Ok SO sad story: I wrote this blog post once and the entire thing deleted. Very sad story: It took be almost 5 hours to write that post. Crying a little bit right now.
Must soldier on...
So, as you already know, I went to Italy and the Netherlands last week on vacation. The entire experience was incredible: not only were both cities, obviously, amazing, but it was also a new experience to plan my own trip, figure out what we were going to do each day, and all that fun stuff. All my other vacations have been planned for me up until this one, and I enjoyed the experience.
Going to preface this with a couple thoughts on Italy. Rome is amazing. Really and truly, everyone should go there, and go there in late October/November because there were not as many tourists. To be honest, I was not as excited for Rome as I was for Amsterdam before I went there. I hopped on to the plan for this trip a little late with the three other girls I went with, and they had already planned on Rome as being their destination in Italy. Obviously, I couldn't complain: Rome is Rome. But it just wouldn't have been my first choice. HOWEVER, my expections were completely destroyed. Obliterated, I would say. I absolutely LOVED it. Sure, it was touristy, but that wasn't too bad. The city was so, so cool, the history incredible, the architechture and fountains and buildings and monuments amazingly beautiful, and the food was, of course, to die for. Pizza and pasta? I probably ate a ton of it in three days. Oh, and gelato. Can't forget that gelato.
Another great thing about going to Rome was that I got to see a friend from back home who has been in Italy on a gap year, which was awesome.
While I was there, I made a little list of things that stood out to me about Rome.. Here they are.
- Rome definitely had a faster pace of life than Sevilla. I guess this isn't all that surprising given the fact that it's a huge tourist destination, but I definitely still noticed it just because Rome reminded me of Sevilla in a lot of other ways: the numerous little bars and restaurants, the occasional cobblestone streets, the buildings and rich history. All of that was reminiscent of Sevilla, but the pace of life definitely had a bit more urgency to it.
- It seemed like everyone on the street was a tourist.. It must be really weird to actually BE from Rome.
- A lot of the restaurants have "service fees", which I think basically amounts to the equivalent of a mandatory and fixed tip. These fees are only charged when you sit down-- for example, if you want to go get a coffee at a cafe, the coffee will cost you 1.50, but if you want to also sit down, it's another 3 euros. This was shocking the first time we learned this, but I guess it makes sense in a place like Rome where people are liable to sit at a table for hours at a time and only buy a coffee. At least, that's probably what we would have done.
- It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between Italian and Spanish. A lot of words are very similar. For example, the word "hour" is "hora" in Spanish, and "ora" in Italian. Reading signs and what not, a lot of times we could make out what it was saying based on our knowledge of Spanish.
- Everything in Rome is so beautiful that it seems like a lot of it goes unnoticed, or unappreciated, especially when only in the city for three days. A lot of places that are really interesting get overshadowed, obviously, by things like the Colosseum and Vatican. For example, we stumbled across this really beautiful church when we were just walking down the street on the first day. It was called the Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo.
So pretty, right? And it was totally unmarked and seemed so unimportant. But look at it..
... Just a casual random church in Rome. No big deal. ???
- Sevilla was definitely good training for this trip: we walked a TON. We didn't really want to spend money on public transportation when we could see the city more and save money by walking, so one day we walked 26 miles, according to the pedometer on Addie's phone. A marathon. We walked a marathon.
- Sometimes I would just stand and look at something amazing and feel like, who am I why am I in Rome this is INSANE. And it was. I'm so lucky to have had this opportunity.
- I didn't have a phone while there, which was inconvenient in terms of trying to communicate with my parents and friends, but it was actually really nice to not have it. Whenever we did have WiFi, which wasn't all that often, I didn't feel the need to be checking social media or whatever. I just sat and hung out or read a book, which was refreshing.
- There was actually less English than I thought there would be in Italy-- I found myself trying first to speak Spanish, then remembering I was in Italy, then trying to speak English, then giving up and just using wild hand gestures. The people definitely thought I was a little crazy.
- There were SO many street vendors. It was kind of funny at first, because almost all of them were selling either scarves or "selfie sticks" (the stick you put your phone/camera on to take a selfie from far away.. it's basically an arm extension), but then it got really annoying when every 5 seconds another guy would come up to you and try to sell you something.
OK on to pictures and what not..
Day 1: Settling in, Colosseum attempt #1, Piazza di Spagna
After a long day of travel (3:30 wake up call, anyone?), we got into Rome around 9:30 and found our hostel (which was AWESOME) and settled in a little bit before starting the day.
