Today, in lieu of a trip recap, I’m throwing it WAY back with something I wrote on May 6, 2005 – 5 months after returning from my study abroad semester in Florence, Italy. I was reminded of it when two of my kiddos came to visit me over spring break and ask my opinion where they should study abroad. I think everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad because there’s really no other time in your life where you will truly be able to take 4+ months to travel so freely.
I even included a smattering of pictures from my time overseas… you will notice how much better digital photography has gotten since those days – I actually look a film camera and 28 rolls of film… and over half my pictures were ruined by the airport x-ray machines… and my photos that weren’t were stolen by the movers in 2008, so these are some of the few images I have from this special time in my life.
“Tonight while I was coming home from studying for my physics final at the library, this pop song that used to ALWAYS play at the internet cafe in Florence came on… and I just started to cry. Why? What provoked such tears?
All those emotions I was supposed to go through upon first returning the United States just came flowing out tonight. I did it on my own. My entire life, the only thing I’ve ever wanted was to go to Europe… more than anything in the world. I wanted to stare at the Eiffel Tower in wonderment and awe. I wanted to see Buckingham Palace. I wanted to see a gondola man in Venice. I wanted to see where the Berlin Wall stood and where World War II happened. I wanted to see all of these things I had only read about… and I did it. All on my own!! I did it without knowing anybody… without having anyone around to support me and hold me up. I went to the edge of my comfortable world and flew. And it made me cry.
My first time overseas, and I flew by myself. I flew into London and hopped on a train after an 8 hour flight. I went through Buckingham Palace, saw Changing of the Guard, and wandered around London alone. I went back to the airport that same day and flew on to Florence, Italy. I managed to get get my luggage and get to a hotel, where I learned that 3-stars in Europe aren’t 3-stars in the United States. I was glued to International CNN for the 12 hours I was there. I managed to get moved into an apartment down the street from the Duomo and carried three 70lb bags up three flights of stairs, because there was no elevator (and no air-conditioning either)! I walked past the Duomo every day on my way to classes. Within the first 4 days, I traveled to Pisa and Viareggio. I found out that the Leaning Tower really does lean, that churches can be absolutely beautiful, and I laid on a beach on the Italian Riveria staring at mountains with snow in the distance. I also learned that there is a difference between regional and intercity trains and got fined.
Ten days after arriving in Europe, I headed to the South of France, completely on my own. I visited Monoco and Cannes and stayed in Nice in a hostel named after one of my favorite authors. I saw the palace in Monoco where Princess Grace lived. I saw a Barbie exhibit in France! I had lunch at a restaurant called Le Texan in Monaco! I sat quietly in the Chagall Museum in Nice and found a new love for some modern art. I laid on the beach in Cannes and saw where the film festival was held. I shared drinks at the bar in my hostel with an eclectic mix of people and had great conversations. I saw Verdi’s La Treviata. I traveled to Rome and tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain. I stood in awe and amazement at the Coliseum and the Pantheon. I was blessed by the Pope! I saw the Sistine Chapel (and discouragingly found out that Michelangelo didn’t paint it on his back after all)… I later attended a mass at St. Peter’s. I climbed 320 steps to the top of the dome and looked out over Rome. I saw La Pieta. I took a train to Venice and took a water bus all the way around the islands. I stood in the middle of the Grande Canal and watched the gondola-men go by. I fed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square and let them sit on my head. I saw a movie with Heath Ledger being filmed. I found cinnamon gelato on a small side street. I let myself get lost without a map in Venice and later shared a water taxi with a couple from Detroit.
I went to Munich and Nuremberg. I stood where Hilter staged some of his largest rallies. I spent all day in the Documentation Center, reading all the mandates, court orders, Hitler’s rise to power, and World War II propaganda. I ate fresh pretzels. I explored old Nuremberg and tried food from German street vendors. I made it back to Munich and navigated the subway system. I spent an entire afternoon at the German Science and Technology Museum and loved it. I had my first apple strudel at Hofbrahaus, one of the oldest beer gardens in Germany and where Hitler held meetings of the National Socialist Party. I saw the Glockenspiel and the site of the ’72 Olympics.
