I’ll Do it My Way
Ciao Lovers! This Love Letter comes to you as I glide along the Northern Italian countryside on my way from Florence to Modena. I’m out in the world again, and this time around, I’m doing it my way. I’ll dip in and out of solo travel, backpack 10 cities in 30 days, stay put for 3 months, learn to snowboard, scuba dive, drive a motorcycle, and who knows what else. I’m out here for me, and I’m living this life, my way (which will inevitably include some bumps and bruises).
Before we start in the Italian adventure, let’s acknowledge the fact that I am cheating you out of the last two months. Recall Imma Li-ma Heart Here…, when we established that I was doing neither of us favors by rushing through an account of event that happened months ago, a slave to a perceived timeline, bound to recount every second of the adventure. I won’t do that to you again my Lovers, I care for you (and my literary integrity) too much.
So, what will you miss by the omission of Spain and Bulgaria? Quite a lot I’m afraid… there was street art and new friends, music festivals, missed trains, road trips, not one, but two traffic tickets in Spain (and stupid hot Spanish cops), the French baker (sorry DL), paella dates, horchata, paddle boarding, the Italian paddle board instructor, architecture, markets, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, to Bulgaria for mountains, lakes, bungee jumping, sail boats, mountain biking, more road tripping, Serbia, Belgrade, Kanyini, Mokrin, archery, the Serbian star gazer, Nation House, Romania, Timisora, castles, churches, waterfalls and more. But don’t worry, you can see all the pictures here.
Now, after that horribly lacking forward, let’s dive into the
next chapter fuck it, let’s start a new book on this wonderfully random adventure I call life.
Italy is somewhere I have ALWAYS wanted to go. My patriarchal side of the family hails from the country, and, I mean, do you really need a reason to want to go to Italy? Tired of waiting for someone to take me, invite me, or even just go with me, I decided to take the month between Sofia and Cape Town and just take my damn self. I’m actually checking two bucket list boxes here, as while I will assume that I’ll still prefer having a community around me, solo travel is something I want to be able to say I’ve done. I took short trips sans amigos nearly each month during Earhart, but this would be 4 solid weeks of just me – figuring out trains, busses, sorting my accoms, finding a workspace, seeing sights, eating all the foods and drinking all the wines. Ask my fellow Earharts though, and they’ll tell you I was made for this – side trip planner extraordinaire, BNB game strong, the only part that worries me is my social creatureness crashing head on with my social awkwardness.
A week before leaving Sofia (after the debacle that was cancelling Turkey for work), I booked a ticket into Rome with a general plan to snake my way first north then south. A fellow Remote was living in Siena for a few months, so I was headed to crash with her in the Tuscan Valley for a couple of days, but not before doing when in Rome things with my first Kairos roomie who was in Rome for a night before her homeward departure. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and juiced up our devices before heading out to hit the highlights – the Spanish Steps (pretty), Trevi Fountain (crowded) and the Pantheon (mind-boggling). As we passed through the massive concrete columns into the Pantheon, my jaw crept closer to the floor as I marveled at the architecture, this massive stone structure, constructed nearly 1,900 (that’s one THOUSAND, nine HUNDRED) years ago, still standing, still awe-inspiring.
We wound our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner, stopping at piazzas and churches along the way, surmising what their importance may be, slightly embracing and certainly making fun of our own lack of knowledge for what we were looking at. I’m fully aware I can be a bad tourist when it comes to the education of the history of the cities I’m in, but my brand of tourism is to walk out of my accoms, turn left or right, and see what I can stumble across. Don’t judge me. Also remember that this is life and not vacation for me, so as a Remote recently said in an RY article, “Im living everyday life, just with better scenery”.
After a quick change of clothes and me watching Erica try to whittle her bag down to the acceptable 23kgs she had to fly back to NYC, we headed out to Trastevere for some dinner. After wandering a bit and being turned away for not having a reservation, we stumbled across Dar Sol Olimpio al Drago where we had a great bottle of local red, truffle pasta, Carbonaro, and meatballs that knock mine/my dad’s outta the park. We rounded out the meal with tiramisu for both and a grappa for me before hitting the waterside for a nightcap.
The next morning my bus departure is rather early, and of course I overslept. I’m throwing myself in a cab and praying Rome traffic at 7am isn’t a thing. Thankfully it’s not and I even get to the bus station with enough time to grab a pastry and some postcards. I board the bus and immediately realize that springing for the panoramic seat was a waste of funds as I plan to use this transport time (like most of my in transit hours) to catch up on the lack of sleep that accompanies this lifestyle. Sleep when you can, where you can, however you can. Luckily the oversized Kairos hoodie I’ve buried myself in along with my sunglasses on and headphones in convey to the chatty Kathy next to me that I’m not in the mood, and I catch a good siesta en route.
