Photo courtesy Rana Kandil Photo courtesy Rana Kandil

Under the Italian Sun

Mon, Oct. 1, 2018
I’d wanted to go to Italy ever since I watched Diane Lane’s Under the Tuscan Sun. The movie was about an American woman who goes through a tough divorce and, in an effort to throw it all behind her, moves to Tuscany on a whim to start her life all over. I thought to myself, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I’m going to do! When I’m old enough, I’m going to lose myself in beautiful Italy for a life-changing experience.” Ten years later, I find myself under its mesmerizing Roman sun, walking along Venetian canals and indulging in its Florentine delicacies.

First, I set foot in Venezia (Venice), northeastern Italy. Or shall I say set sail. I take a two-hour water ride from the airport to the city center where I was staying. I remember repeatedly thinking to myself how I’ve never felt such overpowering charm in my life. The interesting thing about Venice’s beauty is that it’s the humbling kind; the sort of beauty that makes you grateful to be around. I knew that I’d find something quite enlightening about this ancient floating city of islands. Canals and bridges; they’re everywhere. There was always a decision to be made; a bridge to cross, and another to burn. Every corner was a sweet discovery, and you’re almost never certain of what could be on the other side. Baroque architecture facades, grandiose churches, ancient scripture on the walls at every curve—it was like history was finding me, and not the other way around. The city of bridges is in tinges of teal, and all the shades between rosewood and terracotta with black-tinted gondolas at every underpass; each vessel coveting a crossing to the journey of life itself with its beautiful combination of faith, desire and struggle powered by that inner fire and curiosity that push us forwards and onwards.

Florence. Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.
Photo courtesy Rana Kandil


My next destination, Firenze (Florence), was some kind of wonderful. Nothing could have prepared me for standing before the domed Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with its crimson brick dome. As politician Francis Atterbury (1663-1732) put it, “it is attention to detail that makes the difference between something average and stunning.” I may well have stood there in silence for a couple of hours to take it all in. Feeling hungry, I followed a recommendation for one of the best sandwich makers in town, All’AnticoVinaio. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the most delightful aromas and a delicious-looking roast beckoned to me from meters away. I met Luigi ‘the panini expert.’ Like a chemist, he beautifully mixes the most amazing of ingredients as he eloquently explains in an Italian-English accent, “The British may have invented it, but we the Italians have perfected it. We make everything so well; it’s beyond me why we’re not the richest country in the world.” I paid only €7 for the best sandwich I’d ever tasted in my lifetime; an explosion of flavors to say the least, with beef so tender it melts in your mouth. Even the bread had a rich, sweet flavor and just the right amount of crunch to it. This goes to show that the best things in life can come in simple forms; it just requires a little bit of resourcefulness. In my case, it was a ticket to Firenze and a long walk.

Later in the day, with a creamy gelato in my hand, I walked to the Palazzo Vecchio, which houses some of the finest Florentine artifacts owned by one of the richest Italian ruling families, the Medici family, and where a statue of Michelangelo’s David stands. I ended the day with a visit to Ponte Vecchio—Firenze’s jewelry quarter, where all the gold merchants set up shop—and another to Piazzale Michelangelo with views to all of Florence from up above.

Florentine Cabinet. Palazzo Vecchio. Florence Photo courtesy Rana Kandil

I packed my bags and bid Florence goodbye, catching the next train heading to Rome. A few hours later, I stood entranced by the beauty of the Vatican Museum and Church. Everybody had warned me about the long lines to the church but also told me that it’s a must-see; so instead of wasting two hours in line, I went in from the Museum door. I marveled at the beautiful art by Michelangelo, which ultimately led me to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Church. I walked and walked until my knees hurt, but I felt no pain: I was surrounded by beauty everywhere I looked, especially above in the ceilings. Everything just became beautiful then, even my spirit. One piece of art that had me completely arrested was one in the contemporary art section by El Anatsui titled Then, the Flashes of Spirit. Made from thousands of bottle caps and aluminum, I escaped with this piece to a faraway place in my mind. What if each cap were a puzzle piece to a memory put away by our soul that we are meant to dig for and find before we complete the picture? No one said finding treasures was an easy thing.

With that thought, I made my way to the beautiful gardens of Villa Borghese and took a reflective walk along its geese-filled ponds, Roman statues and cascading fountains. I stopped to take in a scene; the muse of one of my favorite painters, Diego Velázquez, and imagined what it would have been like to be him in that moment in time. In need of energy, I indulged in a cup of cappuccino; the coffee stained my lips with a bitter tinge, its aroma overwhelmingly pleasant, its accents familiar, tickling my senses into motion.

The next day, I walk to the Colosseum. I guess I never really understood the connotation behind ‘All roads lead to Rome’ until I stumbled upon this magnificent site. Looking at its ruins and exteriors, I was left with one line I had read in an Elif Shafak’s book, “If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough,” and thought that must be the story of how time fell in love with a place.

Sanwich at Allantico Vinaio. Florence Photo courtesy Rana Kandil

For dinner, I headed down the alleys of Fontana Di Trevi to a low-key Italian restaurant, the heirloom of an Italian man in his early 30s of Egyptian descent with handsome Greek appeal. Modest tables with crisp white sheets awaited me and a warm smile greeted me, but nothing could have prepared me for the fragrant traditional flavors that were about to do a mini dance routine in my mouth a few moments after. It was a nice reminder not to be too inhibited, to explore, and most definitely not to judge a book by its cover.

To cap it all off, I made my way to the famous Fontana. I threw in a coin and wished for light and love to find me the same way Italy did. With more than a million wishes a year, does the fountain hear them all?


Bringing life to untold stories and thoughts, Rana Kandil is a travel writer and founder of

@thatwanderwoman

travel blog.

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