European Travel with Mount Marty College
Annamaria’s grin lit up her face as she led the group, blinking and slightly dazed from the 36 hours of airports and airplanes, into the Mediterranean sunshine. Her excited, chattering voice reaches us, accent and all: “Welcome to Italia!”
Annamaria was our official tour guide for the entirety of the trip, ensuring that no one was lost and puting up with all the ignorant questions we asked. The group from Mount Marty consisted of 29 students, professors, and associates all eager to begin the adventure we had been preparing for since the previous year. Stepping out into the open air, we were greeted with spring warmth that did not yet exist in South Dakota—and a mouthful of secondhand cigarette smoke. Europeans are very big into smoking; I realized that quickly.
Thus began our whirlwind trip across Italy. In a span of nine days, we saw the sights in Rome, Assisi, Florence, Lucca, and Pisa. From there, it was a ferry ride across the Mediterranean Sea to Barcelona before saying farewell to Europe and returning home.
Rome offered a look into the great past of the Roman Empire that sat right next to the modern center of the city. There, we saw the Vatican, as well as the Coliseum, the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, and many beautiful piazzas containing historical monuments and buildings.
Vatican city could practically move you to tears with its beautiful art and religious feelings overall. We viewed the various artifacts in the Vatican museum, spied the previous pope’s residence, gapped in awe at St. Peter’s Basilica, and mingled with the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, hoping for a glimpse of Pope Francis. We received a very humorous tour of these places from an Italian guide who would not put up with Japanese tourists blocking our view.
After two days in Rome, we hopped onto the bus (with our beloved bus driver, Antonio) and drove to a town called Assisi. Home to St. Francis and St. Clare, it yielded arguably the most spectacular view of the Tuscany countryside that would ever take away your breath. It was my favorite stop in our travels.
Florence was absolutely rich with history. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, all of the museums were closed on the day we visited. However, because the museums were closed, we received something we all desperately needed: a free day. Free to explore the city, we climbed the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore and took in the fantastic view of the city (surprisingly, going down was scarier than going up).
After Florence was a day of driving to Lucca, a town with 99 churches, and Pisa, as in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were challenged to a contest for the best photo with the tower, then headed to the Port of Rome. From there, we boarded a ferry for the 20-hour ride to Spain.
Barcelona, Spain proved to be different from Italy, but not in a bad way of course. We saw the great works of Antoni Gaudi in his Park Guell and his unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia, as well as many of his other works.
Overall, the trip was an amazing experience. We ate delicious food, walked (and walked and walked and walked!), enjoyed some gelato (which was amazing), went shopping, made friends, went to museums and gift shops, ate gelato (did I mention how great the gelato was?), and many other things. We managed to avoid any pickpockets, but street venders were another story (“For you, discount!” “Hey, Lady Gaga! Boom-shaka-lacka!”). The wares were good, but it was often hard to shake them off. We visited some of the most beautiful churches in the world, which we will not forget anytime soon.
Of course, most importantly, the Mount Marty explorers bonded with one another through the great, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trip not only made Spring Break memorable, it also became a great part of the Mount Marty experience.