What a weekend in Northern Italy/Austria! The long weekend consisted of two spontaneous day trips and one overnight trip with USAC!
With no class on Wednesday, a few girls and I decided to make the most of the day and take a day trip to a nearby city, Bergamo. It was spontaneous, with no real plan or expectation, we were simply along for the ride.
Famous in Bergamo is a dish called Casconcelli, which is basically stuffed noodles! This meal was hands down the best I have yet to have while being in Italy. After dining over an amazing lunch, we wanted to find the funicular to get to the Citta Alta (upper city). We had lunch in Citta Bassa (lower city) which was urban and modern. The upper city is untouched and historic – a true gem hidden.
The steep cobblestone streets led us to Piazza Vecchia where the Basilica was. Although I have been inside quite a number of churches, this one stood out from the rest. Pure white walls and ceilings came alive with bright gold accents and paintings. I stood awestruck at the pure aesthetic beauty that this place of worship held. It was as if magic was in the air – a feeling I truly will never forget. I’ve said it before, but there is something so special and authentic about these small Italian cities that speak to me.
Thursday we headed to our first city with the school program: Trento. A small, authentic little town in Northern Italy located in the Trentino region. Our advisors took us to Castelvecchio (same name as the castle here in Verona). Primarily an art gallery inside, the castle itself was beautiful and elegant. The ceilings of each room drew my attention as they each had a different painting complemented with some type of gold crown molding. I noticed the sun begin to shine bright outside so I was eager to find the gardens. It was the first time in weeks we felt the sun on our skin. Prying our coats off, we wandered around the maze of bushes that sat within the castle’s walls. The neatly kept green shrubbery contrasted with the wild and robust mountains to create an aesthetically pleasing view.
I wish I could say I explored the city like I usually do; however, I was so content with sitting in the city center with the sun shining down drinking a cold Spritz (a famous drink made using white wine). We sat at a small café and enjoyed the moment – large mountains in the distance with Neptune’s Fountain being the center of attention in the piazza.
After Trento, we kept going to the north to a small German influenced town: Merano. Walking through the streets was a constant battle of deciding if we were still in Italy. Near the border of Austria, the towns in this area of Italy are heavily influenced by the German culture: architecture, food, and even language. Most signs and billboards were written in both German and Italian!
The main highlight of Merano is its thermal baths. Naturally heated from the water coming from the mountains, the thermal baths look like a regular pool, yet have natural substances that are beneficial for overall health – and they had steam rooms! It was a relaxing two hours to unwind and be still with no distractions or schedule to follow. The view from the infinity styled bath was absolutely gorgeous – mountains on every side with German looking buildings nestled every which way. Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the thermal baths, but I did manage to sneak a quick group picture on my GoPro – I had to capture a moment!
It was nearing dinner time, so the group was off to check into our hotel in Bolzano, a bigger city just south of Merano. Another German-influenced city, we decided to try our first German meal. A rustic wooden restaurant, Hopfen & CO was a perfect choice. I had the beer-goulash; tender beef complemented with bacon dumplings covered in gravy in a big kettle pot. It was mouthwatering and so nice to have something other than pasta.
Friday we spent the day in Innsbruck, Austria – my absolute favorite place I have been to thus far. I have a feeling each place will be my “new favorite” for various reasons, but something in my heart sang when we walked around this unique untouched town. The architecture was also German influenced in a much different way than the northern cities in Italy. The primary language in Austria is German, however, the Italian language and culture is present specifically in Innsbruck. We spent the first hour and a half on a walking tour provided by USAC – giving us a great historical background of the city. After walking a good amount of the city, we were craving some authentic food – wiener-schnitzel! Not to be a pessimist, but schnitzel has a larger reputation than what it actually tastes like. Nonetheless, it was a satisfying meal that did fill me up. We carried on our own exploring parts of the city.
My roommates and I all had the idea of taking a funicular up the mountain to get to the peak. This was the first time while being in Europe that I was genuinely nervous. For some reason the idea of being 4,000 feet in the air, in a place and environment I am not used to, really shook me. I carried on and prayed for the best, plus every great adventure must come with some nerves! I wish I could verbally describe the serene beauty of being on top of the mountain. Typically, I become overwhelmed with excitement that is evident to all. However, I have never been so calm and at peace – strictly unable to speak at the heavenly sight. The sky was a welcoming blue touched with the perfect amount of puffy white clouds. Looking straight ahead, were snow-tipped mountains kissing the clouds. A captivating moment that truly moved me.
On Saturday, we ended the overnight trip with a hike through the countryside. Quite honestly, this was the first time I felt like I was back in Ohio. Stables and the smell of horses, old wooden fences with barns in the middle of green fields. I felt like I was at home for the first time in a long time. Looking back, it was relaxing and helpful, but ever since feeling that way I have had the slightest urge of home-sickness. We took a funicular down the side of the mountain to get back to the city center. Another beautiful and picturesque sight of the landscape.
Saturday afternoon I met my high-school friend Mallory at our apartment! It was nice to be reunited with an “old” familiar face! We spent the day walking around Verona and I showed her some of the main spots in town: the Arena, Piazza Bra, Piazza Erbe, and Castelvecchio.
Sunday was, unfortunately, a rainy and dreary day. Regardless, we took advantage of a free day and headed south to Bologna. Huddled under umbrellas and any awning possible, we saw Piazza Maggiore as well as Basilica di San Petronio. After dealing with being soaking wet for a period of time, we found a Lindor chocolate shop where we ordered cappuccinos to pass the time.
Overall, the weekend was filled with so many different memories and moments. After spending a lot of time thus far surrounded by buildings and civilization, it was nice to be in an environment which was consumed by nature. As much as I love seeing historical monuments and cities, nature will forever create an underlying appreciation for how beautiful this world is. Furthermore, the most beautiful sights we will encounter come not from humans, but from God himself through the presence of surreal nature.
Maggie O’Donnell is a University of Mount Union student. To read more about her study abroad in Verona, Italy check out her blog.