June 23

With two long days of traveling behind me, I am finally back in Daytona Beach. The last week seemed like a blur, rushing by so fast that I can scarcely remember what happened. It’s hard to believe how far away from home I’ve been for the past five weeks. Only two days ago I was still sleeping in a cozy monastery on the hills outside Siena, and now here I am, back in the Florida heat and loving it.

For our last few days in Italy, we all took the time to enjoy what we loved most about the culture. I made sure to fully enjoy my last cup of chocolate chip and mint gelato. Also, Joe and I spent a lot of time wandering the shops of Siena, buying the rest of our gifts to take home to friends and family.

On Wednesday morning after Italian class, Enzo took us to the Torture Museum in central Siena. I think the place is more of a tourist attraction than a natural Sienese sightseeing stop, especially since we passed one in Florence a few weeks back. However the features inside do relate to much of Europe in the medieval times, and many of them even claimed to still be in use. We saw all kinds of torture tools from spiked interrogation chairs to limb-trapping metal splints and a cat-o-nine-tails whip. The museum also boasted amazing life-like figures that either demonstrated the use of a torture tool or represented some of the famous horror myths of the times, such as zombies, werewolves, and the many faces of Dracula and vampire creatures. Although I believe we were allowed to take photos I refrained because frankly, the images we saw were not ones I want to remember.

Later in the day we went as a class to the Duomo of Siena. This would be our last view of the beautiful churches of Italy. We gazed one last time at intricate mosaic panels on the floor, solemn religious paintings on the walls, and great statues and carved altars spread our around the magnificent rooms. There was even an enormous pipe organ high on the wall. As each of us wandered through the church our thoughts began to turn to packing and preparing for the trip home and we soon began to slip away in small groups to head back to Vico Alto.

Before saying our goodbyes and taking our leave of the area, we had one last hoorah at the Irish pub in Siena. Then we all began to head out in ones and twos for our points of departure.

Friday morning, Joe and I left bright and early with five pieces of luggage between us. We had accumulated a bit of extra weight with all the gifts we had bought so it worked out that I had gotten that extra suitcase in Rome. We dragged the luggage down to the bus stop, took our last city bus to the train station, and were soon on our way to Rome. Once there it was a fairly quick trip back to the airport and before we knew it we were in the air.

The fantastic feeling of being home after a long journey is keeping me from feeling any longing to return to Italy just yet. But perhaps after a week or so I might have enough distance to reflect on what I’ve experienced and how my perspective has changed. For now I think I will focus on delivering my Italian gifts, dining on hamburgers and fries, and relaxing on the hot Florida beach.

May 15

At 5:20 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, barring delays, I will be sitting on a British Airways jet headed first for London, and after a short layover, finally to Rome. Traveling beside me will be my best friend and boyfriend, Joe White. This trip will mark the first time we have been across the Atlantic, and we are both more excited than words can express!

Summer 2008 is my last chance to explore and travel as a student before I have to take on the real world. Next year I will be a senior in the Communication program at Embry-Riddle, set to graduate in May of 2009. Last May I interned in Washington D.C. at Airports Council International of North America. It was a trip of both spontaneous discovery and crucial responsibility. I drove north on my own, moved in with people I had never met before, and commuted daily to the heart of D.C. by bus and Metrorail. I learned so much from the experience, both on a practical level and in relation to my job in the Communication and Marketing Department.

This summer, Joe and I chose to participate in the Italy Study Abroad program to travel outside of our normal boundaries, experience a foreign country, and gain insight into the current global environment, all while earning credits for school. We will be staying our first night in Rome, and then traveling on to Siena where our professor in residence, Dr. Nancy Parker, has made accommodations for all 14 of us to stay in a converted monastery.

Aeroplano, treno, metrebus –all forms of transportation Joe and I experienced on our first day in Italy. And metrebus includes both the underground metro and the bus system on the streets. Once we arrived in the Rome Fiumicino airport and recovered our luggage, we were immediately accosted by a taxi driver who did not speak English but wished to charge us 48 euros, or close to $75, for a ride to our hostel. We assumed this was quite a rip-off and turned him down, saying we would take the train and find our own way. If we had only known how much hassle that decision would cause us, we might have accepted the not-so-expensive taxi after all.

For one thing, I did not acquire suitable luggage for walking more than ten minutes at a time. The resulting stress load will leave my shoulders and Joe’s hands that much stronger by the end of our trip, supposing I do not end up purchasing new luggage soon enough to save us some pain. We have two bags each and have been dragging them from one kind of transportation to the next.

The train took us to the heart of Rome where, after struggling to figure out how to get change for our tickets, we finally managed to get on the metro to Cornelia, an area west of the Vatican where our hostel was located. Above ground once more, we took nearly twenty minutes to figure out which way our bus was going and how exactly we were to catch it. Fortunately once we were aboard, an American woman correctly assumed which hostel we were going to and told us which stop was ours just in time for us to get off the bus. Having checked in and reached our “bungalow,” and being exhausted from an overnight flight and a loss of five hours through changing time zones, we immediately passed out for almost six hours of desperately needed sleep. The adventure of being a world traveler was not quite what we had expected –at least not yet.

Unfortunately by the time we fully woke up, it was almost 11 p.m. in Italy, which is apparently the time most places close. Therefore our dinner consisted of a chocolate-filled croissant, some strange chocolate candy, and a small bottle of banana-strawberry flavored juice from a vending machine along with some granola bars I had packed before our trip. We spent another hour or so looking over important or interesting Italian phrases. For example, “Dov’è la toilette?” is “Where is the toilet?”, “Viaggiare è vivere” is “to travel is to live,” and “Lei crede negli extraterrestri?” is “Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?” We also made sure to look over our travel plans for the next day.

As I write this I am sitting in the Termini train station in the center of Rome. Joe is reading, and I am considering checking out the luggage store I saw on the level below us. We have another two hours to wait for our train to Siena. Because of my poor choice of luggage, we decided it wouldn’t be much fun to try to drag our things around Rome in order to see the sights. So we have chosen to focus on getting to our main destination for the time being. We will have more fun once we have rid ourselves of these heavy burdens.