I’ve never really kept a diary. Many have passed through my hands — my desire to keep a diary was always stronger than my ability to actually do so — but each would inevitably disappear into my bookcase, forgotten and growing dusty next to my Animorphs and similar relics of my childhood. I’ve never been a patient person, nor had the self discipline to dutifully write down my thoughts as they occur to me. Worst than that, is the way that my ideas would form like magnificent, glittering castles in my mind, only to be morphed into something clumsy when they appeared on the page: I never figured out how to bend the words without breaking them. The glass world in my mind always shattered when I tried to make myself articulate it. Thus, writing this travel blog has been good for me. For once, I knew how much I’d regret not writing down these months, and I managed to actually get this thing going and was faithful to it. Now I’m at the end of my Great European Travel Adventure and I have to say goodbye. But I’m proud of myself for making this blog and sticking to it, unlike its many predecesors, and think it might just scratch the surface of doing Rome justice.
Before I left for Europe, I underestimated the power of travel as a mechanism for growth. Who knew that I’d move to Italy and realize that I’m not actually content with the limits to which I’d pushed myself previously, or the lack of personal growth I’d been having. So much of my life was stagnant, and I didn’t know it, because I’d been existing in the same space for far too long. In being pushed out of my comfort zone in Italy, I was also pushed out of the comfortable space I’d inhabited for 21 years. It turns out that this change was exactly what I needed, it filled a space in me that I didn’t know was empty, and it was far overdue.
I’ve been walking the streets of Rome and quietly saying my goodbyes. I owe so much to this city, to the people I met, to the sunny days that melted into hazy nights. When I think back on the past five months, I think about how much life bursts from every corner of Rome (and how much pasta), and how much laughter, noise, and fullness was pushed and prodded and squeezed into my time here. I think about the panicked excitement that came with the first few weeks in Rome, the complete abandon with which I let myself be swept up into the glory of being young in Europe (and all that comes with excitable youth–you can imagine). I think about the lovely people I met, who I was pushed out of my comfort zone to meet, who became la mia famiglia. I think about the old Italian baker who gave us free bread at 3:00 AM the first night in Rome, the first time I ate Cacio e Pepe, the gilded mask I wore for Carnival, the languid thermal baths in Budapest, standing in the rain in St. Peter’s Square watching Pope Francis being elected, the chocolate duck-turned shot glass in Switzerland, the fifteen hours spent in churches and the Uffizi in Florence (thank God for Cat and Mimi), stumbling upon the chocolate festival in Siena, running along the Tiber and dodging tourists, making Limoncello in Sorrento, the 7-hour hike to the top of the Swiss Alps, the bungee jumping the next day in the Swiss Alps — the memories are flooding back but I’ll stop myself now. From now on, time will pass differently and I’ll forget that which I’d like to remember of my time here, so I pat myself on the back for continuing this blog. I’ll thank myself on the days that I know are coming, where I’ll be sitting at home feeling displaced and missing Rome.
Ultimately, I don’t know what I learned from this experience, other than that humans tend to excel when we are thrust into completly foreign worlds. We were hoarded into apartments and campuses and restaurants and onto trains and into hostel rooms and I want to make this sentence cramped so you get the feeling of how it was — but it turns out that we deal very well in cramped spaces. Somehow everything fits into them perfectly. We live more fully when we know our time has an expiration date. We take everything we are given and we make it our own (and after all, we were all really just searching for the same thing, really justing hoping we’d help each other find it).
Last night, I ate dinner with the last of my roommates who is still in Rome, at one of our favorite haunts from the semester, and all we could do was shake our heads at each other, wide eyed and in disbelief that everything was over. How can you just pick up and move on from such a big (sometimes the smallest words are the only ones that make sense) experience? There’s so much I want to say, and my chest is feeling like a helium balloon, but once again I can’t make these words mean as much here as they do in my heart. So I’m going to leave it at thanks — to Rome, of course, because it is simply glorious. To my amazing, hilarious, beautiful, crazy roommates, who made this semester one for the books. To all the countries and cities I visited, who let me take what I needed from them and leave nothing in return. To all the people who unconsciously lifted this semester up, and me along with it, to the sort of heights I only ever dreamed of. Grazie mille. Grazie. Grazie. Grazie.