I mentioned in my post yesterday that I’d just returned from my trip to Europe and that it was personally important to me.
When I was growing up, my grandmother basically raised my brother and me. My parents were there, but she took care of us while they were at work, got us dressed in the morning, made sure we ate, took us to school, and took us to the park in the summer. We all lived together in a 2 family house in Brooklyn and she had a few books from Italy, and although I couldn’t read, let alone read Italian, I carried the books around the house with me wherever I went and looked at the pictures constantly. I had a fascination with Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius for as long as I could remember, and looked at pictures of the houses on cliffs above the pristine blue ocean on the Amalfi coast since I was a child. I promised myself I’d make it to see those places one day. When my grandmother passed just before my 10th birthday, the desire to go only grew stronger, as if it would somehow make me feel close to her again. Since then, I spent years figuring out how to afford to make the trip, how to save the money and how to finally get the courage to go. That’s why I decided to go for my 25th birthday, no matter what. No matter what meaning: no matter if any of my friends were able to go with me, if I had the money saved or not because I’d just charge it if I had to, if my boyfriend would be able to go to me. And that’s what I did. No one was able to go with me, but I do have a very close friend in Germany who I studied with during my semester abroad in Australia. So we devised a plan, and off I went.
I flew into Frankfurt, Germany on May 21st. The most amazing thing was seeing my friend, Toby again. We were neighbors and went to the same uni when we did a semester abroad in Sydney. We were like brother and sister right off the bat and he even came to the States 2 years ago and stayed with my family and me before we went on a 10 day road trip through New England. As soon as I got off the plane, it was like 2 years hadn’t passed and we picked up right where we left off. My trip started off with some sightseeing in Germany, which is a gorgeous country!
I don’t remember the name of this beautiful castle, I wouldn’t be able to pronounce or spell it if I did, but it was amazing! We visited a town called Limburg and had coffee there, too. Germany is extremely green! Full of winding roads, beautiful and fast cars, and quaint towns. Toby lives in the country, so at night, sitting outside his house we could hear sheep and goat! I thought that was adorable and far from what I’m used to.
After a long, busy day seeing Germany, we hit the road the next morning and headed to Amsterdam. Holland is wonderful! Everyone rides a bike; there are far more bikes than cars and people even put their kids (toddlers and infants included!) on their bikes in child-safe seats, carry their groceries and shopping bags around on bikes. We picked up an acquaintance of Toby’s in a small town called Deventer, and then the three of us made our way to our hostel in Amsterdam. Amsterdam was packed, like Manhattan, except with more bikes. In those kind of situations, I’d normally feel really overwhelmed around so many people; there’s no order and everyone is in everyone else’s way. But what I loved so much about Amsterdam is everyone is just so calm and laid back that no one gets frustrated with one another that its actually pretty difficult to navigate around so many people. I felt so relaxed the entire time, and that was before I smoked! I have to say, the atmosphere is what made Amsterdam for me – the bikes, the house boats on the canal, everyone’s laid back demeanor, and the fact that at night, everyone was just out to have a good time. The “red light district” and the weed were overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful bud!! But I feel that American’s think you can just go there and walk around with a joint, quite the contrary. Its illegal to smoke outside. That didn’t stop us and it was overall, a great experience! Just sitting outside in one of the main squares, drinking beer and taking it all in; I loved it! We spent the next day in Deventer at our friend’s cross-fit box’s barbecue. Here’s the thing: Dutch people are great!!! They are so welcoming, warm, and they are willing and able to speak perfect English to visitors :) I really, really enjoyed Holland!
After two days in Holland, we returned to Germany and early the next morning, Toby took me to the airport so I could make my way to Italy. I was so excited to finally get to Rome! On the bus to the city center, I couldn’t take my eyes off the view – I kept feeling like I was going home. And then I got to the city center. On the walk to my hostel, I was a little taken aback. Rome is, of course, a tourist city so it was like being in NYC with the amount of people and the diversity of the people. And since this was the first time I was ever traveling alone, so I was on edge. The first thing I did was go to see the Colosseum. I was shocked at how dirty, smelly, dark, and full of graffiti the metro station was, but I dealt with it and as soon as I stepped out of the station and saw it, my jaw dropped! Seeing the Colosseum in person is absolutely breathtaking. You see it in movies and in pictures and you know its there, but nothing does it justice and I could barely believe it was real!
