We did it again.

We made a big decision after finishing a bottle of wine.

Here we are all caught up in the commotion of our hostel: Canadians were singing, Americans were dancing, someone was pounding out Elton John on the piano… and we were trying to book our next location. For the next day. Nothing like last minute, right?

We gave ourselves a cushion day between Switzerland and Italy. Originally we assumed we’d want the extra day in Switzerland. But the rain was sweeping us out of the country. And we had no where to go but Italy. Everything was booked in Cinque Terre and we decided against Venice last minute, per other travelers’ suggestions.

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So we hit the “confirm booking” button and shut down all communication to the outside world. We didn’t write down an address. No phone number. Not even a name of where we were staying. Until we showed up at the Florence train station. (Were we even suppose to be here?)

We knew we were staying somewhere close to Florence. Or Tuscany. Or Venice. It was all a blur.

Standing at the platform, not having a clue where our hostel was, we picked up our bags and headed for the outdoors. And you wouldn’t believe it, but the sun was shining like we just posted up on a beach in Hawaii. It bathed our faces and gave us a radiating smile. With old churches, bells and art surrounding us, we soaked in the moment, trying to ignore that fact that we weren’t sure if we were even supposed to be here or not.

With no information about our next place but maybe a botched Italian name, we headed for the information stand.

After piecing together our tipsy puzzle from last night, we knew our lodging had the name “camping” in it. We also knew it was in Tuscany, not far from Florence. It also began with a “P”. And the word “Chianti” had something to do with it.

Great.

So we hopped on a bus that had Chianti in the name. We found ourselves winding through the hills and vineyards of Italy. With Florence behind us and the homes and people becoming more scarce, we only hoped that we’d find a stop that sounded familiar.

We don’t need to tell you this, but the Italian country side is gorgeous. It’s exactly as you’d picture it. Old women hanging clothes outside their window to air dry, men sitting at street corners smoking a pipe and children playing soccer in the field. Orange roofs sat juxtaposed next to a blue lake and green mountains. Boats rocked back and forth in their docks.

There was even a really ancient guy on our bus getting off at a stop, tiny roadside flowers in hand. His wife sat waiting for him at the stop, helped him off the bus and walked him home. The entire time she was probably worried about her husband going into the big city. It was the perfect little Italian love life.

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So our bus bounced on and we became a little more worried the further we got from Florence. Looking behind us, the red-tiled buildings of Florence resting in the crooks of the Italians hills looked like the sun scorched the earth and left a few domes rising here and there.

The road became dustier, the hills more grand. The streets were so tight, our bus and other cars had to give a little beep when rounding a corner to let other oncoming traffic know.

A German couple muttering something behind us that sounded remotely close to where we thought we were supposed to be headed.

“Il Pogetto!” screamed Jordan. “That’s it!” We turned a corner and there it was, a giant sign welcoming us home. Kinda.

Weary from a day of travel (but seriously, sitting on a train is more exhausting than you think) and spending a majority of the day lost in Florence, we threw our bags on our beds Not wanting to waste a minute of sunshine, we took off for the hills and vineyards of Chianti, Italy.

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The views were more than breathtaking. Behind every hill was another, larger hill, dotted with little houses and castles. Going from the rugged mountains of Switzerland to the soft, rolling hills of Italy was somewhat calming. Actually, it may have been the sun, tricking our minds into a lull of laziness we had yet to see for two weeks.

We walked through a vineyard, another vineyard, more vineyards and a farm with goats and horses. We walked a mile uphill and then back down hill, not knowing where the road was taking us…eventually leading to a high point with sprawling red rooftops and vineyards below. And the sun was shining brilliantly…it was beautiful.

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We ate dinner at our campsite. Conveniently, there is an award-winning pizzeria on-site. We indulged in a giant pizza and another bottle of local Chianti wine (as if we needed it) and watched the sun set on our tiny little village (it was called Cellai). The stars began to settle above us; the first time we have seen stars our entire trip.

When we returned back to our room, our roommates (two German girls who were also traveling in Italy) were home. After exchanging our travel-war stories, we fell asleep, planning for another day of hiking in Chianti for the next day.

But, wait! We woke up and it was raining. Our only option was to go into Florence for the day and pop in and out of a few museums and marvel at the art.

Since we are so far out in Chianti, buses are few and far between. We were waiting at our bus stop for nearly an hour in the pouring rain. We got so bored, Cori began to pick branches off the cherry tree in the house behind us and we snacked on those for awhile.

