You may have noticed that Italy isn’t on my itinerary for the Great European Adventure, and that was a conscious decision. I’ve stressed to friends and family that I’m keeping my plans open; so, who knows, maybe I’ll end up spending weeks sunning myself on the Amalfi coast or gaining weight in Tuscany. However, there’s a reason that isn’t in the original plan.
I have been to Italy once.
When I was studying abroad in Barcelona, I challenged myself to stay in the city for the first month. I was giving myself time to adjust to my new home, and proving to myself that I could do this. I could live in a different country, and not run away from it. I made a similar decision when I started college at the same university as a close high school friend. We had not planned to attend college together, and I refused to call her for the first week so that we could successfully make friends as individuals, and not rely on what was easiest. In both cases, the restrictions I placed on myself were probably unnecessary, but they felt relevant.
After my requisite month in Barcelona was up, I jetted off to Florence for a long weekend visiting a friend who was studying abroad there. I stayed with her in the apartment she shared with a group of American girls in her abroad program.
I saw Michelangelo’s David, climbed to the top of the Duomo, strolled the Ponte Vecchio.
Having never been to Europe before, having never traveled alone before, and having never lived outside the United States before, seeing a familiar face and talking about the culture shock that had already set in was important. Much to the chagrin of everyone I have spoken to since, my friend and I went out to an American style diner in Florence, and I ate a burger.
It tasted like home.
Don’t worry, we went out for a nice Italian dinner another night. It was a great visit, and I think I saw a lot of the city. In the end though, my experiences in Florence are actually all about Barcelona, and about feeling comfortable as a traveler.
I speak Spanish passably, but I do not speak Italian, so Florence was the first place I traveled where I did not know the language. There were moments when I felt helpless, and relied on my friend — who had only been taking Italian classes for a month, mind you — by making her order for me in restaurants or ask for directions.
At the end of my trip, I flew Ryanair back to Spain — from Pisa to Girona — and got on the bus to take me to Barcelona. Walking to the metro to complete the last leg of my journey back to my host family’s apartment, I distinctly remember feeling… relieved. It had rained earlier, so the air and ground still felt wet, and it was dark out, and the Arc de Triomf was lit by streetlights, and I was so pleased to be home.
Coming back to Barcelona felt like coming home.
I remember grinning to myself because I had done it. I had traveled to a country where I did not speak the language. I had survived my first month of study abroad. I had visited a friend and indulged in the talk and taste of home only to find that Barcelona had become my home.
So, my memories of Florence are wrapped up in memories of Barcelona. For me, Italy is important because it is not Spain, and Florence is important because it doesn’t hold a candle to Barcelona.
As I said at the start of this post, I’m open to seeing more of Italy — I’m positive I’ll go back someday. But Spain will probably always be more important to me. Where in the world feels like home to you?