Palermo, Sicily – From the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew I was in for quite the treat. I had no idea what to expect, or what everything would look like, but I had a feeling that despite the few short days we had there, Sicily was going to hold a very special place in my heart. Palermo is definitely not the first pick on everybody’s list of places to visit, but for us, it was a must-see since it was the very place my great grandfather grew up. We got to experience first-hand and very quickly that the Sicilian culture is very warm and welcoming. Each person we met and talked to along the way was so kind and made sure we felt immersed into their beautiful culture. We shopped at local markets, ate at hidden pizzerias that were only visible in quaint little back alleys, and spent each afternoon discussing our day and planning out our next adventure while sitting at our favorite cafe spot. It wasn’t until our last day that we truly discovered the heart of Palermo. We had a local show us all of the landmarks, a charming little puppet store, and the beautiful churches during which we happened to stumble upon a wedding! It was during that last day when I really started to fall in love with Palermo and felt even more included into their culture. There was something so authentic and real about the people and their way of life that left me wanting to stay forever. Our stay was only 3 short days, but in those 3 days, I have never been so captivated by one special place such as Sicily.
Rome – I had painted a picture of Rome in my head months prior to our trip. I was expecting it to be an over crowded city swarming with only tourists and lacking a real Italian experience, but I soon realized that that was not the case! Sure there were tourists, but it didn’t draw away from the vast city that had something new to offer at every street corner. So many historic landmarks and gelato shops that I couldn’t even keep up! My experience in Rome truly would not have been the same if it we hadn’t stayed in lively and picturesque Campo de’ Fiori. During the day, there was a market selling everything from fresh produce to hand-made straw hats. At night, it was a place for friends and family to come together and enjoy each other’s company in the midst of talented street performers and sounds of busy restaurants. The locals still welcomed us with such kindness and made us feel more than “just another tourist”. The charm of the Italian culture was clearly evident in the amazing city of Rome.
Tuscany – I felt so at home in Tuscany. It was our first destination outside of a large, busy city, so hearing nothing but the sound of rustling wind through the vineyards right outside our place was just what I needed. Everything seemed to move a bit slower in the countryside. I sensed the feeling that each person I met seemed to live in the moment and didn’t take the everyday stresses of life so seriously. It was so refreshing to meet personalities that truly cherished each moment whether it was a cheerful waitor or a store clerk. Although they may not know it, they inspired me to not always focus on the future and what’s next, but to really soak in the beauty that was all around me in that very moment in time. Not only were the people beautiful, but Tuscany itself is so gorgeous! Out of all the hill towns we visited, Volterra was absolutely the most memorable. It was late in the day when we finally arrived there, and we were a little wiped out from traveling around all day. Nothing prepared me for the view that Volterra had to offfer. It was so high up in the hills, you could see valleys and vineyards miles away in the distance. Since we had missed the crowds of the day time, we enjoyed the most perfect walk around the quaint little town while window shopping and eating an amazing dinner. Something about this town came alive at dusk even though most everyone was gone. Being so high up in the hills in such a beautiful town at sunset had such a captivating feeling that I will never forget. I daydream about Volterra often, but I’ll just have to wait until I someday see it again.
Lucca – The charming little town of Lucca will always hold a very special place in my heart. There was quite the rain storm in when we arrived, but seeing the picturesque cobblestone streets filled with the tops of umbrellas and families rushing to their homes for dinner just made it all the more memorable. During our stay in Lucca I captured something truly refreshing and enjoyable that I’ve seem to only find amidst the European culture. That is, strolling around town at night and delighting in the evening. The streets come alive after dinner bustling with families and friends socializing and taking in each other’s company. That pastime is something I miss so dearly!
Cinque Terre – Cinque Terre was magical beyond words. I’ve never seen more bluer waters and clearer skies. As we hopped from town to town via sea-side train, we experienced each town’s unqiue flavor and their own way of life. It amazes me that people actually get to live in those colorful little houses against the Mediterranean. As we made our way down to the bottom of the first town, Varenna, we had the best seafood I have ever had in my entire life. I will never forget how one town could truly capture my heart from food alone! After Varenna, we went on over to Monterosso. Monterosso was buzzing with beach-goers inching their way onto the beach to find their own little slice of paradise. As the rest of my family sat down for a coffee break at a cafe, my sister and I ventured up the cliffside to a secluded beach resort. The cliffside had such a breathtaking view of the sea from such high heights and a hidden cave where people would jump from the top of. Cinque Terre, to me, is such an accurate description of the perfect European beach getaway.
Venice – I remeber Venice as the place where we ditched the sight-seeing part of the stay, and just explored the city-on-the-sea for what it really is. We hoped from island to island, finding the best gelato, capturing the prettiest pictures, and of course, eating. My favorite meal I had during my entire trip to Italy was a seafood pasta that we ate right along the canals on the island of Murano. l learned a very important character trait about myself while on this journey around Italy, that you can truly win my heart over with food.
Bellagio – Lake Como
Lake Como – Lake Como was definitely the most beautiful of all the locations we stayed in during our trip. The majestic mountains that surronded lakeside mansions took my breath away. I never even knew such a beautiful place existed in the world before our visit. There was something so special about Lake Como that I really can’t put into words. It might have been the seclusiveness of such a radiant place surronded by giant mountains that made it feel special, but it is something you will have to personally experince to understand.
Dolomite Mountains / Innsbruck
The Dolomite Mountains – Nestled far into the Italian Alps is a range of mountains known as the Dolomite Mountains, which we had the priviledge of staying by. These were the most grand mountains I have ever seen, and is a sight I will never forget. The town we stayed in was so far north in Italy, the culture and language seem to have changed to German. There was nothing but mountains, humble little houses, and green rolling hills for as far as we could see. On one day, we felt that we should be spontaneous and venture into Austria for a day excursion since we were so close to the border. We had never been to Austria before, so it was quite the surprise for us. We we greeted by rain and cloudy skies, but it cleared up for us as soon as lunch time rolled around. We walked around Innsbruck and admired how different all the buildings and surrondings were from Italy. It was such a treat to get a little peak at another country that we were not planning to visit!
Verona – Verona was our last stop on our trip, and it could not have been a better finish mark. We weren’t even planning on visiting Verona, but we decided we had wanted one more taste of Italian culture before we left, so we booked a night in Verona by surprise. This city was so picturesque in every way possible. I had my camera out at every street corner, taking photos of the salmon colored buildings and the beautiful river that runs through the city. Our stop in Verona really made our Italy trip complete, because I feel that we experienced the most of what Italy is in Verona. The people were so kind, and all the little shops were so unique and adorable in their own little way. Even though we only got one day in Verona, I cannot wait to return and reminsce on all the fun we had during our first stay!