Met a wonderful woman while heading to Amsterdam for a seven-hour connection. I used to think I was too anti-social and all I wanted to do on the plane was listen to music, but I was definitely wrong!
You know how some people always talk about the things they want to do and the places they want to go, but they never put the time, energy, and money into it.
That was me.
But then, back in October 2017 when I got a new job as a part-time pizza delivery driver, I came across an e-mail from my community college offering study abroad programs in Paris, China, Italy, and Costa Rica.
It was 12 o’clock at night, my dad was standing in the kitchen eating nachos with my mom talking about sports, and with a burst of excitement after hounding over which program to choose (for like 5 minutes – I’m a bit compulsive), I finally barged in there and yelled out, “I’m going to go to Italy!”
My mom, of course, was insanely jealous (confused, at first, though). Italy has always been her #1 place in the world to visit, and here I was going to go first. I was also the first person (in my household) to get a passport. How cool is that?
So, I saved all of my tips and all of my paychecks, got a little help from my family, and ended up spending approximately $5,000 (Flights, Accommodation, Fees, Tuition, plus personal expenses) to spend a little over two weeks in Italy. Come May 2018, I was headed to the airport and on my way to the beautiful boot-shaped country.
So, here is what I loved (and hated).
Things I Miss:
Every morning, I would wake up at the Vesuvian Institute in Castellammare di Stabia, a small town located in the Gulf of Naples, and look out the window which had the amazing view of mountains, the gulf, and the infamous volcano, Mt. Vesuvius (Yes, you guessed it – that’s what The Vesuvian Institute is named after).
There is just something about walking out on the balcony (and still in your pajamas) and taking everything in: the noises of families, the sounds of people cooking and greeting each other, and especially the fresh air that I can’t seem to get in my hometown, Houston. Doing this every morning always made me feel motivated and ready for the day, and given how I’m one of the biggest procrastinators that I know, that is really saying something.
In the middle of the day, almost all of the shops close for Pausa, allowing the workers to go home, rest, have lunch, and spend time with family. Castellammare is a fairly small town in the city of Naples, so this was actually pretty common. However, in more tourist locations, like Sorrento, Naples, Rome, and the island of Capri, this may not be the case.
I absolutely love the idea of going home for lunch and spending time with your family instead of the dreaded 9-5 we tend to get in America. It just doesn’t seem realistic, which is probably why millennial’s are quitting their 9-5 jobs and deciding they would rather travel than settling down and have a family.
Unfortunately, La Pausa may start to get more annoying for tourists as we are so used to buying things when we want, oftentimes during the lunch hours. So, if you do happen to stay in the local areas, just remember to get all of your essentials and groceries in the morning or afternoon. It sucks when you find yourself in dire need of pads, cold & flu medicine, or other essentials only to learn that the pharmacy is closed. It really sucks when that time of the month and chronic illness triggers occur at the same time and the only time you can go into town and away from the professors is during lunch. (True story).
Being on a first-name basis with the local grocer, barista, pharmacist, etc.
I absolutely love the fact that there is no major “one store sells almost all” (like Wal-Mart) in Italy. Instead, the towns are filled with small stores with their own little niche. Do you want fruit and veggies? Go to the produce store. Do you want coffee? Go to the cafe. Soap? Go to the soap guy. Italians focus on a small niche. They aim to be the best in their area of focus instead of being the biggest store that can sell the most things. You’re damn right that you’ll have more bang for your buck when buying products in this country.
The Food! (And The Service)
I hate it when after receiving my food at a restaurant, ten seconds later the waitress is back asking how the food is and all I can do is a nod and give a thumbs up because my mouth is stuffed with food. And, some restaurants, the waitress often keeps coming back to ask how the food is, if we need anything else, or if we are ready to pay.
Americans serve to get people in and get people out as fast as possible. I hate it. I feel rushed and I used to feel like I’m doing something bad for eating out and hanging with my friends or family as if I’m just wasting people’s time and I can’t take in the experience and slow down for once.
In Italy, however, it’s totally different. When the server takes your order, the only other time you will see them is when they are giving you your food. Once you sit down – you’re good. That’s your table, and they aren’t going to be pushing you out. In fact, it is actually pretty common to be at a restaurant with others for around 2.5 hours, so there is no need to feel terrible for taking too long. And, when you decide you are finished, all you have to do is wave a server and say, “Il conto, per favore”. This way, you get to sit down with the family, have a wonderful meal, and leave when you want. How great is that?
The Present State of Mind
A week before my class and I set off to go to Italy, our professors explained a little about the Italian language, and how he communicates with his Italian friends.
