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Posts Tagged ‘florence’

I caught the travel bug when I was a kid. Not during family vacations, those were always filled with tension and fighting and I could never wait to get home. The first time I realized how beautiful travel could be was during my 7th grade trip to Washington D.C. As part of the National Junior Honor Society, we were given small freedoms and allowed to reasonably explore things on our own. The next year, it was Disney World and my first trip to Florida and my first time on an airplane. I was hooked.

When I was sixteen, I earned a place on the Michigan Lions All-State Band’s trip to the international conference in Brisbane, Australia. I convinced my mother to let me go and spent months fundraising. Enduring the world’s longest plane ride, we visited not only Brisbane, but also Sydney, and spent a lovely three days in Hawaii, all the while performing in parades and concerts over a two-and-a-half week period. Even after dealing with a vicious stomach bug shortly after arrival, staying in a dorm with mice and giant cockroaches, a haunted hotel room in the red-light district section of Sydney (complete with gunshots in the walls), and getting lost in the not-so-great section of Honolulu, I was in love with travel and learning about the world outside my own country. This is also when I learned that I don’t like Vegemite, but that’s an different story.

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In the years since, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and Italy. (My layovers in New Zealand and Amsterdam technically do not count, but they did stamp my passport, so there’s that.) I don’t count Canada because it is literally (and I’m using that correctly) about twenty minutes away and I’ve been there frequently throughout my life, especially after I turned nineteen, which is the legal drinking age there. Don’t judge.

All of these places taught me lovely, wonderful things, not only about the places and people, but also about myself. I learned how to make myself understood in another language, not perfectly, not even remotely close, but enough to order at restaurants, find the restroom, and ask for towels at the hotel. I learned that I am perfectly capable of navigating through unfamiliar places and can sort out the London Tube map on my own. I’ve made amazing, life-long friends in other places, even though we keep in touch only online. (Sabrina, I SWEAR I will get back to Italy, no worries!)

One of the most important things I’ve learned, though, is the importance of other perspectives. The American viewpoint is not the only one, people see things differently in other places. There are different norms, different customs. Travel has made me much less arrogant and more tolerant of others, more open to listening and understanding, even if I don’t agree. Granted, the places I’ve visited aren’t as far removed from me as a remote village in Kenya might be, (another place I’d like to visit), but they’re definitely not the same as where I’m from. Different cultures, different histories, different mindsets. I find it all fascinating, learning that will never end.

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The point of all of this is to motivate. Don’t have a passport? Get one! Plan, save, do whatever you can to enable to you to get out and see the world, not just your own backyard. While there are many universal truths, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes will open your own. My own list keeps getting longer, to the point of I’m considering becoming a flight attendant when I’m done teaching just so I can travel the world over. Of course, if my Mega Millions ticket ever hits, I’ll be able to do it a lot sooner.

Even with all of its problems, our world is a beautiful place. Go see it.

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I need a place.

I need to walk down worn cobblestone streets and sidewalks, molded with ruts and grooves over time, no intent for repairs.

I need wooden walls and tables that have seen at least three centuries.

I need to put my hands on limestone walls and feel the thousand years of memories they hold.

I need to fill my soul with the connections of those who have gone before, who have shaped our now with their words, their deeds, or their silence.

I need a busy high street, crowds from the world over, chattering in languages I don’t understand, but love.

I need the history of place that has been through generations too many to count.

I need the old without the museum, the present that doesn’t overstep its bounds, but melds with the past into one beautiful now.

It’s been too long.

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I’ve been on a bit of a holiday from things: work, home, and, yes, writing. (Actually, I have a summer job, but that’s my fun one and I don’t really consider it work. I enjoy it too much!) I did actually plan to try and write a bit when I was in Italy, but there was just no time, so now I’m jumping back in. I do want to try and finish the novel that I’m working on, at least the unrevised bit of it, this summer, if possible, but first, a blog post. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my trip, but just a few highlights.

I was in bella Italia, beautiful Italy. The flight was long, cramped, and boring, so I’ll spare you the details. We were fortunate enough to immediately get our tour group’s bus from the airport to our hotel in Rome, driven by the talented Carlo, our driver for the week. An Italian motorway gave way to increasingly smaller city streets, passing through buildings covered in graffiti. I thought the graffiti would go away once we got into Rome proper, but that was not so. In fact, it seems the only way to not have graffiti on your building in Rome is to build a locked gate around it, but then the gate will have graffiti. I found it extremely surprising that a city with a heavy tourist population would have so much vandalism. A lot of it is political, but still, graffiti is ugly no matter where you go.

