Words and Photos by Esly Tsai
Il Duomo di Firenze
June 25, 2016 marked the first time I went out of the country alone without family. I stayed in Italy for about a month with two of my closer college friends. We had signed up to study abroad (a summer class on serial killers and psychopaths if you were wondering) and live together, so naturally, we flew together as well. I had three layovers, LAX to JFK, JFK to DUS, and DUS to FLR, AKA Los Angeles to New York, New York to Germany, Germany to Florence. That marked a total of about 13 hours, probably more like 14. I can’t remember. I do remember being scared of the language barrier in Germany. Our tickets didn’t print out our gates for Dusseldorf’s airport and I remember panicking since I was the “experienced” one out of the three. I knew it was my duty to ask. It was really the dumbest thing ever because the person we ended up asking in Germany spoke English (insert eye roll emoji here).
Rule number one of traveling abroad, especially with a crazy 9 hour time change, don’t sleep. Just don’t do it. I had learned from my travels to Taiwan and China, but we always arrived at night so I would sleep and be on schedule for the next day. That was NOT the case with Italy. We landed in Florence at about 10AM and the shuttle took us to our new apartment. When we first saw it, all three of us wanted to cry. It was such a shock. The door was old and was cracked and had graffiti on it. I knew that we were all thinking the same thing, “What did we get ourselves into.” Our driver opened the door for us, and there lied the smallest most narrow cement staircase. By then we were definitely ready to cry. We couldn’t open our door to our apartment because we had no idea how to use Italian keys. I didn’t even know Italian keys were a thing. When we did finally get it opened, my friend Naomi was the first to crack. “This is not like the Lizzie Mcguire movie at all.” We settled in, picked out rooms, and went to look around the neighborhood. Being outside really helped our shock. It was nice to see the Piazza Pitti Palace as well as a bunch of tourist. We grabbed gelato, which was nothing like the American gelato. I can’t even put into words how good gelato is. Just try it if you’re ever out there. We went back to our “home” and immediately got sad again. We had to wait until our class dinner at 5. I ended up taking a nap. Like I said, biggest mistake of my life. I took an hour nap knowing I wasn’t supposed to. I woke up vomiting my anguria, watermelon, gelato. This is a scary sight. I thought I was going to die because I had forgotten that I had watermelon gelato, so my vomit was a deep red color. My friends freaked out and I couldn’t leave my house until dinner when I was feeling a little better. That’s basically how I spent day 1.
By then we were definitely ready to cry. We couldn’t open our door to our apartment because we had no idea how to use Italian keys. I didn’t even know Italian keys were a thing.
This is the second day. After dinner and some sleep I was feeling better but still kind of gross. Jetlag is a struggle.
Rule number two of traveling abroad: Learn basic words or phrases before going to country of choice if you can.
The whole first week was basically just class and exploring. That’s one of the reasons why I recommend studying abroad: there’s a bunch of downtime. Class was literally only about 2 hours every day and the rest of the time was ours. I was in Florence for the first two weeks of my trip and Rome was the last week. Between those times, I also visited Pisa with just my friends, and Perugia and Venice with my class. In my downtime, I visited different museums like Il Museo di Antropologia in Firenze. It was extremely easy to get around with the semester of Italian I had taken at CSULB. Most people spoke basic English, but we could get by with a mix of English, Spanish, and Italian. We spent a lot of time shopping in different Piazzas, so plazas basically. A super common good is leather, especially in Florence. Leather purses, backpacks, keychains, bracelets, you name it. This shopping center called Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, is where the famous bronze boar, Il Porcellino is located.
It’s said that if you rub its nose, you’re ensured a return visit to Florence!
This piazza is super close to where my friends and I spent most of our nights looking out towards the river that runs through Florence. Ponte Santa Trinita is beautiful around 8-9PM. We would spend our nights watching the sunset, just talking about life and eating gelato.
Florence at night on Ponte Santa Trinita
The nightlife is beautiful in Florence. It’s one of the artsiest cities I have ever been in. In different Piazzas, they would have orchestras, opera, dancing, or plays for the entire community plus tourists to see. Piazza della Signora is the place to be for all these things. This piazza also has a bunch of statues, including an imitation of the statue of David. I didn’t get to see the real thing. These outdoor activities is really what makes Italy so different, and it’s what really made me fall in love with the city. By the time I realized this, it was my last few days in Florence and I was no longer vomiting.