Turns out, Italians don’t really talk in future-tense like we often do when we plan to hang out with friends, plan to see them again, or plan to have people over (at least that’s the way he explained it). While Americans might say “I’ll see you Tuesday!” Italians would say, “I’ll see you when I see you”. It’s no surprise that it frustrated the college professors when trying to plan the itinerary to have a tour guide to hike the Path of the Gods or the edge of Mt. Vesuvius (which is only available for certain groups and people, like geographers and geography students), but at the same time it’s nice to stay in a country which seems to take things one day at a time instead of having a packed calendar and a prescription of anti-anxiety medications.
Of course, Italians still plan some things (like work), and they are serious about coming to breakfast on time, but in general, Italians seem to be a little bit more laid back.
Of course, there is a little bit of formality when first meeting someone, but after that is over Italians tend to greet people like they have been friends for years. Close contact is common, so you’ll often see or even experience hugs, kisses, and loud, excited, greetings.
This is just yet another thing that I don’t often see in the United States. Although I feel like the U.S. is filled with people with social anxiety and a “this is my bubble” state of mind, it also seems nice to see friends and family every day that makes you feel like you are an important part of someone’s life.
Most, if not all, of my classmates, looked at the bidet like it was a dirty thing and that Italians were strange for using it. But personally, I loved it! I loved how clean I felt, and I actually want one at my own home! So, don’t be afraid to try something new. Go for it!
A giant sphere inside a sphere! Located in the Vatican Art Museum within the city boundaries of Vatican City. To plan The Art Museum in your trip, you can check out their website here.
Italy is surrounded by art. To be honest, although I consider myself to be an artistic person, I’ve never really cared to go to art museums and galleries so much before, but there is just something about the place that brings out my curious artistic side. It’s also a really good activity to do solo. My favorite: Museo Emilio Greco, a.k.a. “the art of naked woman” in Orvieto. Orvieto is a beautiful 16th-century city perched on top of a rocky cliff in Umbria, Italy. Definitely a must-see!
You can also check out this link for museums to visit in or near Orvieto.
La Passaggiata is the ritual done by Italians where they walk around with friends or family, even though there may not be a set destination. It’s a time to hang with friends and family, and with places like Castellammare di Stabia, Pompeii, Sorrento, Naples, Orvieto, Rome, and other cities and urban towns, it’s easy to just walk around and enjoy the views and small shops while hanging with the ones you love.
While New York City may be labeled as chaotic and Portland as a calm, chilled-out place, I can honestly say that Italy is – somehow – both. While I mainly stayed in South/Southeast Italy, my two-week experience in the small, beautiful, country was enough to experience both the chaotic buzz of Italian life and the tranquil experiences of nature and beauty.
For a New Yorker, Italy may not be chaotic at all. But for someone like me who lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood, the soft bells that go off every 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour, the chatter of families in their homes as they make or eat dinner, and the sounds of dogs barking and people hanging out in the town can sometimes seem a bit chaotic. Plus, add on the fireworks that people do almost every night celebrating birthdays, jobs, etc, and it may start to seem like an impossible destination to get a good night’s sleep.
But, at the same time, all the noise seems to drown out easily. Maybe it’s the beauty of architecture, the ancient history, or perhaps it’s being surrounded by mountains and nature. Plus, you need some peace and quiet? Just take a cable car up Monte Faito for a short, easy hike or to explore the small stores and cafes.
Before the big trip to Italy with the rest of my classmates, our professor once said that although it seems like Italians are crazy drivers, their level of skill is actually much higher than an American’s. Then again, do a quick Google search and you’ll see a lot of articles on Italians and their “reckless and aggressive driving”.
But, if you think about it, with all the pedestrians that continuously cross the street (without looking, mostly), drivers tend to be very good at not hitting pedestrians. Plus, with their very narrow roads, it’s something that would just be very embarrassing to watch an American driver try to do.
However, it is important to note that while I believe Italians may be skillful, that doesn’t exactly change the fact that Italian driving is still a major concern in Europe. So, if you are planning a trip, make sure to look both ways and follow the other locals. Many places do not have crosswalks, and while it may be easier to cross the street in other towns, crossing the street in Rome may be difficult given that people generally wait for a gap in the cars to start walking and cars do not stop. If you do this, follow behind other locals and don’t change your pace or back up. If you do, it may cause you or someone else to get hit.
Now, you may be wondering why I wrote this on “things I missed” but that’s mainly because Italians are actually really skillful drivers, despite their recklessness (especially younger drivers). Plus, maybe it’s because I’m just a very impatient person who generally hates waiting for crosswalk signs to tell me when to go even if there are no cars (Read: Jaywalking).