Katherine has already procured us a sweet whip, so she scoops me up at the bus station and we head into the hills to a winery known for its architectural structure being built into the hillside it sits upon. When I say Tuscan Valley, your heart swoons, doesn’t it? Even if you’ve never been, or seen pictures, somehow you just know in your bones that it will be breathtaking right? Well, obvi, it does not disappoint. Lush, green, rolling hills expand for miles and we stare out over the rows of grapes as sip our flights, Chianti for me and white for Katherine. After lunch we hit the switchbacks for sweeping views, Tuscan towns, and another winery set in a castle. This second winery is a fan favorite, not just for its quaint little courtyard where we sample their offerings, but there’s a chardonnay we both love (even though neither of us are chardonnay fans), a gin that is rosemary heavy and oh so smooth, and a Chianti reserva that blows my mind. Needless to say we left spirit heavy, both in the figurative and literal senses.
We round out our day in San Gimignano, a walled city with narrow stone alleys set atop on my the many Tuscan mountains. We do some exploring, popping in and out of tiny stone doorways catching glimpses of the valleys below before trying to find a spot for dinner. We’re tired and hungry, neither of us really in the mood to pick, so we waffle bit before settling on Osteri Enoteca Quattro Gatti, a fabulous find with a back patio courtyard showcasing a valley sunset view. Its pici (the regional pasta speciality, a thick spaghetti like noodle) cacio e Pepe for me as we chat with couple from Boston there for their anniversary (whose travels mirror my own plans closely). Satiated and saturated (mostly me, mostly with Chianti), we head back to her beyond cute villa and settle in with the previously procured gin and a Maggie Gyllenhaal movie that’s as funny as it is predictable.
The next day, after hearing about Katherine’s decadent spa day at a local mineral bath spa, we decide to make it a day of relaxation. The previous night Katherine had done some research on spas near the small towns we planned to visit, so that morning I picked one and we headed out. Our arrival was promising, and we each booked a massage and a facial with entrance to the thermal pools. The waters are warm and a bright aqua blue, and it only takes a moment to get used to the squishy sediment that settles at the bottom of the pools. We take advantage of having a companion (er, photographer) and snap some new Tinder profile pics before heading to the spa.
The first thing I notice about this spa is the temperature. Its chilly to say the least, and we’ve just come from thermal pools, so we are in wet bathing suits, and having not been given towels to this point, we are relying on thin paper-esque robes (also wet) to keep us “warm” in this environment. After waiting nearly 20 minutes past our facial appointments, I ask the front desk when we are going back (mainly to get under the covers on that heated bed). They had indeed forgotten about us, and asked if we wouldn’t mind getting our facials after our massages. Whatevs, but at this point I’m hungry and would have used the additional time to grab a snack had I know this would be the case. My hangriness is exacerbated when we get to our couples massage room and I see beds with no covers. And this room isn’t any warmer than the last. We giggle at the predicament (because what else can you do), undress and hop on our respective tables, open and exposed to the frigid air with nothing but a paper thong to contain our dignity. As massages go, this one left a lot to be desired. Or maybe I was just too focused on that fact that my nipples could have cut glass to enjoy it. After our massages, we’re hustled into separate rooms for our facials, which are also found wanting. Not to mention I got to undress and lay on another table, freezing my ass off.
I left trying to keep good spirits, and we immediately hit the sauna to thaw out from our “luxurious” spa treatments. In an attempt to right my mind-frame back into a pattern of grateful and positive thinking, I wandered out to the edge of the resort to take in the Tuscan valley views under the (thankfully) warm sun. That and a sandwich had me back smiling, so we rinsed off and hit the road.
Next up was Montepulciano, another small, walled town a top a mountain of switchbacks. Montepulciano is even cuter and quainter than San Gimignano, with an epic sunset view. We hear the sound of opera and piano, so we wander toward the sound, which we find is spilling out of a random window, Though we couldn’t reach the source, across the street was an antique book store, a dusty old shop with 50,000 books dating back to the 1800s. We rifled the shelves and pages, still in hearing distance of the melodic sonata and velvet voice from across the street. I’ll honest, it was a little surreal. Dinner at Ristorante Ai Quattro Venti in front of the Duomo and we head back for another movie night where I once again, pass out mid-film.
