After an entire year of being cooped up at home because of COVID-19, I’ve caught myself reminiscing about the vacations I took before the pandemic even began. Being a huge history nerd, my favorite family vacation must be my trip to Italy. The food, the architecture, the people, all of it wove an intricate story.
My trip to Italy changed my entire world!
We first arrived in Rome on a warm, balmy afternoon. I tried really hard to learn some Italian for the trip, so I remember thanking our cab driver with a slightly garbled “grazie mille.” It must have sounded odd, because he laughed while responding. The moment we entered the hotel room, I remember thinking it was very small. I knew that Europe in general housed smaller facilities, but I didn’t expect to sleep on a cot. It proved surprising, but a small price to pay in exchange for visiting an amazing country like Italy.
Walking through the streets of Rome gave off an entirely different vibe than I’d ever felt before. Despite being a city like any other, Rome lacked the hectic bustle of the American northeast. The serene atmosphere stood out to me after passing rows of beautifully decorated outdoor restaurants, buying cups of creamy gelato from small, tucked away shops, and inhaling the delicious aroma of cooking pasta, pizza, and grilled vegetables from nearby pavilions. I found myself falling in love with the authentic culture of the country.
Exploring the hidden nooks of the city like locals proved a thrilling experience.
Don’t get me wrong though, the sightseeing definitely proved the other biggest highlight of the trip. On our first day in Rome, we visited the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite moments of the trip. The large, ancient Colosseum towered over us, eroded columns reaching high into the sky. While we strolled through the ruins of the arena, my imagination went wild. I felt like I could hear the roar of the crowd in the stands, see the red plumage of Roman soldiers guarding the archways, hear the clash of metal as gladiators fought—it felt like I stood amidst the flow of time itself, breathing in living proof that ancient Rome truly existed.
On our third day in Rome, we booked a trip to Pompeii along with a hike up Mt. Vesuvius.
This proved another exciting moment for me. I read so many books, watched so many movies, even heard songs about the tragedy of Pompeii. Nothing could’ve prepared me for when we arrived there. It felt haunting to walk through the ruined streets of a city that once housed real, living people. The tour guides even showed us the bodies of Pompeii’s citizens, perfectly preserved in a hard shell of ash. High above the ruins, Mt. Vesuvius loomed in the distance, a stark reminder of just how Pompeii ended up this way.
We hiked to the top of the mountain, trudging through an uneven ash trail for nearly two hours. I chose a horrible day to wear white shoes. When we reached the top, the gorgeous view stretched all the way to the Bay of Naples. I felt another eerie quiver in my stomach while gazing into the crater of the mountain. So many years ago, this very mountain exploded, yet now it stood silent and still. I knew I wanted to remember that feeling, so I grabbed a few pumice rocks souvenirs while we came down the mountain.
Our next stop after Rome?
Florence—a more close-knit city nestled in northern Italy. The streets wound narrowly through the squares, lined with cozy restaurants along with gelato shops. Every few blocks you could find a church without fail. Florence is full of them! We hopped from cathedral to cathedral, admiring the artwork along the walls. Still, none of the churches compared to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Although the paintings in the churches of Florence stood out, I still remember staring at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel admiring Michelangelo’s work until my neck hurt.
The atmosphere in Florence differed distinctly from Rome, but in a good way. The lack of tourists stood out to me along the tucked away streets we walked down. It gave way for more interaction between us and the locals. When we sat down for lunch on our first day there we got to talk to the manager of the restaurant, an incredibly generous and friendly man. He even gave us a free limoncello shot after our meal!
One moment I remember quite vividly actually proved one of the simplest of all.
On our second to last night in Florence, my family picked out a dimly lit restaurant nestled into the side of a road for dinner. The doors stretched wide open, a warm, summer breeze wafting through the air as Italian music echoed softly through the speakers. I ordered a rather simple dish of spaghetti in olive oil, but the ambience of the moment drew me in more than anything else. Around us, people went about their own business. A man beside us drank his soup while reading a book, and a family across from us laughed heartily in enjoyment. We enjoyed our food while sipping wine and chatting about all the amazing sights we’d recently seen. In a way, moments like that bring me the most happiness.
Lastly, we stopped in Venice before heading back home.
The winding waterways snaked beautifully through the entire city just like every picture of Venice I’d seen before. We even took a relaxing gondola ride through the canals, admiring the city while it passed us by. I finally felt like I knew how all those people in romance movies must feel, drifting through the Venice canals. I bought a necklace with a gorgeous blue pendant to forever remember my visit to Venice. After stopping somewhere nice for an evening drink of coffee, we took the train back into Florence.
On the flight back to the U.S, I thought about just what I’d gained from our trip to Italy. The fantastic food, the amazing sights, sure, but most importantly, I learned so much about the ancient history of the country while gleaning the importance of it all. Seeing the ruins of Pompeii along with standing atop Palatine Hill where the Roman Empire first began its ascent instilled a humbling sense of awe in my heart. I could feel the bones of such a rich, cultured nation beneath my feet.
If you’re considering a trip to Italy in the future, I wholeheartedly recommend it. There’s something there for everyone to enjoy, no matter your age or background. For fellow history buffs like me, food enthusiasts, or simply adventurous souls, Italy boasts a truly remarkable country to explore.