I saw fall come in Stockholm, Sweden and saw leaves change for the first time in my life. I breathed in fresh air and enjoyed nature. I found a Dr. Pepper in a 7-11!! I took a train that went into a boat and then kept going on into Berlin. I stayed in a hostel called “Dave’s Cozy Little Backpacker’s Hostel”, and Dave had a sense of humor. I spent an entire night in the Jewish Museum of Berlin. I saw Parliament and climbed to the top of the dome. I saw the Berlin Wall memorial and observed the rebuilding of East Berlin. I saw Charlottenburg Palace and laid amongst the changing leaves. I visited Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachnikskirche, a church that was destroyed by the WWII bombings and rebuilt entirely out of stained glass – and I found God there. I interviewed with Conoco Phillips in a cramped phone booth for a summer internship. I visited Amsterdam and went through Anne Frank’s hiding place. I got goosebumps when the floorboards creaked. I walked through the canals, saw the ladies in the windows, and more drugs than I’ve ever seen in my life. I had dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant in The Netherlands! I had Belgian waffles in Belgium. I saw Manneken Pis and his costumes… and I giggled. I brought home Belgian Chocolate for my friends. I stood in the middle of the Grand Place and marveled at the architecture. I took a train to Luxembourg and walked around the city in 2 hours. Once again, I saw fall. I learned some of my family is from Luxembourg. I ended up in Paris, after seeing four countries in a single day.
I wasn’t disappointed by the Eiffel Tower. I walked up and down both banks of the Seine. I spoke French and the French understood me. I walked from the Louvre, down the Champs Elysees, and ended up at the Arc de Triomphe. I saw where Princess Diana died and the Hotel les Invaldies. I hiked up to Sacre Coure and watched the sunset on Paris. I visited the Musee d’Orsay and saw the real Degas paintings. I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, and I ate lamb and duck! I went to Salzburg and saw where the Sound of Music was filmed. I saw where some of my best friends spent the most amazing four months of their lives. I found a Mexican restaurant in Salzburg. 🙂 I stood in H&M for Allison. I ice-skated on an open air rink with the Salzburg Dom in the background. I went to Siena and was dumbfounded by an enormous cathedral. I went to Switzerland and it snowed on me. I stared in wonderment at the Alps.
My friends and I created Thanksgiving in Italy, twice. Once with all the comforts of home, and once with Chinese takeout, for Emma. I made my first apple pie – ever – using an Italian dictionary at the grocery store. My friends took me to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Ponte Vecchio for my 22nd birthday. I climbed to the top of the Piazza Michelangelo when I was lonely and looked over Florence, which was awe-inspiring. I stood on the banks of the Arno river and watched the world go by. I learned how to say hello to my elderly neighbor in Italian and ask her how she was. I saw Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring David. I spent evenings in the Piazza Republicca, listening to string quartets, accordion players, and eating gelato. I climbed the 467 steps to the top of Bruneschelli’s Duomo and looked out at Florence, my home for four months. One of my friends from high school came all the way from England to spend a few days with me.. and one of my closest friends from home came to spend a week traveling with me at the end of my time abroad. I re-read some classics and discovered some new ones. I ended up back in London, navigated the underground, stayed in Kensington, and had my last dinner in Europe at the Texas Embassy. 🙂
I can’t imagine a better ending. There are probably a million other things I didn’t mention.
November 20, 2004 — I suspect I will look back on it with wonderment and awe that I, Sara, was able to spend four months of my life in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, nor did I have anything familiar around.
Was there ever any doubt?
And when I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes… because I realize just how powerful I am.
“Come to the edge he said; We are afraid they said. Come to the edge he said; They came.
He pushed them; and they flew.”–Guillaume Appolinaire