Wine Flies When You're Having Fun

Rachel Marini
February 26, 2016

IES Abroad gave us a little over a week for spring break, so my friends and I decided to go to Italy! I just came home relaxed, stuffed, and completely happy. A week was the perfect amount of time to explore part of the country, because it gave us time to really enjoy the places we went to. 

We left on Friday for Rome and arrived around dinner time. Our first dinner there was probably my favorite. It was right by our Airbnb and had great pizza, pasta, and overall atmosphere. Since we were pretty beat, we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed home to chat at the apartment. 

The sun was shining the next day and I immediately fell in love with the city on the walk to the Vatican. Turns out the Pope was there speaking, which we had no idea about beforehand, and there was a huge crowd assembling to listen! I honestly have no idea what he was talking about since it was all in Italian, but it was still super cool to see him in person. Once he finished talking, and the crowd started leaving, we walked around St. Peter's Square and checked out the amazing architecture. The Spanish Steps are fairly close, so we walked there to get lunch at a little restaurant outside. The paninis and pasta were unreal, as expected, and we left for the Pantheon fat and happy. The Pantheon is free to get into, so we were able to walk around and see the beautiful church super easily. Then we got gelato at a nearby shop (because while in Italy it's important to squeeze in as much food as possible) and sat in a square outside the church. My friend Amanda and I missed our walking tour, because we were having too good of a time drinking wine and people watching outside the Pantheon, so we made up our own tour for the rest of the night! We started at the Spanish Steps, which had an amazing view of the sun setting over Rome, and then headed towards the Trevi Fountain to make a wish. Apparently you're supposed to make one wish for yourself and then another wish to come back to Rome one day... hopefully it works because I definitely miss the place already. We ended the tour by walking past the Roman ruins, which were beautifully lit up at night, and then to the Coloseum. I definitely recommend going to the Coloseum at night, because it was really empty and so pretty when lit up against the dark sky. Then we headed to dinner in the Trastevere area (definitely stay around there), and met up with my friend who is studying abroad in Rome. Obviously we had to get yet another gelato after dinner, then we headed to a bar to meet up with another friend studying there! It was really cool seeing how much my friends were enjoying their new homes and how comfortable they were living in a new country. 

The next day we woke up a little later, then went to grab an early lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Coloseum. After lunch we went to the train station and took a train ride for a few hours to get to Florence. Once we got to the city we had to wander for an hour to find our hotel near Santa Croce. Getting lost for that long was definitely frustrating and a little scary, but it was also an interesting way to meet local people and figure the city out on our own. The hotel was super old and had a lot of cool history, especially having Michaelangelo's childhood home right down the street! Our friends had made reservations, so we met them at a really cute restaurant in a little alleyway. The rigatoni was amazing, and the conversation was so nice. I love how in Italy every meal is an event. Sitting around and talking makes time fly so fast, and I don't think I've been more relaxed than those dinners I had in Italy. 

We spent the whole first day exploring all of the touristy spots in Florence. Our hotel was right by the Duomo, a main cathedral in Florence, so we started by walking through it. It's free to get in, but you have to pay to walk up to the top and see all of the city. The cathedral was absolutely breathtaking, a perfect start to the day. After that, we headed over to the leather market to look at the bags. I got a really cool dark blue purse for only 28 euro by bargaining with the man. I am not good in high pressure situations at all, but my friend Amanda was definitely great at it. After the market, we walked to a famous panini place called All'Antico Vinaio to eat lunch. The fresh bread, meats, and cheeses were so amazing. The workers really know how to make a perfect sandwich... pretty sure I'll be dreaming about it for weeks. After lunch, we grabbed a bottle of wine and walked up a hill to Piazzale Michelangelo to get a great view of Florence. The weather was sunny and perfect, making it the ideal way to spend an afternoon. Amanda and I each met up with our friends studying abroad in Florence for dinner after that. I went to a great family style restaurant with a big group of girls. The portions were huge and the endless wine was great, too. Then we met back up to go out with friends to an Irish bar (we seriously can't stay away). The best part were their college shots, because I got to take a little piece of Penn State all the way in Florence. My favorite part of the night was going to secret bakery, which is a little door that you knock on and can purchase a croissant for only 1 euro. It's hard to find if you don't know someone who's been before, but definitely worth the search. 

Amanda and I took a trip to Venice the next day. It's super easy to get there by train, and not too expensive either. The city was super cool and different, especially since there were no cars and no streets. We definitely got lost more than a few times, but it was fun walking around and window shopping all morning. Amanda had made reservations for a gondola ride, so we picked that up and had a nice relaxing tour through the canals with a free mini bottle of prosecco. After walking around and exploring a little, we met up with our friends in St. Mark's square and people watched a bit (one of my favorite past times). They hadn't tried Bellinis yet, so we picked up some small bottles of it and sat around a canal to chat and drink. Before going back to Rome, we met up with a friend and her parents to grab some dinner. A short train ride brought us back to Florence, and then we met up with friends to go to a karaoke bar near our hotel. 

I heard such awesome stories of people taking wine tours in Tuscany, so decided to book our own the next day. We boarded the bus with some other friends and headed to a wine tasting school in the hills. The girl who led the tour was so sweet and made the whole experience so fun. At the wine school we learned all about how to properly taste wine, and got tons of food to try with it. I fell in love with truffle oil here, and if I could have brought 100 bottles home with me I would have. We went to one other winery to see the process of making wine, then stopped in a small medieval town called San Gimignano to get their world famous gelato and enjoy the views. For dinner, we went to another family style restaurant (love these places), and had plenty more wine. They took us to an American shot bar, where we hung out for a while then went back to chat at their apartment. Florence is such a fun town to walk around in at night. I never felt unsafe, and it reminded me of a college town in a way. There were definitely a lot of young people, and the bars were all really great. 

The next day was super sad, because we had to leave to go back home. We woke up early to see the David, which was completely amazing, and then walked to get Gusta pizza. The pizza was most definitely the best I've ever had, and I am unashamed to say I ate a whole one to myself. After grabbing my last cappuccino (sad) we took the train to the airport and flew home. 

I am so happy I got to experience as much of Italy as I did. The relaxed atmosphere made it the perfect destination for spring break. Each day I walked a lot, ate a lot, and talked a lot with friends. I came back to Dublin exhausted, but completely happy with my vacation. The people, food, and architecture in Italy are all extremely unique. Of course the language barrier was a little tough, but most locals tried so hard to be friendly and accomodating to us. I felt completely comfortable and welcomed in Italy. I can honestly say this was my favorite country I've visited so far (not counting Ireland, of course). I may have come back to Ireland filled with tons of pasta, pizza, and gelato, but I also came back with tons of good memories. I hope some day I'll be able to visit again, but for now I'm excited to make more great memories in Ireland! 


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Rachel Marini

<p>Hi! My name is Rachel Marini and I am a Junior at Penn State University. I&#39;m majoring in Elementary Education (with an English focus) and plan to minor in special ed. I am a huge book nerd, but when I&#39;m not reading I like to hang out with my family and friends, go to the beach, and just spend time outdoors. Traveling has always been a big part of my life, because I love exploring new places. Going to Dublin is something that I know I won&#39;t regret, and I can&#39;t wait to share my experience with all of you!</p>

2016 Spring
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