“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”Neale Donald Walsch
Right now I’m sitting in an Italian café eating a cannoli, writing, and really living the dream. However, my last week in Ostrava was not as great as this week has been. After returning from Budapest, I settled in for my last week in Ostrava. I knew it would be a hard week because I had to say goodbye to some of my closest friends. On top of that, I sustained a bad ankle sprain while playing soccer and ended up on crutches and in a lot of pain. Unfortunately, this put a damper on my plans both in Ostrava and for the beginning of my trip to Italy. I had to cancel my train trip and go by plane instead because then I would have friends with me and wouldn’t have to walk nearly as much. After only a couple days I was “walking” again, and nearly two weeks since the injury I am now doing okay with getting around but still experiencing a lot of pain. Oh well, it’s in my family’s nature to be injured so I’m used to it by now.
I first had to say goodbye to Tanya, with whom I became very close during the past six weeks. She is an incredible person who really helped me step out of my comfort zone and pushed me to grow. She is very confident and brave, and thus helped me to be so also. She is also one of the most caring and supportive people I’ve ever met, so she has been a real light during my time here. I wish we could have spent more time together, but I appreciate every second that we did.
Next was Julia, whom I consider to be one of my best friends, not only in Ostrava but in the world. She was one of the people I have really opened up to and appreciate her advice and thoughts greatly. She has an incredible sense of humor and we spent so much time laughing together. She also pushed me to grow and improve during my time in Ostrava and helped me relax and have fun in situations where I may have felt uncomfortable in the past. She amazes me because she already spent three months working in Wisconsin, did Erasmus in Ostrava, and is headed to Canada next week to work in a summer camp. She is brave, smart, and fun-loving, and I hope to visit her in Canada in August.
On her last day in Ostrava, we stumbled upon a hamburger festival, which was the most American thing I’ve seen since being over here. There was a large Hummer with the American flag on it advertising American soft drinks. One of these was Arizona Iced Tea and I was so excited I made all my friends try it. I also made them try corn dogs, which they loved, and we all ate hamburgers. It was raining and cold the entire time, but we splashed in puddles, sang to the music, and enjoyed good food.
After my hard goodbyes, I set off on a month-long trip. The first week of which has been spent in Italy, and the first few days I was accompanied by friends from Ostrava. It began in Pisa where we met with Elisa, one of Gloria’s friends, and she let us stay in her apartment for the night. We visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa both at night and the next morning. And we ate pizza. A lot of pizza. She invited a group of her friends to go out with us, and we had what is called giro pizza. The chefs choose what pizzas to bring to us and they just keep different kinds coming. It’s all-you-can-eat and allows you to try many different types. I ate at least a pizza and a half by myself.
The next day we took a bus to Rome. This is where our story becomes crazy. We were warned by the Italians that Rome is chaotic and intense, but we didn’t comprehend what that meant until we experienced it first-hand. It began on the bus. We boarded a FlixBus, one of the biggest companies in Europe to embark on the 5.5 hour trip. FlixBus is well-known and all of their buses are bright green with the name in big orange letters. They have a bathroom, wifi, and charging ports. For the first hour and a half, everything was perfect. But at that point, the driver came on the speaker and said something in Italian. Someone translated for us and said we were going to stop soon to change buses. Okay, no problem.
Well, the “stop” was not an actually bus stop and instead just the side of the highway. And the bus we changed to was old, sketchy, and definitely not a regular Flixbus. It was full of people who exited their bus and we all switched places. Okay, no problem.
We got on the bus and sat down. I went to keep working on some stuff and realized there were no charging ports and no wifi. That’s okay, I could manage to work without the internet. No problem.
But then, I came to the realization that there was no bathroom on the bus. Now, I had a problem. For a while a crossed my legs and thought about literally anything else, but it was not a fun time. I kept thinking about how many more hours I had to wait. Luckily, we stopped at a bus station to drop some people off and we were given ten minutes to find a bathroom. I swear we had to run a quarter mile to find it, but we did. And now I know to never count on Flixbus providing a bathroom (even though it says when booking that there will be one on board…).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We got to Rome and, long story short, Rome is incredibly unorganized. We had bought tickets online for the Colosseum and Vatican to make our time there easier. So upon arriving we were supposed to stop at a ticket booth to pick them up. Well essentially everyone in Rome just tells you that you need to go somewhere else and pay more money for whatever it is you’re looking for. Tired, hungry, and wet from the rain, we finally made it to our bus stop to get to our AirBnb. The bus was supposed to come in 3 minutes. And again in 20 minutes. And again in 40. Well it finally came after about 45 minutes, at which point I was ready to turn around and get the heck out of Rome.
