Reflecting on Summer
It’s October! And just like that, summer is gone and the fall has already set in. 🍂 So much has happened over the past few sunny months that I’m actually in disbelief. I graduated from college, enrolled in graduate school, started working at MassMutual as a Junior Data Scientist, settled into a couple good books, cooked a ton of awesome meals in my new apartment (‼️), won a VR headset contest, and generally just lived my best life in the sun.
But of all the things I experienced this summer, I’d say that my trip to Italy this past May was the most life-changing. Once I graduated, I was up in the air—literally! I barely spent more than a day home before I packed my bags and got on an 8-hour flight from Boston, MA to spend a week in Italy.
I’ve never traveled that far in my life! I’ve been up and down the East Coast and been to The Caribbean and Canada. Trips to the West Coast are in the works but beyond that, most of the world is still brand new to me.
I’ll be the first to admit it: when my best friend shared the initial plans to travel, I was apprehensive. The cost of the trip and the great distance from everything that I’m used to made me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when I bought my tickets, I was beyond excited. By going on this trip, I was stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing a fresh and unfamiliar experience.
Putting my Google Maps Data to Work
My friends and I were definitely on the move! We went to a variety of locations and even stopped in Switzerland for a day to go shopping. When I was outlining this post, I actually had some trouble remembering the exact route we took through Italy because we did so much in the span of a week. Fortunately, the solution to this problem was in my pocket the whole time: my cellphone! 📱 And more specifically, Google Maps data!
The digitization of our lives is inherent to our increasingly tech-based world. What we search, watch, do, and say is of interest to companies like Google who leverage this data for use in their products and research. Amazingly, beyond privacy protection measures, Google doesn’t keep this information locked-up; they allow users to download their own data and peruse everything collected.
Using my map data, the Google Maps API, and R Studio, I put together a map that roughly showcases my journey throughout Italy. Resources like this post by Shirin Glander helped to make this project possible.
Naturally, due to connection and low battery issues over the course of my trip, there are missing data points. As a result, my map isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, it still put the scale and significance of this trip into perspective for me. I’ll go through each day (May 14th - May 20th) and share a little bit about them with pictures! 📸
Some of the images are actually videos and many of them have better quality. To see those, feel free to view them on Flickr by clicking on the embedded albums.
This pins on this map represent where I was on each day. The colors are explained in the legend on the right.
Where I Went
Rome 🚍 Naples (May 14th)
I started my trip by making my way to Naples, Italy by bus after I landed in Rome. The two hour bus ride to the south was a pleasant and scenic ride through rolling green valleys and epic mountains.
Naples, also known as the birth place of pizza, was absolutely a sight to behold. The delicious food, cultural symbols, and beautiful architecture produced an experience unlike any other that I’ve had in U.S. cities.
Though the cobbled roads, the narrow streets, and the number of motor-scooters took some time to get to used to, I still really enjoyed the atmosphere. As I navigated the city during tour walks or nightly adventures for dinner with my friends, I genuinely felt like I found a home away from home.
Naples 🚍 Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii (May 15th)
Visiting Mt. Vesuvius wasn’t something that I took lightly. It infamously destroyed (and preserved) the city of Pompeii during an eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.
The trek up to summit was not your everyday hike! I swear my legs took about two days to recover after it. Nevertheless, it was worth it! The views were spectacular and humbling to take in. From the top, we could see the sprawling city below and the ocean at its sides.
After Mt. Vesuvius, we went to Pompeii. The ruined city was literally a frozen slice of time. Once we were deep inside, it felt like we were transported to another age. Everything from homes and animals to food and plants were preserved for thousands of years. Being able to see the city was eerie experience. Though I’ve read about Pompeii and the plight of its people, I never thought I’d see it for myself.
Naples ⛴ Capri, Positano & Sorrento (May 16th)
Seeing the ocean-side towns of Capri, Positano, & Sorrento in-person was breathtaking; they were just as picturesque as they are in photos and movies!
We first went to Capri via ferry from Naples; the ocean breeze and the calming sun whisked away all my stress. Capri is an island off the coast of Italy near Naples. My phone failed to track me once we were on the water so most of this day isn’t logged on the map. As we trekked around the island, we accidentally found the Phoenician Steps! Though the sheer height was difficult to overcome, we were brave enough to snap a couple of pictures before scurrying away.
