May 28 - June 3
Corey, Abi, and I said goodbye to Budapest very early in the morning on Tuesday. We headed for the airport in a cab at 3 AM. Since we are bargain flight shoppers, we had an odd layover in Brussels on our way to Pisa. Once we arrived, carrying all our stuff I might add, we took a bus to (and past) the leaning tower. I had heard that Pisa and the tower were quite underwhelming, but I was quite impressed when I saw it. We took a few stereotypical photos and headed off luggage in hand to find some food. Someone had given us advice on how to get out of the tourist part of town to the good restaurants, so we headed that way. We ate at a nice little restaurant on their patio. I had some sage ravioli to start off my pasta extravaganza and I grabbed an absolutely amazing ice cream sandwich right next door after dinner. I'm going to preface this little Italy blurb by saying I think I gained about 10 pounds during this one week in Italy. And I don't regret it one bit!
After our little dinner and dessert, we headed back to Pisa's central train station and headed to Florence (aka Firenze).Once we arrived in Florence, we found the tourist information center to get ourselves maps and made our way to our hostel, the PLUS. We were exhausted when we finally made it to the PLUS, so we took a breather at the hostel before going off to dinner. I believe we found the pace on TripAdvisor and it was totally packed when we got there. We quickly learned that reservations are kind of a necessity in Florence and Italy in general, but they were kind enough to squeeze us in the very back corner after we persuaded them a bit. We had some very stinky cheese and of course more pasta. Since it was our first day in the city, we wanted to explore. After finding some gelato, we took it over to the steps of the Duomo, which was the most beautiful tiled church I had ever seen. We all grabbed a seat on the steps of this colossal building and talked and laughed and soaked in where we were.
We started our Wednesday at a little pastry shop we stumbled upon. The man had a cabinet full of delicious treats so I told him to surprise me, and I ended up with a tasty little Nutella pastry. We ate our little breakfast and headed on our way to a walking tour lead by a lovely man named Danielle. He showed us most of the city on our side of the river and told us all sorts of cool history and fun facts. He also recommended the specialty food of Florence, which is basically a tripe sandy. I was quite relieved that I was a vegetarian that day. After we finished our tour, we quickly went off to find the kiosk where we needed to reserve museum tickets. We had some time to kill before our museum reservation, so we wandered off to a restaurant called Mariono to have lunch and I'm pretty sure this is where I acquired my new addiction to pesto. We decided to head back to Danielle for his second walking tour of the day. This tour focused on the Medicci family and their secrets. It was quite intriguing. He pointed out the rumored best gelato in the city at a place called Vivoli's, so we went back as soon as the tour was finished and it was possibly the best gelato I had ever had (until Rome).
There was a huge market that line so many of the streets of Florence, so the girls headed out early in the morning to do some shopping where I of course bought a ring. I also grabbed a fresh baked pretzel and a banana for breakfast in the food section of the market. After we took care of our shopping urges, we met Corey in front of the Duomo and went inside to check it out. We wanted to climb the tower, but that didn't work out so we just scoped out the inside. After our quick little tour of the Duomo, the group split up. Abi and I went to a rooftop cafe that Danielle had pointed out and had a little coffee and fruit...even though it was a bit rainy. Danielle had also mentioned a perfume shop that used the original recipes from back in the day, so we walked off to find it. That perfume shop was a hidden gem. We had such a hard time finding it because the store front was so meek and unnoticeable, but the inside was so ornate and beautiful. I wanted to stay and smell perfume all day, but it was quite pricy. I did get Kevin a tea after smelling each one of their options and we went on our way. Abi spotted a little bakery on our walk so we popped in and had some delicious lemon and vanilla cannolis.
My friends had signed up for a wine tour and I decided to pass on it, so I walked with them till we reached their bus and headed off on my own once they had left. I decided we wander the city alone until a friend of ours, Daniel, came into town. Once Daniel got to the hostel, he dropped off his things and we retraced our steps around the entire city and I filled him in on all the things he had missed on the tour we had taken. We stopped for coffee, gelato, and tripe sandwiches on our journey. We spent hours walking the city and wore ourselves out, so we went back to the hostel just as our friends happened to be getting back from their wine tour. We all spent a little time taking in the sites from the roof of the hostel as the sun was setting. We had dinner on a patio practically in the street at a restaurant called Il Teatro and people watched because it was oddly crowded on that street. We ended our night pretty early.
We took a train to Pompeii to start off the day and walked around the deserted city for hours and hours looking at the ruined buildings and the shells of bodies cast in the ashes. We looked at old houses and colosseums and all different kinds of buildings. It rained on and off the whole time we were there. We ended the Pompeii visit by playing the song Pompeii by Bastille in the middle of the colosseum and dancing around. On our way out, we found the cutest dog lying on its back. We thought it was dead, but after I took an embarrassing amount of photos, it moved thankfully.
