Squinting against the midday sun, I breathed in the sweltering, Italian air; grateful for each meager gust of tobacco flavored wind. The soles of my flip-flops stuck to the freshly melted tar on the pavement. My art teacher, Miss Aliffi, shooed away an overly friendly street peddler as the rest of my travel group headed down the sidewalk, luggage in hand. Our first impression of Rome was an unruly mob petitioning against animal cruelty just outside our hotel, Hotel President. Momentarily, I became part of the quest for animal rights as I weaved my way past shouts, whistles and picket signs.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I was on a two week, school sponsored trip across Europe with six other students and two chaperones. It was my first time ever leaving America, and, prior to our nine hour flight out of Virginia, I had never even owned a passport!
After settling into our rooms on the second floor, our tour guide, Nick, escorted us to the Colosseum, which was a short walking distance from the hotel. Along the way, we spotted heaps of crumbled ruins from the lost civilizations of Rome. The city, itself, is one of many layers of historical splendor. With just a quick glance below the pavement, you'll see the foundations of an ancient Roman market or temple. Unfortunately, strolling through the city isn't always such a "walk in the park," unless of course, you consider the challenge of crossing roads with no traffic lines, and no speed limits a thrilling pastime!
Later that week, I was fortunate enough to meet my second cousin, Andrea, who lives in Rome. You know someone is your family when you've spent the duration of your lives unaware of each other's existence and on opposite sides of the world, yet, the moment you see them, you're certain you will love them forever. Andrea took me on an improvised tour of the city's quaint alleyways and shopping areas remotely unknown to vacationers. Of course, no tour is complete without a visit to the Trevi Fountain. People come from all over the world to admire the statue of the god, Neptune, overlooking his team of winged horses racing across the water.
We left the city for a traditional lunch at his apartment, where I met his two sons. Fresh olives were served with homemade cannelloni and salad. For dessert, I was introduced to an apricot-like fruit called a Nespoli; its fragile skin and twenty day harvesting period deemed it a name that directly translates to, "special."
That evening, I met Nick back at the hotel, and the two of us took a taxi to Piazza Navona where the rest of the group was having dinner. Upon our arrival at the Piazza, we became lost among the many artists displaying their paintings. At that moment, I began to realize how drastically my view of the world had changed since I'd left for this trip. The word foreign didn't seem like such an abstract idea to me anymore. For once, it was a living concept in my mind, one, filled with all the colorful variations of life people can lead. And there was still so much more I had yet to see.
"The more you travel, you'll come realize the world is quite a small place," Nick reassured me.
Our trip concluded with a train ride to Ostia Antica beach. The salty coastline was bedecked with red and orange stones strewn about like a blind man's mosaic. I watched as the blue, Mediterranean waves washed my footprints away in the sand, leaving only the memory of me standing there.
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