There is so much to say about it. I had fantasized about going to this colorful country for most of my life. Initially, it was based on the fact that it’s home to some of my favorite foods in the world–who doesn’t love pizza? But as I grew older, and the internet was born, I began to fall in love with its diverse beauty, devouring from my computer screen all the types of architecture, climates, and colors this country has to offer. I was fascinated by its rich history, old enough to make me realize that America is an infant. And I, of course, swooned over the seemingly ever-present romance.
I first went to Italy when I was 23 years old, visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, all in one week. It was too fast. I fell deeply in love when the first bowl of spaghetti pomodoro and glass of red wine was set in front of me. I sat, taking in the aromas and the sounds of the noisy restaurant filled with a language I didn’t understand but longed to hear. The sights and sounds truly made me emotional.
The second time I went to Italy, I visited the Amalfi Coast: Positano, to be exact. Positano blew my mind. The ocean is something I’ve long loved; and that, mixed with the essence of why I had fallen in love from the beginning, was how I found myself feeling at home, even in a place I had hardly been. It was hot. The gelato (that I ate at least once a day) started melting immediately. I chartered a small private boat and drank ice cold Peroni’s. It was surreal!
Then, about two months ago, I started packing for my next trip to Italy. This time I found myself packing thick hooded coats, scarves, and gloves. I also packed my mother. Her birthday was a few days after we were to arrive. She had never been to Italy, and like me, had always dreamt of going. One of the coolest things about the job I have is that there are so many people around the world who are invested in the stories that my cast mates and I told on PLL. The fans are one of the main reasons that the show was as successful as it was–and they are all over the world! It’s wild to think about. From time to time, fan conventions are held in the countries of our most enthusiastic fans. This time the convention was being held in Milan, which I had never been to. I decided to extend the trip and first take my mom to Florence because it was on the top of her list.
Florence feels like a fairy tale. Cobblestoned streets lead you to front doors of houses with entrances as grand as a castle. There are short bridges crossing the Arno, letting you out onto more houses, restaurants, and shops that date back to the 12th century. Being from the United States, I forget how young we are. There is so much to learn about Florence and its surrounding cities–from the Renaissance, to the Medici family, to the Chianti!
We rented an apartment instead of a hotel, which was a really amazing way to spend time in the city. We wanted to feel like locals (ones who go sightseeing). One of the walls in the apartment was dated back to the 12th century and had been standing through multiple reincarnations of the building. The key to the front door was about 5 inches long and hundreds of years old.
Over the next five days, we made sure to create a leisurely itinerary. We visited the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, and the Galleria dell’Accademia. On my mom’s birthday, we went to the Four Seasons Hotel and had long massages and body treatments. That night we went to a small, local restaurant called Trattoria Gargani. Every restaurant where we ate was amazing! One of my personal favorites was a quick lunch and panini at La Proscuitteria. I loved watching them make the sandwiches and, of course, they had local wine to pair with one of the most simple yet decadent paninis I’ve ever eaten.
The highlight of our journey was a day trip to Siena, San Gimignano, and a family-owned winery at the Agriturismo Fattoria Sant’Appiano. At the winery, my mom and I learned how they made their wine and how to properly taste wine. It was exciting, as I love wine and have always been eager to learn more about the culture. We were also served the best (no joke) lasagna I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know if it was the wine or the jet lag, but I had true tears in my eyes after the first bite (apparently I cry a lot around good food). It melted in my mouth. Both Siena and San Gimignano have similar architecture to Florence, but are truly unique. San Gimignano was my favorite. There were walking paths that went through tunnels, which opened up to piazzas, each one more charming that the last. This place has divine gelato. It was so good, but between dessert and the bitter cold, my entire mouth was frozen for a full thirty minutes.
After living a life full of wine, food and history, we took a train to Milan. Trains are such an amazing way to travel. They aren’t a very common way to travel in America. Most people have cars or we fly if the distance is too great. After just under two hours, we arrived in Milan. The sheer size of the city and the buildings make Florence seem so small. There seems to be a more gothic quality to the architecture in Milan, which, while beautiful, makes one feel differently than a city like, say, San Gimignano. This leg of the trip was also much more centered around work.
After one day of being in Milan and taking it pretty easy, I got to meet roughly 2,000 of Italy’s biggest fans of Pretty Little Liars. It’s always so surreal when I have experiences like these. I’m fully aware of the fact that my cast mates and I are no longer anonymous, but to have people from the other side of the world be so affected by the roles we play is truly wild. They draw pictures for us, they give us gifts, they cry! Being a sensitive person, I feel every emotion in the room, and try to give all of my energy to show each and every person that they are valuable and seen. This can be exhausting, but so worth it.
At the end of the trip, I found out that I booked a role in a new pilot. A reboot of the 90’s cult show called Roswell. I really like this script and truly love the character I’m playing. I won’t give much away, but I am excited and nervous to take on a new chapter. After flying home, I had 12 hours to unpack, repack, sleep, then fly to New Mexico to start a three week shoot of the pilot. Details to come…