Hello everyone! Happy New Year! I hope that you all enjoyed your time home/away with friends, family, loved ones, expat friends, teammates and dogs (shoutout to Charlie!) A couple weeks ago now ago I was sitting in an apartment in Munich, having just sent Kayla back to the states to watch UConn play in a bowl game and see her fam. Then, I was sitting in an Austrian ski resort, having spent an incredible three days in the alps climbing mountains, curling, and enjoying a real European vacation for the first time. After that I was back in Bolzano, breathing a bit before a final week of travel with a friend from home. Now I’m back in Bolzano attempting to motivate myself to actually do work and get back to “normal.” I’m so sorry, but this might be a long post. A LOT has happened lately (which I seem to constantly say). I also have to mention the fact that the MacDonnell clan was incredibly welcoming in adopting me for the holidays. It’s nice to have friends and families that so encapsulate the Christmas spirit, and I’m so thankful to have had some people to celebrate with 🙂 I received the best stocking ever (with peanut butter!!!) and enough surrogate family love to get me through this holiday away from home. The Macdegrass/Snodonnell Christmas was incredible.
Having said all that, the week before Christmas was probably the best week since I’ve been here in terms of travel and sightseeing. Mac, Kayla and I went on an immersive Italian experience, where we hit Venice, Florence, and Rome in 6 days! My feet were just a little sore, and I regretted my tendency to overpack, but the things we got to see in just 6 days made up for everything. I feel like I’ve finally seen Italy, after living here for close to three months.
On sunday a couple weeks ago, I took a bus to Munich after our game to meet up with Kayla and Mac. I went a little out of my way, as I live closer to Venice, but I wanted to drop some stuff off at their apartment and it’s always nice to travel together! Monday morning, we took a bus to Venice. When we arrived at the bus stop, we could see Venice, but weren’t exactly sure how to get across the water. After asking the bus driver (who didn’t understand English but seemed to gesture to the right, so we went right), a few missed turns, and dealing with the rudest tourist desk lady ever hired, we hopped on a waterbus to San Marco, Venice, where our hotel was. It’s hard to explain how immediately unique Venice was until you hop on a waterbus, passing gondolas parked next to beautiful ornate buildings, and actually see the bridges and canals. You can tell right away that your visions of Venice weren’t far off- it really is the City of Water!
Canals in Venice- parts of the city were dark even during the day
Men stood on the bridges asking if you’d like a gondola ride
After getting to San Marco, we attempted to find our hotel room to drop off our things before wandering around the city. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked through a corn maze, but take that experience, add street signs in Italian, canals and bridges, dark, narrow streets, luggage, and people attempting to get you to eat/buy things, and you’ll have a better understanding of Venetian streets. It was a very touristy city, and most storefronts had masks, Merano blown glass, magnets and keychains for sale. Eventually, we wandered through the city for long enough to find the hotel on a side street we had passed three times already. It was a serious relief to put down my overpacked duffel bag, and we quickly went back out into the city to explore.
I have no idea how they got a tree to San Marco, but it was enormous and beautiful
It gets dark quickly these days- this was probably 7pm, and the sun had set at 4:30ish
Piazza San Marco- the main city center in Venice
Saint Mark’s Basilica- under construction as most buildings seem to be
After wandering for awhile, we stopped at a restaurant that offered a tourist deal of a good meal, dessert, and a free peach bellini as a welcome gift. Most restaurants in the cities we visited had waiters standing outside asking if you’d like to eat, handing you menus, and pressuring you to come inside. It’s definitely different. Venice was gorgeous, and one day was a perfect amount of time to be there. The next day, we woke up to breakfast brought to our room, drank some coffee and ate a quick meal, and hit the road for stop number two- Florence!
Florence was probably the stop I was looking forward to the most. As some of you know, I’m a slight art nerd, and the prospect of seeing Michelangelo’s David in person had me more than a little excited to reach the city. We actually took a train from Venice to Florence, which was the first long-distance journey I’d done via train. The ride went smoothly, and we made it to Florence in the early afternoon. After the trek to the hotel, we got a map of the city from the front desk, asked about the major sightseeing stops and where to find them, and planned our two days. It worked out that we were able to see David the first night, and we left the hotel to venture back into the city. Florence didn’t have the same closed-in atmosphere as Venice, and had wider streets and no canals. The tourist items for sale were also different. While Venice focused on blown glass items and masks, Florence was filled with leather goods for sale. It was interesting to see that even the tourist shops differed in the two cities.
