Because we visited eight cities in one week, Italy was beautiful chaos. If you’re wondering why we’d put ourselves through that kind of exhausting travel, it’s because we realize that we will probably never make it back to Italy, so we wanted to see as much of it as we could now while we had free access to trains. So we hopped aboard the hottest, oldest, stuffiest, most uncomfortable trains we’d seen yet and sped from city to city. We were on a mission for pizza, pasta, Italian history, and real Italian culture.
After tasting the most pure and delicious pizza that’s ever graced my taste buds at Da Michele in Naples (the restaurant mentioned in Eat, Pray, Love and other books and movies), we headed to Pompeii, where we walked through a city of ruins and saw the plaster-casted body forms of the victims of Vesuvius.
This was an emotional place to be and to see, and although it could take days to see it all, we left after a few hours to head down to the Amalfi Coast. After an unbelievably bumpy and curvy bus ride, my stomach was in such knots and I was so nauseous that I could barely enjoy the beautiful blue-water coast, but what I do remember about Amalfi is the limoncello gelato in a waffle cone that put my topsy-turvy tummy at ease—in just enough time for us to head back up the mountain in the most miserable bus ride I’ve ever experienced.
The next morning we headed up to Rome, where, of course, as a testament to the unfortunate events that seemed to follow us as we traveled, the Colosseum had closed early for the day. We were left standing outside of it, bitter and annoyed, pouting for a few moments about our bad luck alongside all the other camera-bearing, tennis-shoe wearing Chinese and American tourists. We made a conscious decision not to let this ruin our day, though, so we consoled ourselves with more gelato (heck, you’re only in Italy once…) and trucked along with the day, seeing as many of the other landmarks and sites as we possibly could.
Italy was amazing, and it was beautiful, and it was such a wonderful experience, but sadly, it was the country that least met my expectations. Maybe that’s because I had set them too high or because I was sick during part of my travel there, but I just wasn’t impressed with the pasta, the Tuscan landscape, the weather, the smells, or the people.
Next on the schedule was Florence, where Rachel impressed us all with her bargaining skills at the leather market. One of my favorite moments happened when we were on a bus in this city—an old woman, sweaty and reeking of body odor (like the rest of the entire country) was annoyed at having to be squeezed between me and a bunch of other people, and she said “Mamma mia!” in that loud, passionate Italian way. I made eye contact with Kathleen, one of our traveling buddies all throughout Italy, and we smiled, loving this utterly Italian moment.
Then came the day of four cities, when we woke up in Florence and, after visiting two other cities in the same day, slept that night in Venice. Needless to say, this day was one of the most unforgettable of them all—partly because my aching body wouldn’t let me forget it for the next few days. In Pisa, we jumped off the train, ran over a mile to get to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (our massive backpacks bouncing unmercifully along the way), snapped a few pictures, and ran the mile back to the station to catch the next train—all in LESS than forty minutes.
Red-faced, breathing like hippos, hunched over from the backpacks, and feet throbbing, we ran like traveling track stars to make it to the next city on time. In the midst of this torturous run, Rachel made the kind offer that, if we really made it back to the station on time, she’d buy us all gelato; at the sound of this offer, Amanda, tired and sweaty, bolted to the head of the pack and sprinted the last leg like a cheetah. Nothing can get between that girl and her chocolate ice cream.
We made the train, and we headed northeastern to Verona, where the only pictures that we’d taken of any of us with the Leaning Tower of Pisa were stolen along with Rachel’s camera at an outdoor market. After grieving the loss of 1,000 photos, Rachel was a trooper and we continued experiencing this city full of romance. It was the small Italian town we’d been looking for—the colorful, quaint homes and storefronts, people’s clothes hanging out the window or on clotheslines hanging between brick buildings, the market square in the middle of town, the romantic undertones that seemed to linger in the air.
We visited the archway, walls, and statue where the movie Letters to Juliet was filmed; this is where you’re supposed to write a letter to Juliet Capulet about your own personal past loves, hopes for future love, and anything else of the romantic nature that you’d like to tell her or ask her. We followed suit, spilling our hearts onto pages that we’d ripped out of our journals, folding them gingerly, and sticking them to the wall with pieces of chewing gum. We also all bought a “love lock” together and locked it onto a fence in the courtyard—a romantic gesture that means something special to each person individually.
Still swimming in the pool of romantic ideals that Verona seems to shove you into, it seemed only natural to move on to Venice that night. Hitting up the fourth city of the day, we finally got to a little suburb of Venice, where we saw prostitutes on the job and were whistled at by a few groups of Italian men. It was quite a different kind of romance from Verona. We were never happier to see daylight the next morning, and we headed to the city center of Venice, where we walked the streets and boated the canals of the city.This is, of course, where one of my favorite moments unfolded—the Venetian gondola ride, complete the Italian man singing to us (and occasionally rocking the boat back and forth to get gasps and laughs out of us). Despite some of my disappointments in Italy, the memories we made in times like these—being serenaded by our Italian gondolier, sprinting through Pisa, eating one heck of an Italian pizza, having far too much gelato, writing letters to Juliet, and even having pictures made with modern-day Roman gladiators in front of the Colosseum—made our time in Italy so worth any of the minor disappointments.