Sogni Italiani: Two Weeks in Italy, PT. 1

My big bucket list item before leaving Europe was to see the country of Italy. Even though Dan & I had stayed in the Italian Dolomites in our first year of living in the Czech Republic, I was longing to see the famous streets of Rome, the iconic Southern Coast & the secret passageways of Venice. My parents, knowing of my dream (& dreaming of Italy themselves), made our magical & unbelievable two week stay in beautiful Italy happen. Our itinerary consisted of the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Rome, Orvieto, & Florence with my parents traveling on to Pisa & Cinque Terre as Dan & I ventured to Venice. I will forever be thankful for their generosity & zeal in making this once-in-a-lifetime trip a reality. As a result, we have so many memories together that will last throughout each of our lifetimes. 

A few observations + tips to note before diving into our sogni Italiani (Italian dreams): 

Pack a very basic capsule wardrobe for a two-week stay in Italy. I was lucky enough to have learned this in my previous travels throughout Europe & was so happy to have practical (yet stylish) pieces that I could layer throughout the day & wear again throughout the weeks. Keep makeup & jewelry to a minimum (especially in the late summer months), opt for a fun sun hat & keep a pair of sturdy walking shoes & sandals onhand. I would also keep a small hairbrush, travel deodorant, water bottle, chapstick, & sunblock on me in a backpack during the day.

Where you eat in Italy is absolutely everything. While you can definitely stumble upon authentic treasures as you explore the streets, it pays to have recommendations from friends or locals. Some of the very best places we ate at were either recommendations from Dan’s last trip to Italy, a local guide, or friends of ours who had traveled to Italy in the past. 

Don’t overdo it when scheduling your days in Italy. I understand wanting to see all the sights in a city or place (our three-day stay in Rome was definitely packed with sightseeing), but it will be well worth skipping a few activities to soak up your experience in this new world. I’ll touch more on this in the posts to follow. 

Now, Andiamo! 

Naples // Our first stop

Maybe it’s because I had dreamed of this for so long, but there was a different smell in the air when we landed in Naples. The city was hot & crowded with people that were packed on the streets & carried the loud & ever-present sounds of Vespas & taxis & distinctly Italian voices wherever we went throughout the country. 

The first thing that Dan & I did after we arrived in Naples was to buy straw sun hats from an outdoor street vendor, solidifying our very touristy look. While we waited for my parents to arrive from the States, we wandered the hazy stone streets & found the famous Spaccanapoli Street: a historic center & ancient passageway crammed with little pastry shops, piazzas (small open squares in each neighborhood), pizzerias, gelato stands, church cathedrals & much more. I kept tugging on Dan’s hand & running ahead, taking in the smells of marinara, the shouts of Italian & the worn-down, rustic beauty all around me. 

After a fun conversation with one of the locals, Dan & I sat down at a restaurant in a small piazza near the entrance of the street & ordered two pasta dishes. We laughed with our waiter, who helped us pick out our meals, as he proudly presented our steaming plates with, “Welcome to Italy! This is Naples - real Napoli!” & it really was a true taste of Naples. The chaotic crowds, the delicious pasta dishes we ate & the hilarious exchanges we had with the Italians who lived there. It was perfect.  

The Amalfi Coast // Four days in paradise

After my parents arrived in Naples, the four of us took a two-hour train ride to the resort town of Sorrento: the gate of the Amalfi Coast & our anchor during our time in Southern Italy. We spent the most consecutive time on the coast during our trip to Italy & I could go on & on about the sheer majesty of the coastal cliffs, the tiny rugged houses that hugged the mountainous shorelines & the thick greenery of olive & lemon groves that blanketed the rocky bluffs. From drinking daily glasses of tart & delicious limoncello (a special lemon liquor that was made famous by the coast), eating scoops upon scoops of gelato & riding the buses up & down the coast, here are my favorite highlights from our time in paradise:

The Amalfi Walk: I highly recommend doing the Amalfi Walk (more like a hike) from the mountaintop village of Ravello, through the maze of streets in Atrani, to the charming town of Amalfi. Ravello had breathtaking views of the ocean, vibrant villa gardens & opulent restaurants that were a marvel to wander through. From there, the hike down to Atrani was one of my most favorite memories during my time living in Europe. Atrani had endless little passages & streets that we got lost in as we navigated our way through the whitewashed town. We ended up getting lost (several times) as we walked through peaceful piazzas, staircases & narrow alleyways that opened up to a jaw-dropping view of the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea. 

Sorrento Boat Excursion: During one of our days, my parents made the expensive trek to the Island of Capri while Dan & I decided on a boat tour of Sorrento’s coast. Because we were traveling on the off-season, only one other couple joined us on our boat excursion: a cute older couple from Australia who we became fast friends with. It was a relaxing experience that felt super luxurious, as there were only four of us on the boat along with a private guide of the coast. After touring the different swimming pockets & rocky bluffs, we jumped into the icy blue waters, swam with heavenly views of Capri in the backdrop & drank (more) lemon-y limoncello from the boat deck. A true dream day.

Day in Positano: If you have only one destination to visit on the Amalfi Coast, make it Positano. This was my all-time bucket list city to cross off & it was everything & more than what I expected. While my parents braved the striking Walk of the God’s hike, Dan & I took the bus from Sorrento to spend a whole day exploring & swimming in Positano. The city was bursting with pastel colors, fragrant garden terraces with flowers & potted plants, endless pastry & pottery shops & devastatingly spectacular views of the famous cliffside houses that were crammed on the mountain's shoreline. It was, perhaps, the most surreal day that I had on the coast; buying a precious piece of pottery, floating in the ocean staring up at the impressive cliffs, toasting little limoncello bottles on the beach, reuniting with my parents on the beachfront & eating a candlelit dinner of tasty lasagna from above the mountain. It is a film strip that keeps replaying constantly in my mind. 

