Sad to say we missed out on the Grotto Azzurre (Blue Grotto) in Capri due to the wind. I vote for not getting crashed and thrashed around in the mystical blue cave, although it would have been undoubtedly bellissimo. Accepted a ride with the man we thought was Constanza from our B&B, only to realize once already in the car that some Italians look alike and he was in fact, not Constanza. Gotta learn to look a little closer. He was nice and dropped us right at the door of our restaurant.
We left our B&B in Capri at 6:00 in the morning to begin our journey to the aeroporto to welcome my family to Italy. The nonno (grandfather) of the B&B drove us in a tiny 4WD which essentially came close to vertical as we bumped down the ultra steep hill to the piazza. There we boarded a bus to Marina Grande. Onto the ferry we went to Napoli. Into a taxi we climbed to the Napoli Centrale statzione. Hopped into carriage 10 of il treno and off we went to Roma. Quick switch over in Roma to the Leonadro Express treno and away we went to the aeroporto.
My honest, albeit slightly pathetic attempts at speaking Italian have proven to be quite comical thus far. But I do what I gotta do and I nod my head in a certain direction, and I make big hand gestures while concentrating on the correct syllabic emphasis only to yield a broken sentence with practically butchered pronunciation.
Italia is a strange place to wake up in...we got called beautiful (molto bella) and sexy (provocante), got my booty cupped due times by a cabbie who was helping me with my backpack in a very creative way, and got called a fascista Americana all before 9:00 am. Now, that's a morning.
Jodi and I got to the airport just as the plane bearing my family landed in Rome. We stood in the crowds at the arrival gates with signs in hand reading "Benvenuto Italia!" and their names along with a picture of a sunflower..just in case they did not recognize the stupida americanas jumping up and down. After a long game of where's waldo, we finally spotted them inching through the crowds wearing smiles mixed with a bit of jet lag and pure excitement and anticipation. A train ride later we checked our bags at the Rome train terminal and headed into Rome for the afternoon. We tossed a coin in the Fontana di Trevi with wishes to return to Italy some day and made our way to the ancient Pantheon. As we stopped for lunch so the girls could enjoy their first taste of true Italian food we were greeted with a super happy and partially drunk Aussie fella, who could not seem to get enough of our table. I will take a moment to boast he did say we were all cute but that I was "1% cuter than the others", thereby tagging me with my "1%" nickname for the remainder of the week. We each received our Aussie cheek kisses and bid him goodbye. Strangely enough, that wasn't my only proposal of the day as I landed 2 other marriage proposals from 2 different nationalities that afternoon. We blame the yellow dress. Who knew Europe could make you feel so pretty? (Even if they are just enticing you to eat at their restaurants:) Gelato break and then back to the train station where we sadly discovered Mama had fallen victim to the classic tourist gets pick-pocketed routine. They got her passport and over half her money that she had saved for her trip. I would kick them in the head if I knew who they were. With the police report filed, we boarded our train to Cortona. The train dropped us at Camucia station and we stood at this little deserted train station looking a bit pathetic and lost until the conductor pointed in the right direction and off we went. Mama attempted a heel click in celebration of landing in her dream village and we all held our breath in waiting for a safe landing:) The villa was situated just beyond the stone gates of Cortona, rested on the hill overlooking a beautiful Italian landscape and was perfect and pure Italian without having to try. Perfect time to cheers with limoncello made in Capri with a toast to a magical week under the Tuscan sun. "Tomorrrrooowww..I ride a vespa!! Uhhh...No!"
We began each morning with a croissant (cornetto) and a cappuccino, as it only seemed right. Jenn learned that a croissant can make you oh so happy. By the end of the week we had all learned a fair amount of Italian phrases to help us communicate effectively, however there were still occasions that called for a rousing game of charades. We all gave it our best shot! For instance for Jenn, "yummy" and a good rub on the tummy does not always translate. Hannah struggled to figure out how to say "No, the food was good, but I'm just full!". I started to attempt "toilet paper" via gestures but wisely decided against it and went with "toilette paper?". "Menu" and "check please" (il conto) are thankfully fairly universal gestures
Lessons learned: ristorantes typically close between 2:30-7:30 for their type of "siesta", so if you want food, you eat when the Italians eat! This means early for breakfast, early for lunch, gelato stop mid afternoon, and late dinner! Tackling the language barrier can be relatively easy in some cases, whereas in others like trying to tell a taxi where and when to pick you up and drop you off via telefono can prove more difficult. Mama's Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary was priceless as the week went on. "Prego" can mean "you're welcome", or "how can I help you" or "welcome to.." or if you are Hannah, you can just throw that word out to anyone, anytime, anywhere:) "Hannah did you just say prego?" "Yes. Yes, I did." Or if you are Jenn, it's "Ragu!" Public restrooms are not easy to come by and when you do find them you might need to have a euro handy and sometimes we were forced to make do with the homeless man's bathroom..
