My First Solo Trip – Italy (Part 3)

The next morning I felt very jet lagged, nervous and anxious, and just flat out “weird”. I wanted to stay in my hotel room – all day. I felt all bravery that I’d been having since getting on the plane a couple days before had left me. I called Josh (waking him up at 2:00 am!) and he encouraged me to get out – to step outside. I finally found the courage and forced myself to leave what little comfort zone I had there by leaving the hotel. And I was so happy I did! I found a beautiful church called Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, which had me in awe of its high ceilings and ornate frescoes and stained glass. There hadn’t been a line to get into this lesser known and less popular church in Florence, and that was exactly what I needed at that time. Jet lag can really make you feel weird and I was feeling the need to be away from people and have as much space as possible. Those moments taking my time walking through the church were so calming to me and just what I needed. I meandered through the courtyard outside and breathed in the fresh air. It was so quiet and peaceful. I loved my time there and that I was on no time clock . . . no one there to rush me, or to tell me what to do next. That is another glorious thing about traveling solo that I learned . . . you call the shots. You can be “selfish” for a few moments. And that’s okay. I’ve always been an advocate for self care, and I feel like solo travel is the ultimate form of self care. Sometimes, we NEED to get away. By ourselves. We get lost in the busyness of life, and so it’s nice to take the time to slow things down and be present in the moment, and taking a trip is an avenue where you can do this. 

 

At the same time, it’s kind of funny because before I arrived in Florence, for months leading up, I had been researching that city to death. I have learned about myself that I like to plan things, especially when it comes to travel. Which I know is what you’re NOT supposed to do. Perhaps it gave me more of a sense of control, which I needed to feel, more so because I was traveling by myself, and I wanted to feel a little more familiar with the big city before I got there so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Well, so I had therefore made a list! A list for each day that I’d be in Florence. I seriously had like 15 attractions listed for each day! Very unrealistic I know. And because of that, I think I had inadvertently added pressure on myself to see everything and do everything on my list. I even had the restaurants listed out that I felt like I “had” to go to. In retrospect, yes, a little research is good, but not to the degree I took it. Leaving room for exploring and spontaneity is much more freeing and releases you from pressure and expectations and a “schedule” that may even just be in your head.  

 

At this point, also, because I was feeling so tired and jet lagged, and a bit overwhelmed by my list that I felt I had to tick off all the boxes . . . it was then that I actually realized I needed to slow down. Once realizing this and taking it step by step was so good for me.

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So, after visiting Basilica di Santa Mario Novella, I then had pizza in the square/Piazza that overlooked the church…it was so peaceful and felt perfect. I ate at a little cafe that even had the red and white checkerboard tablecloths that I imagined Italy would have! There was Italian music playing, the weather was fine, and I inhaled the most delicious margherita pizza I’ve ever had! Life was good, and I was feeling calm and better after eating. 

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Then, something happened that afternoon that I would call a challenge. It ended up being a challenge for me. Let me tell you the story. 

 

I was headed to the Duomo to see all of its attractions, and along the way, in the Piazza del Duomo, I saw many vendors selling souvenirs. I saw some paintings being sold and so I stopped to look at those. The man selling them was bargaining with me, which was fine. I bought a beautiful painting, and then, he was trying to sell me another painting. He got close to me and even started whispering, I guess he was talking about the prices, but it was a foreign language, and so I had no idea what he was saying. At this point, I was feeling uncomfortable, and so I was just like, “No grazie!” And so he gave me my painting, but as I turned to walk away, he hugged me! I had my back to him and my intuition told me that he was even trying to kiss me, but I pushed him away and grunted, “Ugh!!!” And walked away from there very fast. It was crowded in the Piazza and I felt my heart pounding. That really shook me up and scared me and I felt very uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do. I was going to just go on about my plan and see the Duomo, but I felt uneasy. So I walked back to my hotel.

