(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
We often attribute our favourite places in the world to scenery, to the views, landscapes, art and history; experiences of which we can more adequately capture in photographs and words. But as I’ve travelled more, I’ve realised that my favourite places often find themselves nestled in a special place in my heart because of the people I’ve met and the beauty that I’ve experienced in culture and community. These moments and the people I’ve shared them with are imbued with a certain dream-like quality; a sense of warmth and a fragments of golden light. And sometimes, they aren’t moments to be captured, videos to be stored away in dusty boxes or stories to be painstakingly threaded into words. The most magical moments of my life – regardless of where I am in the world – are imbued with that golden light, as it dances in the eyes of the people I’ve shared them with and basks in warmth that comes from being present and from soaking the light in, gazing wide-eyed at the beauty that surrounds you and the God whose wonder surpasses it all.
The past week has been filled with moments of change and moments of joy, as I arrived in Venice to meet Isa and spent days wandering between crumbling ochre buildings and getting lost in a maze of bridges, alleyways and canals with her. Venice is impossibly beautiful and walking along her cobbled streets and alleyways had me suspended in an unshakeable state of mild disbelief and childlike wonder. Witnessing the hallmarks of history that fill this city and being surrounded by architecture that has risen fluidly out of the turquoise sea for centuries felt like I was tracing footsteps in a world on the verge of collapse.
With the scent of the sea and fresh seafood wafting through the summer air, gondolas gliding past and children gleefully licking their gelato-stained fingers in the sun at every corner, there was a warmth to Venice that couldn’t be attributed to the heat of the Mediterranean summer. There was such a sense of community and openness that filled the Italian streets and squares, as families and friends spent evenings basking in the remnants of sunset with glasses of wine and hours of animated conversation on their doorsteps and along canals. To put it into hashtag terms, #allthegoodvibes. Here are some photos from Venice, before I walk you through our days in Florence!
On Sunday, Isa and I left the glistening harbours of Venice and made our way to Florence, the city that friends and family had confidently predicted would win our hearts. Like Venice, so many moments were spent basking in the city’s buzzing days and balmy nights. Days were filled with basilicas, piazzas, art that has immortalised the infamous figures of Roman mythology, Italian food, good company and gelato. Gastronomic dreams also came true when we visited the city’s biggest food market, getting lost amidst glass cabinets and stalls displaying a vast array of fresh produce – fruit, cold meats, fish, dried fruit, freshly baked bread, endless bottles of Tuscan wine, truffle and olive oil.
On our second night in Florence, Isa and I ambled up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a square that sits atop a hill and that boasts an incredible panoramic view over the city of Florence and the surrounding mountain ranges. There was something special about sitting among a small crowd of eagerly expectant strangers on the steps and marvelling together at the beauty of the sun’s stunning farewell. Even more endearing was the round of applause that followed, as we all witnessed the sun disappear completely behind the horizon line.
Our remaining days in Florence were spent visiting the colourful villages of Cinque Terre, which boasted an abundance of pastel-coloured houses haphazardly clustered on the rock faces that rose out of the glistening cerulean sea. After leaving Florence on a 6am train (we’re still not sure whether we regret this decision), we made our way to four of the five villages on the coast and revelled in the blissful relief from the heat we experienced while going for a swim at the beach in Monterosso. While wandering through the villages of Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore, our eyes traced the rocky mountain skyline and the pebbly shores spotted with dozing sunbathers and young locals and tourists alike treading carefully along huge rocks before taking brave plunges into the clear water below.
While the experience of travelling and the anticipation of a year-long exchange has filled me with a great appreciation for the vastness of the world we live in and the oceans that separate me from Sydney, our final day in Florence reminded me of how small the world can be too. Meeting Claire (a work friend of Isa’s) and her brother, Andrew, yesterday morning was such an unexpected but pleasant surprise. We spent our final evening in Florence sharing a meal, enjoying gelato and wandering contentedly through the city streets while basking in the warmth, hospitality and beauty of new friendships and good conversation. As the sky faded to a soft melange of pink and blue, I couldn’t think of a better way to farewell this lovely city.
P.S. Italy, thank you for reaffirming your position as the home to one of my favourite cuisines. With the pizza-pasta-gelato trifecta in your portfolio, let’s be honest, you couldn’t lose.
Thank you for your ceaseless prayers and for loving me with the gospel. You have filled the last few weeks with so many reminders of the truth that unites us and are constantly renewing the thankfulness that I have in my heart for you, as family and friends who are daily seeking to grow in Christ’s likeness.
Thank God for community and good company. Following the moments of loneliness and amplified experiences of homesickness that filled the first three weeks of solo travel, being able to meet up with Isa and spend time travelling in her company has been a great blessing and joy. It’s also been a great comfort to spend time sharing our thoughts and feelings as we prepare to spend a semester (Isa) or two (myself) studying abroad and as we encourage each other to fix our eyes on Christ in all things.
Thank God for keeping me grounded. Something that I’ve been reflecting on and that others have commented on to me is God’s grace in keeping me grounded throughout the last few weeks, particularly as I’ve been thrown into a completely different environment and have adjusted to the travelling lifestyle, where it is rare to call a place home for more than a few days and deeply participate in a tangible Christian community. In these circumstances, it could be very easy to be consumed by the excitement and thrilling sense of wanderlust and begin to idolise travel. In the emotional mountains and valleys that I’ve traversed over the last few weeks, however, God has graciously shown me that while travelling and seeing so many different corners of His world is a blessing, it, ultimately, inot what fulfils.
Please pray for safety and smoothness for our travels next Tuesday. We have a fair amount of travelling to do in order to get from Sorrento to Istanbul and have heard our fair share of horror stories about grossly delayed flights and being stranded at unscrupulous airports and trains stations late at night. Hearing them has filled me with so much thankfulness for God’s kindness in guiding us between cities without any hiccups so far.
Please pray for continued and long-term discipline in reading God’s word and spending time in prayer, particularly on the days that we pack full with sight-seeing and exploring. This excerpt from A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God is something that’s really struck a chord with me and I hope it does for you too.
“If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you. Do not come with the notion that it is a thing which you may push around at your convenience. It is more than a thing; it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the living God.” (55)