When we reached the museum where David is located, we sort of did a double take. For a building housing one of the most famous statues in the world, the Accademia gallery was far more average looking than we anticipated. We also expected a longer line, but after waiting for about 10 minutes, we were in the building and had purchased tickets. Now, I hope I’m not spoiling anything by writing this, but one of the most incredible things about the David statue is the moment you see it. One second, you’re walking through a room with some paintings on the wall that you don’t recognize (and honestly, aren’t looking at very carefully because DAVID IS HERE SOMEWHERE), and when you turn the corner, you’re met by a long hallway, and through the arch at the end the statue is framed and is just suddenly there. It’s incredible that a marble statue can jump out at you like that. The hall to reach the statue is lined with unfinished works of Michelangelo, and the rough forms of men seem to reach through the marble as if struggling to get out of the stone. Even in their unfinished forms, the humanness of the statues is a little unnerving. You don’t even really see them to begin with, because David just draws you down the hallway. We were lucky to be there during a quieter hour, and there weren’t many people there. A couple of classes of students sat on the floor, being forced to sketch the statue by teachers, and their disinterest was obvious. The statue is on a pedestal, surrounded by a barrier to prevent you from getting too close. There are no benches in front of the statue, probably due to the massive crowds that I’m sure form there during rush hours. The ceiling forms a dome above the statue, and you can completely circle the room to see every angle of the work. I couldn’t believe how large David was. It’s easy to read that the statue is 30 something feet tall, but until you’re standing there attempting to stare without looking too creepy, I don’t think you can fully absorb that fact.
Unfinished Michelangelo Work
Unfinished Michelangelo Work
The Man of the Hour
There’s not much I can say about the statue that hasn’t already been said, and my pictures are far worse than the ones you can find on google images. Needless to say I crossed off a major bucket list item, and seriously recommend seeing David in person someday. You don’t have to be an art nerd to appreciate that room.
After several attempts to drag ourselves away, we left the museum and went into the city to grab something to eat. We went to a couple bars, and stayed out late. We made it back to the hotel and woke up a little bit later than anticipated the next morning. The next day was filled with more art, more wandering, and me attempting to shake a slight hangover (oops). Another art-nerd moment happened when we went to the Uffizi Gallery, and saw Boticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera (Allegory of Spring). These are some of the most famous artworks ever created. The Uffizi gallery also has works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. It’s a beautiful museum, and I seriously recommend you see it at some point.
Our day in Florence ended at one of the highest points in the city. Our hotel concierge recommended a hilltop to watch the sunset. We were joined by many students who had spent a semester abroad in the city, and the as sun went down many champagne bottles popped and students cheered to a great semester. It was a happy coincidence that we were there, but we got to see a wonderful sunset that made the climb up the hill worth it.
On Thursday, we took a bus from Florence to Rome in the late morning. I fell asleep on the bus, and woke up to a concerned Italian man in the seat in front of me offering me his jacket as a pillow… I’m pretty sure my contorted neck and loud snores worried him. We arrived safely in Rome, and checked into our hostel. This time, we shared a room for 6, and attempted to claim bunkbeds close to each other. We asked the concierge for a map and some good sightseeing locations. We quickly figured out the metro, and managed to make our way to the Colosseum before sunset. That was another “woah” moment. Stepping out of a modern metro tunnel and looking up to see the colosseum across the street is a definite experience. The mixture of old and new is disconcerting in Rome, especially when you’ve seen pictures of the historic monuments since you were a kid. You never picture them as existing in a busy city, but they’re not exactly isolated places. Unfortunately, the Colosseum wasn’t open, so we took a lap, and promised to make it back in the morning.
We continued walking as the sun set, and passed a large monument we later found out is called the “Alter of the Fatherland.” It was beautifully lit up at night, and guards stood outside on the steps. It was also massive! It’s much more impressive than many American monuments I’ve seen. Italy knows how to honor the fatherland.
Alter of the Fatherland
After walking around, we made our way to another big stop, the Trevi Fountain. We were extremely lucky with timing on this one, as the fountain just underwent a 2.2 million dollar renovation, including cleaning and new lighting, and reopened in November. After seeing it in person, I can safely say that the fountain looks incredible. We sat by the fountain for a little bit, we each made a couple wishes (making sure to toss the pennies in the right way) and took some pictures, before going to a restaurant nearby for dinner. Once again, dinner didn’t disappoint.
Post dinner, we decided to wander back to the Trevi fountain. We grabbed some gelato and sat to watch the fountain. About ten minutes later, all of the lights shut off, and the crowd started booing. In another one of our weirdly good luck moments, we had actually come back just in time to see a new light installation. The campaign to get the 2020 Olympics in Rome had created a projection display that played on the Trevi Fountain to promote their work. It was really cool to see firsthand, and Rome officially has my vote for the Olympics, if only so I can go back someday.