 

I told the lady concierge about what happened and started crying as I told her. She was mad that this incident had happened and she advised that I go to the police station and report what had happened. And so, I walked to the police station. I waited over an hour in vain, because the police officer on duty told me he spoke little English and to come back the next day between 8 and 11 am when his chief would be there who spoke better English. I did talk to him, with difficulty, but he understood what I was saying happened. So I left, and was feeling overwhelmed but glad that I had tried to do my part at least. I debated about whether or not I should go back to the police station the next day to report it or not.

 

Anyways, the situation really shook me up. I felt scared. I didn’t feel as safe as I once did upon first arriving. And so, what did I do the rest of the day? I let fear stop me. I stopped back at the piazza where I had eaten earlier that day, and found an outside cafe and had creamy risotto with asparagus. It was raining at this point. The risotto was steaming hot and warmed me up inside, but I scarfed it down. I felt like my nerves were shot. I rushed eating because I was feeling so anxious about what had happened at the Piazza and all I wanted to do was to go back to my hotel room, and not come back out. I’m just being totally honest about how I was feeling in those moments. I wasn’t able to savor my food, or to truly take in the moments of people watching while the rain fell down all around us. The things fear and anxiety can do to us!

 

The next morning, I woke up and I felt very emotional and I REALLY did not want to leave my hotel. I wrote my friend Amy, who lived 45 minutes away in Bologna, and told her about what happened and how I was feeling. (It was so amazing by the way, that Amy was there, for we had once lived in the same city, and she had actually been my daughter’s music teacher! Her family had moved to Italy a few months prior to my visit, so I would call it providential, which will make more sense later). 

 

Anyways, so Amy called me, while I was sitting in my hotel room feeling and looking like such a mess because I’d been crying, and one of the first things she said and that caught me off guard, was that she would not waste the day away at the police station. She said what happened was atypical and basically that that doesn’t usually happen and that I didn’t need to feel unsafe because of this random incident.

 

But then she said something that struck a chord with me. She said, “I believe that was an attack by the Enemy.”

 

The Enemy of course being Satan. She said that Satan is wanting to rob me of my joy and of my time of enjoying myself in Florence. She said this was supposed to be a journey of healing for me, coming on this trip.

 

Wow! Her words changed my mindset and comforted me and gave me a newfound determination. I then called Josh and we discussed about what Amy had told me. He also gave me another pep talk and he told me to be like the bearded lady (minus the beard!) in “The Greatest Showman” movie when she sings with courage and confidence, “This is me” and stomps through the streets of the city singing:

 

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.”

 

The “sharpest words” part was that of Satan or anxiety telling me I couldn’t do it, that I was weak and scared and fearful.

 

And so, I left my hotel room, walking down the long hallway and feeling scared, but brave. So determined. I was not going to let my time, my joy, my happiness be robbed of me while I was in Florence. I listened to this song as I braved walking through the streets of Florence again. My goal was to see the Ponte Vecchio, the iconic bridge on the Arno River. I knew it was far from my hotel and that there was a possibility that I might get lost, but I kept on walking. And that is a memory that will forever be ingrained into my mind. For I found that I was enjoying myself and having fun walking amongst all these people….it was one of the most EMPOWERING feelings, because I was facing my fears head on.

 

And when I finally came upon my destination/goal, which was the river, I felt incandescently happy and SO proud of myself! That is why the picture of me standing with the headphones in my ears and with Ponte Vecchio in the background is such an important picture to me. There’s a story behind that big smile on my face. That is why I am so happy and smiling so big because of what all I had overcome, and how it ended up being one of my most favorite memories of all the trip. I was reminded of the quote from The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf says to Frodo:

 

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

 

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The day ended up getting even better, because I got to see my friend Amy. She took a train and came down to visit me that afternoon. It was just what this girl needed! That’s why I say her being there in Italy at the time I was there was providential. A God thing. Without her words of wisdom, I’m not sure I would have pushed myself and seen past what was really happening. I think I would have just stayed in my hotel room the entire trip, being sad and missing out. She and I had the best time together, strolling through the streets, taking our time. I even had my first Italian gelato! It was so great to catch up with an old friend and I’m so thankful for our friendship.

