Travel Tales #4: An Italian Adventure (Part 1) – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey's Way
Before I can jump into telling the story of my very first trip to Europe, it’s important that I tell you how this trip came about in the first place. So, friends, let’s begin!
It was Christmas break of 2009, my sophomore year of high school, where I found myself enjoying a delicious meal with my best friend at the time, Spencer, at our favorite Italian restaurant, Bella Roma. We likely began this meal chatting about the latest school drama, who’s-dating-who, etc. (you know, typical high school talk), but at some point it took a turn… Back then, this restaurant used to be filled with black and white photos of popular tourist spots in Italy, and our table happened to be positioned directly under one. At some point, after gazing at this photo for awhile, one of us spoke up and said, “dude, if we ever get the chance to go to Italy, we have to take it! Let’s promise each other this.” This occurred so long ago that I truly don’t remember who’s idea this initially was, but what matters is that we both agreed and pinky-promised each other that if the opportunity arose, we’d be sure to take it.
Flash-forward a few weeks to World History class where I sat right next to Spencer. Our teacher, Mr. Ryan, started the class period on this particular day by telling us that he had a big announcement for us… He and another teacher, Mrs. McGuire, had set up a school trip via EF Tours for Spring Break 2011 to take us, his students, to ITALY. As soon as the word, “Italy“, was spoken, Spencer and I immediately turned towards one another. To this day, I still remember the ear-to-ear grin on his face combined with an excited glow like that of a kid who’s birthday wish had just come true. “Dude, we have to go! We have to do this! We made a promise!“, Spencer all-but-shouted at me. “I know! I can’t believe this is happening! This is really happening!“, I excitedly replied.
After discussing this over with my parents, it was decided that I could go on this trip just as long as I paid for it myself. Thankfully, I already had an after-school nanny job that I’d been working since the beginning of the school year, and I had previously begun saving a portion of my earnings. Now it was time for me to buckle-down, take on extra “free-lance jobs” (such as babysitting on the weekend, cleaning houses, etc.) and find a summer job to bring steady income for the 3 months that I wouldn’t be nannying. My entrepreneurial spirit sprouted as early as 10 years old when I learned how to successfully sell large quantities of Girl Scout cookies, plus I wasn’t afraid to do a little labor if it meant that I could go on this dream-come-true adventure. So, naturally, I got straight to work!
School let out for the summer and before starting my summer job as a hostess at On the River Restaurant, I headed to Camp Bandina with my church’s youth group for a week. While at camp, I got a very unusual voicemail from Spencer very late one night. “Dude, call me!” was the urgent message I received. Bewildered as to why he would call so late while I was away, I did what he asked and hit the redial button.
“We’re going for free! We’re going to Italy for FREE!!!” was shouted at me through the tiny speaker of my pink Blackberry pearl. “Dude, it’s late. Don’t play with me like this. I’m tired after doing a lot of stuff at camp today,” was my cranky response. “No, I’m serious! Mr. Ryan called all of our home phones and left voicemails telling us that we’re going for free. I know you’re at camp, which is why I wanted to call and tell you myself. Apparently he put us in a drawing to win scholarships for our school’s kids to get to go for free, but he didn’t tell us because he didn’t want us to get our hopes up. Turns out, we won!“
Holy. Fucking. Shit. Is this real life?! It is real life!
To this day, it still sometimes feels like this whole thing was a dream – this magical adventure and the fact that I didn’t have to pay a single dime to be able to experience it. To quote the fabulous Lizzie McGuire from The Lizzie McGuire Movie where she also took a school trip to Italy, “this is what dreams are made of!”
I hope you enjoy reading the entries written in my travel journal throughout my adventure in Italy, and that you’ll be inspired to plan your own adventure abroad. Life is short – get out there and live it to the fullest before it’s too late.
Travel Journal Entries
Day 1 – The Journey Begins (March 13th, 2011)
I’m currently on the plane to Amsterdam [from Houston]! I’m in the aisle seat, Spencer is seated next to me and Will has the window seat. When we first got to the airport in Houston, we checked in and then headed to the baggage check-in area to hand over our luggage and receive our tickets. Unfortunately, the guy behind the counter didn’t print mine for me so Mr. Ryan and I had to go back to get it. This was my very first overseas flight and my second-ever international flight, so panic began to set in. In the end, we were able to get my plane ticket printed and I boarded with zero issues. Whew!
We boarded our plane at 4:20pm (how ironic, considering that our first flight has a connection landing in Amsterdam) and then finally took off at 5:15pm. We’re supposed to arrive in Amsterdam at 2:30am their time [side note: I think I was mistaken about how time zones work back then, so please feel free to laugh at this rookie mistake because I recently laughed at myself too ?]. I doubt I’ll get any sleep on this plane, especially since someone’s baby keeps crying at an ear-shattering volume. Lovely. Well, I’ll write more later!
