Family is forever, and you certainly don’t get to pick and choose who’s in it. Coming from a family of six, I’ve grown up in the middle of my siblings (two younger, one older) and with my parents, who’ve been in love since college. I like to think that, while we are all wonderful at many things, my siblings and I have our own individual strengths. Brittany: the academic, brilliant with a love for learning and compassion. Brooke: soccer star, lovely and popular. Cody: all boy, a bit of a menace, certainly the prince of the family but sweet in the end. And me, the stubborn, artsy wild one.
Pastors kids, many people think, either is goody-two-shoes’ or rebellious crazy people. I think our family has struck the happy medium. Yet, of course, I’m the one with a tattoo and piercings, living across the world to pursue environmental writing. I am stubborn, I won’t deny that, but in my moments of craving for a free-spirited adventure, my stubbornness drives me to actually do it. Which is how I ended up here. And now my parents have gotten to share some of that adventure with me.
I define the differences between me and my siblings because I’ve found differences tend to stick out when you’re traveling with others. My Dad loves museums, my mom loves fountains, and I love street musicians, but we all love food. Despite times of struggle, we are a family and the week with each other was wonderful.
Mom and Dad have been married for 25 years, as of last August, so my acceptance to Rome was a bit of an excuse to celebrate abroad while also visit me. They arrived Monday, directly after my coworkers left and since they couldn’t check into their hotel right away we dropped off their bags and took the streets starting with the Colosseum and Forum. My dad the history buff, had a field day, mouth gaped open, constantly reading out the dates of things as we walked through history. My Mom humored my father’s amazement by tagging along and chatting with me, but waited for the oceans and small little towns, away from tourist crowds, to fall in love with Italy.
We left for Venice the next morning; not much was expected: people told us it was over-touristy, nothing special, small, not as great as it’s cracked up to be, but one should see it when they’re in town. Well…they were all wrong. Maybe we hit it just right, going at a time cold enough to steer away tourists, but warm enough that we weren’t miserable.
The colors and the tiny streets made Mom smile and I quote “never want to leave,” the oceans didn’t smell like low tide yet, and being out in the fresh salty air with colorful buildings and masks surrounding me, made me appreciate Italy more than fatigued Rome has.
The food…wasn’t amazing, lots of fried fish and black ink squid. The second night’s dinner was better, but still a little pricey. But, after sailing to a glass island (where they make glass, not made out of glass), cutting through foggy canals on a gondola like a romanticized pirate of the Caribbean, and sleeping in a 300-year-old Venetian house, it was hard not to love the landscape.
We split up on day four, my parents off to romantic Florence for a couples’ adventure and me to the city of love, Verona, by myself. Although I was surrounded by couples, Verona may be one of the top 5 cities I’ve seen in Europe, and certainly my favorite in Italy. When you think of Italy, with tall green Tuscan trees, balconies, yellow ochre buildings and ivy on every building, you’re thinking of Verona.
I was starting to believe the movies all embellished what Italy looks like. I know there are beautiful coastlines and Venice; I know Tuscany has rolling hills, but Rome and Naples and Florence didn’t quite have the look I was expecting. I thought they would have those small back alleys filled with greenery and women hanging their clothes with aromas of pasta coming out of the window…but no. There are some, in the small pockets of the cities, but in Verona, it was everywhere the whole place.
I watched Letters to Juliet with my Mom the night before so I could see what I was in for, and Hollywood didn’t lie this time. I started at an old bookstore where I picked out postcards and vintage pictures for my wall. The owner was originally German-Italian and his English wasn’t strong, so we spoke in French about how he and his brother took the shop over from their father, a former collector of rare texts.
Then to Castel Vecchio: the most real castle in Italy. It was huge! With a drawbridge and moat and gardens, the whole shebang. I wandered the basement dungeons, traced the elaborately painted walls and walked the private bridge across the river.
I was already 6 shots of espresso in, but I figured it was time for another, so I found some famous cafe, threw it back and then climbed the Torre dei Lamberti for a beautiful view of the ceramic rooftops and distant mountains surrounded by lakes.
One of my grievances with Rome is the lack of greenery. Aside from Villa Borghese…which isn’t close to me, there’s nothing, not even green patches somewhere in the middle of the road. Verona, much like Paris had parks everywhere. There were fountains and benches, picnic areas, statues with fields, and farmer’s markets, but the most beautiful greenery was the Giardini Giusto.
I wanted to hike the mountains in Verona but had limited time and turns out the gardens sit on a hill, so with my laptop in my backpack I got some time out in the woods. The gardens were trim with statues and French-inspired hedge mazes. There were tall Tuscan trees, small gardener’s houses, and fountains.
Then second to last stop, the most famous in Verona: The house of Juliet. This, unfortunately, was the least romantic part of the city, but still, a cool thing to see. There was gum on the walls and a LOT of people with a newly-installed, tacky gift shop in the square too. I wrote my letter to Juliet and put in the mailbox, took my pictures and said adieu to Shakespeare’s inspiration. We’ll see if I actually get a response from Juliet…my note was written in eyeliner.
With some creamy delicious gelato in hand, I stared up at the Verona Arena. It’s the best-preserved arena of its kind, similar to the Colosseum. After walking inside, I really wonder why the Colosseum is so impressive. Sure history and all but the Verona Arena seemed larger, prettier, and…there was a park next to it, just to add some nature. The Arena is still fully functioning for concerts and shows today; One Direction and others have performed there recently.
I finished my day with a cheese plate and Aperol spritzer, a native drink to Veneto, then hopped on my train back home awaiting a full Friday of internship application work.
My parents returned from Florence Saturday to finish some Roman sight-seeing. My mom came back refreshed after a full day of Florentine cooking classes and my dad, a bit tired from walking called Florence a “museum lovers paradise, with great steak” …basically his dream.
We saw the Vatican, Trevi, the Pantheon, Piazzas, the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese, San Clemente, the Janiculum and more over their last two days. Lots of history and lots of walking, but all the classic sites of Rome. And, although walking the city had us on edge by the end of the week, throwing in pizza, pasta and gelato always put smiles on our faces.
I will miss, them dearly, and I’m sure they will have stories to tell too. It was nice to have family here and though I can’t say I’m quite ready to leave Europe, I’m sure returning to the sandy beaches of Cape Cod and my family will be beautiful in just over a month.
Bri, the barefoot traveler