Though I’m back in Paris now (and writing to you from the terrace of a Frenchy-French cafe near my house, surrounded by second hand smoke and happy chatter), my Italian Spring Break is still fresh in my mind. I filled you in on day one of my adventures, and while it ended up being wildly fun to be so spontaneous, the rest of the vacation was all itineraries and guided tours, courtesy of my mother’s penchant for trip planning. Lucky for me, because if I had been left to explore Florence my way, I would’ve missed out half of what the city has to offer.
Much of Florence’s beauty lies within the walls of her museums, and within the context of her rich cultural history. While the narrow backstreets and bridges certainly made wandering a pleasure, it would’ve been missing the point to only skirt her exterior for the weekend. As a student traveller, I’m often guilty of doing that. I travel to experience the local spirit and eat the local food (lots and LOTS of the food) and to enjoy the company of those traveling with me in a new and exciting environment—which often means that some of the city’s most worthwhile monuments get left out of my schedule.
This is basically in direct opposition to my mother’s version of traveling: our family vacations are an amalgamation of itineraries from TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Time Out, and suggestions from well-traveled friends. When we’re traveling together, I know I can count on eating some of the best food the city has to offer, on seeing every worthwhile tourist attraction, and on drinking wine that costs more than three euros. And Florence was exactly that—four days of guided walking tours, bus tours, and…get ready…segway tours. Yes, we were those people on segways. For the record, it is hilarious and quite fun, but the stress of winding through Florence’s crowded streets made it difficult to fully enjoy.
While our few days in Florence were well-spent, I was eager for stage two of our trip: a vineyard and villa in Chianti awaited us, along with three of my best friends who were also traveling through Italy. The idea of spending the next few days in such a remote location with a handful of my favorite people in the world sounded especially good after my time in Florence—though the city is full of incredible art and architecture, I felt claustrophobic by the end. In my few days there, I ran into more people who I knew than I do in a day in my hometown. I could find my way around on my own by day three—which, if you know me and my sense of direction (aka the lack thereof), is extremely impressive and a reflection of how walkable the city is. I think it was a combination of the size and the overflow of tourists—more noticeable than any other city I’ve visited—that left me feeling uneasy and anxious to escape to the rolling greenery of the Tuscan countryside.
I began to relax as we set off in our ridiculous nine-person rental car, and as the highway faded into endless stretches of green. Everything was green. The trees that lined the winding roads, the bushes and plants that sprouted up alongside streams I could see from my window. The vineyards were green, and spanned the width of my entire frame of vision. The stone and terracotta houses we passed were secluded by green trees, green vines, green everything. Green was a pretty big theme of the week.
After arriving and reveling in the unreal beauty of the secluded property (not to mention the olive oil and wine that it yields), I spent the afternoon catching up with my girlfriends over rosé and giggles on the terrace, in utter disbelief as we looked out at the scene spread before us. Surely this was a dream, or a painting—the symmetry of the vineyards and the striking contrast of the cyprus trees against the coming dusk was too much to handle. Many toasts were made to our good fortune and great company, and to the difference in quality between that wine and our trusty 3 euro bottle from Monoprix in Paris.
Our days centered around eating—around coming up with crafty ways to use the arbitrary assortment of groceries we had, around bites of melon wrapped in prosciutto, around fresh homemade spaghetti topped with basil from the garden, around the table on the terrace. We attended a proper wine tasting, explored gardens and castles (one of which, in a crazy turn of events, we discovered Emily had actually vacationed in when she was little), and made vague attempts at exercise by hiking through the surrounding hills. I took a day trip to Sienna with my family, and could have spent twice as much time wandering through the colorful cobblestone streets there. The sun popped out on our last day, so the girls and I indulged in a slightly over-eager poolside tanning session, complete with bikinis and blood orange mimosas. After seven days of carb loading margherita pizza and pesto pasta, my “spring break” body were not exactly picture-perfect, but certainly a reflection of how seriously I’d enjoyed my vacation.
Saying goodbye to the property (mostly to the fresh olive oil) was difficult—it’d been wonderful to relax with everyone, and was a much-needed break from my constant stream of presentations and papers. But I couldn’t hide my excitement to come back to Paris—this was the longest I’d been away from my new home, and one of the first times I’d experienced genuine homesickness anywhere. I missed the buzz of daily life, the cafes, my growing confidence in my knowledge of the city and metro, and more than I possibly could’ve imagined, I desperately missed speaking French. I found myself translating sentences in Italian and English into French whenever I could so that I wouldn’t lose progress while I was away, and couldn’t wait to be surrounded by the words and phrases and sweetly melodic accent that I’d come to love and imitate.
And presently, I’m surrounded by exactly that. And there’s absolutely no place in the world I’d rather be.