18 tomorrow so we are all going to wake up at 7:30AM to sing happy birthday to her. I am also responsible for getting us from Rome to Venice tomorrow. I cannot wait to see the canals of Venice!
July 15, 2016
Today, Abbey turned 18 years old!
We began our day with a walk to the train station in Rome. We got on the train smoothly and it was a three and a half hour train ride to Venice. Our hostel is not actually located in Venice, but a small town called Marghera because Venice is a small island that is expensive to inhabit. We then walked for 30 minutes to the supermarket and found a park to eat in.
At our usual 5PM meeting, we led Abbey to a restaurant nearby and we got her cake rolls and sang happy birthday to her. She really enjoyed her “surprise” party.
At 7PM, we left Marghera for Venice. The journey took us 30 minutes by bus and then another 30 minutes by water taxi to the San Marco square.
The entire ride was absolutely stunning.
The water was a dark mossy green with ripples of white foam created by the passing boats. Every building was beautiful, even though some were abandoned long ago. The water came right up to the doors, and there were dozens of boats tied to each dock.
When we finally arrived in San Marco square, the last stop of the route, we saw the graduation ceremony of the university students which was truly extravagant. We also passed by many shops with murano beads and venetian masks. We ate dinner at a small restaurant and we got gelato for dessert. The return back to our hostel was a long journeys but Venice is definitely one of my favourite places that we’ve visited. It was so amazing to watch the moonlight while traveling through the canals. We will go to Venice again tomorrow and explore the towns even more!
July 16, 2016
Currently, we are on a night train from Venice to Vienna. The roaring of the engine, coupled with the string of lights along the tracks in the ink blue sky is definitely an amazing experience. The day began with us going into Venice once again. The water city looks and feels different in the morning light and the stops passed by quickly. Finally, we arrived at the San Marco Piazza and right after getting off the water taxi, we rented two gondolas. We started in the grand canal of Venice, and then we turned into the smaller canals, passing by picturesque bridges, watermarked houses, and many gondolas. We passed by small alleyways, grand hotels, and even mozart’s residence (I didn’t know Mozart lived in Venice at one point)! After our gondola ride, we roamed around Venice and purchased gifts and souvenirs. After exploring Venice, we returned to Marghera.
On the train, we were separated in two compartments with two rows of three level bunk beds on either side. It was very cramped and hot, especially on the trip bunk. The ride will last ten hours, and we arrive at 7AM the next morning. Nevertheless, Vienna will be absolutely beautiful and I’m super excited for it.