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:
Travel is the state of being homeless; we should welcome the opportunity it gives us to live nowhere. –Barbara Sjoholm
We now find our heroine sitting in an old farmhouse in northwestern Tuscany, complete with vineyard, swimming pool, five children, scrumptious homemade food, and a mountain view that is nothing short of stunning. This little village is so small and remote, you won’t even find it on a map, and the chance of running into tourists is about zero.
A few days ago, I recalled a moment from last winter, when I was in Costa Rica. We had just arrived at Rancho Margot, a sustainable, education and adventure-based ranch, and as I took in the gorgeous jungle scenery for the first time, I turned to Elizabeth and said Thank you for bringing me here! And here, now, I repeated these words to myself, while mesmerized by the snowy peaks surrounding the house, while enjoying meal after wonderful meal, and while hearing this lovely Irish family describe their travels and inspiring experiences. Such stories! I have sat in rapture on more than one occasion after dinner, sipping wine and getting ideas for the next time I travel.
It’s been nine days so far, and there have been so many potential posts, things I’m constantly saying I need to blog about this!, and of course the Internet connection comes and goes. So now I find myself with the dilemma of too many things to share- all about the food, for example? The best pizza ever, topped with eggplant and garlic? The amazing over-satisfying lunch we had two days ago in the village of Castiglione, waited on by the chef himself, the eight of us barely able to squeeze in to the dining room? At home: soups and pastas and Irish porridge and only the best local wine?
Or perhaps I should dedicate a whole post to the rambunctious party we attended last Sunday, the food and wine seemingly in endless supply, the dancing bordering on maniacal, the guests all hilarious and welcoming. Then there’s the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across Spain that both Colm and Adi (husband and wife hosts) have done, both alone. They swear that this walk is nothing short of life changing, and I’m listening wondering when and how soon I can do it myself. We have been to a ski resort, played in lots of dirt, competed against each other in Scrabble, and gone on many a hilly hike either up or down to the nearest villages.
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. —Bill Bryson
I will ponder on all these things, finish my hot chocolate, and then get back to putting compost down on the olive trees. Then I might actually get into specifics and give you guys more than just a photo-filled teaser post. Ah, but for your loyalty, I shall bestow upon you one more picture! Did I happen to mention that while I was digging in the garden two days ago, I unexpectedly came across some old animal bones? Not just any bones, either- some teeth that probably belonged to a wolf. Oh so exciting! I felt like I was back in Germany in 2005, excavating 12th century artifacts. This is one of those times when it’s quite easy to do something new or different every day, and I’m liking it.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. –Alan Watts
Travel intensifies the elements of a person’s nature- both fine and toxic- making them stand out more starkly than they ever do in the safe, regulated environment of home. When I travel alone, I can give the whole mixed bag full rein, without monitoring myself, making compromises, negotiating, or even talking. I am somehow better able to tap my thoughts and feelings. It is as if the stage clears, the background music fades, and I come forward. –Susan Spano
Okay guys, so listen. I’m not here to tell you all about the glamour of travel and how it’s blissful every minute. I’m also not saying it’s easy, or “better” than staying at home. In fact, solo traveling- and let’s insert “budget” into that description as well- is pretty much the opposite of all that. Sure, it’s fun and adventurous and inspiring and mind-expanding, but it’s also one of the most frustrating endeavors. It’s feeling as though no is on your side; it’s filled with body aches and ailing feet and not enough sleep and paying over a dollar just to use a bathroom. Just as when I first arrived in Bologna, my first two days in Florence proved to be a series of moments that I can’t wait to look back on and laugh over.
The SNAFUs began with my train ride from Bologna to here. I had intended to take the cheaper, 10 euro train that also took a moreslow, scenic route down into Tucany. Well, I somehow forgot about that whole notion and when I was standing at the ticket machine I booked the next available train. “Oh, this is one of the nice Eurostars!” I said to myself as I boarded, and to my dismay, a few minutes after we left the station we descended underground. Why would you want to sit on a nice comfortable train and stare out at zooming blackness as opposed to gorgeous countryside?? I lamented this in my journal, bemoaning that faster is not at all better, and at least contended that it would be nice to arrive in Florence while tt was still light out.
