A moment I never thought I would experience so early in my life, in third person narration:
As the sun set over the Tuscan countryside and her classmates chattered around her, Cierra held in one hand a generous glass-full of Vernaccia and, in the other, a top-notch bite of bruschetta al pomodoro. Top. Notch. She considered the scenery, its vast expanse, its endlessness, its slow-cresting hills and valleys of grape vines – Tuscany is certainly a breath thief. And though she laughed at the house wine-happy jokes flittering around in that cool, 7 o’clock air, she had come to a bittersweet conclusion: it’s all downhill from here, this is definitely the happiest I’ll ever be.
I shared this sentiment with those sitting around me, and a number of them said yes, they were feeling quite the same. It’s difficult to not feel that way when you’re terrace-dining at dusk, being served a spectacular three-course meal after a day of running through the cobblestone streets of San Gimignano, not knowing what you’re running after but finding it all the same. It’s hard not to fall flat on your face in that hilltown, not because it’s particularly dangerous terrain, but because it is so overwhelmingly charming that you can’t help but swoon.
San Gimignano, I think, is my favorite place I’ve ever visited. We spent 24 hours there… plenty of time to do that whole head-over-heels thing. Tower with panoramic views? Check. Grapefruit champagne-flavored gelato? Check. Puppet shows? Check. Medieval fountain? Check. Ceramic shops abounding? Check. Also an unexpectedly high number of medieval torture museums, but I won’t count it against them. Our hotel, Hotel Bel Soggiorno, was a dream with its quaint rooms and many-windowed breakfast dining area that screamed BAM! YOU ARE IN THE MISTY ITALIAN COUNTRYSIDE AND YOU ARE EATING A CHOCOLATE CROISSANT! THIS IS THE BEST MORNING OF YOUR SORRY LITTLE LIFE! (aggressive, yes, but true). The town itself is small, probably walkable from end-to-end in ten minutes, so it’s easy to wander and hard to get lost. The people are lovely. They put up with a group of us sitting in the town square till 11pm on a Wednesday night, wiping our eyes as our wild laughter richocheted off the stone walls. I sat on an old well in the middle of the square while my friends performed dramatic recitations of everything from Keats to Usher, doubled over with my bare feet dangling. Life’s full of beautiful moments.
We visited Siena the next day, another town with a tower and another town which won my affection (hint: not too hard to win). Under the inexplicably stripey arches of Siena’s cathedral, I sat with my friend until we got kicked out at closing, chattering about the physics of angel wings and childhood church experiences. I’ve noticed this becoming a trend among my friends and me – having meaningful conversations in the quiet of a 12th century duomo or a medieval portrait gallery – and I really like it. There are so many things intersecting in those seconds. Context is cool. So are multi-course meals… which happened again in Siena.
It is around now that my memory starts getting a little blurry – before San Gimignano we had briefly visited Bomarzo, and then we bused to these two hilltowns, and after climbing so many steps and consuming so many carbs and, in the case of Siena’s tower, being confined in very tight, dark spaces, I was understandably disoriented and more than slightly peopled-out by the time we caught our train to Florence. I was ready to stare at the shadow of my own reflection in the window transposed over the passing fields and, not surprisingly, tune in to some bleak neo-folk. It’s a mood. It’s poetic. It’s fine. It was a beautiful train ride, it reminded me how much I prefer trains over any other form of transportation (save rollerskates) and it effectively reenergized me – a similar effect was achieved by a cappuccino the next morning. But hey, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Six other girls and I airbnb’d it in Florence, a decision which in the end garnered many exclaimed “NO REGERTS!” (not a mis-type; this has become an important phrase in our vernacular). Our apartment was close to the train station, our street had an enormous outdoor market, we were two minutes away from the world’s nicest food court, Mercato Centrale – no regerts indeed. The Ponte Vecchio was nice, the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo was lovely. But Mercato Centrale… that place makes a trip to Florence worthwhile. Pizza, seafood, pastries, pasta, cheese plates, gelato, BURGERS, it is all there, with free wifi for dessert. You order your food and take it to a table in the middle, where barmen in fedoras come around and take drink orders. I am not embarrassed to say we ate every meal here during our stay. I have a lot of Mercato receipts in my purse. They gave me my first cappuccino and I will never forget them.
It wouldn’t be Italy if there wasn’t a museum involved, so a group of us hit the Uffizi this morning. Let me just interject here: Florence, at least on weekends, is an incredibly crowded city. There was not a single place I visited where I wasn’t at least vaguely terrified of being trampled. Shopping at Zara was by far the most extreme example of this, but the Uffizi Gallery put itself on a pretty high level of craziness, its corridors thronged with large groups of people in blue headphones. Practically every picture I took has a stranger’s shoulder in it.
Petty complaints aside, the Uffizi Gallery was a great place to spend a few hours. Museuming is an enjoyable activity, especially when artists are sly and sneak bizarre things into their pieces – fat-mouthed dog monsters lurking in the shadows of a three-paneled Madonna and baby Jesus painting, a blurry centaur all but blended into the background of an otherwise un-mystical landscape, a small lizard crawling over a skull at the foot of the cross. Like a meatloaf in a fruitcake. I also saw some Botticelli and Caravaggio and Michelangelo and all that jazz. I should ditch English and History and just become an Art History major. I know three whole artists.
Anyway, the whirlwind of travel has ceased momentarily, and I am back in Rome. Back in the old rhythm: staying up much later than necessary and eating nutella with a spoon. I’m suddenly struck by how insane it is that I’ve developed any sort of rhythm here. Have I really been here long enough for that? Tomorrow will mark the one month anniversary of my intended departure, the next day my actual departure. Surreal to say the least. Without a doubt, this has been the most eventful month of my life, and I have learned so much about writing and people and being happy in situations which are not ideal. All valuable, I’d argue. I’m ready for more.