Hostel room ft. Emily. The hostel was really nice, as you can see, and the people who worked there were so, so helpful. Great experience with that (Hostel Legends RG, if you're ever in Rome and lookin' for a great place to stay).
After settling in, we went to get lunch, obviously for pizza and pasta, which was faaabulous.
Best friend forever.
Other best friend forever :)))
Happy happy!!! (This is Addie and the other Emily)
And then we went for coffee for a little boost... I can't drink coffee because I think it's disgusting, but I tried drinking it one morning in Rome and my teeth were chattering from the jitters for 3 hours after. Not trying that again.
I rebelliously snapped this after the guy told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the food. All food deserves to have its picture taken, especially when it's this beautiful (see cannolis bottom left??).
After this, we went to the Colosseum for attempt #1... Couldn't get in because SOMEONE (me)(oops) was in charge of bringing the vouchers and forgot them and the guy was quite adamant that we needed a hard copy, not a .pdf on a phone. Ugh. Oh well.
So we headed to Piazza di Spagna, which is named after Spain because the Spanish Embassy is there.
We took the metro, given it would be an hour walk back to the Piazza, and it was crazy how many people were in there. Addie got caught in the doors trying to slip out after us, which was terrifying in the moment, but hilarious in hindsight (clearly, she made it out unharmed). The street art in the metro was also very cool.
Thanks to this random girl for posing in Piazza di Spagna for me.
The Spanish Steps
Piazza di Spagna
A cute little street off of the Piazza that we all agreed felt very authentic and Italian. Who knows, we're just tourists, but it just had that ambience: lots of little bars and cafes, shops for beautiful men's suits and artisan chocolates, the lighting just right as dusk was falling, etc.
So. Much. Chocolate...
Afterward, we headed back for some free pizza provided by the hostel (didn't I say it was amazing?), and encountered this weird shop/display thing of statues along the way.
I did not know that man was there when I was taking the picture, but he kind of adds to the intrigue, no??
Day 2: Colosseum take 2, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon
Just some ruins on the walk to the Colosseum..
Most expensive pic of the trip... They look so unimpressed because a second later, they asked us to pay them for taking a picture. Oops.
So we actually got in to the Colosseum this time, and it was absolutely amazing. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Not only was the building, in and of itself, absolutely stunning in its size, beauty, and intricacy, but the history was equally interesting. With the help of Kris (my friend from home) and his phone that has data, as well as the information signs around the building, we were able to piece together some of the history (we were obviously to cheap to buy a tour). The Colosseum was essentially used to entertainment: fights between men, fights between animals, a combination of the two, demonstrations, stonings, you name it. Great fun, right? Who knows. Those Romans, man, they had a strange sense of entertainment. In all of the shows, crazy animals-- lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)-- would pop out from the maze thing that was under the floor (you'll see in the picture) and join in the fun. Dinner was served during the show (of course), and, yeah, there you have it. A Roman Friday night at the Colosseum circa 70 AD. Turn up.
A Google search kindly told me that this is the Arch of Constantine, erected in 312 to commemorate the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius at the Battle of Malvian Bridge.
There's the maze thing I was talking about, which used to be covered by a wooden floor.
Chick pic, photo credits to Kris.
OH also, super weird, while we were in the Colosseum, Kris ran into one of his from home!! It was so strange because neither of them had any idea they were going to be in Rome, let alone the Colosseum, at the same time.. Small world, am I right?
After the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, all three of which are right next to each other.
Shoutout to this woman for eating her apple and looking cool in some Roman ruins so I could take a pic of her.
Ruinz!! SO COOL.
After that, we began a quest to find the best gelato place in Rome, according to some girl Kris met. It was a HAUL, but so worth it once we got there. We also passed the Pantheon on our walk, so that was cool.
And the gelato was truly worth it... Legendary. You can see Emily, stage right, enjoying hers already.
And the walk home was, of course, scenic and picture-worthy...
Finished off the day with a meal we got to make in the hostel kitchen, which was awesome.
Day 3: The Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
So the Vatican was also crazy cool. Getting there was a bit of a task, what with a million people trying to sell us ticket and tours and selfie sticks and scarves, but we eventually got there. It was a little disorienting because you didn't actually see the building you were going into; the Vatican has that big wall all around it, so you just walk in the walls and you're miraculously in the museum already. We were so lost as to where to begin, because it's so huge and has so much to see, but Kris got one of the listening guides so we followed that.
