We left the Nashville, TN., airport on May 13. Emotions flared as I said goodbye to my family. It was the first time I had left the country without them and my mom couldn’t hold back her tears. My heart felt heavy at the thought of soon touching down in Rome. My family is from Italy – Rome and Sicily specifically. I was the first to go back to the motherland and the pride in my heritage was overwhelming.
I didn’t know anyone I was going with. I was the only non-art student, but they quickly welcomed me into their group.
From Nashville we flew to JFK. We left from there around 9:30 p.m. Our flight was absolutely awful. Some people in our group got sick. There was drama with a lady two rows down who couldn’t breathe and a jerk who was complaining about his seat. Thankfully I was able to plug in Black Swan and I slept most of the way.
Nine hours later and we began to see Italian landscape way, way down below. First it was peaks of housing rooftops and small cities. Then we saw the rolling mountains. They were bigger than anything I've ever seen growing up in Florida, Arizona or Tennessee. Then all of a sudden there were beaches. The water was a clear blue and reflected the clouds above. I pushed back the two people seated between the window and myself without even thinking. I swear in that moment drool began falling from my chapped lips. Slowly we started going farther down...down...down. The roofs of houses became the sides of houses. The towns were full of bright colors. Yellow, green, blue and pink buildings were passing below us. It was as if we were flying over a De Vinci painting.
When the plane's wheels came out and it touched land, I had to remind myself to breathe. My heart felt like it was on the brink of exploding. I could already visualize the streets lighting up under the moonlight, taste the cuisine, and feel the ancient cities’ uneven cobblestone below my feet.
And then it happened. My moment was here - we started to exit the plane.
Keep your composure, Nichole. Don't let them see you cry.
As I stepped off the plane the foreign air started flowing into my lungs. It was crisp. It was clean. I'd already forgotten America. I worked so hard to get here. I was finally standing in Italy. Half a world away from what I knew. Twenty-one days of the greatest adventure of my life were ahead of me.
Day 1 in Rome
After leaving the airport we boarded our bus and headed farther into the depths of Rome. Immediately I grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures from inside the dirty window. I wished it were clean.
After a short and exciting ride, our bus stopped and we unloaded. It was a couple block walk to our hotel. I couldn’t stop smiling. The buildings were beautiful. The sun shone on them as if Italy was the heaven of earth. Never had I seen a landscape so beautiful.
We got to our hotel, handed over our passports and walked to our rooms. We stayed in Hotel Navona. It also houses apartments for locals. Our rooms were in a locked-away hall. I took the first room with Catie Beth, who became my roommate for the remainder of the trip. Our room was purple. We had a shelf built into the wall behind our beds. Our bathroom was very small – we quickly learned that showering here wouldn’t be easy. The shower was tiny and we always left a huge puddle outside. The window opened into a square alley that faced our other classmate’s rooms (which made for some fun late-night conversations).
After settling in, our professor took us on a mini-tour of the surrounding areas. We were literally living between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. I could not have asked for a better location. We walked back the Pantheon and went to the local grocery to stock up. I was still nervous and in shock from being there – I only bought some chocolates and fizzy water. This was the last time I got the fizzy water. From this point on out it was senza gas for this girl.
We went to an amazing restaurant called L'archetto for dinner. I had plain pasta with some herbs. We all shared some wine and started getting to know each other more. The food was superb. We rotated our plates letting everyone have a bite of each one. Every dish tasted so different, yet so delicious. I would definitely recommend this restaurant for future travellers.
Once we were full and got our check, we paid. Our professor led us on a small stroll through the city, which ended at a gelato place. My stomach was still full of butterflies and excitement so I skipped on this dessert.
I slept amazingly well that night. Our hotel was lovely – another place I suggest for future travellers.
Next comes the most stressful day of my life – visiting the Vatican.
Travel diary shared by Nichole Manna