When I travel, no matter how much I plan, I do worry. Anything can happen; I cannot prevent unforeseen events, but I know I can handle them. Yet, I do worry, doubly so when I have the responsibility for another. So I traveled to Italy with my “minor exceptional” niece with trepidation. What did I learn from this travel experience? As I posted before departure:
“For what do I hope? To instill a love for travel. To develop a fascination for new places…to learn about herself and come away with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that is denied those who constrain their experiences to a narrow environment and limit their understanding of others.”
Despite a few “unforeseen events,” both my niece and I returned from Italy having broadened our experiences, knowledge, and confidence. I could not ask for more. I am proud of this 16-year-old.
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius 169ad.
I queried my niece as to her thoughts about her Italian travels. Her replies were sometimes surprising (because as an adult I suspect what she must think?) Her answers were always insightful: “So Gabrielle, what is/was your…”
favorite city – Rome
least favorite – Ercolano and the rain dampened the fun of Florence
favorite hotel – Alora B&B in Verona. A close second would be the Hotel Pelliccioni with its balcony overlooking the activity and motorbikes of Via Cavour (even though they have said we didn’t show up).
worst hotel – our first room at the Hotel Rialto in Venice, at the end of a maze of hall turns and a bathroom way too small and Wifi way to poor. For the money, one would expect much more.
best site – the Venice canals and Rome’s Colosseum
unappreciated site – the contemporary art in Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art; the gondola ride in Venice was not worth it
experience not to be overlooked – the pastries! vaporettos around Venice canals
best gelati – pistachio and chocolate
best dessert – gelato and Florence’s cannoli
best food – the squid ink pasta in Venice. Also the seafood and fried vegetables in Pisa. The pumpkin ravioli and duck dinner in Verona.
best restaurant – The Osteria del Violino in Pisa
best church – Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome (St. John Lateran)
suggestion to do less of – stairs and the packing and repacking
desire to do more of – sleeping
overrated – the gondolas of Venice
recommendations for others – when a guy shoves something in your face don’t take it, learn to walk away. Learn some of the language
(From where do all these umbrella/purse/sunglasses/selfie stick salesmen come? Saw a few gypsies in Rome, loiters around the stations. Of course, it is not the high tourist season yet. But Milano was chock full of uninvited Senegalese trying to tie strings around your wrist; to sell selfie sticks, roses, knockoff purses; to shove birdseed into your palm. Romanians and Moldavians constantly have their hand out begging for change. Cafe owners ask people not to support this behavior.)
Curse the person who is making their millions on that annoying selfie stick.
best lessons learned – don’t fill your suitcase; don’t freak out if you get lost; when locals start running for the train you do too.
item you should have left home – shirts and books. Too tired to read
item to remember to bring next time – hair ties and an umbrella
worst part of travel – tour groups
next trip – return to Rome and travel south. Israel.
most memorable person – the 10-year-old violin player in Vicenza’s Piazza dei Signori.
“There’s you” Gabrielle replied before remembering the wonderful violin player in Vicenza. But then there might be something to her first answer. I think of my own experiences during the last 17 days while traveling with Gabrielle. I was as inexperienced with traveling with a 16-year-old as she was traveling within a totally new environment. I am sure I learned as much as Gabrielle. It was a most enjoyable experience. I appreciated the positive attitude; the sharing of insights, thoughts and ideas; the shared dinners and stories; viewing old sites with new eyes. I loved seeing her grow in knowledge and confidence. And best of all, I got to know my niece as an adult and an individual. My experience not only is memorable but priceless as well.
I had new experiences that in my nine trips to Italy I have not had. I had avoided the gondolas but glad we had the ride. Gabrielle is right, they are overrated, but I will never regret sharing this with her. I have never stopped in a bakery and pigged out on the pastries but I will continue to do so in the future! I spent time getting to know the pigeons in Italy and they are entertaining, I just have to remember to find some feed for them ahead of time. I enjoyed relaxing around the squares, both for the views and people-watching, and the sharing of a beer with my niece. So civilized! And though I have not tried it yet, I must return to Italy and order the pistachio and chocolate gelati.
Before leaving, I wrote: “What if I misplace their kid?” I was removing a 16-year-old from the familiar and taking her 5000 miles away into a totally different culture. One can live in fear and mistrust, or one can encourage independence and good decision-making. The latter does not come without trepidation. But, it never is learned without exercise.
Gabrielle’s style of travel will develop over time but she has made a fantastic start. I hope she returned to Minnesota with a desire to research her next destination. Hopefully, she saved her lessons. And if her style becomes one of independence while carrying light luggage, all the better.
As Julius said in 46bc, “Veni, vidi, vici.” And Gabrielle did.