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Thursday, 20 June 2019

WHEN IN: ROME (FLORENCE, VENICE, VERONA & MILAN)








Have you ever fallen head over heels for a foreign land that you've never even visited? Welcome to my TED talk. For as long as I can remember, my heart has longed for (and belonged to) Italy – a place that, until earlier this month, was still on my travel bucket list. So what's a girl to do? Get her Eat Pray Love on, of course. And that's exactly what I did, with a month's warning. That's right – eight days, five cities, one girl, and a ~very~ heavy rucksack. Andiamo!

City no. 1 – Rome ★★★☆☆

My first stop (as well as my last) was in the Italian capital – aka Roma. On my first full day in Italy, I spent most of my time wandering around Vatican City – cathedral climb of 545 steps, included. If you've visited yourself, you'll know that what I'm about to say is no exaggeration; St. Peter's Basilica took my breath away. I'm talking both inside and outside – as well as on top of. The Vatican Museums were also spectacular, but they actually made me feel slightly uneasy. Walking through the ~many~ galleries (I genuinely got lost at least 3 times), I couldn't help but think about how expensive they must have been and how expensive they must still be, whilst there are so many people in our world that struggle to get by day-to-day. Yes, they may be beautiful but does that justify not using the space to serve a better purpose? Such as sheltering the many homeless on the street? Moving ~away~ from politics, I also fitted the Trevi Fountain – aka the busiest tourist attraction I have EVER visited – and the infamous Spanish Steps into day numero uno. On my return to Rome at the very end of my one-woman mission, I spent the afternoon exploring the Colosseum and the surrounding area. Another breathtaking building, for sure, but incomparable to others earlier in my trip. All in all, Rome is a typical capital city – full to the brim of tourists, historical sights, and more graffiti than I could have ever envisioned. I wouldn't say that I disliked it, but Rome was definitely my least favourite Italian location.

City no. 2 – Florence ★★★★★
My oh my did my heart beat for Florence. I can honestly say, hand on said (beating) heart, that I have found my new happy place in the city of Firenze. Such a stark contrast to Rome, Florence felt far more quaint and packed with far more culture than I ever expected. From strolling around the streets in the early hours of the evening – market stalls, included – to reading my book on a park bench as the night slowly crawled in, I felt two glorious feelings – a) safe and b) at home. The galleries were overwhelming (in the very best way), the squares were brimming with incredibly talented artists, and the streets were lined with gelato shop after gelato shop after gelato shop. I know, priorities right? Of all the cathedrals (i.e. one for each city) that I gazed upon during my Italian adventure, Florence's took the cake. And the icing. And the cherry on top. One late afternoon, I climbed up a hill and ~many~ stairs to Michelangelo's Square, which gifts the most incredible views of the city that stole my heart. And right in the middle of the skyline? That cathedral – that duomo. Florence, you made me feel like me again.

City no. 3 – Venice ★★★★☆
Having heard quite mixed views about The Floating City, I opted to only spend 24 hours in Venice Рand what a 24 hours it was. Yes, ~massively~ overcrowded in the popular areas, but a small piece of my heart belongs to the endless bridges that line the city's backstreets. Walking into St. Mark's Square, I audibly gasped at the sight of the cathedral Рwhat a magnificent building. Climbing (via elevator) the tower to the side of the cathedral РSt Mark's Campanile Рoffered incredible views of the water and the smaller islands opposite. As evening rolled in, I decided to take a stroll to Ponte dell'Accademia to take in the Grand Canal in all its glory. Sat on the other side of the bridge, and overlooking the large span of water where cruise ships come and go, was that night's restaurant. I scoffed a pizza, obviously Рbut also treated myself to a gorgeous glass of Ros̩. After enduring the hectic nature of Venice in the day, it was the most wonderful feeling to experience the peaceful side of the island, too. It really is a beautiful city.

City no. 4 – Verona ★★★★★
It would only be right to describe Verona – the city infamous for its connection to Romeo and Juliet – as both dreamy and romantic. Besides Juliet's balcony, the Arena, and the the cathedral, I didn't have much on the itinerary for Verona. Instead, I took the opportunity to spend 48 hours relaxing, shopping, and taking a gazillion photos – 10/10 would recommend after 5 days of non-stop sightseeing. Having found my happy place on a hilltop in Florence, I stumbled across a close contender by the River Adige. Sat on a wall overlooking the water, switching between reading my book and people watching, I felt more zen that I have in a very long time. When I did take a wander, I was overwhelmed by just how many 'Letters to Juliet' (most of which written on the walls themselves) there were. And they weren't just limited to Casa di Giulietta – the city's walls were overflowing with them. I actually managed to walk by the cathedral just as Sunday mass was taking place, meaning I got to experience an authentic Italian service, and I spent an afternoon getting lost in some magnificent gardens. Verona, you did not disappoint.

City no. 5 – Milan ★★★★☆
Last but by no means least, Milan was the last 'new' city on my tour before I headed back to Rome for one last night. Having spent the week prior in three small and peaceful cities, my hopes for Milan weren't quite so high. Originally super excited to visit one of the world's fashion capitals, my expectations had taken a nosedive. But – to my surprise – my heart adored Milan just alike every other city. Everything about the city was so intricately designed – even the train station took my breath away. Despite being the only cathedral that I did not enter on my trip, the view from the outside was alike no other. Right in the middle of the city, I strolled around the surrounding shops whilst I took its glory in. My favourite find? A three-storey chocolate and sweet shop, of course. They even had a bakery. A BAKERY. I also had the chance to set my sights on Samuel L. Jackson, live in the flesh – but I didn't realise it was him until my brother confirmed via text a few hours later. Oh Milan, you really were unique. I'll definitely be back.

My heart always has – and I can confidently say now that it always will – belong to Italia. Just you watch this space.

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