I walked along the Lido Beach, the sun kissing my skin and leaving its red lipstick all over my white body. It’s almost comforting being sunburned — all that means to me is I spent much-needed time in the sun.

It had been at least four months since I had been to the beach, not to mention about three since I had felt the strong rays of the sun. I was wearing shorts — shorts — for the first time since leaving to go abroad. I didn’t realize how much I would miss the sun, but damn was those first few months in the Netherlands were challenging for this Bay Area boy. 

After a while, you get used to the grey skies, cold air and piercing winds. And then the sun reminds you of its magical, regenerative, euphoric powers. I already knew this, but Cali kids are spoiled — especially in San Diego — in that we take the perfection for granted. To be fair, though, so are Italians, as I would come to find out.

San Diego is beautiful, but Venice was on another level. 

Everything about it spoke to me — every dirty corner, every dead end, every bumpy boat ride. Except for maybe the angry people, which apparently is every single Italian walking the face of the earth. At one point a local yelled at me for giving him money, to which he responded “You’re from California; this is all you can give me? I’m trying to get lunch!” Not that I’m not angry all the time, but I don’t take it out on lighthearted tourists just trying to be helpful.

For a kid who grew up wearing khakis, baseball jerseys and flip flops, going three months in long-johns, boots, jeans and jackets is a cold, hapless prison. But Venice brought me back to a warm, open heaven. It was a different world — one where I could sit along the Grand Canal drinking spritz and taking in one of the most breathtaking views in the world (or at least that I have seen). A world where I could search for shells on the Lido Beach for two hours, taking short breaks to scoop gelato, in a two euro Hawaiian shirt (which I bought at an Italian thrift shop) and sandy beach hair.

Even with all of this, I had to make a real effort to enjoy the small moments purely for what they were — perfect little moments. I don’t do that enough. Every activity, every experience, every encounter has to have some intrinsic and quantitative value. Especially abroad, when every action drains my bank account to depths that I have never seen before, and when every moment I spend traveling is time I could be writing and perfecting my craft. My world is a stressful one. But there were small moments where I could feel those stresses melt away with my gelato. And only God knows how much I needed them.

Here’s hoping I can return to Italy someday, if only for the spritz (and the dope thrift shops).


Zach Engberg is a junior journalism major. He is studying abroad at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands this spring.

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