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Can't Get Away from a Good Time. A Story of Spring Break.

Where my last blog ended is right where this one picks up.  After saying goodbye to our classmates, Jenny and I took six stops on a water taxi back to the main train station early the next morning.  We were taking in our last minute views of Venice. 

Train stations have become home to many of us on this trip, but this one seemed a little different.  Our tickets were through the company Italo and we found a representative to help us out.  We saw that our ticket to Rome started at a different station.  The representative said it was no problem and told us that our train actually started at this station and said it wasn't necessary to go to the other one just to get on the same train.  Our spring break on our own was already off to a great start.  We were still about twenty minutes early for our train so Jenny and I set up camp in the Italo lounge area.  We were just taking it easy when I saw a guy walk in with a Creighton Blue Jays jacket and hat.  I thought it can't be. It has to be a different school logo.  My curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask "Hey, are you from Nebraska?" Stunned that I not only talked to him, but that I asked where he was from, he said yes! I told him we were from UNK and he had the same look of disbelief. Thomas introduced himself and he was also on our train to Rome.  I must have started name-dropping Nebraska towns because he looked confused and asked what UNK stood for.  He thought it was University of Northern Kansas (that hurt). In his defense, he is originally from Minnesota.  We found out that he was also a study abroad student and he has been studying in Rome since January.  He, like many others, was interested in why we chose the Czech Republic. We continued chatting until it was time to board.  He asked if we had plans for dinner and said he would be happy to show us around where he goes to class.  (Yes, mom. I was suspicious. However, the pep band hat and jacket made it hard to picture him as a crazy train station killer.)  

The train ride was fast.  No, really, the train was booking through the country side.  I only had time to write a few postcards and a day in my journal. Next thing we knew it was our stop and Jenny and I said goodbye to Thomas, but agreed to meet him somewhere for dinner. 

Our next step was to find our hostel.  I am convinced that Google maps is the best invention ever. However, I thought mine had let me down when the blue line ended and a hostel was nowhere to be seen.  On the block we saw a few restaurants, a café or two, and a laundry mat. How could our navigation be this wrong?  And that is when I saw it.  A tiny 5 x 7 laminated sign that said “Happy Hostel” taped to the laundry mat window. I peeked inside the door and the man said “checking in?” Oh no. This was really happening. We are going to have to sleep on dryers was my initial thought. We filled out the usual paperwork (on a washer) and he helped us find our room.  We had to go outside, unlock a door next to the laundry mat building, take a small elevator (that couldn’t handle all three of us) up to the fourth floor, unlock another door, walk to the end of a hallway, unlock ANOTHER door, (why are there so many locks? Should I be concerned?) and finally step into our room.  Our friends Paige and Nick were going to meet us at this hostel so there were four single beds arranged in the room where the comforters were the same material as the curtains.  It wasn’t a pillow on top of a dryer, so I was game.  Once we were settled, we set out.  Rome was out there and we couldn’t wait to see what it had in store.  

Trevi Fountain 
For the record, a day and a half in Rome is nowhere near how much time you need to do it justice.  However, we were on a ten-day timeline and we had more of the world to discover in that time.  Knowing this, we made a quick list of priorities. Priority one: The Vatican. Priority two: The Coliseum. Priority three: Trevi Fountain.  I thought that was a pretty good line-up!  Of course, we saw more unexpected treasures along the way too. We tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain on the way to meet Thomas.  We read that 3,000 Euros are tossed into the fountain every day! Hopefully our coins would bring us good luck for the rest of our trip (Jenny and I were kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everything had worked out too well so far!)

Thomas had us meet him in his district and he took us to one of his favorite spots near his school.  It was fun to go to a neighborhood we probably never would have ended up in! After dinner and some gelato, we strolled down a main street and we ended up seeing the coliseum lit up at night.  It was gorgeous! I have learned on this trip that I almost prefer all of the buildings at night more than during the day because of their glow. Not to mention that the crowds are not nearly as bad.  He walked us to our metro station and gave us instructions on how to get to the Vatican in the morning.  Thomas was a great dose of Nebraska nice that we have been missing! 

**SPOILER ALERT** If you have read the article that has been printed in the Minden, Kearney, Grand Island, McCook, and Creighton paper, or the online edition that UNK published, this next part is going to be a little familiar, but hey, it is my story to tell to begin with.  