Day 2 – We’re Finally Here! (March 14th, 2011)
We landed in Amsterdam and only had about an hour to get through immigration, which ended up creating a bit of an unfortunate situation for us. Our layover wasn’t very long, so by the time Mr. Ryan, Spencer, Will and I all made it through, we had to literally run to catch our final flight that would take us to Rome, Italy. What a nightmare! The other half of our group was behind us, staying together to ensure that everyone made it through immigration okay. By the time my little group reached the terminal, they were ready to close the gates and not let anyone else board. Mr. Ryan told us to go ahead and he stood back, talking with the airline attendants and convincing them to wait until the rest of our group got there. This was incredibly nerve-racking, but thankfully since I had successfully boarded, my anxiety began to calm down quite a bit.
The flight to Rome only lasted about 2 hours, but it was filled with rowdy-as-hell college kids, all decked out in matching t-shirts. Surprisingly, I was able to nap for the majority of this flight despite the chaos that was ensuing all around me. Upon landing, we grabbed our luggage, then had to wait for our tour bus to show up. The bus arrived, yet we still had some waiting to do – apparently we were being chartered around with 2 additional school groups and one of them hadn’t reached Rome yet. Boo.
Once the last group was finally able to join us, we all hopped onto the bus and made our way to the hotel. It was a small, boutique hotel which was very cute and had free Wi-Fi [which basically made this place a paradise since I did not have international cell service at all throughout the duration of this trip and I was, after all, a high school student at this time ?]. I shared a room at this hotel with classmates Brittany and Shelby, who I didn’t know very well at the time. Once we unloaded our bags into our room (and claimed our beds), I headed downstairs and made a beeline towards the computer in the lobby that was available for guests to use. I just had to check Facebook and let people know that I’d made it safely to Italy – i.e. I needed to brag to the world that I was vacationing abroad. We had about two and a half hours until dinner, so after browsing the web for a bit, I roamed around the hotel grounds with Spencer and Will.
When we finally went out for dinner, we weren’t seated until almost 8:45pm, which felt suuuper late after such a long day of traveling. The food came in courses and it was absolutely delicious! We were seated at round tables in little groups which made me feel fancy as fuck. While the food was delectable, the water was not. They served us mineral water, which I found tasted like dirty sparkling water that burned a bit when going down. I quickly learned that I needed to ask for “still water” and if that wasn’t available, pay for freaking coke. Well, I’m off to bed! I’ve got a long day of walking ahead of me tomorrow.
Day 3 – March 15th, 2011
Today we started out by heading to the Piazza Venezia. I really wasn’t thrilled for this as I wasn’t aware of its significance but in all honesty, I was just happy to be roaming around Rome in the morning sunlight.
Next up: The Roman Colosseum. I was super excited for this one! My excitement began stirring as soon as it was announced that we were heading in that direction, steadily increasing as we began to approach this magnificent, ancient building. I’m not so sure that I should be happy to walk around an amphitheater where many people were killed in front of spectators for sport, but nonetheless, this is how I feel. My fascination is mostly centered around the enormous size of this architectural wonder. How was something so large built so long ago? It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that this gigantic stadium was built in 753 B.C. (roughly 2,773 years ago), long before the use of machinery was around to aid in the construction.
From here, we went on to see the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and The Roman Forum – all of which I enjoyed exploring! A few fun facts about these historic sites:
This fountain is the only ancient aqueduct (aka source of water flowing from a nearby lake or spring into the city for use) that exists and is in constant use to this day. Also, there’s apparently a smaller fountain to the right of the Trevi that is known as “the fountain of lovers“. Legend has it that if a couple is to both drink from this fountain, they will remain forever in love and faithful to each other.
This religious building is over 2,000 years old AND “is the only ancient Roman building that has remained practically intact through the centuries“. Whoa, how crazy! Regardless if you’re into religious sentiments or not, this is definitely worth exploring due to the sheer wonder of it being a 2,000 year old building.
This site is basically the ancient “town square” of Rome where all the things used to happen, such as public meetings and court hearings. Additionally, it used to have all sorts of markets and shops that were open to the public. As you can see in the photos below, this site has definitely not remained intact like that of the Pantheon. Upon visiting here, I used my imagination to picture what this area would’ve looked like in Roman times, with it’s buildings still standing in perfect condition and all kinds of people bustling around every which way.
My favorite places that we visited today were definitely the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. I’m pretty sad, though, because I didn’t get a chance to toss a coin into the fountain and make my wish since it took an eternity to exchange our cash at the local bank nearby. Bummer! I guess I’ll just have to go back one day to make my wish. ?
Our tour guide, Giuseppe, guided us through all of these monuments and historical places this morning, but afterwards, we were sent on our way to roam Rome all on our own! Spencer, Will and I teamed up and set off to grab some lunch and do a little shopping before it was time to meet back up with the group. While we were exploring this beautiful city, we came across a gelato shop and had to stop in for a delicious sweet treat. This was my first ever experience trying gelato, and now I’m hooked! We spent the majority of the day walking, so my feet are killinggg me, soooo I’m signing off for the night. Ciao!
Check out more of my adventures abroad via the articles below!