Faces of Zicasso: Our Travel Writer

April 12th, 2018
Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

The iconic Ponte Vecchio.

Zicasso is a team of talented and dedicated individuals who excel at helping you achieve inspiring and enriching experiences on handcrafted vacations. Each month we plan on featuring the faces of our team for the reasons we have fallen in love with travel, the inspiring journeys we have taken, and the ways we have dedicated ourselves to helping others achieve their dream vacations.

My name is Douglas Weissman, and I am the voice of the Zicasso blog. I have traveled to over 45 countries around the world. I have spent time studying panthers in Zululand, South Africa, cruising down the secluded jungle waters of the Colombian Amazon, sleeping in a tree house in Cambodia, and crisscrossing the glowing sands of the Red Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory. When someone asks me where my love for travel started, I can trace it back to my first long-term travel experience when I was lucky enough to study abroad in Florence, Italy for a full year.

The face behind Zicasso’s blog, Douglas Weissman.

Study abroad feels like a rite of passage where many students travel for a semester or a quarter to spend every weekend in a new country and return home in a whirlwind of barhopping and cheap flights. Spending an entire year in Florence gave me a different perspective of the city. I had time to search out the best restaurants, discover quiet niches in unknown museums, and spend time watching people pass below my window on a lazy afternoon letting me glimpse a world in which a fountain in a random piazza could be older than my entire country.

Naptune's fountain, Florence, Italy

Look, a fountain that is older than the United States!

We remember more significant moments in life, monumental birthdays, weddings, graduation ceremonies, or perhaps uprooting the life you know for a new life balancing past and present worlds. Yes, moving halfway across the world was an incredible, humbling, and life-changing experience, and it inspires me daily, but Italy also taught me how the smaller, more intimate moments bring as much joy. Rather than explain the best museums in Florence or the best way to visit the Colosseum in Rome, I wanted to share one of the most memorable experiences of my time living in Italy, which derived from a very simple moment.

Within a month of moving to Florence, I embarked on my first excursion outside the city bent on reaching Cinque Terre. By now, you must have seen at least one of the famous photos of the five towns hovering over the Ligurian Sea. The preserved historical architecture, winding narrow alleyways, and spectacular views make them idyllic and easily captured on camera, even for inept photographers—such as myself at 20 years old. The following photo of Vernazza, one of the towns of Cinque Terre, proves my point.

Vernazza, CInque Terre

I seriously took that photo of Vernazza!

The five towns on the Ligurian coast have become a staple for people visiting Italy for their first time or returning for their eighth time, however, in 2006, while popular, Cinque Terre was much less known. I knew my way to Santa Maria Novella station in Florence and understood the importance of validating my ticket before boarding the train. How is buying a train ticket significant? Why is riding a form of public transportation tens-of-thousands of people use daily such a big deal? I was learning the language and finding the intricate ways to navigate what I chose as my city because of its history. Rome brought Carthaginians to the gates under Hannibal and pilgrims followed Via Francigena connecting Paris to the Vatican, but Florence boasts priceless artwork, preserved castles, and elegant gardens, in addition to a thriving contemporary culture building on the foundations of its past.

Riding the train with no prior knowledge was a test similar to attempting to swim in a pool of pudding and hoping you come out at the other end. The train had pulled into a tunnel. We should have arrived at Monterosso over thirty minutes ago. Had we even gone in the right direction? But then the grating crash of the train on the rails faded. The scent of the Ligurian Sea drifted through the window. And the darkness gave way to light.

Train in Cinque Terre, Italy

My first view the Mediterranean Sea.

The train emerged from the tunnel winding along the edge of the Mediterranean mountains. The slopes plunged into azure waters. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I have known beaches and beautiful coastline, but I was not prepared for the unfettered joy that hit me when I saw the horizon. I could taste the salt in the air. The waves splashed against the rocky outcropping below.

I will always remember the first time I saw the David, how the staggering size floored me and the way the muscles bulged from the marble figure, or how his stoic eyes stared off into the distance. I will never forget reaching the top of Mount Vesuvius and looking down into the pebbled and rocky crater where the wisps of smoke reminded us all of the volcano’s power, the disastrous possibilities visible in the ashen city of Pompeii across the Bay of Naples. As impactful as those big moments were in my life when the train pulled into the station at Monterosso al Mare, I felt like I had conquered the mountain myself as if I had climbed over the boulders with my bare hands, even though I had the comfort and ease of the commuter train. Cinque Terre had become a reward the destination was as fascinating and memorable as the journey.

Train in Cinque Terre, Italy

I leaned my head out the train and smelled victory.

I am fortunate to find inspiration in differences rather than similarities, where I can look to history and find a path to the future. Florence inspired me because of the stories it told; if the preserved walls of the city could talk, they would tell me about forgotten battles, surreptitious backroom deals, secret romances, or the speculative lives of celebrated artists. But my passion for travel started outside of the city when I tested my boundaries in the simplest of ways. That year, Florence became my home. Traveling outside of Florence became an adventure starting with the train ride to Cinque Terre. I went through a literal tunnel and came out the other side awakened to the possibilities of travel, the inextricable feeling of discovery, the thrill of touching the world’s protected and collected heritage. The small moments often come and go unnoticed in our lives but looking back at the fabric of my commitment to traveling, it started in that simple, seemingly banal instant when the fear of reaching for what I wanted disappeared behind the joys of achieving it.