Lots and LOTS of people
Our final day in Italy was a full one. We started the morning by revisiting the Colosseum. From the outside, it’s very impressive, but it’s the inside where you can see just how large the structure is. It was incredible to walk around and imagine the events that would have been held there. It’s pretty cool that human beings invented and built arenas for sports all the way back to the gladiators! After walking through the Colosseum, we crossed the piazza to walk through the Roman Forum. This is a large area of ruins, and it’s open to the public with a ticket to the Colosseum. We took some pictures from a hill over the forum, but didn’t stay too long. We had a lot to accomplish 🙂
No Russell Crowe to be found, unfortunately
The Roman Forum
The next stop was the Vatican city. If you’re not Catholic, or even particularly religious at all, this place is still a must see simply because so many people in this world ARE. It’s the center of one of the biggest religions in the world, and I would argue it’s worth seeing simply for the history there. Vatican City is actually its own country within Italy, and has strict rules for how to behave and dress. (No problems for us at this time of year, but no inappropriate clothing, shoulders and knees can’t be visible) It’s the smallest recognized independent state in the world. We first visited the Vatican Museum, and then went around the wall to see St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
I was largely unaware that the Vatican has one of the largest, most impressive art collections in the world (which was kind of a “duh” moment for me.. oops). I could have spent hours in the art galleries alone, and seeing the frescos on the walls. The Vatican includes pieces by Salvador Dali, Boticelli, Bernini, Michelangelo, and Raphael in their massive collection, and you could spend days looking at the separate rooms and ceilings alone. We didn’t have that time, so I took in as much as I could while we were there.
Stairs in the museum- look how artsy I am! 😉
Various frescos in the Vatican
The “big two” of the Vatican are St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. We saw the Chapel first. Back in high school, I was required to read a book titled Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. It described the process of creating the chapel, from selecting Michelangelo to descriptions of the artwork itself and what it represented. As a self-proclaimed “art kid” I was fascinated by the methods and work that the Sistine Chapel required- can you imagine painting an entire ceiling laying on your back?! The real thing lived up to and exceeded every expectation I could have had. I have no pictures from this part of the tour, as they were forbidden. I wasn’t disappointed by that rule, however, because any picture I could take on my iPhone would never do that room justice. I spent my time there with a sore neck, trying to take in the magnitude of that ceiling.
After the Sistine Chapel, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. This building was designed in part by Michelangelo, Bernini and Bramante, and is one of the most intricate Renaissance buildings ever built. When we visited, the Holy Door, which is only opened on very special religious occasions such as Jubilee Years, was open. Entering the church through this door has historically represented crossing the threshold into the presence of God, and the forgiveness of the pilgrim’s sins. We entered the Basilica through this door, and were immediately struck by the interior of the church. The ceiling, walls, and floor were decorated with gilded designs, angels, and great statues lined the aisles within the building. The canopy over the alter was designed by Bernini, and is a massive wooden sculpture lying directly beneath a dome lit by windows. To give you a sense of the scale, the letters around the top of the walls are 2 meters high- 6.6 feet – but they look small in all photos. This is a place where the atmosphere sort of speaks for itself. Although it was full of tourists and people who had traveled great distances to see this holy site, it was nearly silent. There was an area where visitors could pray privately, but the majority of the church was open to pictures and exploration. This is also the site of Michelangelo’s Pieta statue. The statue depicts Jesus lying in Mary’s lap following the crucifixion. It is the only artwork that Michelangelo ever signed. It was an incredibly moving site, and well worth visiting.
A terrible picture of the Pieta
Those letters up top are 6 feet tall… this place is enormousTrying to get the full size of St. Peters- vertical panorama doesn’t do it justice
When we left St. Peter’s, the sun was setting. We decided to go to one more historical site, and walked across Rome to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in ancient rome, and has stayed very well preserved. Today, 2,000 years after it was built, it still has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. While not as extravagant as St. Peter’s, it is an incredible glimpse into history. The Pantheon was thought to be finished in ~126 A.D. Standing in that dome and realizing how much older that it was than my home country was awe inspiring. It would probably be much more impressive in the daylight, when the light streams through the oculus, but it was something that we wanted to see before we left.
After our busy day, we wanted to sit down and eat a nice dinner. We chose a restaurant in the piazza near the Pantheon, and sat outside. (Which was incredible itself- December, and eating outside? Yes, please) As we watched the sun go down and ordered our food, entertainers including guitar players and bands, and even an opera singer, performed in the piazza. It was the perfect end to such an amazing week with my best friends. Our dinner was excellent, the site was beautiful, and as we sat there and talked about our week it hit us just how many incredible things we had seen. It was a little humbling to realize that we had only been in one country for that week, and I still felt as though we hadn’t hit everything. I’ve always had “travel” in broad terms on my bucket list, but being here has made me realize that it’s not enough to just put that off as “someday,” and that it’s more of a priority than I had previously thought. “Someday” is too passive, and if I can spend a whole week going to the “big sites” Italy and still feel rushed, I’m going to be dedicating a lot of time going to the places on my list during my life. It’s also made me excited to see more of the world. The travel bug is real people!