Much more to come on our week bouncing through Italy:)
Each day I am learning more and more about the true challenges of travel. Contrary to what most may think, a 4 month trek across the world is not only about a fun-filled, extended vacation. I've coined the term before, but I know no better way to describe my journey than with the words soul vacation. It confuses me how I can be traveling across some of the most beautiful, culture enriched lands and still be homesick and missing the comforts of America in the fall. The emotional highs and lows are extreme and never-ending as I continually learn exactly what I am capable of on my own, removed from those basic constants of home. Every day is a day misplaced from my element and yet I am discovering how to be more at home within myself so that my actual element is always within reach. There are days that I am left feeling completely overwhelmed and like I am in over my head...and then there are days that I believe I can conquer the world with only my love of life and my blue backpack. My observation and adaptation skills are being finely tuned as I make my way through each country, taking notes and absorbing the different cultures. I am taking this time to reflect on my past experiences and I realize now more than ever how each circumstance in my life has been the proverbial stepping stone to lead me to who and where I am today. Without my past joys, struggles and heartaches I would not know what I know today. Which, granted is not much, but it does give me an extra inch of hope for the future and comfort for anything I might face in the present..and with that, I gain a superb sense of peace and accomplishment.
My hope is to return to the states in December with a new sense of confidence. With a new attitude and shifted perspective toward life. I want to see my circumstances through eyes without foggy doubt but with a clarity that comes with acceptance of the idea that life is a series of events meant to teach and strengthen. I don't want to walk away from this journey unchanged but I also don't want to place too much pressure on the experience. I want the changes to come about naturally and unforced.
I've realized there are days I place too much pressure on the experience of the day, wanting to make sure it does not go to waste and that the next thing planned is something even greater. But I also have to step back and realize that part of the experience comes with the simple day to day things as well. The waking up in a foreign country and walking the streets of an unknown city, getting lost in it's twisted roads with no plan at all. It's surprising how difficult it is sometimes to let go and let the beauty of each day sustain you. I think as a traveler it is too easy sometimes to slip into the cliche mindset of "the grass is always greener" and to constantly search for the next best thing. I want to wake up each morning with an appreciation for that specific day and know that, yes, that is where I am meant to be and I will take in every second with a full heart.
Another struggle I am realizing is the dilemma of finding time to do everything I want to do. I know, to be gone for 4 months and to say I have that problem seems a little silly. But what I mean is, I want to take in all of life surrounding me and grown in countless ways. And sometimes that seems overwhelming and a bit daunting. I want to grow from my experiences and what I go out and see and do but I also want to take time to read and write and research and grow in knowledge in worldly and academic matters as well. I want so badly to be well rounded and intelligent with something to offer every person i encounter.
There are things I am learning to adapt to like not having laundry available as often as I would typically like, which means getting very creative with my already small choices in wardrobe. And it's funny the things that begin to excite you, like when the shower is exceptionally clean and accessible in comparison to the last place where the shower flooded the entry way of the hostel and there was a strange smell exuding from the common room that you would just rather not know about. It is always an adventure to figure out how to flush a toilet and the always present bidet never ceases to make me smile. We have found ourselves googling odd things such as "how to use a bidet", "how many feet are in a meter", and "how many American dollars are in a Hungarian forint (HUF)". I now know to not book for more than one night in a row if I haven't see the hostel, especially if they ask you to pay up front, to check out the ratings on more than one hostel booking website, and to plug in the address to google maps beforehand because a "stones throw away from the train station" might in fact mean a good 20 min walk on the opposite side of town, away from everything important and all other life forms.
The plan is to leave Italy tomorrow, on a 15 hour train ride to Budapest. My heart rate quickens when I think of entering a country as foreign as Hungary. My initial thought is to say, no way I am not going there it's too scary. And then I stop and think, but that's where the adventure is, within the unknown. How can I deny myself that opportunity? So, here's to stepping completely out of my comfortable box into a world of differences.