At our AirBnb, our host was incredibly kind, offered us free wine, and pointed us in the direction of a pizzeria. We drowned our sorrows in wine and pizza. Then, back at the AirBnb, we decided to order more pizza (less than an hour later, from the same pizzeria…). So we ate pizza again, and drank more wine.
The next morning we headed to the Colosseum. It was incredible and historic. However, we learned important lessons about scam artists, from people on the street bullying you into giving them money to actual employees at the Colosseum being dishonest. For example, we needed to reserve a time to enter the Colosseum, and we asked a man wearing an information vest where to go, and he said all tickets until the afternoon were already sold out. But we had Vatican tickets in the afternoon, and we had already paid for the entrance online. He tried to convince us that the only to get in during the morning was to buy a guided tour for $40 each.
We left him and walked through the crowd of other people trying to take our money, and after wandering for another 30 minutes, we found a small booth where we could make reservations. And I’ll be darned, there were tickets available for 30 minutes later!
Relieved, we spent time in Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. Once we learned that we shouldn’t talk to anyone or make eye contact and attempt to be as invisible as possible, we really enjoyed the beauty and the history of the area.
We grabbed some pizza and pasta for lunch and set off for the Vatican. On the way we stopped at a highly rated gelato place and had our lives thoroughly changed by the magnificence of it. Really, thank goodness for the food, because otherwise I may have exploded from stress.
Have I mentioned the terrible public transportation? Well, we left ourselves plenty of time to get to Vatican city before our time to enter. However, after walking to the subway station and finding it closed (with no warning, I might add), we desperately tried to find a different route. The next closest subway stations were 15 minutes away in the wrong direction, and finally we gave up and got a taxi.
We arrived at the Vatican on the wrong side to enter where we needed and with only one minute to spare. We took off running, but it still took 15 minutes to get to where we needed to be. Thank goodness Italians are not the most punctual people because they still let us enter. Once inside, we had a wonderful time enjoying the museums and Sistine Chapel. It was towards the end of the day, so there weren’t many people and we were able to take our time and appreciate the art and the history.
In summary, Rome has magnificent places to visit, but it is by far the most stressful city I have ever been to. We should have planned more days so we wouldn’t have felt so rushed, but also, I’m not sure my brain could have handled another day in the city.
The next day we took a bus to Florence, where Elisa met back up with us. We decided to take a much more laid-back approach in Florence, and just wandered around, enjoying the beautiful city, eating pasta and gelato, and drinking coffee. Have I mentioned my deep love of Italian coffee? Truly, it’s incredible. We took a long walk through the quiet streets and reached a panoramic view over the city. And that night, we enjoyed a very nice dinner of pasta and wine, as well as Tiramisu.
After that we went to a bar to listen to live music and have a drink, and after we went for a walk in the city at night. It was overcast and a little rainy, but it was a lovely night. Eventually we made our way to a bridge over the Arno river and sat on the bridge for over an hour, enjoying the night and each other’s company.
The next day I parted ways with my friends and headed to Turin. I arrived late on Saturday night and met with Laura (another of Gloria’s friends), and we went to dinner, where we had…(you guessed it) pizza. We went back to Laura’s place for the night. I’ve spent the last few days in Turin. It’s a big-ish city, but really has a nice vibe and more laid-back feel. There are a lot of beautiful churches, squares, and buildings. I’ve had a nice time with Laura and a friend of hers, Sara.
Last night Laura and I made gnocchi together. This required a lot of hand-on mashing of potatoes, kneading together potatoes, eggs, and flower, and rolling the dough into Playdoh style snakes. It turned out really well and we had so much fun cooking together.
Tonight I leave for Spain. I was supposed to fly to Barcelona and then take a bus to my destination, but I received an email yesterday that my flight was cancelled. So now I will spend 12 hours on a bus overnight tonight to reach Barcelona. Man, transportation has been a real experience.
Overall, Italy has been a remarkable place to visit. I have greatly enjoyed the food, history, and beauty. I’ve shared my time with amazing people. Personally, I prefer the smaller cities, but Rome was also a great place to visit and I’m glad I went. I just recommend you prepare yourself for chaos if you plan to visit there.
Next week a friend from the US will join me in London. The week after I meet my family in Prague. I will have a few days in Ostrava to say my final goodbyes to my dear friends there, and then I will be headed home. I can’t wait to see everyone!