On Saturday morning I arrived back in London after traveling for ten days in Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I have been in London for four days and I still feel exhausted from my travels.
I visited five major cities over break which include (in order): Rome, Italy, Florence, Italy, Pisa, Italy, Venice, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland. I traveled by plane, train, car and bus and needless to say, it was a whirlwind of a trip.
The trip itself had taken a few weeks to plan and I was constantly adding places to it. It wasn’t until I was actually in Rome and leaving for Florence that I decided to book a train to take a day trip to Pisa while staying in Florence. So some things I did were spontaneous and others were planned well in advance. One thing I learned through this trip, was how easy it really is to travel once you are on the mainland of Europe. My preferred means of travel is easily by train. Trains are usually really cheap and stations are easy to get through and are in basically any city you could ever want to go to.
My first destination was Rome. For this leg of my trip, I traveled with five girls and two guys from my flat. I stayed at an AirBNB with the five girls and it was really nice and big as well as in a good location in Rome. We arrived at about 2:30 a.m from the airport and our host, Luca, greeted us as soon as we got out of the taxi. He showed us up to the apartment and provided us with a map and suggestions about what we should see, do and eat while in Rome. This was my first time staying at an AirBNB and I was surprised at how easy it was.
On our first full day in Rome I set off with my friends Abby, Sophia and Kendall to do many of the touristy things of Rome. We went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum (ruins), Palatine Hill, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. It was a full day of walking but I was incredibly happy with how much we had seen. I will add that we walked everythwere, which seems like a lot, but walking at least 8-13 miles in a day became a regular occurrence for me over the next nine days.
The next morning, Sophia, Abby and I got up and made the trek over to Vatican City. While the city is historic and grand, I was disappointed with it because as soon as we hit the main square outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, we were bombarded with panhandlers attempting to sell us selfie sticks and phone chargers. Not only that, but in both Rome and Vatican City, it is extremely difficult to know who to trust. Everyone acts as if they are an official guide with a discounted tour to sell you that has a fast pass to the front of the line. WARNING: THEY ARE ALL FAKE. Literally every person is just trying to rip you off and make money and sell tours that are about $10-20 over the actual price.
We were heading for the line for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and were accosted by numerous fake tour guides and panhandlers both on the way to the line and even while we were in line for an hour. They don’t give up and its quite obnoxious.
Finally, we made it into the Vatican Museum and made our way through the “museum” which was only a long hallway filled with old relics and no information that eventually led to the Sistine Chapel. There, the crowds of people were herded in and only allowed to stand in the middle to look at the beautiful ceiling. While the ceiling and Chapel itself was stunning and so intricate, it was difficult to concentrate on how pretty it was as the security was constantly yelling at people for “SILENCE” and “NO PHOTOS.”It really took away from the overall experience. While I am happy to say that I’ve been to Vatican City and seen the Sistine Chapel, it was not a great experience in my opinion.
On Sunday morning, I left for the next leg of my trip. I was off to Florence by train and was traveling on my own for the next two days. While for some this might be nerve-wracking, it was a part of the trip that I was most excited for. In London, I share a room with three girls and a flat with with 11 other people. It is incredibly difficult to get any alone time, so two days to myself was a very exciting idea to me.
On my first day in Florence, I was able to check into my hostel and then go out and explore for the afternoon and evening. I first went to get lunch at el Mercado Centrale, an indoor food market in Florence that is really more like a nice cafeteria with authentic Italian cuisine. I found a pasta place and asked for “spaghetti with marina sauce” and was quickly corrected by the man over the counter. He pointed across to the pizza stall and said “Pizza uses marinara sauce. Pasta? No marinara sauce. We use a rich tomato sauce with special herbs and spices from Tuscany. Got it?” Oh, yes. I got it. Mistake made, never calling red sauce for pasta “marinara sauce” when in Italy ever again.
After el Mercato Centrale, I walked to the Piazza del Duomo where I climbed Giotto’s Campanile, a free standing bell tower. To reach the top, one must climb 414 steps up an incredibly narrow spriraling cement staircase. That wasn’t great, but I made it to the top and the views of Florence were phenomenal. Definitely worth the climb. I also went into the Florence Cathedral that was right next to the bell tower.
I walked across the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, that houses many shops. Sadly many of the shops were closed by the time I was crossing it, but there were still huge crowds of people crossing over the river via the bridge. It was getting close to sunset so I made my way to one of the highest places in Florence to watch the sunset. I walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where an outdoor replica of Michaelangelo’s David overlooks the city. The sunset and views of Florence were amazing from here. I sat on the crowded steps enjoying the sights and did some people watching.
