Now, Sal, we’re leaving everything behind us and entering a new and unknown phase of things. All the years and troubles and kicks—and now this! so that we can safely think of nothing else and just go on ahead with our faces stuck out like this, you see, and understand the world as, really and genuinely speaking, other Americans haven’t done before us—they were here, weren’t they?
Dean Moriarty, in jubilant discovery, sputtered those words to Sal Paradise after they came to the new and exciting Mexico. It was unlike anything they had every known.
Poetically, I read this section of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road on a plane ride from Zürich to America after living out Dean and Sal’s sentiments for the past 8 days. It was my first trip to Europe, and the sights, sounds, and scenes played out in reverent discovery, as I could not even predict what would happen next.
My “road” began in Rome, Italy, after a half-day of travel from the United States. When I arrived, it was 8:00am local time, and though I practically lost a night of sleep due to the time leap, my energy was high and my face was “stuck out” upon arrival. My plans allowed very little time to explore Rome, but I made sure to take a train from the airport to the heart of the city to catch a glimpse of the Colosseum with my friend Jared from university. The Colosseum is a magnificent structure that has exhilarated spectators for close to two millenia. We ventured onward via train to Florence—or as the locals know it, Firenze. Firenze became my home for the next four nights, with the capstone being a good friend’s wedding ceremony overlooking the beautiful city. Florence is a breath of fresh air. Though bustling with people, it is relaxed. Though the streets are narrow, the way feels clear. The entire vibe of the city is paradoxical in that there is much to see and do, but also much to simply see and enjoy.The soft, warm color scheme is consistent throughout the entire city, with blue skies and green hillsides accenting the urban environment. Firenze curates countless pieces of Renaissance-era artwork and history. For example, I walked around a beautiful church called Santa Croce for an hour or so, casually walking past the burial sites of such greats as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Dante, and others. The starpower was unlike anything I have seen in America, and slowly my high school European History class was transfiguring before me, a cast of characters larger than life itself.
Beyond Santa Croce, I trekked up a hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, which provides a stunning panorama of the city and its surroundings. The piazza owns a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David, and the ascent up the steps to get there is well worth the effort.
The most well-known, marble David resides in Galleria dell’Accademia, and its grandeur is unmatched by any other work of art in the city. The larger-than-life sculpture is the focal point among the many other amazing sculptures and paintings in the same building. The detail in the carving, from his curly hair to the veins on his arms, reveals something new with every vantage point.The incarnation of the spirit of Florence could be understood as the bridges that span across the Arno. These bridges are full with pedestrians on any day of the week, and one of the bridges called Ponte Vecchio is of extreme popularity and home to fine jewelry stores and other small shops. If there is any place that provides the ideal photo opportunity for Florence, it is on Ponte Vecchio or one of the other bridges. Watching the sunset from one of these bridges while drinking red wine with another good friend William will forever be etched in the summer fragments that hold on from Florence.One of my best friends from university, Luigi, had his wedding ceremony at a villa in the hills beyond Florence, with the Duomo and other sights visible in the distance past the bridge and groom standing on the hillside. I am not a dreamy romantic when it comes to wedding planning, but seriously, #weddinggoals. My traveling partner, Jared, officiated the intimate ceremony, which included a mixture of longtime friends and family members from Florence and the United States.On to the next adventure: Switzerland. Whereas my time in Italy stayed in one city for four days, my time in Switzerland would involve moving around for four straight days. Jared went north with me, where we met up with my friend, David, who had come from Spain.
We took a train from Florence to Zürich with stunning views of the Alps and beautiful lakes besides the train tracks. Everything I had heard about Switzerland was confirmed and surpassed, as the mountainous beauty is comparable in majesty to American icons like the Grand Tetons or Glacier.
The ever-bustling, business-centric Zürich represents a stark contrast to the laid-back, caffe’-laiden Florence. As the group ate dinner, we could not help but people watch and see beautiful Europeans walk and tram across the city in fine suits and dresses at what seemed like a citywide happy hour. Our American apparel was far short of the de facto dress code of the city hub.
The next day, we woke up early and took a southbound train to a lovely town called Luzern (dubbed Lucerne in English). Luzern rests in between mountains on Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne) with fantastic German food options and some neat shops. Our time in Luzern was limited to a long lunch break, but should I ever go back to Switzerland, Luzern will be on the top of my list of places to re-visit.We took a train and a bus from Luzern to the small village of Kerns. In Kerns, our group stayed in a unique Airbnb, which was a tipi in the yard of a Swiss family on the mountains. The tipi was on a hillside overlooking the village, and we were able to interact with the German-speaking parents and children, which was a neat global connection that proved hospitality and goodwill could be transferred between people even with a tall language barrier. Jared’s German III even proved effective enough for conversation in jest with some fun-loving Swiss children!After eating a homemade breakfast the next morning, we set out for Basel. Zürich and Luzern were tidy cities with everything in seeming order and cleanliness; Basel, on the other hand, did not feel like it was in the same country. Immediately bordering both Germany and France, Basel impresses as a Renaissance city, dabbling in art, education, music, and more. As we walked along the Rhine, people were swimming, cooking out at parks, and skateboarding. What Basel lacked in mountains and green fields, it made up for in diverse entertainment.
We spent the night in Basel and returned to Zürich to prepare for our different routes back to the United States. Wonderful moments captured in wonderful countries with wonderful people.
The “unknown” of Europe gripped me—and still does—in a way my home country never has. As Sal and Dean accessed new eyes upon arrival to Mexico, so I did when seeing Europe for the first time. My experience is not unlike every other’s, though it can and should be appreciated despite its cliché. These are the moments that will last forever.
Small world. *slowly nod and gaze into the distance*
This is a guest post from fellow writer Ryan Blake. All photos courtesy of Ryan Blake.