We spent 3 nights in Rome. The first day Dan and I wondered around town walked about an hour to get to the Trevi Fountain! The Vatican was about a 20 minutes walk from our place so we spent sometime around in the villa de Borghese park and relaxed with a bottle of wine and some gelato. Later on Annabella recommended us to go to a local restaurant that was a friend of hers. It was very good, we were definitely the only ones in the place not from Italy. They apparently are only open during the week because they value having a life on the weekend. Such warm and caring people, they let us try several dishes before deciding what we wanted to order. After a lot of traveling together I felt like I needed a day to myself and ventured out alone. I’m so glad I did because it was an incredible day. I took a metro to the Trevi Fountain and walked to the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately the Spanish steps were closed for renovation, but at least I could view them. I then hit the metro to the Colleseum. While waiting in line I met some people trying to get a group together to get a discounted ticket. Such friendly people! I really lucked out because one of them was a tour guide for the Vatican so he guided us through without needing a tour guide. The missimo circus was also around the colesuem so we walked around there a bit. Turns out a few of them live in an apartment right by the Vatican. They invited me to hangout later in the evening to make dinner and drink some wine on their terrace. On the way walking back to our flat I ran into Dan and we decided to grab a drink and talk about our journey of the day. He went to the catacombs and the outside of the colleseum. We went back to the flat and the people I met invited me over so I decided to take a chance and go out and hangout. Jade picked me up on her little moped only 5-10 minutes drive. They planned on making homemade pasta. Oh my it was so much fun to just watch them in their natural environment. While the guys were making the pasta we listened to music and danced out on the terrace. A night I’ll never forget. I was so tempted to take a picture, but I took a step back and realized it would never capture how amazing it was in my mind. We could see the Vatican from the top and the smell of simmering fresh pasta sauce filled the air. Couldn’t have imagined a better night. Dancing the night away, eating good food, drinking good wine, among good company, how lucky am I? It just makes me realize from their perspective it was just any other night, but to me it was one I’d never forget. Saludti Roma!
The following day I went to the catacombs in the morning. It was a bit seedy getting there, but I finally found it. Not allowed to take any pictures for obvious reasons, but it was very creepy. We only went down 2 levels and apparently there are 4 miles deep. Time was on a crunch so I met up with Dan to get some gelato at the famous Giolitti. Soooo good! Worth the wait in the line ! so I took a metro back and met up with Dan to go to the Vatican museum. It was so beautiful, so incredible to think how long the Sistine Chapel was there for, just absolutely beautiful artwork. It took several hours for us to get through everything, but what a magical feeling to be amongst something so beautiful. We headed off to Florence in the evening and were in really good location. We quickly found that Florence is a great place to wonder through. Marco recommended a lot of great places for us to go. There was a really edgy cool bar right next door so we hung out there for a bit and tried a bunch of craft beer. The next day we went to the market and I tried the “best Tripe in town” according to Marco, it was really good!! We wondered around to this park and went on quite the hike to find such a beautiful view of the city. On our way back we saw a guy with a JMU cap on and stopped and talked to him, evidently there was a study abroad right by “gusto pizza”. So cool to randomly spot someone I never saw on a campus, yet met for the first time in Florence. He then got the other students he was traveling out and 2 happened to be friends of Dan’s. We then went back to Brew Dog to grab a few drinks before Dan met up with his friends for dinner. I was having a drink while this girl came up to me and asked where in the states I was from. She said she went to school in Virginia as well and was from Baltimore. Turns out she went to JMU!!! What a small world!! Just so cool!! Her friend Grace and cousin Eleanor (from London) joined and we had a few drinks. We were really excited and decided to have a great night and cheers graduation. We went to a pub “Uncle Jimmys” where there were signs of JMU all over in sharpie assumingly from the recent people studying abroad. I was told the best Apertivo in town is at place called “Mojo” so we decided to check it out. It was 8 euro for a drink and included several small appetizers to try. It was definitely a full meals worth and was delicious! Finally we met up with Dan and his friends at this place called “Red Garter” there was a karaoke part as well as club. We had tons of fun. I briefly stepped outside to get some fresh air and ran into a friend that was in my anatomy class. How many people from JMU can we run into in one day! We found it pretty appropriate to gather all JMU students there and cheers to serendipity! The night was great while it lasted. We were all having so much fun. Unfortunately, Dan and Biz got pickpocketed. Wallet and phones taken! The whole next day was pretty much designated to figuring out what to do from there. Traveling definitely was pretty easy to figure out in Italy. The metro was very easy to get through and the trains work well from city to city as well. I went to the Duomo alone while they figured out how to get their things sorted out. So many steps! You think it is over and then there are more steps! But the view was so worth it!! I just stayed there and overlooked the city and read a book! It seemed like it was necessary to decompress after the stress of figuring out the pick pocketing situation.
