The Great Two-Week Messina Family Roadtrip Across Europe

My recent family vacation was… interesting. Sharing multiple hotel rooms with my two brothers was disgusting and annoying. Driving for six hours from France to Spain, all cramped in a stick shift European van with my dad driving like a speed demon, was nothing short of terrifying. Hopping from city to city every two or three days to cover a total of five cities was pretty exhausting. But it was all totally worth it because I was able to see and experience things I only thought were possible in my dreams, as cheesy as that may sound. If you’re at all interested in what my life was like as I traveled throughout Europe with my family, then keep on reading!

Day 1: Buongiorno, Roma!

Our first full day in Europe was a long one. Despite extreme cases of jetlag, we woke up at 9:30 a.m. (a.k.a 3:30 a.m. Tampa time) for a breakfast of cheese and salami, which took some getting used to. We toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica—an overwhelming trio. Even though they prohibited taking photos inside the Sistine Chapel, I just couldn’t resist snapping a few! After staring up at the ceiling for so long, I was pretty sure my neck was going to be stuck like that. All I have to say is… Mad props to Michelangelo because the Sistine Chapel is absolutely breathtaking. Even though I was basically a zombie after all of those tours, I chugged an “iced coffee” (which was basically straight espresso) and went to check out the Colosseum and a few churches. That night, my brothers and I went to an Irish pub to watch the USA vs. Ghana World Cup game and ended up bonding with random Americans over soccer and strong beer.

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The beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica

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Not the best quality photo because I was hiding from scary Italian guards, but hey look it’s the Sistine Chapel!

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Me and my not-so-little little brother at the Colosseum!

Day 2: A Rainy Day in Roma

Today we experimented with Rome’s bus system when we adventured over the river to a small artsy neighborhood called Trastavere. The narrow streets and alleys were covered with vines, flowers and countless adorable shops and restaurants. After exploring an old church (which are just about as plentiful as the amount of carbs I ate on this trip), it started to pour outside. We dragged our soaked selves to the bus station and headed home to freshen up before taking the metro to the Trevi Fountain. Much to our dismay, the fountain wasn’t the same gorgeous flowing masterpiece that it was in “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” It was under construction and completely emptied… just our luck. Once we got over that, we took a little walk to the Spanish Steps for some coffee and extreme people watching. I’m telling you, if people watching were a sport, I’d go professional for sure.

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Hello, Trastavere!

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Pardon the awkward dots on the photo. There was a plastic fence in front of the fountain, so there was no Lizzie McGuire coin throwing for me 😦

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Chillin’ on the Spanish Steps

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Day 3: What’s up, Pope Francis?

I’m pretty sure we were up before the sun was today, but it was all for a good reason—we went to see the Pope speak in St. Peter’s Square! We watched the sun rise as we waited in a line of crazed Pope Francis fanatics and Catholics alike, all hoping for a prime seat. Somehow we lucked out and scored two front-row seats in the third section, which meant that my younger brother Nick and I were about three feet from the Pope when he rode by in his pimpin’ “popemobile.” I’m pretty sure I actually stopped breathing. Having such an influential yet humble leader of the Catholic Church so close to me was such a cool moment—I kind of felt like a Pope groupie. Even though he spoke in Italian and I couldn’t understand anything, it was still amazing to hear him speak in person. After making our way through the crowds at the end, we booked it to the train station to catch our train to Florence. That night, we ate at the famous Gusta Pizza and watched the Spain World Cup game before passing out.

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The line to get in was absolutely insane…

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Hi Pope Francis!

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My parents are such dorks.

