One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to
travel after college instead of going straight to work. I
received a masters degree in computer science and art but knew that
spending the rest of my time in employment toil wasn’t what I wanted.
first trip was to the western part of the United States for four months
where the focus was on bike riding in the deserts and
We’re talking about all day riding, day after day. I usually
slept under the stars without using a tent and one night outside of
Gunnison, Colorado, the Milky Way was so clear when I woke up at 3
a.m. I looked up at the stars and said, “I’ve never seen a
cathedral. I’m going to Europe.” When I got back
trip, my parents asked, “Ready for a job?” I replied, “Nope,
going to Europe.” And so it was.
My background in art
the main motivator to go. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of
cultural aspects but knew that would be figured out in due
Upon arriving in Rome and taking a taxi from the airport and seeing all
sorts of places that were recognizable from books, I was
impressed. I rode my bike around Rome, including to the
front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, which was designed by
Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Again, impressive. The next morning, as soon as St. Peter’s
opened, I was there. There is a barrel vault over the
and the impression was, “That’s really big.” Upon entering, I
overwhelmed by the colors and looked at the main barrel vault in the
nave and thought, “Oh my, that’s bigger yet.” Down the nave
Bernini’s Baldacchino over the altar and in the first chapel to the
right was Michelangelo’s Pieta. Wow! It was really
something to have taken art history classes and studied the works at
length and there you are, they are right in front of you.
the Vatican, I made a beeline for the Sistine Chapel and got there
before anyone else and had it to myself for several minutes.
was also just the fun times to be had when traveling.
Meeting people from all over and just daily life too; that was a
blast. One other thing was just the daily culture of the
places. I was knowledgeable about countries in terms of
their history and other aspects but this was the first time outside of
my home country and experiencing the general atmosphere. It
great revelation just to learn how peoples’ lives are different than
mine on a daily basis. It really wasn’t the large differences
that was so informative, but rather the smaller things. Most
all, it wasn’t my home. This was a life changing experience.
the next months, the art, architecture, and overall atmosphere was
overwhelming. I spent a lot of time in Italy, but also went
Greece, Poland, Germany and other countries; the proverbial grand tour
for which I was gone a total of nine months. There were
experiences that I never imagined. From the highs of summer
in the Alps to the lows of seeing Auschwitz.
I had a suspicion
that I would really like Italy but didn’t realize how much
spent more time there than any country. One city I really
was Siena and was there three times over the trip. I was even
there for Il Palio, a horse race that has been held since the middle
ages that is considered a highlight of the year in Siena.
medieval town that no matter where you look, has a beauty that few
other places have.
Eventually, in November and December, I returned to Italy and wandered
back to Siena.
was still having a lot of fun but at this time of the year, many of the
hostels were closed and the days were quite short; the nature of the
experience was changing. Not in a bad way, but certainly
different from the days of April and August. I started to
that my time in Europe was coming to a close, not sure when, but knew
that it wouldn’t be another eight or nine months and besides, my money
I called a good friend, Renato who lived in
Milan, and discussed some travel issues. We talked for a
and he finally said, “What will you do in the next three months that
will be really different from what you’ve already done?” I
thought for a moment, as he had posed a good question. I said
with a heavy heart, “Could you schedule a flight home for next week?”
and shortly afterwards, hung up.
It was like being hit by a ton
of bricks. I walked all the way across Siena, this beautiful
of red stone, and was hardly aware of the surroundings, experiencing a
deep sadness. I found myself in Il Campo, Siena’s main
only vaguely aware of how I reached it, harboring a terrible feeling of
“Oh my, what have I just done?”
There is a tower over Il Campo
called Torre del Mangia (Tower of the Glutton) named after a really fat
guard in the Renaissance times. It’s 102 meters tall and very
slender in proportions. It was right at the time that the
was opening and since it was low season, I was the only one
there. I started to climb, still not feeling very good at
all. Given the narrow proportions, you climb a few steps then
have to turn 90 degrees, climb a few more, turn again, etc.
Higher up, the steps were even fewer before having to turn. I
finally reached the top and came out into the open. It was a
pleasant winter day in Toscana with nary a breeze and given that I was
from Minnesota at the time, meant I only had to wear a sweatshirt.
first thing I noticed was how overwhelmingly red the city was, oh it’s
a pretty place. The ever so green, rolling hills of Tuscany
continued forever, and beyond that were the snow covered Apennine
mountains. Above it all was a cloudless, blue, blue, blue
sky. The colors were overwhelming, an experience that was so
pleasant, it was just too much to believe. I looked near and
far. The mountains would have my attention, then the nearby
hills, and then a person walking below in the piazza. Then,
it would be back to the mountains and the sky. Wow!
feelings melted away.
I took it all in and thought, “It’s been a great trip.”