The Vatican was also a perfect example of an overwhelming amount of beautiful things in a compact area, seen in a finite amount of time; you really had to make an effort to appreciate everything you were seeing because it would have been relatively easy to be numbed by the sheer volume of art and history there.
Hercules doin' his thing.
Faces of the Vatican..
This dog was just not having it.
All of the ceilings were SO COOL. It was crazy because you actually couldn't tell what was real and what was painted (in terms of stuff like the molding around the edges and what not). We would stare at it for five minutes, going back and forth, making bets on whether or not it was real. The only way you could truly tell if it was painted was by looking at the shadows and seeing if they were going the right way based on the lights in the room.
More cool ceilings, with fish eye effect.
Raphael's School of Athens
Cool contrast between old and new walking through the modern art museum part of the Vatican.
Stolen pic of the Sistine Chapel.. Not really sure why we weren't allowed to take pictures, but Emily snagged this one.
After the Vatican, we headed to St. Peter's Basilica. The line looked crazy long, and it was, but it moved really fast and we were able to get in in probably 45 minutes. It was completely worth it, too. The building was awesome in the AWE sense of the word. You walk in and just stand there, awestruck-- "te quedas de piedra", is the phrase in Spanish.
But soo worth it.
There were also really cool crypts under the Basilica that we got to see. It held lots of tombs of past popes, as well as tombs of people who were important to the church in other ways.
The whole crew
OK that's a wrap for Italy.. All in all, an awesome visit.
Amsterdam was uh-mazing. It felt like home. Addie said this when we got home, and I totally agree: Rome is a place I would visit again, and it's a great place to vacation and what not, and Amsterdam is somewhere I would want to live. It's such an amazing city: beautiful, really interesting history, clean (SO clean), and all the people had really cool style (plain colors, comfortable-- my kinda clothes). And so progressive. When I say that, everyone thinks of weed and prostitution, which, yeah, that's progressive, BUT there's so much more. There seemed to be a big attitutde of tolerance, lots of awarenes of the environment (so clean, soo many bikes, lots of public transportation, etc). It just FELT like a really modern and cool city. Also, I think this is a Netherlands thing in general, but everyone speaks like 86 languages fluently and thinks it's totally normal and is surprised when we are so impressed with them. Our tour guide, a guy from Ireland, and a guy we met in Rome, who was from Canada and lived in Amsterdam, told us you could easily live in Amsterdam and not learn Dutch. It was just so unlike any other city I have been to and/or have imagined in Europe; it doesn't have that romantic ambience, lots of monuments and as many historical touristy things, which is essentially everything that I've seen in Spain and Italy.
One of the best parts about being in Amsterdam was that it was REALLY fall. There were LEAVES on the ground!! And that smell of fall air that just doesn't happen in Sevilla. And AH I don't know, it just was authentic fall and I looooved it. We also got really lucky with the weather, because I think usually this time of year it's a lot colder and cloudier and rainier, but it was sunny every day we were there except for the last. It was chilly, but I actually really liked it-- kind of over shorts and tshirts and 85 degree weather in October.
Amsterdam also reminded me a lot of Boston in some ways; there were streets that looked just like the those in Boston, with town houses, trees lining the streets, and those leaves on the ground, and brick sidewalks.. It was magical :)) And, even better, there were a couple streets that also reminded me of the Old Port-- ones with artsy little restaurants, so tastefully decorated and with beautiful food and so so cool.
Weirdly enough, the houses in Amsterdam were a huge point of interest for me. We learned a lot about them in a free walking tour we took, which was really cool. First of all, the houses that were "water front" (on the canals) were usually really small because the taxes are really high on those streets-- but people found ways to get around that by making the front of their houses really small, and then the back sides are really big, so they don't get taxed as much for their canal-frontage and still have a regular sized house. For example, this red strip is a house. It's the smallest house in Amsterdam. It's on a canal, but it gets bigger as it goes back, so it's not actually as small as it looks.
Also because of the small size of the houses, the stairs are often too small to use for moving furniture and what not. For this reason, all the houses have hooks on the outside of the building, near the top, that they put ropes through and use pulleys when moving in/out. We actually saw this in action one day.
Because they use these hooks to move in, the houses sometimes lean forward a little bit (on purpose) so that the objects wont bump against the building and get damaged or break windows on their way up. You can see that in the picture of them moving above.
