The second week of the PLC trip began with a short bus ride to Florence. This was another moment where I had trouble comprehending where I was–Florence: the birthplace of the Renaissance. For real.

We arrived at our hotel (the Hotel California, oddly enough) and immediately began our tour with Kirk Ducleaux. Kirk is a fiery, fast-paced instructor, and he didn’t wait on anyone to catch up. We began by touring near the duomo and the baptistery, with Kirk talking in our earpieces (this was a new concept–there were a lot more people (a lot more tourists) in Florence, and it would be much easier to get lost from this point on). We learned about the church, the baptistery, and other important buildings in Florence, and then we visited a museum to look at some important works. We got to see Ghiberti’s doors, which I recalled learning about in my sophomore year world history class, and some other famous sculptures by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello. After the museum tour, we got to climb to the top of the dome of the cathedral. It was absolutely the most breathtaking view of anything I have experienced. It was a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains, and one could see centuries of history in a single glance.

Just some guys being dudes in Florence

The top of the duomo

Later, we had a group dinner, where my table nearly set our table on fire (oops). It was a lovely dinner, though, in a wonderfully lovely city.

The next day, we did more touring, visiting more sites in the morning (including the gallery where David is held!) and then the Uffizi Gallery later in the afternoon.

David!

I learned at one point that the Obamas were in the next building at the same time we were at the Uffizi, so that’s pretty neat. In the Uffizi we got to see a variety of incredible art, including works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, and Botticelli. After the Uffizi, I attempted to go to the Galileo museum, but it was closed on Tuesday. What a bummer. I kept walking for a while, though, and found my way into an anthropology museum! It was incredible–there were works by multiple famous ethnographers and artifacts from civilizations I had only read about in books. I explored town a little more before meeting back up with a group at the leather market, where I bought some souvenirs for my family. We ate another fancy dinner, and then worked on our papers for class before calling it a night.

Wednesday morning, we departed for Siena. We arrived shortly at the small medieval town, checked into the hotel, and left to tour. We toured the Siena government building, which had incredible works of art everywhere from the floors to the ceilings. We got a bit of free time to roam around, before we had a tour of the cathedral. The Siena cathedral was, dare I say, the most impressively unique of all of the churches I visited. The floors were marble, covered in Latin engravings, while the supporting columns were made of striped granite.

Facade of the cathedral in Siena

After this, a group of us got dinner and headed back to work on our papers before going out for the night.

View of Siena from hotel balcony

The next morning, we had a brief stay in Siena before departing for Rome. In the morning, we had a tour of a church that housed both the thumb and the head of St. Catherine of Siena, which was an interesting and humbling experience. After the tour, we were free for the afternoon. I walked around with Michael and some of the guys for a while, visiting a soccer stadium and some shops in the town. I had lunch with a big group at a restaurant that was recommended by the locals, and it may have been the best gnocchi I had on the trip. Later that afternoon, we left for Rome! We checked into our final hotel of the trip and had dinner (a four course meal!), before exploring the city at night and taking pictures at the famous Trevi fountain. What a good life it is.

The Trevi Fountain!

Friday morning, we were up early for another tour. This time, however, it wasn’t in a museum. We got to tour a neighborhood called Quadraro, which has become famous for the way it is utilizing street art to make the area more beautiful. It was a nice change of pace. After Quadraro, we walked toward the center of town and had a mini-tour before splitting off for lunch. We ate lunch at a rooftop McDonalds, which was super legit. We met at the Campo del Fiori in the mid-afternoon and finally made our way to the Roman Forum. As we ascended the Capitoline Hill, I was in awe of the amount of history that had occurred beneath my feet. I thought of the people that had walked there–Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and some of the other most famous (or infamous) orators and governors of all time. We walked on a sidewalk alongside the Forum ruins and I got my first glimpse of the Colosseum. With the Forum on my right, and the Colosseum directly ahead of me, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I started crying–for real, I could not stop crying. My friends looked at me funny and smiled, amused at the girl who loved a place so much she cried. We finally got to tour the Forum, and I listened with rapt attention as Dr. Watson described the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Saturn, and other going-ons of the Forum.

The Arch of Titus, which commends the siege of Jerusalem

After the Forum, we headed toward the Colosseum. We were informed that we would get to go onto the floor of the Colosseum. The floor, as in where gladiators fought and died and some of the most important and real stories in the history of Rome occurred. We entered onto the floor through an arched tunnel, and I couldn’t help but imagine the way it must have felt for someone to have come through that same entrance, unsure about whether they would walk back out. I imagined the thousands of screaming fans, the emperor’s box, and the ceremonies taking place. Nothing was better than that experience for me, I think.

The Colosseum!!

Anyway, after the Colosseum, we had another family dinner, where I performed a rap I had written about Julius Caesar in 8th grade for Dr. Watson. It was singlehandedly one of the best days of my life.

The next morning, we toured a monastery that was still in service and got to go into the catacombs underneath the building. We learned about the history behind the bones; the entire experience was extremely humbling. We walked through Rome, stopping by the Trevi fountain once again, before heading to tour the Pantheon. The Pantheon was absolutely beautiful; sculpted in the classical style during Agrippa’s reign, it looked as if it had not aged a day.

Me inside the Pantheon

After visiting the Pantheon, we took the long hike (about 40 minutes) to the Vatican. We first visited the Vatican museums, which contained some of the most beautiful artwork I had seen. We made our way through to the famous Sistine Chapel, which was, as everything else was, quite unreal. I stared up at the ceiling that was painted by Michelangelo and smiled at the fact that I was really, truly there.

Cathedral at the Vatican

After this, we visited the main cathedral, which was beautiful, and walked around outside for a while before catching a taxi back to the hotel. We ate dinner on our own and then explored the city a little more before heading in for the night.

Our last day in Rome, we got to visit more catacombs and another archaeological site. In the morning, we visited the catacombs, which were extremely impressive (even though they had to move the bones to the lower levels because people kept taking them). We walked around the park area, and then to the archaeological site. We saw a centuries old church and a castle, among other historical buildings. The most fascinating part, however, was the circus ruins. Circuses were where Romans hosted horse races, and there were still ruins from one of the largest circuses in Rome. We also got to walk on a cobblestone path that was one of the most important roads in ancient Rome! This was a major difference between Italy and the U.S.–everywhere I looked there was history underfoot. We had our last dinner in Rome (our last everything, really), and then had to pack up to leave on Monday morning.

Onward, to Switzerland!