By Kalina Davis
The scene in front of me looked like it belonged inside of a fairytale. It was a small cavern near the bank of a stream, covered in moss and other greenery. A hole on top allowed the sunlight to pass through, making drops of water glimmer. It looked like a dwelling for fairies. What a contrast to the rest of Rome, bustling and sweltering in the August heat. While the city was buzzing with tourists taking over the major attractions, this place was like a breath of fresh air. A moment of peace amidst all the activity. As my roommate and I explored this part of the park, we took turns taking pictures and posing in the “fairy castle,” laughing at our childishness. This was not the renowned Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum. It was a hidden gem, a treasure found off the beaten path. And through my travels, I have learned just how valuable these hidden treasures are.
On another afternoon, I found myself exploring the hidden treasure of Veroli, Italy. It was a small and quaint hill town. We arrived during the afternoon riposo or rest, which created a quiet and peaceful setting. As my friends and I gazed from the top of the town at the beautiful scenery, no crowds were there to push and shove us out of the way. The atmosphere reminded me of the park in Rome with the enchanting cavern. It was another breath of fresh air. Another moment of peace. We walked through the town and found a small pizzeria that was open. The man working there was very friendly and warm, making conversation with us as he crafted our pizzas to tasty perfection. When we had finished eating, we strolled through the quiet, winding streets, delighted by this charming little treasure. A nonna popped her head outside of her door as we passed by. I greeted her, and in my broken Italian, tried to apologize for disturbing her. But she just beamed at me, repeating “Oh si! Bella, bella!”over and over again. As we continued walking, I smiled to myself, soaking in the genuine life I was experiencing on that quiet afternoon in Veroli.
When you travel, it’s expected that you will be drawn to all the major attractions of whatever place you go to. These attractions are popular for obvious reasons, and it’s natural to be drawn to them. Being able to see and experience a place you have learned about in school and seen in photographs is an unmatched experience. However, when you travel, don’t just settle for what can be easily found for tourists. If you do so, you will just scratch the surface of what can be found. You will miss out on the heart and soul of whatever place you’re in. Instead, put away the tourist maps and guides for a while. Take a step off the beaten path. It’s okay to go off the agenda. It’s okay to get a little lost. When you choose to wander and explore, you never know what hidden treasures you might discover. Some of the best restaurants I have eaten at were far away from the tourist centers. One of the best places I have stayed was miles outside of the city in a quiet, peaceful hotel by the mountains. Some of the best memories I created have been wandering aimlessly with good friends. Taking a break from major attractions can allow you to become immersed in a culture in a way you couldn’t be otherwise. You have the chance to observe genuine life. You may even meet a few locals and receive some great recommendations from them.
Yes, what you will find at tourist attractions is beautiful and wonderful, and I encourage you to see all that you can. But go beyond that. Look for the hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Don’t underestimate the value of going off the beaten path. As Robert Frost once wrote, “Two roads diverged in a road, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I closed my eyes and breathed in the fresh air, enjoying the refreshing breeze that is rarely found in Rome during the summer. Seated on a wooden bench, I gazed across the pond in front of me, watching the swans float gracefully through the water.
As I took in the scene in the park of Villa Pamphili, not a selfie stick was to be seen. Not a word was spoken in English. It was beautiful. I watched as an old man took tomatoes out of a paper bag and threw them to the birds by the pond. A young mother helped her toddler climb onto the fence to get a better look at the ducks. A young couple went jogging by. Two women walked their dogs down the path, speaking rapidly in Italian with dramatic hand gestures. I smiled to myself. This life I was observing was authentic. Yes, this park may have been on the road less traveled by, but it was a hidden treasure, and being there to experience it, made all the difference.
Go Travel, and Travel Fearless.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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