This is the first time Cathy and I have ever been to Europe. After landing in Vienna, Austria on Monday, we had four days to do everything we had ever dreamt of doing in Italy before Cathy had to be back in Prague for orientation at her university. Sound like were cutting it close? What an understatement to describe everything we went through!
The amount I learned in merely five days is insane. As scary and unfamiliar as Europe seemed when I was in the States, I don’t think I ever wanted to just dip my toes into the experience. Our abridged agenda may have been pretty tourist-happy and rushed, but I really believe that diving head first into our adventures was one of the best ways to begin.
Monday and Tuesday — Vienna, Austria
Our original plan was to land in Vienna, drop off my stuff in my dorm, and then head to Italy the following morning. It took a bit longer for us to get everything done in Vienna than we expected, so we ended up taking a 12 hour sleeper train to Venice.
Wednesday — Venice, Italy
The train station in Venice looks ordinary, but when you step outside and see your first glimpse of the city, it is like stepping into a different world. In a museum, you can go in and see some ancient artifact juxtaposed by the modern setting of the exhibit — fluorescent lights, brightly lit computer screens explaining the artifact’s origin, a thick glass window with a view of cars getting hot in a parking lot. But Venice is so beautifully preserved. When you enter Venice, you don’t observe it from some removed perspective. You experience it. You see the canal, the colorful and archaic architecture, Venetians hanging their clothes on lines outside their windows for them to dry, and the gondolas you have heard all the stories about. You walk on cobblestone and across romantic looking bridges. You maneuver your way through crowded alleys. You feel like you are in a place that is exactly how it has always been. Venice is beautiful.
Wednesday Night and Thursday Morning — Pisa, Italy
Pisa is a lot different from Venice. Most people really only go to see the Leaning Tower. The area is an explosion of tourists tilting their hands in the air and posing for their obligatory Leaning Tower picture (not judging anyone though — I was there for the exact same thing). The tower is very cool though. It is pretty neat to actually see something you have only seen pictures of.
Thursday Afternoon and Friday Morning — Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre was the least touristy destination we went to on our trip, and it was refreshing to not have to be in such a huge crowd of people. The five villages are so far removed from everything else, it feels like escaping to some paradise. The ocean is so blue, the mountains are so green, the air is so clean, and the colorful houses have so much character. We hiked up the mountain in Riomaggiore to get a view of the village and got to see it at sunset. The next morning, Cathy and I woke up early to go to the beach. The wind was a little cool, the water and the sun just warm enough, the waves crashed rhythmically, and the mountains and clear sky surrounded us. Cinque Terre is, hands down, the most beautiful place I have ever been on earth.
Friday Evening and Saturday Morning — Rome, Italy
Cathy and I saw as much as we could of Rome with the time that we had left. We each threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, and then we got really lucky with the Vatican. The Vatican is usually only open from 9 AM until 6 PM, and when we arrived in Rome, we were devastated because we thought it already closed. But, for September and October, the Vatican has night tours of the museum and the Sistine Chapel! It was so interesting to see how Christianity evolved through art. I now know what the inside of the Sistine Chapel smells like.
In the morning, we took a quick trip to the Colosseum and the Arc di Constantine. Near the ancient structures, I felt so small and young — a tiny blip in history in the presence of these things that were so important.
We wanted to see more, but had to catch our flight back to Vienna. Hopefully, the wishes we made at the Trevi Fountain will bring us back to the eternal city someday.