I finally convinced Dan to unwind a bit after hours trying to cancel cards and phones and trying to wire money. We drank some local limoncello that was made fresh as well as a limoncello mojitos, yum ! Almost tastes as good as the one Dad makes !! We all slept really well that night knowing everything finally got settled and we were heading to our last stop the next day, Barcelona. Dan and I spent the day sight seeing, The Academia gallery where we saw the David and Michaelangelo’s pieces and the Galleria Uffizi, while Biz stayed at the bus station. Honestly the whole time in Italy Biz stayed in the room. It was hard for me to watch especially when we were all on the same trip in South Africa, where I felt more privileged then I ever realized. How could someone waste such an amazing opportunity inside? After thinking about it, I just realized even though that was a bit of buzz kill, I think I found an important take away. Though we both went through the same experiences in South Africa they were processed differently and at the end of the day, it is my choice to be happy and have a good time. I am sure there will always be cases where people bring down the mood or embody negativity, but I think it is important to push through that and not let it take away from what you want. Once I realized I couldn’t help her out of the rut and accept that this might just be what I come back to each night, I had the best experiences in Italy. It pushed me to go out longer than I usually would have, dare to try new things, meet new people and live in the moment. I am too stubborn to let things spoil this adventure because I am having such a great time! How lucky am I to be able to experience such a warm welcoming country?!
After a bit of a situation in the airport it was nice to get to Barcelona, even though it was very late. We stumbled across the only restaurant open and we really lucked out! It was delicious the tapas were so good !! Sangria was a must after the past days of struggle !! The following day we found out it was a holiday and headed to the beach to relax since most things were closed. What a beautiful beach!! How blessed are we to be able to be staying in such beautiful places!! In the evening there was a pool party a block from our hostel! We went with a few people from there to check it out and it was a bit too crowded for my liking so we just caught up on some z’s. The next day we ventured with these 2 Canadians in our room and headed to the Sagrada Familia. What a big beautiful sight! I feel like I can’t ever say that enough. The architecture on this trip just takes you to a different place, you just can feel the history in the air. I just don’t have the words to describe how authentic everything looks. The longer you stare the more details you see. How? How did people carryout such a masterpiece that is still standing after all this time!! I’m just so spoiled with beautiful scenery this whole trip! We then ventured to the park quell which was a bit of a hike as well. The benches are swiveled and covered in mosaics (traditional to Spain). We spent the next few days relaxing on the beach and finishing up schoolwork. It is funny when you lay on the beach people walk by selling you things. “Mojito, fresh mojito, sangria fresh” or “hello massage, hola massaje” . Sometimes you just heard people yelling gibberish and holding their items. We decided to go on a bar crawl with some of the people in the hostel!! What a fun night we had !! I met this very fun couple from Australia and the Canadians joined with us as well. We ventured around from bar to bar meeting so many people from the other hostels doing the same crawl. Lots of laughing and lots of dancing. We were playing “What are the odds” the whole night and there were some interesting adventures out of it. By the end of the night we all exchanged contacts and spent the rest of the time of the trip doing shenanigans together, whether it was going to the beach, dinner plans or just wandering around town. On our last couple of nights we reconnected with the JMU girls we met in Florence! They ended up following us to our hostel so we could have fun. We went to this Stock Market bar that was pretty cool. As you purchased a particular drink the price goes up for the next person. Eventually the stock market will “crash” and drinks will be at very low prices ! Of course being a traveling on a budget as the prices went up I started ordering the drinks nobody wanted because they were cheaper. I ended up ordering on called the “Hand of God”, little did I know what I was getting myself into. They light a shot on fire they cover their hand and you suck up the smoke, then take the shot back and what is left in the glass is placed on a different glass and you are supposed to snort it. YIKES!! It was definitely an experience my friends were laughing at me because I would have never expected that to happen!! It was great catching up with travel companions, but our time was slowly but surely coming to a close. I know when I get back I have a lot to think about and I just want to live in this moment. Even though, my bank account is hurting, I’m beyond sleep deprived and surviving off mostly bread, it was all worth it. The ups and downs of this adventure were exactly what I needed. A chance to get away from things and think about what I really want with my future, build my confidence, take some risks, and experience the bigger picture. I know when I get back to The States, reality will likely smack me in the face. I need to find a place to live in a short period of time, apply for jobs, figure out grad school and deal with the pressure of people asking about my future. It may seem like my heads in the clouds, there is a lot of things I still don’t know, I’m not quite sure if there is a right path. I do know that after this trip I know I’m ready for the adventure! Just like this trip, I know I’ll get frustrated when things become difficult and my goals will be tested. But at least now I can say in confidence, I am ready to test the water, take a chance, and follow my passion, and shut out the rest. I will dare to cross the unknown, takes risks, embrace vulnerability and have a good time along the way.
I read over the email I received from a senior member of the WHO my mom helped me contact and it is the perfect close of advice for my next steps.
“It doesn't matter just how smart you are, I'm not. It doesn't matter how impossible it may seem to reach the top, that's perception. Change the perception that supports your interests. There is no one path...'If you meet the Buddha on the Road, don't follow Him"... that was HIS path.