By Lana Wheatfill, 15
From the 8th to the 30th of September I travelled to Italy with an organisation called Interchange, a disability support service. The weeks leading up to my trip were filled with excited anticipation as I waited eagerly for September 8th to come. I had even packed a week in advance to make sure I had everything.
When the day finally arrived I was seen off at the airport by my parents. My Mum was quite easygoing about the whole thing and was simply excited for me, but my Dad was a whole other story. He was fretting and stressing and trying to take over my packing. He also kept trying to tell me what to do and was being just generally annoying. I had to forcefully shoo him off at the airport just to make him leave. But as annoying as he was, I understood the reason why.
After an exhausting 22 hours flying and stop over, I finally arrived at my destination. Milan is a gorgeous city and the towns and villages around it are no less stunning. Despite my jet lag and the knowledge that I would continue to be awake for almost 52 hours, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the sprawling hills and interesting buildings that passed me by on the way to my hotel.
I spent the first day getting to know the people behind Athla and CREA, the two disability services hosting our trip. They spent two weeks showing us around and introducing us to Italy. I was taken to a village called Gorgonzola and it was easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in my life.
There isn’t really anything to actually do there, but the view is worth it. Gorgonzola is the little town you picture in your head when you think of Italy. It had the large three story buildings coloured yellow and pink, with wooden shutters gracing every window. Its concrete tile paved roads are certainly interesting to someone who has never seen much of it, and the beautiful piazza we saw when we first arrived was simply splendid. The gardens are also very lush and green, stunningly quaint.
A local man we met couldn’t contain his disbelief at the sight of a large group of tourists in his town. “Why come to Gorgonzola? There is nothing here!” He exclaimed. But despite its lack of attractions, Gorgonzola is a great look into the small towns and villages of Italy.
We were taken to many ancient buildings across Milan. Every time I saw one I couldn’t help but think that these buildings are older than my country, my home. Their sheer beauty left me in awe. They were all slightly different but held their own charm and sense of grandeur. The giant pillars and stone walls covered in beautiful artwork never ceased to mesmerise me every time.
I quickly learned that the Italians had dinner much later then we do. Whilst the average Australian has dinner between 6-7pm most nights, Italians don’t tend to have theirs until around 9pm. It made the days go on for even longer without break! Whilst my trip was amazing, it was undeniably exhausting.
We had dinner every night for the first two weeks with Altha and CREA, who did a wonderful job of giving us a taste of different Italian meals. Although pizza and pasta did tend to take up most of our diet.
Their food, I noticed, is quite different to our own. In Australia, we have a huge variety of different cuisines and options from all over the world. Every other street has a pizza shop, or Thai food, Chinese, Indian, American, etc. Italy has vastly limited options in comparison. Their chocolate is also horrible in comparison to ours. I cannot properly express how much I missed Cadbury’s during my trip.
After an intriguing two weeks with the Italians we parted ways and hired a bus to take us down to Venice, Florence and Rome.
We only spent a night in Venice, but what a night it was. I had a ball of a time, shopping, sightseeing and listening to the live music playing at some of the restaurants. Venice was absolutely gorgeous and I hope I can go back there one day when I’m older.
Florence was bustling and lively. The streets were packed full of excited people and it was certainly an adventure trying and roam them. The city had its own unique charm that to me is indescribable. My highlight at Florence was, no surprise, the Statue of David. We were able to get into the gallery at a later time for £1 and luckily, there was only a small crowd of people. The Statue of David is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. The detail is immense and its size really shocked me. I had expected it to be the size of a normal man, but I was wrong. Standing at over 5 meters tall, the Statue of David really is a sight to behold.
Last stop before heading home was Rome. As a total history buff, I was absolutely amazed by all the places we went to. The whole place reeked of being old and important. This city was once the capital of one of the largest empires in the world. Even simply driving to our destination was an adventure. Looking out the window and being able to see such old and new constructs felt more foreign then the country itself. It’s so rare to see something more than 50 years old back home that to see the ancient and modern seamlessly fit together was certainly strange to say the least.
We visited many old churches in Rome, and whilst I am not a religious person, I was able to put that aside and soak in the history. The Parthenon especially was an absolute marvel. My favourite part of the whole trip was visiting the Capuchin Crypts, at my suggestion. The remains of over 4000 monks decorate the walls and ceilings. It was both the ‘this is awful’ sick, and the ‘this is awesome’ sick. I loved it but I’d imagine that most people would find it horrid.
Of course we did all the touristy stuff too like the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, and those had different degrees of marvel and intrigue. I loved the Colosseum but was entirely unimpressed with the Spanish Steps. (They’re just steps!)
I could go on and on about my holiday in tremendous detail, but I think for the moment I have said enough. Italy is a fantastic place to visit and I highly recommend that you do. I had the trip of a life time and I hope to do it again!