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I forgot to mention, that earlier that morning, I did go visit the Medici Chapel, which its beauty was absolutely beyond words. 

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That day is a day I will never forget. When challenge and adversity crosses our path, what do we do? Do we give in, and give up? Or do we use it as a catalyst to propel us forward and onward? Because, when you do face that challenge, whatever it may be, head on, your confidence then soars through the roof. As I’ve mentioned in Part 1, my confidence in myself in some ways had basically been shattered after going through PPD. Maybe your confidence in yourself is shattered or almost nonexistent. I would encourage one who feels this way to DO something about that. We can’t just sit there. Do something that scares you, that is completely out of your comfort zone. And when you do, you will find out just how capable you really are. 

 

Anyways . . . back to the rest of my day. So after parting ways with my dear friend, I went back to my hotel and I treated myself to room service. And yes, I ordered that “melt in your mouth” steak from the hotel’s restaurant that I had had my first night there. It was so nice to relax and reflect back on the adventure I’d been having since first leaving Texas a mere 3 days before. The best part was knowing that my adventures were not over, because the next day I would be spending the last day of my Italian holiday in Pisa. 

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My First Solo Trip – Italy (Part 2)

After saying goodbye to my husband, and walking through the airport by myself, I already felt a newfound bravery within me. I went through security, and felt relieved (that’s never fun). I found a quiet place to eat, and began to realize already that this is all new to me . . . ever since I’ve been married to Josh (we celebrated 7 years of marriage this past April!) . . . he has been with me on my travels 90% of the time. I missed him already, but I also felt an independence that I hadn’t felt in many years. At this point, I was trying not to think too much about me stepping on the plane in a couple of hours, and so I distracted myself by playing solitaire and Tetris on my phone . . . exciting stuff! Not really, but I was doing whatever I could to not feel too nervous and anxious! 

 

The time finally came to get on the plane. 

 

I found my seat and was still pretty calm. I have flying anxiety, and so as soon as the plane started speeding down the runway, I felt my palms start sweating and my body felt weak and shaky. It was a LONG flight. I felt like I was never able to fully relax, but that my body was tense and trembling off and on. Still, I had to just push through it (I had no other choice!) and so when we made our first stop in Madrid, Spain, I felt slightly relieved that I had made it this far. There was a huge group of people, fellow Americans, that were all traveling together with a tour company. I rode on the underground tram to the other terminal alongside these people, and I felt comfort in their company. I was still anxious as a cat, but they were talking to me and they were amazed when I told them I was traveling solo. One lady even said she would never be brave enough to do that. That boosted my confidence in myself, which I believe I was needing at that point, because my nerves were on high alert. 

 

I went through customs and eventually this group of people parted ways with me, and I felt a little sad. They were starting their tour somewhere in Spain, and a part of me felt a little bit alone for a moment. It was almost like a marathon . . . one thing on to the next, and you just have to self-talk the whole way through until you make it to the finish line. 

 

After another 2 1/2 hour flight, my heart started racing with excitement as we started descending. That’s my favorite part of the flight, is when you can feel the plane start its descent, and of course, my absolute favorite moment is when we land. I let out a big sigh of relief when the wheels hit the tarmac. 

 

I stepped out of the plane and into the fresh air and looked around me at the hills. I was in Italy! I was in Tuscany! I was in Florence! I had made it!

 

There is nothing like the feeling when you arrive at your destination. Especially when you have never been there before. I can always literally FEEL the adrenaline in my body and a feeling in my chest like it could burst! I just want to jump around and dance! The anxiety left my body and I was smiling so big and smiling at everyone I passed by. 

 

I grabbed my suitcase from the conveyor belt, and then stepped outside to go find a taxi. I stood in line and waited for mine. This was another first for me. I have never ridden in a taxi by myself. It was like every little step was a huge accomplishment for me and boosted my confidence. As I rode in the backseat, I looked out the window and felt like a little kid again. I listened to the driver talking on the phone in a foreign language, Italian, and it all began to sink in of where I was at and what I was doing. I felt so giddy! 

