Well, Day Five was a little powerhouse of a day. It actually started the night before, with an important No.
My kids and I had been planning on going to Rome. I’ve been to Rome and I loved it, but the more I thought about going a second time, the less I wanted to. I don’t have much more information to give you than that; I just didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay and cozy in. I wanted a nothing day, even though I’ve had a couple of those in a row. My kids graciously excused me from the trip and this morning, as two left for Rome and two left for Cinque Terre, I felt pangs of something that was NOT regret. It was guilt. And it wasn’t guilt because they needed me, it was guilt because I was staying home to do nothing for no reason. As the house emptied out, though, I began to see all kinds of possibilities for the day. I made a list because I love lists. I tackled a few chores and then worked up ALL my nerve to get myself to the grocery store. Going to the grocery store isn’t hard in my real life, but it’s tricky in my directionally-impaired-and-in-a-new city life. But I really needed to go, because we are almost out of those cool little pods that go in the Nespresso machine! Yikes!
The walk to the store is 1/2 mile. On Tuesday, Josiah and I did it in 10 minutes or so. Today it took me a good 30 minutes because the directions just were NOT clear to me on my GPS. And here’s a travel tip: If you decide early on that you won’t worry about what people think of you when you have to stop mid-step, turn around and go the other way, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
When I got back to my apartment, I felt like such a winner! I had tackled the mean streets of Florence and lived to tell the tale. And I now had coffee stored up for dayzzz. I sat down to write and do some question-answering I’ve been planning to do during sabbatical (more on that in another post.) I opened the big terrace doors in my living room to let in the fresh air, sat down on the cushy couch with my computer, heard the church bells chime one o’clock and immediately…fell asleep. Like VERY asleep. I almost always take naps during the day and they are without fail, six to nine minutes long. I fall asleep and wake up six minutes later, refreshed and happy – it’s like a weird and useless party trick This time, however, I woke with a start when the church bells rang 2. Two o’clock! I had been sleeping for a whole, entire hour. I sat up, trying to reorient my brain to where I was and what was happening, and laid right back down again. Gnawing at the back of my mind was, “You should write a little.” And “You should get out and see the city.” And “You should__________________(fill in the blank with a bunch of to-do’s.)
And then I remembered the words of my super smart boyfriend the night before I left, “Don’t be surprised if you need more ‘nothing’ time than you think. It will take awhile to decompress.” I nodded along in agreement at the time, but I think I was imagining the unspoken end of his sentence to be, “Even if it takes a whole day…” But here I was, on day FIVE, still just wanting to soak in the nothing.
My discovery for the day is the continuation of something I’ve recently realized about myself: I am obsessed with finish lines. I want to move from point A to point B in as direct a route as possible. No squiggly lines.
But this sabbatical is all about not just allowing the squiggly lines, but embracing them. A straight line might be the most efficient way to get there, but a squiggly line is sometimes more valuable and even a little magical. And what is required to value the squiggly line? Death to the preset arrival time. In order to fall in love with the journey, I have to focus less on the finish line. So when I awoke yesterday, I made the conscious decision to die to the “I oughta’s” and come alive to the “I wanna’s.” I sunk into the couch a little longer and let the breeze speak soft to me. I wandered through the streets around my apartment, stopping at a few shops and another beautiful church. I called my best friend who will be coming with her husband to stay with me in a few days (SO excited!) After a long, happy chat, the sun had set and I went in search of something for dinner. My plan had been to go to the tiny panini shop beside my apartment, but it was closed. I walked a little further down a back alley and ran smack dab into…a grocery store! I cannot tell you how this thrilled my heart. No more searching for the one far away! I am so glad I had to find that silly, distant store, but SO glad I don’t have to find it ever again.
Looks like an ordinary alley, but NOPE – it’s where I found my new best friend, the nearby grocery store!
The first rule of Italy is: Always look up in Italy.
The benches at the church I visited today. Again, so inspired by the gathering place of centuries of seekers.
