I've always maintained the mantra that we must try new things in life, things we think we may not like or enjoy, and if we do this continually we're going to experience some unexpected joys and triumphs in life. One of my biggest leaps of faith was becoming a runner. I have always maintained that I hated running, that it was "bad for my knees." What a bunch of baloney! Running has become my lifesaver, my therapy, my key to good health, and don't even get me started on the whole "bad for my knees" BS! Additionally, my family took a huge leap of faith back in 2007 when we decided to get the heck out of California and move to a state that better fit our lifestyle. I had never lived outside California and Texas is a very different place. I was scared, but knew that in the long run it was best for us. I had no choice but to find the positive. I haven't looked back.
Back to Italy...
Being in a foreign country forces one to suck it up and just deal with the unexpected. It forces us outside our comfort zones. If we get caught up in the "but that's not how I usually do things" garbage we'll never experience the joy another culture and country can bring us.
As soon as we left the airport in Rome, I'm not gonna lie...I was a big freaked. The signs were so very different than how we mark things here in the U.S. We easily could have gotten frustrated and lost, but that would do no one any good. I had printed out the directions from the villa's website and had them with me. As I'm sitting in the passenger seat of the car (and mind you, this was at 8:30 in the morning local time after getting NO SLEEP on the plane!), I wished I had noticed just how obsure the details on the directions were. I'm the kind of girl who likes "turn right at Main Street, drive 1.2 miles, turn left at Lakeshore Drive, etc" - you know, SPECIFICS. The directions on the villa were of the "turn right at the first street on your left, then make a sharp left, and turn right at the third road" variety. Kind of like the directions you get from random folks at gas stations - "turn left at the old barn, then drive a few blocks, a make a left just past the house with the broken fence...." You get my point?
Thankfully, we were meeting up with our friends at a hotel first (they arrived the day before) and then caravanning up to the villa about three hours north of Rome. My friend Susan gave us perfect directions to the hotel and we miraculously didn't make a wrong turn. Wait, I take that back....Greg didn't believe me when I said that we weren't supposed to turn into the hotel's first entrance but rather keep driving down the road to Building 2. He insisted on turning into Building 1's parking lot. Silly boy. Always trust your wife when it comes to directions. After making it to the hotel unscathed, with all our luggage, with Greg already expertly driving a Fiat with a stick shift, I was feeling a bit better. "Outside our Comfort Zone" Lesson 1 was a success!
As we drove up to the Villa I continually made mental notes on the signage used in Italy. Vastly different than how we use roadway signs in the US, but decipherable nonetheless if one puts on their thinking cap and looks for the logic. Funny enough, as we're following Susan and Bryan to the villa and are only about 5 km away (yes, I started thinking in kilometers!), I actually realized when they made a wrong turn. Lesson 1 success continues...
While in a foreign country, you're obviously going to be at the mercy of their diet for the most part. Sure, you can find "American" restaurants just about anywhere, right? Hmmm...not really in Tuscany, at least not where we were. It's Italian, Italian, Italian. Pure, authentic, fresh ingredients, ITALIAN cooking. If you're one who doesn't normally eat a lot of vegetables, who thinks of Italian as being "spaghetti and meatballs" and "pepperoni pizza", you're going to have to throw those thoughts out the window in a place like this. If you can't be willing to try new dishes or eat things you haven't necessarily tried before, don't bother traveling. I tried everything put in front of me. Did I like it all? Not necessarily, but that's okay.
Some of our most wonderful experiences in Italy involved cooking. Our first night there we were treated to some exquisite appetizers made by the villa's caretaker, Claudia, and housekeeper/chef, Monica. Ever had zucchini flower or fried sage? Me, neither! But I ate it and it was amazing. On our second night, we had Claudia and Monica hold a cooking class for us. I had never thought of using green tomatoes in anything before, but they made the most wonderful pasta using green tomatoes and zucchini squash. It's definitely something I want to duplicate at home.
