What makes one travel experience more memorable than another? More pleasurable? Challenging? Just as three people who grow up together can have entirely unique memories and ideas about what their childhoods were like, the same can be said for solo travel- If I was experiencing this exact trip as the Christy of 2009 or 2005 or 1999, each one would be completely different. Weather, company, locations visited, emotional state, time of year, what happened right before departure, physical health, functionality of one’s camera and/or laptop all play a role in how my days go. I would like to say that I have achieved such a state of consciousness that any external occurrences would have no effect on my mood, or how I view a particular place that I’ve stayed- sure, any of us can say that we control our emotions, in theory. Yes, our intelligence tells us that we can turn a given situation around for the better, but in the moment, sometimes things are just generally crappy.
The point I’m getting at is I don’t want anyone thinking that I go away and don’t experience loneliness, or that each person I encounter is suddenly a lifelong friend, or that my depression goes away when I’m in another country. That simply isn’t true. I am here, living with another family and cleaning up their kitchen and eating meals with them and witnessing their arguments…and the last few days I have been depressed. I know, this is unorthodox– have you ever read a travelogue about a depressed person? Someone who feels a sense of isolation, inexplicable loneliness and blankness, and yet chooses to travel alone anyway? This is not a perpetual emotional state, of course, but the feelings are always there waiting in the wings, eager to creep up on me when I let my guard down, when I’m not keeping myself busy enough, when I don’t have enough contac t with certain loved ones, etc. This trip seems to have been a particularly challenging and introspective one. It’s the first time in a long time that I am actually looking forward to returning to New York, not scrambling around trying to figure out how I can stay longer. But it’s okay! Of course I love traveling, and I appreciate that I strive to plant myself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. For every positive experience in Italy, it seems like there have been at least five negative/stressful ones. I look back on those situations and shake my head, swearing that next time I really will do it better. At least they make moments like arriving at a lovely new host’s home or enjoying a particularly satisfying homecooked meal that much brighter.
If travel is a process that helps you ‘find yourself’, it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind- it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present. Here, in the fleeting moment, you are left to improvise, to come to terms with your raw, true Self. –Rolf Potts
And here’s an amusing picture from Prunecchio to lighten the mood a bit:
You know what? Travel isn’t just about rapture and adventure and new experiences and loneliness and getting sick. It’s mostly learning lessons, over and over again. You learn lessons about yourself, about your own country, about the way different families interact and operate, about the world as a whole, about fellow travelers, society, culture, courtesy, perspective, spending, and did I mention yourself?
I’m coming to realize that I travel in order to get an education. More specifically, I travel solo to get an education. This is all about me; if I don’t get up off that bench and figure out which bus I need to take, I’m not going anywhere. If I can’t communicate to the optometrist/shop owner/ticket seller/conductor, then I may as well just stay home, because otherwise I’m not going to accomplish anything. Being an awful self-critic and perfectionist, I’m constantly wishing I’d done certain things better, or with the savvy I expect myself to have after so many solo trips. Shouldn’t I no longer be so hesitant about approaching someone to see if they can help me? Shouldn’t I remember to validate my train ticket before boarding? Shouldn’t I make my sleep preferences known before spending four nights in an apartment where no one goes to bed before 1 or 2 AM? These examples of the last week are what I like to call my foibles. I can’t beat myself up about them, and I can’t dismiss them, either. All I can tell myself is Remember this, and act wiser next time.
Legendary travel writer Paul Theroux wrote “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect”, which quite sums up the two days right before I came to Dozza. I speak of my most glorious mishap thus far: my illness in the wee hours of last Sunday morning. If you’d like to skip ahead one paragraph down, this is where I discuss my stomach virus that did not even last twenty-four hours. Let me just say that I’m glad I was in a place with a working toilet, because I’m pretty sure I ran from my bed to the bathroom 8 or 9 times between 2 and 9 AM. Everyone has a travel story like this, right? It happened to me last year when I was in Costa Rica, but this episode was decidedly worse. I put off my departure from the city a few hours, sleeping for much of the rest of Sunday and nibbling on banana and crackers. Then, Mother Nature thought she might keep me in Bologna even longer; any train I might have taken that night was canceled due to snow. At that point, I was so done with Bologna that I wanted to scream JUST LET ME OUT OF HERE!! I wanted away from the sickness, away from the sleepless nights, away from all the cigarette smoke and crowds and sub-par graffiti ruining the beauty of the old architecture.
And so, I got on a train headed east first thing the next morning. This brings me to my next point of contention: my packing inabilities. There’s that old cliche, “pack half of what you think you need”, and I honestly thought I did that. Before I re-packed on Long Island, I had two dresses with me, now I had just one. Before I had thigh-high socks and long johns in addition to two pairs of super warm socks and leggings, and I definitely removed at least three pairs of pants from my backpack. Of course, the glaring difference on this particular trip was my laptop bag, filled with several things filed under the “just in case” category.
Here is where I leave you hanging, darling readers. You’ll hear about the farmhouse I’m in and my work here at the farm in the next post– and this time I’m keeping my promise, it will be later today. My new goal is to publish two blog posts a week, at the minimum- let’s hope I stick to it. Happy Sunday all!
“i have often felt called to journey by myself- and i’m not particularly brave, either…so many adventures speak to us when we travel alone. it’s as though the adventure takes the place of a person. stretch your traveling alone muscle. start with tiny trips, or leap into the glorious unknown of a big trip.
where have you always wanted to go?
don’t wait! travel alone…” –SARK
Tonight is my second night in Bologna, and I am here one more day, then I travel to the town of Dozza (an hour east of here) to participate in a work exchange with a local family. As I sit on a bed loaned to me by my host’s roomate, on the third floor of a beautiful old building on one of Bologna’s busiest streets, I am coming to the realization that I have become a country girl. For the majority of the last five years, I have lived in the Hudson River Valley, and though I have loved and appreciated this chosen home, I haven’t fully appreciated the effect it’s had on me until now. There is a sense of bombardment as I walk down the sidewalks in this city, people constantly jostling and trying to walk faster than everyone else. Everything feels cramped and squished together, and my senses are on overload. Can everyone just stop for a minute and look at the person next to you? Can we all just smile at each other for five minutes and see what changes that might incur? I want to say these things, but of course I don’t.
The best part of my day was also the most spontaneous and the most human. An adorable boy, perhaps two years old, was toddling on the pavement, excitedly approaching two pigeons. All of a sudden, the birds took flight, wings flapping. The boy, startled but laughing joyfully with the biggest smile I’ve seen in days, shouted “Non è colpa mia!” (Not my fault!) He was so full of in-the-moment glee that he made everyone around him laugh too, and it occurred to me how little I have laughed since being in these cities.
What I am anticipating come Sunday is some of what I miss about the Hudson Valley: seeing a multitude of stars at night. Listening to the wind blowing through the trees, birdsong, leaves crunching underfoot. Falling asleep at night not being disturbed by the ever-present Vespas or cars racing by, but content in the quiet and darkness of the country. Smelling fresh unpolluted air, being in close contact with farm animals, and going for a walk with grass and soil underfoot rather than concrete.
For now though, I will continue enjoying the pizza, gelato, and perfect homemade pasta 🙂
“Keep things on your trip in perspective, and you’ll be amazed at the perspective you gain on things back home while you’re away.”– Gail Rubin Bereny
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” –George Bernard Shaw