Fast forward to now. I have traveled alone to Italy 4 times out of my 6 times and around Ireland for two weeks. Every trip has taught me a little more about myself and I’ve had new experiences that I will never forget. When you travel alone, you are forced to figure it all out on your own. There is no one else there to help you figure out the train system, the roads when driving, or to trouble shoot anything else. When you’re alone, you are forced to talk more to people you meet along the way because otherwise, you would be talking to yourself (which I’ve done as well). It takes a certain kind of person to do this. You need to be pretty positive, open minded, independent, strong, and willing to roll with whatever comes your way because things WILL go wrong. However, that’s part of the experience.
This trip, I had planned to spend time in the village, meet new people, take day trips and start to take my blog and put it together in a sort of book form. That last one didn’t happen and the second to last was minimal. Why? Because I found once I was there, I just wanted to immerse myself in the daily life of the village. I wanted to have a perfect combination of hiking and activity and relaxation. I spent time with friends and made new ones that I instantly knew would be friends for life. Do you know when you meet people and you feel you’ve known them forever, like you can’t imagine you’ve gone this long without them in your life? I already felt that way with Amy but also feel that way about others I met this time, my “Rio girls”.
You saw how my days were spent. You read about my trips to the butcher and the farmer’s market, the fabulous hikes I did, the “aperitivo’s” with friends and the beautiful photo shoots I was fortunate enough to do.
We live in a culture of faces stuck in phones or iPads whether it’s walking down the street, at home on the couch, or even sitting at a restaurant. I’ve thought about starting to count the number of people each day that I see on their phones, even when with someone else. I can be guilty of it too, though I've been really trying not to. I find myself doing it more when I’m with others who do it, because well, if they’re on their phones, what else am I going to do besides sit there and watch them. Even when alone, I start to do it. It's like it's contagious. In Italy, I would sit and have my coffee and just people watch or read a book or start conversations with someone next to me. Yes, there are people who do that here and I try to, but the majority have their faces buried in screens. For me, It had also became a way to help my anxiety. I “escape” when I feel it by going and looking on Pinterest or at my photos, or looking for inspirational quotes online. I hate it. I realized this trip how much I hate it and how I am going to make a conscious effort to change it. I luckily don’t get anxiety much anymore so it shouldn’t be much of an issue. This summer was obviously rough and I slid back into that pattern of escape but it’s just another thing I got from this trip, the desire to stay more present in such actions and stop them.
As I would sit and have drinks with the Rio girls or a coffee or breakfast with a friend, I noticed that it was very rare for anyone to have their phones out or to look at them at all, unless they were waiting to hear from someone, had to call to make their dinner plans with their husbands, or check on their kids. Looking around, the Italians would be sitting together talking through coffee and meals. No one was on their phones. Imagine, actually talking to people, FACE TO FACE? It was SO refreshing. I’m not saying there are no iPads and phones. Everyone has these things, they just don’t let them consume them. And, it didn’t matter how many times we were together, we never ran out of conversation, which I feel is something we’ve lost here. I spent hours every day with Amy. We keep in touch from home, it’s not like we are catching up after not speaking for months. Yet, for 3 weeks straight, we talked, about ourselves, about our lives, about life in general, about everything, with barely a look at our phones while doing so.
It was also really nice walking down the street every day and getting a “buongiorno” from people standing along the street or from inside their shops as I walked by and from people I didn’t know but recognized. Even when places were busy, everyone had a “ciao” and a smile. Even on the busiest of days with tourists flooding the main streets, there are so many little streets and places out of the way to go for some quiet. Being able to walk down the street to the sea and watch the waves crashing, to the butcher or little mom and pop market for fresh, daily essentials, seeing the fish truck parked along the street in the morning where you can go buy fresh catches, and seeing friends almost daily while doing so was something I loved.
I love and am very close to my family and friends here. I feel I’ve finally reached a place where I have people in my life who support and add to my life, I’ve changed my relationships with others and have removed those who are toxic. I grew to really love my life. You can really learn to appreciate what you have and have a new outlook after a big trauma. Not everyone does, but I was fortunate in the way I have worked through it all and the amazing support I’ve had along the way. This is probably the only thing that will make it difficult to make a decision I plan to make by the winter.
I am not making a decision right now. I have decided I will see how I feel once I’ve been back for a while. I will then travel to Riomaggiore in January to visit and do some photo work and see what it is like there in the quiet season. Then, I will make my final decision. I don’t know how long it will take to get there if I decide to go, but if I make that decision, I will put everything in motion by then (but already be prepared with all I’ll need before that). I truly believe that this could be my destiny and it’s pretty telling that many other people have said the same thing, even not knowing I was considering this. It also really feels that the universe has completely lined this up for me over the last two years.
The other thing this move could allow me to do is visit many other places on my list. It’s pretty easy and inexpensive to travel around Europe and I want to see as many places and experience as many cultures as possible. There is so much more out there than what we know here. I said how Russia changed my outlook on things. I’ve lost that at times, times when I’ve been spoiled. But, I now find myself seeing more often than not just how spoiled and entitled we can be. Travel has helped with that. We are overworked and overstressed here. We waste water while there are people in the world who wake up every day unsure if they will have any clean water to drink (and many die because they don’t). We build huge houses with big fences and close ourselves off to our neighbors (or worse, live in buildings or attached houses and still don’t know our neighbors). In Riomaggiore, houses are small but beautiful inside, people take pride in the presentation of things but the focus is not at all on their "stuff" or how big their house is.
We see constant violent acts like school shootings from mentally ill people able to get guns and we get outraged, but nothing changes. We don't get to the root of problems (this extends to medical and other issues as well). Instead, we point fingers and "treat the symptoms". We’re this “great nation”, the “greatest nation in the world”. But, are we? What gives us the right to claim that? Do we focus on the right things? We have many things that are great, but there are also so many things that are not. I’m not saying I think this is a bad place. It provides many opportunities and has many pros. However, it may just not be the place for me at this time. I want to live in a small village where I feel safe at any hour, where people take a break during the day, maintain constant social connections (not just through technology) and live a different way with different priorities than we do here.
A few people made comments before I left about how maybe I’d meet the love of my life or “fall in love” while I was there. I said that wasn’t the point and that I doubted it would happen. I was going for ME. The truth is, I fell in love with the lifestyle, the people, the beauty, the place itself, and in the process, I learned even more about myself, about what I want and maybe even fell more in love with myself and the person I’ve become. I truly believe you need to do that in order to be happy, to be able to give pure, unconditional love to everyone and everything around you. And that, may be the best gift of all.
Thanks for reading! I know it was long. ;) Next post will be focused on some travel tips and my favorite places in Cinque Terre to eat, stay, shop and play.