Italia!

     During the commencement ceremony at my graduation from Marist, our guest speaker Chuck Todd talked about taking risks and opportunities and offered some other great advice along the way. One of the lines that stuck out to me the most was when Mr. Todd said that, “now’s the time to travel the world; because if you don’t do it now, it will be harder later. I didn’t get to Europe until my late thirties. That’s a regret.”  I started to think about that, and although I was very fortunate to have had many once-in-a-lifetime experiences during my college career, one that I hadn’t was studying abroad and going to Europe. Coinciding with this speech was the fact that some of my best friends from college were studying in Florence for the fall semester. After giving it much thought, the decision was easy: I had to go to Europe while I had the chance.
My first international flight
     Fast-forward to the first week of November, and I was off to Europe for the first time in my life. I was so excited that on my overnight flight over the Atlantic, I barely slept. After having a short layover in Germany, I landed in Florence at 11:00 am, and I was off to Via dei Giraldi to meet up with my friends. Even though I just saw them in August, it felt like I hadn’t seen them in a year. I told myself that I wanted to do something everyday- no matter how tired or exhausted I was. With my new job, I only had one week in Italy, so I had to take advantage of every single hour I had to see the country.
My first view of The Duomo in Florence
     Once I got there, Rob and Tommy showed me around, and we had the best pizza in Florence (Gusto Pizza), amazing Gelato and some of the most delicious prosciutto I have ever had in my entire life. The city itself was amazing – and although I was just getting used to the new culture, language, and money system, I really loved it. I could perhaps write an entire post on the food- the cheeses, the meats, the wines- it was the best food I have ever had in my entire life.
A delicious antipasto course at Gatto
     Since most of my friends were busy with classes on Wednesday, I took advantage of the free time I had and attended some of the museums Florence is renown for. I started by heading over to the Museo Galileo, which houses some of the original telescopes that Galileo used to make his breakthrough scientific discoveries. After spending a few hours learning all about the history of Italian Scientists and Astronomers, I went to see Michelangelo’s “David” at the Accademia di Belle Arti, one of the most famous sculptures in the world.
Overlooking Florence on top of the Duomo at dusk
     On Thursday, Dylan and I went to Pisa to see the leaning tower, and it was such a magnificent day. When we got back to Florence, we met up with Kevin and climbed the Duomo right at sunset for the best views of Florence. The aerial shots from the top of the Duomo were some of the most picturesque scenes I have ever stood witness too. Since it was the last real night I had in Florence, we all ended the day by going to a low-key bar, and I heard all of the great stories from their experience abroad. It was such a fitting conclusion to a great week in Florence.  
Dylan and me overlooking the Leaning Tower at the Piazza dei Miracoli
     Friday was my last full day before heading down to Rome, and I started by taking an extremely informative walking tour of the city of Florence. I was so happy that I went on the tour because I learned so many intriguing facts about Florence that I probably would have never learned. I stopped by the Santa Croce before heading back to my friend’s apartment, and we figured out what to do for my last day in Florence. Although our plans changes many times, we ended up all going to the Orto Botanico di Firenze (the Italian Botanical Gardens), and saw more great views of the city. On Friday night, we went to a steakhouse right down the block from where we were staying, and I had the best steak I have ever had in my entire life. What kind of steak was it you ask? A blueberry steak. I know it sounds crazy, but my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Overlooking Florence and the Duomo at sunset
     After a great five days in Florence, it was off to Rome for me. I took the Euro Star to Rome, which only took about 2 hours. When I got to the train station, I met up with Marist Brother Enresto, who Brother Sean hooked me up with. Brother Ernesto showed me around the city, and drove me to the Vatican. I toured the Musei Vaticanti, did a quick tour of St. Peter’s Square, and headed over to the coliseum.  After touring the Roman Forum and the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele I (Italy’s memorial of the unknown soldier), I noticed several police cars closing down the streets and helicopters flying low overhead. After eight police vans rolled up, and out came officers in full riot gear, I started to get a little nervous. I turned the corner, and there were several thousand people demonstrating in the streets. I asked a police officer what they were protesting against- and of course they were protesting for Education Reform!
In front of the Coliseum
     After meeting back up with Brother Ernesto and going to mass at the Chapel of the Swiss Guard in the Vatican, we went out to dinner and then went to the Marist General House. The General House was so incredible, and it was great to see the world headquarters of the Marist Brothers that Sean Sammon talked about so much. The next day, I went back to the Vatican and went to see the Pope give his weekly Papal Blessing. Although it was pouring rain the entire day, the rain stopped just before the Pope came out, and resumed shortly after he finished. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in my life. I then toured St. Peter’s Bascilica and decided to climb the cupola, and got to see Rome from a bird’s eye view. To say the view overlooking Vatican City with a rainbow in the distance was breath-taking would be an understatement. 
At St. Peter’s Square during the Papal Blessing
     On my last day in Rome, Brother Alberto took me to a few more places around Rome, and our last stop was at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the grounds were St. Paul was prisoned and executed. We then went to the airport, and I had one last Italian meal before I went through security and started my long trek home. I said goodbye to Brother Alberto, and went through security. Unbeknownst to me, the Roman airport workers went on strike that day, and my flight got delayed by several hours. As a result, I missed my connecting flight to Newark by an hour, so I got to spend an extra night overseas in Switzerland! In Zurich, I had a delicious dinner consisting of bear and potatoes, finished with some delicious Swiss Chocolate Ice Cream (which was incredible, but not as good as the gelato in Florence). The following morning, I was finally able to board my plane back to the states, and I got home after a long 32 hour trip.
In front of St. Peter’s Basilica 
     Going to Europe was one of the best weeks I have ever had in my entire life. I am extremely fortunate that I have so many people in my life that helped put me up in Italy for a week so I was able to afford the trip. It was my first time to Europe, but it definitely will not be my last as I am already itching to get back there. I am just glad that I didn’t wait till my late thirties to get to Europe like some others I know… 
A beautiful panorama overlooking Vatican City from the top of St. Peter’s

 ¡Ciao!

Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain backwards, you will be back in Rome. Hopefully the legend is true!

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