A Trip Worth Taking.
It was more a trip of renewed romance, than a vacation. I did not realize it when we started out, or even when we planned it, but that was how it turned out. The trip was designed for two specific reasons; the first; to distract Heather and me from Sophie being in Argentina for three weeks, and the ancillary of celebrating our 20th anniversary. It can be argued that the latter was due to a lack of fore-thought or imagination on my part. We have not traveled without Sophie in 16 years, and the first day of Italy was us talking about missing her, and how she would have liked this pizza or that chapel. With a five hour difference between us and Buenos Aires, we couldn’t just text or call Sophie, but by the end of the first day she had found good WiFi, and managed a Facetime session that put us all at ease. From that point forward, we realized the freedom of travelling without having to entertain, stick to a schedule, or have any discomfort with a second bottle of wine. I fell in love with Heather all over again in the most romantic spot on earth.
We landed at FCO Roma at 7:30 in the morning after 18 hours of travel. Due to past experience we knew to power through the first day without going to bed. So we grabbed a train to Florence, checked our bags at the hotel, and walked the city from end to end. This was our fifth time in Florence together, so we skipped much of the tourist hype and enjoyed small basilicas, hole in the wall local eats and drinks and views from quiet hillsides. Italy tourism has grown substantially over the past few years so the city didn’t quiet down until after 7:00. This is the greatest time to visit all of Florence, and we did. Every meal included Soup to Nuts Italian style. We visited people we have known for years, and also made new friends.
I have a fear of falling, not of being at great heights, but falling from them. My first time in Florence nearly 20 years ago, I tried to climb to the top of the Duomo where the Cupula allows a beautiful view of the city. I had a “body freezing” experience on the plexiglass walkway around the interior dome and never made it to the top. Heather went on without me and described the beauty at the top. I tried three other times since then and never made it. Regardless of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Space Needle, Half Dome, the Needle in Las Vegas and bungee jumping at Lake Tahoe off Squaw Peak in an attempt to slay the irrational fear dragon...the Campanile of the Duomo has been my nemesis for 20 years. It therefore made my bucket list. I’ll now skip the 11 paragraphs it would take to describe the anxiety. The climb, the moment near the top when I was sure I could just take it off the bucket list and focus on an exit strategy that did not include pushing children or women down stairs. I’ll just forward to “I made it” with a mental picture of me that appears more frightened than elated. (with women and children standing around me).
I love to eat. I love everything about food…the taste, the smell, the way I feel before and after a meal. One of the best parts of traveling through Italy is the magnificent food, and it seems to get better every visit. After 463 steps up to the Campanile and 463 steps back down to ground level, we were famished. We found a corner café with adequate cool air and ducked in for a bite. Or 50 bites as it turned out. A cold beer, a bottle of wine, a Pizze Carne, a cornucopia of sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, a pasta carbonara entre and profiteroles were the deserved reward for my earlier accomplishment. Delicious as it all was, this meal set off a chain of events that tested Heather’s strength and resolve. Six hours later as we walked down a small side street, we decided to just order sandwiches and eat in our room. But even an hour after that, I still wasn’t hungry. I had gotten a bit grouchy and just wanted to go to bed. I couldn’t get comfortable. At 2:00 a.m. I sat up in bed in a sweat, and my stomach had swollen like I had eaten a soccer ball. Heather jumped on the internet and starting searching symptoms and nearest hospitals at the same time. She practiced the Italian phrases for calling an ambulance and describing my symptoms as “ill” and “swollen”. (I didn’t remember to look them up later, but I think she actually said “stupid” and “fat”) I told her I was sure it was indigestion, but was actually thinking that my appendix had probably burst. At 53 years old, I didn’t want my first emergency surgery to be in Florence, Italy or really anywhere so I tried my best to convince Heather that I would be alright in an hour or two. I didn’t recover for four more days. Four days of Heather carrying all 120 pounds of our luggage up and down stairs (there are a lot of stairs in Italy). On trains and off trains. Up hills and down hills. I don’t want to distract anymore from the beauty of this trip so I’ll write a post note one day appropriately labeled “Gallbladder” and you will all know how this turned out. The morale to this is that after 20 years of my wife putting up with me, she didn’t focus on what might ruin our trip…she grabbed our bags, loaded me on a train and kept the momentum until I recovered. That’s Dedication.
