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Italian Summer: First trip to Europe

For traveling through Italy with just my friend, just knowing "Ciao!" got me a long way. The summer of 2023 in 94-100 degree weather, I trekked the streets of Europe. My friend, from Trento and Livo, guided us through the trip, from Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, and Livo. The towns are quaint, the lakes are green, the coffee is good–fantastic even. I stayed for two weeks, hopping around my friend’s family’s homes and Airbnbs.


Our home base was the vibrant city of Milan, where we stayed in my friend's aunt's yellow-painted house adorned with fish decorations. The city buzzed with life, Italians and non-Italians, and some of the sidewalks were warped because of how hot the Summers were. I met my friend’s family friends, her brother who I’ve met before, and indulged in charcuterie and olive with them.


She took me around Milan’s shops and parks a little as I was still dazed from jetlag. We went to the Duomo, where we were confronted by out first early-closing. The cathedral, though closed early, offered a rooftop view with a modern-classic composer playing a custom piano. The evening continued with a rooftop restaurant, misadventures with pizza terminology, and encounters with friends and family. The day ended with reflections on the charm of Italy and the challenges of a night's sleep.


Living without air conditioning was cathartic. It was often so hot I couldn’t think and focused on just getting through the walks through cities. I had never so consciously thought about water until the days in Rome, away from shade and bodies of water.


This of course was not the case when we went to Cinque Terre, our first day-trip. We went planning to take the 1-hour boat ride to view all the islands before hopping between three, but they sold out so we took the 2-hour option scenic route. There weren’t spaces to sit next to each other, which was a much-needed distance between us after the few days of being together all the time. By the time we got off, we were starving and I got my first pasta bolognese (out of the 10+ times I got pasta in the two weeks). We switched between walking the streets, taking dips in the water, and hiking up to see a birds-eye view of the city.


Our next excursion was a three day stretch between Florence and Rome. We took trains to get from place to place, but did our best to stay on foot within the cities to cut costs and fully explore the area. In Florence, we visited the Uffizi Gallery, and saw an outdoor orchestra in the square at night. It was beautiful and I saw why my parents loved Florence so much when they had visited.



Naturally, half of my journey revolved around food. Florence, with its rich history and artistic treasures, offered me the best pasta of my life. As I ate my ragu tagliatelle, I heard the waiter denying the man behind me Diet Coke because he had ordered a steak. These tourists!


Food also lent itself to lessons. Quite a few of them:

  1. Do not get a meal from the place right next to the tourist attraction no matter how hungry you are.

  2. Learn to like cheese if you’re going to Italy

  3. You need a hand fan. and water. drink LOTS of water.

  4. Don’t trust closing times online

  5. Everything closes early


Rome was, well, Rome. There was so much to see and do, though the heat fried my brain so I can’t remember too much. Of course, we went to the Colosseum, Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica, and the Mouth of Truth. 


My favorite city was Venice. I knew that it was a city on (really in) water, but I hadn’t internalized that there were no automobiles at all. We went to the Murano glass island where I got gifts for my friends and mother. It was so beautiful and unique among the places I visited.


Expecting a "Call Me By Your Name" summer (which I definitely got the Pinterest-girl part of), I observed the nuances that photos often missed. Graffiti adorned the walls, toilets had square-ish shapes, and iced coffee wasn't a common indulgence. Bars doubled as cafes mixed with bars, and the unpredictability of location availability added a touch of spontaneity to each day. I often caught on on sleep napping on trains, through watching the landscape through the window was equally rejuvenating.

The journey unfolded with mishaps, like missing the chance to explore a 1500s fortress due to a closing ticket booth or having a scare being unable to open our Airbnb at 10 p.m. Yet, these misadventures led to delightful encounters, such as finding cats in a grassy area that once served as a moat.


The cathedral, though closed early, offered a rooftop view with a modern-classic composer playing a custom piano. The evening continued with a rooftop restaurant, misadventures with pizza terminology, and encounters with friends and family. The day ended with reflections on the charm of Italy and the challenges of a night's sleep.


As the journey unfolded, I found myself embracing the aesthetics of a Pinterest-worthy European adventure. From coral nails to lemon trees, each element contributed to the picturesque narrative of my travels.


After waking up daily at 6 a.m. to take a 2-3 hour train ride to some city, the pace of the trip finally slowed down when we reached Livo. Nestled among mountains and flowers, the cooler and quieter atmosphere provided a much-needed respite. The physical toll of the journey began to fade, and I was starting to shed the exoskeleton I had developed from New York City smog, the past weeks’ heat, and the past four years of high school. As the sun set over the stone benches in the garden of my friend's grandmother in Italy, surrounded by mountains and stray cats, I couldn't help but feel like I was living poetry.



The nature of our friendship was one where we could coexist in the same place without really acknowledging each other, simply enjoying our presence. Knowing each other for more than 6 years, we had disagreements, extended periods of silence, and definitely moments where we wished we didn’t have to be attached by the hip. I am infinitely grateful for our friendship over the years and also for how well she planned our trip. It was the best first taste of Europe I could have gotten.


I always realize what souvenirs I should have gotten in retrospect if I wasn’t stingy in the moment. Still, I have all the receipts and tickets kept in an old wallet, and I’ve ordered prints of the pictures I want to put down in the notebook. My scrapbook will eventually come together.



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