Italy was where I traveled the first time I ventured away by myself for a weeks-long trip over 15 years ago.
Italy was where I learned to use my travels as time to think through all the things in my life that my daily routine prevented. I scratched out my thoughts and revelations and ideas and “I wishes” in a battered notebook over quiet dinners or on train rides between the sites I’d always heard about but never visited.
My first trip to Italy was defiant. I had quit a job that I’d grown to hate. I was searching for what was next. And I was bent on making up for lost time from working too much and holding myself back from doing the things I wanted – like travel.
So I charged through the country determined to see everything on the “List”. Guidebook firmly in hand. Snapshots of all the important effigies. If I couldn’t take a picture I would buy a postcard to put in the scrapbook – as if to document I had been there. I had been there. See? Quitting my job was worth it because I WAS HERE.
That scrapbook disappeared years ago. What remained were the insights learned during hours of journaling. Life choices for the next decade sprung from that journey.
I’ve now traveled to Italy cumulatively seven weeks in two separate trips. I’ve seen the monuments of Rome, the canals of Venice, the masterworks of Michelangelo, the black and white checkered Tuscan cathedrals, the ashen ruins of Pompey and Herculeum and the remnants of the Greeks in Paestum and Sicily. I’ve traveled with friends. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve met companions along the way.
And now I’m back to Italy a third time for another five weeks.
It’s fitting to come back now. I’m at another big crossroads in my life. A breast cancer diagnosis at age 44 changed everything I took for granted. Two years of treatment and recovery added significant physical challenges to making my body do what I want it to do.
And now I feel compelled to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do NOW, because I may not do them “someday”. The bucket list is on a timeline. Not because I think the cancer will come back. But because I know that it could. I want no regrets or “should haves” if it does.
For me, going back to Italy a third time has some goals.
First is to re-claim cycling: something I love and has been a struggle since treatment. I have brought my new touring bike, and I plan to do some self-supported bike rides as well as some group rides with friends. Meandering through Italy on a bike is the antithesis of my sightseeing-scheduled, postcard-collecting determined whirlwind 15 years ago. And it is not the same as the super intensive, supported rides across the US and India. This time the bike is merely the vehicle to experience a place – and while there may be some long hard rides, the goal isn’t the mileage or the destination. The goal is to embrace the journey, and let a place embrace me as it only can when you don’t have to be in a hurry.
Practically I hope to master the art of self-supported biking on this trip – which I expect to involve quite a bit of trial and error and probably some foul language and getting lost and weird encounters and wondering why I brought too much stuff yet not what I really needed and ultimately figuring out a whole bunch of mistakes the hard way. Which also makes Italy a good place to learn because it’s hard to get in too much trouble. Theoretically.
But mostly I travel because when I leave my daily environment and routines I find that I more clarity to see. I write because I love to find the stories and images that are buried in the daily encounters with life and the people you meet along the way, if you only slow down enough to pay attention. And it’s in slowing down and telling those stories that the rest of my world falls back into perspective.
And yes, biking in Italy is on the bucket list.