Un Bellissimo Viaggio

The Journey

The Journey

Perspective. The word is simple. Seeing through a different lens. The word is powerful…powerful enough to completely change everything.

I’m on the outside looking in.

Everything is a mess.

The streets like the people are disheveled.

Personal space does not exist.

The graffiti lined sidewalks are full of people acting as the cars on the streets

Weaving in and out with no place or awareness.

I search for an out and take the bridge.

I’m on the inside looking around.

Beauty is everywhere.

The streets like the people are vibrant.

I have found my personal corner.

The colorful shutter lined sidewalks shimmer as the cars on the streets

Flowing by and through each other like the ripples of the river I crossed.

I find a cafe and enjoy.

I have found it so difficult to describe my experience. Sometimes I have a hard time comprehending it myself, and it was mine. My perspective was changed every day, allowing me to see with fresh eyes or experience with a fresh heart. The words above are an attempt to give vitality to my journey–take from them what you will. While they don’t say everything, they say enough. As time passes the blank spaces will be filled in, their true meaning will be revealed, and I will marvel at the way my time abroad impacted every aspect of my life.

Negative to Positive

Negative to Positive

“The unexpectedness of life, waiting round every corner, catches even wise women unawares…To avoid corners altogether is, after all, to refuse to live.” -Freya Stark

Around the end of my first month in Rome, after weeks of excitement and what felt like nonstop traveling, I was so looking forward to spending an entire weekend exploring the city I was living in. In reality, I ended up hardly exploring at all. I was so looking forward to visiting the sights I had not seen yet and returning to some of my favorites, but when the time came, I felt myself exhausted and nearly emptied of all ambition. Not only was I not feeling physically up to par, but I was also feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. I put the exploring off that weekend, embraced the rain, and stayed in. In other words, I wasted precious time.

I determined that maybe this was how I was experiencing homesickness, as I felt myself, very powerfully for the first time since I had left, longing to be comforted by my loved ones and the familiarity of home. I have heard many theories on this topic of homesickness. One such theory says that the length of your homesickness is equal to the length of anticipation before departure. Another, and probably more common theory, suggests that homesickness usually sets in around the third or fourth week, after the initial excitement has faded away, but before routine has set in. It seemed as though I was a victim of the latter. Consequently, having this period to myself left me time to think–a think that led to missing.

I knew that the remainder of my time in Rome would both be long and fly by at the same time, and I knew that that particular encounter with the pangs of longing for home would not be my last. That experience of homesickness though, made me sure that I never wanted to handle my sadness in that way again. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I found a boost of confidence and enthusiasm. I determined that I could not let Rome pass me by. From that weekend forward, I continually reminded myself, “I cannot say tomorrow…because before I know it…tomorrow I will be home.”

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

I remember like it was yesterday the first time I saw Piazza Navona. It was my first weekend in Rome during my third and final day of orientation. After an entire day of walking around the city, learning the metro, buses, piazzas, and monuments, we were given an assignment: We were going to be led somewhere in the city, and we had to find our way home. The place my group was led to was Piazza Navona.

Like most piazzas in Rome, the streets leading to Piazza Navona are narrow, cobblestone, and lined with colorful shutters that decorate the unique buildings. We were led through these small streets–having no idea where we were or where we were going….And then, suddenly, the buildings parted and, from the narrow street, we flowed out into the piazza. In front of us was the fountain pictured above, Bernini’s “Four Rivers.” It was one of the first of many breathless moments I would encounter throughout my time abroad; I could not believe the beauty that was before me.

Looking back on my semester, I realize that I began to take beauty like this for granted. I spent so much time in Piazza Navona–watching its street artists working and selling, eating in its restaurants, walking around its Christmas market–that by the end of my three months in Rome, visiting the piazza was a normal part of my week. I feel as though every time I visited, I gave a little less attention to its beauty, and now that my days spent there are behind me, I am reminded to never pass up an opportunity to honor the beauty that is before me.