A friend who had studied abroad in Florence last semester had suggested some of her favorite restaurants in Florence to me before I had left. I was off to Gusta Pizza after watching the sunset. Well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike, the pizza place did not open until 7 p.m. and there was a line outside with people waiting for the doors to open. I got a pizza from there that was AMAZING and made my way back to the hostel.
On my way back, I got a few texts from my mom, but didn’t respond right away as I was using my phone’s maps to get back. I then got a call from her. She simply said, “I’m not telling you why I’m calling, look at what I texted you,” then hung up on me. Okay? So I looked and OH MY GOODNESS. She had been going through the online version of People Magazine and came across a photo of ED SHEERAN AND I from the BBC Radio 1 studios from a few days before. Needless to say I freaked out then called her back and continued to freak out for the rest of the night. Still can’t believe that happened.
Anyways, the next day, I woke up and took the train to Pisa. The main sights of Pisa, including the Leaning Tower, Pisa Baptistery, the Orto Botanco di Pisa and Pisa Cathedral are all located in the Piazza Demi Miracoli. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the square, taking photos for strangers and asking them to do the same for me until I got my perfect Leaning Tower shot. No shame. It started to rain right as I was leaving, perfect.
The next morning, I left early in the morning to take a train to Venice. There, I met up with my friend Allie who I did the rest of my traveling over break with. We spent the first couple hours carrying our luggage around the narrow streets and over the tiny bridges of Venice because our AirBNB lady wasn’t responding so we couldn’t check in yet. That was quite the experience… We were finally able to drop our stuff off later and did some shopping. We were searching for deals in the leather stores as both of us were looking to get an Italian leather purse. We were eventually able to decide on a purse and do some bartering to get the price down.
We met up with two other girls from our program to do one thing that Venice is most famous for, its gondola rides through the canals. Each gondola ride costs approximately 80 euros for “about” a thirty minute ride. TripAdvisor suggests doing the ride with a group to help cut down on the costs. Luckily we were able to meet up with the two other girls so it was only 20 euro a person because the gondolier conned us out of our time on the gondola and to me, was nowhere near worth the 80 euros we had to pay for it. Despite my arguing and displaying the stopwatch I had that showed how long we had been in the gondola, the gondolier ended the ride after about 20 minutes. We refused to get out of the boat and sat in it while it was docked for our final ten minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. The experience itself was cool, but not for the amount of time we were in the boat and the price we had to pay for it.
The next day, Wednesday, was a full travel day for Allie and I. We took a bus from Venice to Milan and then transferred to another bus that took us to our final destination of Zurich, Switzerland. While the bus took the whole day, I treated it as a tour of Italy and Switzerland as the views as we drove through the mountains were stunning. It was also a good rest day for us as we were about halfway through the trip and already exhausted from our traveling.
The next morning (Thursday), we met up with our friend Kendall again and did a free walking tour of Zurich. The guide was really informative and we saw a lot of Zurich during the trip. I was surprised at how clean and small Zurich is. It is known as one of the banking capitals of the world, so is very modern, but it’s Old Town is very rustic looking and is home to some great shopping. Kendall left later that afternoon to go back to Italy, but Allie and I were staying for another full day. We spent the rest of our afternoon hiking.
I knew we were hiking, but at the time, I was not aware that we were hiking up the side of Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain at almost 900 meters high. We literally went from the city center of Zurich where our AirBNB was, to the top. We didn’t pass on anyone on the path we took, which was muddy and filled with sketchy stairs, and it wasn’t until we reached the top that we discovered that there was a paved path that went all the way up. Go us. The hike was worth it though and I felt fully deserving of the awesome view that rewarded us at the top. Needless to say, we didn’t walk back down and instead opted to take the train that goes up and down the mountain back to the city center.
The final full day of our trip was Friday, and Allie and I decided to take different day trips. She went to Jungfraujoch, one of the highest points in the Swiss Alps, and I decided to take the warmer route and travel to Raperswil, Switzerland, Vaduz, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. I really enjoyed my day trip and the cute little villages that we stopped at on our way to Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world. There wasn’t much to do in the capital city of Liechtenstein, and much of it was under construction. I was able to see the castle where the Prince of Liechtenstein lives with his family, but sadly no flags were out so they weren’t in the country. After leaving Vaduz, we went to Heidiland where the book written about Heidi takes place. It was a quick stop, but we were able to get out and enjoy the mountain views for a bit.
The next morning, Allie and I flew out of Zurich and into London Luton Airport. It felt so good to be back in London. While traveling and seeing so much of Europe is incredibly fun, it is also extremely exhausting. But I’m not complaining! I’m just happy to be back in London, walking less and sleeping more!