In this week’s post, Emily lets us in on the details of how she spent her 20th birthday in Italy – one of her most memorable, which included Florence, Venice, Milan, and a canoli from a street vendor.
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Birthdays have never been a big deal in my mind.
I spent my sweet sixteen following a mind-numbingly ordinary itinerary of school and then soccer practice and then home and then homework. I’ve never particularly identified with the rather arbitrary feeling of being “one year older.” Sure, it’s an important moment to acknowledge and celebrate, but I’ve never been one to glorify it. Fancy presents and decked-out parties aren’t really my style.
And as a result of this mentality, my birthdays have seemed to blend into the indistinguishable stream of ordinary days that have composed my life: one day every year that turns out to be much like any other, save for significantly more Facebook notifications and maybe better food. (Who doesn’t like cake?)
But this birthday, oh my.
One for the books, I tell you.
The 21st of September marked my twentieth birthday. And while my sixteenth birthday stands out in my mind for its utter banality, I will never forget my twentieth birthday for its complete spectacularity.
But let’s not fuss with generalities: let’s get down to the magnificent details.
My birthday weekend began with a bang.
First thing Friday morning, I hopped on a train and a couple hours later I hopped off and I looked around and I was in Venice.
And let me tell you, Venice is amazing.
I wandered around Venice for several hours, soaking in its grandeur and enjoying its aquatic bustle, before jumping on another train and heading to Milan.
Because I’m in Italy and I can.
The ease with which one can explore this nation’s treasures is incredible: I enjoyed breakfast in Florence, explored the waters of Venice over lunch, and feasted in Milan for dinner.
You certainly can’t say something like that every day.
Now, my trip to Milan wasn’t completely unfounded: a friend of mine, an exchange student from my high school, lives in the smaller city of Monza, located about 20 kilometers outside of Milano. She met me at the train station and I spent the weekend under her Italian-savvy guidance: she asked me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and I told her, ‘Fede, take me wherever you want to do whatever you want.’ And go and do we did.
Saturday morning, we went to Lago Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy located about an hour and a half north of Monza. The lake was absolutely gorgeous: waters of the clearest blue and hills of the greenest green.
We took a boat to an island that went by the name of Isola Bella, literally translating in English to ‘beautiful island.’ And let me tell you, beauty doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We arrived at Isola Bella and walked around the island, soaking in its majesty. But the true beauty lay in the palace situated on its banks: this place was hands down the most artfully constructed, ornately designed, and entirely beautiful piece of architecture I had ever seen. It looked like it was chiseled by the hands of a god. I spent most of the afternoon walking around the palace, gazing up at the walls and ceilings and down at the floors and banisters—every minute angle afforded a rich and vibrant image. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
That evening, a few of Fede’s friends came over to her house for dinner. One thing that is undeniable about Italian women: they are completely fabulous. Fare bella figura indeed.
We spent the evening drinking wine and eating gelato and talking (più o mena, more or less) in varying levels of English and Italian. For much of the time, I simply sat and listened to these Italian ladies chatter expressively away in their foreign tongue, picking out snippets of recognizable words and phrases and sometimes being able to piece together an approximate picture of what they might be saying.
It was a lovely experience.
The next day, Fede greeted me early in the morning with a giant hug, a huge smile, and a loud ‘Happy birthday!’
We hit the streets of Milan, and she gave me a walking tour of the city. Like all of Italy—and forgive the redundancy but there are simply no other adequate words—Milan is beautiful.
And then, as the afternoon began dwindling away and the impending departure of my train back to Florence came to make itself known, Fede did something completely and unforgettably adorable.
Here’s how it goes: we stop at a street vendor en route back to the car, she buys me un canolo (a canoli), fishes inside of her purse and pulls out a candle and a lighter, sticks the candle in the cream, lights the candle, and then she sings me happy birthday in the middle of a street in the center of Milan.
How’s that for a birthday present?
And with that, I collected my newly formed memories, hugged Fede goodbye, and boarded a train back to Florence.
A wonderfully beautiful way to spend my 20th birthday: tanti auguri indeed.
Stay tuned for another post from Emily next Tuesday. If you’re interested in learning more about the CAPA blog and vlog grant program, please visit the scholarships page on capa.org.