A Month in Italy

There’s so much to share from this trip that it’s overwhelming. Emotionally, it was a roller coaster – it began with chaotic flights, loneliness, and minimal food to walking everywhere with good company and eating so much that we could barely move afterward. The people I met were the most important component of this trip, and the main reason for every bit of joy and every memory. I’ll do my best to string all of our crazy little stories together in a narrative to give you a glimpse of the people I met in our time together in Italy.

To begin the trip, there was a series of delays. The original itinerary was:

  • Detroit to Newark, 1.5 hour layover in Newark.
  • Newark to Frankfurt, 8.5 hour layover in Frankfurt.
  • Frankfurt to Florence. Total travel time: 27 hours.

It’s 5pm. My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:45, so boarding should’ve started. I heard someone behind me talking about how they were supposed to be flying to Newark at 7, but that their flight was cancelled. After sensing a minor degree of worry, I recommended he hang out at the gate to see if the boarding agent could switch them onto the flight I would be on. After some conversation, I learned that his parents had issues with booking their tickets, but that he was supposed to meet them in Madrid, and that he would be in Florence near mid July. The delay and talk of booking issues must have been a sign of the many impending problems to come.

The actual route was:

  • Detroit to Newark, delayed 2 hours – the flight I was supposed to be on left 10 minutes before the flight I was on even got to the airport.
  • Newark to London, rebooked at 9:50pm, takeoff at 10pm. Cue me running with a 15lb backpack as fast as I can, only to be yelled at by the person at the gate. I nearly cried.
  • London to Frankfurt, missed because of tech & communication issues between flight carriers.
  • London to Rome, rebooked while in London.
  • Rome to Florence. Total travel time: 36 hours.

Of course, with all the changes made, my bag was unable to keep up with me, so I was left without a change of clothes because I was dumb and didn’t put clothes in my carry on. Well, at least I made it to Florence.

After getting my bag a day and a half later, I headed to the train station to meet up with a photographer in Florence named Liv Wahlgren. During our shoot, she found out just how little food I had eaten due to travel complications. We walked just around the corner to a place called La Grotto di Leo for dinner, and I had my first taste of real Italian spaghetti. We clicked and promised to work together again in the few weeks I would be there.

The next day, I went back to the train station to meet up with a group departing for wine tasting and touring in other cities in the Tuscany region. We stopped first at Poggio Alloro Winery to tour the winery and sip wine while looking at the rolling hills. From there, we headed to San Gimignano to explore and try gelato. Our final activity for the day was wine tasting at Tenuta Torciano Winery, where one of the brothers that owned the winery greeted us. There, we were served a 5 course lunch, each course with a different wine. We sampled their olive oil, prosciutto, various cheeses, ribolitta, lasagna with truffle oil, and a pepper infused olive oil. All of us fell asleep on the bus ride back. Immediately upon getting back to my Airbnb, I fell asleep and stayed asleep until 5am the next day.


Since it was crisp, cool, and colorful outside, I took advantage of the sunrise and explored the neighborhood I was staying in. A few hours later, I loaded up my bag and headed to the Florence University of Arts’ office to check in and get the keys to the apartment I would call home for the next three weeks. After walking an obnoxious distance to the apartment and up stairs, I realize I have no idea which apartment is ours. There was one apartment where I thought I heard people speaking English, so I knocked and asked them if they could help me.

This was how I met a very enthusiastic Aunt Fran and Larry. After bringing my items inside, I turned around and was surprised with another face – Paige, my new roommate! After putting my items down and changing into more comfortable clothes, they invited me to spend time with them and get food. I wasn’t about to turn down food. At that point, I thought we were only grabbing food and that I could return to my apartment after. I was wrong – so very, very wrong.

After looking at the Duomo for a while, they headed across the river to see a church at the top of a hill. I had been by myself for the last three days and was happy to have company, so I tagged along. We walked past the Stations of the Cross on an incredibly steep slope and hiked towards San Miniato Al Monte, one of highest vantage points in the area and what became one of my favorite places in Florence. It was absolutely beautiful inside – I have never seen anything as exquisitely detailed as the ceiling and the rafters in the church, and the view outside is absolutely incredible. To end the day, my roommates and I went to the River Arno to watch some fireworks, and by some exquisite luck, two high school friends (Rachel Cueny and Nikki Fitch) happened to be in Florence after traveling through Europe for a while, so we found each other, briefly caught up, and planned to get dinner for the following day (which we did).

