A train ride through beautiful European countryside is the perfect prelude to arriving at a romantic destination. I fell in love with the foggy green hills of the Tuscan countryside from behind a smudgy train window. That's all it took for me.
This all led to my second visit the magnificent city of Florence. I went to Florence when I was a junior in high school as a Youth Ambassador with Sister Cities International. As a 17 year old it was a great experience and I loved the tour guide guiding us through the winding streets and explaining all the sites. I've realized, though, that traveling with a guided group is less rewarding than taking the time to understand a map of the city and finding things on my own. Florence is one of the places that I studied intensely in my Italian Civilization class last semester. Seeing everything again on my own time with a historical perspective made me appreciate it so much more.
Florence is to Italy as Paris is to France and by that I mean it is over-the-top with tourist attractions. Around ever corner is one historic building after another and a crowd of tourists to fight through. We saw the touristy things but also looked around every corner to be sure not to miss the real Firenze and its culture. That included sneaking into an art school and tiptoeing through a sculpture courtyard while class was in session (whoops)! We snuck pictures with a huge replica of David's head before running out so we wouldn't get caught.
Later, we embarked on the 500-step climb to the top of the Duomo. I was out of breath and speechless when I reached the top. Florence is such a condensed big city, that from the top of the Dome, I could see all of Florence plus the surrounding hills leading to the countryside. If you can make the climb, I recommend this as a must-do when in Florence.
My time in Florence was very short before I headed back to Lyon on the night train. It was sad saying goodbye to Jon at the train station. This trip concluded our time together in Europe because his internship was over in Brussels and he was heading back to the States. Traveling together in Europe has inspired us to return to Europe someday (sooner than later) to discover some places we still want to visit. Now that my study abroad experience is over, it's encouraging to have potential trips to look forward to in the future.