As I have previously mentioned, I was completely stoked about having a fall break. At my home university, I don’t get the luxury of having a fall break; however, I do get three days off for Thanksgiving, but one can hardly do anything during that weekend except work, shop (if you dare), and give thanks to everything in life with family. Like I said, it’s hardly a break. I usually work a 12 hour shift at 8:00pm on Thursday, so I don’t get to spend a lot of time giving thanks to people. Enough about Thanksgiving, I’ll save Thanksgiving in France details for a separate blog post.
Fall break was a success as I traveled with my “best study abroad friends” (you know who you are), and experienced Paris and various cities in Italy! It all began on Friday, October 26, when we hopped on the TGV to Paris. Upon arrival in Paris, I immediately fell in love. I had visited Paris prior to this trip; however, it was during this trip that I realized I could totally live there! For the most part, I had an amazing time. I saw more churches and cathedrals than I can count with my fingers, took the metro dozens of times, saw the tour Eiffel and l’arc de triomphe, admired the lover’s locks at Pont d’Art, and took photos of my friends and I doing the can-can in front of the Moulin Rouge (it just seemed fitting). The highlights of the trip were eating at Chipotle (we were craving American/Mexican food), getting in for free at Musée Pompidou (thanks Lizzie!), and the climb, the view of Paris at the top, and the view inside Sacre Coeur. I really enjoyed the museum as it offered a great view of the city, and awesome interactive sculptures! Sacre Coeur was amazing, too. Especially the view of the city, which was breathtaking; it made the hike up god only knows how many steps worth it. Also, Sacre Coeur was free! The interior of the basilica was equally as breathtaking as the view of Paris. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit such an amazing site. Paris was much colder than any of us thought, which made it tough to visit everything on our list...this means all of us have to return someday! After Paris, we went to Italy.

The trip to Italy was even more amazing. The first stop was Venice. Venice and I have a love-hate relationship. The “hate” portion began at the train station in the Provence of Venice. Everyone got off the train, but then we were confused as to whether it was the correct stop or not. All but one person got back onto the train. As the doors closed, we realized that was the right train stop.  As the train began to depart, we looked longingly through the windows, and we saw our friend standing on the platform. I will forever remember the shocked and scared look on his face, standing there all alone. We all freaked out, too. One friend pulled the emergency break, but to no avail. The conductor refused to open the doors and let us off or let our friend back on. Also, we had no idea where the train was going, for all we knew the next stop was in a different country! There was a very nice woman around our age who consoled our fears by notifying us that the next stop was on the island of Venice. This was good news because that’s exactly where we needed to be. The next challenge was trying to navigate our friend to the train station on the island. It was after 1:00am, and it was rainy, both of which did not help the situation. Also, none of us had been to Venice before, so we had not the slightest idea as to anything…Eventually, after multiple failed attempts trying to direct him to the train station on the island, we decided it would be easier for him, if we met at the hostel. Right in front of the train station was a water taxi stop. So, after waiting for what felt like at least 45 minutes at that stop, we ended up getting on a water taxi, which was a new concept for us…. A new & an EXPENSIVE concept. While the taxi was trudging along, the somber looks on our faces and the tear-filled eyes painted a picture of our distressed situation to any bystander. Until one of the bystanders just happened to be our friend! Oh, what a relief! How far can one go with coincidence or fate? He just happened to get on the same water taxi as us at one of the stops along the way to our hostel…In any case, I was extremely grateful! I nearly cried at the sight of seeing his face! Ah, there’s nothing like a reunion when you aren’t certain if you lost the person forever.
The “love” portion came the next morning. Venice is such a beautiful city, with its canals, churches, basilicas, street venders, and glass blowing. I can’t even count the number of pictures I took standing on various bridges throughout the city. Each bridge offered a different view of houses and other buildings, the overflowing canals, and the gondolas. Our first major stop of the morning was the train station because we still needed to book tickets to Rome, Florence, and back home to Aix. We were all incredibly nervous to hear the cost, but to our surprise it was less than 26 euros! Oh, what a relief! The employees are much more helpful in Venice than in France, it’s sad but true. The main highlight of this trip (obviously an aspect of “love”) was getting lost in the city. It’s easy to “get lost” in Venice, and it makes the trip that much more enjoyable. We found so many awesome, local sights while we were “lost.” Getting “lost” in Venice is easy, but it’s just as easy to look at the map and figure out how to get to the next water taxi spot. Thus, Venice is a safe city to “get lost” in… haha! Another wonderful aspect to this trip was ordering a huge box of pizza from a man in his 40’s who was madly hitting on one of my friend’s. To top it off, we sat in front of a church/cathedral to eat it. Also, watching real Venetian glass blowing was a real treat! I’ve seen glass blowing in the states, but there’s nothing like watching a true Italian complete a masterpiece.