My hostel, booked for only the first night in the city, was colorful and expansive as promised, its walls filled with drawings, scribbling and notes left from other backpackers (in addition to beautiful murals and frescoes) I happily took part in my free dinner of a personal thin crust pizza with peppers and olives ( having craved pizza for nearly two weeks, I eschewed the other two choices of pasta or a salad) and then headed toward the historical center of town to explore. I’m pretty sure I knew I wanted a gelato or some such dessert, and I certainly hadn’t paid anything over 3 euros on my previous gelaterie visits. But of course, I found myself wandering through an overcrowded, tourist-filled area near the Duomo and so everything was more expensive. Also, I spotted and was immediately drawn to a little shop that not only sold gelato, but waffles, too. Ahh! The image of the cold, creamy milky gelato sitting atop the crispy, freshly made waffle was enough to block everything else from my mind. Plus they had my favorite flavor, strachiatella, first discovered on my first trip to Italy on a high school trip and not enjoyed since! I was sold. Then, to my surprise, The woman behind the counter even topped the gelato with *another* waffle on top, making a sweet, delightful dessert sandwich! I’m sure my eyes were at their widest and the tiniest bit of drool was collecting at the corner of my mouth. “10 euros”, she pronounced, and I had a second of hesitation but of course there my treat was, hypnotizing me and any rationale I’d previously possessed. I handed over my money and quickly found somewhere to sit down in order to properly enjoy the extravagance I’d bestowed upon myself. I settled on some steps opposite Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower), and was so enraptured that I didn’t even think to take a picture until I was down to one waffle! I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads in disappointment and surprise, me, who doesn’t even let other people eat until I’ve photographed their plates! But it was soooooo delicious, and the gelato was melting along the sides and I had to lick it up, and here you go, that one (terribly lit) picture I was able to get:
So my friends, this is the beauty of traveling alone and being anonymous. You can make these ridiculous mistakes and laugh, and there’s no one there to make you feel even worse about it. You can shrug off whatever it is even faster. You can sit down in a historic piazza and make a mess of yourself as you attempt to eat your dessert with some amount of grace (and then give up). I smiled as I looked down on the cobblestone when I was done and saw all the white drops that I had left behind from my dripping gelato, and felt my stomach gurgling in satisfaction. Often I’ve said to myself, It doesn’t matter, I’m not going to care what anyone here thinks of me, and it’s a mantra that has worked pretty well so far. It worked when I broke my glasses in Bologna and I was walking around like a pirate, able to see clearly out of only one eye, and it’s working quite well here in Florence where I am allowing myself to spend a couple of hours in one cafe, taking advantage of their wifi when I am feeling lonely and disconnected from those I love. (That being said, I think my next post might be about the re-appreciation of home that travel inevitably brings).
One last point: I’ve noticed that I have said in multiple posts “Travel is this, it’s not this/difficulties/challenges/etc”. I realize this may be getting a bit repetitive, and I’m going to try and make the effort to highlight the positive from now on. This seems an especially vital task when my mood is low for more than two days, and my camera breaks and everything seems to be going wrong. This is a beautiful city– I love looking up and seeing all the arches and frescoes and statues everywhere, the detail in the architecture that shows what the Renaissance was all about. I love how it seems the whole city is an outdoor museum, and everywhere you look there’s some other palazzo or church or public work of art to appreciate. I love the panoramic view from the Piazzale Michelangelo, all the delicious pastries I’ve eaten for breakfast, and the nice loft I’ve been sleeping in. And not fifteen minutes ago, in the cafe where I have been a regular for the past four days, the barista wrote Good Morning in chocolate syrup on top of my cappuccino. This touched me so much I almost started to cry. Here and now, I open myself up to more of those unexpected moments.
We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can. Everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. –Rainer Maria Rilke
Or, Things I’m Looking Forward to About Leaving the Farm on Sunday, Even Though I Have Enjoyed My Time Here
- I will no longer have to listen to the sound of Sky News in Italian on the television all the time. My host turns the TV on as soon as he wakes up in the morning and as soon as he’s done with work in the afternoon. I will enjoy not being around a TV once I am in Florence
- Food! There are things I’ m missing that I’m going to make sure I get in Florence, pastries and gelato definitely topping the list. Also, FRESH VEGETABLES. I’ve barely had any since being in Dozza. I’m also eager to just roam a market again and buy food just for me.
- I’ve been researching interesting places to go in the city and have found some good ones on Atlas Obscura: an old apothecary/perfumery, an anatomical wax museum, outdoor sculptures and ancient cemeteries and much more.
- Being anonymous again! This is one of the most appealing- and paradoxically, one of the most isolating- aspects of solo travel. It’s been nice living with this family, but I’m ready to be around lots of strangers again
- Just changing locations again! Wheee!
- It’s Florence! There’s art and beauty everywhere!
Welcome, o life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of an experience. –James Joyce
Things I Will Miss About Dozza
- Charlotte! Four years old, half English and half Italian, precocious and intelligent and adorable and hilarious
- Having my own bedroom and bathroom with my very own shower! I might have taken advantage of these amenities a tad too much, but oh how one’s privacy is cherished when on the road!
