Last summer I closed my final textbook, clicked submit, waved goodbye to 8,000 words and 3 months of insanity (formally known as my dissertation), and temporarily postponed my ‘grown up’ job search. Instead, I traded the cold, unforgiving walls of Exeter’s campus Library that I came to know so well in my final year of study, for pineapple pizza and Bellini in one of Europe’s most enchanting cities… Venice!
Venice was just the first stop of many for myself and Morgan, my mischievous partner in crime. Having never travelled before, in fact, having only made it out of the country a handful of times, I packed a bag, strapped on my money belt, and jumped on a plane with no idea what to expect. Well… eighteen days and ten destinations later and here is what I found.
I have concentrated my experience into four remarkably accurate words that are guaranteed to underpin every traveller’s experience whilst exploring Italy, be it in the heart of its bustling city’s or the tranquillity of its rustic countryside.
1.) Flâneur (n.) French. A person of leisure, deliberately aimless, simply wandering the streets and soaking in the city. Literally, ‘stroller’, ‘lounger’, or ‘saunter’.
Not to start things off on the wrong foot by sounding like a complete cliché, but if you want to discover a city, I mean really discover a city…. get lost in it. Hear me out. During our entire time in Italy, we refused to buy a map, surviving on those provided by hostels and one particularly useful food placemat that came in handy several times.
Though this was 30% out of stubbornness and 30% money saving savvy, the remaining 40% was due to the fact that our most amazing adventures took place in those moments in which we explored with no intention of getting from a specific A to a specific B point.
When trekking from one monument to the next you often ignore the details of the actual journey, but when you somewhat whimsically roam the streets diverting in whichever direction your feet lead you, you’ll find far more than you ever expected. Because, it is only when you have absolutely no idea where you are that you really take in your surroundings, I mean you have to if you want to be able to navigate yourself back to your hostel eventually.
This process forces you to stop skimming over your surroundings and soak in the beauty that is all around you. I am by no means suggesting you go out of your way to get lost, we always knew roughly which direction we would need to head in to get to where we wanted to be. Instead I’m proposing you needn’t worry too much about knowing where you are or locating particular landmarks, just let them find you. Besides ‘a thousand roads lead us forever to Rome’.
I encourage you to ask locals for directions, make friends on the bus, when possible walk, divert from the track, pop into that museum, say hello to the local artists, step into fabric stores, and just generally flâneur! You honestly wouldn’t believe even half the stories I have that begin with Morgan and I getting lost and finding things you didn’t even know you were looking for… One of which lead us to an underground club in the centre of Florence in the early hours of the a.m. in flip flops, a P.E bag, and a bum bag dancing like a girl band in the V.I.P area alongside the DJ.
2.) Vemödalen (n.) English. The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exit.
During your time in Italy, you will undoubtably want to take hundreds of photos to try and capture the incredible time that you’re having! And try as you may, you’ll find yourself taking pictures of ‘the pose’ next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and feeling as though everyone has seen it all before. And to an extent, they have.
You’ll find much frustration in not being able to concentrate the full detail and beauty of the Duomo in Florence through the lens of a camera. No matter how creative you try to get, many of your photos will look very similar to thousands that have come before them. Yet, no matter how disheartening this may become, persevere regardless.
Even if upon your return, nobody so much as bats an eyelid at your best shot of the view from St Mark’s Campanile, or the sunrise over Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo, it will still mean something to you. No matter how impressive a photographer you are, how expensive a camera you own, or which angle you try, nothing will ever compare to the first-hand experience. And so the best you can hope for is a gentle reminder of a story, use your photos as ‘a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone’.
While that selfie might not quite capture the magic of befriending a local chef, two waiters, and an artist, who collectively persisted to ply you with complimentary food and free Bellini, it will transport you back to that remarkable story in a way no diary entry ever could. Don’t let vemödalen get you down.
3.) Shemomedjamo (v.) Georgian. To continue eating past the point of being full on account of the food tasting so remarkable. Literally, ‘I accidently ate the whole thing’.
The FOOD! Oh sweet merciless taste buds the food. Everyone will try to explain to you that the food is absolutely delicious, decadent, and delectable! And, I suspect like me, you will naively conclude that ‘pizza is pizza right, how good can it get? It’s all the same stuff at the end of the day, dough, sauce, cheese, there’s really not a great deal you can improve on… I mean do they have (a certain fast food franchise that rhymes with underclothes) in Italy? Because that shit is guuuuuurddd’.
And if you want to continue singing the praise of (a certain fast food franchise that rhymes with bungalows) pizza, I would suggest you simply forget visiting Italy. Just don’t go, because you’ll never truly enjoy pizza again. Fact. It simply won’t ever be as good as it was in Italy. What’s more, you’ll be surprised by the places in which you find the best food, for Morgan and I it was an unsuspecting beachside restaurant in Pisa.
Ultimately, if you manage to survive a trip to Italy without experiencing shemomedjamo, you’ve gone incredibly, incredibly wrong somewhere. Embrace the fact that in a country like Italy, the food is a large part of the experience so be sure to try a little bit of everything. Enjoy gelato for breakfast, gorge on pizza for lunch, and stuff yourself with pasta for dinner! You needn’t feel guilty, the food is part of the countries identity! Worried about your bikini body? Put your body in a bikini and take a bite of another slice!
(Disclaimer: Okay, so maybe if you’re heading to Italy for a duration longer than a month or two, take this advice with a pinch of salt. Not literally of course, because that would not help the point I’m trying to make here. But provided you’re eating reasonably for 80% of the year, what’s the harm?)
4.) Exulansis (n.) English. The tendency to give up trying to talk to people about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
Since I’ve returned from the single greatest adventure of my entire 22 years, it would appear that Morgan is the only person who truly understands the depth of our experience in Italy. And as much as I could, and would love to, give you a step-by-step of my ENTIRE trip (particularly as I kept an extensive diary depicting our time out there) I couldn’t possible begin to express just quite how miraculous it really was.
Much like that photo album of partially inadequate photos, you will find that no words will ever quite express your endeavours. Even the finest wordsmith won’t be able to do it any justice. Be it describing the astounding architecture of Coliseum in Rome, the surreal experience of meeting a tailor named Romano who took the time to give you advice on what to visit in Florence, or the madness of almost missing our flight back after having only accommodated two hours of sleep before our 4 a.m transfer!
Once you return, along with the holiday blues that soon consumes you, you will find exulansis to be a daily feature of your life. Fear not, there is a cure to this curse… curiously, the feverous flue known as the travel bug will remedy your worries! Even if you’re planning another trip in two years’ time, you will find that having another trip to work towards will relieve that blue haze that clouds us all after returning from the trip of a lifetime.
For further insight into mine and Morgan’s Italian adventures, follow me on Instagram @definedbytravel (https://www.instagram.com/definedbytravel/) and let me know how you’re #definedbytravel by using the hashtag.