Speed train ticket from Rome to Florence: €36. Entry ticket to Academia di Belle Arte di Firenze: €14. Horseback riding session in the hills of Lucca: €25. Gelato €2.50. Taking the best Leaning Tower of Pisa photo: priceless.
I am so lucky and privileged to be studying in Rome for four months. However there are so many beautiful and historic places to see in Italy other than Rome, so bright and early Friday morning, two friends and I decided to explore the region of Tuscany, located a few hours north of Rome. Our weekend journey brought us to the beautiful city of Florence, the rolling hills of Lucca, and the quaint but popular city of Pisa.
Upon arrival in Florence, we were quickly met with light showers – something unexpected after 10 days of blistering heat in Rome. Once we found our hostel, changed out of our wet clothes, and confirmed it had stopped raining, we decided to go exploring. In order to get into the city center from our hostel, we had to cross a bridge. This bridge gave us the most beautiful view of the most famous bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge,” which is now a busy walkway filled with illustrious jewelry shops and apartments looking over it. The streets and stone walls were still wet from the rain earlier in the morning, the clouds were slowly moving out of the way, and the sun was peaking through. It was a magical moment.
The rest of the day in Florence was filled with tourist activities like visiting the Duomo, the Cathedral in Florence, and seeing Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Florence is a tremendously beautiful city and very clean compared to Rome. It has a few more modern touches and more American influence is seen in the newer restaurants and coffee shops. After a day of walking we were exhausted and got some rest in our hostel, where we met a ton of other college-aged students traveling through Europe. It was an exciting experience to listen to everyone’s stories about where they come from and what brought them to Florence for the weekend.
The next morning we hopped on a train to Lucca where we were greeted by a lovely man who had arranged an amazing horseback riding session for us through the hills of Tuscany. The view at the top of the hill we ventured to felt like I was living in a painting. The golden hills and vineyards in the distance were mesmerizing. Once we got into the city center, we walked around to all the major Piazzas and grabbed a local specialty: cecina, which is a chickpea flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven like a pizza. Lucca is the only major city in Italy that is still surrounded by its original city walls and within the walls there are 100 beautifully unique churches. There was a lot to explore all day, and once again we were exhausted by the time we got back to our accommodations.
On Sunday morning, we took yet another train to Pisa. Pisa is known for its Leaning Tower where tourists gather to snap the perfect photo leaning against it from afar. Usually you’re looked down on for being too much of a tourist, but in Pisa it’s all fair game. Thousands of people were competing for who could get the most original shot. Pisa is a wonderfully quaint and quiet town, and after snapping some pictures, shopping, and relaxing for dinner, we headed back to the train station for our four-hour train ride back to Rome where we caught up on all our assignments due for the upcoming week (yes, there actually is schoolwork when you study abroad).
My first weekend adventure outside of Rome was definitely a success, and I had a blast exploring Tuscany. I learned some useful traveling tips for getting around Italy, like buying your train tickets ahead of time to avoid confusion at the stations, and doing research about the best places to eat to avoid tourist traps.
I can’t wait to do some more traveling, but for now it’s back to reality and school in Rome! Life isn’t so bad under the Tuscan (and Roman!) sun.
Kassandra Ferrante is earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Rome, Italy this fall.