(Written for the Iowa State Study Abroad Center)
As I have adjusted to living in Italy, my life has quickly turned into sleeping on overnight transportation, packing my life into a backpack and the constant search for natural water. And I am completely okay with it.
This weekend, life in Italy looked a lot like heaven: a 20 hr. bus ride and 20+ miles on foot over three days to see one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Visiting the Dolomites has been at the top of my list, so my friend Stacie and I booked our long bus ride to Bolzano, Italy four days prior to the trip. Our journey started out a little rocky with an unexpected (but deserved) bus fine, a mistaken bus route, and two dead phones that put us stranded in the small, dark city of Casanova, Italy. Thank God for family-owned, 2am pizzerias and a cab driver willing to drive us 45 minutes in the pouring rain. Thank God, literally. The unexpected mistakes here are constantly teaching me about my unknown personality traits. I think of myself as a pretty fearless person, but when you are dropped off in an unknown city with no lights, no phone, no sense of direction, and all of your precious belongings latched to you, the feeling of comfort is pushed to its limits. But, you ignore the fears and the unknowns and you figure out your next move, you have to. There is no feeling of comfort or familiarity until I step off the plane in America three months from now. Though, I am quickly becoming comfortable with this uncomfortable thought.
There is something truly amazing about arriving in a new place at night and then waking up to see a whole new world. After our late arrival the night before, we awoke to the surrounding, breathtaking Dolomite mountains. With a fully unplanned day ahead, we packed our hiking gear and headed out. Our bus ride to and from Bolzano was the only time that weekend where we actually knew where we were going. Our plan was to have no plans, just the way we like it. After some hitchhiking up to a nearby town we spent a little time asking the locals (who only speak Italian and German) for bus routes and their trail recommendations. Luckily with maps and the same numeric system, we were on our way to the nearest trailhead.
The trail chosen for the morning lead us from the depths of a vibrant green forest, through multiple wide open pastures, and to the perfect lunch spot at the base of Mt. Schlern. The Dolomites are a large and extensive mountain range in northeastern Italy that surround multiple charming villages. The range comprises a number of impressive peaks, 18 of which rise to more than 10,000 feet. I wanted nothing more than to reach the top of one of those peaks, but with our time constraint and no backpacking gear this trip, we were limited to day hikes. After our pb&j lunch, we continued our trek through the backyards of the local farmlands. The trail lead us to a nearby mountain hut offering food, water, and shelter to mountaineers, climbers, and hikers. With so much more to see, we took a quick water break and continued on.
Being greeted by countless, multilingual hellos gave me the “at home” feeling I get on any hiking trail. A large number of the people we encountered in town and even on the trails were older than we expected. This was truly inspirational. No matter the age, no matter the skill level, we are all hiking for the same passionate desire to be outdoors, and that is nothing short of amazing.
After countless switchbacks and what seemed like hours of nonstop incline through the mountain’s ravine, we reached another mountain hut only accessible on foot. Air piercing through our lungs and the exhaustion setting in, the friendly German mountain hut became our final destination for the day before we started our descent. There’s something so incredible about the feeling of catching your breath after pushing your body to its limit. The sweat dripping down your forehead is proof of the mountain you just climbed.
The trail down was a steep slippery path made of pointed wooden blocks and loose wet gravel that made it difficult to quickly make our way. We enjoyed the scenic views on the inside of the mountain range as we tried not to slip and fall. Taking a wrong turn on our descent down lead us across and around the outside of Mt. Cavone. Hoping we were headed in the right direction, we continued down until we reached the small town of Umes where we took a convenient bus ride back to our home in Caselrotto.
We watched as the sun disappeared behind the jagged peaks of the beautiful Dolomites and capped off our first day with a delicious grocery store dinner consisting of our very own homemade charcuterie tray, carrot sticks, yogurt (don’t ask) and of course tiramisu.
Day two, bodies aching and exhausted, we headed to the base of multiple trailheads where a Gondola gave way to many more trails. Legs tired and sore we decided to take the Gondola up. Little did we know, this Gondola and another chair lift would lead us to one of the most amazing scenes I think I will ever experience. We were in the clouds, literally. Surrounded by a green blanket of grass, crisp cool air, and the views of the encompassing mountain ranges we stood in astonishment. Taking a path up a little higher in the clouds we came across local cattle and horses enjoying their morning breakfast. With a little time to spare, we enjoyed a cappuccino and a classic German dish as we watched the clouds uncover new parts of the surrounding peaks. As I sat sipping on my cappuccino, I was reminded of my connection with something bigger than myself; mountains and the great outdoors. “Get out and fall in love, you will not protect something if you don’t love it.”
Delusional and exhausted from our long weekend, we started on our route home. As we reflected on the weekend in heaven at the bus stop in Bolzano, we were treated with a viewing of the real life hellos and goodbyes of any airport or bus station. Crouched on the curb, we watched love ones hold each other tightly at the possibility of never seeing each other again. We watched happy reunions of friends and loved ones returning home. We were thrown out of our weekend in heaven and thrown back into the reality of everyday life - a life full of ups and downs - a life of many imperfections - a beautiful life. Sitting on that curb, I was reminded of the reasons I chose to study abroad. I was reminded of my own hopes and goals in life. My life goal and a suggestion to anyone who reads this, is that you and I would continuously expand the lens in which we see the world. That we would experience life rather than simply exist in it - that we gain a realistic yet hopeful view of the crazy world we live in: a view that enables us to see beyond the imperfections to the good that is here and the good that can still be found. It’s then that we can chase after that good with patience, diligence, faith, and a dose of discomfort…