The Rest of Firenze.
What we skipped this time that everyone should see: Accademia Gallery and the Statue of David, Uffizi and works from Botticelli, Rafael, De Vinci, Michelangelo and 40 other masters I didn’t know existed before my first trip. Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Fiesole, Piti Palace are all worth a visit. What we saw we had not seen before: Piazza San Giovanni (Baptistry), Top of the Duomo, Duomo Museum, Hall of 500 and Dante’s Death Mask, The Old Palace, Boboli Gardens.
I have had my dress shoes made by the same guy in Florence for years. Each time we go, he re-measures my foot, and then makes me a few pairs of shoes. I had not seen him since 2010, and my shoes were showing it, so we spent two hours with him as Heather’s anniversary present to me. This is a highlight of my visit each time we go, as we feel like family when we go to his shop. He brings in snacks, we look at leather and design, and when we are all done we head out to The Grizzly for a pint of Che Bella Guzo (the pretty goose), more Hefeweizen than Italian Pilsner. Two or three weeks later, shoes show up on my doorstep, and often sit on the shelf for years before I choose to mark the sole.
We grabbed a train to Naples, (Heather) drug our 50 lb. bags up and down six flights of steps and we boarded the CircumVesuvium (Rat Train), for an hour long local train ride to Vico Equense. Positioned between Pompeii and Sorrento hanging over the Bay of Naples, we arrived at the villa and found a proverbial Eden. A breakfast spread that shames the Four Seasons every morning came from a Zero Kilometer approach. They grow and make everything they serve, except for what their neighbors grow and make. Cheeses?....the cow next door. Fruits, wine, nuts, juice, cakes, bread…all right from the property. With only 12 rooms we became extended family with Italians, Germans, Australians, Egyptians, Belgians and a “cheeky fellow” from Chelsea that thought the honey was spicy. It is absolute Paradise. A five minute tiny (I can’t think of a word smaller than tiny) car ride from the train station up the narrowest, cliff-hanger of a road, and you have the greatest view in the world. Imagine the volcano Vesuvius to the North, Vico Equense to the South, Ischia to the West and the Gulf all below. This is a destination stay, as the Villa car must take you back down the hill to the Marina, restaurants or train station. But with a little forethought, we took the train to Sorrento three times, then a ferry to Capri and Positano. We love the water, and we mostly love being on the water, so we rented a boat of our own and motored around Capri. We sat in the bowsprit of every ferry, letting the Mediterranean summer breeze clear our minds for hours. We spent two days poolside at the villa, but with only breakfast service, we missed lunch one day. I sat on a lounge chair reading a book, and turned to Heather and mentioned that I was hungry. At that second, an orange from a tree above my head dropped in to my lap, and I peeled it and ate it. It was as though there was a genie in a bottle granting wishes as we spoke the words. Capri and Positano are beautiful, and the food is always wonderful, but the continued growth in tourism is taking its toll on enjoying these locales. I think I would have preferred heading further south to Amalfi to keep that traffic lighter…but live and learn.
Heading Home…through Rome.
On our last day, we took a train from Naples back to Rome. We were supposed to grab a quick train to the airport, where we reserved a room near the terminal to make leaving the next morning less stressful. But when we got to Rome, we realized it didn’t matter what time we arrived at the hotel, and we checked our bags at the train station and took off for four hours in the Eternal City. A public transportation strike made moving around difficult, so we walked about ten miles round trip to see the Spanish Steps, Popolo, Imperial Palace, bit of the Forum, and then long distance views of the Colosseum and St. Peters. It seemed silly at the time, but we really had a great walk, and it was the perfect way to wind down the trip.
There were two take-aways from the trip that had nothing to do with the “where”. The first is that you really can take time away from work, and not come back to ashes. I took no laptop, I never called in. I did text and email a few times…but only because it was what I wanted to do. Lindsie ran my business and I ate an orange that landed in my lap because there wasn’t a computer there. The second is love. After 20 years, I find that I love my wife more every year. Although I know this, I don’t consider it often enough. That beautiful and intelligent girl that during a lapse of judgement said “Yes” to me two decades ago, is still the love of my life.
The Bottom Line: A trip to anywhere with her is a trip worth taking.