Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gathered Thoughts From a Trip to Italy

Earlier this week I came back to Spain after spending ten days in its southern European counterpart to the east, the Republic of Italy. I am so grateful to have had both the means and the opportunity to travel around the central part of this country, a country I have dreamed about visiting ever since first studying Latin in 5th grade. I flew into beautiful Florence and spent three nights there, making a daytrip to nearby Siena on my way down to Rome. In my four nights in the capital, I hit up the Vatican City, many ruins, a dozen famous churches, and ancient alleyways. Heading south to Naples, I browsed this sketchy city’s significant archaeological museum, ate pizza, and daytripped to Mt. Vesuvius and the Roman ruins of Pompeii.

Florence, Italy
Florence
The trip was expensive and exhausting, but experiencing some of the art, architecture, history, ruins, and food that are so foundational to Western culture was everything I had hoped it would be as well as a peek into Italian culture. There was a lot to take in, and almost two weeks of nonstop travel gave me a lot to think about, too. These are my random musings about Italy, travel, and myself that I’ve gathered these past few days back home in Santiago de Compostela. It’s become somewhat of a tradition of mine to do a “collected lessons” posts after international trips I’ve taken so far (see France and Morocco), so here we go again!

* I made eight “ascents” on the trip: 1) Florence cathedral’s dome and 2) bell tower, 3) the bell tower of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, 4) Monte di Firenze where the church of San Miniato al Monte is, 5) the bell tower of Siena’s town hall, 6) the façade of Siena’s cathedral museum, 7) the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and 8) Mt. Vesuvius

* Italian shows some interesting U-raising in certain words: uffizi (“offices”), udienza (“audience”), and uscita (“exit”), for some examples with their cognate English words that are closer to Latin

* Would I go back again someday? I think so, yes, but only after some time decompressing and perhaps studying the language more; the hill towns of central Italy and the island of Sicily are definitely calling my name!

Cappuccino, Rome, Italy
Cappuccino, Rome
* In Italian cafés, first you order and pay at the cashier and then take your receipt to another employee to receive your order; this was extremely confusing when I first arrived in the country

* Surprisingly, I was able to understand 80% of the Pope’s Midnight Mass homily, which was in Italian…a language I haven’t even really studied!!!

* I am truly privileged to speak English as a native language because it is the language of tourism that both Asian tourists and native Italians have to learn to communicate in the industry

* In ancient Rome, emperors would write their names on buildings, arches, columns, obelisks, etc., that they ordered built; in medieval and modern Rome, however, the popes stamped their names everywhere (I’m looking at you, Sixtus V!)

Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Colosseum, Rome
* Rome desperately needs its third metro line (C) to open up, which will link the Vatican with Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum; buses lines are plentiful throughout town but utterly impossible to follow

* In Italy, you buy your public transport tickets (bus, tram, etc.) not in a machine near the train or on the bus…but in a café or tobacconist, because that makes logical sense, Italy, of course…

* Paying up to 1€ just to use the bathroom should be outlawed

* Food and museum tickets were outrageously marked-up; I am spoiled here in Spain with cheap eats (and free tapas!) and 1,50€ entrances

* For example, like Spain, Italy organizes its dinners around drinks, first courses, second courses, and desserts…but whereas in Spain this would cost you 9-12€ in an all-inclusive menú del día, you can bet on paying 25-30€ for the exact same thing in Italy!

Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome
* If I have food in my belly, I’m a happy man; if I’ve only eaten a croissant and a sandwich all day, you can bet I’m a grumpy monster by sunset

* While traveling, I switch to taking showers at night rather than the morning

* While traveling, 11 at night seems SOOO late but it’s nothing out of the ordinary at home

* Salve! is a typical greeting, just like it was in Latin!

Pizza margherita, Naples, Italy
Pizza margherita, Naples
* I knew that the modern nation-state of Italy wasn’t fully unified until the 1870s, but I had really no idea that most of it was technically split up and ruled by foreign powers/monarchs like the Spanish, the French, the Normans, etc. for centuries

* I felt uneasily comfortable saying ciao! for “goodbye” because that’s the exact same thing you say here in Galicia

* High speed rail is the bomb dot com; a 3-hour trip from Rome to Naples on the regional train only took an hour on the Frecciarossa train, reaching speeds of 300kph (180mph!)

* Favorite parts: in Florence, the views from all the hikes up and the whole Duomo complex; in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Borghese Gallery; in Naples, Pompeii and pizza

* Favorite gelato flavor: pistacchio (pistachio) and crema (eggs & vanilla)

Gelato, Rome, Italy
Gelato, Rome
* A typical Italian breakfast for me was a cappuccino (espresso + steamed milk + milk foam) and a cornetto (croissant); very similar to Spain

* I grew to appreciate sparkling mineral water (think Pellegrino) which I formerly hated for its bitterness

* Those Indian street sellers are amazing; at the first drop of rain they drop their laser pointers and touristy junk and pop out of nowhere with umbrellas hanging all over their arms!

* I did a lot more planning for this trip than I did for France last year, and I think it saved me a lot of money and stress not worrying about hostel bookings or train journeys; I’m not opposed to spontaneity but when you’re running on a tight budget I’m a big Type A person

* It is still beyond me how people can travel or backpack “long-term,” like a month or longer at a time; this introvert needs time to chill out, recharge, and edit photos/blog; of course, I’m sure long-term backpackers take days off from sightseeing and all, but I simply need a nest to return to after 1-2 weeks on the road

Pompeii, Italy
Street in Pompeii
Have you ever been to Italy before? What surprised you most about the country/how did you experience culture shock? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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