Sorrento was a beautiful city that was right along the coast, so much of the city was cliffs. To start our day, we walked down hill to the cliffs on the coast and walked along the coast until we scouted out a breakfast place. Abi, Jessica and I found a little crepe stand where I grabbed a lemon and sugar crepe for breakfast. We spotted a swanky gelato place on our walk around the city and decided to pop in for a little after-breakfast dessert. After finding Corey, we hopped on a bus outside the train station headed towards Positano, the closest city to us that was on the Amalfi Coast. This was the worst bus ride I have ever been on. We spent about an hour swerving along Italian cliffs crammed in between each other and strangers. I got very close to getting sick, but there was barely room for me to breathe on the bus let alone sit down. I barely made it to Positano and we got off at the first possible stop, which was very confusing. We found a curious set of stairs and just started going down and down since the bus stop was way above the city. We probably went down almost a thousand stairs before reaching the main part of the city. It was a very beautiful, quaint city with many open shops for tourists like us to explore. I avoided the stores since everything was extremely expensive, but I did allow myself to stop at a jewelry vendor along the road to get a little moonstone ring. We kept walking down and down until we hit the ocean and sone restaurants. It started pouring as soon as we reached the ocean, so we ducked into a restaurant and I had a weird little bowl of 'wild strawberries'. We were supposed to take a ferry back to Positano, but we discovered that they were all cancelled due to the rain and we would need to find a bus stop back at the top of the city to get home. We reached the bus stop after a major climb and after a very frustrating hour in which we missed two busses, we finally shoved ourselves onto the third bus. I even grabbed a seat in the hopes that I wouldn't get so sick on the ride back.
We made it back to Sorrento safely and headed straight for the hostel to grab our luggage and get on yet another train. We took the train to Naples, waited for our next train in the comfort of a McDonald's, and boarded our train to Rome. The hostel, The Yellow, was quite close to the train station thankfully and we checked in immediately. There was also a bar in the lobby where we grabbed some quesadillas and burgers. We also met some of Corey's friends from back home in Canada. Everyone else seemed pretty interested in drinking that night, so Jessica and I headed out on our own to explore the (what we would soon come to find as giant) city for the first time. Jessica sure does love getting to know a city at night. We walked all the way to the Trevi fountain, which was so much more impressive than I expected. We threw coins in over our shoulders because that's supposed to bring you love (we thought. It actually meant we would return to the Trevi fountain). There were several guys there who were charging people to take photos of them and these guys really liked girls from California apparently because they wanted to hang out with me all night and tried to make plans with us. I was just looking for any excuse to leave, and we finally managed to sneak away. From the fountain, we went to find the Spanish Steps and there was absolutely no one on them. There was a fountain sunken into the street at the foot of the steps, so Jessica decided to climb in it. We headed back to the hostel because it was getting very late.
On Sunday morning, we grabbed brunch at a little cafe on the corner and we were soon joined by the Canadian girls we had met the night before. We spent a little too long at brunch, so we rushed to the Vatican and made it just in time to see the Pope's speech amongst the many other people who came to watch. We walked around the Vatican trying to understand what everything was and just ended up finding really long lines for everything, so we left. We walked down a large main street until we ran into this weird large castle and ended up sitting in the grass outside it listening to music. From there, we continued to walk along a river through a market. We found the city's best gelato place along the way where I had the most delicious blood orange and ricotta gelato. We must have walked for miles until we reached the Forum and the Colosseum. We found Daniel again (he had left us for a few days to stay in Florence) and all took a tour of the Colosseum. After we finished our tour, we trekked up a huge hill in search of a hole in the wall pizza place recommended by TripAdvisor. We then walked back down the huge hill to tour the Roman Forum before it closed. We stuck together long enough to take some weird group selfies and then decided to spit up. I was so tired that I ended up sitting on a giant arch for most of the time the others went and explored, and it just felt so peaceful to be alone in this foreign place with all the crazy wonderful sights around me. (If you look really close in the tall skinny photo of the arch, you can see me sitting on it.)
For our last day in Rome, we needed to hit all the rest of the major sights. We walked straight to the Panteon in the morning. I really enjoyed being inside. From what I remember, the Romans had built this as a church that brought them close to the gods because of the giant hole in the roof, and the place definitely felt very godly and grand. Everything in Rome was overwhelming and marvelous. It was so strange to experience the place and people that are talked about in history all the time. We found a little restaurant on a side street where I had a very mediocre garlic and chili pasta. It was the first disappointing meal I had had in Italy.
We walked back to the Vatican to see St. Peter's Basilica, which was magnificent as to be expected. We watched a ceremony inside the church and spent time exploring on our own. We regrouped to try to find the Sistine Chapel and our hopes were crushed to hear that it had closed several hours earlier.
Someone had recommended a shop called Pompi for the best tiramesu in the city, so we took a train to the outskirts of the city to try it. This turned out to be another disappointment, because some gentlemen informed us that the shop is closed on Monday. It was bittersweet to hear that they had opened another store right next to the Spanish Steps. We hopped back on the grungy subway and hopped off at the steps. All the work of getting the tiramesu was completely worth it, because I had my own little tiramesu in a box which I ate while sitting on the steps. We walked back to the hostel in the rain, because of course we were always walking and it was always raining. We did manage to leave the hostel to find the area with the best food in town before heading back to the hostel for the night. We spent some time in Daniels room where my friends had predrinks before they headed to the bar and I headed to bed. I had to say goodbye to Corey and Daniel that night since this is where we parted ways. They stayed in Rome and the three of us girls were off to Greece the next morning.