After a magnificent couple of days full of soul warming conversations, it was off to Firenze, only this time I didn’t bother with the panoramic upgrade on my bus and just took the $5 seat instead for the hour long ride. I hopped the tram into town and hiked the 20 minutes to my Florentine neighborhood. Another early morning bus meant my apartment wasn’t quite ready yet, but I found Hemingway’s, a quaint little coffee bar just across the street and got a caffe latte while I perused train schedules and booking.com in anticipation of my next move. I was a little nervous about my apartment – it was on the cheaper side for Firenze, and had gotten some bad reviews, but I’m ballin’ on a budget for now and this place was a stones throw from a Coworking space, so I rolled the dice. There was a stone stair case leading up to the 1br apartment, steep and narrow, but at the top I found the cutest simple apartment, complete with little green shutters that opened to the plaza streets below, a chandelier and TWO big ass fluffy towels (this is worth noting – I’ve been in plenty of BNBs that give one threadbare piece of shit that wouldn’t dry crocodile tears). I dropped my bags and took off to explore.
In this case, I took a right out of my apartment and headed across the river where I began to wind myself through the streets, left here, right there, chasing bell towers in the skyline. I had not one, not two, but THREE people ask me if I knew where the Duomo was.. which I suppose means it looks like I knew what I was doing, even though the only difference between them and I was that I had no specific destination in mind. I did happen to stumble upon the Duomo though, and my goodness, what a sight to behold! I caught a glimpse of it while walking parallel a block away, redirected my course and exited the alley to see the glory of the structure. Little did I know this wonderment and architectural would continue for several “blocks” revealing a dome, a tower a cathedral front, the beauty just never ended. I’m pretty sure I circled it twice, mesmerized by the enormity of it, the detail in the facade, the sheer SIZE of it. I’d give you some history…. but you know I don’t know any.
It was getting close to la hora de trabajo (I realize that’s Spanish, but I keep mixing them up on the streets here, so its only fair I do the same with you), so I zigzagged back to my area to scope out the workspace to prevent finding myself in a subpar, 2up 1down situation. The thing that strikes me about Florence is that in between the historic piazzas, the classic cathedrals, the streets are dotted with Gucci, Fendi, Salvatore Ferrigamo, and yes, even an Apple store. I can shake my head at the juxtaposition, but it doesn’t stop me from dropping into the Fruit to (FINALLY) get an iPencil. Handwritten notes incoming. After my obligatory $100+ drop on tech, I verify that the workspace is indeed fitting (and fancy AF to boot), so I grab my laptop and get to the grind for the day alongside a fellow Remote and staffer that’s living here for the month.
After a day of back to back calls (managed even with a 7pm kick out from the workspace) and an hour long CPE on sales tax (thanks Wayfair), my aforementioned counter part Brad invites me to his fav spot for some dinner. Why am I entrusting this man with my nourishment? Well, he lived here for 3 years, and it shows when we round almost every corner to a familiar face and enthusiastic hello. Of course dinner is on point, and we finish the night with Negronis and chats about Remote life. I use my walk home as an opportunity to catch up with my favorite yogi Taryn before dropping like a rock into bed.
The next day my go go go style (and the negronis) seem to have caught up with me, so I work from my adorable apartment while ordering delivery McDonalds to curb the hangover. I’m a bit concerned, as we didn’t drink that much (I mean, I have certainly drank more on occasion), but I listen to my body and take it easy for the day. I pop out for a bit to Hemingway’s, look into a trip to Mauritius, and get back to the grind until after midnight. Luckily my AM train isn’t until nearly 11, so I can sleep in a bit before shlepping myself to the train station that’s 20 minutes away. All my bags in tow comes in at about 15 kgs, which isn’t unmanageable, but I’m starting to regret some of my packing decisions. Sadly I packed all my favorites for the month, so nothing will be sacrificed, and I will suck it up. We cruise to Bologna where I switch lines (btduz, that station is MASSIVE) before rolling into Modena, a renowned food town in the hills of Reggio and home to the best restaurant in the world, Massimo Bottura’s (of Chef’s Table) fame Osteria Francescana. This is where things go sideways a bit.
First, I don’t even want to talk about the fact that I was a sweaty mess with my greasy hair piled on top of my head when an adorably cute boy plopped down next to me on the train. Italian meet-cute properly sabotaged by my inability to make myself presentable during travel, I let him off the train ahead of me and still manage to fluster with my bags (great, 35 years and I still haven’t figured out how to behave like a normal human). In my state of frustration, I have failed to properly seal my water bottle… which proceeds to empty itself into my bag. Guess who points this out to me? Kill me now
I recover from Watergate to find my way to the bus that takes me close to my hotel. Clearly defeated from my previous display, I’m not paying attention and fail to press the button for my stop request and end up two stops too far from my hotel, an extra 20 minute walk. I’ve confused my check in time and can’t get a room for another 2 hours. There’s no WiFi in the lobby. At this point, I take a temporary time out to walk into town and walk off these minor inconveniences.