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We were soaked to the bone. Our shoes were drenched, our pants were sopping wet and our hair was matted down on our heads. Even with an umbrella and rain jacket.

When we arrived in Florence shivering uncontrollably we sprinted through the rain down a back alley to anything that looked warm.

Up ahead, as if the crowd parted for us, was a brick oven blazing. Mesmerized by any source of heat, we sat down and ate another pizza. I think our pizza count is up to 6 or 7 right now.

We tried to wait out the rain, but without luck we ran outside again.

At this point, the rain broke our spirits. Every puddle we stepped in felt like we were drowning in our own misery and tears. We were both ready to wager our first born son for more than 3 hours of sunlight.

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Seeking warmth again, we ducked into the nearest museum and wandered around there for an hour, basically paying six euros to be dry, if only for an hour.

When we walked back outside, the rain had stopped. There was no sun, but we took our chances, let down our umbrellas and our guard. And smiled. Despite the gloom in the sky and the chilly air sweeping through our jackets, we were happy to not have rain dripping off of our eyelashes.

The German roommates had told us of a gelato festival. So with high hopes, we set off for ice cream, and my Lord, did our eyes light up when we found tent after tent after tent lined with different flavors of gelato.

For the past four years, Florence has played host to the Gelato Festival. Gelato-makers from around the world gather with their most unique gelato flavors for eager folks like us. Flavors ranged from pistachio, to sheep cheese with honey and pears, to dark chocolate ganache to coffee. We indulged for an hour, trying each other’s gelato, ignoring the belly aches. We are becoming addicted to the sweet taste and smell of gelato.

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Then, wouldn’t you guess it, a thunderous storm rolled in and washed us back to the bus stop and back to Chianti.

We went to the campsite bar (I know, shocker, but really there is nothing else to do there given the rain was stopping us from any more hikes) and settled in to watch the Champion League soccer game. Thinking everyone else would be in a cheery, European soccer mood, we ordered two liters. Right when the word “liter” rolled off our tongue, the entire bar turned to stare at us, as if we had just cursed out the Holy Spirit itself. A closer look around, we found our bar-mates to be older couples, mostly drinking wine. Even the waitress was surprised, saying “LITRE?!” After the day we had, we needed it. So lo and behold, two Hofbrauhaus-worthy liters of beer made their way to our table.

But whatever, when in Italy, order a liter and cheer on a German soccer team.

In the morning, we set off for an early morning hike, wanting to soak in every last piece of Chianti possible. The hike took us down a back dirt road. After climbing a ridiculously steep hill, we began to hear beautiful singing and music floating out of a church below us in the valley. It was picturesque and neither of us wanted it to end.

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However, Rome was beckoning. With a grudge and one last glance of the Tuscan hillside, we hopped another train and set off for southern Italy. We arrived in Rome ravished. Seriously, besides gorging ourselves on pizza and gelato, all we’ve had to eat was bread. We might regret saying this, but gnawing on bread for so long tires one’s jaw.

Having food on our mind, but needing a bed pronto, we set off for our final AirBNB stay. Conveniently, every water fountain in Rome is safe to drink. No kidding, fill up at Trevi Fountain if you want. It was cool to walk down the street and easily fill our water bottles (probably to the horror of our mothers). After mastering yet another country’s public transportation (seriously…can we put this on our resume somehow?). We arrived, threw our luggage in our room and set out for food. Pizza, actually.

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In Rome, we shared lodging with two guys from Michigan who were traveling Europe and playing ultimate frisbee for two months. Rough life.

In the morning, with nothing really planned, we roamed around the city of Rome. Get it?

Getting there was a bit of a hassle. We’d call ourselves experts at public transportation. Hopping on a tram here, getting off a bus there. So when Cori dashed onto a tram and the doors closed behind her with Jordan standing, waving at the platform, panic settled in our hearts and brains.

What the heck happens when you lose each other? Jordan had everything. Our credit cards, our IDs and our keys. Cori was on the train. Standing there, anonymous. Jordan laughing, waving goodbye.

But, we planned for this! We told each other that if we ever get separated via public transportation to just get off at the next train stop.

So Cori hopped off and waited at the next stop, only to find Jordan, still waving and laughing, as if she had never stopped, getting off the tram. We found each other.

Originally, we wanted to go see the Vatican. When we got off at the train station, we were greeted by a horde of hagglers of every shape and size: A child trying to help us buy a train ticket, a man trying to sell us a glass box, a woman trying to sell us tickets or a guy trying to sell us a pin of Pope Francis’ face. It was ridiculous and extremely overwhelming.