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The Ponte Vecchio at night = ❤

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Gusta Pizza a.k.a the one pizza place that all Americans have to visit while they’re in Florence

Day 4: Feelin’ Artsy

Today we saw enough works of art to last us the rest of our lives. We started at the Uffizi Gallery, which houses “The Birth of Venus” painting and a dizzying array of other paintings and sculptures. For lunch, we took a walk to the Mercato Centrale, where we saw an overwhelming selection of meats and cheeses. We learned that apparently it’s okay to eat a pig’s penis and testicles… I mean, that’s good to know, right? Once our tummies were full, we went to the Accademia to visit my good ol’ pal David… Michelangelo’s sculpture, that is. Nick and I took a few immature photos with it because yolo. Even though Nick and my dad were tired, my mom and I said, “Turn down for what?” and went adventuring to the Ponte Vecchio without them. That night, we watched the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo, which gave a gorgeous view of Florence.

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Experimenting with my fisheye at the Duomo

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It’s crazy to see things that I learned about in Art History back in high school

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A man at the Central Market showing off his yummy selection of meats. Pig penis… yum?

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Some guy named David

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As immature as this is, I just couldn’t resist

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Ponte Vecchio chillin’

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Me n’ my trendy mama

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My diet in Italy consisted of carbs, gelato and that’s about it

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The view from Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset

DSCN7767 You’re lookin’ at the Messina Family 2014 Christmas card

Day 5: Ridin’ Dirty to the Coast

My dad became the new pilot of the trip today when he picked up our new whip—a blue Ford Galaxy minivan—and somehow navigated the dangerous roads of Italy. On most roads, there weren’t even lines on the streets, so it’s basically every man for himself. I must admit that he did pretty well, despite having destroyed the transmission of the car and stalling out a few times because he’s awful with stick shift. On the way to Santa Margherita, we made a detour to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was on my bucket list. It ended up being smaller than we anticipated, but it was still scary to stand at the base of it. After accidentally going to the wrong Hotel Europa (a TMM—Total Messina Move), we arrived in Santa Margherita. A gorgeous coastal town, it totally stole my heart at once. I enjoyed some pesto gnocchi while my brothers and I watched Italy unfortunately lose their World Cup game. We drowned our sorrows with some gelato and explored the town a bit before going to sleep with the balcony doors open because our AC was broken.

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Hooray for more cheesy family photos!

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Some building that was leaning for some reason

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Because I can’t take normal photos

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And the roadtrip continues…

Day 6: Better than the Portofino at Disney World

Today was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We took a ferry from Santa Margherita to Portofino, and I felt like I was pulling onto the set of a movie when we arrived. The Portofino Hotel at Disney World in Orlando, Florida is a surprisingly great replica of the real thing. Since we knew lunch in Portofino would be super expensive, we brought lunchmeat and ate sandwiches on one of the docks. While my dad talked to an old couple that was on a Mediterranean cruise, I climbed up a mountain to get a better view of the entire city. Even though my cheap PacSun sandals almost broke when Nick and I decided to go off the beaten path, it was all worth it for the view of the crystal clear water and the colorful, quaint buildings. That night, I went off on my own for a few hours to wander through the city, and I fell in love with it even more. I definitely left a little piece of my heart in Santa Margherita.

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I think it’s impossible to take a bad photo of this place… it’s just so perfect

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A little bird’s eye view action

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Santa Margherita at sunset is a beaut

Day 7: Feelin’ Nice in Nice

Arrivederci, Italia and bonjour, France! Today we drove to Nice (pronounced “niece” despite my older brother’s arguments), with a quick pit stop in Monaco along the way. I’ve never seen so much luxury compacted into one town… I’m talkin’ Bugattis and Rolls-Royces left and right. After taking the hike up a hill to get to the famous Monte Carlo Casino, Nick and I were denied access because we didn’t have our passports to prove our age. Oh the joys of looking like you’re 16 years old. Once we had our fair share of fancy cars and glamorous people, we drove to Nice. That evening, we ate at an outdoor café where I had real French fries (my mind was blown). Even though we were all tired, my brothers and I rallied to cheer on team USA at an Irish pub for the World Cup.

