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