The next day, I started my fashion photography class. I had the pleasure of meeting the instructor 2 hours early – I walked into the right classroom as the class before our was ending. After a few hours of inspiration, I was excited and ready to go shoot everything and anything. We were told during class that we’d have access to the Florence University of Arts retail store, and my eyes lit up. I ran there as soon as class ended and asked to borrow a dress I had seen previously, then made plans to do a shoot at San Miniato with Liv again. When we shot, we made some fantastic photos, and they ended up being featured on the FUA store’s social media pages!

All in a week, I met a handful of wonderful people, began my class, did two photoshoots, and realized just how bad tourists are. It was a wild whirlwind of an introduction to a new apartment, new roommates, and new classmates.

The one thing I wished I had done after I got back from Denmark was take more time to explore outside of Copenhagen. Thankfully, a friend from CMU (Taitum), had told me about Bus2Alps, a touring company for college students. After some deliberation, we decided to go to the Amalfi Coast together.

After driving an incredibly long distance, we arrived in Sorrento at our hostel at 4am, and they wanted us up at 6am to take a boat over to Capri and explore Anacapri and Monte Solaro. Taitum and I thought walking up Capri wouldn’t be so bad – it was about 15 minutes of steep uphill climbing. The view from the top was spectacular, and we weren’t even a third of the way up. Thankfully, to get to Anacapri from there, we took a bus. We had food on the mind in Anacapri, so we stopped to get pizza and hopped in line for the chair lifts to the top of Monte Solaro.

When I say that I have never seen so far into a horizon, I mean it. From the top, you could see so far out that the sea turned into fog and back into sky. It was incredible. Looking down, you could see boats going near the coast, as small as bugs from where we were. The only thing I could feel while we were up there was pure awe at the splendor of the world. We saw islands stretching away from where we were, and we could see the faint silhoutte of other islands way in the distance. I can’t describe it as anything other than absolutely amazing.

Day 2 in the Amalfi Coast was dedicated to laying on the black sand beach of Positano and recovering from the walking and sun the day before. The description “black sand” is mildly misleading – yes, there was black sand that was incredibly hot, but as you approached the water, the sand became just rocks. Large rocks. Rocks that were hot and painful to step on. After a brief time in the water, which felt amazing, we wore out from the sun and passed out on the boat ride back.

Day 3 was a short venture through the ruins of Pompeii, some pizza, and a long bus ride back with plenty of sleeping to recover from the amount of activity we had that weekend. Pompeii was amazing to see, but incredibly hot. I have never felt more like I was melting than I did in the streets. I learned a lot from our makeshift guided tour, but more than everything, I loved looking at the details of the remains. The art and the architecture were my favorite parts._MG_9612

I was so happy to get back to my roommates at the end of the weekend. It took 3 years, but I was finally blessed with a group of roomies who clicked so well. As soon as I got back that weekend, we decided to go in search of an American styled diner called The Diner. There’s more of a story here, but I’m just going to skip it and say that if you really want to know this story, you should just email me and ask about the bike ride with onion breath.

Week two went much quicker than week one – not only had I already adjusted, but there was plenty to do for class. The week can be summed up in three words: photos, wraps, gelato. We learned how to do frequency separation in class, and we began working on our two projects, the field learning project and the final project. The field learning project consisted of some research on the local styles and locations of interest in Volterra and Bolgheri. I also found this fantastic wrap place that I visited far too frequently in the span of a week; one time, my roommate Olivia walked by and was telling a classmate about this great wrap place I had taken them to, and they turned and made eye contact with me, waving a sandwich around as I talked to my classmate about how good the food was. Olivia shouted, “Aren’t we supposed to be coming here for dinner?” We were. I went twice that day.  Finally, I learned quickly that gelato is crazy addicting because it’s so much better than ice cream in America. So much better. What made it so bad was that the gelato place with the best flavors (chocolate mousse and mixed berry, in case you’re wondering) was two doors down from the wrap place. I bought a lot of gelato from that place in the last couple of weeks.

I spent about 6 hours shooting my final project, a series of outfits for an editorial, with Rose Stokely. We started by breaking down a corner of my apartment so that we had an empty floor space by the one window in our living room. As someone who usually shoots in direct light, it was initially a challenge for me, but I’m incredibly happy with how the shots came out.

I loved that we were able to really break it down and take our time with each look, as well as the fact that we could explore together and catch areas during different times of the day. However, 6 hours of shooting really wears you out creatively, especially if it wasn’t well planned before. I didn’t do the best job finding some cohesive theme for the outfits, so I struggled in directing and getting some shots, but Rose was amazing and whipped out poses like no other. Ultimately, I loved the end result of my project.

That Saturday, a group of us went to Volterra and Bolgheri for our field learning. I stuck with my classmate Hannah and my roommates, Olivia and Paige. We got some of the most adorable shots out of it, and I found this one wall that was gloriously striped. I fell in love with the black and white stacked marble and had my heart set on seeing it, so I was so excited when we found out that it was right in the square where they dropped us off in Volterra.