We also “celebrated” the fourth of July in Florence. We had grouped up with some of the other girls we had befriended on the trip who lived on the other side of town, aka Nightlife aka clubbing areas. Keep in mind that I have never been to a club, or a legit bar or anything so this was a completely new experience for me. I went to keep my friend company as well so she could have someone to walk home with since these clubs/bars were on the other side of the river, and we lived pretty far. We promised our other friend that we would be back by 10 maybe 11PM tops. We came home at 3AM. One of the bars we went to had like a dance floor? Which is completely normal apparently, but people were drinking, making out, karaoke, dancing, and I had never seen so many grown men preying on the young foreign girls in my life. As my lady friends were dancing, one of them refused to dance with this older man, and he pushed her by placing his hand on her face. She punched him back and he left, yelling probably cuss words in Italian. Another one of my friends, who maybe had a little too much to drink was talking to this guy and he attempted to kiss her, in which she shoved him off. In other words, drunk men are not fun. They’re actually quite, quite scary. I had never felt more uncomfortable in my life. I mean, I had fun dancing with my friends, but those maybe 5 minutes of enjoyment was always ruined by some jerk who would try to hit on us.
As my lady friends were dancing, one of them refused to dance with this older man, and he pushed her by placing his hand on her face. She punched him back and he left, yelling probably cuss words in Italian.
Before we went to Rome, we had different stops in different cities, one of my favorites being Siena. In Siena, our entire class probably met the love of our lives: Pietro. He was this Italian Florentine man, with amazing posture and longish hair. Rule number three of traveling abroad: You will fall for the foreign appeal of others. It’s cheesy, and you’ll laugh about it, but when your program director guide, Pietro, tells you that his favorite place is “here and now” while taking your entire class to one of his favorite restaurants in Siena, your heart melts a little. Pietro then became the inside joke of the entire trip for everyone, including our professors.
In the middle of the town square, also known as Piazza del Campo. Siena is popular for it’s horse racing held twice a year. There’s 10 teams representing different parts of the town. Horses often break their legs because of the weird shape of the track (Pietro’s in the striped shirt)
Flags of the different horse racing teams in Sienna
Florence, Siena, and Venice were my favorite cities. We also went to Perugia, where the Amanda Knox murder took place and it’s also home to Perugina, Italy’s largest chocolate factory. The vibes were weird, especially when we went to the home where Meredith was murdered. Spooky stuff and bad vibes.
Perugia, seems cool and pretty, but the vibes are weird.
Venice is absolutely beautiful. We stayed in a hostel, (Generator Hostel) which was extremely nice and welcoming. At night, it became sort of like a common room/bar where everyone was just mingling and watching the soccer game at the time.
Water buses get you everywhere!
Didn’t get to do a gondola ride.
Taking a break in Civita di Bagnoregio! This city is in danger of completely falling one day. Story goes that everyone in this city died off because of the black plague.
Hiked all the way to the top. Make sure to get a snow cone before you climb all the way up here
Rome is completely different to the other cities we went to. It’s like Los Angeles, but Italian. Maybe more like New York because of the subways and all the different modes of public transportation.
Rome is beautiful. There’s more homeless people and pickpockets, but the history and archeological sites are absolutely worth visiting. By the time we were in Rome, I didn’t want to go home anymore. I had stopped calling my mom every morning, I had stopped tearing up at the thought of my dog (kind of), I was extremely content with where I was and how things had progressed.
In Rome, I only lived with one of my friends due to a slight argument and feelings of resentment and anger towards the other friend that was living with us. We stayed in a nice hotel in the middle of Rome.
In Rome, I only lived with one of my friends due to a slight argument and feelings of resentment and anger towards the other friend that was living with us.
Rome-ing around the capital.
We didn’t do much in Rome at night because of how dangerous it felt to be out past 10PM. It’s a very big city vibe, while Florence is smaller and a lot more manageable. We visited the Jewish Ghettos, which I totally recommend for some great vegan/kosher food.
Rome consisted of no class time, just literally wandering around the city and exploring. I feel like I didn’t explore Rome fully to my heart’s content, but I plan to come back one day. Rome happened so fast, I wish I could recall more, but I can’t. I visited the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Jewish Ghettos, and shopped for souvenirs.
In conclusion, Italy was cool, I learned that I can survive on my own in a different country without dying. I think you really learn a lot about yourself when you’re out of your comfort zone, you establish more likes and dislikes, and ultimately you see the world through a different lens. In my case, I learned to appreciate having AC, my own bed at home, and really really appreciate having my loved ones in close proximity of me.
The Culprit aka Anguria Gelato
Inside the Coliseum
A Roman Piazza
Trevi Fountain; Make sure to toss the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure 1) A return to Rome, 2) A new romance and 3) Marriage. (I didn’t; I did right hand over right shoulder)
St. Peter’s Square – Vatican City. Didn’t get to see the Pope, he was busy with other things.