I told myself I’d write about my Italy trip immediately upon my return. (I also promised that I’d update this blog more frequently. Total fail). I wanted to capture the memories before they disappeared. Every time I travel to another place, I come back feeling as if I’d fallen out of a dream—a wondrous sort of existence filled with freedom and possibilities. It’s been more than two weeks, but I think I needed the time to let the experience sink in.
Let me tell you, I am so jealous of people who’ve had the chance to study abroad. I had an opportunity in junior year, but due to concerns about security in my country choice, I couldn’t go. And though I made the best of that year, I have regrets. The opportunity to learn another language? Be immersed in a different culture? Have the freedom to explore? EAT THE FOOD?!? Again: so freaking jealous.
In Italy, I was with one of my best friends, Ali, (oh and Eric, too, I guess) and she was an amazing tour guide. I was able to get a taste of what she sees every day. We stayed in Florence for most of the time, touring the Boboli Gardens, hanging out by the Ponte Vecchio, and climbing the Duomo. I bargained my way through the San Lorenzo leather market. We took a day trip around the Chianti region where we learned about terracotta and the politics of growing grapes. I saw countless rolling hills and majestic castles. I tried eight different types of wine and didn’t fall asleep (right away! #asianwin). I ate prosciutto, salami, cheese, and other things that I’m trying to burn off now. We stayed overnight in Rome and saw the Colosseum and the Vatican (no pope). We even got to see Ali’s office in Florence.
Okay, that was a bit of an eh moment, compared to the other activities, but I still felt excited.
I really loved the churches. Ali joked that I’d return to the States as a Catholic. I couldn’t get enough of them! It’s funny, since I’m shuffling between agnosticism and atheism. What I mean by that is that I don’t usually step into churches (not that I devalue these places in any way). Churches are hallowed grounds. While I admired the artwork and statues, people prayed in the pews. Have you ever watched people pray? Their earnestness allured me: the wrinkles between their brows, their lips moving silently, their hands tightly intertwined. Occasionally I felt as if I had to look away, like I was intruding.
One of my favorite church experiences happened in Ognissanti. A flute player and a pianist were just hanging in the front with the Franciscan friar (who was surfing the web on his phone!), and they started playing. I felt as if I was transported to a different time.
What I also loved about Florence was the energy. New York is always bustling. It’s a constant stream of noise and grit — naturally, as an introvert, I usually get tired of being in crowds. Although Florence was certainly crowded, the rush felt different. People walked along the cobblestone roads freely and leisurely, only to move aside when they realized a taxi was trailing behind them. I didn’t mind the tourists so much as I was too busy looking everywhere. All of the buildings seem to have a history. The scenery, untouched by sewage smog so common in New York, made my heart skip.
During our last hours in Italy we sat in the Piazzale Michelangelo among couples sharing a bottle of cheap wine, families winding down, and friends catching up after a long day. A very talented singer belted her heart out just below us. We watched the sun set slowly. I said my goodbyes to this beautiful city.
I can see why people like to travel, why people make a big deal out of it. I met many Americans who moved to Italy because they fell in love with the country and felt a sense of belonging. My time in Italy only lasted a week, but I felt moved by it. I needed this vacation to sort out concerns and anxiety, which have been with me since graduating college. This trip has given me a lot to re-consider. It’s given me, again, a slither of life away from what’s familiar (something I consciously wanted when I first moved to Brooklyn and started my job). Florence has renewed me.
Thanks, Ali, for hosting us! We had a great time. I’ll always remember this experience.