The Italian Journey
You would assume, living in Florence during the week, that my wanderlust would be satisfied. You would assume wrong. Luckily, the Italian Journey was just that: A journey. Our weekends were extended and jam packed with train rides, bus rides, metro stops and waterbuses. We were able to visit so many incredible places in such a short time span, making a three-week study abroad program ten times more rewarding than I expected. Two long weekends were spent in Rome, Assisi, Venice and Padua, exploring the different variations of magic Italy had to offer.
An hour and half train ride, a missed train stop, ten metro tickets and a few hours of figuring out rooms, we were finally enjoying our first evening in Rome. It was slowly building to twilight when we caught our first glimpse of the towering Coliseum, circling around it as the sun dipped. Mostly venders selling scarves and infamous selfie sticks buzzed around like flies as we strolled through town. This was one of many magical, history filled moments when the people around you disappeared and all that remained was the ruins of the old empire. Our first night was short but was the incredible beginning to our travels outside of Florence. Our second Roman day was spent in Vatican City, appeasing my Catholic upbringing. The Vatican Museum had incredible amounts of art that we read about on (what feels like) a daily basis in art history classes and, standing beneath the Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel left me with damp eyelashes and a rush of what I can only explain as nostalgia. Day three in Rome was all about exploring, which we did thoroughly. Bright and early, we combed the Coliseum, up and down, imagining the wonders and horrors of this structure, the center of it’s city. Later, we wandered through the Roman Forum, dust kicking up in a light wind, then even further to the disappointing Trevi Fountain, not much of a sight when under such heavy construction. The fountain has now made itself back onto my list of must-see places in the future in hopes that construction will end in the near future. Rome was hot and historic and I can only hope we at least seemed as though we were doing what the Romans do!
A day later, another train and bus ride later, we found ourselves breathlessly scaling the steep hills of Assisi. Another Catholic pilgrimage stop, Assisi’s streets are bustling with nuns and monks in the elderly city on the hill. The view from the top of the hill was incredible, something I am glad I did not miss. Aside from the breathlessness I felt at the views and some of the artwork kept there, I was less impressed with the place than the others. Instead, I let Assisi be more of a resting place for myself, unlike most of my classmates. Travelling, I realized, can be a stressful endeavor and it is always best to listen to the needs of your mind and body. In a high place where most would find some solace and spiritual guidance from St. Francis, I learned about my own limits and the benefits of alone time. We spent a total of 24 hours there and then, back on the bus, back on the train, “home” to Florence.
Our second weekend of travel started even earlier than the one prior and lasted even longer. We boarded yet another train with a new destination: Venice. Staying in an apartment on the mainland, Mestre, it only took a twenty-minute bus ride to reach the floating city, a dream to behold. All around, the Adriatic Sea glistened against stony buildings, flowing into canals like streets, small boats rocking at port or navigating the waves in such a way that I was awe-struck for three days straight. Although my sea legs were hard to call upon, resting in the back of the waterbuses, watching the buildings soar past, the ocean wind in my hair, I found absolute peace in this waterlogged city. Our first day was solely for exploration, to see another art school in the city, a few churches, to get lost in the maze that is the footpaths of the incredible city. I do not know how I was able to peel my jaw off the stone floor. Even at night, Venice was an absolute dream. The interesting and strange part about Venice was that the stop was added to our original journey because of an event that an art-based class could not miss. The Venice Biennale; a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Venice, Italy. This year was a good year to be traveling to Venice, afterall. Our second day in the glittering city was spent entirely on the Biennale, starting in the Giardini and working on into the Arsenale. Every country was represented in the exhibition, their best artists put forward to show the world what they can create, most being given a small building to install their work. These pieces raged from Japan’s red cords of skeleton keys zip lining into beached ships, USA’s bumblebee room, Canada’s exaggerated studio and Korea’s futuristic video installation, there was so much to see for anyone willing to wander. Even great mechanical dragons hung over the arbor, reflecting back as giant beings in the water below.
Our third day in Venice was a free day and, of course, we did what any group of college girls would do on a hot summer day free of obligation. We went to the beach. The Lido used to be the number one beach resort in the world, now mostly reduced to a relaxing spot at the end of the waterbus route for tourists enjoying the great city. I, being the forgetful girl I am, forgot my bathing suit but still thoroughly enjoyed the down time. When the rain swept in, we took to the local shops. Perusing the famous Murano glass, intricate masquerade masks and various Venetian specialties, we collected our gifts for family and friends back home. We really took our time on our last day in the city, truly enjoying every bit that it had to offer. I know I will always look on Venice as my favorite place we visited in Italy, a truly spiritual personal experience. Padua was our last stop, offering little but two incredible and ancient churches, as well as the University with the first autopsy theater. One long and interesting train ride seated across from an opinionated and chatty Romanian man later, we settled back into Florence to live out our last week among the Italians.
Traveling was an incredibly important part of my experience in Italy, being able to branch out and experience more of the world I had always dreamed of. It was an opportunity to see ten times more artwork, experience ten times more history and learn more about myself as a wanderer. Although we did some traveling within our home base itself, I took more from our extended weekends than I had imagined I could. For our program, our travels were worked into our curriculum. For those who do not have that luxury, I would recommend finding your own way to travel outside of your home base. The reward is far greater than sticking to one place when you are surrounded by so much more to explore. Besides, if you’re anything like I am, your wanderlust will get the better of you eventually. Wander on.