Some of the best inner journeys start with the passport-stamped kind.
(Whole Living, July/August 2012)
Most of this journey across Italy was a bit of a strange tale. Like the quote above, I didn’t realize that I was about to take an inner journey of epic proportions.
I was just newly retired from hockey writing and on my first trip post-career. The lessons I learned throughout this entire journey were moments I never thought I would experience. But everything was a huge wake up call in life.
This was probably the weirdest and strangest journey I have ever been on in my entire life. This journey marked the end of one journey and the start of a new one.
What follows are my log entries that I wrote while I was in Italy. If you follow it from start to end, you’ll not only see all of the new pieces to my photo collection, but you’ll also learn about the deeper inner journey I took.
Everything starts with Day One…before I even hopped on the plane.
It’s strange how the universe works on these adventures. Everything conspires in the most strange and peculiar ways to show you a world you never knew existed, including the ones inside yourself.
And so the tale begins…
So before this whole Italian adventure began, I was at the office and for some ungodly reason, I dropped my grapefruit juice on the floor. I kept thinking…this is not a good sign.
Half an hour later, I was talking to my friend and out of the blue…my water spilled all over the counter. I remarked, “This is not a good sign.”
My friend responded, “Everybody gets clumsy every now and again. Even I do.”
I just looked at her and said, “I don’t. The only time I get clumsy is when Death is messing with me and someone is about to die.”
This, of course, freaked her out a little…as well as myself.
I can actually tell you the last time I got clumsy and wound up with a blueberry smoothie all over my bedroom wall…it was right before Derek Boogaard died. All of the clumsiness didn’t end until after his death. [I still swear that the glass moved…it was nowhere near me when I ran into it and splashed it all over the place.]
It’s like you know something is about to happen…and I was sick to my stomach with worry because it could happen to anyone I’ve met in this lifetime. Worst of all, this was happening a few hours before I was hopping on a plane to Italy.
It wasn’t until the defibrillator woke me from my slumber on the plane that I realized that something had gone terribly wrong. Oh, it wasn’t me that was dying.
I sat up and saw a nurse, the co-pilot and two doctors standing in the first row. I realized something was amiss. Ends up they had to shock a guy three times over the course of three hours before he showed signs that he’d make it to our first stop in Zurich. We were halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. There was no way they could divert the plane to a closer locale.
I don’t know what was wrong. I just prayed a silent prayer that he would make it.
After some time, they lifted the man up. He was practically lifeless. They placed him in a seat, wrapped a huge down comforter around him while they spoke to him about what was going to happen next.
I couldn’t even hear a thing, but I was just happy that the guy made it all the way to Zurich…alive.
So that was Death’s first official ‘brush by’…and the guy lived. So either Death took a Holiday that morning, or that wasn’t the person. Just the prelude.
Trust me…it was the prelude.
When I arrived in Venice, the luggage hadn’t hit the carousel yet, so I headed to the restroom. As I reached for the toilet paper, the metal container it was in came flying open (I didn’t even touch the thing) and almost broke my hand. It literally opened up and slammed down on my hand. Luckily, I got away with just a scratch and a lovely bruise as a welcome to Venice.
Stuff like that…it’s still Death f*cking with me. I didn’t even touch the metal container when it came flying down on my hand. This kind of random stuff only happens when Death is following me around trying to deliver some ‘warning’ news that someone I know is about to die. [Post-Vacation Note: This really was the start of all of these weird happenings. It gets worse as we go along.]
After collecting my bag, I quickly found the bus into Venice. It was pure luck how easy that turned out. I put my bag on the bus, helped a British couple with theirs and then hopped on the bus.
The drive in was spectacular. All of that water!
They say that the best way to see Venice is to get lost in Venice. Well, I took a wrong turn and got lost right off the bat. I asked this very handsome Italian man (that was walking down the sidewalk looking at me and smiling) if he could help me. He really put on the smile and took a look at my map and then told me where I was at that very moment was completely off the map!
Thus the story of my life!
It took him 10 minutes to explain how to get back to where I started and then where to go from there. Mind you, those bridges are a pain in the ass. You climb up the bridge (aka carrying your suitcase up a flight of steps and then down a flight of steps). I swear that suitcase got heavier every single time I had to do that…and there are a lot of bridges in Venice!
Ends up the handsome Italian’s directions were spot on and I found my hotel in no time. I was so hot and sweaty that I ended up taking a shower before changing and heading out to explore Venice.