Modena is a gorgeous little town (are there any towns in Italy that aren’t a 1000 on the WOW scale?) lined with pastel colored buildings and the required cathedrals and bell towers. After dropping into Osteria Francescana and dropping my best southern sickly sweet request (I had fixed my hair) to be put on the wait list, I took my usual zig zag route to my lunch destination, stumbling upon churches and plazas and well, you get the picture by now – if not, they’re posted below. I grab lunch a da Danali, order the tortellini suggested by the only English speaking waiter (I’m trying my Italian, but I’m not even close) with a glass of Lambrusco – very Modena. Post lunch, I wander back in a different zig zag pattern on my way to work.
Here comes the second set of challenges for the day. I’m elated at the prospect of getting to my room and stripping out of my now sweat soaked clothes. For September, its still quite warm during the day here in Northern Italy. I specifically (and not randomly) booked this hotel for the AC, but a sign in the elevator had alerted me to the fact that the AC was not available. Ugh, but not the end of the world. I get to my room and empty the aforementioned soaked bag and hang everything to dry while I set up for work. The WiFi is, well, hotel WiFi, and this is why I have Project Fi, so I hotspot my phone and go to plug my converter in because it drains the battery on both my phone and computer. POP. SNAP. Sparks fly, and the room fills with that acrid burnt electrical smell. Great. Now I have to call the front desk. Only I can’t figure out how. The instructions on the phone are clearly outdated. Fuck, now I have to put on pants. Maintenance checks out the outlets in my room and in the only words (gestures) that I understand, move me to a new room. Good news: this room has a balcony. Bad news: my converter is fried. Good thing I have two. Thankfully the excitement for the day seems to be over, so I settle for the grind before taking myself to dinner where I once again eat whatever the waitress recommends, although this time no one speaks English, so I have no idea what I ate. Pumpkin tortellini, I think… and something that if I understand her gesture correctly is pork calves.. do pigs have calves? Who cares.. They are playing Moon River and I have Lambrusco in front of me.
The next day I take myself out for another Modena stroll, and after my breakfast plans are thwarted by a closed shop, I park at a nearby coffee shop to catch up on some writing and do some work. Im transferring myself from coffee shop to lunch before my train to Venice when…
My dress is suddenly soaked as the ENTIRE CONTENTS of my water bottle have emptied into my computer bag… this time with all of my electronics in it. I was literally on the sidewalk in Modena, my dress saturated, with the entire contents of my computer bag splayed out on the ground screaming “fuck fuck fuck!” when a super sweet pharmacist came out and gave me napkins and a bag to put my stuff back in. By the time I reach a table where I can assess the damage, my iPad refuses to acknowledge the power button usage, and my laptop is just flashing a big circle with a line through it at me. My stomach sinks as I realize that I have reduced myself to my phone for tech, and the closest Apple Store is a 3 hour train ride away. With no other options, I pack away the useless hunks of junk and head to the hotel to grab my bags and catch my train.
I arrive in Venice, immediately drop my bags and head back off the island to the Apple store, a solid 45 minutes of public transit away. Upon my arrival I do indeed get the stomach gnarling news that my tech is in fact deceased, and I’m so upset I’m nearly in tears, which earned me 10% off my replacement laptop from the Apple employee that felt bad for me. New laptop in hand (and now iPad-less, glad I bought that iPencil), its closing time and there are no cabs in sight, Uber is not a thing, and there is only one bus left to the train station, but the kiosk to buy tickets is closed, so after nearly breaking down again, the bus driver is sweet enough to let me ride fare free. The universe is throwing me curves, and I may not be knocking them outta the park, but I’m at least fouling them off and avoiding a strike out.
After a sketchy walk to the train station and getting back onto the island, its all I have left in me to boot and set up my new laptop (with a European keyboard, which has taken some gettin used to), answer pressing Slack messages and emails, and turn in my expense report for the Euros I just dropped on the new work MacBook Air.
7 days in Italy and this is what I have to report. The highs have been high and the lows have been manageable, and there are three weeks left on this solo adventure. Stay tuned Lovers. Its gonna be my way, and its gonna be good.