Pompeii // An archeological wonder

Our last day on Italy’s coast included a whole afternoon dedicated to seeing the archeological wonder of Pompeii. This was a major dream-come-true for my dad, who had seen Pompeii in films growing up & was excited to finally see the ancient, recovered city in person. The town itself was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD & was hidden for many years before it was found again in the 1700’s. Armed with Rick Steves audio guides, all four of us walked through the ruins that contained royal quarters, courts, bathhouses, theaters, prominent homes, the Via dell’Abbondanza & old world food stalls. After seeing the excavation site with Mount Vesuvius towering above us from afar firsthand, I can confidently say that Pompeii is truly one of Italy’s most treasured cultural jewels to see & behold.

 

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Stay tuned for parts 2 + 3 of Sogni Italiani to follow. Ciao! 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to Prague

"I’m walking out of the corner Starbucks on Wenceslas Square. A latte in hand, wet cobblestones under my feet, & cold air enveloping my body as I walk through the rainy streets. This is the exact same spot where I held my suitcases & got my first glimpse of the city over two years ago. & even now, I can hear the roll of suitcases from other tourists & the hum of the tram; my first sounds that are all too familiar these days. I can see people all around me dressed in black & I'm laughing silently to myself, as I am one of them now, dressed in black from head-to-toe. I’m watching tall buildings as I walk & am choosing to take the long way back home. I've stopped looking around at my surroundings here & it’s good to be reminded of the beauty & the difference that I’ve accepted as normality. I’m pulling over to the side of the street, even though it’s raining, to write these thoughts down in my phone. This is exactly one month before we move."

As we leave Prague for the States in a few days, I find myself having an overflow of reflections on our time living & traveling in Europe. What follows is a documentation of these thoughts, a letter to Prague if you will; a keepsake of memories & milestones & precious details of my observations over these last two years. 

What I’ve Been Given

I've been given a worldview outside of the United States; a perspective that I’ll never be able to shake. I now have both a quenched thirst & a growing desire to travel & live unconventionally, with less judgment & more flexibility. I've developed an appreciation for European coffee shop culture with its new wave coffee & design. I've lived in a beautiful & romantic city that has always felt like home after traveling to different countries. & I've been given good friends from all over the world who have taught me so much about life. & for this, I am grateful. 

What I’ve Learned

By uprooting my life to a different country, I've learned firsthand that people are people all over the world; with similar longings, thoughts, & abilities to feel what I feel. In contrast, I’ve also experienced huge differences between my culture & those from other backgrounds, & have become a more aware & informed individual as a result.  

I've also learned that what’s in my heart (no matter how carefully hidden) will eventually be brought to the surface. I’ve realized that at my worst, I’m driven by my fears; which can cause me to become depressed, surface level, & self-involved. But I’ve also learned that at my best, I’m driven by my desire to love & obey the Lord; which frees me to become compassionate, determined, & confident in who I’m called to be. 

What I’ll Miss

I’ll miss Prague throughout each season of the year: the festivals & markets & golden leaves of fall; the Christmas trees & mulled wine & snowy slanted rooftops of winter; the bright apple blossoms & outdoor cafe patios & great awakening of spring; & the big crowds & sticky gelato cones & hot city nights of summer.

I’ll miss all the little details of daily life: heavy glass beer mugs, hip street fashion, Czech design markets & cute stationary stores, babies snuggled up in their sleeping bag strollers, getting beer & wine to-go, castles & villages in the countryside, romantic double door windows, graffiti-splattered walls, old men with their dapper suits & hats, the sing-song sound of spoken Czech, little bakery treats in the metro stations, navigating through the crowds of tourists simply to meet with friends or go to the movies, dogs off their leashes inside of cafes & waiting outside of restaurants & grocery stores, beautiful old buildings & doors & tall monuments wherever I go…

I’ll miss never getting bored with my surroundings, showing my friends & family around the town, & going down to Naplavka or the Prague Castle or Charles Bridge - as if these were normal, ordinary places. I’ll miss our community of friends; our bond through years of meet-ups & traveling & holiday gatherings & hard talks about sin. I'll miss traveling to new countries with entirely new scenes every few months; knowing that Prague would be waiting for us after our journey.  

& I’ll miss my own poetic sentiments that I’ve created during my time here: the hum of the trams, the sight of the river swans on the water, the sound of church bells ringing, my many afternoon jogs through Riegrovy Sady, the countless late nights spent laughing & eating metro pizza & making our way home from across the city, & the view of a thousand church & castle spires scattered throughout the landscape of Prague. 

Moving Forward

Michigan is our home. It's where we've both grown up, have gone to school, & where our roots run deep. However, it won't be simple moving back to the States & we have a lot of new questions on our minds. What will adjusting to Midwest life look like after big city living? Will we be able to find good community once again? What does reconnecting with old friends from college look like relationally? Will we choose to live overseas again in the future? 

& just as we started this adventure, we don’t know where these questions will lead us. But we do know that we’ll hold these two years of life & learning like talismans inside of us; like jars of clay holding the great treasure of the Holy Spirit. & we’ll bring our experiences of Prague & beyond wherever we go; always remembering & holding fast to who we've become through the journey.