All great journeys start with a single step
I had never been much one for travel, in fact for a long time I was quite anti-travel “Spend a whole lot of money and only have your photos and memories left to show for it.” was my oft-repeated quote. After taking the first major trip of my adult life to Italy in 2013 it turns out I was absolutely right and so wrong.
Those memories and experiences were far more precious to me than any amount of money and filled me with a sense of longing I never had for any person, place or thing before.
I had always pushed aside notions of the quintessential New Zealander Overseas Experience, I think much of it might have been based on the typical approach of blitzkrieging though europe on a Kontiki tour. Getting drunk night after night with your fellow travelers and crammed into a bus from one city to the next like some sort of FightClub blackout never appealed to me. Sadly I would never know what it would be like to be a Rolling Stones roadie.
I stubbornly wanted to do it on my own terms.
I would also avoid following a regimented schedule ticking off landmarks like a shopping list. If I had stuck to the shopping list approach I would never have walked the streets of Carrara, literally paved in marble, had the best pesto and tomatoes on toast ever or seen Cinque Terre from the sea, or spent the day profoundly hung over in the Boboli gardens of Florence.
I settled on Italy for its history, architecture awesome food and having played the hell out of the Assassins Creed series of games. Before you knock it, it’s no less personally relevant than all the Da Vinci Coders running tours through Europe based on Dan Brown’s novels. I actually experienced de ja vu throughout Rome, Florence and Venice, finding parts of the cities where the games having been faithfully recreated from street maps of the 1700s captured so completely, having lived vicariously through virtual tourism prior.
I wanted a sense of the place, that feeling you get when you have a tangible sense of familiarity so real you can taste it.
My manifesto was as follows.
Not post my trip on Facebook and live in the moment (failed within moments of realizing the plane had wifi, next time damn you.)
As much as possible avoid staying in hotels. I rented apartments through AirBnb and lived in the areas of the cities where I wanted to be.
I forced myself into the discomfort of communicating in a language I barely understood, My first meal consisting of “Un cafe Perfavore, Un Pizza, errr surprise me, grazie.”
Anything I had to queue for or spend a large amount of time or money to experience, I would keep walking. My reasoning, I weighed against how many other amazing things I could see or do vs the amount of time I had left there. Also with further research I found ways to cut the queues entirely with some pre planning.
Take my own unhurried pace, It may sound contradictory to planning and time-saving but hear me out, I mentioned before the Blitzkreig approach to sightseeing was not a part of my itinerary, I knew how many days I would be in a region for but made no major plans about what I would see until maybe the night before I would scan the trusty tourist map and figure out which routes would take me through something interesting.
If it feels like a chore, you aren’t traveling anymore was my mantra.
I also bought locally and prepared my own food as much as possible with local and exotic ingredients. Romano cheeses, Buffalo mozzarella Parma ham and freshLigurian pesto and the endless bottles of Proseco.
Allow myself to experience happy surprises and don’t get hung up on the missteps along the way and be able to change plans at the drop of a hat.
I was equal parts James Bond when things were smooth and Austin Powers when things went wrong.
Experiencing the local flavor and lifestyle, that doesn’t just mean taking photos of it (pay no attention to the photo content herein).
When I did eat out I avoided international food chains and ate locally, despite being intrigued by the cultural variations.
Pro Tip: always check the menu and pricing first.
An example of diners remorse occurred after an exhausted after a day of walking around Rome, I picked the first outdoor cafe approaching the Villa Borghese and ordered a bottle of thirst quenching Aqua and had a couple of glasses of Proseco this came to €50. In Florence €50 covered dinner for 2 consisting of salads Pizza and multiple jugs of house wine and ale, in Burano island off Venice this covered breads, Salads and a mixed seafood grill and a bottle of Proseco to feed 2.
However the by far best meal hands down was pesto on toast with tomatoes AKA Bruschetta in Manarola one of the Cinque Terre villages washed down with an icy cold Bira from the tap (I made the internationally recognized sign language motion of pulling a handle that the barmaid instantly translated into beer).
As travel author Rick Steves points out, sitting and having an expensive cup of coffee in San Marco square in Venice is temporarily renting the most expensive real estate in the world, it is about the experience, that said a savvy renter checks the market first.
My digression highlights what I now know and love about travel, it gives you experience, your unique (or not) experiences of a place make you experienced, your experiences can be helpful to others looking for their own experience.
You find yourself thinking “Next time ill do this better, or differently” you’ll have reoccurring dreams of waiting for a vaporetto in Venice or missing a train in Le Spezia these will make your heart ache for those places.
so my earlier statement “Spend a whole lot of money and only have your photos and memories left to show for it.” is right and wrong simultaneously “Spend a whole lot of money” perhaps but other than getting there you don’t necessarily have to to get those memories that will continue to infatuate you and make your friends groan when you give a knowing travel anecdote or wave and point when a movie shows a scene of somewhere you have been.
Oh those memories, as much as I didn’t think it would change me, it did, my life back home had lost its luster. It was buffering 320p YouTube to travelings UltraHigh Definition 4k TV.
So you may ask yourself what is this rambling diatribe from someone who has been freshly bitten by the travel bug and where is it going?
It’s the start of something, it’s a brief sampling of just a few experiences of someone who was opinionated against travel and fell in love with it.
Someone who wants to fill their life with as many of those places and experiences as possible. So bear with me, I’ll be filling in the blanks soon, its happening trust me.
So salut to a life worth living!