We had a crazy early flight from Rome to Munich in the morning, and left the hostel around 5:30am. The flight went smoothly, and we arrived back to Munich on Saturday morning. We somehow dragged our way from the airport, onto the train, back to the city and to Mac and Kayla’s apartment. I laid on the couch for the rest of the day, and seriously considered icing my feet because they were so sore. Over the next couple days, I did some homework, watched a lot of netflix, and recovered from our in-depth Italy tour.
Mac’s family arrived early in the week, and it was fun to spend time in Munich with them. We toured all of the best spots (Haufbrauhaus for extra large beers 🙂 ) and they were able to take some tours to learn more about the city. On Wednesday that week, Kayla left for Florida to see UConn play in a bowl game (lucky duck, Christmas on the beach) and Mac, her family, and I left for Austria to stay in a ski resort for the holiday. I was very #blessed to be able to spend the holidays with them, and realized it as soon as we took the train into Seefeld. What an amazing town! Surrounded by mountains, it was the sight of some events in the 1964 and 1976 Olympics, and has a great ski culture…. when there’s snow. The owner of the hotel we stayed in expressed his regrets that there was no snow, but we told him we didn’t ski and didn’t mind so much. Each night the hotel served a different 4-5 course meal, and breakfast was available with eggs cooked just how you liked. Needless to say, we were very happy with the food. We stopped the first day to grab a bottle of wine and spent the afternoon on the back balcony of our room, looking out at the mountains near the town. It was a great start to the first few real relaxing vacation days I’ve had since I’ve been in Europe.
We spent the next few days exploring. One day, we spent the afternoon hiking around the hills and lakes. Another was spent at the Christmas market in town. We spent Christmas Eve listening to a church service in German, and walked out of the church to music in the piazza and the champagne we had bought earlier in the town. Christmas morning, we took the train back into Innsbruck, and went up the Nordkettenbahn. This combination ski lift/train system takes you to the top of the mountains that surround Innsbruck, Austria. At each stage of the trek up, we were amazed at how high up we were. The next step would be even more impressive, until finally we climbed to the very peak of the mountain. At the top there was a large wooden cross, and a site that looked over the valley on one side, and the alps extending to the horizon on the other. It was the perfect way to remind yourself just how beautiful it is out here, how lucky we are to be here, and was the perfect start to Christmas. Christmas dinner was incredible. A full 8 courses full of beautiful dishes that I would never be able to make myself. One course actually included pigeon! I’m not sure it’s something I’ll be requesting again any time soon, but it was very cool to try new things.
The alps went on forever
The other side of the mountain- that’s Innsbruck belowWhere I was at the moment
After the holidays, and spending several days in the Austrian Alps, it was time for the vacation to end, and we packed up and returned to Munich. I spent a couple more days with Mac and her family, and returned to Bolzano for a week. I did a lot of homework, a lot of laying in bed resting my still-sore feet, and a lot of laundry after two weeks away from home. It was an incredible way to end 2015, and I can’t complain about a single part! I’ll end this post on New Years, which I spent with teammates. We had a group of girls over to our apartment for the night, and we made a big dinner of zucchini soup, veggies, and beef. We popped several champagne bottles, and cabbed into the city to celebrate the end of the year. The piazza near Temple Bar (my true home in Bolzano) held a big party with live music. We had a blast listening to the music, dancing, and counting down to 2016. I wouldn’t have spent it anywhere else!
I know I’m very, very behind on all of this. I’m sorry for the long post! I have some more fun stories to tell about the start of 2016, including a visit from my friend Courtney from home, but I don’t think I can type anymore and I’m sure you don’t want to read anymore. The semi-scary thing is that I feel like I’m brushing over details here. It’s hard to put into words some of the things I’ve seen and done in the last month. I hope you can forgive my poor descriptions of some pretty life changing moments. My best solution- come see them for yourselves! I swear you won’t regret it (or if you do, by that time I’ll probably be across the ocean where you can’t get me).
I’m excited to get back to “normal” here for a bit. Hockey starts up again this week, as does homework and school. I can’t wait to get back on the ice with the Eagles. The other American, Chelsea, finally arrived and I can’t wait to meet in person! She helped me a lot when preparing for Italy.
Back on the ice this week for the second half of the season!
Here’s where I log off, and go to watch my little sister and the U18 women’s national team beat up on Canada. It’s 1:30 am here, so I’m claiming the title of best fan/most supportive big sister ever. Sending all my love, and my hopes for a great 2016 across the ocean. I miss you all, and can’t wait to see you. Ciao everyone!
The Christmas I missed- Love from (and for) the Snodgrass Family