*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.

This was the final trip I took during my year abroad. I spent a week in July 2017 exploring the famous Italian cities of Venice, Florence and Rome. And was the perfect way to cap off an unbelievable year. To begin the trip I flew from Frankfurt to Venice on a Friday evening after work. Where I was staying in an Air BnB in the heart of the city for a few days. I would also be joined during the Venice portion of the trip by my friend Christie, who also studied at Surrey and was living in Germany for the year too.  

The following morning we were up and out to explore this unique place on foot. Although there aren’t many other options aside from foot (or boat) seeing as no vehicles are allowed. Walking the charming little streets and crossing the numerous canals is exactly what one expects when coming to Venice but even so once there it is still quite something to experience in person. Top attractions to visit include the Rialto Bridge which passes over the Grand Canal and offers striking views along the waterway. St. Mark’s Square, the principal public square of Venice and the “centre” of Venice. Here the Square is lined with numerous great buildings such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. Additionally while exploring stop at one of the many Gelato shops to sample some of the best ice creams you’ll ever eat. Another great place to visit is the Fondaco Rooftop Terrace, which offers a fantastic vantage point of the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal from above. Having wandered the many canals, both crowded and more secluded it became clear there was also a big festival happening that night. Through chance, we just so happened to be in Venice for the yearly Festa del Redentore, occurring every 3rd weekend of July. Which commemorates the end of the terrible plague that occurred in 1577. A 330m long pontoon bridge is built on the weekend of the festival connecting Venice to the Island of San Giorgio. That we made use of that evening, to walk over to San Giorgio, which offered a fantastic vantage point of the spectacular fireworks display that occurred that evening. 

View from the Fondaco Rooftop Terrace
View from the Fondaco Rooftop Terrace

Having explored a lot of the main sights of Venice yesterday. Today we headed out on a boat trip to see some of the more distant sights. The trip took us first to the Island of Murano, renowned for its long tradition of glass-making. On the trip we took a tour around one of the glass-making facilities, learning how this traditional method of producing glass still remains in use today. Before being left to wander the streets of the island for an hour or so. Next on the tour was a trip to a second island, Burano. As well as being famed for its lace work, the real drawing point is the brightly colour homes that line the mazework of canals. It really is a stunning little island and a worthwhile place to visit during a trip to the area. The final stop on the boat tour was the sparsely populated Torcello. Home to the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its Venetian-Byzantine mosaics and views of nearby Burano from the bell tower. It’s also worth checking out the Ponte del Diavolo, a bridge with no parapets, which is quite unique compared to the numerous other bridges you will see during your stay in Venice. 

Monday morning arrived and with it, my final few hours in the unique city. However, no trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride down the grand canal. So this is precisely what we did. Exploring some of the little side canals before venturing out into the chaos of the grand canal. A perfect way to end my time in Venice. Following the gondola ride, I explored a few lesser-frequented districts, said my goodbyes to Christie and headed to the train station. Catching a train 3 hours south to Florence. The train ride was great and also very reasonably priced. I pulled into Florence around 6 pm and went to check into my nearby hostel, Plus Hostel. The hostel had a great atmosphere and vibe. I seem to recall there was some kind of traffic light party on at the bar, so I headed down to make some new friends. 

The following day I was off to explore the city. Florence is quite a compact city, at least the major attractions. And staying centrally meant everything was accessible to me on foot. It did feel strange being in a city with cars and roads again after Venice, but after a few readjustments, I soon settled in and felt right at home. There are several key landmarks that one should explore while in Florence, these include; the Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo itself, otherwise known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Which is a truly stunning building. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, The David of Michelangelo, and the Uffizi Gallery for those interested in art. As well as the Basilica of Santa Croce. Which sits in a charming square lined with numerous restaurants. It was around this area that I had one of the most delicious calzone pizzas in my life all, for only 7 euros too. The final stop for the day was the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers amazing views from its vantage point on the hillside above the city. Having covered many km, I returned to the hostel to chill out by the pool. Here I got talking to 2 English girls, Holly and Jade who were also travelling Italy for the week, and happened to be travelling to Rome next. Additionally, I had been chatting with a guy from my dorm room, Jacob, who would also be staying in the same hostel as me in Rome. So the 4 of us headed out for some dinner that evening. Before calling it a night and heading to bed.  

Florence at dusk

Seeing as I only had about 48 hours in the city, which is still a decent amount of time to fit the highlights in. I had to plan ahead, so today had secured myself a ticket to venture inside the famous Duomo, which I thoroughly recommend. The high ceiling of the dome is painted by Giorgio Vasari and is beautiful. You can also travel to the very top of the cathedral, which firstly allows you to get up close to the ceiling of the dome as well as provide amazing views of the streets and city below. It was here when again I bumped into someone that I knew! The 3rd such occurrence in a year. While at the top of the Duomo, for which you have a specific time slot. I turned to my right and saw Yusuf, a guy on the same chemistry course as me at university. Again another astonishing coincidence, yet one that has happened too many times now, to not be a bit strange! That all but concluded my brief stay in the city, which I really enjoyed. The food as one would expect in Italy was excellent. That evening I caught another train a couple of hours south to Rome! I was even in first class due to the minimal difference in price between that and a regular ticket. It was a pleasant journey and I arrived in Rome at 6 pm. Checking into my hostel Yellow Square.  

  • Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
  • Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
  • The Ponte Vecchio Bridge in the distance
  • View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo
  • View of Florence from the top of the Duomo bell tower

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I sure tried to walk most of it in one! My first full day in the ancient city was certainly a busy one. As I tried to fit in as much as I could, in the short amount of time I had. There are so many attractions and landmarks it can all seem a little daunting and overwhelming! I walked a lot of km so exploring by foot certainly won’t be for everyone, but most things can be reached by walking from one place to another. The first stop was the colosseum, the iconic oval amphitheatre, the largest ever built. A truly magnificent sight to behold. One can only imagine what it must have been like as a spectator here in Roman times. A short walk from the colosseum is the Roman Forum, now an archaeological sight, it was for centuries the centre of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. There are many areas to explore and views of the distant colosseum are ever-present. From here it was a short walk to the Piazza Venezia, which is the best place to take in the Altar of the Fatherland, a grand marble temple honouring Italy’s first king and 1st World War soldiers. Before continuing to explore the Pantheon as well as Piazza Navona. Finally ending up at the River Tiber and Castel Sant’Angelo. After some lunch and ice cream, which was well deserved from all my walking I made my way back to the hostel via the Trevi Fountain. Here you will see numerous tourists tossing coins into the famous fountain for a variety of good omens, such as luck and falling in love. 

That evening after a busy day exploring I met up with Jacob, the guy from my dorm in Florence, who was now staying in Rome. We had a few beers together, sharing our adventures from the past few days. Peroni, the one with the red label just hits different in Italy! While travelling it’s crazy how in a day someone becomes your best mate, you share some unique experiences and then literally never see that person again. The next day I was off again to take in more sights as well as sample some more great Italian food, I ate so much pasta, pizza and ice cream over the course of the week, #noregrets. It’s just a good job I burned it off with all the walking. Today I took a walk to the Spanish steps and then up to the park that sits at the top of them, amongst which you can explore the Giardino Villa Medici, The Terrazza Viale del Belvedere which offers great views over the city, especially at sunrise and sunset. Before also exploring the Pincio Terrace & Promenade. All just a short walk away from the Spanish steps. There is also so much more to explore in this area if you wish. For me, though I was back to spruce up at the hostel before heading off on a bar crawl, during which I was joined by Holly and Jade, the two girls from Florence and Jacob. It was organised by some company that led us from one bar to the next, even using public transport to travel between stops. Before we finally ended up in some massive open-air club on the outskirts of Rome. The club was actually really good and the 4 of us had a great time dancing away until the early hours. By the time the night had come to an end *Matt and me, walked the whole way back across Rome at 4 am. No idea why we didn’t pay for a taxi, but it was a great adventure back. Even if it did take well over an hour. We even stopped off at a deserted Trevi fountain. To take in the scene with no one else around.  

  • Altar of the Fatherland
  • Altar of the Fatherland
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Trevi Fountain

Seeing as I didn’t get into bed until around 6 in the morning, I wasn’t awake until early afternoon. I wasn’t too worried though as I had already seen most of what I wanted to explore. There was however one final place I had to visit and that was the smallest “country” in the world, also home to the Roman Catholic Church, The Vatican City. While technically it’s an independent city-state, with an area of just over 100 acres. It still mints its own euros, prints its own stamps, has its own flag and anthem as well as issues its own passports. It even has its own army, a mercenary force of the Swiss Guard, that is comprised of entirely Swiss citizens. While there is a great deal to see and explore around the Vatican from museums, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Iconic Sistine Chapel with ceiling, painted by Michelangelo himself. Be prepared for a potentially long wait if arriving late in the day. I, therefore, didn’t venture into any of these famous landmarks. But was still able to wander around and explore the uniqueness of this “country” within a country. 

After the most amazing week in Italy, it came to an end very early on a Sunday morning. Needing to wake up at like 4 am to catch my 7 am flight back to Germany. It is the inconvenience of the red-eye flights that makes them cheap I guess. Regardless the week crowned what had been the most amazing year. Not only did living and working in Germany allow me to learn so much about this wonderful country, but it allowed me to explore a further 9 countries across Europe too. Each with its own unique charm and character. The diversity of the continent and its rich history is hard to rival anywhere around the world. Yet while I managed to visit quite a few places there are still many more I’m yet to explore…. 

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