When I was in the 7th grade, my parents took a trip to Italy and left my brother and me at home. Cruel, I know. Granted, it was their anniversary or something special like that and we got to spend a week with our grandma (no parents, no rules???), but ever since I saw the pictures and heard the stories, Italy was at the top of my travel list. Last week, that dream finally came true.
I flew into and out of Milan, but spent most of my time in Florence and Rome. It was a 5 day break – the longest one I’ll have this semester – and I have no doubt that I spent it right. On top of everything else, I got really lucky, because Colby’s spring break happened to line up perfectly with mine. So unlike other trips that I’ve been taking with friends I’ve met here in Amsterdam, I got to meet up with one of my best friends from back at school. He’d spent a year of high school studying abroad in Italy, and so he knew the area, spoke the language, and new how to navigate the various cities in a way I’d never have been able to do.
I spent barely any time in Milan that first day, and instead got on a train really early train to Florence. The city is stunning. Honestly, no picture I took can do it justice. What’s more, it’s a really manageable city - walkable from one end to the other, accessible, full of friendly people. I spent a full day and a half there, and really do feel like I saw the main sights and did the quintessential “firenze things”. We got to climb to the top of the Duomo, eat fresh made pasta from Centrali Market, walk along the Arno, fantasize about buying the ridiculously expensive watches and necklaces showcased on Ponte Veccio, and see the Uffizi.
(Duomo in Florence, Italy)
The two highlights of the city for me were the Piazza de Michaelangelo, and the Boboli gardens. We got so incredibly lucky with the weather, and neither place disappointed. A friend who studied abroad in Florence last year told me that the Piazza was a must – she wasn’t wrong. You can see for miles and miles, and the church located at the highest point of the outlook provides the most breathtaking view of the tan and orange patchwork rooftops. The Boboli gardens, on the other hand, was such an astonishingly pleasant surprise. Honestly, if my friend hadn’t been adamant about going, I likely would have walked right past it. The gardens sit behind this large building, that from the street looks like any other museum. I can’t even really describe how stunning it was, so take a look at the picture below and the ones I put in the gallery for an idea of what I’m talking about.
(We got so lucky with weather - View from the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Rome)
The next day we hopped on a train for city number two. And here’s where my love affair with Italy truly began. I fell in love, head over heels, with Rome. The cobblestone streets, the architecture, the people, the urban, metropolitan, busy yet somehow relaxed, atmosphere. I hope that every single one of you reading this (does anyone actually read these?) has the opportunity to visit Rome at some point. I can’t even remember the order of what we saw and when we saw it, but the three days we spent in Rome were full of trips to the Trevi, Pantheon, Colloseum, the Roman Forum, and so many more places. We also took a day trip to Viterbo; a small town about an hour north of Rome, and an hour and a half south of Florence. It was amazing to see a more “authentic” side of Italy. I wish I could break down my time there in a more coherent and descriptive manner, but take my word for it – you have to go experience it yourself.
(Colosseum in Rome, Italy)
Each day seemed to pass by quicker than the one before it, and before I knew it, I had to mentally prepare to say goodbye to Italy. I came to an interesting realization though, on that last day in Rome. Sitting outside at a cafe right across the street from the Pantheon, I realized how thankful I am that I get to call Amsterdam home. In fact, each place I travel has only ever only strengthened my love for Amsterdam, and makes me appreciate the city so much more. I realized that I’d subconsciously been thinking to myself “I go home tomorrow.” How strange is that? A country I arrived in for the first time 8 weeks ago now feels like home. Looking across the street at the Pantheon, people watching as tourists with puzzled expressions tried to decipher cryptic maps, as children with more gelato smeared on their faces than likely made it into their mouths ran by, I realized that I wasn’t sad about going home the next day, because the city I got to return to was a place I loved beyond anything else.
I guess that’s why I say I fell in love, twice. Because I fell in love with the city of Rome, but through that process I realized that I’ve been in love with Amsterdam all along. I can’t wait for my next adventure, but no matter how great it is, I can pretty confidently say that boarding a return flight won’t be too difficult. There’s absolutely no place like Italy, but there’s also no place like home.
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<p>My name is Elisa Stern, and I am a junior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I am studying neuroscience and philosophy, and will be studying abroad in Amsterdam for the Spring of 2016.</p>