- Nina, the puppy who is always excited to see you
- The landscape- the hills, the tiny village with the bell tower perched above us, the sunlight, the fresh smells
- All that free Nutella
- Victoria’s kindness and hospitality, Davide’s helpfulness and patience, the company and comraderie of working with Jo and Ken
I thought I’d put in a little note here about how nice it is to get such great feedback from all of you. I feel so solitary, over here alone and taking all these pictures and writing to share the journey with everyone, and I’m receiving such nice words and encouragement from friends and family members in response. Thank you for reading this and for all the support!
On to the next chapter…
One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one’s own and I suppose, that is the difference between travel and tourism. –Freya Stark
I am excited.
The sun is shining in a bright blue sky today, my stomach is filled with the delicious piadini you see above (flatbread filled with, in this case, warm brie and a bit of chili, typically with tomato and mozzarella), I have a new freelance photography gig on the horizon, and…oh yes! for the past hour + I have been researching tons of new great websites to add to my list of links on the side of the page. In fact, I’ve spent more time doing that than I have updating my photos or thinking what I’m going to write about.
So, I thought I’d go with that particular vein of excitement and talk about how I’m attempting to “do my part”. In the past few months I have had a greater desire to combine my love of travel and lack of a permanent home with my desire to live a more sustainable life. When I was in Germany in 2005, I was intrigued to see that the plastic bags in supermarkets cost customers an additional 5 cents, and the people that I was living with generally used cardboard boxes to carry their purchases. This was before I really became significantly aware about waste reduction and other relevant environmental issues. I then lived and worked at the Omega Institute for the first time, where I learned about the value of sustainability, one of Omega’s core values.
From Dictionary.com, the definition of sustainable: (of economic development, energy sources, etc) capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage
International travel in and of itself is not sustainable at all, considering how much energy airliners consume, but there are ways that I can help to make my trips less impactful on the environment. I have had my Klean Kanteen water bottle for three years, and I take it with me everywhere, happy to have long ago given up buying plastic bottles (and now they have a bottle that doesn’t even use plastic in the lid! yay!). For those of you who are now buying water at the airports once you go through security, just bring along your own empty reusable bottle and fill it up from the water fountains once you get into your terminal. I’ve also asked food service workers if they could fill up my bottle with tap water, and have never been refused.
Pictured above with my bottle is my favorite newly acquired travel item: my bamboo utensils from ToGo Ware. The set includes a fork, knife, spoon and a pair of chopsticks- and best of all, they come in a handy pouch made from recycled PET plastic! I love it! Thanks to my sister Sue for this gift right before I left on my trip. Now I have said for the first to flight attendants, “I don’t need these utensils, can you please take them back?” Think of how many plastic forks and knives are given out at all the take-out establishments all over the world; the number of plastic bottles is far higher. Wouldn’t it be incredible if even a quarter of those were replaced by people bringing their own?
In addition, I brought my own trail mix (bought in bulk) with me on the plane, and it lasted for over a week after I arrived in Italy, saving me the cost in money and waste of buying prepackaged snacks. I carry my own laundry detergent with me, Seventh Generation powder, in a sealed plastic bag (I reuse all my plastic bags), as well as a canvas bag so I can refuse paper and plastic when I am buying something.
I’ve just discovered the wonderful blog My Plastic-Free Life, and here is an article that talks in depth about these tips and more, with additional ideas and suggestions in the comments section. (This was the website that cued the “I’m excited!” feeling)
Water conservation is another area of sustainability that I’m constantly (sometimes neurotically) thinking about. Often I turn off the water in the shower when I am not rinsing- this is especially good to remember when staying in other people’s homes and the level of consciousness is even higher. My fellow Help-Xers have just turned my world upside down– they don’t rinse off the dishes when washing in the sink. Scrub with hot soapy water….and then place on the drainboard! That’s it! That makes a huge difference with the amount of water used. I thought it was completely strange- and still am trying to wrap my head around it, really- but you wipe them off with a clean dishtowel and everything’s perfectly fine. Not even a soapy residue or taste left on a fork, bowl, or glass.
All of this green stuff is something I’m really interested in, and I’m constantly trying to do more, to see how many more pre-conceived notions I can let go of and habits I can break in favor of environmentally-friendly ones. Here’s hoping that some of you have learned something new by reading this, and maybe will even make some changes in your life (and travels!).
I’ll leave you with some pictures of animal friends here on the farm I’ve been at for just over a week:
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. –Anais Nin
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
Ack! It pains me to do this, but I am writing the shortest post ever due to lack of discipline. Can’t someone turn off the rest of the Internet while I do blog stuff?
Today, you get one picture, with the promise of much more after I finish working tomorrow.
Dolci Sogni/Sweet Dreams!