1. The most powerful experiences I’ve had so far on exchange is climbing up the Scala Sancta, which is the set wooden stairs that Jesus walked upon on his way to see Pontius Pilot. The steps are said to be holy, so you’re only allowed to walk up on your knees. It was solemn, but so humbling and crazy to see how real the Bible is. I have never seen such a dark sanctuary filled with so much gratitude. The woman beside me kissed every step as she went up, and I still get emotional about that image even when I think about it now.
2. There is an insane amount of touristy things to do in Rome. In two days, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (where the Sistine Chapel is!!), the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum, and there was so much more that would have taken weeks to go through. I’ve heard from people that they feel like the city isn’t really a reflection of what the rest of Italy is like, because it seems like all there is are famous landmarks, churches, and tourist traps, and I get that now that I’ve been. But there is also something about the way the sun sets in Rome that bathes everything in light and everyone, tourist or local, has to stop and watch the city turn gold.
3. I’m going to remember this photo for a very long time, because as I was taking it, I got pickpocketed. I lost all my credit cards, ID, debit card, and everything else in my wallet in one go, and there was nothing I could do about it. The best thieves in the world are in major European cities like Rome and Barcelona, and it’s baffling that if they want to take your things, they’re going to do it no matter how well-prepared you are for it. But one thing I’ve realized through this experience (apart from the fact that it was very silly of me to keep everything in one place, ha) is how resilient I’ve become. After my wallet got stolen, I went straight to a cafe, called all my banks, let my dad know that getting money is going to be a bit inconvenient for the next month and a half, and then continued on. I wasn’t even that upset about it, but I know that in the past, I have been a lot less level-headed about much smaller problems.
Almost everything that I’ve feared before travelling has happened to me. My flights have been cancelled. I’ve gotten sick 3 times in 2 months. Somebody snatched my wallet. And I’m sure the traveller’s bad luck will probably continue as long as I keep travelling. But I’m learning that when these things happen, it’s okay to be upset, and you can go on blaming the plane companies, the cold hostels, the pickpockets and even yourself, but the only thing that makes things better is to deal with the problem. You just gotta keep going.
4. During my time in Italy, I literally had gelato, pizza, pasta, and espresso everyday. I couldn’t believe how incredible authentic Italian food is and the advice I received was true: go for the shady places. The best restaurants don’t care much for aesthetics and serve your drinks in plastic cups with a side of snappy service, but handle your pizza dough with a labor of love. I think don’t know how they make their pistachio gelato so delightful or their espresso so strong, but whatever it is, it actually made me tear up when I was saying goodbye to Italy, because it will be a while until I taste these things again.
5. After Rome, we headed south to Naples. The city is one of the most chaotic places I’ve ever been. Everyone just goes without looking, especially when it comes to traffic. There are mopeds diving through crowds of pedestrians, cars driving down impossible narrow roads, and I don’t need to play Frogger anymore, because I’ve experienced the real thing. But then on Sunday morning, the streets empty and everything is quiet. We had the perfect last morning in Naples – sipping on coffee and walking along the bluest sea. I think the sea is the ocean’s younger sister who’s fallen in love with the land. Like the ocean, she is dangerous and impossible to overlook, but she is warmer, easier to know, and eternally wrapped in her lover’s arms.