I’ve officially been abroad for a month, and seeing as I caught my first ‘change of seasons’ cold, I have some time (in-between sneezes) to reflect on my experiences and adventures thus far. One of the most memorable weekends was when I jetted off to Florence for the weekend with my newfound friends. We boarded the train that Thursday afternoon with few expectations and even less knowledge of the city. We promptly learned our lesson. Do not rely on Apple Maps to lead you to your hostel after a full day of travel. You will get lost. You will have to enter a random hotel and have the concierge call you two taxis (because of course the first taxi that arrives doesn’t seat five people). However, after a night’s rest in beds that were better than those in our apartments in Perugia, we set out into the city.
Florentines were so used to tourists and foreigners that they seemed almost taken aback when I spoke Italian, which fortunately led to a quick friendship with a waiter (and free shots of limoncello) at Pinocchio’s - a cute restaurant near the leather market. As five typical American girls, we were jonesing for some Greek salads to balance out the multiple personal pizzas we had devoured in the past week. We frequented the restaurant three times during our 48 hour stay in Florence.
Shortly after conquering the mountainous salad for a second time, I wanted to see if the legends about the leather were true, and long story short, ended up dropping an excessive amount of money on the first leather jacket I tried on. The experience of buying leather in Florence is one I’ll never forget. I walked into the leather shop expecting to be aggressively approached and instead was, well, aggressively approached. But I have to hand it to the owners, they put me in a leather jacket that I knew I couldn’t afford, and after 45 minutes of teetering around the store and bouncing from mirror to mirror, ended up leaving with.
However, Florence had a much deeper meaning than consumerism and flirting with cute waiters, and it began to set in I looked up at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or as it is commonly known, Il Duomo di Firenze. Begun in 1296 and finally finished in 1436, the colossal dome oversees the the city, and can be seen in the horizon from various points throughout. Nothing made me feel so small as realizing I was standing beneath a building that took 140 years to construct (and ironically next to a man selling selfie sticks).
I had the same overwhelming perspective when walking through Basilica Papale di si San Francesco d'Assisi. While I am not religious, being in a place that holds such power to so many, and has seen millions of people in times of joy and desperation as a place of solace, makes me feel closer to the human race than anything I have ever experienced. There are moments abroad where it is easy to feel lost, and while I set off to discover who I truly am, I meet myself with confusion. But in places with such history, centuries of footprints, whispers, and hopes for the future, I realize that I am connected to so many others, past and present, that were trying to weave their way through life as well.
It can be easy to overlook how fortunate I am when climbing up steep Italian hills with sweat dripping down my back filled with confusion about the language and mannerisms, but when I enter such an ancient and quiet space, my frame of mind adjusts. As predictable as it sounds, traveling throughout Italy has enabled me to see new sides of myself, and I am gradually learning to carve a place for myself in this huge world, walking in the footsteps of all of those that have done the same before me.