As if visiting the Tuscan countryside and touring a winery wasn’t enough for one weekend, we also shoved in Cinque Terre, which is possibly even more beautiful than Tuscany.
Located on the Western coast of Italy, Cinque Terre, or Five Towns, is a string of tiny, colorful villages perched precariously on cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea. There’s a hiking trail that connects all of the cities which takes about five hours to walk, or a train for those not so keen on sweating out their body weight while trekking up, around, and through mountains.
Naturally, we chose the more difficult route. Due to the previous weeks’ atrocious weather, the trails from towns three to four were shut down for maintenance, a Godsend if you ask me. We instead hiked from the fourth town,Vernazza,to the fifth and final beach town, Monterosso.
As soon as the town was in sight, all of the climbing, tripping, heaving, and sweating were instantly justified. Just below the cliffs covered in green was the sapphire water of the Mediterranean, begging us to dive in and stay for a while. So we did just that. We spent the next four hours basking in the sun and swimming in the Mediterranean, all the while letting our minds and bodies rejuvenate from the past three weeks of traveling.
While exploring the tiny town of Monterosso, we met the owner of a pizza shop whose way of thinking triggered a change in my own.
Emilio, or Emy as he insisted, explained to us that during the off-season of winter, he visited America for a few months each year where he met his now ex-wife. Although he seemed at peace with the fact that things didn’t work between them, he was much more affected by the reasons behind the split.
After the winter was over, he and his wife moved backed to Monterosso, a stark contrast to the bustling city of Los Angeles where they had met. Once the novelty of the small town wore off, his wife was no longer satisfied with the lifestyle so they divorced and she moved back to America.
Her actions didn’t strike me as particularly spiteful, but to Emy they were more than just an insult to him, they were an insult to his culture and way of life. He had lived his entire life in that small city, started and maintained his incredible pizza shop, with hopes of raising a family of his own there. He was bursting with pride while explaining to us how he hand made his own dough every night so that it would be fresh for the morning delivery to the other restaurants in town. He knew everyone by name who passed the shop and explained that the owners of the shops on either side of him were his best friends. Emy’s heart was grounded in Monterosso, and his wife’s lack of respect and appreciation for that was enough to break them apart.
Not only did I eat the best pizza of my life at Emy’s, but more importantly I began to understand how life works in places different than my own home. Emy’s ties to his home were unbreakable, even by love, something that I had never thought about. I come from a large city and didn’t appreciate small town life until this moment. The pride in his voice when Emy spoke about Monterosso was enough to make me want to drop everything and move there. He didn’t need anything else to make him happy, he was completely fulfilled by his way of life and saw no reason to change things.
Antonio’s content with simplicity made me appreciate all that I have and am currently experiencing, and helped me to focus on living in the moment. Being in Italy is the opportunity of a lifetime, something that I may never get to do again. It took talking with a simple-minded pizza maker to make me understand that. My whole life is still ahead of me, which will hopefully be full of more exciting times, but right now I’m in the middle of something extraordinary. I’ve met people who will be my friends for life, seen sights that many people only see in pictures, recognized my own strengths in difficult situations, and opened my mind to new perspectives.
Cinque Terre was all I could ask for and more. Feeling the sand in my toes and the heat of the sun on my skin were just small pieces that contributed to the bliss I felt while leaving Monterosso. My homesickness vanished, and I was ready to spend every minute I had left in this amazing country like it was my last.
After today, I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to come home.
The Tuscan countryside is the most breathtaking landscape I’ve ever seen. At quick glance, it’s full of rolling green hills, spotted with picturesque villas tucked into terraces. With a closer look, the blanket of green becomes individual vineyards running like veins over, under, and around the hills. The blue sky only enhances the vibrant greens and draws the eye to wander to the horizon and beyond.
This is the view that I’d dreamt of since I decided to come to Italy. I pictured myself on a balcony gazing at this landscape a thousand times, and words fall short of the fulfillment I felt from finally seeing it.
The fact that I was tasting all sorts of Chianti wines, fresh from the very vineyards I was starring at, only heightened the overall experience. We toured an entire wine facility- from the vines they pick the grapes from, to where the wine ages, to where it’s bottled.
Having never been to a winery, I was intrigued with every step in the process. When entering the wine cellar where the wine ages in barrels, I was immediately curious as to why there was an exposed cave wall with water dripping down it. The answer was simple: while excavating to make the cellar, they came across their own natural source of humidity so they simple left the wall open to the cave.
The contrast of the modern wine facility to the ancient cave walls gave me a deeper appreciation for the entire process. It was a stark contrast to our modern thinking that technology is always better, faster or easier and reminded me that in every process nature is ultimately at the base.
Florence is quickly becoming my home away from home. Its cobblestone streets connecting piazzas throughout the city provide plenty of area to spend hours navigating a route marked by shops, cafes and restaurants; all in the midst of buildings dating back to the 12th century. Florence has perfected the blend of a modern bustling city that functions in and around structures that are living history. My apartment is in between the Piazza della Repubblica and the Piazza della Signora, where Michelangelo’s original David statue stood. I’m a stone’s throw away from the Doumo, possibly the most famous cathedral in Italy, and just around the corner from the House of Dante, the 13th century poet.