Jenny and I wanted to get an early start to our day because we had heard that Saint Peter’s square gets crowded.  We followed Thomas’ instructions and we arrived around 9:45. We went through security and entered the square. Jenny and I are pretty laid back people so we were casually just taking a few pictures and taking our time making our way to Saint Peter's Basilica.
St Peter's Square 
It was Sunday, so the museums were closed.  I was sad that the Sistine Chapel was closed, but we still wanted to see the Basilica.  Jenny had mentioned the night before that there was mass at 10:30, but I was convinced we needed to get tickets beforehand.  It was Sunday mass at the Vatican, I was sure we couldn’t just waltz in.  We were taking it all in when we saw a small crowd gathering at a narrow entrance farther into the Basilica.  A man in a blue suit was holding up his hand and people on our side of the gate were holding up different numbers of fingers. Jenny said this is it! He is asking how many people we have! Again, I am still set that we need to stand in a different line to get tickets for the service.  Jenny held my arm back and insisted we stay where we were. Not two minutes later another blue suit came and opened up the narrow entrance.  Once people got through they hurried toward the seats in front of the alter.  Jenny got her “I told you so” moment.  However, I was still not convinced we should have been there.  We grabbed amazing seats.  They were in the middle section, about ten rows back.  I couldn’t believe it!  I thought this was incredibly too easy.  We could not wipe the smiles off of our faces.  A snapchat of this moment was in order.  We were experiencing something amazing and we wanted to share it, of course. The caption on the selfie was “Guess where we are? Casually strolled into mass at the Vatican.”
Right after we took the photo, yet another blue suit approached us and said “You speak English, yes?” Okay.  What is it? Is my flashing “American” sign above my head flashing again? Stunned, I confirmed that we did. Mr. Blue Suit calmly said “Stand up, and follow me, please.” WHAT. Here was my “I told you so” moment. I knew we needed a ticket to be here! I stood up immediately and was ready to follow. Jenny was a lot more brave than I was and she stood her ground.  Mr. Blue Suit turned and asked “Do you want to read the Second Reading?” I didn’t comprehend what was happening in the slightest.  I think I said “What?” at least three times.  Then, because I was thinking so clearly, I asked “In English?” to which he responded “Well, yes. Of course.” I turned to Jenny for some reassurance I was understanding what he was offering.  She nodded and urged me to go.  I followed Mr. Blue Suit to the front row where he handed me a red leather-bound book opened to the second reading.  The font was big so the page was full of words.  Overwhelmed by the moment, I forgot how to read.  I asked him how to pronounce “expiation” in a panic.  He must have been thinking “Great. I picked one that can’t talk!” After he said it for me, I thought to myself “You know that word. Paige, you know bigger words! You are fine!” Mr. Blue Suit instructed me to read the passage out loud so it would be in my head.  I started reading it to him and he interrupted with “slowly!” (My four years of high school speech had thankfully desensitized that criticism for me so I took it relatively well considering).  Once I passed his standards he walked me through what exactly would happen during the service.  I got to practice walking up to the alter and everything.  “People usually get emotional up there.  Just remember, loudly, and slowly” was his advice to me.  Jenny got to sit in the front row with me and he told her that she could discreetly video me.  I was close to shaking.  I was a little nervous, but I thought of how cool this experience was and I didn’t want being nervous to ruin it! (I was more nervous to deliver the senior address at graduation with my best friend right beside me than I was to read at the Vatican.  I’d say I have made gains in my public speaking abilities.)  Mass started and I couldn’t wait to get up there. I saw my cue and stood in my rehearsed positions.  Mr. Blue Suit ushered me up the stairs and mouthed “loudly and slowly” to me. I gave him a small thumbs up and made my way up the three short steps.  When I stood at the podium, an alter boy adjusted the microphone for my height and I took a deep breath. I was the first English speaking part so far and when my voice came on I saw a few heads look up quickly in recognition. That was comforting. While I was reading, I looked up and realized that very few people get to see this view.  I tried to take pictures in my head to have in my memory. I tried to read as slowly and loudly as I could. Once I was done, I stepped down from the podium and Mr. Blue Suit ushered me back to my seat and shook my hand.  He thanked me and said “I hope this day is a special memory for you” and he said I could keep my handout book as a memory of the morning.  Mass ended, and as we were leaving a man came up to me and said “Perfecto, perfecto!” I was smiling as big as I could.

I was sad my parents weren’t there for it, they are both great public speakers and I hoped I would have made them proud.  However, the first person I thought of who would have loved to have heard about this was my dad’s mother who had just passed away this summer.  Grandma Lou would have thought it was the coolest thing ever. After reflecting on it, I know it was her guiding Mr. Blue Suit to choose me at random in the big crowd. She was listening the whole time. 

When we stepped out the door, we saw the huge crowd that had formed in Saint Peter's Square.  They were waiting to see Pope Francis and hear him speak.  Jenny and I made our way through the crowds to get a peek at his window.  He spoke for about seven minutes and then it started to rain.  We already had a big morning, but we still had more to do today! We grabbed lunch quick and then set out for the  Coliseum.

