When I flew to Rome this time for a holiday, by my best approximation, it was going to be 2 weeks of bliss: the first spent catching up with my brother's girlfriend, Lani, in Cinque Terre and perhaps beyond, and the rest of the time catching up with my best friend Jen, in Rome.
Of course, the actual experience has been an exercise in the unanticipated. There it goes again, life, running roughshod over all the best laid plans, made in vain, foolishly assuming we hold the reins of this thing.
The morning after I arrived, following a brisk run with Jen (more on that later), I hastily packed the smallest bag of my adventuring life, and hopped on a train bound for Cinque Terre. I should perhaps clarify that I am one of the lightest packers I know. I can pack a month of clothing in my carry on, and have on many occasions. I pride myself on my efficiency at travel. You know what they say..."Pride cometh before the fall." They speak the truth.
I ended up in Cinque Terre (literally, 5 Villages) with no map, no guidebook, no resource save for my iPhone--which worked, much to my surprise-- a camera, and a couple of changes of clothes, and hygiene essentials. Efficient, but not very wise.
The first night was a breeze, sort of. I wandered around in RioMaggiore, the first of the 5 Villages. I easily found an inexpensive hostel, packed with single lady travelers, and had a nice spicy seafood soup, as I was feeling a bit run down. That night, I discovered that this charming hamlet where "there are no cars" was actually one of the loudest places I have ever been in my life.
I tossed and turned for hours in an uncomfortable bed, sensing illness seeping into my bones. My head was filling with mucous, and my throat was raw and angry. Meanwhile, the streets, filled with obnoxious tourists, loud Italians, and dogs apparently being tortured. I did not sleep, and when 5 AM rolled around, the street, after several hours of relative quiet, was filled with the noise of garbage collectors and mopeds. I shut the windows and managed a couple hours of sleep.
Upon waking, My head was swimming in sickness, and my body intensely achy and sore-- most likely from the 45 minute run I'd subjected my unconditioned body to the morning prior. And then began the hiking. And the sweating. I'd forgotten to bring socks, so I went sockless. I hadn't brought a towel, so I dried myself with a long-sleeved shirt. I felt less adult than I have in years.
If lack of preparation and shoddy improvisation is the mark of youth, would someone please bring Grammaw her walker- because I am ready for the luxuries of old age!
Don't misunderstand me, this place was Gorgeous, Beautiful, and Magnificent. But I was feverish and aching. And hiking. Oh, the endless hiking. In village number 4, after asking everyone around, I realized that due to a glut of late-summer European tourism (owing to a long, cold spring), there were zero rooms available for a single lady for the night. I was sick, miserable, blistered, and seemingly stranded. I couldn't reach Lani, and I was running out of options.
I found a kind waitress who offered to let me sleep at her apartment. I found a nap in the shade of a fig tree on a hillside terrace. I met a handsome Italian who led me to the ocean and swam with me. Did I mention that I was hopped up on decongestants? These various mercies were all that kept me going.
AT&T sent me a text message to let me know that I'd used "an unusual amount" of international data. Yeah, like $300 worth! Oops! My phone was retired, after I determined I would take a train to greener pastures--namely a hotel room where I could sleep. I was becoming panicked with exhaustion.
So I took a train to Bologna. And slept like a baby in quiet comfort. Next, Modena, where I attended a Philosophy festival, sampled balsamic vinegar, and visited a botanical garden. Eventually I found my way back to Rome, after the danger of transmitting some horrific illness to Jen's two young children had passed.
Since then, there have been some side trips to Florence, and daily solo excursions to art museums, parks, monuments, restaurants, unusual attractions, and just a general sense of awe and introspection. Jen is a busy busy mother of two, and so I am on my own every day for the entirety of the day. This has been one of the most personally interesting and lonesome trips of my life.
It is difficult for an American to shun structure in lieu of spontaneity, but that has been the route this trip has thrusted upon me. There is no plan. I have no guidebook. Every day is an adventure, and I am having an un-curated experience. I am trying to enjoy every moment, without anxiety or expectation. The challenge is to see things well, to enjoy being, and to be satisfied with things exactly as they are, in this moment. It's harder than you might imagine.
Just know that as I wander through each day here, I am thinking of everyone I love. Every last one. And I am feeling gratitude for living such a wonderful life, being blessed with such good friends, fortunate enough to belong to a loving family. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly to another country and wander. To feel secure enough in themselves and their place in the universe to not mind being lost- a stranger in a strange land…To not recognize this and give it some thought would be criminal. I am in the cradle of Western Civilization, relishing her ruins, and swaddled in a sense of well-being, I give thanks.