Things I Don’t Miss:
I knew there would be a lot of hiking before I applied to join the study abroad trip, but what I didn’t know was how much my chronic illness would get in the way. Turns out, I’m not as athletic as I was before (despite being in sports all of my life), and now that I know that exercise and certain foods are main triggers for my symptoms, I soon came to the realization that sadly, hiking should be limited for my travel experience. Plus, since hiking is done almost every day on most study abroad trip itineraries I’ve seen, I’ve also learned that I will never do a study abroad program again.
Of course, this may be something that you love about Italy. I certainly loved hiking Monte Faito, Mt. Vesuvius, The Path of the Gods, and up and down the hills of the towns of Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, etc, but these things were major triggers for my symptoms despite how much I actually love hiking. Perhaps one day I can find some tips and tricks on how to deal with hiking with a chronic illness.
Despite the fact that the noise seems to be drowned out by nature, architecture, and the surprising calmness of the chaos (if that even makes sense), this is still something that can be very annoying especially the first couple nights in Italy. This seemed to bother my classmates more than it did for me given that I usually sleep with music on and can deal with some outside noise, but if you are used to complete and utter silence while you sleep (or the only sound coming from a fan) then be sure to take some precautions such as creating a calming playlist or getting a small fan for when you go to sleep. Just be aware that Italian hotel rooms tend to only have one or two (very often, only one) outlets and a different voltage, so plugging too many things in (such as your fan, phone charger, camera charger, etc) may be a bad idea.
The Spotty Wifi
According to Nomad List, Italy ranked in about 2.7 out of 5 stars on a Digital Nomad scale. This is probably because there isn’t often free wifi and wifi tends to be very “spotty” and can go out constantly. On average, Italy has about 15mbps download speed, which although is considered enough, it can cause difficulties with multiple people such as families or large groups. When I was in Italy, I found it very difficult to keep in contact with my family – and not just because they were on the other side of the world. Finding a good spot to sit down and get on the internet was often difficult, so while Italy may not be good for long-term stay for digital nomads, it is a good place to bring the kids and to try to keep them off their devices.
Being Away From Family
Like I said above, it started to become a little difficult when trying to stay in contact with family – and yes, spotty wifi was a big factor. But, whether I’m in Italy for four days or Indonesia for a month, this will always be something that I dislike about traveling, and going to my first overseas trip just reminded me of how much I’ll miss my family while I try to launch a career in part-time (or possibly even full-time) traveling.
So Much Stray Dogs And Cats 😥
Something that I wasn’t expecting when I got to Italy was the number of stray dogs and cats we’ve seen! In the U.S, when we see stray dogs and cats, they tend to hang around homes or soon end up in animal shelters or, sadly, even put down because there isn’t enough room. In Italy, these dogs and cats seemed to be content with being stray, were very well-fed, and also showed no signs of abuse or neglect and loved getting attention from strangers! However, we were told it’s best not to pet the strays – not only because we can get sick, but also because they will follow us back to our hotel room and then we would get yelled at. Oops! It wasn’t me….okay, so maybe it was.
The Charades And Guessing Games
Italy was actually a surprisingly easy place to navigate with minimal Italian or even Spanish-speaking skills and is a good overseas trip to boost your travel confidence. But, despite the fact that it was pretty easy, there are times when the charades and guessing games are involved – which can suck, especially if you didn’t download an offline translator. Plus, if you want any medicine from the pharmacy (even cold and flu medicine), Italians usually talk to the pharmacist about their symptoms so they could give you the best medicine for you. While that may be awesome, it sucks when you’re Italian is the equivalent to a 5-year-old.
You can read this post here for some basic phrases, tips, and advice for your first trip to Italy, whether you are going solo, as a couple, or with family.
I actually love the idea that laundry is done the old-fashioned way (usually), but with certain clothes that take too long to dry or insufficient drying space (plus the time to do laundry), it can sometimes feel like a hassle. Of course, you can ask the front desk if they have any washer and dryers, but be careful! Sometimes these machines are old and might be risky to use.
All The Pharmacies Are Closed When I Most Need Them
You can read all about my experience on my blog post about the lessons I learned while abroad, one lesson is that it is important to be prepared even if you think you “may not need” something. Let’s just say…I under-packed.
I know I said I liked the Italians very skillful driving with all of the narrow roads and pedestrians just asking to get hit, but this was also something that I am thankful to not see every day in my hometown, Houston. And here I thought Houstonians were angry drivers.
What about you? Is there something that you absolutely love about Italy – or even something that you are thankful you don’t have/experience/see in your hometown? Don’t be shy – comment below!
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