When I Say Germany, You Say….Wine?

If I told you that this picture of rolling hills and vineyard after vineyard was the way I experienced Germany, would you believe me? Over the course of my fall break, I had the opportunity to travel beyond Italy to several other countries in Europe, and Germany was one of them. While all of the places I visited were beautiful and exciting, I found Germany to be one of the most surprising and, in a way, comforting; it became almost a home very, very far away from home.

By the time fall break rolled around, it was very much needed. I had made arrangements to stay with family friends in Frankfurt for a few days, and after half of a semester of meeting new people and learning a new way of life, I was excited to be in the company of familiar, American faces. Although I visited in October, Oktoberfest had already ended, but my hosts had something else planned for my visit…something unexpected and out of the ordinary for Germany, or so I thought. In place of Oktoberfest, we attended a wine festival, and that day became one of my favorite European adventures.

On the day of the wine festival, we took a train from Frankfurt to the town of Jahannisberg, a little over an hour away. As soon as I stepped off the train, I realized that it was located at the bottom of a hill, one that was adorned with palaces and castles–this became the first surprise. As if that weren’t enough, the hillsides supporting this grandeur were composed of vineyards–the second surprise. Later in the day, those vineyards would lend themselves to my favorite stroll through  a foreign countryside. We made our way up the hill to a palace, where we enjoyed Riesling on the terrace. For those of you familiar with the scene in The Sound of Music filmed on the Von Trapp family’s terrace, I felt like I had jumped into that scene… And then there was the view… At the back of the terrace, through a canopy of grapevines, was a view of the hillside of vineyards for as far as the eye could see. There were breaks in them here and there occupied by little towns, but these seemed insignificant in comparison. My eyes were drawn to the sea of green, and that was all that mattered.

We left the palace mid-afternoon to venture to a nearby town for the festival, and after missing our bus, we were left with no choice but to walk. It was not a short walk, but worth every minute. The path we took cut through the vineyards and was untraveled, except by us. As the sun began to set, the gape vines enveloped us and we took breaks to capture the beauty around us and taste the delicious grapes. We finally arrived at the festival close to dark, but I could have continued to walk all night.

I’m always amazed at the beauty that comes from the most unexpected sources. I traveled to Germany expecting beer and bratwurst, and I left Germany having experienced wine and palaces and miles of vineyards. I am so thankful for this particular day in Germany and for the hospitality of my friends, and their willingness to take me in, show me around, and provide me with a home away from.

El Tablao De Carmen

El Tablao De Carmen

During my trip to Barcelona, Spain, I had the privilege of attending El Tablao De Carmen, a restaurant in which dinner was accompanied by a Flamenco performance. Several years ago, through my ballet training, I was introduced to this Spanish art form, so being able to attend an authentic performance was so exciting. I will always remember how much enthusiasm my Flamenco teacher had for her dancing, and I was anxious to experience firsthand the  passionate performance she had always described.

Flamenco, by its very nature, is intuitive and almost spontaneous, and these performers were definitely defining movement, musicality, and emotion in ways I had never seen from the stages of even the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. Unlike most other performing arts, Flamenco dancers are accompanied by musicians who actually share the stage with them, adding a whole new element to the quality of the performance. They use this close proximity to feed off each other’s energy, often times giving encouragement to their fellow dancers by shouting an ole!, which is just one of the many unique features of this genre.

Being a dancer myself, I am always able to connect with what is taking place on-stage, but the power of these dancers and musicians radiated from the stage in a way that anyone could sense, no matter their level of experience or understanding of the art form. I was so happy that, after all those years of taking Flamenco at home in the US, I was able to witness such authenticity from a stage and gain a better understanding of the power and passion of this art form.

Venezia

Venezia

Early in November I had the opportunity to spend a day in Venice, Italy. A few friends and I took a train in the morning from Milan, where we had spent the previous day, to spend the day in Venice and return to Rome that night. Being completely surrounded by and made up of water, the last few miles before arriving at the train station in Venice were spent on a bridge that led directly to the station. We got off the train, checked our luggage for the day, walked through the station to the exit at the opposite end, and what we found was Venice.

