I fell in love with Italy at first visit. I was with my family at 14 years young. It was my first time in Europe, as well as my first time meeting my extended Italian family.
Although it was a strange place, it immediately felt like home. My family and I went to Italy again four years later, this time choosing a more adventurous route: in 10 days, we traveled to Lake Garda, the Dolomites, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Turin. The trip, though short, had its fair share of Italian adventures that stand out in my mind and might prepare you for magic you’ll experience should you decide to venture around Northern Italy yourself.
(Italy’s largest, lake located in the Veneto region of northern Italy)
Upon arriving at Malpensa Airport in Milan, my dad was not thrilled to find that there were only manual cars left to rent. He tried his best, but the car jerked its way hazardously out of the airport and on to the autostrada towards Malcesine, a town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.
Tourist mistake number one: trusting GPS.
We put our destination into the car’s built-in GPS so as to take the easiest and quickest route to Malcesine. Before long, we were winding around switchbacks in the mountains, with no idea where we were going.
“Turn around when possible,” the robotic GPS voice instructed us as we lurched down a narrow road with a mountain to our right and a cliff to our left.
We ended up turning down a steep side road that led us right to the edge of a cliff. There was no way to turn the car around, so my dad put it in reverse and backed all the way up the narrow dirt path back to the road we had been on before.
Back on the road, we were able to backtrack, get directions, and finally found our way to Malcesine.
The concierge at our hotel laughed when we told him our story, and advised us not to rely on the GPS. We didn’t get lost again for the rest of the trip.
(A mountain range located in the South Tyrol region of Italy)
When I was very young, I came across a puzzle in a toy store of an image of South Tyrol, Italy: a village nestled among lush, green fields and majestic mountains set against a piercingly blue sky. The picture was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I begged my mom to buy it for me. She did, and I made it my goal to someday visit this magical place.
Sure enough, South Tyrol was on our itinerary in 2014. We stayed in a small town called Castelrotto, at the base of the Alpe di Siusi mountain range.
The day when we finally journeyed up to the mountain trails felt unreal. This was the moment I had been waiting for my entire life… but when we got up to the mountains, there was a terrible storm. I was heartbroken; up until then, we had had beautiful weather wherever we went. We were forced to wait inside with no idea of when, or if, the skies would clear up.
After an hour, the thunder had subsided, but it continued to rain. We decided to go out and bear the bad weather. My dad joked that as soon as we bought ponchos to wear, the rain would stop. Like a little miracle, as soon as we stepped outside geared up in our plastic ponchos, the rain stopped.
Slowly, the clouds parted. The sky brightened as we made our way along the trail, until we finally saw blue sky and felt the sun.
How surreal it felt when I looked at the jagged cliffs surrounding me is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced before. I stood in the place on my puzzle, the place I had been dreaming about for years. The view in reality took my breath away.
I wanted to capture the moment in my mind forever. It seemed that no matter how long we stayed among the Dolomites, I couldn’t absorb their full effect. It was overwhelming, yet one of the most gripping moments of my life.
I left feeling a bit unfulfilled, and then disappointed that I felt that way. I wished that we had been able to stay longer and see more of the mountains. I later realized that the disappointment translated into an even greater desire to see more of the mountains, and I knew that I would go back someday.
(Five fishing villages located on the coast of the Italian Riviera)
Before we left for Italy, we learned that a must-do in Cinque Terre is to hike through all five of the villages. We were also told to wear our bathing suits so that we could stop along the way for a dip in the ocean (and a good seafood dish, once our clothes were back on). Since we weren’t experienced hikers, we were happy to hear that it would be more of a leisurely stroll.
So we put on our best bikinis and swim trunks, slipped on sandals (and my mom her fanny pack in true tourist fashion), and started on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza. About an hour later, we were barely inching along the narrow, rocky cliff side path, wondering when the leisure would start. (We learned later that this trail was the most difficult to hike.)
When we finally arrived in Vernazza two hours later and drenched in sweat, we debated whether to continue on our “hike” through the remaining three towns. We decided to relax for a bit on the beach before making our next move.
The water was a vibrant blue, glistening under the sun. I jumped in. The further I swam, the more at peace I felt. I listened to the waves crashing against the rocks, mingled with the faraway voices of beachgoers. Somewhere above, a bird called. I felt as if nothing could ever dull the blissful spirit that Vernazza had sparked in me.
Just then, I felt a searing pain in my leg. I screamed.
I didn’t see the jellyfish. I could only focus on the immense pain that was shooting up and down my right leg as I swam away.
Panicking, I managed to get to shore where my parents and brother met me and walked with me to find a farmacia. My leg was still on fire, but I couldn’t help laughing about the situation. Much to all of our disappointment, we had to give up hiking the rest of the way.
A couple days later, when we met up with family in Turin, we told them the story. “Ah, medusa,” one of my cousins said. She laughed when I commented how ugly the remnant of the sting was. Smiling, she told me, “È il tuo segno di Italia.” It is your mark of Italy.
Each of these adventures have become special memories for me, and I look forward to the next time I explore and learn more of the country I love. I have been dreaming about seeing the world since I was a child, but this trip to Italy helped me see that I can change “dreaming” into “doing.”
Alex is a student of English, Journalism, and Italian at the University of Delaware, and is the Editorial Coordinator of The Traveler’s Mindset. She is a lover of books, food, and adventure, and thrives in environments that force her to journey out of her comfort zones. Ever since her first trip to Italy when she was 14, she has been set on exploring the world and (someday soon) living abroad. In her free time she enjoys playing the piano, meditating, and spending time with the people she loves.