Time spent in Rome surprised this tourist

In June, I embarked on a 12-day tour of Europe with a group from the high school. We spent the first two days of the trip exploring the wonderful city of London. Next, we toured Paris for three days. To read about my adventures there, check out my two previous columns.

Our time in Italy began with a lot of waiting because our night train from Paris to Milan was an hour late and we missed our connecting train to Florence. However, after breakfast at McDonald?s and several naps on the floor of the Milan train station, we finally made it to Florence, Italy.

Florence is an awesome, little city full of history and beauty. We spent the afternoon exploring famous sights such as Piazza della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo. We also saw a leather-making demonstration before going to our hotel for the night, which was located in a nearby town called Montecatini.

After our first three-course delicious Italian meal, we explored Monteca?tini, taking the funicolare, or cable car, up the hill to a medieval part of the city called Montecatini Alto. Here, we got some gelato and enjoyed the beautiful view from the hill before turning in for the night.

The next morning we made another stop in Florence to do some shopping before driving through the beautiful Italian countryside on our way to Rome.

The beauty of Italy blew me away. I?ve been sitting here for the past 10 minutes trying to think of words to describe what I saw but there are no words that do it justice.

We made a stop in Assisi and toured the Basilica of Saint Francis. Here we also enjoyed a bit of free time to take in the gorgeous view and eat some delicious lasagna.

We continued through the Tuscan countryside and drove through a rain shower before reaching our hotel in Rome. We ate supper at the hotel and, for the first time on the whole trip, received ice with our water.

The next day we woke up ready for our only full day touring Rome with our awesome driver Luciano. I absolutely loved the city of Rome. It?s a modern city built around ancient ruins and I got shivers seeing all of the historic sights.

Our first stop was the infamous Colosseum. It was all I could do to keep my jaw from hanging open in awe as I took in the place where so much blood was shed.

After a guided tour of the ancient arena, we made our way across the street to another place of deep history, the Roman Forum. Here, we explored the various ruins of ancient government buildings and public areas. Once again, the history of the place gave me shivers.

Next, we took a quick ride through the city on our way to the Vatican. At a cafe nearby, we wolfed down a pizza?I literally ate it in 3 minutes?before touring the city within a city.

We were at the Vatican on a Wednesday, which is one of its busiest days because of the papal address in the morning.

People were packed everywhere as we shuffled through several different rooms full of statues and paintings. After what felt like forever, we entered the Sistine Chapel and looked up in awe at the famous paintings while a deep voice periodically broke the silence to tell us to be quiet.

We made a stop in St. Peter?s Basilica before leaving the Vatican to do some souvenir shopping.

After a supper of delicious pizza, we hopped on the bus to see more of Rome. We stopped at the Trevi Fountain, which, much to our disappointment, was turned off for some construction work. Our tour director, who is from Rome, said that was the only time she had seen the fountain without water. The construction fence didn?t keep us from throwing a euro into the fountain, though.

We spent some time driving around and taking in the incredible city. Overall, Rome caught me by surprise. I wasn?t expecting to love it quite as much as I did. It?s a city I can?t wait to return to.

Early the next morning, those who hadn?t opted for the two-day extension left for home while the rest of us took a bus toward the Italian coast.

Read my next column for my final installation about my trip to Europe, where I?ll talk about my favorite part of the trip?the extension?and about traveling in general.