The city of Venice is made up of 118 small islands, separated by canals and connected by foot bridges, so it’s no surprise that upon leaving the train station the first thing you run into, aside from all the information desks selling tours of the city, is the Grand Canal. As one of our main reasons for traveling to Venice was to experience a gondola ride, that was the first thing we set out to do. My friends and I eased our ways into a gondola and we were off! Starting in the Grand Canal, we worked our way through smaller ones, seeing some of the islands and foot bridges of the city, before arriving back in the Grand Canal to finish our tour….and yes, our gondolier sang to us! We spent the rest of our afternoon roaming around Venice, deciding to forego the map and allow the foot bridges to take us to whichever islands they pleased. We ended the day with an appertivo ( Italian happy hour) before catching our return train to Rome.

There are many things that I have done throughout this semester abroad that have made me feel almost like I was outside of myself, probably as result of disbelief at the experience I was being given, and this trip was one of them. It was so incredible, as we made our way through the canals, to see houses and businesses with doors directly on the water, accessible only by boat. Or to see marks on buildings where the water had risen, sometimes to cover doors of buildings and wonder how people there deal with these fluctuating levels. If the culture of Italy is completely different from that of America, the lifestyles of Venetians is even more difficult, if not impossible, to understand. With this being said, Venice is by far one of the most unique places I have had the opportunity to visit.

Tuscany

Tuscany

Visiting the region of Tuscany was something that I had been looking forward to the entire semester. For some reason, in my mind, I knew that the Tuscan countryside would be everything that I had pictured Italy to be…and I was right. This photo was taken from the top of a tower in San Gimignano, a small Tuscan city. After a decent climb to the top of this old lookout, the view of the city and the surrounding countryside was so rewarding.  There is just something about those rolling hills that are so special about this region; they have the ability to give you everything you ever wanted out of Italy.

All of the Italian campus students set out on this Tuscan excursion together, being led by the directors of our program and some of our professors. We started the weekend off in San Gimignano, where we were taken through the city, visiting the burial site of Saint Fina and enjoying a delicious lunch, before making our way to Siena later that afternoon. While in Siena, we were taken on an extensive tour of the unique black and white striped Siena Cathedral, complete with its impressive artwork and library of illuminated choir books.  We enjoyed our evening in Siena before moving on to Lucca the next day.

Upon passing through the walls of Lucca, you can immediately feel the charm of the city. The narrow cobblestone streets lined with boutiques, bakeries, restaurants, and markets make up the heart of the city, while the city walls themselves provide a trail of beautiful scenery and parks. Many of us started our day off in Lucca by renting bikes and riding along the trail atop the city walls, enjoying the picturesque fall views. After strolling through the city for the rest of the afternoon, following the roads wherever they led us, we ended the day in Lucca with Mass and a group dinner.

Our final day in Tuscany, of course, was spent in Pisa. Upon entering Pisa through the archway, everything seemed disproportionate to me and was much closer together than I was expecting it to be. There is one street that leads you past all the important tourist attractions, a street that also lends itself to a significant amount of  humor. I will never forget the sight of people lined up along this street– regardless of age, gender, country of origin– taking the most ridiculous pictures with the Leaning Tower. Setting the humor aside, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is extremely impressive. There have, in the past, been efforts to correct its tilt, yet the tower continues to lean. Although the weather was less than ideal on the day we visited Pisa, we still made the best of our experience there, enjoying our tours through the cathedral, baptistery, and museum, and sharing a lot of laughs as we attempted to hold the tower up or kick it over for pictures of our own.

From the view from tower of San Gimignano, to the architecture and artwork Siena Cathedral, to the quaint street of Lucca, to the downpours of Pisa, the weekend was a success both for our minds and our free spirits. Each city we visited has its own personality, connected by its location in, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful regions in Italy–Tuscany.

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