My name is Michael. I am 25 years old and I have a passion for travel and for understanding the world. I am fascinated by culture, history, cuisine, and my journey’s are driven by curiosity, challenge, and the belief that I may better understand a place, or make an impact on someone’s life.
I grew up in an Italian-American family. From a very early age I was regaled with stories of history from my Italian background, usually from an artistic and cultural point of view. I learned to appreciate where it is I came from, but as I grew older, I realized that I had yet to enter the grand cathedrals or the exquisite art galleries of a place I knew so well, but at the same time I knew nothing about. In 2006 I decided I wanted to experience the country from a new point of view. I did not want to see as somebody who had seen the facades of the red brick antiquities of Florence, I wanted to see it as an explorer, as somebody discovering the hidden treasures that had been locked away from my mind all these years.
It was at this moment that I rediscovered my passion for discovery. I laid eyes on the expansive walls and frescoes of the Florentine Cathedral, I climbed Giotto’s tower at sunset and watched the glistening of terracotta roofs into the distance behind Brunelleschi’s massive dome. I marveled at the gleaming perfect body of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia, and I travelled throughout the countryside from Rome to Venice in an attempt to learn and understand how every region of the nation could feel like a whole other country in itself.
Following the departure of my university study group I decided I was wanting to see still more. Via connections with friends, families, and a succession of renting rooms, I discovered how solitary travel could literally open up the world to me. Armed with a backpack and a guide book, I aimed to stay away from the larger cities and focus on the hidden small towns devoid of tourists and pocketed with small churches to find the hidden side of Italy.
In Arezzo, I stumbled upon an ancient Roman arena, once the site of spectacular demonstrations of combat and theater. To my surprise I was allowed to enter the main floor and walk over the surface where men fought and died for public entertainment.
In Spoleto, a small town in Umbria, I climbed up to see an ancient second century Christian site, with marble figures carved directly into the wall. Inside the cavernous space were early crosses and figurines etched and painted directly onto the walls nearly 1,000 years before the modern fresco would be reinvented.
Despite my quest for artistic treasures, I sought to understand the country from a local’s point of view. The common saying is “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I took this to heart and I would wander through the markets, inhaling aromas of freshly sliced chianina beef wafting in the air with dried peperoncini and fragrant spices. By the third month of my stay, Florence had no longer become a mere vacation or a simple destination. Florence had become a home. I felt familiar with every street, I would drink my morning coffee in Piazza Duomo while reading the newspaper and watching the sun creep along the facade of the Cathedral as the shopkeepers dusted their shops and the entire city, like a living being, slowly awoke.
Upon returning home to Miami, my passion for art and history had been awakened. Before my journey, film and cinematography had been the focus of my studies and I was so convinced that it was where life was going to be focused. In two successive years, I joined two more diverse groups in Italy and each year was nary a repeat of the previous. I continued quests into miniscule towns, frequently spending solitary time with pieces that have rarely been documented.
In 2008, I had already counted myself as a well travelled individual. However, it had occurred to me that my my interests were not solely restricted to the discovery of artwork. I wanted to understand culture, and the diverse world outside of my comfort zone. I found myself fascinated particularly with the Islam and Middle Eastern culture. In the past ten years I had come to know so well how the western world portrays the east. I had watched how they were typecast as terrorists, barbarians, and a people of a backwards age. It was not only the people, it was an entire religion, and an entire section of the world that was being frowned upon. The natural step was to fully immerse myself in this part of the world. I immediately bought tickets bound for Istanbul, Turkey. The following three days was an irreversible culture shock that brought meaning and understanding.
Traveling with Alex, a fellow student who I had met in Italy two summers prior, I was immediately struck by the difference between the western European countries and this expansive metropolis sitting on the banks of the Bosporus. I had chosen Istanbul primarily for it’s proximity to Italy where I had been residing at the time, and a curiosity for the ancient Roman ruins of a bygone era where Constantinople was the jewel of Europe.
Upon entering the Hagia Sophia, the gleaming center of the city, I immediately noticed an aspect of this hulking place that even the west could not match: The magnificent Byzantine mosaics had been untouched and I was witnessing the gigantic patterns as they had always meant to be seen. The cathedral fantastically displayed Christian symbols juxtaposed amongst the Muslim crescent moon, as if it was a living chronicle of this city’s history. As we traversed the shoreline of the narrow channel that separated Europe from Asia, Alex and I could climb among untouched ruins of ancient palaces, streets, and triumphal arches. I was struck how accessible the city made itself.
My first entrance into the mosque was directly across from the Hagia Sophia in the lavishly decorated Blue Mosque. I did not know what to expect as I entered into one of the most holy sites in Europe. As an American in what was a delicate time, I tread softly and lightly into the main prayer hall. The hall itself is indescribable, as no amount of words could express the blue tiles or the magnificent floral patterns that adorn the walls. The sensation however, despite the Hollywood stereotype, despite the fear and nervousness that one is led to believe, was one of warmth, peace, and tranquility. I believe that understanding a form of prayer is how one understands religion, and through religion, one understands culture. This was one of simplicity and devotion. The lesson I learned from that place is that any person of any faith is looking for the same thing: a direct connection with the divine, a call for protection and enlightenment for ones self and family.
I did not simply set off armed with a camera and guidebook to tag a place or say that I had “done it”. Travel is useless without purpose. Sitting on white sandy beaches and utter relaxation does not interest me as it used to. Travel is not how many stamps are in your passport but the experiences that mold and shape you as a person.
In this blog, I aim not to name drop cites or countries, but to inspire people of my age that it is possible to see this diverse world without waiting your whole life to explore. It is possible to make a difference in people’s and have a true life experience. In this space I will recount the moments, both the hysterical and the challenging, the places, and the people that changed my life. My stories are a chronicle of a nomadic life in search of challenges and understanding. I do hope you join me. Because it will be a wild ride.