The winding River Arno, which splits Florence running east to west, provides a cool breeze over any of the many bridges throughout the city. The most famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, is the only remaining covered bridge in the city; all the rest were destroyed during bombings in World War II. Now that I’ve drafted the beginning to my own guidebook to Florence, I think I’ve made it apparent that the sights here are attainable by simply opening your eyes.
With the rich history of Florence also comes a few side effects that I may never get used to. The ancient churches’ hourly bell tolls, a notification of the time of day, are beginning to wear on my hearing. Due to the lack of air conditioning, the windows must always be open, which is one less barrier to the five-minute long ringing every hour on the hour. Just as I grew used to the ringing while trying to fall asleep, I met my next enemy: the street sweepers. Not only do they clean my street twice between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, they also manage to be loud enough to mask the sound of the bells entirely. Now for the King of all the sounds of Florence: the ambulance. I’m convinced that Florence has the highest per capita need for ambulances in the world, accompanied by the most deafening and obnoxious siren available on the market.
With each complaint listed above comes an equally as important pleasure. The bell towers of churches, although quite a hike, provide breathtaking views of the entire city. Bells chiming each hour were something that I had only previously associated with movies about ‘old times’, before everyone had a cell phone to keep them on time. The sound of the bells is indeed very loud, but rich all the same and radiates a sense of nostalgia. Those bells are the same bells that people have listened to for hundreds of years, marking the end and beginning to days that would forever be remembered in history books. The cobblestone streets may induce tripping even in the sturdiest of shoes, but they’re a reminder of the age and history preserved even at the very foundation of the city.
Even on my roughest days here, I remember to appreciate the culture and history surrounding me. Being immersed in the center of a city that boasts one of the largest collections of Renaissance art in the world is something that I’m incapable of ignoring. Each day here I discover something new, whether it be a piece of art, or a quality about myself, and because of that I’ll always cherish Firenze.
After a nine hour plane ride, a two hour wait in the London-Heathrow airport, and a two hour drive in a jerky stick shift bus to our hotel, we finally arrived in London! We got in at 9 A.M and were given the rest of the day free to explore the city on our own. Despite being incredibly exhausted and jet lagged, I managed to to see Kensington Palace, Princess Diana’s old home, and had my first fish and chips experience (which was slightly underwhelming, sorry to report). On day two we had a guided tour of the city in the morning and were once again free to roam in the afternoon.
To begin the tour we saw the House of Parliament, the Tower of London, The London Bridge, The Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Although I enjoyed seeing the high points of the city with a guide, the afternoon proved to be much more exciting. Not only did our group learn to navigate The Tube (London’s Underground) on our own, but we also got ourselves to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey without getting lost once! While seeing Buckingham Palace was an incredible sight, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad while gazing at the balcony where William and Kate shared their first kiss as a married couple. It was a blatant reminder that my dream of becoming a real princess was forever crushed, unless of course I can steal Prince Harry’s heart within the next few years.
On our way back to our hotel, we stumbled upon an enormous crowd lining the streets in front of Westminster Abbey. Out of pure curiosity we asked someone what all the fuss was about and they told us that President Barack Obama was about to arrive with his wife and the Queen. Obviously we were not only shocked, but also a little embarrassed that we had no idea that our own president was visiting while we were in London. After attempting to pretend that yes, of course we knew Obama was in town and we must have just forgotten what time he was arriving, we joined the crowd to wait.
The energy I felt in the crowd made me step back for a moment and really consider the bigger picture. Thousands of people chanting the name of the president of my own country, something that I’d never previously experienced, caused a rush a pride inside of me. It made me realize that although I’m studying abroad to experience different people and cultures, I still have a lot to be proud of back where I came from. I didn’t consider myself an especially patriotic person prior to this moment, but that has certainly changed. I’ll never forget the sensation I had stemming from the sounds and images of a body of people coming together for a person who doesn’t even govern or represent them.
Upon Barack’s arrival, or “Bear-rick” as the Brits pronounce it, the crowds exploded into cheers and cameras flashed wildly. I caught a quick glimpse of the President and First Lady after squeezing my way onto a ledge and holding my camera as high as I could possibly reach. Although it’s certainly not the best picture I’ve ever taken, it captured a moment that I’ll never forget. The sense of pride I gained from the experience will undoubtedly remain with me through the rest of my trip. Despite the many incredible historical and cultural sights that are in store for me in the next month, I know that I’ll never forget where I came from.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
Traveling broadens horizons and cultivates new perspectives on the world. It provides the fuel for originality through experiencing new cultures, people and ideas.
For the next five weeks I’ll be partaking on my own journey for originality and new perspectives while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I’ll be spending three days in London to begin the trip, followed by three days in Rome before I settle into my very own (for a month at least), Florentine apartment. After the month long program I’ll be spending a few days in Naples, Italy and then off to Athens, Greece for the remaining five days.
The program I’m attending is through an affiliate called AIFS and is run out of the Richmond Center located in downtown Florence. I’ll be sharing my experiences about anything and everything through this blog, focusing on people’s interactions with their culture and environment and the differences present between their way of life and the one we’re accustomed to. I’ll be posting once a week so be sure to check in to see where my travels have taken me!