This little shop opened through a mysterious all-white stairway and was so intriguing. However, it had a whole lot of tshirts with the names of American cities and bands on them, which – great. But not what I’m looking for in Florence.
Later that night, Victoria, Stef and Josiah came home from their trip to Rome and we gathered at our favorite restaurant across the street to recap our days’ adventures. While we were toasting our lemoncello, the wonderful Metcalfs arrived back home from their excursion into Cinque Terre. We shared stories and funny moments on trains and frustrating travel mishaps and life. Just so much life. It was a day well-lived and it all started with a strategically placed NO to “I really oughta go to Rome”.
PS: Tomorrow: Lots of treasure hunting and neighborhood discovering and coffee brilliance. And pictures!
I interrupt posting about this epic adventure to thank you, my friends, SO MUCH for being so kind and encouraging. Thank you for cheering. Thank you for reading. Thank you for loving us with such big, expansive love. I adore travel and will always want to see and appreciate beauty in the world, but nothing in my life compares – or even comes close – to the joy I have in the people who make my journey on this spinning globe so fun and funny and kind and weird and wonderful. Now, onto Day Three.
Day Three: The One I’m Mostly Skipping
Okay, so real talk: Day Three was a toughie for me. It was emotional and weird and I didn’t feel well and I’m just sharing that so you know: You can go as far from home as you want, but you still take yourself and all your internal issues with you – so there’s that. The interesting part about hitting emotional snags while spending a month in Italy, is that I feel I shouldn’t. There’s this thing I do when I feel sad or frustrated that I believe is called Invalidating My Emotions by telling myself I don’t get to feel that because I have so much other awesomeness in my life. However, the whole reason I’m spending this extended time away is to dig a little deeper and discover what’s inside of me – so I grabbed some alone time and my journal and poured it all out on the page. I came away with two things I really need to learn and grow in moving forward. I’m not telling you what they are, but I think the whole situation was a net win.
I will say that the bad day was capped by a truly beautiful dinner at this amazing restaurant
to celebrate my birthday and it was just so fun and wonderful. Tori and I split a gigantic steak and I don’t really think you need to know that, but it’s fun to relive. Irene is the bistro at the very hip, very beautiful Hotel Savoy. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
(Not gonna lie: these are google images of the restaurant/hotel because I forgot to take any. )
After dinner, we strolled home slowly, stopping to admire the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) up close. It is just unreal. It’s exquisitely beautiful and it’s dome creates the iconic Florentine skyline you’ll see in a second.
Florence is an amazing city at night. Everything feels magical, almost like a theme park but real (sorry – my American is showing) – and it’s so far felt very safe as well (Hi, mom and boyfriend! I’m safe! I promise!)
Day three was not an easy day, but it was a good, good one.
Day Four: The Day I Found My Pilot Butte
Day four dawned bright and early again because I’m still working through the time changes. I always get up early, but 5:30 and not 3:30. I will be glad when my brain adjusts to this time zone because while I love the mornings of solitude, I’m reeeeeallly dragging by midmorning.
The upside to early moorings is that it’s the only time I’ve been able to work phone dates in with my sweetheart, given the 9-hours between us and the fact that he’s, you know…working. For the past few days, I’ve sat out on my terrace in Italy at the very beginning of my day, talking to Cliff in Portland at the very end of his. True confession: it took a few days to be able to get a phone call in and I was so happy to hear his voice and it sounded so close and so normal that I may have cried a tiny bit. Sappy, I know, but true as true.
Oh, breakfast! I have been loving antipasto, like proscuitto and bread and olives for breakfast rather than the traditional Italian breakfast of pastries or American bacon & eggs. It’s easy and a fun change from my regular life to throw a few pieces of salty meat and crusty bread or focaccia on a plate, brew up an espresso and call it good. This may be a tradition that comes home with me, or perhaps Paleo will prevail.
After breakfast, Tori and Stef invited me to go to SECOND breakfast and who can say no to that? We ran into a small, pretty cafe serving crepes and cappuccino and enjoyed happy food and fun conversation.