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But seriously, the amount of sweaty, smelly people in Rome is no joke. And being hassled every 2 minutes gets really old.

When we looked up, the line to get into the Vatican Museum snaked around its outside wall, pretty much deterring us from any holy exploring. Plus, at this point, holding on to greasy poles and riding the slimy tram was enough germ-swapping for one day. Hand sanitizer was not spared.

So we took the train deeper into Rome and found ourselves at the Colosseum, the Old Forum, Trevvi Fountain and the Spanish Stairs. We spent most of the day just walking around, enjoying the sun and the “Eternal City.”

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The next day we went to the Vatican—finally. Miraculously, its like everyone disappeared. There was no line and very few hagglers. So we headed for the Vatican Museum, which is a lot more confusing than you’d think.

Inside, we had only one priority—Sistine Chapel. It was beautiful. The colors Michelangelo used were so rich and saturated. From floor to ceiling were these amazing scenes out of the Bible. We marveled at the surrounding works of art, thinking of the time and skill it took to create such a magnificent work. Jordan’s jaw dropped in amazement at seeing something she had only learned about in school. The sacred place required proper attire, peace and quiet and absolutely no photos, as was reminded to us by the screaming, not-so-quiet guards everywhere yelling, “SILENCIO!”.

After the Sistine Chapel, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. When we walked in we both started saying “holy sh–“, then remembering where we were, shut our mouths and marveled at the giant church that surrounded us.

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It’s massiveness is hard to describe. Even though there was a pretty big crowd inside, we felt like we were the only ones there.

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After the Basilica, we went to the Cupola, the upper-most part of the Basilica’s dome. We climbed more than 500 stairs, squeezing through passageways and turning sideways to make our way up there.

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Waiting for us at the top was a spectacular view of Rome, or any city, that we’ve ever seen. Red roofs lined the streets, monuments we were familiar with rose up out of the sea of buildings, then nothing but green pastures and hills that met rising mountains way out on the horizon.

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We didn’t want to climb back down. It was our favorite part of Rome. After being swept up and jostled in crowds, standing above all of them was a breath of fresh air. You couldn’t spot any crowds and you could see for miles. I guess climbing 500 steps weeds out a lot of people, it was slim-picking at the top.

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We returned back to the room, put on some different clothes (we’ve really worn our our jeans and shirts) for a change and set up a time to meet up with the Michigan boys (Ben and Ryan) to meet up later. At 10:30 p.m., we’d meet them at Venezia Plaza and head out for what was known as the “party scene” in Rome.

After wolfing down yet another pizza and downing one more beer, we ran to our meeting place, late of course. But they were no where to be found.

So we had the bright idea of parting ways with each other (again!) to find them. Cori waited at the plaza with no credit card, no ID, no key. Anonymous.

Jordan set off for uptown, leaving Cori standing there vacant. In the dark. Alone.

After nearly 20 minutes, and panic setting in again (What if someone took Jordan? What if she’s lost? Is this even the right meeting place? Where are the boys? Should we go get gelato tonight?) Jordan rounded the corner to announce that she found what looked like a “mini-Colosseum” but no boys.

Feeling defeated, we turned to walk off without them. Then, as if out of a movie, Ben and Ryan came sprinting around the corner, “WAIT! We’re here! Don’t leave!!”

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Kind of relieved that we wouldn’t face the Italian night life solo, we trooped off, a group of Americans, into the belly of Rome. Somehow, idiots always find each other, and we ran into another giant group of frat bros from California. We told them we’d wander with them for awhile, but after they led us into a dead-end we ditched them (the four of us) and went out on the town alone.

We tried a few bars, one guy tried to convince Cori that he was a documentary filmmaker, making a movie about Italian voiceovers (steady our beating hearts). The crowds we kept running into weren’t the greatest. But with good company, we made do in the tiny, winding streets of Italy. After a few beers and a fairly good time bouncing from bar to bar with our Michigan friends we dared to try to find home.

We drunkenly only remembered one thing about getting back. The trains don’t run and we could only take a bus. I think it was bus 25.

So an hour later, Jordan and Ben snapped back to reality after we all zoned out on the bus. We somehow returned home, and turned in for the night around 4 a.m.

With a flight to catch just a few hours later…

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Always craving spontaneity (and triple scoops of gelato),
C&J

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