Last week, I went to Italy on a spontaneous trip with some friends. I won't get into all the details leading up to the trip (why we went, the events that transpired during the planning and the like-that's a post in an of itself) but I will share a few reflections after my time there.
First of all, I LOVE Rome. Everything about it is almost surreal. Some people don't like the crowds and the pick-pockets can be a bother, but that didn't phase me. There were five of us staying in an apartment right in central Rome for four days. We saw everything you could possibly see in just four days (all the typical sights) and ate some terrific food. If you ever go to Rome (or any European city for that matter) bring along a Rick Steves' travel guide. The man led us to some of the most hidden, hole-in-the-wall, mom and pap restaurants that were absolutely wonderful. My favorite was a place hidden around the corner from a busy street and away from the tourist attractions. We walked in an an old, plump Italian woman with a scarf tied around her head saw us with the Rick Steves' book and greeted me with a hug and kiss. She led us to a table and the meal began. No menus, they just fed us whatever they were cooking. Five courses (including homemade pasta, of course) and I ate almost everything (c'mon, I AM after all a picky eater).
We saw grand cathedrals and Bible character grave sites; an artful display of 4,000 monk skulls from centuries ago (really creepy) and plenty of ruins. So, what was my favorite? While it's hard to pick just one, the Sistine Chapel really struck me. This beautiful masterpiece is viewed by thousands of people every single day- atheists and Christians alike. One entire wall is a depiction of the last judgement where some will end up in hell and some will join Christ in heaven- it's not implied, it's a self-explanatory painting. So much work was put into not only the Sistine Chapel but all of the cathedrals in Rome (and all over Europe, for that matter). And yet Europe is a largely secular and atheistic continent. It amazes me how lost these countries have become after having such a strong foundation and root in Christianity. Sure, there is a lot of history there, lots of corruption and mistakes, but the fact still remains. Christianity was once a huge presence in Europe and now has fading to little more than tourist attractions and postcard photos. I know that revival is starting, slowly but surely in some countries and I am so excited to see what the Lord has in store.
After Rome, we took a scenic train ride to Venice. My thoughts? If you're in Italy, you must go if only to see the canals and character of the city. But after 1.5 days, I was done. You can walk from one end of Venice to the other in well under an hour, which is awesome. We never had to take the super expensive water taxis or vaporettos (water buses) out of necessity. We did take one trip down the grand canal on a vaporetto, which I highly recommend. But other than the beautiful St. Mark's Square, a few other churches, some apparently amazing islands that we didn't get to and plenty of picturesque alleys and canals, there's nothing to do in Venice but shop and eat. It almost felt like I was at Epcot Center. Tiny streets were lined with store after store and grossly price-inflated eateries. You ran into few Italians other than the ones working. Everyone seemed to be carrying a map or tour book...and we were there in the low tourist season! I did love walking into the countless squares and hearing an accordion or opera singer belting out Italian tunes. I felt like a little kid wandering through a maze as I turned each corner to encounter yet another bridge or small alley. At the end of our trip, we had to leave our quaint, amazingly cute Venice apartment at 5am to catch our bus to the airport. We walked through the streets on the 15 minute hike and saw next to no one. Fog hiding the paths and the gentle rush of canals created a Bronte-esque scene. The walk through the cobblestone streets lined with closed cafes and shops may have been one of my favorite walks during my time in Italy. If you ever make it to Venice, take a walk before the sun comes up, it's magical.
So, those are my thoughts of Italy. It was the #1 country on my list of places to visit and now I can cross it off. If you go, spend more time in Rome and unless you're a shopaholic and like shoveling out tons of cash for touristy versions of Italian food, only spend a couple of days in Venice. But Italy, oh Italy- wondeful.
Next on the list? Egypt, Greece, the UK, India, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Ecuador...My name is Sarah and I'm a travel-holic.