On our third day we traveled to a 1000 year old abbey to take a cooking class by a master chef. The first thing we see when we walk into the kitchen is the abundance of fresh ingredients. These Italians do not believe in anything processed (or low fat, for that matter!). It's all about being fresh and simple. But even with fresh and simple, the outcome is magnificent. Picky eaters have to throw caution to the wind! You just never know what you're going to get unless you just jump in and experience it. "Outside our Comfort Zone" Lesson 2 - SUCCESS!
Greg and I took one side trip completely by ourselves while in Tuscany - our day trip to Pisa. I wrote out the directions, we hopped in the car, and off we went. Yes, we got lost once we hit the city of Pisa, but eventually found our way, parked our car, and hit Piazza del Duomo for some sightseeing. Pisa isn't really the nicest city, that's for sure, and I was a bit apprehensive about our surroundings, but I just HAD TO see the Torre di Pisa (Leaning Tower). We then decided to see the Mediterranean....a few consultations of the map and driving in that general direction got us to the coast. We even made it back to the villa 80+ km away without too many wrong turns. (as long as we remembered that left turn arrows at a roundabout actually mean to go straight, we were in business). So going off into a foreign country completely by ourselves wasn't too bad. "Outside our Comfort Zone" Lesson 3 - SUCCESS!
When you're in a foreign country you can't be embarrassed about speaking their language, no matter how stupid you think you might sound. We took the time to learn a few important phrases, we constantly asked Claudia and Monica back at the villa and our fabulous wine tour guide, Donatella, how to pronounce things, and we had our handy Phrasefinder book. While in San Gimignano one day, Greg and I decided we would only speak Italian at the cafe where we ate lunch. I was kind of embarrassed because I sometimes got my accent and stress wrong, but I figured it didn't hurt to try. We managed to order all our food (including our acqua frizzante grande, of course!), ask where the bathroom was, and ask for the check completely in Italian without having to revert to English. And the waitress understood us. We did it again while in Pisa and in Rome later in the week. It really does make it a whole lot easier when you take them time to learn the common phrases and words in the country's language, even if most people do know English. How fun it was to become immersed in the culture and forget about any language barrier and to make the effort to understand the signs around the cities. I find it very disconcerting when Americans just assume another country will make concessions for them without any effort to conform to that country's customs. It's arrogant. WE should be conforming to THEM! The whole experience made me want to come home and learn Italian (I may do that!). "Outside our Comfort Zone" Lesson 4 - SUCCESS!
Our last day in Italy was going to consist of leaving the villa, driving to Rome, exploring for a few hours, spending the night in a hotel, and then heading home on a morning flight. Our hotel was near the airport, which is several kilometers from the city center and all the historical Roman sites. We knew driving into the city from our hotel was definitely not what we were going to do. Have I mentioned how Italians drive and how narrow the streets are? It's insane. It's one thing to do it in a Tuscan village, a whole other ballgame to try it a city the size of Rome. So we had a choice - take the hotel shuttle to the Ancient ruins and walk around Rome or hire a driver. The cost of a driver was astronomical so we didn't even really entertain that option for long. So the shuttle it was. Only there was one small hitch....Lady Gaga was in town for a concert during the Europride Roma parage, so the shuttles were not allowed to go into the city center. We'd have to take the Metro. Okay, a foreign subway - no problem! I've actually been okay taking subways and public transportation in strange cities. It's a little disconcerting - they aren't really very clean, there can be some strange folks on them, and they typically don't go through the best parts of town. But if it's really your only option, you have to get over your trepidation. Just get on the damn subway and go see the sights, right?! So we did! As we're traveling along the Metro, we are noticing all the graffitti and some of the odd folks riding. But we're getting the real Roman experience in the process - silver lining in the chaos, I suppose. Greg and I are in a completely foreign place, we have only a few hours to sightsee, and here we are experiencing it on a unique level, throwing our caution to the wind. It was pretty cool, I think. But don't get me started on our trek through the ancient ruins in the dark and then back to the hotel at midnight - not gonna lie, that experience was a bit much even for me! But we survived, we rode the Rome Metro, we explored Rome on foot, we survived a scary cab ride, and it was amazing all in all. "Outside our Comfort Zone" Lesson 5 - SUCCESS!!
|(that's me cruising through the Metro station)|