It goes without saying that the seafood in Capri was simply amazing; I had fried calamari as soon as we could and my only regret is not eating more. After Capri, we caught another ferry to Positano. We arrived around mid-afternoon and the way the sun hit the cliff-sides was unforgettable. On the bus ride to Sorrento, it was admittedly a blur for me; I fell asleep on the bus ride and we arrived at night. As we ate dinner, the sweet smells of the street vendors and the sounds of nearby musicians poured into our restaurant.
Naples ✈️ Milan (May 17th):
- After spending a couple days in Naples, my friends and I took a flight to Milan. The weather was rainy for a bit but nevertheless, the Fashion Capital of the World did not disappoint. We ate well at local restaurants and took in the scenic sights.
Milan 🚆 Lake Como & Mendrisio, Switzerland (May 18th):
Lake Como was just a short train-ride away from Milan. Although it was drizzling for part of the day, the lake’s beauty was undeniably unmatched. The way the fog rolled over the mountains looked like something straight out of a fairy-tale. Small planes whizzed in and out of water ports while geese playfully flew around in the crisp air.
Once we realized that there were gondola rides, my friends and I immediately went aboard. The views were simply spectacular. The water sparkled like a sea of jewels as the sun melted the fog and warmed everything up.
Later in the day, we took a train for a shopping trip in Switzerland! Lake Como was surprisingly nearby so we knew we had to make a visit. The natural land-forms were unlike what I’ve seen before; I ended up taking pictures of every rock and cliff! Though we only had enough time to visit the FoxTown Factory Outlet in Mendrisio, I definitely had an amazing time taking in the culture and sights that I had the opportunity to experience.
This was the last day that I spent with my friends; their leg of the trip brought them to other cities in Italy—mine ended with a day of touring the capital of Italy: Rome. 🏛
Milan 🚆 Rome (May 19th):
After years of Latin class and learning about Roman art and culture through several different kinds of courses throughout college and high-school, I honestly still did not feel like I was ready to behold the heart of the classical world.
To put it simply, it blew me away. For my last day, I went on a formal tour that visited The Roman Forum, The Palatine Hill, and The Colosseum. My guide was so passionate about sharing the history of each location. He genuinely made the experience feel like I was walking through the past in real-time. As I pieced together what I already knew with the new details that were shared, I formed a new understanding of Rome and what it meant for citizens and tourists alike. Ultimately, like memories, the ruins are cherished to remember and hopefully learn from the past.
After the tour, I wondered Rome and made to sure to try the local cuisine. Once I saw and ate as much as I could, I remember feeling like my body knew that my trip was over. I so was exhausted from the day that I could barely get myself into bed that night. Despite the fact that I was leaving the next day, I slept happily. I was bitten by the travel bug. Hard. As I dreamed in Italian food, my mind was already thinking about where I could go next.
Where to Next?
Though I took this trip a couple of months ago, I found it hard to move on; I knew I had to reflect on it at some point. But once school and work started up for me, I did not have much time to express what I was thinking. It didn’t help that every time I sat down to write, I found myself getting lost in the pictures my friends and I took. I recalled the conversations we had and fondly thought about the food we ate and the people we met. This happened several times over the past couple of months and I realized that I never got any of my thoughts down. So instead of a grandiose blog post, I grabbed my laptop once this weekend hit and immediately started writing.
Nevertheless, even now, I still can’t move past the memories of the warm Italian sun and the air of new adventures that washed over me during this week long trip. Though it’s impossible to rewind and play back everything perfectly on paper, I feel fulfilled knowing that I recorded just a small percentage of what I saw and how I felt in writing. In a way, this post format feels like a bookmark that I’ve made in my brain for safe-keeping.
In retrospect, Italy was just the start of me trying my best to live in the present. By embarking on this journey back then, I was doing something that was significantly different than what I usually do. I often find that I plan and work more for the future so that my future-self is okay. As a result, today, I feel like I’m standing on a formidable mountain of countless goals and plans from past versions of me from high-school to undergrad to now.
Though I certainly don’t feel like I wasted time or think I should have done things differently, I think my present-self deserves more than just perpetually grinding towards days where I can reap the result of a long-term plan.
Fortunately, with the experiences that Italy so graciously imparted, I feel like I’ve laid down the foundation for the next big trip and more importantly, being able to live in the present. Everything I encountered helped me understand that it’s okay to sit down and not plan or work on something. It’s okay to relax and to be content with the people and activities that are happening around you and just be there in the moment.
I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go next, but I just know that the journey will be one to remember. 💫