Italy. What comes to mind when this word is uttered? Is it the labyrinth of twisting canals and narrow alleys of Venice? The sweetly musical night air that is laced with the sound of serenading gondoliers? Or perhaps you prefer the classics? The roman Coliseum, still standing in all its glory. The marble crumbled, the pillars still erect and noble, and the ground still seeped with the blood of all the fallen gladiators of such a long time ago. Maybe you have a more rustic view? Images of a quaint countryside are conjured. You see the villas of Tuscany, the smell of sundried tomatoes and freshly made bread seasoned with olive oil and served with an icy glass of the finest wine.
For me, the answer is undoubtedly all. This summer I had the opportunity of a lifetime to visit the country that was once the bustling and warlike empire of the entire world. Granted, Rome is not the tyrannical city that it once was, but the noble visage and ancient streets are still there. I wandered through the streets in awe, dodging mopeds while simultaneously gazing at the two thousand year old structures that rise up out of the earth standing next to skyscrapers and corporate building offices. Smart cars and motorcycles trundle across the same stone roads that once bore the pounding feet of the most powerful army the world has ever seen.
The architecture was one thing, but the people and culture were just as fascinating. You would see Italians in cafes sipping espressos and waving emphatically with their hands in a friendly conversation that looks like a heated argument. Hipsters are strolling down the street in the middle of August in a black turtleneck and skin tight jeans without breaking a sweat, but such is the way of the Roman people. And you know what they say about what to do when you’re in Rome . . .
The city of Verona was next, the root of all romanticism and the setting for the famous play Romeo and Juliet. Despite all its hype, the balcony really isn’t that high by the way, only about fifteen feet. The most enjoyable part of Verona was how beautiful it was. The city was a picturesquely perfect garden with flowers and fountains and sculptures on every street corner. Truly the city of Romeo and Juliet, and a popular vacation place for French people. I was approached several times by French tourists, but what can you do? The French are lovers, not fighters.
The drive from Verona on our tour bus was a vacation in itself. Tiny villages and sprawling villas sped past us faster than we could fumble for our cameras. The ocean bordered us on the left, and in the distance on our right was a misty mountain range, framing the land in idyllic perfection. Vineyards of grapes could be seen throughout the land, as well as olive trees. The deep greens, burnt oranges and fiery reds were present through all of the houses, farms, and the land itself. Nothing could have been more peaceful or relaxing in all of Italy.
And of course, what is Italy without its trademark city of Venice? The title of most expensive city in the world is appropriately bestowed. You couldn’t so much as move around the city without having someone charge you a couple bucks just to tell you directions. The swirling canals, lapping waves and grandeur architecture were almost magical. The city was like a mystical gem, hovering on an azure sea of lights and old world charm. It was easy at night to imagine a huge gondola gliding past you, filled to the brim with laughing aristocrats, all dressed in their Venetian lace and adorned in gilded masks on their way to the party of the century.
The country of Italy, and my experiences there itself were nothing but magical. So much of the culture, art history, and life of its people were to be found anywhere that you looked. Sure it was expensive in some places; sure you had to watch your wallet. But I didn’t care. The sun could have baked me to a crisp and I would have come back with an idiotic grin seared on my face. Leaving was the hardest part of the trip, and after having been so close to the people on the tour group and seeing a place that was so new and enticing, it was a struggle not to just ‘accidently’ forget when my flight was scheduled. But the best part of any trip are the experiences that you gain from them, and Italy was one of the most fantastic and interesting places I’ve ever been to. The sights, sounds, and places that I visited there will stay with me for the rest of my life.
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