  The Coliseum was amazing. I had been there once before, but I managed to learn more on this trip. The architecture and design of the building still blows my mind that they knew how to accommodate for the many people and that the basic idea is still used today.  The layers of seating reminded me of modern major arenas.  We explored the numerous levels and got to see the ruins underneath the "stage" area.  On the outside ring, there were great views of other structures around the Coliseum as well. Our three priorities had been fulfilled! We were ready to move locations.

Spring break on the whole was a bit of a logistical mess.  We had to train to Salerno, to take a ferry to Positano, to take a ferry back to Salerno, to take a train back to Rome, to get on a bus to get to the airport, to take a flight to Athens, to take a bus to a stop, to take a taxi the rest of the way to the hostel.  I have a lot of bad travel karma built up because all of that went flawlessly.  

Positano was a great, quiet location after the craziness of Rome.  We took a ferry from Salerno and we passed other small town on the way including Maiori, Minori, Atrani, Amalfi, and then finally we docked in Positano. The towns are all built into mountains on the cost. I was afraid they would all come crashing down the mountain. Positano was a small town and the area is known for their lemons.  I am talking lemon soap, lemon candy, lemon candles, limoncello,lemon lotions, lemon chocolate, and so much more.  The food we ate also should earn a spot on the highlight reel. We shopped at the coastal themed clothing stores and couldn't resist ordering lemon sorbet served in a hallowed out frozen lemon.

Dinner views in Positano 

From Positano, our next destination was Athens. I am a Greek Mythology nerd from way back, so this destination was right up my alley.  I teared up because I loved the Agora and Acropolis so much.  Seeing the ruins of temples to Apollo and Zeus made the books I had read mean so much more.  People actually built these monuments dedicated to the gods.  Hard to wrap your mind around!  It was quite the hike to the Parthenon but there would be no complaining on the day we get to be at the Acropolis.  On the way up we stopped to see Dionysus' Theatre that had been partially restored.

We made it to the top and I was speechless.  The Parthenon was even more amazing in person.  It is thought that the structure is dedicated to the city's patron, Athena. I thought it was funny that there was another smaller temple to the side named "The Old Temple of Athena." I'd say the Parthenon was quite the upgrade. 

I know that the building itself doesn't look all that substantial, but you have to think about how it was built and the engineering it took to think of these concepts. The pillars in the middle are straight while the ones on the corners are slightly curved outward to help support the roof. The Greeks were so ahead of their time! It makes me sick that it was slowly destroyed over the years. The good news as you can see, is there is a preservation project in progress to stop any further destruction. 
I could have easily spent the entire day on the top of that hill, but sadly our time in Athens was up and we were due to fly to Santorini early the next day.

Our flight was at 7:00 am and we knew it took around an hour to even get to the air port.  It was an early morning for sure.  Our taxi ride there was a little scary, but we made with no problem. The flight was only 30 minutes long and before we knew it we were in Santorini.  A driver from our hotel picked us up at the airport and delivered us to Villa Rosa where we met Kiki.  She was by far the most welcoming person we had met on our trip.  She offered us juice because it was so early and even though we declined, she brought us a tray of sweet bread and orange juice anyway. Our room wasn't quite ready yet so Kiki let us keep our bags with her at the desk so we could explore our small district of Fira. The postcards were right, the white buildings built into the cliffs are breathtaking.  Those blue domes aren’t photo-shopped either.  They really do look that perfect.

These people like their cats! 

 Jenny and I stayed in a hotel in Fira, but it was a short bus ride to Oia, which is famous for its sunsets.  We found a restaurant that had a balcony with a perfect view of the horizon.  My mom had to ask if the pictures I sent her were real because they were so perfect.  It was a perfect ending to a perfect Spring Break.

Our flight home left from Athens and connected in Belgrade, Serbia.  We were significantly delayed from Athens, so when we arrived in Belgrade they had to call a van to our gate to take us to our airplane because the main transport had already taken the other passengers.  Silver lining alert: we were in Serbia for 12 minutes and we caught our plane! I was really missing the Czech Republic at this point.

We left the Prague airport and Ubered to the main train station.  We asked for two tickets on the next train to Olomouc.  Unfortunately, the next train didn't leave until about 10:00 pm.  Dark could alert: the train was an hour late.  We finally arrived in Olomouc around 1:30 am and I was ready to walk back to Neredin (the dorms) if that's what it took. I loved our spring break trip so much, but I was relieved to flop onto my bed in room 206. We did it! A very successful trip in the books.

As Logan Mize would say, as hard as we tried, we just couldn't get away from a good time.



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