Florence water restaurants
Restaurants and apartments overlook the water in Florence, Italy.

The smell of coffee wafted through the streets of Florence, and faint sounds of trumpets echoed as I wandered. I spent this past weekend exploring other parts of Italy after experiencing time in a quaint town. I was anxious to see what else was out there.

While roaming through the crowds of people each in awe of the city, I was amazed by the grandeur architecture and charisma it offered. I saw myself as a reflection of this city: artistic and soft-spoken at first glance, yet lively and charismatic once approached. As I walked, I came across a group of violinists on the corner of Calimala and Orsanmichele. They filled the streets with both Italian twists of American hits and original compositions.

I spent an ample amount of time listening to their unique melodies while standing in the Florence streets. The stress of the weekend melted away as a smile crept across my face. I soon realized that I was mirroring the carefree attitudes of the people I was surrounded by. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt raw, pure bliss before, but that moment was close, if not it.

Once in the center of Florence, we came across a magnificent building looming over the winding streets.

When I looked up, all I saw were intricately designed windows and doors. Carvings and statues protruded from the side of the Duomo di Firenze, and I found myself tearing up, taken aback by such beauty that was towering before me. I’d never felt so miniscule. I, a small and ordinary individual, was staring up at an intricately adorned masterpiece that’s been one of the most beautiful landmarks of Florence since its construction in 1296.

This building gave me perspective in a way that I haven't quite felt before. I found myself questioning all of the stress I’d been experiencing, and I wondered why I worried about such important aspects of my life. My life is made up of intricate details, and I realized, while staring up at this behemoth, that I worry about things I cannot change, and made a vow to stop.

Spending time in Florence allowed me to step outside my comfort zone even more so than Urbino. I left what I’d become accustomed to, and entered a vast sea of people speaking an even broader variety of languages. I was urged to communicate with people of all identities, and it was a rush. The interaction between locals on the street is nothing short of loving. They greet each other with soft caresses and long moments of eye contact, and smiles are constantly across their face.

My experience thus far in Italy has shown me more of who I am than what I originally thought possible. I’m becoming more comfortable with my fears and my weaknesses, and learning more about my strengths. This adventure has been nothing short of challenging. As I spend much of my free time doing assignments and exploring different cultures, I realize how beautiful life is and how much I take for granted.

One week ago, I would’ve never walked up to a stranger and asked, “Posso? Io studio il giornalismo e sto fotografando per la mia classe,” as I pointed to a camera in my hand, asking to take portraits of them. One week ago I would’ve never introduced myself to strangers in a bar, stuttering in Italian. Now, I feel genuinely cared about, even if it is by hundreds of strangers.

As I return to Urbino, I feel overwhelmingly loved. I’ve met a group of incredible people since being here through photography assignments and simply walking up and communicating in my elementary spurts of Italian. I’ve learned about their lives and their families, their goals and their ambitions.

I’ve heard the most beautiful stories, and witnessed the most eye-opening events, such as a proposal overlooking the water in Florence and a bride and groom being sent off on their honeymoon in the train station.

My new friends and I go to Bosom pub together, the local melting pot for cultural interaction, and dance until the sun rises. I am able to practice my Italian with only a few jokingly-snide comments about how I can’t roll my tongue, and my new friends have also been able to practice their English, which hardly needs practicing.

As I sit at my favorite café, Basili, which I’ve become a regular at, I can’t help but feel at peace with my world, yet I yearn for more. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can do so much more with my life, and I can’t wait to start my journey.

Italy has completely shifted my mindset of what life and my future should encompass, and I find myself worrying less about the little things and enjoying what’s right in front of me, in my tiny home called Urbino. For now, I will sip my espresso and just exist, clinking glasses and toasting the adventure.

Contact Madisson Haynes at breezenews@gmail.com.

Madisson served as news editor for The Breeze during the 2017-18 year. She graduated in May 2018 and now works at National Geographic in D.C. with Global Operations in post production.