Later in the day, while Stef and Tori toured L’Accademia, me and Josiah and the Metcalfs launched out on a long walk to Piazzale Michelangelo. Located on the south bank of the Arno river, this is the highest point in Florence and the view are epic. The walk is short, but steep – and there are about a million steps, but it was so worth it. The views are incredible, the exercise was great, and it was all just really good for my soul.
A couple of lovely churches are at the top as well:
David and Josiah are always exactly this excited to get to church.
There’s something about sitting in a place where others have come for centuries, thinking about the God they loved or the God they didn’t or the God they misunderstood. Centuries of pray-ers and mourners and seekers have whispered out their hearts and dreams and fears on these benches. They have felt the same hopes for their children and fears for their country as those I whispered yesterday to the God I love and the God I hope to understand. I won’t try to tell you that this church felt warm or homey, but it did feel sacred and it stirred my soul again toward a deeper love for our beautiful God and beautiful gospel.
Well, there’s no good way to segue from the spiritual, except to just steamroll through the transition to…stopping at a little cafe for a glass of wine on the way back to the center of the city. Now, I talk a lot about the amazing restaurants we’ve found so far, and this was not one of them. It was not a great find and our server needed a fresh infusion of passion for her job, or maybe she was having a tough day, or maybe she was tired of serving silly Americans. Just know: not all the discoveries are great ones, but they all present excellent photo opportunities.
It was during this mediocre happy hour, that David got a wonderful, brilliant idea: Wouldn’t this be the best night for pizza in front of the TV? We all said yes & amen to that excellent plan and off we went. We have a great restaurant in the alley by our apartment, so Tess and David stopped to get the food, while I photographed from above.
I spy with my little eye: Tess!
And this completes day four. And it was good.
Welcome to the Day Three not-recap. I might post an actual recap later, but here’s the thing: It was sort of a mixed bag of tricks. Lest you think Italy is all glory and no grit, I assure you in advance that Day Three was sort of a toughie for me. Until I write that recap, here’s a bit of what has been going on up inside my head, just in case you’re wondering how I’m processing during my time away. I’ve thrown in some pretty Italy pictures just to keep it interesting.
On sabbatical: 11 days.
Checked work email: zero times.
Wanted to check work email: 40,382 times. (<—approx.)
I’m finding that walking off the map of Bend is much easier than walking off the map of Busy. Busy makes me feel valuable and validated and it gives me something to do with my awkward self. It even gives me something to complain about. Busy fills the brain space with auto-thoughts which all come from the Land of What Has Always Been and therefore keep me from being forced out into the wild frontier of What Is Yet to Be. It’s dangerous to move out from what’s become routine, because beyond robotic movements and default mindsets live the unthought things and the undreamed possibilities. I’ve been alive long enough to know these undiscovered things are beautiful and exciting, but they come with strings attached, like Risk and Effort and Letting Go of Certainty. It’s less sexy, but far safer to keep the machine moving, the whirligigs whirling and the widgets coming off the conveyor belt, even if I don’t remember exactly what those widgets are for anymore.
If that paragraph and all its word-meandering made you feel tired and confused, the bottom line is this: It’s hard not to check my work email. Not because I worry so much about work or that someone will need me, but because I worry about who I am without that piece of my identity, which keeps so many of the other pieces wedged in place. Also? I bore easily and work is an easy diversion. Diversions might not be bad if you have ten minutes to kill in line at Costco, but I suspect they can be epically, game-changing bad when you have thirty days to spend in a foreign country. Because these days – though they feel endless right now – are precious and few and having time set aside to become something I haven’t been before is a brand new thing. For this one handful of minutes, I am living in a city with streets I’ve never walked, a language I don’t speak and a culture I don’t yet know or understand. It’s so beautiful in the guidebooks, but when I’m actually out there in it, I can easily feel spinny and inadequate and unintelligent (*see footnote). And those feelings make me want to reach back for the known and familiar, even though it was just ten days ago that I celebrated leaving behind that very thing.