If you don’t look at the graffiti, Rome is beautiful, in a chaotic way. There are no traffic rules. Absolutely none. Seriously, if there are rules, no one is following them. I don’t even know why there are lines on the road. Tiny cars veer in and out from between large trucks and busses while scooters rule any in-between spaces and even sidewalks. Crossing the street almost gave my mother heart attacks, but we followed the advice of our local guide, Elena: “Shoulders back, chest out, don’t look at the drivers, close your eyes, and GO!” She was right. Roman drivers can sense even a small inkling of hesitation and will keep going if you pause before crossing. It’s kind of like being a teacher. Still, everyone seems to take it in stride; it’s the way things are done. And in the midst of all of this chaos, beautiful ruins, thousands of years old, are scattered through the entire city. Public water fountains flow with water from the ancient aqueducts and the Coliseum seems impassive to the tourist busses that rumble by.

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View of Rome

Rome is extremely walkable, as were all of the cities, if one holds their purse close, closed, and zipped. Gypsies, or Romani, are everywhere, selling cheap crap or trying to scam naïve tourists into taking pictures for 5 euro or taking a rose, after which they get very close to you and say, “Give me money.” If one avoids the heavy tourist areas, or just flat out ignores them, it’s not a problem, just annoying. In the areas by our hotels, we walked around quite comfortably and safely, even at night.

Vatican City was amazing. Although Oldest Child had immediately given me his copy of The DaVinci Code as soon as I decided to go to Italy (as an inspiration to sneak into the private collections), the amount of historical treasures that were actually on display was dumbfounding. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and priceless works of art are all on display, no need to go hunting behind the scenes. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming and brought me to tears with the sheer passion of the work painted not only on the ceiling, but the walls. Silence is enforced there and prayers are said. Michelangelo’s most famous Pieta (he carved several) is on display in St. Peter’s Basillica, more beautiful than I had ever dreamed. I got to be inside of St. Peter’s Square, a place that we watch on Christmas Eve and Easter every year, jammed to the gills with people. It was nowhere near as full as it is for those holidays, but it is an immense area. I’m not Catholic, but I could have spent days in the Vatican.

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St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

We took a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, the town that was buried by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The amount of work that has been done and how much of the original town has been uncovered is astounding. Private homes, shops, wells, and, yes, brothels, are all still there, some looking as if their owners could come back at any moment. Our guide, Enrico, took us everywhere that he could, throwing in as much humorous information as possible and making sure our group saw all of the important things. There is actually a lot more of Pompeii that remains buried, but Enrico seemed confident that it would stay covered. The expense would be just too great and the important buildings had already been excavated. Still, walking the same streets that were once a real place, not a tourist attraction, was humbling and eerie. There were three casts of victims on display: a baby, a man and a dog. Even though they were only the molds of those unfortunates, the bodies have long since decayed, it was emotional to see the horrified expressions still evident after all this time. If I had to choose one word to describe Pompeii, it would be “haunting”.

After three days, we bid a fond “arrivederci” to Rome and moved on to Florence for a change of pace, but once we got there, our pathway to the leather factory we were to tour was blocked by a medieval football game. Apparently, it’s a really big deal there and gets quite rough. One of the most famous squares, or piazzi, was completely blocked off and there was a huge police presence, which our tour director sweet-talked us through. To make a long story short, we did get past the (fun) craziness and got to our wine-tasting, pizza dinner and leather tour on time.

We had a lot of free time to explore in Florence but also got to take a day trip to see the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, both nestled high in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Both have kept most of their medieval buildings and are, rightfully, very proud of them. We quite happily wound our way through the ancient streets, admiring both buildings and landscapes alike. Both of those towns are places where I would gladly go back and spend a lot more time exploring more of what they have to offer.

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City wall of San Gimignano

Venice was next, after a quick stop in Verona to see “Juliet’s balcony”. (FYI, Juliet was a fictional character. The play, by William Shakespeare, was based on warring political families in Verona at the time, but it remains a work of fiction.) Venice was stunning at first glance and remained so throughout the time we spent there. During the daytime hours, there were throngs of tourists to elbow through, and some particularly despicable Gypsies, but there were no scooters threatening to kill us, no busses to dodge, just water taxis and gondolas gliding up and down the narrow canals between homes and churches. In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, Venice is peaceful and breathtaking. Our hotel was across a large canal from Piazza San Marco, so we had to take a water taxi back and forth, an experience in itself. When it came time to go to the airport, we went by water taxi. It was fabulous!.

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Venice

The best part of Venice, however, was that I got to meet my friend, Sabrina, for the first time. We had started communicating almost a year ago online and she was able to meet my mom and me there. We had a wonderful afternoon, just walking around, talking, and getting to know each other. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet up again in a couple of years, perhaps in London. The sooner, the better!

I was given a great gift in this trip, and I have my mother to thank for that. My world was expanded, my appreciation and respect for another culture increased, and I found that while I’m not even close to being fluent in speaking Italian, I am a fairly functional tourist. My next trip isn’t quite in the works yet, we are sending Oldest Child to college next month, after all, but I’m looking forward to what ever adventure comes my way

Ciao!

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