After going to the World Expo in Milan, I intended to visit Venice. Little did I know that it's impossible to book accommodation in Venice last minute for a weekend. Even the camp sites were full. Instead, I spent a few days in the city of Parma, the home of parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma. During this time I lost my voice, saw a work by Da Vinci up close, became familiar with the uncomfortable treatment of women by Italian men, and had dinner with a Parisian passionate about language learning.
Once in Florence, I took an oil painting class as my "skill to learn in Italy." When I wasn't painting in the open-windowed studio loft, I explored the magnificent old city. One night I happened upon an English-speaking church that put on cultural performances in the evening. Thus I saw my first opera, Carmen.
|Painting a blue-eyed Mona Lisa|
|The opera Carmen|
SARAH VISITSAfter Florence, I met up with my sister in Rome. From there we traveled by train, ferry, and bus to Napoli, the Isle of Capri, back up to Florence, Greve in Chianti, Pisa, and finally Rome again to take our respective flights. What an amazing whirlwind it was! My favorite memories from our time together were:
(1) Dinner inside the wine cellar of a Tuscan farmhouse that extended to 3 hours of talking and laughing over many gratis glasses of expensive wine and grappa that our waiter – who looked like Michael Bublé – served us. The stars that night over the Tuscan countryside were very clear and beautiful.
(2) Taking a walking tour from a hand-drawn map of Napoli by our hostel host, Giovanni. His passion for the city, combined with his wry sense of humor, put our fears of Napoli's purse-snatching reputation at ease. Thanks to him we saw beyond the scuzzy exterior and enjoyed a deeper look into Napoli's unique spirit.
(3) Climbing the Tower of Pisa, where every "round" of the stairs has gravity pulling you in a different direction. The view from the top of this crooked bell tower was incredible.
(4) The look on Sarah's face when she saw the Coliseum for the first time. Just a few hours after she'd landed, we were eating lunch and having a glass of wine just across the street from this ancient world wonder... and she couldn't believe it!
(5) Climbing up to the top of the cupola in St. Peter's Basilica cupola. The stairs were incredibly narrow, and tilted on an angle to follow the shape of the dome. The steps were worn and sunken from the millions and millions of those who, for centuries, have walked before us.
FOOD FAREItaly's reputation for amazing food precedes itself, and it's well-earned. Here is a sampling of the many dishes I had the pleasure of tasting:
|Home-cooked two-course Italian meal with my host Lia in Florence.|
|Prosciutto di Parma, handmade gnocchi with from-the-source parmesan cheese, oven-fired pizza, Florentine house red wine, flower-shaped gelato|
|Gelato, Tuscan salad, home-cooked meal, fresh-shaved beef sandwich|
|Handmade linguini, stuffed peppers, Napoli pizza (so good! Pope Francis ate here, too), Tuscan beef served in a wine cellar in Chianti, chocolate-brownie dessert, Chianti Classico wine|
|Roman eggplant, tiramisu and tea by the Spanish Steps, Tuscan farm salad, breakfast looking out over the Tuscan hillside, savory chicken and prosciutto|
I've spent the last two weeks hanging out in Götborg, Sweden. Laurén, our new friends, and I celebrated midsommar, the summer solstice, at a small cabin along the sea. From here we ate pickled herring and Swedish meatballs as the sun lowered in the sky but never seemed to set. The nearly 24 hours of sunlight fills you with energy, as if midnight were mid-afternoon. That is, of course, when the rainclouds part so you can see the sun.
In no time I'll be boarding my next flight, this time to Berlin. There is only 5 weeks left on my Schengen visa for mainland Europe, and I intend to go through Germany, France, and Iceland with the time I have left. That, and a stint in the U.K. in-between. There's no denying it though, that this trip is quickly coming to it's close. Today begins the 10th month of this amazing journey... and I have come to the point where, instead of dreading the end, I am at peace with moving on to the new chapter when that time comes.