University of Wisconsin–Madison

In Transit

From the widow of a high-speed train, Italy slides swiftly by, the land changing before you. From Naples to Rome the brown rocky mountains in the center of the country turn to green rolling hills that replace the dry farmland that stretches from the shimmer of the sea to the mountains that shade the sunrise. The widows go black as the train flashes through a tunnel under a mountain, reflecting your face in the glass. Heading north from Rome the hills grow bigger and greener, nestled among them is Florence with narrow streets and colorful buildings built centuries ago. Continuing north from Pisa to Parma, the hills turn to mountains, sometimes cut in half by Tuscan marble mines that line big blocks of the smooth stone along the railway. The train pushes in and out of dark tunnels, curving through mountains that strain your neck to see and over shallow rivers piled with rocks. But suddenly the mountains fall away and the train speeds straight through flat fields dotted with haybales and filled with sunflowers, hanging their heads with dried seed. By Parma the horizon is a long way away, farmland stretches for miles around and you are in the heart of the region Emilia-Romagna.

Inside the carriage of the Frecciarossa- one of the fastest trains in Italy at nearly 200mph- the country rushes silently by, with the occasional click of the rails or cough from a passenger. But in my head, between my earbuds, it sounds like Pusha T’s DAYTONA, my favorite album of the summer. I kick my feet up on the seat ahead and nod my head, thinking about how sick it is to be gliding through the Italian countryside bumping soulful coke rap street poetry. If you know you know.

I’ve been in Italy for two weeks and already done a lot. My family came with me and together we traveled to all the main tourist hotspots that are practically a prerequisite for spending any time in this old beautiful country.

In Rome the streets are wide and cobblestone, giving the small cars a good rumble under their tires as they swerve around tourists that move in droves from one era of Roman history to another. It is a city built and rebuilt on itself- antique yet modern- with pagan temples turned to Catholic churches and old ornate buildings housing modern stores. Most people speak English as well as Italian and you cannot walk down the street without someone, recognizing you as an American, trying to sell you roses or selfie sticks or fake Louis Vuitton.

The Colosseum
Inside the Pantheon, originally a Roman temple dedicated to all gods, now a Catholic church.

Florence is smaller and more walkable than Rome, with buildings in shades of orange, yellow and red built close to the street and big plazas in front of churches of white and green marble. Naples, comparatively, is a mess of sights and smells with people packed into tall rundown apartments with widows and balconies open wide to fight the heat. There pedestrians do not bother with the crosswalk and scooters hop onto the sidewalk when traffic is stuck.

Florence
Naples

I have seen so much but seen nothing yet. I have visited Pompei and the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Michelangelo’s David, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Duomo, St. Peter’s Basilica, and spent two days getting sunburnt by the sea. After two weeks of traveling with my mom, two brothers, two sisters and five months’ worth of clothes in tow, I just want to sit down and unpack and not have to catch a train or figure out a new city.

The Duomo, a really big church and landmark of Florence.
Mt. Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompei

Now I am sitting in a hostel in Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna and my home for the next four months. My family went back to the US, and I’ve been bumming around my new city, wandering at random to learn the streets. My shirt is not clean, but it was less wrinkled and smelly than the others in my bag. The girl in the bunk above me mumbles Swiss German in her sleep.

Tomorrow I will go to a hotel to meet the others in my program. After that, they say, everything will be in Italian.

Vacation is over, time for school.