Fall Break=Trip of a Lifetime

Wow what can I say? What an amazing trip I just experienced!! The Hague had a week long fall break after midterms, and consequently we took advantage of it and went on a 9 day trip. Over the course of 9 days, we hit five different cities in 3 different countries. We used 6 days (out of 15) of our train pass in the process and traveled countless hours via train, but it was definitely worth it.

Our trip began on Friday night when we took an overnight train to Zurich, Switzerland. We arrived around 8:30 AM and spent about 12 hours wandering around the city. Zurich had the potential to be quite picturesque because it was sandwiched between the mountains and had a large river running in the middle of it. However, the weather didn’t help our cause at all. In fact, we actually got sleeted on for at least an hour or so. It was quite cold and rainy the rest of the day.

The city was quite clean and had many large buildings (predominantly banks and other commercial centers). However, it was a pretty expensive city even for basic things like food. Nonetheless, we visited a few cathedrals, including one, which had a tower that offered a panoramic view of the whole city. Other than that, one of our main focuses was to stay warm, which proved to be troublesome. Zurich didn’t offer that many attractions for tourists, as we saw everything we wanted to in the first 3 or 4 hours. In fact, my travel book had 0 pages about Zurich, and Brian’s travel book had 3 pages. Regardless, it was exciting to go to a different country that many people don’t ever travel to.

The next stop on our journey was Rome. In order to get there, we took another overnight train (from Zurich) which put us in the city around 9 in the morning. Rome was simply amazing!! There were so many things to see and do. Every ten steps you take, you see another picture-worthy building or site. We were there for 3 days, but I honestly feel that we could have stayed another 2 and still not have gotten bored.

The first day, we decided to knock out all of the Ancient Roman sites. We had to start with the famous Coliseum, of course. The most famous building of the ancient world was not a disappointment in the least. Regardless of the fact that I had seen so many pictures and heard so many stories about the Coliseum, the amphitheater was awe-inspiring. My imagination really came to life just imagining the crowds, the fighters, the animals, the naval battles, etc. that took place there some 2000 years ago. Afterwards, we visited the Roman Forum-the center of Ancient Roman life. Even though most of the Forum was mostly just ruins, you could just imagine the ornate temples, the courthouses, the Senate, etc. Following that, we entered some beautiful cathedrals filled with some amazing murals and statues.

The second day in Rome, we went to the Vatican City. The Vatican Museum was unbelievably huge-in fact there are over 4 miles of galleries in that one building!! Every single gallery I walked into, I was just like, “Wow.” I felt like I should have taken a picture of every single piece of art in the museum. The most famous artwork we saw was the Sistine Chapel. I just stared at the ceiling for about 20 minutes without problem. Eventually, I just had to give my eyes a rest as there was so much going on. Next, we wandered through the tombs of the popes and even saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II. The tombs led straight to the most immaculate church in the world-St. Peter’s Basilica. The church was so large and had so many quadrants to look at that our group actually got separated for about an hour. St. Peter’s puts just about every other church in the world to shame with its size, artwork, prestige, etc. After leaving the Vatican, we walked along the Roman countryside and even toured some catacombs dating back to the 4th and 5th century. The catacombs were the final resting place for persecuted Christians who were killed for practicing their beliefs during the time of the Roman Empire.

The third day in Rome, we walked to some of the less famous places in Rome. We started with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which regrettably, is much nicer, and more ornate then the one in Arlington Cemetery. Next, we walked to the Pantheon-a huge temple devoted to all of the gods of Ancient Rome. Afterwards, we meandered to Trevi Fountain, which in my opinion was quite possibly the prettiest thing I saw on the entire trip (if you have never seen it or heard of it, type it into Google Images and enjoy). The rest of the day, we just wandered around, leaving most of the touristy areas of the city.

I was sad to leave Rome the next morning, but nonetheless, it was onto Florence-the birthplace of the Renaissance. After checking into our hostel, we went to the Duomo (once again Google it), a famous cathedral located right in the center of the city. Basically, every road in the city led to it, and one can see it from just about anywhere in the city. Later in the day, we entered the Uffizi Gallery, which according to many sources is one of the most impressive art galleries in the Western World (if not the whole world). Inside, we saw the works of such artists as: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt. My favorite artwork in the gallery was the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. It was just so interesting to see the real paintings rather than pictures in art textbooks.

The second day in Florence, we began with the Accademia. This art museum was not nearly as large as the Uffizi or had as many famous artworks inside. However, the Accademia is the home of Michelangelo’s statue, “David.” The statue was so large, perfectly sculpted, and still in perfect shape. This may be the one artwork that defined the Renaissance time period and to be standing in its presence was quite awesome. Afterwards, we walked around a marketplace and some shops (if you like shopping, Florence is a good place to go as there are vendors everywhere). After buying a few souvenirs, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge (Google it) to the more quiet side of the city. We walked around some beautiful gardens and climbed to the top of a hill to see the whole city. After a little more wandering around, it was time for dinner and to go back to the hostel before going off to Venice the next morning.

Venice was just as I had pictured it in my mind: just an extremely scenic place with lots of canals, boats, colorful buildings, etc. Our first adventure in the city was to take a water bus down the Grand Canal from the train station to St. Mark’s Square. St. Mark’s church had a totally different style than most other churches I had ever seen. Nonetheless, it was just another huge and beautiful cathedral in Italy. Across the street was a huge bell tower. We took the elevator up, and were once again able to see the whole city (it seems to be a reoccurring theme with us). It was just so cool to see all the little islands, the waterways, the gondolas, etc. Afterwards, we walked around the waterfront for probably a good mile or two just taking in the beauty of the city.

After we saw the major sights, we simply began to wander around the streets of the city. Venice is an extremely hard city to navigate around. There are 150 canals, 400 bridges, several islands, etc. There are few street signs, and most residents’ addresses are just the district of the city followed by a number (not a lot of help for us). It began to rain later in the night which didn’t help our cause, but we still managed to see a good chunk of the city in the 8 or 9 hours that we had to spend in the old town.

The six days we spent in Italy were so amazing. We saw so many sights, famous museums, and cathedrals. In fact, I probably went to more art museums this past week than the last 5 years combined. I have always found Italian food as the best in the world, and real Italian food didn’t disappoint. I ate so much pizza, pasta, lasagna, calzones, etc. The best, however, was gelato (Rick Steve’s calls it, “an edible art form”). I am already missing it-as it was probably the best ice cream I have ever tried (yes, even better than Graeter’s), not to mention that I had it about a dozen times in 6 days. I loved Italy, and hopefully I’ll be able to return there sometime in the near future.

From Venice, we had a 620 AM train to go to Innsbruck, Austria. We arrived in the quaint, mountainous town (about 110,000 people) around 1230. Innsbruck was quite literally located right in the Alps. We finally had nice weather and looking at the snow capped mountains was a great experience. We saw a gold plated roof dating back to the 15th century and the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (it reminded me of the Terra Cotta soldiers in Xi’an, China). The Winter Olympics were in Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976, and we were able to see some of the old Olympic stadiums. We went to the top of the ski jump and had a drink in the all glass restaurant, admiring the beauty of our surroundings. The city of Innsbruck was very quiet, safe, clean, and pretty-I would love to return there to go skiing for a week.

Like I said at the beginning, what an amazing week my trip was. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be able to go to all of these places. My body and mind were exhausted by the time I returned to Holland Sunday morning, but the fatigue was well worth it; I enjoyed every minute of the trip.

Thanks for reading,


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