The end of May always makes me think of Italy. The first time I went was in early May (I’ve been three times… I’ll try to keep the “obnoxious” down a bit.) I was 23, had never flown, and was totally on my own. I had just finished my undergraduate degree and had planned my trip for nearly a year, saving and scouting possible hostels and restaurants.
I bought a travel journal, a nifty little journal that I still have and use when I go anywhere. I got it at Barnes & Noble, and it was a great trip-planning tool. It wasn’t one of those that simply looks nice and has blank pages inside. No, this one had handy dandy tips from fellow travelers. It was slim with a band around it to hold receipts, passports, tickets, and it had quotes and spaces to write what I wanted out of this trip, why I wanted to go and to where. It also had plenty of practical details. And, lo and behold, in the back, it had books geared toward different areas of the world. Much as Savidge Reads likes to read books about or set in or by an author from the part of the world to where he travels, so do many people. I was planning on a short jaunt to Venice – I wasn’t planning on liking it as it seemed to me cliche- and the journal suggested The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (I‘ll link to A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook if you want a thorough review). This book is about a couple vacationing in Venice, meeting another couple, and… let’s just put it this way, things go terribly, terribly wrong. I was horrified. I was petrified.
I proceeded to read everything I could about Venice before leaving, and each resource advised not to arrive after dark. When did I arrive? After dark. Alone, and for the first time on that entire trip, I was scared. I’ll never forget trekking up and down bridges, across narrow passageways, thinking I would never get out alive, peering down dark alleys and seeing lone, hulking figures. Finally, I saw the warm glow of an open hotel lobby and stepped inside. A young man, probably younger than I am now, took one look at me and asked what was wrong. To my utter humiliation, I began crying – the kind of hiccuping cry no one outside of yourself should ever hear – and he was so kind. He brought me water, got someone to watch the front desk, and walked me to my hotel, speaking soothingly in broken English and Italian the entire way.
I ended up loving Venice. The sound of the water lapping against the generations-old stone bridges and walks. The ever-narrowing passageways sometimes leading to nowhere. The flowers growing unbelievably out of cracks of stone and hanging from people’s balconies. The dogs scurrying around outside the open markets that dot the small town. Venice is surreal in so many ways, as is much of Italy. Since that trip, I’ve been back twice – both times with great friends. Although I loved those trips as well and will always remember them, that first exploration will remain with me always. In May, I break out my linen pants, which I wore almost daily in Italy (Italy just seems to call for linen), and dream of the grapefruit-sized lemons of Positano, of the view from a small monastery window looking down in the hills of Tuscany below Cortona, of small-town Italian festival, of an afternoon spent eating gelato and people watching, of walking through lush Italian gardens, and drinking unbelievably-good red wine or Prosecco.
Before I left the first time, people told me traveling abroad would be a life-changing experience. I hate cliches and fought against it, but Italy made me a new person. It made me appreciate the small joys and daily pleasures of life, so today I hope you too find something small in which to take pleasure. As for me, I may be found sitting on the front porch reading a book and just maybe, drinking a glass of Prosecco.