Hallie’s Week Off (Italy Edition)

I’ve thought a lot about ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ since I got to Europe. The movie has always been one of my favorites and I’ve always related to Ferris, particularly during my senior year, and especially during the last few months of my senior year. But it wasn’t until my trip to Italy that I realized I’d be thinking about this movie for the rest of my life.

The Monday before last, I woke up thinking about new places. The travel bug bit me in Copenhagen and it felt like the right time to scratch the itch. My travel time is limited to weekends, but that’s not a terrible timeframe since I’m located in the heart of Western Europe. With this in mind, I spent Monday morning thinking of places I could go the following weekend. Somewhere close, of course, perhaps Paris for one night since it’s an easy train ride. I’m a beach girl, so I’ve wanted to go to the Italian coast for years (it looks so gorgeous in pictures), but I knew I wanted to combine that with a trip to a major Italian city since I had never been to Italy. Three days would not be enough, so this trip most likely wouldn’t be possible this year.

Or so I thought. Of course, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (Any Paulo Coelho fans out there??) On this day, some paperwork needed to be fixed, so I was granted a week and a half off from work. Thus, I present you with: “Hallie’s week off.”

I left work around lunchtime with one thing on my mind: Italy. As I mentioned before, I wanted to see the coast while it was warm, but I didn’t think I’d make it in time. Well, I checked the weather for Cinque Terre, picked a city nearby to maximize the trip (Florence, obvi) and booked my tickets.

Best day ever turned best week ever.

I decided to go to Florence first because I wanted to spend the last day of my trip sitting on the beach with a pizza. (This is the type of nonsense you can actually consider when you plan a trip by yourself.) My plan for Florence was to have no plan. Of course I wanted to hit all the must-sees – the Florence Cathedral, Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, etc., but more than anything, I wanted to eat gelato (didn’t know I’d get 2-3 per day, but like I said, no plan) and get lost in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. On my first day in Florence, I put my phone in my bag, put a paper map in my pocket, and headed towards the center of the city. (I feel obligated to clarify – I threw my phone in my bag and used a paper map because my phone dies really quickly in Europe, not because I was trying to disconnect and become one with the world. It was, however, quite refreshing, and I highly recommend the paper map method.)

I fell in love with Florence within the first 10 minutes of my walk into the city, when I stumbled upon the modest Florence Cathedral. In all seriousness, I can’t put into words how beautiful it is. The cathedral, the dome, the bell tower and the baptistry – I had to stop walking so I could stare at the breathtaking pink and green architecture. I attempted to go into the cathedral immediately, but the guard kindly informed me that my skirt was too short. (Hallie things.) Don’t worry, I conquered every piece of the cathedral the next day, and it was well worth the 1-hour wait. My friend Gelato kept me company while I stood in line.

My first glimpse of the Florence Cathedral, Baptistry and Bell Tower.

The trip only went up from here – by more than a thousand steps. Florence is a knockout from every angle, so I climbed every flight of stairs I could in order to take it all in. My legs were actually sore the entire time I was in Italy, not that this means anything since my diet consisted of gelato, pasta, pizza and gelato. (In that order, 2x per day, 30 minute break in-between circuits!!)

Florence & me! View from Piazzale Michelangelo

So without going into too much detail about my travel itinerary, I’d like to say Florence was a fashion/art/history/food lover’s dream.


Thankfully, I got to wake from this dream and go straight into another – Cinque Terre.

The view from my terrace in Riomaggiore.

Oh, Cinque Terre. The most gorgeous coastal scenery I’ve ever seen. Just as I did with Florence, I made sure I saw these five breathtaking seaside villages from every angle. I didn’t want to miss anything on this coastline, so I hiked the entire Cinque Terre. Best eight hours of my life, no question about it.

Cinque Terre consists of five villages. (If you speak Italian, that’s common sense, and I’m sorry you wasted your time on that first sentence.) The villages are Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola, and Monterosso. All equally beautiful, but I chose to stay in Riomaggiore because I found an apartment there with a sweet rooftop terrace. I’m a sucker for a rooftop, and the view was well worth the five flights of stairs I had to climb to get there. Since Riomaggiore is the first of the five villages, I started my hike there as well, after I devoured a fat slice of pesto focaccia. (Pesto is kind of Cinque Terre’s thing, if you didn’t know.)

So here’s where I had my Ferris Bueller epiphany.

I was hiking from Manarola to Corniglia and I had just hit the highest view between these two villages. It was incredible. The sky and ocean were both so blue I couldn’t tell where they met. On my left, I could see a rainbow of buildings in Manarola, and on my right, I could see a span of mountains and seaside cliffs that hid the remaining three villages. I suddenly realized where I was. I thought about my senior year of college, and all the work I put into looking for a job last summer. I thought about what I would have said one year ago if someone asked me what I would be doing after graduation. I never answered that question the same way twice, but I know I wouldn’t have said staring at the ocean from the top of a mountain on the Italian coast, alone. And this made me so happy. Naturally, I thought about the quote from the end of Ferris Bueller:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Somewhere between Manarola and Corniglia.

Here I was, across the ocean from my family, friends and any job I might have taken after college, and I was looking around. I was looking at my surroundings, and I was looking at myself – reflecting on the decisions I made that led me to this exact moment. Paradise.

And here’s where it gets weird. Remember the parade scene towards the end of the film when Ferris performs “Twist and Shout” from the top of a float? Well, when I reached Corniglia, I stopped to grab gelato (shock shock shocker!), and the gelato shop was playing “Twist and Shout.” SIGNS!

The rest of the hike was incredible, as was the rest of the trip. I have a note in my phone from my first day in Cinque Terre that I hardly remember writing, and it says, “I’ve realized I like hiking up more than I like hiking down.” Metaphor? Who knows. But what I do know is that this trip taught me a lot about myself, and even though I LOVE Amsterdam, I have to admit Italy is where I fell in love with my life abroad. What an amazing way to remember a country.

I wrote some of this blog on a train back to Florence from Riomaggiore, and I remember how tempted I was to stay on the train until it got to Rome. If my return flight wasn’t already booked, I would have done it. Fortunately, I got to spend more time than I expected in Florence waiting for my flight, and I decided to spend this time sitting on Ponte Santa Trinita while I finished “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. What an amazing way to remember a book, too.

View from Ponte Santa Trinita.

The best thing about travel is that it stays with you when it’s over. I’ve been back in Amsterdam for about two weeks, and my outlook on life continues to change as I reflect on my experiences abroad and even from college. It pains me to say I only have six weeks left in Amsterdam, but I’ve been here long enough to know how much can happen in six weeks. After all, my trip to Italy was only six days, and Ferris only skipped one day of school.


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