I know this is an entire blog post about checking email, but it’s stirred some thoughts in my head that are pushing me around a little and challenging me to figure out ways to disconnect from busywork less dramatically but more regularly in my post-Italy life. I am scrawling mind maps on napkins and journal pages, sketching out ways to open up to new ideas and say yes new dreams and the chance to invent some wild new widgets. With one section of my brain temporarily closed for business, perhaps the halls are clear for the new and the true and the beautiful to arise. Wouldn’t that be something?
*This, by the way, is the reason I would encourage people to take sabbatical somewhere other than their home. Not so they feel unintelligent, but so they are forced to use a new part of their brain. It’s proving to be a really big deal for me and I’m so glad I did it.
When last we talked, my scrappy band of weary travelers had just emerged from the cocoon of a weird little hotel in Schiphol Airport and were ready to take on the last leg of the journey. So, the story of Day Two actually begins with our evening flight into Florence which was flawless – except for the fact that it was the exact moment I began having about one thousand second thoughts. I questioned my judgement in choosing a place so far away, in staying so long, in going at all. Swarms and swarms of doubts gnawed at my stomach and my happiness.
I don’t know how you handle the big, internal No’s that want to swamp your yea’s. I guess I don’t know even IF you have problems with pesky No’s like I do, or if maybe you have a fantastic trick that works to dispel them upon contact. For me, the only thing that works is to gut it out and talk myself off the ledge by remembering why I’m saying the Yes that I’m saying and that Yes’s rarely go uncontested and that there will be moments like this, but they do not mean I’ve made a mistake. By the time we landed, I felt better, but I knew everything would not be okay until we were safely lodged in my Florence apartment.
—-> Here’s the part that would be really boring to you about a cab driver and 32 euros and our airbnb hosts being a little late while we stood on a crazy busy street with our hoards of luggage, looking for all the world like The Clampetts Take Italy. I don’t want to bore you with the details but I also don’t want to forget that those two things happened, so now I can move on.
I love my apartment! It’s smack dab in the middle of the most bustling and (in my opinion) beautiful part of the city, Piazza de Signoria. It has soaring ceilings, incredible hardwood floors and huge, heavy doors that creak when you open them. There are old, paned windows that push out wide, letting in the fresh, fall air. I have a little terrace outside the kitchen and living room and my very own Nespresso machine cranking out perfect, morning espressos. This morning I awoke to the sound of church bells and happy chatter from people below. Oh, it’s just joy I tell you. Joy, joy to be living in the heart of this magical city. And I know that Belle danced through the streets of France, but I still feel a little like her here. Like a more wrinkled, more American version of Belle, living in a more Italian version of France. The comparison breaks down a little, but it still feels like it works somehow.
Since we arrived at night, I didn’t have much context for what was in the neighborhood of our house . I was SO excited to go exploring, but I didn’t want to go alone, mostly because my sense of direction is on par with my sense of long division. Everyone else was sleeping off jet lag, but I still snuck into Josiah’s room and asked him if he would go on an adventure with me. He was so tired and I’m not certain he knew what he was agreeing to, but he said yes. Now, he didn’t say yes because he wanted to go, or even to going…he said yes to me. I really adore him.
We raced down the long stone stairways of our apartment (which is the whole second floor of a beautiful old building in the heart of Florence) and then pushed the heavy, black doors out into the Florentine morning. The streets were already filled with people shopping and drinking coffee in quaint cafes and tourists snapping photos of Neptune in the piazza (Michelangelo called the sculpture of Neptune a waste of perfectly good marble, which is really snarky for a renassaince man, right?) We walked along the cobblestone streets, trying to take it all in – trying to comprehend a world where gelato stores are open at 8 a.m. and centuries-old statues dot the landscape. We found a grocery store and bought essentials: pastries, cheese, proscuitto, Nespresso pods and eggs. Josiah used my GPS to navigate our way back to our apartment, because I couldn’t A) understand how to read it and B) was too busy looking at ALL. THE. THINGS! Remember, this was my first glimpse of Florence in the daytime and I now certainly and absolutely believe in love at first sight.
