One of the advantages of studying abroad is visiting other cities and countries besides the one you’re studying in. For example, in Europe, a neighboring country is just a short plane or train ride away! So, over my fall break, I left Paris on a blissfully short flight (under two hours) to meet my parents for a week-long trip in Italy.
Our first stop was Rome, where we spent half of the week. Right away from our first day, I was surprised at how crowded the city was, especially for non-tourist season! To get to our Airbnb from the airport, we took a tram that was so packed there was barely enough room for anybody else to get on, and, later that day while sightseeing, I was surrounded by swarms of people in the streets and squares. The city definitely has a crazy, energetic, boisterous feeling to it, even at night, when you can hear shouts in the streets and scooters whizzing by!
To me, the most captivating part of Rome was walking among the ruins of an ancient empire. I could be anywhere—next to cars zipping through the streets or on a sidewalk next to a bus stop—and happen upon a dilapidated column or pass by the excavation of an ancient building foundation. It was also fascinating to experience all the sights the city has to offer and to learn about Rome’s history. I visited the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to the Roman gods with an unprecedented 71-foot dome; the famous Trevi Fountain, the largest fountain in the city of Rome; the Forum, the ancient site of public meetings where numerous temples and monuments remain today; the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican adorned by Michelangelo’s renowned Renaissance frescoes; and, of course, the iconic Colosseum, where gladiators and animals battled as public entertainment.
After Rome, we took a train to Florence, and immediately, I could tell a difference between the cities’ characters. Florence was much calmer and more sophisticated, with fewer crowds and street merchants, more high-end shops, and colorful, orange-toned buildings lining the river. My first day in Florence, I climbed the 463 steps of Brunelleschi’s Renaissance-era dome topping the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, finally reaching the top of winding staircases and steep, stone steps for a magnificent view over the city. Florence is also known for its art, and the next day, I visited the Uffizi Gallery, going back in time to the Renaissance with paintings by artists like Botticelli and Da Vinci, and the Accademia Gallery, the home of Michelangelo’s David, his sculptural masterpiece.
Of course, any trip is not complete without food, and I definitely enjoyed Italy’s savory pasta and decadent gelato (but I have to give full credit to Paris for its unequaled baguettes.) It was also interesting to notice the differences between Paris, a city that I have now become familiar with, and the two cities I visited over break. Besides different architecture, the biggest difference I noticed is that Paris is much quieter; sometimes, I can be walking down a street and it’s completely silent, and even busy streets are more hushed. However, in Rome and Florence, there was definitely more noise in the parts of the cities I visited. Another difference is the rivers. In Paris, the Seine is a popular spot to picnic, stroll, and take boat rides; however, the Tiber in Rome and the Arno in Florence were not as lively. It was interesting to notice differences like that as I visited two completely new cities!
Fall break was the perfect opportunity to explore other places besides Paris, and I had an amazing time in Italy experiencing two cities rich in history and character!