The next stop was Rome. Right when we got off the train, there were ruins. That’s how Rome is…. IT’S FULL OF RUINS. It’s AWESOME!!! I’m thankful that I don’t live in a city where there are ancient ruins everywhere because I think I would become accustomed to them, and eventually disregard the beauty and history of them. It was Halloween when we arrived in Rome. I never expected to spend Halloween in another country… I didn’t dress up, didn’t go to a bar, didn’t dance and drink alcohol… instead I toured Rome! Unfortunately, this trip took a big chunk out of our wallets (specifically Venice), so by the time we ended up in Rome, we decided to stick to the free things, and we were quite successful with that. In fact, the major thing we spent money on was the Vatican, and that is a MUST do when in Rome. Unfortunately the Sistine Chapel was closed (boo!), but we still toured the Vatican Museum, which was ok, and the Basilica Papale di San Pietro, which was worth getting drenched in the rain. Actually, I ended up purchasing an umbrella while standing in line. It was originally 5 Euros… I bargained with one of the venders, and only paid 3 Euros. Thank God I got the umbrella… too bad I was already drenched through my clothes at that point.
Dinner in Rome was more appealing than in Venice. The first night I ordered pizza with Prosciutto! I love Prosciutto! The second night, I had a buffet. And by “buffet,” I mean I was given a large plate and told to pile as much on it as I could and that was it. No seconds, thirds, etc… The food was cold, which was a bit of a disappointment; however, I also ordered a dessert consisting of strawberries and gelato, which was delicious!
The lowlight of this trip was the pantheon closing right as we arrived in the front of the line! How disappointing. I guess this means I have to return to Rome someday…Oh and the Sistine Chapel being closed but not getting a discount off the tickets. That was a rip-off! But at least we were fortunate to see ancient statues and etc… in the Vatican museum.

The final stop was Florence. Florence is an extremely beautiful city. When we arrived at our hostel, we became friends with the hostess. She has been deemed our “hostel mother.” She gave us many tips such as the best cappuccino café, the best restaurant, the best/safest bar, and not to stay out after 2-3:00am. We tried the first two, but it was impossible not to be out after 3:00am since our train back to France left at 4:25am. When we were waiting for that train, we realized that she definitely gave great advice. Being out at that hour was a nightmare. It was a good thing there were 5 of us, as the Italian men enjoy harassing women who are not in large groups. The highlight of the trip was when my friends and I climbed the Duomo. The climb was an experience in and of itself; however, the view of the city at the top was breathtaking. Another highlight was eating a waffle gelato sandwich. It consisted of 2 freshly made Belgium style waffles with 2 large scoops of gelato in between. It was the best thing I’ve ever consumed! Also, I bought olive oil pringles, which were so delicious that I purchased another can to take home. The food in Florence was by far the best out of all 3 cities. For dinner one night, we ate at this restaurant that served the best pasta dishes EVER. The second night, we ate calzones at a café. We were at the café for over 3 hours, so the baker gave us free doughnuts!
All in all, the trip was a success. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to such wonderful cities with fabulous friends. I can’t wait to do it again!

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