The End and the Beginning: Around the World and Into Myself

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If you are considering an Education Abroad experience, visit their office on the first floor of the Science Library, check out their website, and/or stop by the Education Abroad Fair when it takes place during the Spring and Fall semesters. Whatever you do, get the information you need. There are options for every budget.  What may seem impossible, might be highly probable!

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Cinque Terre

Last semester, Erica Bertucio shared her study abroad experience in Italy. These are the last three installments of her series, “Around the World and Into Myself.” If you were wondering what happened to the lady who flew off of the ATV in Italy, your wait is over.  For context, you may want to read Mountains & Broken Things: No Stopping Me.  If you are ready, read on!

Breaking in my Broken Feet in Cinque Terre and Beyond

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Facing Cinque Terre with a broken foot, ready to hike.

Coincidentally enough, one of, if not, the most physically demanding treks in my itinerary was penciled into my calendar two days after #sprangbreakkk — hiking across the “five lands,” that is, the literal translation of Cinque Terre.  Yup. That was just forty-eight hours after I had cabbed my way from the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station to the hospital for X-rays, revealing exactly what havoc, our, mostly,  Grecian paradise, had reaped. As soon as the Italian doctors had cleared my foot from being broken, I waddled through the night to my little apartment on Via Dei Leoni to pack. *Takes “no pain, no gain” to a new level of extra* *shocking*

Allora, what I have found among my friends back in the States, is that despite it being crazy famous, as well as of one Italy’s infinite UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they have no idea what Cinque Terre is. In lieu of this, though admittedly more so for my own sanity, I have developed an almost fool proof go-to — it’s what you see posted all over Instagram. Ya know –  all the colorful houses stacked right over the Mediterranean Sea, except there are five of them… and you can hike the mountains between each of them… so, uh, it’s lit.

Contrary to the adorable villages between them, these hikes are no sciacchetrá (delicious Cinque-born dessert wine) on the water. Jagged dirt “steps”, if any at all, set against cliffs are the only way up, around, and hopefully, down these terrains. Without a doubt, these hikes are not meant for the faint of heart nor the injured, but for the adventurously spirited. The five lands “between the five lands” offer an even more treasured experience.

The views were worth every limp. Even more so, the satisfaction of conquering Cinque, and the pride of doing so with an obstacle I know would have deterred pretty much anyone else, made every pain-inspired grunt disappear from my memory entirely. This has very quickly become a recurring theme; not only overseas, but over the last several months of my life back home. My dad was a lawyer – absolutely not a quitter, and he sure as hell did not raise one in me.

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Marbled Staircase of Caltagirone

The weekend after, we embarked on our long-awaited class trip to Sicily. A twelve-hour laughter (and vino) packed, overnight train showcased the unique and true relationships we had formed over the past months, and the excitement to bus around the Boot together was overwhelming. From our hotel in Siracusa, we climbed the magnificent marbled staircase of Caltagirone, expanded our pallets at a wine tasting in Noto, learned the history of Ragusa, and gasped at the seemingly never-ending vineyards that are San Gimignano, the white wine country of the world. Though I could easily see myself living almost anywhere in Western Europe, Sicily is now one of the places I am most compelled to possibly call home one day. What a wonderful thing to share with those that appreciate the culture as much as we have come to appreciate them.

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Pit Stop in Barcelona, Spain

Just days after our return to Firenze, I flew to my first solo, international destination since Prague… only this time in the opposite direction: Barcelona, Spain. Having allotted myself a full, four days here, and one in Girona (a small, oddly Italian feeling city by the airport), I took the opportunity to simply slow down. The first day and a half were entirely unplanned, my calendar displaying nothing more than “TAPAS TAPAS TAPAS!!!!!” — small portions of traditional Spanish foods, and I was, so not, mad about it! Throughout my time in Barcelona, I continued my pattern of stumbling upon Europe’s richest gems, only now with more freedom. The two things I was most energetic about, the two things that Barcelona is most known for — Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia — unquestionably turned out to be my two favorite parts of the entire travel.

