First off, I suppose I ought to admit I’m not really a travel kind of person. I’ve always preferred the comforting clinks and whirs of home to the alien rush of an unfamiliar place. The rush that now surrounded me as my family and I touched down at our first stop: Rome.
The first thing that struck me was the warmth. Everything about Italy seemed somehow warmer than the States, not just in the temperature but also in the colors, the light, and the sky. But after coming this far from home, I needed to find something more than that.
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I wanted to find the spirit of the city.
The big sights of Rome are well known: The Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain, and who could forget the Colosseum? The Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II was just outside our apartment.
But to me, it was not these places that defined Rome. Everybody saw them, but seeing them wasn’t truly seeing Rome. No, the spirit of Rome was in the little things: the clattering streets clad in smooth square stones, the fruity icy cool of the street-side gelato, and the little pump fountains sprouting from the ground like bizarre squat trees.
And most of all, Rome’s spirit resided in its quiet history.
Rome was unique in that it was simultaneously old and new. Walking around the city we saw ancient columns and arches, not displayed, simply there, like old venerated trees that had grown in place for so long they earned the unspoken right to remain. Instead they were simply built around, modern streets and buildings growing upon the past, rather than replacing it.
In the Termini train station marble coated the walls and floors, coexisting in harmony with the ruins of an ancient wall within the station. Layers such as these, individual yet united, wove through Rome, enough to fill a lifetime. But we only had a few days in Rome, and there were other places yet to see.
We arrived in Florence by train. Like Rome it felt warm and old, and somehow more real than reality back home. The city is known for its artistic spirit, the famous works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, and more, igniting the spark of the Renaissance that spread across Europe.
However, as I found at the finale of our trip, the greatest piece of art in Florence was Florence itself.
As the last light of our last day in Italy began to wane, we set out to one final sight. Farther and farther we went up the tree-lined street of Viale dei Colli, spiraling around the San Miniato hill. As we rose, the sun fell, and all around, lanterns and windows blinked on like heavy, slow fireflies.
Finally, we clambered a last set of steps, and arrived at our final destination, the Piazzale Michelangelo terrace. And beyond it? All of Florence shone below. The dimming square looked out over the sprawling city, and on and on for countless miles of buildings like patchwork. Together we watched the sky fade from blue to pale to orange to black, and saw the city sparkle in the dark like a constellation of grounded stars.
We’d lost our camera, so a weak digital phone had to suffice. But it didn’t matter; the real thing was etched in my memory forever.
And the pictures weren’t too bad either.
They say in Rome, that a coin thrown into the Trevi Fountain ensures that someday you’ll return. Natural tendencies aside, I had dropped one in. Leaving home wasn’t all that bad I’d decided…
Once you find the spirit of things.
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