Assisi, Florence, and Pisa: Cathedrals, walking, and photo ops

JFRC leads two study day trips during the summer session that are included in our tuition. The second trip was to Assisi, a small, medieval town north of Rome.

It was a day full of touring churches. Since I’m not Catholic, maybe I don’t appreciate the religious significance as much as my classmates. I was in complete awe of all of the artwork that was so well preserved. I loved being able to compare the Gothic and Byzantine artwork and marvel at the fact that many of these churches have experienced damage from earthquakes. I also marveled at the fact that so many priests and nuns were wearing so many layers of clothes while I was melting away in my maxi dress and scarf.

Assisi is also located on top of a hill, making for some incredible views.

 It was also 95 degrees, so any flavor of cold gelato tasted incredible. Featured here: lemon and banana.

After our day, I embarked on the second leg of my weekend adventure. I took a couple of trains and ended in Florence. Before I took a cab to my hostel, I grabbed a donut (ciambella) from the McDonald’s at the train station. #NationalDonutDay can be celebrated internationally.

I was supposed to meet some friends in Florence. We thought we were staying at the same hostel, but it turns out that multiple hostels in Florence are former convents. Who would have guessed?! Due to lack of wifi and large masses of people making it impossible to find anyone, I explored the city on my own for the day.

The city is notably smaller than Rome, so it was surprising to see how far a 3-mile walk got me on the map. Unlike Illinois, it is miserably hot in Italy. So when I saw lines for exhibits that would call for standing in the sun for hours, I decided it was fine to only see the outside.

The Duomo is more beautiful than can be justified in pictures. It’s also enormous!

I am trying to keep my phone in my bag as much as possible to prevent pickpockets, so that explains why I don’t have too many pictures and why I often got lost throughout the day!

I found an Eataly. It was rather unimpressive compared to Rome and Chicago, but there was AC, wifi, free restrooms (with towels – how luxuries!), and a water refill station. Priorities, man.

I did get tickets for one exhibit, the Academia. After much deliberation, I decided this would be better because I could spend an entire day in the Uffizi gallery alone. I may as well see the statue of David when I only have one day in the city.

I also get bored at museums, so to entertain myself, I snapped my interpretations. Here are a few.

       I love walking through the streets of Florence. Because of all of my nose/sinus issues, I usually lack a sense of smell. However, I smelled so many strong scents in Florence. There are leather shops at every corner with their rich smell enticing you in to feel (and buy) the authentic goods. The spices are much stronger here (hell yes!) and the food is spicier as a result. After 3 weeks of relatively bland carbs, my taste buds savored the extra kick.

So far in Italy, portions have been small. For lunch, I ordered a chicken Caesar salad and spaghetti, expecting small portions. I got this instead. Best lunch I’ve had in awhile!

 While enjoying lunch, a pigeon walked over my foot. That wasn’t cool.

I climbed the bell tower of Palazzo Vecchio. They made it sound like it was going to take a lot longer. When I reached the top, I thought it this is it? I thought we were going higher! Don’t get me wrong though, because there were incredible 360 views of the city. I guess I’m just spoiled in Chicago.

         From there I headed to the Florence Cathedral. Along the way I did some leather souvenir shopping.

   I ate dinner at Gusto Pizza. I heard great things about it, and I heard that they make pizzas in the shape of a heart. There was a 30-minute line out the door, but heart-shaped pizza.

Okay, not a heart. But, it filled my heart. It was hands down the best pizza of my life. It was typical Italian thin crust, but it was thicker and more doughy. The spicy salami was the most cooked I’ve had in Italy. The chunks of mozzarella were on point. So. Good.

I ate dessert at for gelato. Jen recommended this place to me, going as far to suggest that it was the best gelato she has ever had. I heard another recommendation, so I had to try this out. Coconut and bacio (chocolate + hazelnut). Yup, so good.

I ended my evening at the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. I almost didn’t go because I was tired from walking 15 miles in 95 degree weather, but I’m so glad I did. The view was breathtaking. Florence is a beaut.

     Selfie sticks reign supreme in Europe, and although I love a good selfie, I think some pictures are better if you just ASK someone to take it for you – what an absurd idea, right? I almost always offer to take a picture for people. I saw a mother and her toddler son trying to take a selfie of the sunset, and she was struggling to get him to cooperate while handling the camera. I offered to take a picture, and I’m so glad I did. I captured like 10 candid shots of them giggling and kissing, and my heart melted just like my hot gelato from earlier. If they don’t frame that shit, I will be appalled.

I also got more gelato because today was tough. Piña colada gelato aka coconut + pineapple. All the yaaaas.

The next morning, I was up early to take a train to Pisa. No one else expressed any interest in visiting Pisa, but I had to get a picture here. That being said, I may or may not have been planning this picture for months. Could you really expect anything different from me? Why else would I pack my CHAARG tank?

I didn’t even need my map at all to get to the tower. A 30-minute walk straight ahead and I was there. An early Sunday morning in Pisa? Straight up deserted. Tourists quickly filled the area trying to get the perfect picture.

   I saw a man struggling to get a selfie, so I offered to take his if he took mine. Little did I know he did not speak English, and this would become one hell of a team-building activity.

Trying to tell him which way to move, where to put his hand, while I tried to capture the moment while staring at the bright sun. Then he had to reciprocate. It was quite the experience. I also experienced my first double cheek kiss as a grazie. I felt like we had really accomplished something.

After a quick walk around the city, heavy backpack in tow, I headed back to Rome. Not before grabbing a creamy croissant.

With less than 2 weeks left in Rome, we are all starting to feel a time crunch. Much of my weekdays are spent in the classroom and library. I have my bucket list I need to start accomplishing this week. Fortunately, since I have been to Rome before, I’ve been able to do a lot of the tourist activities like touring the Colosseum and the Vatican. I love being able to see them again, but when I’m broke, I would rather put those Euros towards my gelato funds.

One week of classes, a weekend in Munich, and a week of finals. Also it’s June 7???? With as little slee as I’ve been getting, time should not be flying by this fast.

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