I didn’t see any sites beyond the Grand Canale. I was hungry, it was 5PM in Venice, so I sat down in the first open restaurant I could find, Ristorante Roma. That restaurant ended up being right on the Canale. The food there was fabulous!
I started with a mixed salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Next, I had the pasta bolognese with tagliatelle noodles (not spaghetti). I have to say, the tagliatelle noodles are probably now my favorite noodles. I asked for a gelato for dessert, he brought me three scoops (lemon, strawberry and chocolate). I followed it with an Americano coffee. Oh, it was so good. I enjoyed every single bite.
Most of all, I enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding my first meal in Italy sitting along the Grand Canale, watching the boats go by and listening to the singing from one of the men on the gondola boats. His voice was so big, you could hear him all the way down the canal.
As I ate my dinner, a beautiful little bird kept me company. Since I didn’t eat the bread, I let the bird sit across from me and pick at the bread. It flew away to take a few pieces to its nest. After a few minutes, a sparrow came by to do the same thing. I couldn’t believe how brave these birds were to just sit at the same table as me and eat my bread. It just added to the wonderful ambience of Venice.
After that amazing meal, I headed out to ‘get lost’ in Venice again.
I found myself in a shop buying postcards only to see the magnificent masks she had inside. Since I didn’t want to pick up a mask and carry it around Italy for the next two weeks, I promised to come back to buy the metal mask that was shaped in a way that looks like it’s covered in lace (but it’s metal). It was so beautiful. I knew if I bought it then, it would break over the next two weeks.
The shops of Venice are filled with the most beautiful and intriguing masks you’ll ever see. Some are comedic, others are outrageous, and some are downright beautiful that you can’t help but marvel at the craftsmanship.
Even the cheap masks designed for tourists are a wonder to see…especially the way they are displayed in a sea of thousands of colorful, and all very different masks.
As I made my way over yet another bridge, my calf muscle decided to say, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” in the good ole’ Gandolf way. I literally stopped, hobbled over to the side of the bridge and decided to rest for a few minutes and take photographs.
I think this is where the jetlag was really setting in. I hadn’t eaten in over a day. That meal I just had was the first. I didn’t put on sunscreen when I first got lost and ended up getting sun poisoning. Throw on top of all of that a bit of dehydration and my body was begging me to just stop…go back to the hotel and sleep.
Instead, I pressed on.
After I climbed the bridge and made my way back down again, I discovered a fruit/vegetable market. It was just so beautiful…all of the colors and shapes…the smell of the basil as the beautiful and young Italian men bunched them up for sale. Yes, it was a sight to see and take in.
I stopped at one stall that had sundried tomatoes. I picked up a bag when the shopkeeper pointed to some fresh cherries. He had three different kind. He kept directing me to the most expensive ones so I asked, “What’s the difference? Can I try one?” He hesitated and finally agreed to let me try one from each batch. I ended up buying the more expensive ones…and they were delish!
I realized after the bells to close up shop started ringing…I should have bought some bananas. Of course, that wasn’t until after the other calf screamed “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” at the next bridge. Oh boy, I was a frightful sight! I haven’t been this bad since post-surgery in 2008 when I pulled a muscle in my stomach…just because I was walking too fast. This is why the doctor keeps saying that my body still isn’t ready to workout again.
I found a statue close by and just collapsed. My body was giving out on me. I rested underneath the statue for a good half an hour as tourist after tourist took photos of the statue (and me) and the homeless guy on the other side!
I headed back to the hotel after that second beating…only to get kicked in the calf again at the next bridge. Why didn’t I think to fill a prescription for pulled muscles before I left? Those drugs would have come in nicely.
I made it back to the hotel finally, but stopped along the way to buy a new leather purse. You know…the MADE IN ITALY…leather bags. They come in so many sizes and colors that it is so hard to decide which one to buy.
I settled on an orange one that has “FLORENCE Made in Italy” imprinted on the front of the bag.
I decided that I might end up coming home with a new bag from every place I visit. I just hope there’s enough room in the suitcase.
The quality of each piece in the store was just impeccable. These are the kind of bags that will last you a lifetime…just like the Italian leather shoes. This is the kind of leather you invest in. Ironically, each bag is about 30 euros each. In America…it’s well over $100…even at Daffy’s.
After I bought my bag, I handed a gypsy woman two euros for luck and headed back down the canal to my hotel. I fell asleep right at 9:15 and woke up again at 11:30PM. I took a friggin nap! I didn’t fall back asleep until 2:30AM…and I had to be up at 7AM for my train.
Jet lag…totally not fun.
Next stop…Bologna.[Here are the photos and new pieces to my collection from Venice.]