“It’s a museum.”
What started as a simple joke about a neighborhood museum in Siena that was closed on Sundays turned out to be a defining description of our adventures throughout Europe. While the United States and Europe aren’t that different from each other, there were several moments that caused us to laugh and shake our heads in mild exasperation, and many of those happened in museums.
When a security guard who was sitting in the only chair in the lobby of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence scolded my brother for trying to rest his legs by sitting against the wall or security guards came to ask us not to sit in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, we determined that finding places to sit and enjoy the view in Italy were harder to come by than expected. We also learned that my brother could not use his muted drum pad outdoors in a fort in Florence because “it was a museum.” (For a highlight reel of his drumming throughout our travels—excluding the lovely view of Florence from the fort—click here.)
Unpleasant interactions from security guards in museums, plazas, and grocery stores aside, learning to navigate Italy created plenty of adventures, even for my family of careful planners. It did not occur to me until after the fact, for instance, that asking in Italian where the bread is in a grocery store or where the nearest public bathroom is located, would merit a response in Italian—mercifully accompanied by lots of hand motions. We also learned the limit of Google Maps and that following the blue dot on a map only gets you so far. Sometimes roads don’t exist and what you thought was a park ends up being a private garden. After driving back and forth on narrow mountain roads and asking for directions in German and English, we finally found our accommodations for our two nights in the Dolomites, only to discover that check-in was at another hard-to-find location.
Other times we got lucky. Abby and her friend used their knowledge of Italian sign language to help us find where we were staying. We stumbled upon delicious restaurants and gelaterias and became adept at finding and navigating Italian grocery stores and were experts at determining the best pizza to order. We became nomads for two weeks; attracting everyone’s attention with our never ending card games, matching backpacks, eyes glued to the maps on our phones, and cries of “our train is on platform 14!”
Whether it was walking around downtown Munich watching the Croatians celebrate second place in the world cup, enjoying a live orchestra in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, catching up with a good friend, or simply feeling the breeze signaling an oncoming subway, I enjoyed experiencing Europe from my limited American perspective. Sometimes it was uncomfortable—traversing new cities without speaking the language figuring out cultural differences can be tiring and is not exactly easy. However, living on the road for two weeks and getting a glimpse of the culture, art, history, cuisine, and beauty of Italian and German cities has left us all with incredible memories and a greater sense of awe about the world. And the knowledge that there were at least 103 people wearing Levi’s shirts, two Levi’s bags, and one Levi’s soda can in Europe.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.”—Terry Pratchet