 

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The taxi finally arrived at my hotel, the Grand Hotel Baglioni, and as I walked up to the front door, I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. It was absolutely beautiful. So elegant and sophisticated looking. And I was right in the middle of the city, which made the hotel’s location a perfect spot to just walk out your door and go explore the city. 

 

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I checked in and felt like I was treated like royalty. There were frescoes on the walls of the lounge area, where I relaxed with some aperitivos after my very long journey to get there. The hotel had an old world charm to it. I loved it. 

 

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My hotel room was quaint, but cozy and comfortable. It had a stained glass window and wooden beams on the ceiling. 

 

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At this point, I became overwhelmed. I could hear all the city noise through my window and I desperately wanted to go see the Duomo. But, fear set in. Anxiety welled up within me and I felt overwhelmed. 

 

I had to call my husband. I told him I didn’t know what to do . . . should I just relax in my room (it was about 3:00 pm in the afternoon at this point, by the way), or should I go start exploring? I was finding every excuse in the book to stay inside my comfortable hotel room (it was raining, was one excuse) but thank goodness for my husband. I had woken him up from his sleep, but that man still gave it his all to encourage me. He said, “Go explore the city!” Fear can keep your feet glued to the floor. Glued to where you are at in the moment . . . where you are in life. But, after talking to him, I mustered up the courage to walk out my door. 

 

I didn’t know where to go. How do you solve that? Ask questions. I asked the hotel concierge where the Duomo was, and he said to just turn left outside the hotel and walk down the street. Sounded easy to me. 

 

When you push through and cast your fears and anxieties aside, and do what you are afraid to do, the results that can happen because of pushing through . . . well, it’s almost beyond measure. If I had stayed in my hotel room, I wouldn’t have the beautiful memory that truly warms my heart as I reflect back on it. 

 

The rain was gently pattering down upon my umbrella, and I took my time as I walked amongst the crowd of people. I felt calm. I felt excited. The energy of the people all around me was contagious. I walked across cobblestoned streets and stepped in rain puddles, and didn’t care that my feet were almost already soaking wet. I just kept on walking. I had a goal . . . and my goal was to see the Duomo that Florence is renowned for. That I had been seeing on pictures covering my Facebook and Instagram for months before this trip. 

 

And when, at last, I rounded the corner and saw the red Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) towering in the sky in the distance, I literally gasped out loud. Seeing it for the first time was even better than I could have possibly imagined. I was in absolute awe. It was almost larger than life. And the detail and beauty of its creation could make one want to cry. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. In that moment, I felt incandescently happy. When you work hard to get where you are going, it makes achieving that goal worth every step it took you to get there. 

 

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I stared in wonder as I walked through the Piazza del Duomo and asked strangers to take my picture for me. This city was alive. It was beautiful. Breathtaking. 

 

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After taking in the sights, sounds, and smells around me, I took my time walking back to my hotel. Again, did I mention how happy I was? 

 

That night, I had made dinner reservations at the hotel’s restaurant, called B-Roof. I had requested a table by the window, and when I walked into the restaurant and saw the panoramic, floor to ceiling windows that had a view of all of Florence, including the Duomo, I again couldn’t help but gasp out loud. It was one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve ever had. I’m all about views, and this view might be at the top of the list of places I’ve dined. The service was incredible. I felt like a queen. This is what I had: “Tagliatadi manzo alla griglia, fagioli all’olio e contorni di stagione” (or, in English – “seasoned, sliced grilled beef, cannellini beans in olive extra-virgin oil and vegetables in season.” Oh man, I do believe that is THE best meal I’d ever had. The steak sprinkled with sea salt and flavored to perfection was so tender it just melted in my mouth. I love to eat, by the way, and so I was in heaven as I savored every bite. The glowing candlesticks on the table added to the romantic ambiance, and my heart longed for Josh to be sitting across the table from me. It made me happy at the thought of bringing him back with me one day, and sitting at this exact table. As night settled in, the Duomo became illuminated in the dark sky. I took my time enjoying these moments, and then finally headed back to my room where I soon fell fast asleep. 

 

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