We made it back to our place, cooked some lovely little breakfast sandwiches to eat on the terrace with more espresso while listening to the church bells chime through the courtyard behind our apartment. You know how moments get lodged in your memory and you realize you’ll probably still be talking about them in heaven? Yeah, this was one of those. And it’s funny, because it didn’t involve museums or landmarks or any of the seven wonders of the world – it just involved me, my son and a small journey off our well-marked map.
Later in the day, when Stef and Tori got here after a 40-hour trip (it felt a little like they were crossing the finish line of Amazing Race when we met them in the piazza outside) we went to lunch at a little restaurant across the alley from our apartment called GustaVino. We shared delicious food, a bottle of wine and ended the meal the Italian way: With icy cold shots of lemoncello. Tori and Stef then left us to catch up on badly-neeeded sleep while Josiah, Tess and David and I went to do a gondola ride on the Arno river.
These boats are a relatively new addition to the Arno, and only run through September. It was a cool and different way to see the city, while our tour guide served glasses of prosecco and told us about the history of the things we were seeing. I’m always reminded in these moments that America is still so, so new. It’s like we’ve barely just taken the price tags off our furniture, while Italy is worn and weathered in the best possible way.
After the boat tour, the Metcalfs and I did a little shopping and then shared a meat & cheese board on a terrace overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River. Such an amazing place to sit and visit and remind ourselves that hey! We’re here! With the evening still young, we decided it was time for some real, Italian pasta (all three of us had ordered salads for lunch) so we wandered happily, looking for a choice that seemed right for us. I cannot explain to you how many restaurants, bistros, cafes and bakeries line every street and alley in this city. They are everywhere and it can feel overwhelming – like anything you pick might mean you’re missing what you should have picked. We finally landed at Trattoria Borgo Antico in Piazza San Spirito. Our meal started with a copper tin full of warm bread and a dish of spicy, purple olives. Maybe I haven’t mentioned this: I adore olives. ADORE them. So after those beauties showed up at my table, it wouldn’t have mattered what came after them. But what came after them? House made spaghetti carbonara with truffles. Cooked perfectly al dente, with a rich, buttery sauce, crispy pancetta and dotted with truffles, it was unbelievably delicious. One thing to note about European restaurants: they generally have lovely outside seating, but you’ll likely be near someone who is smoking, and in America we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be around strangers who are permitted to smoke. I’ve come to associate the smell of cigarettes with European vacations so I don’t have a serious aversion to it, but I know plenty people who just can’t enjoy a meal while the smoke wafts over their pizza. I say it’s a small price to pay for the perfect plate of pasta served al fresco, but that’s just me. Bottom line: This isn’t America and it doesn’t need to be.
After pasta, we were winding down. It was a long day with lots of walking and navigating and we were tired and ready for home. This was a good day. A good, good day that I will remember for always. I read a meme this morning that said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And, yes, I think I believe it. I can’t begin to tell you how much money this trip is costing me and I’ll be honest: I’m spending money that I should be saving for my old age. When Steve got sick, so much of my financial picture got hazy and I started quite frantically saving and storing and making plans that seemed solid and secure. I was wise and careful and…fearful. But when I decided to say yes to this adventure, I also decided that the return would be worth it, that moving toward the unknown would actually create a more secure future in ways I won’t even fully know until I get there. So far, every single penny has paid me back in some beautiful way.
Okay, that’s it. I’m going to stop writing about day 2 and start living day 3 (which, if I’m honest, already started with a phone date with my beloved so there’s truly no way this day can be bad! Also – it’s my birthday! Double win!)
If you made it this far, thank you for reading and caring and not wanting to smack me with spaghetti for posting so much. I love you.
