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In the last Spring holidays, I was lucky enough to travel to Italy with my school for three incredible weeks. In those weeks, we travelled from North to South by train, bus and even ferry, all the time immersing ourselves in everything the notorious ‘bel paese’ had to offer (especially the food!!) It felt like the entire country was a work of art and as the whole trip was spectacular, this would be a long article if I didn’t skip straight to the highlights.
Let me begin in San Gimignano, a hilltop township of walls and towers dating back to Etruscan times. Now, these weren’t just any old towers. Predominantly superficial structures, these towers were great, stone symbols of the power and wealth of a family (definitely in a “my tower’s bigger than yours ha ha.” situation… remind you of anything?) and were recognisable for miles around.
We weaved through the stone streets of artisan shops and typical Italian cafés, past a man reciting Dante in costume, to a garden of Olive trees surrounded by soaring stone walls. Atop one such wall was a lookout and when you got to the top, if the stairs hadn’t taken your breath away, the view certainly would.
Before leaving the secluded town, we had to try the best gelato in the world (their words, not mine) and let me tell you, my mint gelato tasted like someone had frozen the very plant itself, so I had to agree that is was at least the best gelato in town. (What? There was some good competition.)
Next, we took the winding road to Orvieto, another Etruscan town in the hills of Italy. Here, I was lucky enough to take part in a homestay with an Italian family and attend classes at an Italian language school. Because of our homestay, we were in Orvieto the longest of all the cities we visited, so by the time we left we felt like locals.
Case in point: I had tried all four gelato shops and decided that the very best tiramisu was from the café that became a legend among our group, Café Montenucci, I had become a regular at the little café near the language school that had the most heavenly chocolate muffins and had even visited the local markets, tucked into a square behind the main street.
It was at these cheese-and-fruit-filled markets that we spent what must have been 20 minutes looking for the perfect flowers for our host family, eventually settling on our very first choice.
After our goodbyes and nearly forgetting to return our family’s keys, we headed to Sorento to return to being tourists. As tourists, we couldn’t miss a trip to Pompeii’s little sister Herculaneum. Herculaneum was buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD, but in a different way to Pompeii: It was covered in a hot, volcanic mudslide travelling at high speeds.
The city was totally buried and the mud preserved the town within, down to the very bread on the tables. As a more intimate archaeological experience than bustling Pompeii, we were able to walk the town as they would have nearly 2000 years ago.
We took advantage of this and embarked on a quest to find a famous mosaic depicting Venus’ wedding, running down Roman streets and through Ancient shops and homes. We were truly on the road to ancient Rome.
Finally we arrived in Rome, where the streets were alive with culture. From guitar rock performances in front of mystery fountains to people spray-painting records to sell to Opera at sunset near the Spanish steps, Rome’s roads were put to good use.
We walked across the city, finding ancient sites tucked between more modern ones, such as the Colosseum, which now borders a main road. I made use of this road riding back to the hotel in a Mercedes after a long day on my feet. Yes, that’s right. I rode through Rome in a Mercedes (Never mind the fact that it was a taxi…)
My last Roman road lead me to the airport, where my path was to home. It had been an adventure I will never forget and one I can’t wait to relive, so maybe it is true. Eventually, all roads lead to Rome and all roads return to Rome (My coins in the Trevi fountain will make sure of that.)
By Brigid Czislowski.