Saturday, February 13, 2010

italy, in retrospect.

during the first few days of being in italy i finished a book that i had begun reading 10 times over the last 5 years. i dont know why this time was the time i finally finished it. maybe i was at the right place in my life. maybe i was able to appreciate the meaning more than i ever would have. maybe its because i was spending so much time on airplanes and trains.

regardless, on the road by jack kerouac severely changed the way i looked at friendships, traveling, memories, music and life, basically. (buy it if you don't have it. i linked to amazon).

"they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and i shambled after as i've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn..."

this book is split in to five parts. and when i was in italy, i decided to do the same thing... describe my adventure across a country in five parts:

part 1 - katie, me, milan, venice, cinque terre, pisa & florence.
part 2 - katie, me, fontana liri, family, naples, rome, max, vicky & goodbyes.
part 3 - me, on my own & lots of rain.
part 4 - james, me, sardinia, a rental car & being in love.
part 5 - the last few days, a funny concert, the last few goodbyes & coming home.

here goes part one.

where to begin. katie couldn't find me. we were in the train station. i was pretty much standing underneath her feet. she was a level above me. and for two hours we simply couldn't find each other. (kate, i feel like enough time has gone by that if your family finds out about this story they won't get mad). she was dragging around her luggage and duffle bag, crying and literally screaming "rachellllLLLL?" i was reading and thinking her flight was delayed and drinking this funny orange soda and barely functioning on no sleep and jet lag. finally, "some really nice man" charged her like 10 euros to make a call using his phone card. we found each other with a sigh of relief and started our adventure.

milan was cool. we walked around for the day. we saw some beautiful churches and architecture. we saw fancy shopping centers. we went out to a romantic dinner at this beautiful outdoor resturant. i had the most perfect capresse salad. and for the first time we drank homemade italian wine in italy.

this dinner marked the first of many, many, many amazing conversations. anyone who knows kate and i, knows we are polar opposites. we always have a lot to talk about. to say the least. and by mixing wine, best friends, foreign cities, dinners that last for hours, new thoughts, crazy ideas, honesty, trust, appreciation and complete and utter attention... we were able to speak of the world and the way we thought it worked. through these conversations we both found things in each other and in ourselves that we may not have noticed otherwise.

after we ate, our waiter gave us a yellow rose and we were off. we walked all night. the streets were filled with young people. all so happy to be alive. everyone was somehow communicating even though they spoke different languages.

when we woke up in the morning we decided we were ready for the next city. we packed our bags and set off to venice.

trying to describe the beauty of this city is impossible. we got there around lunch time. we carried our stuff up about 1000 stairs and crossed a bridge directly under the sun and then dragged our stuff down about 1000 more stairs. it was hot. we were sweating and cranky. but it was perfect. we found a hostel and we met franco. !! he showed us our room, cooked us spagetti, gave us a map and sent us on our way.

for some reason, italians do not like to make their lattes cold. at every cafe in every city we asked for an iced latte and in every cafe in every city they thought we were crazy. but we kept asking. and on this afternoon we drank the most perfect iced latte as we sat next to a canal, watching gondolas float by, surrounded by beautiful colors, drenched in amazing smells of freshly baked bread, listening to the magic of the italian language of love and embraced by the warmest summer breeze you could ever imagine.

for the rest of the day we walked. everywhere. we saw it all. the rialto. san marcos square. the masks. the museums. the basilicas. the political propaganda. we got gelato for the first time. we saw the sunset. we we ate dinner next to the grand canal. we went on a gondola ride. we drank another iced latte. we talked for hours. we sat down in front of an opera house and all of a sudden we could hear applause and then... an opera. it was beautiful. that memory is so perfect in my mind. sitting in a square on some old italian looking steps, watching the stars, seeing little kids run home to go to bed, and hearing an opera.

we stayed there until it finished. until we saw people spill out the front doors in fancy dresses and floating on happiness. it was late. but we weren't tired. we had no concept of time. we walked around some more. drank some wine with our feet dangling over the edge of a dock. we let the night get old and we watched it grow into morning. we attempted to find the water bus. we had bought a ticket and hadn't used it yet. we got on the first one we saw and before long, we realized we were going the wrong way. since venice is basically a circle, we figured we would eventually end up at our stop. almost two hours later, after an unintended tour of the island and the most breathtaking sunrise i had ever seen, we got back to our hostel. franco was amused. he thought we were crazy, crazy americans. we were strolling in as he was waking up.

we slept for a few hours, took showers, repacked our bags and decided our short stint in venice couldnt have been more perfect and we were ready to trek across the country sideways and end up in cinque terre.

