The last, and probably most eventful destination on my European trip, was none other than the pasta-eating boot nation itself: Italy. Our main stops included the two shoreside towns, Monterosso and Vernazza of Cinque Terre, a small town near Bologna called Mantua, Venice, Florence, and finally Rome. A simple summary of our vacation would include bush-dwelling lemonade salesmen, a pen pal meet-up, and a caravan rolling backwards down a hill. So strap in and prepare to hear about the final leg of my once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Beginning in Cinque Terre, the location that inspired the setting of Pixar’s new movie Luca, we set out exploring the first small town of Monterosso. Despite a lack of lunch and supplies, my father and I decided to hike across the mountains to the next town of Vernazza, a trek we heard was short and sweet. Very sweet it was, with views of the ocean to die for, but short, it was not. After over two hours of climbing up and down mountainous hills in July heat without water, a voice emerged from the vineyards lining the path, startling the absolute bejeebers out of us. A thick Italian accent called out, “Fresh wine and lemonade for sale! Very refreshing!” Despite the highly inflated prices, we practically dumped our wallets out at his feet. This extra kick helped us make it to the next town where we filled our empty bellies with a lovely meal by the water.
Next was a somewhat impromptu visit that ended up being one of the most memorable moments of my trip. For some background context, I had a virtual pen pal who I had built up a friendship with since the tenth grade. Her name is Ginevra, and despite an entire ocean and opposing time zones we created a bond that lasted years. We made some last minute plans to meet up in her hometown, and I’ll never forget seeing her across the quaint city plaza and running to hug her like we were in a cheesy coming of age movie. We spent the day walking around town, grabbing lunch, and strolling by a local lake. Since parting ways, we unfortunately don’t talk very much anymore, as life often gets in the way, but she will always hold a special place in my heart.
Venice was delightfully uneventful: beautiful weather, amazing views, tiny little alleys narrower than my arms length. The real event occurred on the ride from Venice to Florence. We were using a borrowed GPS system that had led us down the wrong path before, only this time it was much more extreme. It led us to a narrowly steep cobblestone hill in a secluded neighbourhood. After ascending the hill and nearing the top, we realized the turn at the top was far too sharp for our clunky caravan… yet the path up was too narrow to turn the vehicle around. We were stuck, and we had to act fast since our caravan was slipping on the slick cobblestone and headed towards a curved wall. We were at a total loss until two Italian men arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, on mopeds. Though unable to speak a lick of English, they stopped to help. They tried standing behind the van to help guide it down the hill, but we quickly came to the conclusion that we needed a more experienced stick shift driver behind the wheel. So, the older of the two men got in the driver’s seat. Like magic, he reversed the caravan down the hill while in neutral, making it look easy. Down at the bottom of the hill was a line-up of cars filled with pissed-off Italians. Once he maneuvered it to a spot wide enough to do a three-point turn, my dad reached for his wallet to pay this gentleman, but before he could, the man jumped out of the van, shouted some things in Italian and ranback up the hill, presumably to retrieve his abandoned moped. We never saw him again, and to this day, we refer to him as our Italian guardian angel.
Our final stop was the Eternal City: Rome. We traded in our handy dandy caravan for a cosy AirBnb that was a ten minute walk from the Vatican (and a five minute walk from a McDonald’s). Even though Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, when you’re standing in St. Peter’s Square, it seems impossibly vast. We spent hours wandering around the Vatican museum viewing priceless artifacts, ancient works of art, and sacred religious mementos. The final piece of art was the one and only Sistine Chapel, and the iconic Michelangelo ceiling mural that attracted every pair of eyes in the room. I never thought I could spend over forty minutes staring at a ceiling, but it was easy to get lost in the art, and by the time we left, our necks were quite sore.
Our trip concluded with visits to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and on the morning of our flight home, we binged aMcDonald’s breakfast. And with that, my high school graduation trip was over with many memories, sunburns, and stories that I will take with me wherever I go. Thus, as my trip concludes, so do my travel diaries; if you’ve followed me from the beginning, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my antics abroad. Once the world decides to go back to normal, or at least discover its new normal, I hope you are all able to create your own travel memories.