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My mom just pickin’ up our new ride in front of the Monte Carlo

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Yachts on yachts on yachts

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Real French fries giving McDonald’s some serious competition

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I feel really bad that kids in France can’t build sandcastles…

Day 8: Life’s a Beach and I’m Just Playin’ in the Pebbles

To celebrate my younger brother’s 17th birthday, we let him decide what to do for the day. Since he wanted a break from the constant on-the-go sightseeing we had been doing, he chose to have a chill day at the beach. After we struggled to buy a metro ticket in French (shout out to my mom for remembering her high school French skills), we made our way to Villefranche Sur-Mer. I immediately fell in love (which basically happened every day on this trip). The crystal clear water. The mountains off in the distance. The large amount of speedos. Okay maybe minus that last one. But it was awesome to actually be able to breathe, relax and take in my surroundings rather than being overwhelmed with a blur of monuments and museums.

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This beach had the coolest assortment of pebbles

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The newest 17 year old jumping off rocks n’ whatnot

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Day 9: On the Road Again

The final stretch of the trip was quite the stretch. Seven hours stuck in a minivan with my brothers playing American history trivia was pretty torturous, but the French cookies we bought along the way eased the ride a bit. The day was pretty uneventful besides our drive to Barcelona. By the time we got there, we only had enough energy to go to a Chinese restaurant down the street (a nice change of pace from all of the pizza, pasta and French fries I had eaten in the past week).

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The only photo I took that day. Shoutout to my patient mama for navigating us throughout Europe!

Day 10: ¡Hola, Barcelona!

It was another early morning for the Messina clan. We visited La Sagrada Familia, one of the most interesting, unconventional churches I’ve ever been to. Because we were so accustomed to the traditional, extravagant churches Italy, which were covered in gold from roof to floor, Sagrada Familia took us by surprise, but in the best way possible. It was refreshing to see something so complex and architecturally impressive in person. The sky-high columns were designed like trees to make visitors feel as if they were in a forest, and I had never felt so small in my life while standing in the middle of them. To top it all off (literally), my mom scored us tickets to ride the elevator to the top of one of the spires. The view of Barcelona was amazing, but the walk back down the narrow spiral staircase was terrifying. I spent the rest of the day wandering throughout Barcelona checking out palaces, plazas and soccer (or should I say futbol) stadiums.

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The weirdest yet coolest church ever

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Barcelona, you’re pretty

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‘Twas a long way down…

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Even the stairs there were pretty

Day 12: The Start of Something Great

FINALLY the day arrived! June 26—the start my five-week study abroad adventure in Valencia with three of my best friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was skipping to the train station in Barcelona even though I had two suitcases in hand. I couldn’t tell if the train ride was actually really slow or if I was just too anxious to bear being patient. When the train attendant said that Valencia was the next stop, I may or may not have leapt in my seat. While my family got in a cab to head to their hotel, I hopped in my own (for the first time, eeek!). I faked my best Spanish accent to ask the taxi driver to take me to Torres de Serranos, and I guess it wasn’t too shabby because I made it there! My mind was blown as I walked up to my new home—a gorgeous restored yellow building with the Torres de Serrano practically in my backyard. It’s safe to say our new neighbors were probably a little freaked out when they heard my friends and I scream like total girls the moment we reunited in our apartment. I could not have been more excited to see them, knowing that we had five weeks of shenanigans in store for us. We had a free (thank God) dinner provided by the study abroad program, and then we all cheered on team USA at an Irish pub. Even though my friends were probably severely jetlagged, we all rallied to go out and celebrate my friends Ashley’s birthday. All I have to say is that these people here know how party…

I could not be more excited for what’s in store this summer. In our first few days here, I feel like we’ve already become full-fledged Spaniards (although my Spanish is still a tad rusty, but that’ll come along with time). We biked to the beach through Valencia’s gorgeous riverbed. We stayed out at a club until sunrise. We’ve had real sangria and bought wine for two euros. Stay tuned for the scoop on my Spanish adventures these next few weeks!

As always, thanks for reading!

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