I’ve decided I want to write recaps regularly as I move through this month of adventure, but I don’t want to write too fussy, you know? I just want to write and not worry about being a writer or I’ll put off writing and then I’ll forget altogether. So bear with me or skip the posts marked “recap”, K? If I decide to try to be a good writer instead of an efficient one, I’ll let you know.
DAY ONE: Weird Things Abound in This Great Big World of Ours
Day One of my Big Fat Italian Adventure begins in Portland, Oregon at 8:00 a.m. and ends in Schiphol, Amsterdam at 8:00 am. The first leg of this trip involves Tess & David and Josiah. Tori is also coming – but she took a different flight that traverses a whole lot more of the globe than ours. I ran to Starbucks while my kids woke up and got ready, and I ran into this weird little French/Vietnamese bistro in a strip mall and bought a breakfast sandwich there. Whatever you might be imagining right now about the wisdom of merging those two cultures into one sandwiches, you’d be right. It was not pleasant, but for some reason, it felt like the right way to launch a day of globetrotting.
Cliff took us to the airport which was so kind of him and snapped this photo as he drove away and it’s already one of those photos I know will always be dear to me. (Josiah had just jumped through the big revolving door and missed the photo.)
Our flight from Portland to Amsterdam was ten hours and ten hours is a long time to be squished into a seat, hurtling through the air at unnatural rates of speed.
SEE? Josiah came too! The in-flight entertainment selections included a documentary that I had really wanted to see and that would be really great news except I watched a full season of Real Housewives of New York instead. It’s not culturally enriching, but it does make me really happy for my comparatively drama-free life.
We landed in Amsterdam at 11 pm our time and 8 am airport time. Our flight to Florence is only 90 minutes so it would seem that we’re going to make it with our hope and happiness and sanity in tact, except – plot twist! – we have a twelve-hour layover here. And “here” is Schiphol Airport which is almost impossibly hip and cool, but we are TIRED. And CRABBY. And not the good kind of crabby, the “Why did I ever agree to this?” kind of crabby. We wandered the airport in an aimless stupor for about an hour, searching desperately for any horizontal surface on which to rest our crabby heads, but alas, other savvy travelers had beaten us to them. We ended up finding a little hotel in the airport that was equal parts weird and wonderful. We got rooms there, where ‘rooms’ = ‘sleep pods”. Tiny climate-controlled spaces comprised mostly of a bed with excellent linens, cool lighting and a see-through bathroom. We booked our sleep experience for four hours, which was very expensive and very, very worth it.
Upon waking, we visited Starbucks yet again (before we got Euros, so one small coffee + one small tea + international transaction fee on my card = $12 American dollars.) One thing I’ll say about Starbucks: they’ve nailed consistency. The first sip of my coffee felt like home and at that moment, while immersed in the great unknown, a little taste of home was exactly what I needed. We next visited a little Dutch bistro where my kids had dutch babies and I had another weird little sandwich, but this one worked somehow. Now, we’re reading, recapping and waiting for our next and last flight. In fact, this will be my last flight for a month and if I’m honest, I’m feeling…exciety. Some mix of excitement and nerves. Can I do this? How will everything work? Will I love this place as much as I did the first time? So many emotions, plus a fair amount of tiredness – but I do feel ready. Ready to see what’s next, to remember that His voice is clear and real even when my circumstances aren’t. I’m ready.
And as I sit in this airport, surrounded by all kinds of languages and accents and people, I am nearly overcome with the beauty of this big, weird world of ours. It’s breathtaking, really, the way we flow together and apart, moving in and out of common spaces and creaky corners, hoping to catch a glimpse of beauty and life and truth. Because really, it’s those three things. If I have a soul-deep awareness of those three things, then I can lose everything and still have everything. Beauty. Life. Truth. You may want to add love to the list, but I suspect that love IS the list.
So, here I am 5900 miles from all that I know best, but already seeing the ways He came ahead of me to decorate the walls of this world so I’d spot ‘home’ when I saw it. His goodness has gone before me, I know it for sure. He left His fingerprints all over the place.
Next stop, Florence.