By Jessica Schlener
Guest Writer and Photographer
Last summer I decided to go on the adventure of a lifetime -– a 30-day tour of Europe with 48 people I’ve never met before. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience that was in store. We started in London and ended in Spain, but my heart will forever be in Italy.
The day began with a trip to the Leather Market in Florence. What a sensory overload. Beautiful handbags and coats were carefully hung throughout the market with that glorious fresh leather smell wafting through the air. I found myself falling in love with a caramel-colored briefcase.
My fingers blissfully explored the beautifully polished bag with its glossy finish and my heart knew this bag had to find its way back to the States. Something that fabulous just couldn’t be left on a stand. It needed to be shown off! I left the market, borderline skipping down the streets with pure joy, thrilled that this tiny piece of Italian perfection would be coming home with me.
I met my friends back at our hotel for the next adventure of the day. We all hopped onto our bus and headed to the hills of Tuscany. The bus slowed as we became surrounded with rolling hills covered with luscious grapes ripening in the warm summer sun. Our group was welcomed into a family vineyard owned by an Italian count. At each table was a beautiful antipasto platter. Every few moments, the count’s mother entered holding a tray filled with a new sampling of their wine. Each sip seemed better than the last as the wine swirled through my mouth with flavors bursting on my very grateful tongue.
Once we sipped and sampled several glasses of wine, the count’s grandmother came to say hello. With her she brought homemade lasagna drenched in white truffle oil made right there on the vineyard. With each bite this heavenly oil glided over my lips and onto my tongue. My eyes closed as I slipped into complete ecstasy. At this point, I was pretty sure I had found heaven. Only in Italy do you bite into dinner and savor each individual flavor as it introduces itself to your taste buds. Eating is not just an activity, it is a sensory experience to be relished, enjoyed, and appreciated.
As we bid farewell to the count and his family the sun began to say goodnight. The bus set off for our final destination. I sat in my seat dreaming out the window of how life could not possibly get any more wonderful. However, God was not done impressing me with the beauty His world has to offer. We hopped off the bus excited to learn what our new location would bring. Our guide showed us to a gelateria on our way through the town of San Gimignano. Let me tell you, I could live and die sitting in this gelateria and be completely content with my life.
My flavor of choice was raspberry rosemary. I sat on this beautiful fortified hill, watching the sun kiss Tuscany goodnight, filling the summer sky with the beautiful colors of fire, enjoying each bit of my gelato as the fresh summer raspberries burst in my mouth. The sweet fruit coupled with the wonderful herbal rosemary was heavenly.
Again, I was convinced the day could not possibly get any sweeter. I called my parents when we arrived home to tell them about the most amazing day I had ever had in my young life. When my mom answered, her voice sounded like she had been crying. I asked her what was wrong.
You see, my 41-year-old Uncle John had been diagnosed with a brain tumor right before I left. Throughout my travels I had prayed for him at every church we visited. In Rome, I had a special rosary blessed in his honor. That evening I learned that my uncle’s tumor, diagnosed as untreatable, had significantly shrunk while I was away.
Tears of pure joy started streaming down my face. This unforgettable day ended with the news that I would be able to spend more time with one of the most beautiful, warm-hearted people who has ever graced this earth. I am convinced that my day in Tuscany will remain one of the best days I will ever experience. Each day I leave for work, I pick up my beautiful caramel-colored briefcase and think of how blessed I was to experience Italy in all of its splendor. This hills of Tuscany and the town of San Gimignano will always hold a special place in my heart. My next trip to Italy will be more of a welcoming home of a long-lost friend.