After a brief wine tasting, our class headed to Bolgheri to explore the town. Of course, our first stop there was a gelato stand by the entrance. We ate our gelato happily and cooled down in the shade. Hannah asked me to model for her and said she wanted a romantic style for our shoot, and with the top she had brought from FLY, the FUA retail store, the outfit could not have worked out better. I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to model as much as I did in Italy, especially Bolgheri.

The final week was a week to cram everything in. We had to go back to our favorite places one more time, make sure we hung out with our friends once more, and finish up the projects and plans we had in place. I spent about 4 hours waiting for photos to print for my final project and as gifts, ran places for a last lunch before they closed, and stumbled up hills to meet up with friends.

Tuesday, our class collaborated with student stylists with FLY to showcase some New Kid merchandise. New Kid is an emerging designer in Florence that specializes in cool shoes, and they have a very loose, broken down, cool kid style. I had the opportunity to model for them, and I loved the pieces! Yet again, another opportunity I didn’t think I would have – I’m incredibly grateful for it.

Wednesday, after finishing up a bunch of prints, I walked to Santa Croce and waited for a friend. Remember how I talked to someone before coming to Florence who said they would be in Florence mid July? After hearing that, I threw him a copy of my business card. My roommates and I met up with him, Nathan, and walked around, giving him a quick tour of the area on the way to dinner.

Thursday, I said goodbye to Paige, the lovely face I first met when I moved into our apartment. After packing, McKenzie, Olivia, Nathan, and I went to dinner at the place Liv had taken me for dinner when I first arrived. Dinner was phenomenal – we had a true Italian meal, and everyone was eating off of each others’ plates. I tried carbonara again and found out that I actually liked it!

Friday, I had checked out of my apartment and the pain of my fantastic roommates leaving was very fresh. However, I had to do a double take as I walked past the Galleria. I thought a face looked familiar. And it did! By some freakishly small chance, another girl I went to high school with was in Italy with her boyfriend and we just happened to be within 25 feet of each other. It was the kind of thing that felt like it only happens in movies – the double take added to the cinematic value.

After spending some time recovering from missing my roommates, I decided to go out and explore. Nathan and I wandered around the streets of Florence and found something called the Florence Experiment that’s currently housed in Palazzo Strozzi. I don’t think I’ve stood in awe of a slide before._MG_2322-Pano

They were conducting some kind of experiment – some people got to go down the slide with plants, but realistically, if you see a giant slide, you generally don’t care why they have it. I just wanted to slide.

The next day, I spent almost 10 hours with a new friend named Zlata. We took our time – I, after having already worn myself out with shooting all day, knew to proceed with caution as it came to shooting without a concept. We started with some really cool portraits and transitioned into more fashion shots, then took a break (which was much needed as it was the heat of the day and I needed some sleep). We ended our day by meeting up with my friend, Liv Wahlgren, and shooting with her. Once we finished there, we went to the restaurant that Liv had taken me to – Leo’s. It was a great way to bring the trip full circle, and it was great company to end it.

The next morning, I woke up at 5am for my taxi appointment at 5:05. I quickly got dressed, shoved my pajamas in my already-packed bags, and ran down the steps (which had no light, so I very well could have died).

The starting itinerary was fairly simple:

  • Florence to Frankfurt, 2 hour layover.
  • Frankfurt to Detroit. Total travel time: 15 hours.

However, the flight home consisted of more flights and locations I hadn’t been before:

  • Florence to Zurich, leaving 12 hours after the original flight was supposed to go and with a 12 hour layover overnight. We spent the night at an extremely fancy hotel in Switzerland.
  • Zurich to Newark, 2 hour layover.
  • Newark to Detroit. Total travel time: 36 hours.

I got to the airport to find out my flight was cancelled, and that I had been rebooked. Great. That meant 14 hours in the airport, suffering in tiny chairs with few outlets around. It was here that I heard someone else complaining about the cancellation and how they wanted to get home – this was how I met Alisa.

Together, Alisa and I took turns watching each others’ things as we made runs out for food or bathroom breaks, kept each other on schedule for check-in, and made sure we got to the boarding gates on time. We even shared a hotel room at a 5-star hotel in Switzerland – it was so nice to get a shower and sleep in a bed after the amount of waiting we had to do.

After a long, long flight to Newark, a bit of rushing through customs, and a short flight to Detroit, I finally made it home, ran to the bag claim in DTW, snapped my bag off the belt, and ran outside to hop into my dad’s car. I was finally free.


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