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Veni, Vidi, Vici: An Italian Junior Journey

group photo taken in italy
The junior journey group in St. Peter's Plaza, Vatican City.

Apr 6, 2017

By Blake Aviles '18

Edited for content and length

3 Cities | 1 Week A math themed trip: 1 slice of pizza + 1 bowl of pasta = happiness Dr. Serrano and her husband took 12 students to three beautiful cities in Italy: Rome, Florence, and Venice. 

When in Rome...

Look up. Look around. Rome is like a museum. From the architecture, the arts, the beautiful food and wine, to the people! Every detail counts in the Eternal City. The bus ride from the Rome Fiumicino airport to the Borgia Hotel was like unlike anything else.

There was something to see at every turn: the beautifully historic buildings, cobblestone roads, speedy scooters, and mountains. The tour guide mentioned how Italians tend to drive like they are playing a video game. This was not a little frightening to us who are used to remaining in our lanes and using turn signals.

Arriving at our hotel was short lived since we were back on the road within minutes. Unfortunately our flight got delayed, which caused us to arrive late to the Coliseum. Walking around the historic structure felt like we were on a movie set.

Dr. Susan Serrano drinking from an ancient Roman fountain.

The amount of violence and history that happened within those walls was unimaginable. After we walked around the Coliseum, we wandered Rome. It is a very cigarette-smoke filled city, but with some great food and beauty. Fun fact: there are random spouts throughout the city which you can drink from if you use two fingers and place them near spout.

On our second day in Rome, we walked to the Vatican to meet with our tour guide, Luisa. The Vatican was the place we all had been looking forward to. Learning about it in school and seeing it in movies was not enough to prepare us for the true beauty it offered. The museum was unreal.

It was hard for us to imagine how old the pieces were within the walls of this sacred place. After the museum we were led the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel required silence and no pictures or filming. Taking the beauty in was even more enhanced due to the quiet within the room and the chilling images painted by Michelangelo. Once we left the Sistine Chapel, Luisa led us to see the outside where the Pope speaks to the public. It was amazing to look up to see the Pope’s balcony. After this, we went inside St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the world’s biggest church.

After dinner, many of the students decided to go out and explore Rome. We saw ruins, a lot of places with cheap pizza (better pizza than anywhere in America), gelato on every corner, and the Trevi Fountain. We all made a wish and threw a Euro into the water.

After all, the Lizzie McGuire movie says, “This is what dreams are made of.” Fun fact: the Euros from the Trevi fountain are donated to the Red Cross.

Seeing how beautiful and large of a city Rome is, we all want to return. We plan to drink from the spouts, get our pizza weighed and then priced (then devoured), make a wish in the Trevi fountain, and explore even more of Rome when we come back one day.

City of Fine Leather

Florence is known for many things: being the “Cradle of Renaissance,” beautiful streets with colorful buildings, a river that divides the city from the wineries, and its leather. On almost every corner you can find at least one leather shop.

Dr. Serrano showed us all how to shop until we drop as soon as we arrived. We settled our belongings in our luxurious hotel rooms and went on our way. Many students purchased leather goods, but the question was, “Which leather shop is the best?” Each shop had very similar items, but it all came down to price. Bartering was a bit intimidating for the students since many of us had not done that before. By the end of the day we were buying items for great prices.

Along the shop-filled streets were fabulous looking people and gorgeous buildings. We walked past Leonardo Da Vinci’s old home where he created the Mona Lisa painting, Il Duomo di Firenze, and many statues. Only the lucky ones saw the statue of David by Michelangelo.

Blake Aviles '18 in Florence with Il Duomo di Firenze in the background.

Our hotel was in a great location because we were steps away from the Galileo Museum, reasonably-priced restaurants, convenient stores, a market, and right across the street from the Arno River.

A few of us walked across the bridge and hiked a large hill. At the peak was a beautiful view which was priceless. The Duomo is known for its great views, but guests must pay about 15 euro and climb over 400 steps to the top.

This city was definitely the favorite out of the three because of its beauty, cleanliness, shops, historic buildings, and of course the food. The last dinner we had was included in the Junior Journey price. It took place at La Bocca di Leone. It was a bit of a walk to get to, but far worth those extra steps. 

La Bocca di Leone was modernly rustic inside. The food was unforgettable. Each course came out on large platters so each person could take what they wanted. The chef was also very considerate and created something for a student who could not have red sauce. We all felt like we were at home due to the comfort the staff offered.

We began our meal with bread and olive oil with fried pasta following. Bread with chicken liver was another appetizer. For our entree we were served beef, potatoes, and chicken and potato gnocchi. Last, but not least, our dessert was a biscotti served with a dessert wine which you dipped the biscotti in. We sure were wined and dined.

The City of Bridges

Fun fact: Venice does not allow cars. This city imports and exports their goods by boat. Venice was quite a sight for sore eyes. There are 420 bridges connecting each island. This was proven when we rolled our luggage throughout Venice to the hotel. Each bridge was a workout for our arms so the wheels would not break on our luggage. Once we got to the hotel we were ready for some yummy food.

We wandered and found a great pizza place. Some students decided to get some fresh cut deli meat on a sub. Everyone made a good decision since everything enticed our taste buds. The boys separated from the girls because there was one thing the girls wanted to do. Shopping! Us girls wandered the streets and found a few places familiar, like Nike, Adidas, Lush, and McDonald’s. We also found places unfamiliar which made us even more excited.

View of the Rialto Bridge in Venice from a gondala.

Venice has beautiful masquerade masks and glass. The glass jewelry was gorgeous and well-priced. There was a little shop near the city center which had earrings for 2 euros.

After shopping for hours and occasionally walking into beautiful churches and historic locations, we ate somewhere near the hotel. One of the students, Sonya, had ordered something off the menu which was numbered 1-50. The server accidentally wrote down the number a few below what she had asked for and he brought out cuttlefish ink linguine. Luckily, Sonya is adventurous and has had ink before. She ate it and had black colored teeth for a while.

The last day we were in Venice, we all rode gondolas. About 4-5 people each gondola was sufficient. The views from the water were incredible. The buildings had a different view and detailing than when you are walking. On the gondola it was calming to take in all of the beauty. By the way, the men who steer the gondolas do not sing. They told us that we watch too many movies.

As mentioned before, there are only canals and boats. This being said, we had to ride to the airport in a water taxi. It was fast and thrilling, sometimes nauseating though. We were all dreading to leave. The 24 hour travel day, daylights savings time beginning, and most importantly, leaving the country of dreams. We will all be back one day, ciao!