And because Amsterdam is essentially built on a swamp, sometimes the buildings sink... This house was definitely a little tipsy.
Ok enough with the houses. Moving on...
Day 1: Drive from Eindhoven airport to Amsterdam, Halloween
So the drive from the airport was really cool because we got to see some of the countryside in Holland. The sunset was also beautiful.
Our hostel was, again, so awesome. It was basically a hotel except there were bunk beds in the rooms. Who wouldn't want that, anyway? It also had breakfast every morning, which was SO GOOD. There was real bacon, which does not exist in Spain-- if you order something that says bacon on the menu, its just a different kind of ham. Really disappointing the first time that happened. And yeah it was delicious.
Then we walked around and explored a little.. Got dinner at this WONDERFUL place called Wok to Walk. So delicious.
That night was Halloween, so we did our best to dress up (we were trying to be soccer players.. kind of failed but that's ok) and hung out with friends of Addie's and Emily's for the night. I was a little surprised; everyone said Amsterdam would be so so crazy for Halloween, but it just kind of felt like a normal night there with a little extra something. Obviously, a normal night there is still pretty crazy, but I kind of expected more people dressed up. But in any case, it was a lot of fun!
Day 2: Walking around, Van Gogh Museum
There was a store entirely dedicated to Mini Coopers.. You could buy anything with the Mini logo, as well as the actual car itself. I thought it was funny/weird/cool.
Little hand-made bike figurines.. So appropriate for Amsterdam, where the bikers actually rule the city.
Obligatory canal pics. But so beautiful, right?
Soooo much candy.
Not sure what these guys were up to, but guy-on-right liked getting his picture taken at least.
So. Many. Bikes.
Some Van Gogh souveniers..
I didn't get any good pictures of stuff in the Van Gogh museum, but it was really cool to see a bunch of his works, as well as learn more about the man himself, who was a pretty interesting guy.
Post-Van Gogh snacks. Yum..?
This was amazing.
Didn't know this, but cheese is pretty big in Amsterdam (maybe in Holland in general?) and the free samples here were SO GOOD.
All the streets already seemed to be decorated for Christmas.. Not sure if this is a year round thing, but it was really pretty all the same.
Day 3: Walking tour
The walking tour was really interesting just because I had no knowledge of the history of Amsterdam, or the Netherlands in general, before this.
This is the guild where Rembrandt was a member when his art was very popular in Europe.. He later went bankrupt because I guess he wasn't a really nice guy, so all of his clients stopped buying from him because he chased them away, and he was kicked out of the guild.
Market with a huge variety of stuff near the guild
This is a community for women that used to be a kind of non-religious version of a convent-- women who volunteered and cared for the poor and sick, but they didn't take vows and weren't religious. Now it's still a community for women, but they don't do the same things anymore.
A statue of Goliath from an old amusement park.. His eyes and head actually moved, which was creepy and cool at the same time.
And this is how Goliath works.. This was really advanced technology for this time period, and the tour guide said people were often shocked by the fact that it was moving.
There's a Saab here, so it must be home.
Bike parking lot
Annddd more bikes.
This was the Gestapo headquarters during WWII.. Doesn't it look kind of fitting? Like a big scary imposing building? Ahh so crazy.
FALL. Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind??
And of course, wrapping it up with a pic of chocolate ft. me in the window.
On our last day, our flight didn't leave until late afternoon, so we went to the Anne Frank Museum in the morning. It was really amazing. Words can't really describe how it felt, but it was just really sobering. I already knew the story of Anne Frank from school and reading her diary, but it was equally interesting to learn about the stories of the "helpers" that brought the family food and what not while they were hiding, and the other people in the house, and the story of her father after Auschwitz was liberated.
Ok, quick conclusion, then you can be done with this crazy long post.
I have definitely found that traveling, not only Rome and Amsterdam, but also just in and around Sevilla, has lived up to the stereotypical expectations of personal and cultural growth. Being outside of my town and country and comfort zone in general, has given me such a better appreciation for both my own culture and that of the places I've been to (wow I sound so cliché, I apologize). It's also definitely been a good way to build the self confidence to try new things and really get outside of my comfort zone, but has also showed me that your gut can go a long way in telling you where to draw the line in that sense.
YAY YOU'RE DONE. You made it through. Thanks for sticking with it to the end. Until next time!! xo