My week in Italy was one of my favorite trips for so many reasons. I decided to do a tour which I was initially nervous over but it turned out great. I wanted to see a lot of different cities and towns in Italy and get a nice first taste of it because I definitely want to come back one day. So, choosing the tour I did with Contiki was absolutely ideal for me. I made a pact to try a new flavor of gelato or sorbetto or mousse everyday and was successful in that (even though my skin paid for it in the end). Everyone was young and more or less had a similar mindset for traveling which was great. The tour was fast paced and we saw a lot, but I left with some really great friends that I can hopefully travel with again one day!

The first day I checked in to the hotel in Rome and ended up having to take a cab there. Not the smartest decision, but the cab driver was kind and about how old my grandfather  I would be. He pinched my face and called me “bambina,” so I was already sold. The day started with orientation then we went to have a group dinner and walking tour. We saw the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. The weather was beautiful and we got to enjoy some gelato at the end of the tour. Afterwards we came back and went to bed to start the next day anew.

Day 2 was spent exploring more big sights in Rome such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Piazza de Venezia and then we were able to have free time to explore the city on our own. My roommate and I went for lunch in Trastevere, a really quaint region of Rome, and tried to find the Steelers bar (and unfortunately failed). Afterwards we walked o Castelo de Sant’angelo, the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon (again), the Piazza Navona and we had some gelato. Nutella and Pistachio was a great combo! We all went to a restaurant to make our own pizzas which was an absolute blast and then we went to a cocktail bar nearby for a drink.

The next day we spent in the Vatican City exploring the Vatican itself, Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel. It was really interesting to actually be inside of because it looks so huge on TV but in actuality it is quite small. However, it was really beautiful to see being a Catholic. From there, we went to take a bus to Florence which took several hours and then had a group dinner and went out for drinks at a karaoke bar/club. I sang karaoke as soon as I got there with the birthday girl Katie, and us two and her roommate Kristina soon became great friends. It was a great time to bond with everyone and to have a nice time and this was when I finally felt like I broke through the culture shock of being around so many Americans again!

The next morning we went to a leather making demonstration and did a little shopping, then we did a walking tour of Florence. We were taken to a palace where we got to see “Fake David” (where the original David was and then was placed inside the museum). We then went to see the famous bridge in Venice, Via Roma with all of the shops, and the Duomo. I booked tickets to go inside and tried to climb the Duomo, but my ticket was messed up and unfortunately the time I chose to climb to the top wasn’t on the ticket. Instead, we decided to walk to the Boboli Gardens which was an equally great choice. It was a beautiful day and the gardens and flowers were right up my alley. Afterwards we went back to the hotel for a quick snooze, and then we were off to dinner with the group and had a early night in.

We started off the next day at San Gimignano which was a beautiful medieval town near Florence and is also home to the best gelato in the world (yes, there is a competition, and yes, they won). I had it twice actually (because when in Italy, right) and both flavors blew my mind. It was pink grapefruit and sparkling wine with mango and then later on I had raspberry with rosemary along with a almond-saffron-orange peel-honey flavor. It was indulgent but amazing! Afterwards, we went to a winery in the Chianti region where they showed us around, we tasted several wines and also tasted the olive oil and other things they made there. They gave us some bread and it tasted exactly like what my dad makes which made me SO happy and nostalgic. After buying a few bottles to send home, we went back to the hotel to get dressed up for a nice Tuscan dinner and group photo. I indulged yet again in a beautiful dinner and afterwards we went dancing and eventually Katie, Kristine and I ended up at the same bar as the previous night. It was an absolute blast!

After leaving Florence in the morning, we headed towards Pisa and Verona and I was really looking forward to both of these towns! We stayed in Pisa long enough to see the Leaning Tower and snap some photos, of course. Then we headed to Verona to spend time seeing Juliet’s balcony, the statue of Juliet and to have a quick dinner. I absolutely loved Verona because it was so romantic and quaint (although quite tourist-y, but who wouldn’t want to go there). We got into Mestre in the evening which is right outside of Venice and went to bed to enjoy our last day together in Italy.

The last day was a full day spent in Venice! We had a walking tour around the streets and got to see some of the important sights, then we had a lot of free time to walk around and explore. We were told to “get lost,” but to be honest, we had a really difficult time doing that! We checked out other sides of the island, we went to a bookstore that was recommended to us, a bakery and of course had some gelato again. Afterwards, we headed towards Burano, an island in the community of Venice, and it was so cute. Every home is painted a completely unique color so that sailors can see their home in the intense fog. It was so colorful and an absolute dream! We walked around, took photos, and then headed to our final dinner together. It was an awesome spread of seafood and we had my favorite dish of the whole trip – the black ink risotto! Afterwards we rode back to Mestre and got on the bus to head back to the hotel. We had a goodbye glass of wine and final photos and hugs goodbye before everyone headed out the next day. Some people left from Venice to go back home, some continued to travel, but Katie and I were departing from Rome so we took a bus back there. She stayed over night there and I got to hang out at her hotel and have a quick dinner until I went to the airport to depart.

It was a really incredible experience. I learned a lot about myself and also about how far I have come by living in Europe. Never did I think that being back around so many new English speakers would confuse me so much, but being able to break through that in a short period of time and to walk away with some really great friends was something I was really proud of. Everyone was so kind and really on the same page about how to travel and to enjoy this country in such a quick period of time. Of course, the food was amazing and it truly felt like home to me in many ways. I even managed to lose weight despite all of the carbs and gelato I ate! I truly got a great taste of Italy and am looking forward to coming back to see more of this beautiful country.

-Stephanie in Spain