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Gaudi’s Park Güell

Gaudi’s Park Güell, perched on the hill of the city’s Gracia Quarter, is in my opinion one of the most uniquely individual realms on earth. Sounds dramatic… even for me… but that place just simply cannot be described in itself much less compared to others. Kind of like the La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family), coincidentally an even more iconic symbol of Gaudi’s works layered across Barcelona. It is one of those conceptions that you assume cannot possibly be more overwhelming on the inside than the outside. The exterior is easily one of if not the most intensely ornate masterpieces I have ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on, no doubt. But the interior, that, that is an experience so captivating I physically could not leave. I spent well over an hour sitting in the pews, amongst a sea of tourists yet somehow so alone and at so peace, dazzled by its illuminated ceilings and infinitely glowing stained glass windows. Park Güell was unique, La Sagrada Familia, now that thing is downright magic. To think that it is not even finished yet!

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La Sagrada Familia

Next stop, Budapest! Well, Sort of…

“The universe grants you the most wonderful company when you set out with the very intention of being your own, especially when you have decided that being your own is every bit as valuable.”

Erica and Springfest in GermanyThe following weekend we bused to Munich for Germany’s annual Springfest, which is essentially a smaller, yet somehow still equally lit, version of Oktoberfest! It consists of your average fairground overtaken by rides and popular German street foods alike… only with two massive striped tents plopped in the middle. Entering these tents is like entering a realm with no rules, no in or out groups, no negative energy whatsoever. When you step through those doors, you are instantly best friends with every other person slinging Steins alongside you. The tables are not for sitting, they are for stomping! The energy surges through those tents. Over a thousand lederhosen-wearing, German beer-gulping, carefree Springfest goers, sing along to the live traditional German folk bands in harmony. Now that, that is a moment of bliss. A three-day long moment of bliss!

Allora, after returning once more to Firenze and strategically hoarding our programs’ allotted class absences, I set out on my longest international, entirely solo travel yet. Eight, full days –  three in Vienna, Austria, and the last five wholly devoted to one of my  travel dreams: Budapest, Hungary. All by myself. Well, almost.

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As any young budget traveler can tell you, hostels are notoriously hit or miss. They are cheaper versions of hotels. Instead of having a room to yourself, you share it with anywhere from two to seventeen (yeah, I know) others. Luckily, I have pretty much only had positive experiences with both the hostels and the other people staying there with me! A British guy, in his 20s, who checked into my first hostel in Vienna was, as coincidence would have it, also headed to the same hostel where I was to stay in Budapest (shoutout to Jack Bradford… as if a name could be any more “U.K” sounding haha)! And here, one of the many benefits of solo travel emerges: every move you make is entirely up to you. So you are free to invest as much as you wish to into what you do, as well as  who you do it with. Say a guided city tour followed by some unchartered exploration with an intriguing British hostel mate, or a Hungarian pub crawl through some of the world’s most famous “ruin bars” (worth the Googling effort, I promise) alongside a Texan girl who may very damn well be your spirit animal. The universe grants you the most wonderful company when you set out with the very intention of being your own, especially when you have decided that being your own is every bit as valuable.

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Vienna was one of the few places where I literally just had no idea what to expect; the research I was supposed to do beforehand, unsurprisingly ended up taking a backseat, when I realized the potential Springfest had our first day in Munich. Summed up, Vienna is where some of the world’s greatest minds fostered the world’s greatest arts. The city is stunning, make no mistake… though I will definitely be making a trip back in a decade or two when I can, ya know, appreciate opera and a twenty-million dollar paint splatter a tad bit more.

Thermal Baths in Budapest

Budapest, on the other hand, was the perfect combination of humbling history, eye-catching architecture, and last but most definitely not least, some A1 cuisine! Having given myself a full five days there alone, thus making it the most time I had in any one city while abroad, outside of Firenze, I was free to do everything at least once. No wonder it quickly became my favorite destination outside of Italy, even tying with my high school dream, Greece! From the sobering halls of the House of Terror, a museum showcasing the human rights violations/downright crimes committed during the Hungary’s Communist regime, to the soothing waters of the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, I experienced some beautifully rare internal depths. Over five hours of alternating between the Thermal Baths’ saunas, steam rooms, naturally warm pools, and especially frigid waters, I reached a sense of peace that I could not even remember the last time I had felt. You know how they say you do your thinking in the shower? Yeah well, try these baths… you will have your whole life sorted out by dinner!


