Spontaneous and stressed out in Italy

image1I’ve created a new acronym for SAS: spontaneous and stressful. Many students who have been on Semester at Sea advised me to not make any concrete plans before boarding because I will make new friends on the ship and book itineraries with them. The only issue with this is the lack of wireless connection in the middle of the sea. Even when we do get phone service at the ports, a majority of us have limited data and cannot search anything without finding a café with free wifi first.

There I was the night before traveling throughout Italy with an idea as to what I wanted to do but no definite plans, other than where I was sleeping the first night. I convinced myself that part of an adventure entails last minute decisions, so I decided to plan as my days went on. How I really pushed my limits when traveling throughout Italy.

Day one consisted of traveling by train to Rome and visiting the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. All of the historical sites were centrally located within a 15 to 25 minute walk of each other. It was surreal being in the middle of so many different, magnificent monuments that brought such historical significance to the bustling city of Rome.

On the morning of day two, we decided to revisit the Trevi Fountain one more time, along with the Colosseum, just in time to make the 11:50 p.m. train to Florence, Italy. My friends and I had decided to do a wine tour in the Tuscan countryside the next day. The train ride had a view of the countryside filled with green hills, vineyards, and beautiful, Italian homes. We arrived at the station in Florence, and what should have been a 10-minute walk to our destination turned into a 40-minute walk only to end up in the exact same spot. Navigating without any cellular data and GPS was a struggle, and we had to use maps and street names to get us to the exact location.

Finally, we made it to the Florence Town winery tours with 15 minutes to spare, only to hear the terrible news that the minivan broke down, and they had to reschedule for the next day. All of our efforts put into getting to Florence in time for this wine tour had been completely shattered by outside factors we could not control. We accepted our luck and decided we would plan out our living situation for the night over a bottle of cheap white wine. The rest of the night we spent relaxing to save up our energy for the following day’s events.

On day three, we finally made it to the Tuscan countryside. Italy, like most of Europe has a legal drinking age of 16 for drinking wine. In Tuscany, we enjoyed delicious Chianti Classico, visited several wine cellars, and learned how quality Italian wine is made. Afterward, we returned to the city of Florence and explored the many busy, interactive streets filled with tourists from all over the globe. We walked around admiring the exquisite architecture of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly referred to as the Duomo, and the scenic view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

The next morning, we climbed the 463 steps up to the top of the Duomo that led to a spectacular view of the entire city of Florence. It was such a breathtaking moment that, unfortunately, had to be cut short for us to make our train to the next city. By 11:28 a.m., we were en route to the next Italian attraction, Cinque Terre.

We made it just in time for our original train. Once we got to the train station, we were informed that there was a transportation strike from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. This affected the amount of time we spent in the town of Vernazza, one of the five towns in Cinque Terre. We were forced to take the 6:45 p.m. train back to the ship.

My time in Italy was a huge, reflective learning lesson in regards to traveling, especially for someone like me who decided to casually make plans as the trip went on. That is the cost of planning spontaneously. There is a lot of high tension and stress that comes with the excitement of spontaneity, including the last-minute train ticket purchase and the hunt to find the correct platform number for the correct train while following signs in a different language.

From my interactions, I have interpreted that there are two kinds travelers: those who will maximize the amount of places they can see in four days and those who will spend their time relaxing in one location. I chose the former for my Italian adventures. I do not regret one second of chaotically transporting myself all throughout Europe. I did learn that sometimes you do not need to see every single hot spot and might actually miss out on something if you try to cover an entire country in just four days.

It was on the train ride from Florence to Cinque Terre that I realized I needed to take a second to take in the moment and just enjoy. The chaos added to the excitement of the adventure, but it also helped me to appreciate the moments when I was able to take a moment to relax.

Although it was unbelievable to me that I was able to cover so much Italian ground in such short time, I was grateful for my determined attitude to see these places I have only imagined visiting. “Le terre dei sogni,” it was a long hard road, but we got there. I will for sure be back some day.

By Tayler RV, Staff Writer