When Every Cathedral Begins to Look the Same
I think back on my first month in Italy with such wistful fondness. Those first few weeks were magical and left such an impression that they shaped my attitude for the rest of the trip.
Which is a good thing, because after the first month, the magic began to fade.
During the first month of my exchange program I traveled to different Italian cities each weekend and crawled all over my home city, exploring every nook and cranny. I partied with new friends, created memories and bonds with people from far away places, united by common circumstances.
Everything was new. Every relic, every story, every city view, every meal. I encountered each building and custom and attitude for the first time, each one fascinating and exciting. It was an amazing time.
Then the novelty began to wear off.
I had midterms and I got sick and I was stuck at home for a few weeks. Even when I got out into the world again it just didn’t have the same kick, the same wonder I had felt in the beginning.
When I compare my first weekend trip to Florence with my most recent day trip to Turin I see how different those experiences were.
February in Florence was chilly but that didn’t stop my friends and I from rushing around the city for two days, trying to fit everything in. We climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo several times to enjoy the view over the city, explored the weekend markets and ducked into shops lining the narrow streets. We waiting in line for the Academia Gallery to see the 5 metre tall marble statue of David and braved the 300 steps up Arnolfo’s tower in Palazzo Vecchio to gaze out over the city from high above. I snapped endless photos of the Duomo, memorised the white, gray and terracotta patterns. We milked every moment.
Turin was a little different. It was April, quite warm by this time. Turin is smaller than Florence and we did less walking, but it felt harder. We visited the royal palace, which chewed up a good two hours. And it was a pretty amazing place, only €2 for student entrance.
But when we left, we found ourselves struggling to care about anything else. There are so many cool things to see and do in Turin. There’s the Museum of Cinema, the Museum of Egyptian History, Palazzo Madame, Chiesa di San Lorenzo.
But by that point, I felt like I’d done it all before. And in a way I had.
Italy, in fact Europe as a whole, is full of churches and palaces and museums. Architectural styles differ, but once you see enough of them you start to recognise the vast columns of the neo-classical and the arches and domes of the renaissance. If you’re not a history buff it can get a little monotonous.
When I realised this, I thought I would never be able to truly enjoy the rest of my time on this continent. How could I appreciate every city, every magnificent structure if my eyes glazed over because they look just like the other 100 I’d seen?
So I let it simmer, I considered other trips I had taken and what made them special. And I found two solutions for the problem.
Find your quirk
During the course of my many trips around Italy and surrounding countries, I discovered that I love gothic architecture. I could have walked around and inside the Prague cathedral of St. Vitus for hours. It’s my favourite cathedral and I won’t be forgetting it any time soon. I loved the combinations of dark, angry gothic architecture and etherial stain glass.
And my highlight in Turin was the parts of the palace featuring marble, particularly when white and black marble were featured together. Those were the elements that impressed upon me the most.
When I actually sat down and considered this, I realised that the key was to figure out the quirky specific parts of travelling, architecture and history that you really enjoy. What are you drawn to within a given city? You don’t want to visit a location just because it’s a big tourist attraction. You need to take some time to cater your experience.
You may need also need to be more precious about the things you choose to do and see and how many.
Try to find some of the sights and activities that set the place apart from others. This will require putting in a little research prior to your visit but I found that a three hour train ride or an airport layover is a great time to do this. When researching, don’t just make a list of the top churches and monuments. Dig a little deeper. Look for unique parts of the culture or history in that place and locations that will reflect that.
Sometimes these activities come with a fee, which most church and cathedral visits don’t. But prioritising your time to accomodate only the things that really pique your interest can make all the difference between a stale experience and a fresh, intriguing adventure.