The End and the Beginning

Well, here we are. The final blog post of this series, and therefore, the last page of one hell of a chapter.  I tried to write these last posts while still overseas, but I just could not do it. How do you say goodbye to your home, much less the home that has given you so much? You don’t. The most you can do to ease the inevitable heartbreak of parting ways with the best time span of your life thus far, is simply to remind yourself that this goodbye is not goodbye. It is an absolutely guaranteed “see you later.”

And yet, scrolling through the thousands of pictures, the infinite memories and the people with whom I made them, the places I dove into face-first (sometimes literally –  haha), and especially the “yeah I freaking did that”’s — still draws mixed emotions.

I have been back in the states for over a week now. In some ways I am still adjusting. In a lot of ways I am, low-key, struggling to accept the fact that I had to trade my days of travel, for forty-hour workweeks back at Dunkin’ Donuts. Saving up for the next adventure keeps me going. It is more than hard to assume all the stresses I carried before going abroad again, from academics to finances to a family still maneuvering the first year of grieving the loss of their patriarch. Words cannot express how grateful I am for this semester, this opportunity, this dream come true, this four month breath of air. To say the  very least, it was the coolest thing I ever did. And it was so important to me to commemorate the whole thing, as genuinely as possible, as the final week countdown began. So, that being said, I joined one of the many student travel companies in Firenze on a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast — arguably one of the most “Italian” regions of the country!

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Countless small towns lie, carved into mountains, jetting out into the Gulf of Naples.  The most well known of them are Sorrento, Positano, Capri, Pompeii, and of course, Amalfi itself. We bused between them, allotting beach time, in picturesque Positano, a vast history lesson in the ruins of Pompeii (yes, the Pompeii), and granita tasting in Sorrento. What a perfect last taste of little Italy in all its glory.

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And just like that, our seemingly, endless one-hundred-and-five day program had dwindled down to a mere, three. None of us knew how, heck I still don’t. We just knew we had to do everything in our power to slow down those last seventy-two hours. So, we ditched the idea of sleeping (as if there was not a half day of traveling across the Atlantic in front of us), and did not look back for one second. Well, that’s not necessarily true; we stopped for paninis and gelato pretty frequently!

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Our very last day was one of my most, treasured. After a much needed, rowdy night out in Firenze, club hopping with those we had grown closest to over the past four months, I peeled myself out of bed, bright and early. Of course, my painfully, procrastinating self just had to save the most iconic (aka touristy) attraction the city has to offer: climbing the Duomo. The taxing, hike up the Cathedral and around its dome leads to a panoramic viewing point — the very best of the entire city and the Tuscan countryside beyond. I was shocked to realize I had spent over an hour and a half up there, just sitting quietly by myself as a sea of tourists swarmed every which way. My mind kept drawing back to this quote I had stumbled upon as I was leaving London a year and a half prior.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”  

This thought clung to me as we laughed over (more… yeah, I know) paninis, shopped for last minute souvenirs, inhaled the carbs that are Mercado Centrale, stumbled up and down every cobblestone alley, and ended just how we started: sipping vino on the steps of Piazzale Michelangelo as the sunset stained our pretty little city a rosé far too enchanting to drink. Oh, what a time to be alive.

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Allora, not that any of them will ever actually see this, but for what it is worth, I believe I owe a few thank yous to Project MyStory; to the friends I made overseas; to the friends I left back home who never stopped supporting my endeavors abroad, even if I was not the best with maintaining communication for uncharacteristically long periods of time. Thank you to the class that just might have inspired my future career; to my mom for encouraging me to study abroad, even after our family was shaken by unexpected tragedy; to Firenze, for being my favorite home yet; and  to Europe, for being so easy to fall in love with, and even more so, for loving me back. Grazie mille!

Not goodbye, see you later ~ ciao for now, Italia.


Thank you Erica, for sharing so much of your journey, your laughter, your pains and your joys. We cannot thank you enough, and we hope, that all of your readers, will also be inspired to take a chance and go around the world and into themselves. 

Rachel Moody, Creator of UAlbany’s Project MyStory


Please Note: The views of our student bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the UAlbany Advisement Services Center. These are their stories  – their voices.
About the Author:
erica-1
Erica B.
Class of 2019
Major: Psychology
Minor: Criminal Justice
Blog Theme:
Around the World and into Myself

 

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