knowing very little about cinque terre except that we had, had, had to visit it, we basically put our fingers on a computer screen and picked whatever little terre it landed on. when trying to book a hostel, i accidentally called a bed & breakfast. and what a beautiful mistake that was. we got to monorola pretty late. maybe 9:30. we met an adorable couple on the train who were also coming from venice. we chit chatted for a bit, and almost missed our stop.

we got to the bottom of a hill. there is absolutely no one around. my eyes adjust to the darkness and the sight i saw before me was unbelievable. any preconceived notion i had of what italy would look like suddenly appeared. times ten. i could smell salt in the air. i could feel the energy of the world. i could hear water running from the top of the hill, under the road we were standing on, back down to the sea. i was stunned.

we surprisingly found our little b&b. the woman who owned it stayed up late because she knew we were coming. we put our bags down, freshened up and decided we were hungry. we walked out by our patio, up some cobblestone steps and started looking for a restaurant. but that was the problem. we were looking when we needed to be listening and smelling. i heard the sounds of kitchen. pots, pans, sizzles, water bowling, bread being cut. then i smelled it. garlic, butter, tomatoes, pasta, muscles, cheese. we found it. exactly where we were meant to be at that very precise moment.

that dinner was amazing. our waiter kept bringing us course after course. i can still remember how the muscles tasted. i can also remember how every one there was so happy on wine and so in love with the night. i literally felt gravity pulling me into the center of the earth. i didnt want to leave. ever. the waiter and his friend drank with us after they cleaned up. the lights went out, but the fireflies kept everything bright. another night where we forgot what clocks meant. we talked about love. the conversation was a mixture of italian and english... a mixture of understanding the words in a language and the emotion and intention behind them. it was insightful. it was intriguing. it was beautiful.

the next day we went to the beach. got pretty burnt. ate tons of cherries. we didn't have a care in the world. our day was based solely on what it was we wanted to be doing in the moment. we were literally going where ever the wind blew us. we visited 3 or 4 of the 5 villages. we talked to people along the way. we absorbed everything that was before us. the only indication that the day was moving along was the fading sun and the ringing of church bells on every hour.

we had another perfect dinner where we both fell in love a little bit. (oh, those pizza shop owners & crazy ocean eyed boys. stop.) the seafood was the most delicious i have ever tasted. the desserts were undeniably the epitome of tiramisu perfection. we were full. our stomachs, our hearts and our minds.

we went back, crawled out the window, laid on the roof, looked at the stars, listened to the faint sound of the ocean mixed with some drums (we thought), played this song over and over and appreciated life because in this moment it was perfect.

the next day we left for florence. we stopped in pisa on the way. nothing special. we literally hopped on a bus to take us to the leaning tower. took some funny pictures. and hopped back on the bus to return to the train station. the biggest thing that happened was a gypsy woman and her baby almost stole our passports, money, and cellphone. but luckily, by me screaming "HEY" really, really loudly, she took off. and what could have been a terribly tragic incident was lost on the wind.

we got major, major florence advice from miss. birnie. so we knew this city adventure was going to be filled with checklists. and it was quite nice to have some sort of structure because otherwise i think it all would have been a bit overwhelming.

we went sightseeing. we went to the leather markets. we went to duomo square. we went to museums. we spent a bunch of time on ponte vecchio. we bought mannelli bracelets. we ate a delicious lunch over looking the arno. in the late afternoon, when we were almost out of steam, we trekked up to michelangelo square. (this feat can't be appreciated unless you yourself have done the very same thing). we saw the sunset behind the city skyline. i saw "ti amo" written every where i looked. i consequently thought of james every where that i looked. i was so happy to be traveling around italy with my best friend. and i was so anticipating traveling around italy some more with my boyfriend. i remember getting this feeling as i was looking over the rolling tuscan hills and thinking, "it really doesn't get any luckier than this."

that night we got dressed up and went out to a fancy dinner. i don't even think we were hungry, so we just ordered dessert and iced lattes. (confusing order). we walked around, shooed away some invasive fake louis vitton selling creepers, and tried to find a night club for the first time. we figured this was a city of students and there must be a good party somewhere. but nothing inspired us. so we bought a big bottle of red wine, climbed up a fire escape and watched through a window at a family across the way. they were playing card games. and yelling at each other. it was awesome.

the next day boarded the train for rome termini. we had successfully and safely zig-zagged our way across nothern italy, floating in the wind, forgetting about time and leaving behind us a trail of memories and iced lattes.

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