I then made my way to the Roman Forum and then back to my hostel to turn in after a long day. That first night in Rome, I feel terrible saying it and I felt terrible feeling it, but I felt pretty sad and pretty lonely. Going to sleep alone, knowing I’d wake up alone, having no one in my hostel near my age or who I could communicate with made it worse. But I felt much better in the morning knowing that I had two more exciting days ahead of me in Rome. I spent a day visiting the Vatican Museums, which was amazing for me since I’ve always been such a lover of art. Quite honestly, the Sistine Chapel is overrated. Not because its anything less than spectacular, but because the rest of the rooms in the museum were just as gorgeous!! The next day, I went to the general audience at Vatican City to see Pope Francis. That was really great because, although I am very outspoken about my feelings regarding religion, specifically the Catholic church, I admire Pope Francis SO MUCH and I was so happy to be able to experience that! I did a bit of shopping, saw the Trevi Fountain, did a lot of eating and drank a lot of wine before taking the train down to Napoli.
Naples is where my mom’s parents are from. My mom went there every summer as a kid and told me all the time how beautiful it was. She even told me when we spoke on the phone while I was in Rome that once I got to Naples, I would never want to come home. Well… I got to Naples, and if I could have run home, I would have! It was stinky and the streets were overflowing with trash. It was just not at all what I’d expected. I know, of course, that that was just one small part of Naples, but I didn’t expect to see that at all. I honestly didn’t feel safe and made sure I was in my hostel before dark and that really put a damper on my being able to enjoy my time there. If I had someone else with me, it would have probably been different, but that wasn’t the case and I had to make the best of it. The next day, I went to Pompeii. I absolutely LOVED that. I loved everything about being there and realizing one of my dreams; standing in the ruins I’d only ever seen pictures of. And then climbing to the top of the volcano that destroyed that city was completely surreal.
The following day, I made the long, long journey to Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Another dream realized! Seeing the view from the bus driving on these crazy winding roads on these cliffs above the ocean was something I’d dreamed of for so long. I sat on the beach which was so fucking beautiful, I couldn’t even close my eyes to take a nap! The whole time I sat there on the beach, I kept thinking about how lucky I was, how this was how it feels to get exactly what you want and have it be everything you expected it to be and more. This was perfection!
The next day, I spent some time finishing up my souvenir shopping, went to the Archaeological Museum, and wound up sleeping in the airport because my flight back to Frankfurt was at 6:30 AM and I really had no choice. I spent the next day with Toby and his family before he took me back to the airport to fly home. I was so happy to see my dad waiting for me at the airport. I went into this in detail in my previous post, but as much as I am obsessed with travel, there’s really no place like home and I am so, so grateful for the home I have and the wonderful people (and my dog) who live in it! And my boyfriend who doesn’t live in it, but seeing him this weekend will be amazing, too!
So the general consensus of my travel is that traveling alone is nice and I might do it again, but I’ll avoid it for as long as I can. For one, there’s safety in numbers and while I didn’t encounter any danger in my travels, just having those nerves and the bit of anxiety being alone is enough take away a bit of enjoyment from the experience, at least for me. Secondly, traveling with another person is just less lonely! So I think next time, I’ll recruit someone to travel with me! Also, while some places weren’t what I expected, the experiences were priceless and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I was younger, I thought going to see Italy would make me feel closer to my grandparents who had passed, but it didn’t. And that’s not a bad thing. It made me feel what its like to get exactly what you want; I wanted to be in the places I’d looked at in the pictures in those books growing up so badly, and that’s what I did. That’s a wonderful feeling. I felt accomplished. I felt like I’d done this for myself, like I needed to do it for myself. That’s what traveling is all about. You learn about other places and people and things on each trip, and you learn a bit more about yourself on each trip. I’m proud of myself for doing that for myself, because at this exact point in my life that’s what I needed.